Those who insist the Bible is “literally true” have all but destroyed the very Bible they want everyone to take seriously.
In two ways. First, by insisting the Bible is literally true they have established a level of expectation for its authority that people simply cannot accept. As I have written about already, for example, whenever fundamentalist Christians insist, and they almost always do, that Genesis is a scientific account of creation, taking place some 6 to 10,000 years ago and over a literal 24/7-day period of time, they are expecting people to accept this while denying everything science, astronomy, and biology have taught us.
This is not only silly, it’s suicidal. As the astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson so eloquently put it when he was recently asked by Stephen Colbert in his typically flippant and comical way, “What if I believe the earth is flat, even though you say it is round? Shouldn’t I get more than my share of time to say this, since my case will be harder to prove?”
“You get to say whatever you want…that the world is flat, if you’d like, because we live in a country that guarantees you free speech. But this is not a country that guarantees that what you say is correct. What we have learned about the age and origin of the universe is true whether you want to believe it or not.”
In other words, to expect people to believe things about the Bible that simply are not so is not to “defend the Bible,” as fundamentalists almost universally but mistakenly think. It is to discredit the Bible instead. Rather than preserving its authority, it undermines it.
Second, the mere suggestion that the Bible is literally true is heretical…even a heresy. It cannot all be literally true, nor equal in its authority. And, even Fundamentalist Christians, who claim to hold the loftiest view of the inspiration of all scripture, do not take the Bible literally or with the same degree of authority throughout.
1. The Book of Deuteronomy says that children who are disobedient to their parents should be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
Do they take this literally? Or, as equally authoritative?
2. The Book of Leviticus says that those who worship false Gods should be stoned to death, too (Leviticus 20:off).
Do they take this literally? Does anyone? Maybe the extreme radicals in all traditions. No sane person does, however.
Some say, “That’s the Old Testament. Admittedly, it has some things in it that we simply cannot accept today. But there are no such inconsistencies or contradictions in the New Testament.”
3. Then, what do you do with the Apostle Paul who instructed the Corinthian Church to discipline a misbehaving brother in Christ who was apparently living in some kind of incestuous relationship? Paul instructed the Church to gather at their weekly prayer service and “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh” (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
In other words, the “infallible” Saint Paul writing “inerrant scripture”…even the “words of God”…under the dictation and direction no less than the Holy Spirit instructs the Church that the next time they assemble for worship, they should release this man to Satan – was that in a prayer to Satan? – with the full expectation that Satan would kill him while God saved his eternal soul.
Not one of “Saint Paul’s” more saintly instructions, if you ask me. And, hardly an instruction that any sane person, much less Christian person, would take seriously today, much less literally. In fact, I’m pretty sure, if you attended church next Sunday and the pastor pointed out some brother’s failure and then summoned the church to pray that the poor soul be killed by the Devil so his soul would be saved for eternity…well…I don’t think I need to say anything else, do I?
Even Fundamentalist Christians do not take such scripture passages literally. If they, therefore, pick and choose those passages they do take literally, which of course they do, over those passages they do not, why do they continue the charade of insisting “all scripture is given by God?,” as even the saintly Paul once suggested to young Timothy? (2 Timothy 3:16).
It is all a charade. It is all dishonest. And, it must end.
After all, Jesus did not take scripture literally either. Or, as equally authoritative. Which explains why he frequently said, “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” (see Matthew 5:38 as but one example). He would quote a teaching from the Hebrew scriptures and/or oral tradition and then he would bring a new level of consciousness to the interpretation of that scripture.
Shouldn’t we read scripture in a similar fashion? Bringing to the Bible’s limited world view, its frequent ethical inconsistencies, and its often contradictory teachings our best wisdom and discernment?
Shouldn’t we bring a new level of consciousness to our reading of scripture?
Shouldn’t Christian leaders help people to see through the limited teaching, as well as the limiting way the people of God believed and behaved in times past?
Shouldn’t Christian churches end the charade of insisting the Bible be taken literally? And, instead, help people to read the Bible for its insights, its wisdom, its inspiration, as well as its direction? Not as a rule book. Not as a literal dictation of God’s word. Not as the final word to all peoples in all times and in all places.
If the Church does not do this, there is little future for the Bible.