Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Literal Interpretations of the Bible

Although there are some very comforting words in the Bible, there appears to be a huge amount of material that should not be interpreted literally. Although interpreting the Bible literally eliminates the hassle of trying to reason about various topics, I believe that the human ability to analyse things should never be replaced by a sort of faith which is totally cut off from any type of rational thinking.

Sadly, there are still millions of people - especially in the US - who have embraced a completely literal interpretation of the Bible. Logical conversations with such individuals can sometimes be quite hard since debate is usually discarded and almost every topic is discussed in an extremely dogmatic way.

I was relieved to discover that the Roman Catholic Church does not endorse a totally literal interpretation of the Bible. Indeed, below is a copy of a very interesting article which I found on the Internet:

Vatican Condemns Literal Interpretation of the Bible

VATICAN CITY, Italy - The Vatican criticized a literal interpretation of the Bible and said the fundamentalist approach to scripture was “a kind of intellectual suicide.” A Vatican document said fundamentalism “refuses to admit that the inspired Word of God has been expressed in human language... by human authors possessed of limited capacities and resources.” The 125-page document, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, was written by the Pontifical Biblical Com-mission, a group of scholars who assist the Pope in the study of scripture. It noted that a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible had been gaining strength. The Vatican is increasingly concerned about the number of Catholics, especially in Latin America, who have abandoned the church for fast-growing fundamentalist sects. “The fundamentalist approach is dangerous, for it is attractive to people who look to the Bible for ready answers to the problems of life,” the document said. Fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide.” A fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible began during the Reformation, when Protestants showed an increasing concern for fidelity to the literal meaning of scripture. The document said fundamentalism refused to admit that there was a human element in the transmission of the Word of God. One member of the commission, Jesuit Father Joseph Fitzmyer, said fundamentalists failed to recognize that several years elapsed between the time Jesus spoke and the time when the gospels were written. “There was no stenographer, no one with a tape recorder on that time,” said Fitzmyer.

From The Star, 1994 Manila, Philippines

At the end of the day, I believe that for a Christian organisation to be socially relevant, it has to apply the principles it upholds to modern-day difficulties. Helping all those people who feel ostracised in today's world believe that they also have an important role in society is - in my view - far more important than spending hours talking about Moses or about Abraham. Merely babbling away about Jesus without taking any sort of action when there are still so many human beings who are lonely, hungry, and sick does not really strike me as a highly effective way of building a better world.


La delirante said...

I think it all comes to which interpretation people want to believe in...the literal interpretation really scares me...as there are certain things in the Bible that I don't regard as being very realistic for our society and times (like most of the Old Testament and Paul's opinions about women).

David Cuschieri said...

LOL Yeah, the Old Testament is quite scary! I would like to add that whenever one reads about Paul's preference for the spirit over the flesh, one cannot help asking: why was the guy so uncomfortable with the "flesh"? Was it because of the fact that he never married and did not seem to be very successful in that area?

It is interesting to note how various parts of the Bible are never quoted during Mass. For example, the stoning of anyone who was accused of blasphemy is virtually unheard of in most Christian churches nowadays. Is this because such parts are no longer "nice" and could prompt believers to have second thoughts about the "loving God" they are instructed to believe in???

L-Imżebbel said...

Paul had "problems with the flesh" because he was influenced by Neo-Platonists. Besides that, Paul was trying to distancing himself from the Pagans (and from the Gnostics). Hence his over-mystification of Yeshu the Nasaraean Essene :)

The version of Christianity we have been fed was mainly a conjecture of his, and it has little resemblence with Nazorean Christianity and Gnosticism.

Oh well, this is a never-ending story. :)

L-Imżebbel said...

Still, their interpretation of the New Testament is still largely literal. And after centuries of deliberate meddling with those texts, I don't think now they can do otherwise.

Eh Pauline Roman Catholicism... so much to answer for.