As 2016 moves towards it’s end, we’re giving you the best of Snarky Faith this past year in a rewind episode…
A rundown of the pitfalls of reading the Bible literally. One-third of Americans, literally, take everything the Bible says at face value. The common phrase, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it!” only leads to bad scholarship and a warped worldview. Join us as we literally delve into the practice, consequences, and pitfalls of biblical literalism.
Title: The Bible “Literally”
Program: Snarky Faith Radio | www.snarkyfaith.com
Host: Stuart Delony
Download The Bible Literally Transcript Here
Stuart: Well, good afternoon, and welcome to another round of Snarky Faith Radio. I’m your host, Stuart Delony. Joining me, as always, my trusty co-host, Ben Triplett. Ben, we were just pre-show talking about this. I know that you are in the space where you have your — you’re going to sit for your boards soon. I think everybody always has those ways to let off steam and be brainless.
Benjamin Triplett (Ben): Mm-hmm. Yeah, that’s 75% of my day, unfortunately.
Stuart: [laughs] So what is your go-to for just — yeah, what is your release valve? What is your brainless go-to?
Ben: It used to be video games before the Internet. Now, it’s just the Internet. Yeah, it’s such a hard habit to break because it really is — it’s so easy. It’s so brainless just going on and watching YouTube videos of cover songs of my favorite bands and stuff like that.
Stuart: Oh, it is, but it’s made to be this huge black hole. With that, I don’t know if these are guilty pleasures or if they are just brainless activities that we did. It was a week or two ago, I saw this in the news — you’re familiar with show Catfish.
Ben: Yes. It was a movie first.
Stuart: It was a movie. It was a documentary, and then, they rolled it into a TV show —
Stuart: — where, essentially, the whole idea behind it is, you have people that are romantically linked online but have not met each other. They go and try to connect these people. Most of the time, there is lying, or misrepresentation, or all sorts of other stuff happening. It’s really funny because my wife is unpredictable based upon what she likes to watch. This would not have been something I chose, but it hit the news because they had an episode where there was a guy that was convinced that he had been dating Katy Perry for six years.
Ben: Wow. She didn’t mention him in the news or anything?
Stuart: Apparently not, but watching that — and that’s now, apparently, become our go-to when we don’t want to think because it’s kind of like Jerry Springer.
Stuart: It’s not typically high-brow folks that — I don’t know. For any kind of ruse like that to exist for as long as some of these have gone on for, I feel like there has to be a bit of brainlessness on — which is probably why I feel brainless when I watch it. It’s really crazy because you watch these things and you go, “Duh. How do these people not know this thing was going on?” I know this is not anything new, this idea of catfish. I think we’re in Season 5.
Ben: This might just be for younger people. I know that there’s impaired judgment and the frontal lobe is not working until a certain age. It doesn’t hit its peak performance —
Stuart: — Most of these are adults, though. These aren’t 12-year-olds.
Ben: Well, still. The amygdala, when emotion gets involved, it can cloud that judgment in your brain. We’ve talked about memory in past shows, and I think that also influences memory. I think there’s some emotions tied up. I’m not a Freudian, so I don’t think that sex and emotion are at the bottom of every single thing in our lives, but I do think that emotion can impair people’s judgment. I lived in that for a while, not with Kelley, but just being younger. You tend to revise things until they make sense to you. It’s cognitive dissonance where two things that don’t make sense and then, all of a sudden you’re trying to piece and patch things together until they do make sense because emotionally you can’t handle it not making sense.
Stuart: You just literally set this up better than I think you thought. So are you describing something much like biblical literalism?
Ben: Yeah. I think that’s —
Stuart: — Sorry, if I can just get it out of my mouth. Yes, biblical literalism.
Ben: It’s interesting at UNC, there’s a professor who is the rock star of the Religious Studies Department. He’s been on a lot of Discovery Channel shows. He publishes a book like every year about — that’s basically saying the same thing in a slightly different way — about how Christians tend to do revisionist history on the Bible and gloss over all these historical things that he is borrowing from historical studies of the New Testament and the Old Testament. That’s not a new thing. That’s hundreds of years old. Bart Ehrman will in his Intro to New Testament class — I think he’s savors having evangelical Christians or conservative Christians come in with this view that you read the Bible literally, and then, he loves to just pick it apart because it’s like sitting targets for some of this stuff.
Stuart: This sounds like the plot to God’s Not Dead.
Ben: Actually, yes. There is a resonance there.
Stuart: Which is funny that I can say that and I have not watched the movie. [laughs]
Ben: Right, but we all kind of know what it’s about.
Stuart: I think that’s it. I think that in any typical Christian movie, you’re seen the entire movie during the preview.
Ben: Yeah. Isn’t it based on the apocryphal story of the professor —
Stuart: [laughs] — I like that how it’s apocryphal. Yes, you’re right. Yes.
Ben: — who has that piece of chalk up on the board and it says something about God breaking the chalk if He exists, and not breaking it, if it falls to the floor.
Stuart: It’s one of those stories that has morphed and changed, but was back in the day when everybody would do forwards —
Ben: — Right. Right.
Stuart: — which is essentially what social media is now, which is the new way to forward stuff. It’s taken on different forms, but it always has this — and I love when people post this like it’s a true story.
Ben: Well, now, you superimpose it over a picture of Abraham Lincoln or something like that, and say, “Lincoln said this, so it’s true.” Right? Probably not with this story, but…
Stuart: I believe it was actually Kevin Sorbo who was in that movie.
Ben: Yeah. If Kevin Sorbo — if Hercules said it, it’s got to be true.
Stuart: Sure. Well, it would if it was Xena.
Ben: That’s true.
Stuart: I think Lucy Lawless has more range than Kevin Sorbo.
Ben: She’s a huge comic book fan. So…
Stuart: Is she really?
Ben: I think so. Yeah.
Stuart: Well, to some degree, I think that after all the things she’s been in over her career, she can pretty much go to any comic book trade show she wants to.
Ben: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
Stuart: I’m trying to think of all the sci-fi —
Ben: They would throw out a red carpet for her.
Stuart: Oh, what is it? You’ve got Xena, which is what it is. She was in Battlestar Galactica and other things that I can’t think of.
Ben: That’s enough for anyone.
Stuart: That’s true.
Ben: Then, she pops up in different things like with Kevin Smith and just tapping into that community.
Stuart: Did you watch Battlestar Galactica? We were talking about this before the show, different stuff that we’ve watched recently.
Ben: I’m so ashamed. My friends have told me that you have to it because, apparently, there’s this running philosophical dialogue throughout that they —
Stuart: — It’s about faith and belief, a lot of it.
Ben: They all feel that I would really glean a lot. I just haven’t — I mean, I don’t know if it’s on Netflix now, but it disappeared from Netflix. I’m too lazy to seek it out anywhere else.
Stuart: It’s been a few years since I’ve seen it, but I remember there’s a lot of controversy behind the last episode, how they decided to end it.
Ben: Are we going to do a whole episode on Battlestar Galactica? Oh, there would be spoilers.
Stuart: I would have to revisit — well, I think once it’s been off the air for that many years…
Ben: It’s your own fault.
Stuart: Is there an expiration date to spoilers?
Ben: So if I said —
Stuart: If the movie’s been out long enough and you’re having a casual conversation and someone says, “Oh my gosh, you just spoiled this.”
Ben: Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker.
Stuart: Yes. Luke’s dad.
Ben: Would I get in trouble?
Stuart: Yes, any of those to where it’s like, “Oh my gosh. You’ve just ruined this.” No, you’ve had 20 years or actually, you’ve had almost 40 years to watch.
Ben: It’s not my fault.
Stuart: Yeah. I don’t know. What do you think the gauge is for that? I understand for new stuff that’s coming out, I’ll have to run around and tell people not to tell me stuff when they’re talking about it.
Ben: Mm-hmm. I think it depends upon how big a cultural phenomenon it is. If it’s The Matrix, or Star Wars, or something like that, then, maybe you have less of a time frame because you really should have seen it. People are talking about it. If it’s something like a cult movie like Donnie Darko or something less people might have seen then, maybe give it a little bit more time.
Stuart: So Donnie Darko, is it worth it? It was one of those movies when I was back in college I remember I heard — see, we had this conversation, but it comes up again between you and I, the thing that happens when people tell you that something’s amazing, and then, I just don’t want to watch it.
Ben: Oh, yeah. I don’t do a very good job of it, but I should. The new Radiohead album, I was gushing about it the first couple of days. One of my friends — I compared it to one of their better albums, and I think he still likes it but he was like, “Eh, it’s not really at that level for me.” Things have to grow on him.
Ben: I totally get it. You really don’t want to set expectations too high for things because, really, sometimes it takes a while. If it doesn’t really wow you at first, then, you’re not going to really give it another chance. That’s a movie that you can see a couple of times and really pick out different things throughout the movie.
Stuart: Which one? Are you saying Donnie Darko?
Ben: Donnie Darko. Yeah. I had no idea. We watched it when it first came out, and I didn’t know what I was getting into. It’s the same thing with The Matrix and Inception I didn’t know it was going to be — I mean, Inception might be a little bit different because it was from a well-known at that point. He had made The Dark Knight at that point. Now, it’s interesting. Garden State is another one that I saw when it came out because it just happened to be on Franklin Street, and a couple of our friends are like, “Yeah. This looks good. We’ll go see it.” It kind of holds a special place because I was there at the time, but I can see how people — there have been so many Garden States made after that.
Stuart: Oh, yeah.
Ben: It’s just ad nauseam, and people, probably, are sick of it at this point, and don’t really appreciate it anymore.
Stuart: It’s interesting that once something becomes a little bit of a cultural shifter, you end up almost having — any time something is a commercial success, people are going to try to find ways to replicate it. It ends up becoming a Hollywood industry Mad Lib. You know what I mean? They come up with that after that movie does well, so insert indie song here that is emotional. It’s almost like there’s a formula that they have to follow.
Ben: How you see the video and I’m not going to be able to replicate the entire thing, but the Christian music? I don’t know if I sent that to you or not, but there’s a parody video —
Stuart: — Yep, where they’re talking about — yeah, yeah.
Ben: — of two executives that are saying, “Just talk about water in your song, and you have to mention these vague, ambiguous phrases in every one of your songs.”
Stuart: And it will be a hit. [sarcasm]
Ben: Yeah. It was pretty awesome. I was appreciative.
Stuart: It is, but it still doesn’t stop the Hillsongs.
Stuart: It’s funny. You can make fun of it and point this out, but it’s actually true.
Stuart: I know they’re doing this as a satire, but it’s one of those things that, actually, if you want to be popular and you want to sell a bunch of — what do we call it? Records? I don’t even know. This makes me feel old.
Stuart: Yeah, or you get enough digital downloads from your — but to sell enough of these and sell out appropriately to a very niche market, this is how to hit this niche market.
Ben: Right. It’s interesting that —
Stuart: Speaking of Hillsong, did you know they have a movie coming out?
Ben: No, you’re kidding.
Stuart: Yes. It’s a documentary, but, also, a worship experience.
Ben: Are they going to include — wasn’t the first pastor of Hillsong or one of the big leaders of the movement, a pedophile?
Stuart: Yeah, I think so. He wasn’t one of the singers.
Ben: I might be getting that wrong.
Stuart: They had the band there so they would distract everybody while he was doing his little fondling in the back. [sarcasm]
Ben: Yeah, he was a pastor.
Stuart: Everybody was like, “The music is so good.” [sarcasm]
Ben: Right. I might be overstating that, but I feel like there’s some dirty history.
Stuart: There was some sort of scandal behind it, but, then again, you have — we probably just lost all of our listeners, here, now that we’re talking about Hillsong. [sarcasm]
Stuart: For them to be at the level that I can even talk about who they are which would mean that they would have to be a significant thing on the Christian scene because I really just do not listen to Christian music at all.
Stuart: It’s like saying, “Have you heard of this guy, Michael Jackson?”
Stuart: Yeah. It’s one of those, and it’s not like — I don’t know — There’s like 50 different kinds of Hillsongs, right? There’s Hillsong United, and Hillsong on the wagon, off the wagon. [sarcasm]
Ben: Yeah, and just to put the conflict of interest or disclaimer — I don’t know — some of that I grew up in, and it was the time of my life. Sometimes it will strike a cord with me, but I feel like —
Stuart: — [laughs] Did you just say that some of that music strikes a cord with you?
Stuart: Keep going.
Ben: I think when you live with it for ten or more years, you start to peel back and look underneath and say, “Wow, this is the same thing it was ten years ago.” Why are we not progressing? I, actually, talked with — and I know we’re not getting into biblical literalism at all, but I was speaking with a friend, that’s a worship pastor, a couple of days ago just about this — discussing with this pastor about the idea of wanting to get in depth and reach people, but, also, it being — there’s this tension between you want to make music that reaches people that they’re interested in, but you also want it to be authentic. Pastors want there to be a depth of not just saying vague, Christianeze phrases. Not all pastors, mind you, good pastors want there to be some level of authenticity and message or something in the lyrics, and it’s this weird marriage of — very rarely do people achieve that in their music.
It’s interesting coming from a Methodist background, I’ve church hopped my entire life, so I’ve been in and out a bunch of different traditions. In high school, I was in a Methodist church, and just learning that there’s such a rich history of music with the Wesley’s where they do — they really are putting some very deep ideas in their songs, but, also, has some melodic, harmonic thing to it. How often are we going to expect those kinds of artists? Sorry, I’m just ruminating.
Stuart: No, but you’re right about that. Go out and make masterpieces, all of you, now. [sarcasm]
Ben: Right. Go be Mozart or Bach or something [sarcasm], but, at the same time, this is something that we’ve talked about on the show a lot. I think Christians should expect that, and it should be realistic about how often that happens, but, also, really should expect more excellence in their art.
Another thing I told him is, I think it’s interesting having gone to a Methodist seminary, that it’s really sad to me that there is this rich tradition of art and yet, it seems like so many Christians are out of touch with what good art really looks like. That’s my opinion, of course, but I just see some very boring and safe art donning the halls and this was years ago. They would unveil a sculpture of the Good Samaritan, not the Good Samaritan. I’m sorry, the Prodigal Son, and they were like, “Look at the emotion in his face and this and that.” I’m like, “This is just not interesting.” This is getting into the biblical literalism. Literally, it’s a father and son clinging to his knees. I’m like, “Okay, so you can’t think outside of this idea to give it a new angle. You’re physically just representing a father and a son.”
Stuart: Well, and also, on top of that — isn’t that Rembrandt who has the famous painting of the Prodigal Son?
Ben: I don’t know.
Stuart: Is it not him?
Ben: This was definitely not a Rembrandt.
Stuart: I don’t mean that. I’m saying that we’ve seen a depiction like that, and so all you’re doing is echoing something that someone that was a master did. It may not be Rembrandt, so don’t quote me on that, anybody. You can Google it. There’s a very famous painting of the Prodigal Son. How you’re describing it, for me it was like, “Oh, you just went and copied that in sculpture form,” where you’re not trying to go anywhere. A lot times with that — and this is just me being a pain in the butt — was that I think a lot of times is that we — and we’ll hit this more. We keep saying we’ll hit this and we keep dawdling away from it — but I think that we want to melt our faith down to some very, very easy color-by-number feel whether it be in our music or, even, how we talk about it. We try to keep it in this ethereal spot where the real world doesn’t ever get into. We draw those lines between the sacred and the secular, and we just assume that never the twain shall meet.
Stuart: I think that the realness of life bleeds through, in and around, and all on top of our faith, and I think our faith needs to inform the joys but, also, the brutal nature to life; the sadness, the devastation, and all those other things. I think through those experiences, our faith makes more sense.
Ben: Yeah. I’ve even heard Christians say that the words of scripture enough or the ideas of scriptures enough, it’s — again, this is getting into this idea of the literal words, they come packaged with no interpretation, with no perspective. To me, this is a naïve way of looking at scripture. It’s really missing the depth that a lot of Christians profess is there, and yet, for some reason, we think if we have to take all this at face value that we’re somehow — I don’t know. For example, if you put a stain glass window of some sort of physical representation with no depth or just the sculpture of the Prodigal Son, it’s just idea of redemption or that idea of acceptance back when someone — just read the scripture. Why do you need to make a sculpture at that point?
Stuart: We might as well just own up to what those things are. Do you remember those motivation posters that they used to have in people’s offices or the guidance counselor would have?
Ben: Like the kitty hanging from the line?
Stuart: No, no, not even that. You know the dumb ones that always had the black bar at the bottom that were like, “Excellence.” There was an eagle flying over water or something like that.
Ben: Fly as high as your dreams will carry you. [laughs]
Stuart: Yeah, to where there is, A, they’re completely obvious. They’re, actually, telling you what to think. B, they’re just not very creative, unique, or interesting.
Ben: Yeah. It doesn’t really invite you in. I like that you just said it basically just tells you what to think. To me, that’s the definition of bad art. There’s no invitation. There’s no connection or immersion. It’s just here’s this thing that if you go fishing around through it at some point, you’ll see a cross, and oh, it’s Christian. Yeah. [sarcasm] It doesn’t invite you in. It doesn’t draw you at all. That’s the definition of beauty is something that pulls you in, draws you in. How can something be beautiful if it’s all laid out there and there’s nothing beneath to pull you? You know.
Stuart: Well, I think any kind of good art or things that move you, I think it should elicit your own interpretation of it. For us to have a piece of art and you can tell me why it’s art, and if you’ve gone and just explained it to me and that it’s sufficient enough, the art probably not that good.
Ben: Why didn’t you just write an essay?
Stuart: Yeah. Seriously. Just post it right next to it. Here’s what you’re supposed to think. Here’s what you’re supposed to feel. Here’s everything here. I think those kinds of motivator posters are exactly how a lot of people approach scripture especially when we approach it literally; It is what it says. All you do is read it.
Ben: I feel like if people think that we’re totally off-based with the biblical literalism, it’s really similar. I’m a Christian. I kind of live within the Christian worldview. I do believe there’s something deeper in scripture that when I go back to it and read it again and again, I just assume that there’s something that I haven’t gotten to yet. I think it’s the same thing with art. The best art, to me, is something that I can go back a year from now. I have a book of Basquiat’s paintings and it doesn’t matter how many times I open that book and go back to the paintings, they’re still beautiful to me. I still have to stop for a little while and really pay attention to it.
I think the same thing about scripture. What’s interesting, you’re describing laying out like an essay or a formulaic way of saying, “Okay, here’s the art. Here’s what it means.” Really, that’s a parallel to how many churches treat scripture. It’s, “Here’s a scripture. We’re going to read it, and here’s what it means.” That’s the one meaning. When you do take it literally at face value, you’re doing the same thing. You’re saying, “Well, there’s a bunch of words. This is what they mean. Maybe if we get through all of the passages of scripture, then we don’t have to open the book anymore.
Stuart: Well, it is. It bleeds out all of the life from scripture, the fact that these are people who had dirt under their nails. There’s a history behind this. There’s different experiences that are going through this. There’s different time periods that are crossing here, that we’re going through even the development of civilization, even in the development of how people perceive the world within all that, and those things completely change as you begin to navigate your way through scripture. We are crossing thousands of years when we’re looking at this.
I feel like what’s happening when you approach scripture in the way that you were describing it, Ben, where it’s simple and we’re just going to tell you what it says and there’s nothing else to think about, it makes me think about what you do with bodies when they’re dead. You drain the blood out and you put embalming fluid in it, so it looks like the same person. I think that when you end of taking the heart, the blood, the sweat, the skin, you steal all of the humanity out of scripture. Again, I guess we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but when we just say — okay. I’m going to pause myself. I’ve gotten ahead of myself and so have you in this.
How would you describe biblical literalism, Ben, in a simple way? I guess we’re talking about something that we both know about. It’s just hitting me — oh, wait.
Ben: We keep throwing out biblical —
Stuart: We’ve run beyond — what would be a basic definition? How would you define —
Ben: This was a happy accident. I don’t think we were talking about art to lead into this but I think it’s a great parallel. I just think of literalism as if you pull out the word literal that you believe that scripture has a literal meaning and that it’s obvious. You open up the book and it’s obvious when you read. Each word has a very specific meaning, and together, those words have a very specific message.
I think if we go back a few episodes ago when we were talking about the Left Behind series, the author, Tim LaHaye, had a similar approach to scripture that unless things just absolutely did not make sense, then you should just take them literally. For example, when it talks about a dragon coming out of the sea in scripture, that means that literally, in the future, a dragon is going to come up out of an ocean.
We’re going to get into how some of this stuff just doesn’t make sense but, I think that point we’re making right now is that by limiting scripture to just that meaning, you’re missing so much depth there. In my opinion, once you have that meaning, then, you don’t need to read it anymore unless you forget it. Then, you can open it back up and remember it again.
Stuart: Think of any good book that you love, that you’ve actually returned to, there’s a richness that happens again. The reason we’re talking about this — and we’ll get more into arches and our buddy, Ken Ham, in a little while. Again, we’re talking about folks that are coming from the fundamentalist camp, which is more than not out there in the landscape. I know that oftentimes it seems like it’s a total faction, but a lot of these folks are at Trump rallies.
Stuart: They believe that, one, you’re right; you don’t need to interpret scripture. You just read it. It’s just that basic. You just read it, and that’s all you need. Also, two, they would be in the camp — and I’m not even sure where you fall in all in this, Ben, and I’m probably going into heresy patrol right now with myself — where they believe that it is word for word what God said to people — we can break this down in a minute — that from the beginning in scripture, Genesis to Revelation, it was the exact same voice through the entire thing.
Ben: Right, which, I think, is getting into some of the other assumptions that surround literalism like inerrancy, for example, which is the idea —
Stuart: — they go together.
Ben: — Right, like every single word. So if it’s spoken by God, then that means that every single word is — you cannot dispute that all of the words flow together and don’t — it’s tricky because I don’t want to say “don’t contradict one another” because I think even that in itself is taking the other hard position on the far end where we need to be completely scientific with the Bible, which I also think it wasn’t written that way. When you were talking about there being history, there’s also genre and form that create a ton of depth in scripture, and those things need to be taken into account as well.
You have inerrancy, and then, you have this idea of — and this might be from my own upbringing in the Baptist church — this idea of chronology where you’re starting in the beginning in Genesis and that’s the literal starting point of the story, and Revelation is the end point of the story. It’s interesting because you do miss some stuff in the middle that it really makes no sense if you are trying to go chronologically. There is this implicit that the Bible was laid out as this chronology, and you’re just heading from the beginning to the end.
Stuart: The history of the world. Yes.
Ben: There weren’t, like you were getting at, different perspectives — and I’m going to get some of this wrong — like Jeremiah, and Nehemiah, maybe, and Ezra. Different people were writing at the same time from different places.
Ben: You have some people saying, “Let’s rebuild the temple,” that just got knocked down, the Jewish temple. Other people were saying, “God doesn’t want the temple rebuilt.” Like Isaiah, “God has transcended the temple, and now, God’s everywhere.” So if you’re doing it chronologically, it loses a lot of its meaning if that makes sense.
Stuart: Absolutely, or it ends up making it seem like — and we said spoilers earlier, so I’ll just use a Fight Club. It’s almost like God’s Tyler Durden. He’s arguing with himself or he’s the main character that’s not named —
Ben: — Right. Right.
Stuart: — where you have these competing voices about certain instances and situations. It doesn’t really do justice to the human experience. When I begin to look at scripture, I begin to see that these are stories of people experiencing God throughout different periods of history, different people that are writing these things down. It isn’t simply where you have someone like Isaiah and God saying, “Write this down,” and Isaiah’s like, “Okay, what’s next?” “No, no, you have to dot that “i” and cross that “t”. Your punctuation is off,” said God. [sarcasm]
Stuart: When you get into this literalism, it’s crazy if we look at it in the small sense, but then, you also have to see if you’re tipping your toes in these waters, there’s ripples that come out from it.
Stuart: Well, if this is what you believe, then, there’s implications.
Ben: Right. Isaiah would have to be 300 years old, or 200 years old, or something like that if Isaiah wrote every single word of Isaiah.
Ben: If you take just the historical references from the beginning, and then, later on, you have a completely different empire’s king that he’s responding to, then, you have to start doing some weird sort of — when we were talking about cognitive dissonance, you have to start doing these really weird jumps back and forth in time. So people, then, say, “Well, he was telling the future,” so then, it makes sense.
Stuart: Is Isaiah like Wolverine? He doesn’t age.
Ben: Yeah. He doesn’t die. He doesn’t age. [laughs] It changes meaning and then, you’re losing the form because, then, prophecy all has to be about telling the future. With literalism, you’re having to ignore a lot of stuff.
Stuart: There’s a lot of dancing you have to do. Much like we were saying earlier with Catfish, there’s a whole lot stuff that you have to blot out.
Stuart: You have to make sure that somehow — was it cognitive dissonance? Is that what you said earlier?
Stuart: — to where somehow, as long as you don’t make these connections, these logical connections, then, it all makes sense. Once you do, it really starts messing with the whole — the way that you read all of this.
I don’t know what it is at people’s core that — I think it’s a control structure too. It seems like old-time Catholic before the printing press and everything else like that where we interpret the Bible. We tell you what to believe. We tell you what to do. Do you know what I mean? There’s a control structure in that where there’s this whole idea of interpretation.Whoa, whoa, whoa. If we start interpreting things, if we start reading experience into it, if we start reading history into it, if start reading all sorts of other stuff into scriptures, then, we don’t know what people are going to do with this. Does that make sense?
Stuart: If you’ve ever been around people that are fundamentalists, especially like biblical literalist, they’re very controlling when they are talking about the Bible.
Ben: Oh, yeah.
Stuart: Maybe not all the time, but I’m saying — and we’ll get more into this with Ken Ham. There is a lot — these are control freaks because, again, if you begin to have cracks to form in the ice of their beliefs, eventually what will happen is that it will break and you’ll fall in the lake and die.
Ben: Yeah. I think, definitely, and we have grown up in the era of televangelists, I think it’s more overt there. I think some people actually believe themselves. I think, to some extent, there is a lot of planning. I can think of people who have built very strong — have built very wealthy, abundant structures around them and their interpretations of scripture. If something were to fail, then, they would lose some of that stuff. Especially with televangelists, it’s that way. Maybe on a more a more subtle level with megachurches and things like that. Also, there are some people who just really believe that they’re completely right. I don’t know if there’s much of a voluntary nature to all that.
Stuart: We all have that family member at Thanksgiving. You know what I mean?
Ben: [laughs] Yeah. Absolutely.
Stuart: You know what I mean? No matter what you say, you’re always wrong.
Ben: I’m thinking of Jim Jones or someone that just is — I don’t know if he grew up thinking, “I’m going to lead people down to South American one day and kill them all.” There’s this sort of dangerous hubris, I think, that when you start to tell yourself the same story about what this means over, and over, and over, and over again, there’s zero humility in it. It’s no longer about, “Oh, I have this grand scheme.” It’s that, “If I lose this, I lose myself.” It’s a dangerous thing.
I think that’s one of the good sides of what Professor Ehrman does at UNC. To some extent, you need to crack through the hubris that, “Well, this thing that’s been handed on to me and I’ve been given the meaning of it like I know it, and you’re telling me it means something different. So I’m going to come up with some sort of legal defense to fight you on this.”
Stuart: I’ll mention another name that will have the heretical or heretic police popping up. I remember reading this from Rob Bell in Velvet Elvis, this is years ago, the idea of describing faith as either being like a brick wall or like a trampoline where the springs that hold the trampoline together, there’s a flexibility.
There’s a communal way, also, of reading scripture. You’re doing it in and amongst community. You’re wrestling it out with other people. If you just do what it says, there’s really no wrestling it out. Do you know what I mean? Then, it’s just a list of things you have to do or it’s a list of rules that you are right or you are wrong, and it’s all like that. In all honesty, you really just don’t need God.
Stuart: You know what I mean? If God’s already spoken it, and it’s all literally true, and you just have to follow this stuff, and eventually, you’ll get to heaven, then, really, God has no point.
Ben: It might have been Karl Barth that talked about how evangelicals had put — or, I guess, I don’t know if it was evangelical at that point — a certain branch of the Christian church, which has morphed into evangelicalism, now, basically, puts the Word above God, so the Word is God now, which is, basically, saying what you were saying.
I remember hearing that and thinking that is so true in a lot of the churches I grew up in. It was enough to just have the Bible. You didn’t need God. There was no presence of God anywhere, just the Bible. So carry your Bible with you, you’ve got God.
Stuart: My wife always gets mad at me and says I’m being a snob when I say stuff like this even though she doesn’t disagree with me. She just doesn’t like the way I say it. A lot of folks in the fundamentalist camp, when you begin to look at it, the idea of getting education, further education — and I’m not saying that seminary is always the way to go, but you have people who are leading folks through a very complicated library — is how I will refer to the Bible as a very complicated library — who may or may even not have a high school education.
Stuart: You know what I mean? Again, you don’t really need a whole lot of knowledge because it just says it, and you just do it. [sarcasm]
Ben: Or, I think, another take on this in the fundamentalist branch of Christianity in the United States — and we’ve talked about this on the show before — but after the Scopes Trial, you have the fundamentalist sort of turn in on themselves and block themselves off from the world. So they create their own cultural structures, so they have their own schools, and radio broadcasts, and so they are getting schooling, technically.
There are so many doctors — and I’m making air quotes right now. You can’t see that, quote, unquote doctors — in fundamentalists’ churches, but, I mean, it’s a doctor of X school of Bob Jones or whatever fundamentalist school that you went to.
Stuart: That’s also true. Yeah.
Ben: I remember when I was looking at seminary — I’m not saying I made the best choice. Duke was very expensive. It was a very expensive way for me to spend three years and not really do a ton with it. There were some good things that came out of that, but I remember telling people that I was going to go to Duke and you get the cemetery jokes. It’s like, “Oh, you’re going to cemetery.” Also, this branch of people that thought that if I did not go to Southeastern, which is one of the Baptist seminaries in the area, that I was going to be lead down this sinful path.
It’s interesting because a lot of — they call Duke liberal, quote, unquote. I’m making air quotes, again — which is ironic because, really, Duke is postliberal, a lot of the scholars at Duke. Everywhere is going to have a couple of people who are into liberal theology. Even conservative schools have a liberal theologian every once in a while. Most of the theologians at — most of the professors at Duke are from the postliberal school which is a reaction again liberalism. So it’s ironic.
I think when you’re in these conservative or fundamentalists’ schools, it’s kind of doing what we’re talking about with biblical liberalism. It’s passing on this static interpretation of scripture. There are some people who kind of have stretched and toyed with it, but I think, for the most part, it’s the handing down of the same thing.
Stuart: Well, what you can do, you can actually Google this. I remember seeing this years ago when I was speaking at a Christian summer camp. I was fascinated by it for all the wrong reasons, but it was the timeline of the world. They made it look old. It was printed.
Ben: [laughs] They burned the edges.
Stuart: It was behind glass.
Ben: They poured coffee on that.
Stuart: It was, again, treating like the very beginning of the Bible was ground zero, or the starting place, or everything else. It was making it all fit in that. When I say this, I know a lot of folks may hear this when we’re talking about fundamentalists, just assume that it’s a small part of the population. When they did a Gallup Poll on this, 30% of the population read the Bible as literally true. They say three out of ten. I’m not just saying out of all Christians. I’m saying out of the population of the U.S, interpret the Bible literally. I feel like that’s not nobody.
Ben: Yeah. [inaudible – talkover]
Stuart: That was some great grammar there from me. [sarcasm] There is a good bit of the population that reads it that way which ends up fueling stuff like the Ken Ham craziness.
Ben: Mm-hmm, like Creation Museums.
Stuart: Creation Museums or just the ungodly amount of money that they are. This one article that we’re kind of going through — it was making me giddy because I like at these kinds of things in my own head. I find them amusing — but the whole Noah’s Ark experience where they have built this elaborate Ark. You go and visit it, and your whole world has changed. [sarcasm]
Stuart: Ken Ham is known for debating Bill Nye, the science guy.
Ben: Mm-hmm. He, also, kind of ticks me off.
Stuart: I don’t know either of the personally.
Ben: Sorry, I just want to get this out there. One of my pet peeves is when scientist think they’re philosophers. There’s some fantastic, fantastic scientists like Dawkins, for example. The guy is a genius in microbiology and evolution. He’s done some fantastic things, but then, thinks he can somehow crossover because he’s good in his field and totally, take on a new field. A lot of these guys are very not great at philosophy or theology. I mean, I don’t think they even — theology is a different thing, but philosophy and logic and those sorts of things. I don’t know. Sorry, this is just one of my pet peeves.
Stuart: No, you’re right. You get guys like this. I will just tell you —
Ben: — Ken Ham is like cannon fodder for guys like that because they think that they can debate them and it just makes Christians look stupid.
Stuart: Oh, gosh. They both love doing this.
Stuart: They are both — I think you’ll figure out where we fall on each side of these — I think they’re both just arrogant pricks in how they’re approaching all this stuff especially even approaching each other — you know what I mean? — that the whole idea that your whole goal in life is to debunk this other camp.
Ben: Right. Yeah. Absolutely. The thing that gets me is that they both play by the same rules. I don’t think they think they are, but they both are playing by the same rules. Biblical literalism is coming from the same assumptions of science and modernity that we have to experience things for ourselves, that we have to go down to a base of testing things for ourselves. I mean, yes, they are on very polar, opposite sides of the carpet, but they’re standing on the same carpet.
Stuart: Yeah. Well, like you were talking about Dawkins. He was paramount in this one field, and then, he kind of pivoted into this more popular area, also, because it probably makes a little more money.
Ben: Absolutely. Same thing for the fundamentalist Christians.
Stuart: That’s what I’m saying. Seriously, Ken Ham, did you really think you could build the Ark better than Noah? Come on. I’m sorry. That’s me being sarcastic.
Ben: Or do you really think that you understand evolution better than Dawkins or a professor?
Stuart: Yes. I know. Again, I think nothing good comes from the fact that they both — you’re pitting them in situations, and they love it where I am 100% right. [sarcasm] There’s nothing to learn from each other even though, actually, I don’t really know that you’re going to learn a whole lot, anyways, from them. They keep having these debates because once they unveiled the whole Ark thing that was going on, he invited Bill Nye out there and was trying to indoctrinate him the whole time. Bill Nye was trying to debunk him the whole time, and it ends up just being why are we doing this?
Ben: Right. Yeah, it’s really ridiculous.
Stuart: We’re wasting air.
Ben: Yeah, and what you end of learning when you go — we need an air quotes sound on our board. What you’re learning is — I mean, you’re basically being entrenched in your own views.
Stuart: Oh, yeah.
Ben: Again, it’s cognitive dissonance. It’s probably more so for the fundamentalist Christians, but you’re picking up on those little cues that it’s like, “Oh yeah. I’ve never thought of that, and I’m going to stick that in my little Bible in my bag so I can carry it around anytime anyone tries to talk science to me. I’ll throw my Bible at them.” [sarcasm]
I think it happens in an insidious way for the science side, as well, that you can’t think yourself outside of that worldview. For example, we were talking about art. Art is a worldview. It’s a way of seeing the world. It’s valid, but I think we get so entrenched in our own worldview that we won’t open ourselves up to see from another perspective. I’m speaking Nietzsche, now, just because that was Nietzsche. He’s like, “We keeping going back to science versus faith, and they’re both kind of wrong.” They’re both doing it wrong for the same reasons.
I think that what the death of God was all about. I think Christians hear death of God from Nietzsche and they’re horrified, this terrible man. He’s kind of poo-pooing science too. At the very least, fundamentalist Christians can get behind Nietzsche on that but they won’t.
Stuart: No, it doesn’t.
Ben: They take the death of God too literally.
Stuart: I think having to hear the Ken Ham stuff too much anyways, I think God is kind of like, “Eh, how many of these pills will it take?” See, that’s us being sarcastic. Sorry.
Stuart: That’s what gets me. I think to approach — and I think we’ve all done this, but I think we’ve just kind of walked bass ackwards into the whole thing with this. I think that, oftentimes, one, when we talk about reading the Bible, I think the dangers of this kind of fundamentalism that we’re talking about, I think it should have a similar approach to even how we view art and to how we drink it in when you approach it. I think it changes. If you look at how you viewed art when you were a 12-year-old or a 6-year-old. You know what I mean?
Stuart: Your collective experiences are going to inform how you look at art. It’s going to evoke memories, maybe good ones, maybe sad ones, maybe ecstatic ones, but it’s going to draw something deep from within yourself. I think that when we begin to boil scripture down to something that it doesn’t speak something deep within yourselves when we’re engaging in it. If it’s still something that’s almost just like the writing on the wall — we don’t sit and stare at exit signs and go, “I wonder.” You know? It’s not like that.
Ben: That’s deep. [sarcasm]
Stuart: “Yeah, it is. Look at that.” [sarcasm]
Ben: That motivational poster is deep. [sarcasm]
Stuart: [laughs] I think it actually cheapens God to be able to just stick to this very cardboard view of doing this. I think, A, it requires very little of us when we read scripture. When we read through the Psalms, I think that just assuming that somehow all of this wasn’t pouring out of David’s soul at times when he was suffering —
Ben: — Right.
Stuart: — instead of God just being like, “I know you’re suffering here, but please grab a pen.” [sarcasm]
Stuart: I think that, again, when we take humanity and history out of the Bible and make it something that somehow God just coughed up like a cat coughs up a hairball — you know what I mean? — like cosmically. Boom. Here it is. [sarcasm] When we steal the life, and the history, and people, and death, and we steal all of that out of it, I feel like it doesn’t inform the human experience anymore. It leads into — like how you mentioned, which I thought was a good connection when we were talking about the Tim LaHaye and the Left Behind stuff. Again, they’re theology also just points us to otherworldliness to meaning that the Earth is bad. Let’s just get out of here.
When we view the Bible that is completely otherworldly — I’m not going to say that God wasn’t a part of these people’s experiences. I think there is inspiration and people walking with God, and I think there is some truth to all of that. I think that this idea that somehow that it was a microwave dinner that God just popped in, and threw down, and we’re done with it, and that’s all that was ever needed to be said [sarcasm], I think that it steals everything out of creation. I think that steals everything out of humanity and all of this. We’re left off a lot worse for it.
Ben: I thought, maybe, one place where you were going with this at the beginning –like Christians entrenched in this worldview are shutting themselves out from being good X, Y, or Z, whereas, in history, there have been brilliant, very devout Christians that have made amazing scientific advances. I’m sure that in some cases the two really didn’t have a lot to do with each, but I’m thinking about people like Pascal, Leibniz. Granted, some people will say it was a hegemony, at that point. To say that you weren’t Christian meant that you were going to die, so maybe, someone like Galileo wasn’t necessarily a devout Christian. Leibniz was. The guy more or less invented calculus. These were brilliant people.
Also, artist throughout history have been very deep Christians and their faith opened them to being able to move people through art. Some people were both great artists, and great thinkers, and scientists, and things like that. I feel like closing ourselves off in these ways, like segmenting these things, is cheapening contributions to being able to see the world in a different way, like faith informing science or faith informing art. We went on a huge diatribe about Christian art now, but Christians in science can also — science needs inspiration just like art needs inspiration.
Stuart: I think ultimately by just ascribing to this whole thing that we diced through — and I know we’re pretty much out of time here — I think, also, like you’re talking about, Ben, it cuts out all these other things, but I think it really just cuts God out of the equation. You know what I mean? If there’s no need to read, or wrestle, or for any other interpretation, God might as well be dead. He left his work, and he was out of here. That’s all we need. [sarcasm]
Ben: Peace. Shalom. [sarcasm]
Stuart: Alright. That’s a good last word. I like ending on a good shalom. As we end this broadcast, just a reminder, that you can catch us on podcast at www.snarkyfaith.com. You can also find us out on Facebook and Twitter. We love to hear from you. You can email us with questions at www.snarkyfaith.com. That is all we’ve got this week, and we are out of here. We’ll catch you again. Thanks for listening. Good-bye.
Transcribed by Miriam Delony