Monday, January 21, 2013

Facebook Faith #7

I can't speak much to the politics of this poster I saw on Facebook ... but I can say in all confidence that every person who claims the bible as authoritative cherry picks it; creating their own personalized version.

Many, especially the most fundamental, will deny this.  They will claim the entire bible is wholly inspired, and wholly true ... and there really isn't much you can say to convince them otherwise.

Toward the end of my time in Christendom, I was keenly aware that I was cherry-picking scripture. I noticed that in my 'hell, fire, and brimstone' early days, I was drawn to certain scriptures - whereas, when my faith took on a more liberal bent, I was drawn to others.

I often stated in those liberal days, and I still believe, that the scriptures we are drawn to and that we quote say much more about us than they do about God.

Whatever take one wants to hold in life, you can find yourself a biblical justification.


Wesley Ellis said...

I'm pickin' up what you're puttin' down. But you're also presupposing a way in which biblical authority works. You're presupposing a model in which the Bible is a tool awaiting utilization, waiting on us to use it on others. This is how many within Christian circles seem to understand it. And it's true (from my point of view) that the Bible is "useful" and should be taken seriously when it supports or challenges an argument. But this is only insofar as it PRIMARILY presupposes human subjectivity. The Bible knows (for lack of a better way of putting it) that we're going to come at it from a particular perspective and that people are going to try to shape it according to their own image. But when the Bible truly becomes authoritative is when the reverse happens, when the narrative of God's mission begins to challenge our presuppositions and change the very way we interpret our experience. I believe that this sort of thing can and does happen - that the scriptures do change people's perspective, even while it's so common for people to return the favor. I believe that even with the chaos of human subjectivity, the Bible offers a lens that's grounded at the foundation of human existence. People can talk about authority until they're blue in the face, even while they use it in their theological and ethical debates, but it's not truly authoritative until it begins to shape us and 'use' us, grounding us in the reign and justice of God.

Like I said, I see what you're saying, and it's true. But that does not need to be the only side of the story. If the subjectivity of biblical interpretation deprives scripture of its authority for you, then you may be victim of the same folly as the fundamentalists - the need for certainty and the aversion to mystery.

That's my perspective.

Once again you've made me think, and for that I thank you.

Andrew said...

I want to clarify that I actually see no problem with cherry picking... I think we do it all the time, in everything. WHY we are doing it I think determines whether or not it is a good thing. If a reader is cherry picking scripture to offer grace, or to offer condemnation is pivotal.

I think that bible can challenge pressupisitions and change our interpretations. I think the way I may see it different is that I don't feel I need to make all of the bible work in a positive fashion.

Also, I hear what you are saying about your use of the bible, but I don't think that differs from any other text. When I read MLK's letter from a Birmingham Jail, and other such great works, I think I am accessing that same kind of transformative material. I think the writers within the bible often hit on such positive life changing items, I just don't think all of it is always hitting good things.

jonni said...

Yes - I've often thought the bible is sort of like a rorschach test (and other religious texts act in a similar way). The scripture being quoted tells you plenty about the person quoting it!

Don said...

Nothing wrong with "cherry picking". I have come to believe that there is no book in which I agree with all of it. Learn to read and choose what speaks to your soul. Discard the rest. This won't make you many friends, unless the feel the same, but it will work for you.

The Arkwelder said...

This, I believe, reflects the obsessive-compulsive quest for 'certainty' that many Christians have. They want something tangible, a codified set of rules that will save them, allow them to live forever. Paul warned us that the Law can only serve to condemn. What people may not realize is that ALL laws are like this. Even the Sermon on the Mount, if you treat it merely like a set of laws, you'll start tripping over yourself trying to follow them. From one Christian to the other Christians who frequent this blog: Believing in any book or man (even if you want to raise him up to the status of 'God') will not save you. Love alone saves.

Paul Sunstone said...

I think your observation that the passages you are drawn to and quote say so much about you is spot on. Yet, I don't see a great deal of awareness of that in the Evangelical community -- at least, not in what little of the community I am personally familiar with.

Andrew said...

No Paul, there isn't. I had numerous conversations, while I was still a liberal Christian, with Evangelicals who would berate me for cherry picking, but angrily denied the practice when I tried to point out areas in which they were "picking" as well. In general, most evangelicals would deny cherry picking scripture; they just don't see it.

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