Friday, December 09, 2005

Suffer the Children, for of such is the Kingdom of God


Aaron Kinsey mistakes familiarity for expertise:
You are wrong. Jesus did in fact threaten those who didnt believe. Jesus said that those who would not want to follow Him should be brought before Him and slain. I am quite familiar with the Bible and what Jesus says in it. I was a fundamentalist Christian for 17 years. Nice try though.
Of course, my first question was, "I suspect your 17 years as a fundamentalist ended on your 17th bday, huh?" His answer was instructive:

Close. I was about 17 and a half. Whats your point? Are you setting up an ad hominem attack in an attempt to disprove my claims? I can see it now: "God must exist because Aaron deconverted when he was 17!"
Sigh. There is a child's Christianity, and an adult's one, and the former, while possibly making one "quite familiar" with the Bible, does not allow one to speak with authority on it. It's not unlike economics or mathematics, I suppose. Using a checkbook for 17 years does not make one competent to speak on the Labor Theory of Value, nor does completion of Everyday Senior Math allow one to speak with authority on the Calculus. Familiarity is not expertise.

This is not to belittle the child's understanding, because Jesus said that of such is the Kingdom of God. One can be a child and a Christian, because one is not required to be an expert on Christianity in order to be a Christian. But I suspect that most Christians (pet peeve alert) never grow past a childish understanding and either "deconvert" like Aaron and think that their understanding of Christianity allows them to interpret 1st Century Jewish rhetoric, or they carry on as Christians, certain that their ability to wield verses about makes them experts.

In Aaron's case, the problem is simple. He has failed to note the existence and use of parable. He has taken "literally" a command given by an actor in a parable and applied it to a speaker whose audience clearly understood it differently. Then when asked how that audience reacted, he changed the subject. By failing to understand the culture and rhetoric of Jesus, he has failed to understand His words and therefore the very nature of Christianity. Because he was "familiar" with the Bible, he used his "17 years" as a basis for a claimed expertise that didn't exist. Many, many adult Christians do the same (Luke 19, anyone?) and they are no more expert than he.

The Bible, like any other piece of ancient literature (or any piece of literature, period) cannot be understood by "reading it like a newspaper," a tactic that critics and Christians alike occasionally recommend. It's not a newspaper. It is history, philosophy, erotic poetry, prophecy, theology, rhetoric and logic, biography, law, and covenant. It contains parables and proverbial wisdom and sarcasm and idiom and symbolism, and one who does not take the time or effort to grasp those will never come to a proper understanding of it. One who is not willing to understand basic literary divices of ancient culture will be forever locked in a world where "Jesus loves me, this I know" is the highest theological ratiocination available. Is that enough to make one a Christian? Yes. Is it enough to allow one to speak intelligently about the Bible? Not remotely.

One who reads the Bible like a newspaper will never be anything but a baby Christian, or worse, when one grows sufficiently mature to reject a Christianity meant for 5-year-olds as insufficient and unsophisticated, one is likely to become a baby ex-Christian. A 5-year-old's Christianity IS insufficient for an adult, just like a 5-year-old's mathematics is insufficient for an adult. The solution is not to reject mathematics; it is to get serious about studying mathematics.

There's a reason that most religious discussion is drivel, and that reason is that both sides are either defending or attacking a 5-year-old's Christianity, a caricature of the real thing, and not the real thing itself.

Paul told Timothy to study to show that he was a workman who could rightly piece out the scriptures to those he taught. Memorizing verses is not study. Wielding verses is not study. Certainly reading the Bible like a newspaper, divorcing sentences from their grammatical and historical context, is not study.

And if you aren't willing to study, at least be willing to shut up. It's better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. I'm pretty sure that's in the Bible somewhere...

Copyright 2005 El Borak, inc. Makers of Faux Pearls, Turin Shrouds, Quality Manhole Covers, String Cheese, Counterfeit Canadian Dollars, Japes, Puns, and Irrelevant Comparisons, and confusing Florida ballots.

No comments: