There is a member of my family who (oddly considering the region in which he was raised and the religion in which he was nominally raised) reads the Bible like a Fundamentalist, which is to say, quite literally. And reading it like a Fundamentalist, he finds some of it abhorrent, and has explicitly abandoned any claim to being Christian (except insofar as Baptism is indelible).
In this, he is very like many of the New Atheists:
- Set up the most indefensible sects as normative Christianity
- Demonstrate the indefensibility of those sects’ interpretations
- Walk away with a smirk, shouting “Q.E.D.”
Ironic that the New Atheists are so fundamentalist about the Christianity they reject categorically.
When I was Evangelical, then Calvinist (i.e., when I was on the fringes of fundamentalism, then on the fringe of the fringe), I scorned those who recoiled from quite literal readings. Oddly, Calvinist Tipsy was probably more scornful than Evangelical Tipsy because Calvinist Tipsy was more jealous of God’s absolute unquestionable sovereignty.
This comes to mind when I consider how un-literally Orthodox Christianity reads (and long has read most of those vexing scriptures. This isn’t something we came up with when some modern person said, “Gosh. Kill them all? God told Israel that? That kinda stinks, doesn’t it? I can’t worship such a god!” Or I perhaps should say instead that our literal reading is opposed to allegory, not “literal” in an eye witness, journalistic sense.
As I’ve probably said before, the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete very nicely captures the flavor of how we apply politically incorrect Old Testament stories:
The Lord once caused fire to rain down from heaven, O my soul, and the land of Sodom was consumed.
Save yourself from sin, O my soul! Like lot on the mountain, take timely refuge in the town of Zoar.
Run from the flames, O my soul! Run from the burning of Sodom! Run from the destruction caused by fire sent from God!
When Datham and Abiram defied Moses and turned from the Lord, the earth opened to swallow them. Now you, my soul, having turned from the Lord as well, must cry with your whole heart from the depths of hell to be spared, lest you share their lot.
By killing the oppressive Egyptian, Moses severed his bond to Pharaoh. But you, O my hopeless soul, have not even begun to attack the wickedness of your mind. If you have not accomplished even this much, how can you expect to pass through the time of repentance, which alone can drive away our sinful passions?
As Joshua subdued Amalek and the lying Gibbeonites, arise, O my soul, and subdue the weakness of your flesh, conquering everything which leads your mind astray.
This Canon, as I hinted, is not new. It’s ancient. Perhaps (I don’t know) there were more literal-in-the-modern-journalistic-sense interpretive traditions within the Church, but they don’t seem to have survived.
This is normative Christianity.
Who even knew that a serious, but non-literal, interpretation existed? How many have turned from the faith because of those who, like Calvinist Tipsy, defended the indefensible?
I’m reminded of a Chesterton aphorism as I think about subjects like same-sex marriage: “It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.”
In the same-sex marriage context, let me start with the one that’s easy for my side. It’s bigotry for SSM proponents, including Justice Kennedy, not to recognize that “my side” might have gone wrong because we remember, admire, and believe to be deeply written on the human heart, what remained of a traditional view of marriage during our lifetimes. It wasn’t about personal fulfillment, though it could be very fulfilling to do one’s duty and find one growing fond of, or regaining fondness for, the other half of the beast with two backs (a euphemism with powerful “one flesh” connotations, it seems to me), which brought forth children and, later, grandchildren. That’s apart from its religious significance.
The bigotry on my side can be a complete failure to appreciate how far society has strayed, beginning a bit before my time, from that traditional view, starting with contraception (in earnest in the 1930s, accelerating with the pill in the 60s), the sexual revolution and, above all, no fault divorce. Intentionally “child-free” marriage is no longer an oxymoron. Sex and children out of wedlock are so ubiquitous that it almost seems a great virtue when two people pair off to pledge, even with fingers crossed, fidelity to each other.
And it’s not just our society. It’s our Churches. They are so deeply complicit with the destruction of traditional marriage that they lack Street Cred on marriage being unalterably gendered. They’ve already altered the unalterable, and treated the indissoluble as dissolved.
I probably could do better to tease this out with more time. Perhaps I’ll return.
I suppose this explains at least in part why Obama so lost his cool about Edward Snowden, a whistleblower many of Obama’s supporters thought he might have welcomed and embraced. The ugly truth we now know is that two months after assuming office, Obama or an underling acting in Obama’s name signed an agreement to transfer Americans’ personal and private information to Israel. I am shocked and appalled, disgusted beyond measure.
I’ve known for a long time about elite Beltway deference to Israel. For decades, top American officials have acted almost as if they can’t think for themselves, they see everything in the Mideast through the optic of whether it is “good for Israel.” But this is different than that, and worse. The Americans in Israel’s camp at least think that “what’s good for Israel is good for America”—or at least so they proclaim, publicly. But no one can imagine that feeding Israel eavesdropped information on Americans is good for those Americans—that’s why this ugly program has been kept secret. We have Edward Snowden to thank, otherwise we might never have known how far the rot has gone.
(Scott McConnell, reflecting on the line Obama crossed by giving domestic intelligence to a foreign power.)
Québec is pursing rigorous secularity a lá France.
On the one hand, this is modest because it’s only in “public,” and in one’s role as an agent or employee of the state. I have never doubted that the state should be free of invidious discrimination.
But this goes a step further to realize a vision in which agents of the state must do or wear nothing identifiably religious that might cause even the most paranoid of their countrymen to suspect they were treated other than equally by an agent of the state. Religious people are assumed to be incorrigible bigots – but only when they’re wearing the symbols of their religions. Let’s all wear those Maoist grey uniforms.
And while we’re at it, women, bind your breasts. If they’re too big, we’ll cut them down or off. Men, no beards or moustaches, and you need to wear pancake makeup if you’ll have a Five O’Clock Shadow without it. We must, at all costs, simulate homogeneity.
I noticed again today that I truly am an ex-smoker. I’ve lost track of the last one, 25+ years ago. All I know was it was summer, and Calvinist Tipsy was at a conference, in a dorm room (empty except for conferees in the summer), and I smoked so heavily (the lack of a smoking taboo in Dutch Calvinism was a smallish enticement) that I sort of OD’d and quit cold turkey, for the umpteenth and final time.
A few years ago, I discerned that the driver of the Cadillac ahead of me was smoking a cigar. I discerned it by smell, then recognized the car as belonging to a known cigar smoker of my acquaintance.
On this afternoon’s commute, it was cigarette in the car ahead. Eventually the arm came out the window to flick off the ash.
There’s no profound point to this. I’m skeptical about the health horrors of second-hand smoke. But man, I sure can smell it these days, almost from the proverbial “mile away.”
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)