America Magazine takes up the problem of a growing (if not, constant) Biblical fundamentalism amongst Catholics. Brian Pinter the director of Campus Ministry at Regis High School recently taught a course on scripture and reported what his fairly sophisticated class had to say.
…a number of individuals were shocked at the suggestion that the first and second chapters of Genesis did not contain literal, historically accurate accounts of creation. One woman protested, saying, “How do you know the world wasn’t made that way? You can’t prove otherwise!” Another was flabbergasted that I did not affirm the historicity of the talking serpent in Genesis 3: “Are you saying that God can’t create a talking snake?” Finally, an irate young man sent me e-mail to tell me, among other things, that my treatment of Genesis had no place in a Catholic parish and that I should consider becoming Protestant.
I attempted to reassure those who took exception to my nonliteralist approach by emphasizing that the ideas I taught were based not on my personal opinions but on the best of contemporary Catholic scholarship and on the tradition of the church. A few asked me, “If this is Catholic teaching, how come I’ve never heard it before?”
Most people have never taken a scripture course and I’m astounded often how little people know about scripture (and tradition too, while we’re at it). Catholic high schools and Universities should indeed be much better at exposing people to the intricacies of scripture, rather than waiting for graduate school for most people to delve into.
Here’s the real problem though–political culture wars where the game’s rules are often drawn up by Protestant fundamentalist alongside a unwritten rule that if you know your Bible, then you’re on a different religious plane than others who don’t. The problem is that the fundamentalists can quote the bible but don’t understand it. It’s the equivalent of knowing dates in history but not the causes of the Civil War. Pinter continues:
In the public square, one’s religiosity is often judged by how well one knows the Bible. The media are fond of pitting biblical fundamentalists who defend the “truth” of Scripture against those who see the Bible as nothing more than a collection of ancient fables and myths. One need only recall the publicity surrounding the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, which challenged a school’s policy of teaching intelligent design in science classes, or Alabama gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne, who was lambasted by his opponents for suggesting that not all the Bible was meant to be read literally. Many Catholics, fearing a secular attack on the inerrancy of Scripture, see literalism as the only way to protect the sanctity of the Bible.
In short, in this post 9/11 world we need to do all we can to combat fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism is just as bad as Catholic or Protestant fundamentalism. Literalism is stupidity masked as cheap knowledge. We’re better than that and need to distance ourselves as Catholics and promote a more critical rendering of Biblical scholarship that others have access to as well. This is not just for Master’s level theologians but should be given to high schoolers and maybe even middle schoolers. We wouldn’t be happy if our students stopped learning math with long division, or didn’t read beyond The Cat in the Hat, or only learned biology but not chemistry. And yet, when we see much of the textbooks that teach younger people about the Bible, we should be horrified. Often they are the equivalent of comic books.
The same can be said of tradition and of the great Catholic books that should be read. How many have read The Seven Storey Mountain, or Orthodoxy, or the Summa? How many have had their faith challenged by Dante or Chaucer and then enriched again by Aquinas, Augustine, Rahner, Balthazar and Tracy? Can any of my college students tell me about Ignatius or Francis of Assisi or Dominic or Benedict’s rule–beyond some superficial knowledge?
A religious educator of children I know once said to me, “We barely have any time with the kids as it is to go beyond the basics and parents don’t know this stuff themselves–so they’re not re-enforcing this themselves!”
I challenged her and said, “Well, that means we’ve got to do more not merely accept that ‘God is love’ is all they need to know.”
She challenged back, “If THAT’S the one thing they take away from the experience of religious education, we could be doing a whole lot worse!”
After I peeled myself off the ceiling I calmly said, “Yes, but isn’t it our job to make sure that they learn more than ONE THING!? If they learned one thing in math, we’d be angry! If they read one book in 8 years we’d be furious! If they picked up only one of the symbols of the elements, we’d have the teacher fired. We’ve got to step this up.”
Or else, fundamentalism is bound to rule the day.
And that friends is not a good scene. It leads to violence. Always. And everywhere.
We have to merely look back 10 years to see what kind of destruction fundamentalism can truly bring us.
Read more at America.