"Biblical" Faiths/Beliefs (?)
There are two claims, I think, behind this overall claim.
First, that every word of the bible is true (this is called “inerrancy”) and should be taken as normative for followers.
Given the disparate material in the bible, often with more than trivial disagreement on details of fact or belief; given its haphazard composition over centuries; given that many of its injunctions (esp. as to the treatment of women and non-believers) are utterly inhumane and barbaric; given how selectively this is applied by most people who claim to follow this hermeneutic – given all that, I don’t see any way that such a belief is sensible or helpful. Indeed, when I found out all the stuff I DIDN’T have to believe in order to be a Christian, it was like the scales falling from my eyes and I could finally believe. I understand that there are lots of people for whom the opposite is true – if they thought one word of the bible WASN’T true, it would destroy their faith. I try to respect their belief, but it seems so absurd and fragile and useless in the modern world, that I find it a very difficult proposition. But I’ll continue to try.
The second claim is that the speaker’s beliefs (but not mine, and I’d assume not the beliefs of other Christian denominations, never mind Jews or Mormons or anyone else) are ONLY from the bible. Everyone else’s beliefs are based on interpretation and tradition, but the follower of a “biblically based” religion has only 100% biblical beliefs and practices.
The problems with this are almost more insurmountable to me. It’s bad enough that it makes any real discussion or respect impossible between Christian denominations (never mind with people of other faiths) as setting them up as irrevocably and irredeemably “wrong” and the other person’s beliefs as unassailably “right.” But it stumbles on the fact that “biblical” was a category that evolved over time – the list of books that we think of as the New Testament wasn’t accepted as canonical until 200 CE, and several books had significant opposition. So from the beginning, “biblical” can’t really be contrasted with “tradition” – it was tradition that determined what became biblical. And finally, there really is no Christian doctrine you can think of that isn’t based (to some extent) on post-biblical interpretation and tradition – not the virgin birth, not original sin, not the incarnation, not substitutionary atonement (or any other attempt to articulate what it means for someone to die “for” someone else’s sins, since the NT is rather coy and ambiguous on anything as systematic as that). All of those were being debated among Church fathers and so-called “heretics” into the fifth century and beyond, all of them marshalling biblical texts in their support. Again, when I could see that I didn’t have to recover some apostolic faith and try to follow it in order to be a Christian, when I could acknowledge that beliefs are being negotiated and debated and evolving over time – that was not a stumbling block to me, but the removal of one. And on this point, I can’t really see how it wouldn’t help all Christians if they removed this strange, self-justifying belief from their thought world and tried to live more humbly in the light of uncertainty, but also with mutual respect and learning from others.
On this second point, I remember when a very earnest student asked me if the Christian Scriptures could be proven right, and the scriptures of other religions proven wrong, so that we could hurry up and evangelize and convert all those millions of people so they’d be saved (like us, I suppose). In her defense, I really don't think she meant it as any disrespect, but really felt sad that all those people were going to hell. And way back then, I was much quicker on my feet and I said, “Why in the world would I want to do that? As it stands now, I can learn from other people’s religions and expand and grow my own faith and knowledge. Why would I want them to be wrong, and lose all those opportunities for learning?” Maybe that’s what it comes down to: if you think your faith is “biblically based,” then you’re done learning and you can discount everything else out there, or even try to beat it over the head with your book until it submits. But if you think your faith is not a static artifact, but a work in progress, then you can seek out new dialogue partners and work on your faith and understanding together with them.
But, what do I know? “Dialoguing” probably isn’t as deeply a part of our human nature as “beating over the head,” so I assume the latter will be going on long after my dialogue has come to whatever conclusion it’s going to come to.