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Friday, February 1, 2013

If God Wrote the Bible and Competition

My last two entrees, it seems to me, have come together in my mind, so I would like to tie them together.
So without any delay (an inside pun for a friend) let's take a look.

Competition is something we are born into. The act of survival is based on effective competition. Watching pups go at the mother's milk supply, we quickly learn that those who cannot fight their way to the meal are soon pushed aside. The proverbial 'runt' of the litter is always at risk of being slowly starved to death. Human culture is similar.

All competition is not life-or-death, but some people treat it that way any how. All of us have our competitive juices flow in different settings. I admitted to being pretty worked up (and surprised by how much) at our recent Trivia Night here at the parish. The drive to succeed and the desire to win overlap. And in the heat of battle we often lose sight of our values as we make every effort to emerge victorious. I was reading once about the effectiveness of sexual morality teaching. The findings were pretty convincing that when a person is stimulated the brain begins to lose its capacity to function. Young people were much more likely to engage in "at risk" behavior when they were aroused. In other words, context changes behavior. This makes sense (hence the admonition to "avoid the near occassion of sin"). I assume that, similarly, our behaviors are impacted by psychological factors in other areas. I did a google search and found numerous studies to confirm this assumption.
[The Psychology of Rivalry ]

The existence of "rivalry" lends an emotional element to conflict. The relationship we have with a competitor impacts how we respond (and react). In sports it is the desire to figuratively "kill" the despised rival. We want to beat them 100 to nothing! Some rivalries are so fierce that we hear people say that they would be fine losing all their games as long as we beat them, or conversely, the near perfect record meant nothing because they beat us. Subjectivity and emotions can muddy up our cognitive function.

So what does this have to do with Divine Authorship of Sacred Scipture?
Well, the two sides of this debate have a long history or rivalry. It is full of harsh condemnation and bitter animosity. When you get sucked into the debates they quickly become personal, and the emotions clouding our thinking make it increasingly hostile. Sadly, the quest for truth is waylaid by the desire to smite the (evil) opponent. Winning becomes all we care about and crushing the opposition becomes our sole goal. We misrepresent and overstate weakness in their beliefs and ignore weaknesses or inconsistencies in our beliefs

The Fundamentalist-Modernist Wars have been raging for over one hundred years. The demonization is incredible. The Modernist disdain for "Fundies" is as vicious as the Fundamentalist condemnation of the "unbelievers." In truth, I think much of it is a function of personality styles as well. Liberal/Modernist Christianity, for all its lip service to love and tolerance, has treated the more traditional expression of the faith horribly. And no one is meaner than a traditional evangelical Christian tearing into someone who "does not believe in the Bible." And it seems that some people are predisposed to their beliefs based on their personality and temperment.

While I have a high view of revelation, I am not a Literalist. Unfortunately, those two (high view and Literal) are wedded together in the "competition" so it is assumed that if you are one you must be the other. And like all competitions it easily becomes a simplistic choice between two options. And because of the relationship history we tend to let our 'competition' and 'rivalry' influence our thinking. Many of my friends are deeply troubled by my reading of the Bible because it doesn't sound like I believe in "inerrancy." Others, being more "progressive" call me a "hater" or a "Fundamentalist" because I use too much Scripture.

Perhaps being both an Idealist (which means I approach words more sumbolically than significantly) and a Traditionalist (which means I conserve older values) and a Catholic (which means I have high regard for God's revelation in and through the church, reason and sacrament) and am influenced by evangelical Protestant thought (because I live in Memphis and it is in the air) and because I tend to want to get along (so I try to integrate different approaches even if it makes me crazy because I want closure and consistency) my approach to Scripture is broader? At any rate, I am still aware that I am driven by the culture wars and that has led me to "have to" make certain mental steps because "they" are doing what "they do" so I need to do what "we" do.  As I try to engage the actual text (like yesterday with the word "immediately") and not do so as "A Defender of the Faith" or "A Champion of a New Reading for The Cause" but simply as a fallible human struggling to see the light of the face of God in this present darkness I find it is more life giving.

I wish my own experiences of the battle inside the church had not misshapen me. They have. Too late. But my readership may well reflect the reality that others want to engage the text as DIVINE REVELATION, but do so outside the paradigm of the concrete/utilitarian thinkers who demand that "IF God wrote the Bible then it must be understood in the literal way which we are espousing." I see much reason to believe that more and more folks are actually reading what the Bible says, not what it "needs" to say because that makes it fit into my preconceived ideas about divine authorship. There maybe two sides in the Modernist-Fundamentalist debate, but that debate does not need to concern us. I prefer the Ancient Church and the ancient Jewish approach. I guess that means I am in the Ancient vs. Contemporary Wars now, but those battles seem less charged. And in the end, engaging the ancient reading of the texts is so time consuming it is hard to pay much attention to the disdain and negative comments. And it seems to lead to prayer, worship and service, which are the best antidote for healing the "wounds of war."

May God be praised and blessed and may His servants serve faithfully!

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