Friday, September 18, 2009

The Bible as a “cook book”

One of my arguments against considering the Bible to be inerrant is that it really diminishes the amount of study that people give to it.

Consider Wikipedia as an example. Wikipedia is easily accessible and has articles on just about every sort of topic. So it is a frequently accessed source for quick information.

But many people, particularly conservatives, consider Wikipedia to be fallible. They point to the fact that many of its authors may not have strong academic credentials and even claim that the web site has a subtle, liberal and anti-religious bias.

So because of these perceived flaws, researchers are advised that each article should be examined and perused with a bit of skepticism. If anything is seen on Wikipedia that appears to have any liberal or anti-religious bias they recommend that additional references be used.

Contrast this with how encyclopedias were used before the Internet. Anything like the Encyclopedia Britannica was considered to be effectively inerrant. If you used it as a reference you simply copied the words you read with no need to look at it with skepticism.

So a lack of infallibility leads to additional thought and analysis.

Cook books are another example. If a well-known chef writes a cook book – maybe Julia Child for example – then most readers consider the book to be inerrant. They make the recipes without any real thought. If the cookbook says add a cup of water, people add exactly one cup of water.

There are, however, people who don’t look at such cookbooks as infallible. They look at them as good initial guides, but they think about the recipes. One cook may decide to, on their own initiative, add a chopped jalapeno because they like a bit more spice than the author of the cookbook recommended.

So, once again, we see that considering a book to be fallible increases the amount of study and thought that we give to it.

I believe that is also true of the Bible. People who consider it to be infallible may spend lots of time reading it and even memorizing it, but are they really thinking about it?

I think not.

Look at something like the Biblical Commandment: You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor..

I think that a Biblical literalist would read that, file it away in their memory somewhere and move onto the next commandment.

But someone who is not a Biblical literalist might ask themselves, “Is that really a sin? Surely it is wrong to steal from my neighbor, but is it wrong to ‘covet’ my neighbor’s 52 inch, high-definition TV? I might work harder to be able to buy a TV like that.”

Regardless of the final conclusion that they arrive at, surely the non-literalist is giving the matter much more thought than is the Biblical literalist.

A recent book supports this argument. The book is titled The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University. The author is Kevin Roose. Roose was a student at Brown University. He decided he wanted to learn more about the culture of evangelical Christianity. So he transferred to Liberty University for a semester.
Here’s a passage from the book:

“Absolute truth exists. At Liberty, unlike many secular schools, professors teach with the view that there is one right answer to every question, that those right answers are found plainly in the Bible, and that their job is to transfer those right answers from their lecture notes to our minds. It's a subtle difference in ideology, but it makes for big changes in teaching style. Most of my classes use workbooks -- thin, self-published transcriptions of the professor's notes with one or two words blanked out per sentence. As the professor teaches, his notes appear on PowerPoint slides, and we fill in the missing words in our workbooks.”

So students at Liberty don’t make their own notes during a lecture – something that would involve more thought – they simply fill in the blanks, a process that is more associated with memorization than actual thought.

A comment on this process can be found on the blog titled “Evolutionblog”. On the web page
Jason Rosenhouse, an associate professor of mathematics at James Madison University adds these comments:

“The irony here is that at every creationist conference I have attended, the alleged desire of dogmatic, left-wing, secular professors to indoctrinate their students has been a major theme. “Indoctrinate” seems to mean teaching anything that conflicts with their own idiosyncratic interpretation of the Bible.

“Roose is mistaken in describing Liberty's attitude as a subtle change in ideology from what most professors at secular colleges do (or at more moderate Christian schools, for that matter). What Roose describes is the polar opposite of what most professors do. You can count on one hand the number of college professors who see their job as the communication of knowledge from the brain of the professor to the brain of the student. We bristle at the very thought. Our goal is to get students to think for themselves. Sure, we want to communicate certain facts about our subject, and we don't want students to end up as little relativists who think anything could be true so long as enough people believe it with enough enthusiasm. But our main desire is for the students to make a good argument in defense of what they believe and to think critically about whatever subject is before them.”

So, yet again, we see evidence that Biblical literalism tends to reduce the amount of thought that is given to matters of theology, science and everything else.

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