Monday, November 21, 2011

Between Fundamentalism and Atheism

American society is polarized on a number of issues. Religion is and can be just as polarizing as politics. There are those who say God does not exist and would be happy to find ways to remove any visible expression of religion. On the other side there are those who believe in God and think everyone else should too. And the truth is there are fundamentalists on both sides.

Sometimes caught in the middle are those of us who study the Bible in an academic setting. We are often ridiculed by both of the above groups. Some think we are wasting our time studying a book about a God who doesn't exist. Others accuse us of destroying the faith of the innocent. Both sides would be happier if our research was giving a boost to their claims.

Over at the Huffington Post Amy-Jill Levine and Douglas Knight, have a co-written piece on Biblical Views of God. In this short piece they explain why arguing the God does not exist is as unhelpful as the saying "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it." It is a good, thought provoking piece. Here is some of what they have to say.

The claims are familiar: humanity could not control nature, did not understand conception or birth, and feared death, and so we invented a God that brought order to chaos, purpose to life and comfort in death. Next, we developed religion to placate the God we invented to assuage our fears of what we could not understand or control. Then, we wrote the Bible to sanction the religion that placated the God that we invented. Next came clergy, to interpret the Bible. And today, we have academics to challenge the clergy who interpret the Bible that explains the religion that placates the God that we invented.

Such debates over the existence of God are not only tedious, they are also pointless. Those who believe, believe; those who don't, don't. Belief is like love: it cannot be compelled; it does not function on logical parameters. As some religions would put it, faith is a matter of "grace." For these traditions, we do not summon faith; it summons us.

Equally tiresome, perhaps especially to those of us who have invested our lives in seeking to understand what the Bible meant to its original audiences and how it has been received over time, is the frequent claim: "Don't take a biblical studies course; it will destroy your faith." For the most part, if one lecture undermines a religious view, then that view requires deeper interrogation.

The simplistic assertion, "The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it," does a disservice to both the Bible and to the God the text proclaims. Whether a Creator endowed us with the capacity to think, or whether we are lucky enough to be the heirs of millions of years of evolution -- the two points are not mutually exclusive -- it would be a sin not to use the brains we have.

You can read the whole article here.

1 comment:

  1. "...the truth is there are fundamentalists on both sides." Truer words were never spoken.