Saturday, August 22, 2009

Another Biblical Literalist

One who brags about not having graduated from college, but has memorized over 100 chapters of the Bible (KJV thank you very much!).

Well, the idea that memorizing large chunks of text is the best way to encounter God is probably a good handle on (part of) what's wrong with this. Memorization is fine. I have large blocks of all sorts of stuff memorized, and would really wish I had some more. It makes life easier, having stuff on recall. But I guess that's part of my point: knowing God isn't supposed to be easy. It isn't as simple as just memorizing a few verses and that's that, as though then you know what to believe, what to do, whom to hate.

I was pointed to the link by people mostly (and rightly) appalled at his hateful statements about homosexuals. Plenty has been said about that, so I'll go for another topic most people would skip over, as it's much less offensive. But again, one sees the odd, atrophied mind of this pastor at work in all his "exegesis." (Scare quotes because I don't think he's really reading "out of" the text, but reading into it.)

I homed right in on his ideas about one of my favorite topics, HELL. Pastor Steve thinks that thinking of Hell as separation from God is (literally) wrong. He then points us to some verses that claim God is present even in hell. Never mind the paucity of such verses, never mind quibbling about Gehenna vs Hades vs Sheol - that's not the point and just plays the literalist game more. He then points to some very literal descriptions of hell - fire, smoke, darkness, chains, worms, lack of sleep (?). But my point is - are those verses convincing as descriptions of what it means to be "damned" or "evil"? Do evil people have flames leaping off of them, are they suffocated by acrid smoke, do they suffer from poor sleep? Well, for the most part, no. They are, I think, demonstrably and painfully separating themselves - sometimes little by little, sometimes in great big leaps - from God, a process that will end with complete separation from Him and His love (even though yes, technically, God is still "there"). Or, to put it simply - it seems clear to me that the flames are metaphorical, and the separation is the literal state of Hellishness, while a literalist turns this on its head, insisting the flames are real, and any other meaning is somehow misleading and untrue. When Pastor Steve gives his lovely wife a Valentine's that says "You are my sunshine" - I think even he realizes she's not a big ball of exploding gas. Seeing the reality and the symbol or metaphor is crucial to understanding any text, the Bible included.


Blogger I Love Horror said...

It's articles like this that makes me wish I had gotten my Master's in Religious Studies instead of Classical Civilizations. Maybe that's why I wrote my thesis on ancient conceptions of demonology. Go figure.

Well said.

11:54 AM  
Blogger KPaffenroth said...

Well, I was going to be a wag and say Pastor Steve at least got one thing right - he didn't waste his time getting a degree in RST! Those will suck the faith right out of you and turn you into a dessicated, soulless automaton!

(Again, remember - I'd post that if I were a wag!)

It would be a whole other blog entry (or series of them) to talk about what's wrong with going to the other extreme and making religion merely a matter of ideas and "trajectories" and logical categories. BUT - just because that extreme is wrong, doesn't give one the right to divorce reason from faith.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Michael A. Smith said...

One of the great errors of our age is Mistaking the Symbol for What it Represents. In religious circles, this lead to idolatry (and often self-righteousness). Take the Bible, for example. Whatever you want to believe about its origin and inspiration, it is essentially the Story of God (as seen through the eyes of humanity). Among other things, it is a signpost that points us to God. But (here's where the error comes in) the Bible IS NOT God.
I've encountered many fellow-Christians who worship the text itself, as if it _is_ God. Ug...

12:33 PM  
Blogger KPaffenroth said...

Yes, I was thinking how the reification of the text is more... frustrating to me. It gives the movement the patina of "intellectual" appeal - as though they're doing real research and study, when the exact opposite is true - it's a way of ending all discussion and debate and thought.

I'd be much more sympathetic to a charismatic, who could just say "Oh, I don't like all those texts and stuff! I just want to pray and feel the Holy Ghost w/in me!" (I'd still think that was not a full experience of faith, but I'd understand better what s/he wanted.)

12:37 PM  
Blogger I Love Horror said...

"Well, I was going to be a wag and say Pastor Steve at least got one thing right - he didn't waste his time getting a degree in RST! Those will suck the faith right out of you and turn you into a dessicated, soulless automaton!"

Ah, but you're a successful religious studies professor. I wasted two years getting a degree I'm not even using. It would, however, be suitable to write a story/movie/whatever that draws on my knowledge of mythology.

6:42 PM  

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