Recently I received the following question from a reader (see quote below). I spent a few days mulling it over before I responded, and when I did, my comment, as usual, became so long and involved that when finished it resembled more an article than a comment . So, I decided the rational thing to do was to post it as such.
Indulge me a few words as an introduction first.
Heretofore, I have not yet dealt (not sufficiently, in my mind) with the question of how I, personally, integrate the Bible into my philosophy and ideas–a notion about as scandalous as it gets to Christians…for who am I to apply Biblical ideas to my beliefs, and not the other way around?
As a believer (I am no longer comfortable calling myself “Christian”, due to the Protestant and Catholic doctrinal assumptions this label necessarily implies nowadays), it is important to be able to coherently explain how I appropriate the Scriptures, for they do possess much value, I believe…though I reject the idea that they exist in the form of some magical talisman or divine oracle–which is precisely how American, institutionalized Christianity interprets them. This is a mistake, and has led to much abuse and misuse of the ideas of the Torah and the New Testament. Ideas which in their purest, un-mystified form seem to affirm human life, and yet must subjugate it, I submit, when they are claimed to exist in a vacuum of “divine inerrancy”.
The Scriptures, in today’s Christian “orthodoxy”, have become the new Temple…, or, more specifically, the new “most holy place”. A place where only God’s divinely appointed priests may enter; and a place where the untouchables of the laity and the rest of the world’s blind masses must inevitably find death and destruction should they gander a look around inside. Oh sure, today’s priesthood of Reformed Elders (among other false teachers…like, say, the priestly lessers who advocate that most egregious of mystic false offices, the Papacy) pay lip service to “quiet times” and the importance of daily Bible reading. But make no mistake: by no means are they suggesting that you in any way have the divine and existential capacity or mandate to actually understand them apart from their–the ecclesiatsy’s–perpetual authoritative tutelage. You are permitted to gaze lovingly and ignorantly from the outer courtyards of “truth”…you may examine the words as you would the walls of a fortress from the outskirts of town. But to attempt to wander inside and examine the wells, the towers, or the bedchambers for yourself…to seek to apprehend the blueprint of the structure in the hopes that you may one day build your own…well, tsk tsk, sinner. You are not an architect. You are a brick. Real understanding is the sole territory of the priesthood…the right only of those whom God has given His divine enlightenment, wholly apart from the graceless, bumptious, and pedestrian reason of fallen humanity.
Do you not yet understand, you poor, poor Protestant plebe; you Catholic spiritual leper? Do you not realize that what is wholly inerrant cannot possibly be reconciled to that which is wholly depraved. And that which is wholly depraved…is you.
So what do I think of the scriptures? What do I think of a book that has had more revisions than the Ford Mustang and yet is continually and paradoxically adored as perfection in a vacuum? Well, like anything else its usefulness goes only as far as reason takes it. If its truths are beyond the context of human existence, as apprehended and organized via rational consistency, then they are irrelevant. However, if its truths speak to the utter right of man to form his own moral standard, by his nature, and thus the perfect morality and necessity of his existence and essence, then the truths of the Bible are perhaps the most powerful to have ever graced the face of the earth.
The scriptures, as with all ideas, are bound to a standard of, as I mentioned, reason–that is, conceptual consistency rooted in the identity of the individual human Self. Beyond that, they are meaningless. In other words, the Bible, as is so often falsely claimed, is not itself axiomatically irreducible. It is not, itself, the premise. So, what is the premise?
The premise is…you.
Please, read on.
“Well, for me your key lines were: “examine [the faith] metaphysically, using Reason as my guide. My assumption is that faith must coincide with what is both logically and metaphysically consistent. I reject contradictions as being outside of reason[.]”
I’m the same as you in that regard — yet I also strongly affirm the divine inspiration and authority of the Bible. Therefore, while I’m committed to logical coherence, at the same time I draw no theological conclusions based on metaphysics alone. God’s word /must/ inform me.
So where in your line of reasoning about the faith do you “allow” (so to speak) Scripture to have a say in the conversation?
Hmmm…I’ve been trying to decide how formulate a response to you. There is a lot going on in your comment…maybe even more than you realize. So, I guess I will just figuratively point at some spot on the chart in my mind and go from there.
Okay, first, I reject the idea of “authority” as a means to teach; to educate. Authority equals force, and so to claim authority is to ultimately claim the right to coerce by violence or threats of violence my beliefs and behavior. To claim the right to violence over an individual is in essence to claim ownership of that individual; in which case that individual cannot really be expected to learn, because the implication is that he has no right to the ownership of his body or mind. Which renders his existence as a volitional individual irrelevant. In other words, there is no need to appeal to authority to teach, because teaching becomes superfluous. Why instruct when you can simply force?
Next, I submit that when people appeal to biblical “authority” they are really appealing to the right of a select group of men to interpret reality for the masses according to a specific doctrine, which may or may not have anything to do with what’s actually in the Bible. For example, the words “the fall of man” and “total depravity” appear nowhere in Scripture, nor can one even reasonably argue that the bible speaks to these ideas despite its lack of direct mention. Nevertheless, man’s “fallen nature” and “pervasive” depravity form the whole of Christian metaphysics.
In general, I consider the concept of “authority” like I do the concepts of “perfection” and “inerrancy”. Since these are ultimately contextual concepts, their meaning is always contradicted. For example, the Bible is inerrant, we are told, however, I cannot use my Bible to pound nails; thus, its inerrancy is contextual. Out of context, it is in fact, wholly errant, contradicting the appeal to its inerrancy by definition. The same holds true for “perfection” and “authority”. The perfect car is not the perfect candy cane; and the authority of the police is not the same as the authority of a child’s parents.
In some cases, the concept of authority is equated to “expertise”. This is a fine application of authority, however, we must remember that in all areas of knowledge, authority is and must be subordinated to reason. If one’s doctor, who is an authority in the field of cardiology, tells you that you must swallow motor oil to lubricate your heart, you will naturally reject such advice on the grounds that it is absurd. In short, being an authority in a given subject does not give one license to deny reason. One cannot appeal to his expertise as grounds to completely spurn human identity. A human being, as we all agree and understand, cannot digest motor oil. It is contrary to his identity as a human being. Therefore, such advice, regardless of the source, must be false.
In the same way, when it comes to matters of Scripture, the idea of “divine inspiration” and “authority” must be subordinated to reason, which makes them functionally irrelevant with respect to Scripture. Even if God Himself declares something that contradicts man’s identity, and therefore his ability to ascertain reality, man is morally and epistemologically obligated to reject the declaration. Of course I’m betting that God would not declare something as truth if it destroys man’s identity. A declaration which hinders man’s ability to interpret reality must also hinder his ability to define God as God in the first place. Which makes the declaration moot.
Thus, when I read Scripture, I never actually consider ideas such as “divine inspiration”, “authority”, or “inerrancy” at all, because they have no practical application. They are ultimately irrelevant to anything the Bible says; and if we attempt to say they are, then the Bible becomes meaningless because “authority”, “inerrancy”, and “divine inspiration” denies the existential context of individual. For example, if am told that the Bible declares something that cannot possibly be true from the frame of reference of my identity as an individual, the only way I can accept it is if I do so by forced coercion. I cannot really voluntary accept it because I have no context whereby my volition is relevant. The declaration denies me as adequate to grasp and thus act upon such “truth”, because any such actions must be from my mere human context, which, again, is insufficient and irrelevant with respect to “God’s truth”. God’s “truth” trumps human truth, you see. But since my frame of reference is always human, I must be FORCED to accept God’s truth. I cannot verify it as truth because it is outside my context, so I can only act under compulsion. I cannot volitionally choose to accept it as true…for, again, I have no frame of reference.
Take for example the idea of human “total depravity” as a function of man’s very ontological nature. This doctrine cannot possibly be true because A.) it does not specify, by definition, where one’s depravity ends and where it begins. And B.) If man is totally depraved he is epistemologically insufficient to understand the truth of the bible in the first place. He “learns” by the forced coercion of a divinely enlightened priesthood established to compel the blind masses into “obedience”. Man’s pervasive depravity makes him entirely irrelevant to God’s goodness and truth, which makes the Scriptures meaningless to him.
This phenomenon is what I refer to as “Church-22”, and it is a direct consequence of the doctrine of Total Depravity:
The only way to be saved is to realize you cannot by nature be saved, because what is wholly evil cannot be reconciled to what is wholly good. And that the only way to choose to be saved is to recognize that you cannot choose to be saved…and that, again, is due to your sinful nature. You are told God has to choose you, for you, because you are insufficient to make your own choices for good. Which means that you are saved in spite of you, making you entirely superfluous to the salvation process. You cannot experience it, because it can only occur by the entire existential rejection of you, since you are entirely depraved.
This is rank fallacy on its face.
So, while I do read the Bible–and have many times–with great interest and find it to be of immense value to the objective of instructing humanity on the absolute morality of individual life, among other things, I apply it to bulwark and underscore my philosophical premises (i.e. my metaphysics, wherein the human individual is the moral and epistemological standard). I do not look at it as a means to subvert my premises simply because some self-appointed pontiff (God proxy, also known as the “senior pastor”, or whomever else claims a superior spiritual caste) tells me that it has some kind of spurious “authority” over them, and myself.
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Thoughts on the Bible and Authority.