Sep 28, 2009

(optional) contextivism !== relativism


Hypocrisy, thy name is Luke. Here's some of my own theological activism/contextivism not an hour after I wrote about disliking it. This is an optional rant post. I've tried to stay away from ranting on this blog, but in this case I just need to vent. Feel free to skip this ...

Remember I said one of the theological discussions/debates to which I'm drawn is the whole evolution/creation/Genesis thing? Well, I had been in just such a discussion over on imonk with this "Will" guy. I brought up the parallel to the Galileo affair, and he wanted to take that on.

The main meat of our exchange starts here. I'll wait while you catch up on at least that much.

Done? Good. Normally I would have commented back again, but imonk very smartly closes comments on posts older than 6 days, and I was too busy bringing my newborn daughter home from the hospital to comment in that time. That's mostly why we're getting into it here.

His last comment is the worst offense, and I really hate that it will be the last word in the dialog for anyone who stumbles onto it later. Oh well. Here's what he said:

Where does it stop Luke? What if science one day provides evidence that resurrections don’t happen. Do we need to stop with the black and white thinking that requires a literal resurrection?

Oh….wait. Science does show clearly (one heck of a lot clearer than it does show evolution) that humans that are truly dead for 3 days don’t come back to life. How can we reconcile this without becoming the closed minded church of Galileo? Maybe the resurrection was metaphor. Maybe the ancients didn’t really care about a real literal resurrection. Maybe they just cared about hope coming out of disappointment.

What? Are you arguing with me? Why are you being so closed minded about things. We all know that the dead don’t literally rise. Don’t we? The sooner Christians stop clinging to silly notions such as this the sooner we can have a genuine faith.

Or…..we could believe what scripture says and let science catch up later. Your choice my friend.


This is a classic slippery slope fallacy. It seems common among scientists, engineers (like me), and fatalists. Basically, Will is saying that if we reason that Genesis 1-3 is myth rather than literal Truth, we will inevitably be forced into sacrificing our faith in Jesus Christ to reason. It just doesn't work that way for me. Maybe it works that way for Bill G (if he's still reading this blog)? It's a similar string of logic: observe that the authorship or accuracy of text in the Bible is uncertain, and be inevitably forced to conclude that the whole Bible is myth. I just can't connect all those dots.

Back to Will's particular statement about resurrection. A similar thought came up in class as well, and I'll ask it here: is there any way science (archaeology was the science in question) could void your faith?

In that particular discussion, I had to admit yes. If I'm someday convinced that we have uncovered the tomb and remains of Jesus, that would shake and uproot my faith. I would have to more seriously consider Judaic and/or Islamic traditions. It's somewhat unpleasant thought, but I have to admit it to myself out of intellectual honesty.

So here's the point: I used to feel that way about evolution, but I don't anymore. And the key for me is context. The context of Genesis 1-3 within the Pentateuch, the Old Testament, the Jewish and Christian traditions - means evolution just doesn't amount to a faith-changing notion for me. But I understand completely where Will is at right now. When my faith was "the entire Bible is literally true as read in my own interpretation," then believing evolution would have been a faith-changing event for me. But when I rejected sola (my) scriptura, it suddenly became a non-issue.

But the key for me has always been about context. I just get really irked when people confuse contextualization with total relativism - i.e., either you ignore all context and take everything directly at face value, or else you have to concede everything you think to be True is totally relative.

6 comments:

Matt said...

Some good thoughts there, although just for the sake of argument, I feel the need to counter your comment that the rejection of 'sola-scriptura' allows for better contextualization.

Contextualization is just as important and possible within the doctrine of sola-scriptura, which is not a doctrine of literalism but a doctrine of authority. Recognizing, as you beautifully list, the literal, literary, historical and scientific context is just as crucial to Protestantism as it is to Catholicism.

Now, with that out of the way, I hate the whole slippery-slope ****. It's such a cop-out and is used far too often to conceal ignorance, in my opinion.

Now in some slight defense of Bill G, I'm not sure he was victim of such a fallacy. My impression was the authorship question was merely the first of a chain of ideas that he was presented with to the point that eventually he found his breaking point. Once you begin reading from certain sources, others with similar opinions are likely to appear that present just as 'new' and controversial revelations that could be threatening to one's faith. I may be wrong, but I hope I'm not because I would hate to think that something as small as a mere authorship debate is enough.

Help us out Bill G! What was the eventual straw that broke the camels back, if you will?

Liz said...

I think when we get bogged down in the scientific truth of the Genesis account, we tend to lose sight of the important things that it says about faith, our relationship with God and our disobedience.

Also, the slippery slope argument can be used the other way. I told a Christian friend of mine once that I did not think the Genesis creation story had to be read literally. She basically responded in a typical way, by pointing out that if we stopped believing one part of the bible, we might stop believing all of it.

But then I raised the point that we don't really believe God has eagles' wings, despite the fact it's mentioned in the bible. Nor do we go around taking out our eyes when they cause us to sin. Her reply was that well maybe God does have eagles' wings and maybe we should take out eyes.

When we decide that absolutely everything in the bible is to be read literally, it can lead to some pretty silly conclusions.

luke said...

that's a great point, Matt. worth noting that there are only some schools of Protestant thought that hold to a "literalist" reading of Scripture. in fact, when I made the point in class, the instructor (who received his doctorate in Scriptural Studies from a Protestant seminary) pointed out that all of these theories and criticism we're exploring in class are derived from Protestant theology; mostly because Catholics are way behind in Scriptural studies.

yeah, I'm not sure of Bill G's total perspective, so I wasn't quite sure if it was a "slopey" one or not. hopefully he's still around to enlighten us.

Saint said...

I wouldn't say Catholics are necessarily behind on Scriptural studies, our studies are the product of 2,000 years of development. But we view it in light of that development, ie Tradition. So it's simply a different viewpoint.

As for Protestants, not all Protestants take the Bible 100% literally, as Matt pointed out. Sola-scriptura doesn't mean that you find the entire scripture to be literal, but rather that you find that Christianity can only be derived from the Bible and the Bible is the sole authority (if by scriptural studies, you mean that idea, then yeah, since it didn't come into any seriousness until Luther). The problem then leads to WHOSE interpretation is to be taken, and that's where Protestantism breaks down into a thousand different camps, most saying that it's up to individual revelation, a huge problem in and of itself. That Catholics resolve this problem by the use of Tradition is convenient to the longevity and unity of the Church. Though, I can't say that Catholics all agree 100% on anything, since that is far from the truth, but we at least have the ability to defer to the authority of the Church.

luke said...

Right, for me the whole sola scriptura thing is wrapped up with interpretation and authority. When I believed in sola scriptura, I had to believe in my own authority (very insufficient) to interpret scripture, which I knew was very inadequate. So as soon as I recognized that Protestants, in all actuality, defer just as much interpretation authority to others as do Catholics, the choice was exactly that - whose authority do I trust?

Sola scriptura was the intellectual open door; Tradition, mystery, history, and sensation were the alluring powers of the Catholic Church that pulled me thru that door.

Caedmon said...

If my faith is based on intellectual assent to a particular understanding of inspiration to a closed canon representing the totality of authoritative teachings and someone comes along and starts poking at that body of writings, it is naturally going to cause discomfort. Challenge scripture and you challenge my faith.

Personally, I think the above is more reason to put our faith in the person of Jesus Christ as he has been passed down to us in both Scripture and Tradition than to put our faith in either Scripture or Tradition, themselves (a tendency we can see in both Protestants and Catholics).

There was a time when my faith in the Bible was stronger than my faith in Jesus. I needed that faith to be challenged and am thankful for the people and circumstances that challenged it. And yet, I see the need to remain sensitive.

Speak the truth, but let Truth do its work.