2015: Advent Religion: Literalism

by on December 8, 2015

Here particularly let me reiterate: I am speaking of my experiences in a couple of specific churches. I am confident they represent a real strand of Evangelical thought and practice in this country at this time. They do not represent any kind of authority on how Evangelicals in general do their thing.

So with that caution, here’s some things we thought about the Bible.

We thought that bit about all Scripture is God-breathed was a knockdown argument that the Bible was an accurate history textbook, an absolute moral guide, and certain kinds of textual analysis were illegitimate – since God wrote the Bible, any reasoning based on the cultural context of the people who held the pen was invalid.

We thought that our beliefs were entirely based on a plain-and-obvious reading of the Bible. This was not accurate, but it coloured our relationship with the Bible, because if we believed it, it must be in there somewhere. Any verse that aligned with our beliefs was proof that everything we believed was true.

We had an ambivalent approach to the major spectre of literalism at the moment, creationism. We were not, for the most part, young-earth creationists; that is, we didn’t hold that the world was only six thousand odd years old, or that the early part of the Bible provided an unbroken timeline. We did think that the bit about the Garden of Eden was historically a thing that had happened, and likewise the Flood and the Tower of Babel and Jonah in the whale. We thought the first two chapters of Genesis were an accurate description of the start of the universe, had the usual blind spot regarding there being two creation stories in those chapters with incompatible orderings, and we thought natural selection was a bit dodgy – but we were willing to believe in supernatural selection. Dinosaurs, in particular, had evidently existed. The universe was old. Astrophysicists were right about lots of things. So maybe “let there be light” and the Big Bang were the same event, and maybe God had to work through dinosaurs in order to get the kind of animals he wanted to turn into people.

We had an odd kind of doublethink going on, because the stories from Genesis clearly couldn’t be squared with reality – you can’t reduce humanity to four couples and have a populated world a few generations later. But at the same time, they were in the Bible, so they’d clearly happened, and we just avoided thinking about them too hard. We didn’t hear many sermons on the really early stuff. It was too complicated to keep all our beliefs straight.

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