TLDR Advisory: The following article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers.
“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.
Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.”
(Albus Dumbledore, “Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part II”)
That’s quite a profound thought, isn’t it, that words can have so much of an impact on the human condition? It’s true, though. Words, whether spoken or written, can convey a myriad of thoughts, ideas and feelings. How we digest, process and integrate these thoughts and ideas however, is a slightly different, yet definitely related matter. In the previous article, I attempted to touch upon the “what, who and how” of a very contentious theological issue; bibliolatry. Now, I’ll be getting into the remaining three questions of a “six essential questions” approach to the subject. So…allons-y!
When, if ever, does faith in scripture become Bibliolatry?
In my conversations with various laypeople and theologians, the thought was entertained of a believer actually praying to their bible, and whether this actually occurs. Now, I know that there are people out on the edges of Christendom, who insist on holding their bibles every single time they pray, one could even say “religiously”…but praying to their bibles? I just don’t know.
In my own experiences interacting with fundamentalists and evangelicals, I have come across several who have attempted to sell me on things like young-Earth creationism, that there’s no tangible evidence for evolution, that carbon dating is a lie, or at the very least “unreliable”, and that creation science has debunked actual scientific observations. In my own humble opinion, I would posit that those who willfully ignore or discard established scientific facts in favor of an absolute, literal interpretation of the bible, are indeed engaging in bibliolatry. In simpler terms, if the grass is green, but the bible says that it’s purple with polka dots metaphorically, and the believer says that they believe the grass is purple with polka dots because their bible says it is, what would you call that?
I was once told by an Assemblies of God pastor that the bible is a book, like any other book. As with any other book, there are rules to how it’s supposed to be read. For instance, I wouldn’t read a cookbook like I would read a romance novel, I wouldn’t read an encyclopaedia like I would a science fiction novel. The bible is actually a collection of several styles and modes of writing. Its contents include parables, poetry, allegory, genealogy, history, opinions and advice. Each of these is meant to be read in its own way, and taken for the type of information that it is. Those within Christendom who take each and every word, jot and tittle as being a factual account, may also be engaging in a kind of bibliolatry.
Why is Bibliolatry an issue?
Why indeed! Again, I can only opine here, and I would opine that it could very well be an issue for those trying to find common ground from which to discuss things like belief. In addition, bibliolatry could very well set the believer up for a possible “crisis of faith”, especially if and when they are confronted by existential facts and evidence that are undeniable. At that point, where do they go? To whom or to what do they turn?
Where do we go from here?
For the believer, I would suggest taking the advice of that AG pastor to heart. This same pastor also brought up the concept of “Hermaneutics”, and taking a hermaneutical approach to the reading and interpretation of scriptures. What do I think? I think it’s a good idea.
In a 1993 treatise entitled, “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church”, the Pontifical Biblical Commission to Pope John Paul II included the following statement on biblical hermaneutics:
“Addressing men and women, from the beginnings of the Old Testament onward, God made use of all the possibilities of human language, while at the same time accepting that his word be subject to the constraints caused by the limitations of this language. Proper respect for inspired Scripture requires undertaking all the labors necessary to gain a thorough grasp of its meaning. (source)
In other words, one cannot simply pick up the bible and read everything in one single way, talking it all one way. Taking this approach, in my opinion, is tantamount to intellectual sloth. (And, since sloth is one of the “Seven Deadly Sins”…well, you get the idea.) It’s like the three elements on my banner spell out; think. When reading through the bible, don’t behave like a piece of OCR software and just take everything at face value. Instead, pause for a few moments, taking the extra time to read and consider the context of what the book’s authors were positing, and in what mode it was posited.
Within Christianity, the bible has often been referred to as the believer’s “sword”. The trouble is, that when most people think of a sword, they think “weapon. swing. slay.” Swords however, are actually so much more; they are pieces of art. If one stops to actually consider a sword, they begin to notice things like craftsmanship, style, metallurgy, parts. While the blade might be fashioned from one type of metal, the hilt might be something completely different. While the length of the blade was fashioned by forging, hammering, tempering and quenching, the hilt and guard were formed and gilded by other means, and all of the separate parts were then brought together and assembled with the care and craft of the swordsmith. But alas, too many have contented themselves with simply grabbing a hold of the sword, and hacking away.
Were not automatons, people. God gave us brains capable of rational thought, for a very good reason. Let’s start using those brains to process each piece of information we are presented with, placing it within its proper perspective. Otherwise, those bibles are no better than wasted trees; forested wood, processed into paper with ink applied, bound not only by glue and thread, but also by our failures to reach for higher levels of epiphany and enlightenment.