“A Grandfather’s Concern: Literacy, Literalism – and the Measure of Truth” – a social commentary published several years ago on MinnPost.com – came to mind today as I read the humorous comments “Owning a Canadian” about the Bible and homosexuality. I post it here with a name that better reflects the tongue-in-cheek spirit in which it was written.
I’m worried about my grandchildren. They live in Kentucky.
A New York Times story by Laurie Goodstein re-published by the Star Tribune (12.12.10) as “Creationism meets the Constitution” triggered the concern. Its focus was the separation of church and state, occasioned by a proposed Christian theme park. But my concern was for my grandchildren.
Kentucky ‘s Governor and the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet seem enthralled with a new Christian theme park called “Ark Encounter. “ Ark Encounter will be developed by “Answers in Genesis,” developers of The Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky that shows humans and dinosaurs living together on a planet that is 6,000 years old, a kind of Disneyworld for the illiterate.
My concern is for Jack and Mimi’s survival. I’m proud of Jack. He’s 10 years old now. He’s a thinker. His emails to me are flawlessly literate. According to his dad, he doesn’t need Spell-Check. He knows how to spell. In addition to being literate, his emails are sometimes literary.
“The developers of Ark Encounter, who have incorporated as a profit-making company, say they expect to spend $150 million, employ 900 people and attract 1.6 million visitors from around the world in the first year. With the Creation Museum only 45 miles away, they envision a Christian tourism corridor that would draw busloads from churches and Christian schools for two- and three-day visits.” (NYT article)
If he goes the literalist route, Jack might find himself like the little boy who, when asked whether Noah did a lot of fishing on the ark, answered no…because he only had two worms. Eventually, his native curiosity and literary bent would free him for the less obvious symbolic riches of sacred text.
But the issue is not only in Kentucky. It’s everywhere that people refuse to read the Bible literately as literature. It may be sacred literature, but it is literature. The folks from “Answers from Genesis” who are building the Ark Encounter insist that the Bible must be read literally. According to my dictionary, “literal” means “restricted to the exact stated meaning; not figurative.” Genesis is factual but not figurative.
My hope for Jack and Mimi is that they’ll board a different ark – the ark of literacy that will rescue them from the sea of literalism that misses nine-tenths of what is sacred – the poetry, the metaphors, the similes, the parables, the literary allusions of The Song of Solomon, the Psalms, or the prophet Habakkuk who climbed up, figuratively, on “the watch tower” to see what God would say to him about the world in which he lived.
The more I think about it, the less concerned I become…unless, of course, Jack and Mimi, succumbing to peer-pressure, conclude that to be a person of faith means you have to swallow a camel. While some of their friends are trooping off to see the young giraffes in Noah’s ark – “We think that God would probably have sent healthy juvenile-sized animals that weren’t fully grown yet,” said the head the project, ”so there would be plenty of room” – I hope Jack and Mimi stay off the buses to Ark Encounter. More than one person’s faith has been killed by encounters that pitted faith against reason.
I hope Jack and Mimi stay home to read their Bible not as a collection of “literal” facts but as sacred literature that will lead them into the deepest sacred recesses of the soul and into the heart of the world itself. When someone asks whether they take the Bible literally, I hope they’ll be able to answer that they don’t read it literally; they read it literately. Otherwise, there would be no worms.
– Gordon C. Stewart, originally published as “Literacy and Literalism” on www.minnpost.com.
If I understand the psycho-ceramic Ark Park builders correctly, then all living critters on the earth today are descendants of creatures that God saved from eternal destruction on the Ark (please correct me if I am too “literal” in interpreting their dogma in this way). God must have been expressing his sense of humor for future fundamentalists to fumble furiously and fume over when he marched the White-fringed Beetle (http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/field/beetles/whitefringed_beetles.htm) up the gangway “two at a time”. No males are known in their population- they reproduce by parthenogenesis. OOPS! Does this mean that God saved two gay female beetles from the destruction of the “wicked earth”!!?? Now, how is this explained away……….chapter and verse, please!
Yes, indeed, John, you’re a wise man, but I already knew that. Yes, God DID save two females with same-sex gender preferences. There was no other gender to “prefer” – that’s the way God made them…all things bright a beautiful…including Amy and Jane, the two chosen White-fringed Beatles, holding hands on the way up the plank leaving the “wicked world” behind, and coming down the plank (“coming OUT” so to speak) into the new “saved” (homophbic) world that resented their salvation from destruction. Oh my! Where are the rest of the biologists? This is pretty special. LOL
As an Orthodox priest I admire once said, The Bible is not a book of history or of science, but of theology. As read/exegeted by the Fathers of the Church, such as Maximus the Confessor or Gregory of Nazianzus, a strictly “wordly” (as they might put it) reading of Holy Scripture is a sign of willful ignorance.
I can’t help but wonder if the Ken Hams of the world know how far outside any historical practice of the Christian faith, prior to the last century or two, they really are. Or for that matter, how much this approach to the Bible owes to the influence of an Islamic fundamentalist view of the Koran. Now THAT would give ’em pause! (Of course as a non-Protestant I’d say the same thing about “sola scriptura” in general, but that’s a whole other post… 😉 )
Tony, this makes me sing. I must be Greek Orthodox. The “sola scriptura” tenet is an exaggerated declaration in response to the western church’s accumulated accretions that served the priestly class and had taken “church” far afield from the beloved community. The fundamentalist-literalist reading of scripture is, as you say, a late development in the Christian tradition. It arose in reaction to the Enlightenment and what it saw as the competing claims of science. What a shame. Thanks for the smile.
“I must be Greek Orthodox.”
Well, not quite, Pastor…I’m afraid we aren’t interested in “modern” views of human sexuality, for one. I don’t talk about homosexuality in particular very much, as I am not tempted by it and God knows I have enough sins of my own to worry about. But in my experience the Orthodox aren’t into “proof-texting” a couple of verses here and there either. Rather our take on human sexuality is grounded in a holistic reading of Scripture, Tradition, and the witness of the Fathers (and Mothers) of the Church.
Having said that, it is absolutely not OK to sit in judgment. The Lord makes clear that if we wish not to be judged by Him for our many transgressions (which we all have), we must not pass judgment on others. I believe that the contemporary relaxation of sexual morality (straight and gay alike) is a great tragedy, but that the Adversary (as you know, of course, the Greek “diavolos” means “divider”) has used it to distract many Christians from repenting of their own sins by fixating on others’. Bad news all around.
Okay…I’m a Scot and a Presbyterian with some similarities and great respect for the Orthodox tradition…especially Greek festivals and weddings! 🙂 Like you and the Orthodox, I am not “into ‘proof-texting’ a couple of verses here and there…. Rather our take on human sexuality is grounded in a holistic reading of Scripture, Tradition, and the witness of the Fathers (and Mothers) of the Church. Having said that, I do not believe that homosexuality is sinful. Recent views regarding human sexuality, like modern science’s discoveries of the previously unimagined vastness of our universe (and it just one of how many other universes) are important to faith and to how we read the Bible. The Kinsey Report research demonstrated convincingly, to my mind at least, years ago now, that there is no “normal” human sexuality. Instead there is a wide range of gender-affection. I’ve been there when gay church members came out for the first time. I’ve heard the struggles of those who have believed that that they were sick and needed “healing.” I’ve stood at the grave of a gay teenager who had committed suicide. Were they sinners? Sure, just like every other member of the human race. But was being homosexual part of their sin. No way. No way. No way. We interpret Scripture “in light of the Tradition, and the witness of the Fathers (and Mothers) of the Church.” No one until recently (except in the convents) would have included the Church Mothers in that statement. It was all about the Church Fathers. Just so, it’s time to recognize that some of the Church Fathers and Mothers were gay and silent, or cloistered. A holistic reading of Scripture is one with the Rule of Love as the interpretive principle. Just my thoughts before retiring for the night – past my bed time. Thanks again, Tony, for the conversation. Grace and Peace, Gordon
Hurray! More power to you! (If you can tolerate more power … ?)
I’m less and less powerful day by day, and I like it that way. Thanks. Those who are not powerful have nothing to lose. We’re freer to say what we feel and think. 🙂
Literalists must have some oversized blinders on, perhaps??
Yes, The blinders are products of fear and fatih at the same time. Faith because those who take the Bible as God’s word…word for word… literarally…believe that to question it or to entertain the issues of hermeneutics would be an offense against God. So…it’s complicated, isn’t it? The question goes to the heart of the human condition, the nature of faith and revelation, and how we are to live together before God. When I write a smart-aleck piece like this, I have to remind myself not to be so smug. Ouch!
I do see what you mean about being smug. On the other hand, the very idea that you would feel that way gets to the heart of my frustrations with the subject of religion. I hate that logic and thoughtfulness can be separated from the fear of offending God. When the latter supersedes the former, anything can happen. Awful anythings can happen. I don’t want to be understanding about that.
Hi Sparks, you’re right – “awful things happen.” Over and over again. I likely sound much more prone to “understanding” than I am in actuality. 🙂 I feel passionately about injusitce, cruelty, and the twisted humanity that endorses pogroms of any sort. All of it sickens me. I often have wanted to take people and shake them. Instead, I try to engage them, sometimes confronting the issues head on, sometimes more subtely. And sometimes I walk away because to say something will only make things worse. Jesus’ suggestion that I take the log out of my own eye before removing the speck from my neighbors, however, reminds me of all the logs that have been in my eyes before I could see more clearly, and it puts the brakes on throwing others away because they don’t yet see. So glad to be in conversation, Sparks. Thank you again for being part of the conversation.
Excellent. Excellently put. I’d like to use this to help my conversations with literalists, especially the “selective literalists.” The latter is really the only kind of literalist. Okay by you?
Thanks for this great article.
Absolutely. Share any way you find useful. Thanks.