25 October 2013

Many Ways to Read Scripture. Choose Wisely...

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following except was written by Frank back in September 2010. Here Frank explains why "the way you read the Bible dictates the kind of truth you can get from it."

As usual, the comments are closed. 
Let's be honest: there are probably quite a few approaches to reading any text that you could apply to reading the Bible. Seriously -- why not? We live in a relatively-enlightened age, right? We don't have to read the Bible in any way differently than people read Margaret Atwood or Maya Angelou or John Milton -- which is to say, the reader ought to choose the way he sees fit to read any text, and booyah -- that reader gets what he brings, right?


The way you read the Bible dictates the kind of truth you can get from it.

You know: Hemingway never wrote anything but fiction, more or less. Even his autobiographical stuff was fictionalized -- so if you want to take truth away from Papa, you can't take factual truth away from him, because there's no way to read what he wrote and distinguish the "rote historical data" from the "whimsical authorial license." None. If you take truth away from Hemingway, you have to take allegorical truth away from him -- what he writes has to come across in some way other than as example or anecdote. If it means anything, it means something by talking around the things it means.

And some people will read the Bible that way -- and they come to the conclusion that things like the resurrection or the virgin birth are themselves analogical truth and not something which happened on calendar days to people with (so to speak) birth certificates and dirty sandals. And their conclusion is honest insofar as their approach is honest.

Which is to say, what exactly do you expect to get from the Bible if your major premise is that it is not a story by witnesses about something that happened on the streets of Jerusalem and in the Roman courts and on a filthy wooden cross?

See: the problem with the idea that there are "quite a few" ways to read the Bible is that it makes the intention of the writers of the Bible a non-determining factor. It actually inverts the bogus Fundie dichotomy that the text is either "true" (and therefore woodenly literal) or "false" (and therefore some kind of subjective buffet). It says that because the text is "true," we can use all kinds of techniques to extract that truth. We can read John like fantasy literature or a poem and extract the truth; we can read Psalms like they are newspaper reports and lament the "barbarity" of Ps 3 with its call for God to break teeth, having extracted truth; we can look at Adam and interpret him as a cool-ective metaphor rather than a person that both Jesus and Paul said was a real guy.

While the Fundie may ignore the fact of genre types in the text and read everything as if it was just blank statements of fact, the buffet reader is doing exactly the same thing with just as bad results: he is ignoring the demands a genre makes on the reader as expressed by the writer. You know: the word "authority" has, as its root, the word "author" for a reason: something has "authority" based on its source, based on who the author is and whether he has can give to the text what he intends to give to the text.

So sure: go ahead and brush up on the many, many ways people have, in the past, read the Bible, and the ways some people today are trying to "read" the Bible. But then ask yourself this straight-up question: isn't the first person we should ask about what this text means to the author of the text? If yes, how does he tell us this?