Monday, December 29, 2014

On Being The Evangelical Equivalent of A Certain Dog Owned By A Guy Named Pavlov

Apparently Newsweek is still a going concern. Who knew? I thought that thing died a long time ago and thought it should have died a long time before that. Anyway they recently posted yet another futile and risible attempt at a scholarly look at the Bible, with the faux clever title: The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin. Ba-zinga, cue the rimshot! You have to laugh out loud, literally, at the opener.

They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.

They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.

This is no longer a matter of personal or private faith. With politicians, social leaders and even some clergy invoking a book they seem to have never read and whose phrases they don’t understand, America is being besieged by Biblical illiteracy. Climate change is said to be impossible because of promises God made to Noah; Mosaic law from the Old Testament directs American government; creationism should be taught in schools; helping Syrians resist chemical weapons attacks is a sign of the end times—all of these arguments have been advanced by modern evangelical politicians and their brethren, yet none of them are supported in the Scriptures as they were originally written.

I guess that is supposed to be hard-hitting and profound but it comes across like it was written by someone who has a) never read the Bible and b) never met an actual evangelical. It almost seems like someone trying to form a caricature but I think the author, Kurt Eichenwald, is being serious. I really liked the next line: Newsweek’s exploration here of the Bible’s history and meaning is not intended to advance a particular theology or debate the existence of God.

Here is a journalism tip for you. When someone says: "Newsweek’s exploration here of the Bible’s history and meaning is not intended to advance a particular theology or debate the existence of God.", you can be 100% sure that is precisely what they are intending to do, especially when the next line claims that the Bible is "abused by people who claim to revere it but don’t read it". You might think that they are incorrect in application or interpretation but the fundamentalist/conservative evangelicals I know read the Bible. A lot. A statement like that sets the stage that this article has no interest whatsoever in being an actual, "journalistic" look at the topic of the Bible.

There was a time when I would have been incensed by something like this but now I just kind of shrug. So an unbeliever writing for a secular magazine aimed at a largely unbelieving audience writes a polemic against the Bible. So what? In the historical record of persecution against the church, this is not even a footnote of a footnote. It is a poorly written, vindictive screed that will comfort unbelievers and should rightly be largely ignored by the church. So I was kind of surprised that Al Mohler weighed in on the article and was uncharacteristically smarmy. Here is an example:

What is really going on here? Did some fundamentalist preacher run over young Kurt Eichenwald’s pet hamster when the reporter was just a boy?

That is so un-Mohlerlike, so juvenile, that I almost wonder if he wrote the article himself. In fact most of his response was pretty decent but the occasional lapse into those sorts of comments hurt his overall point. In fact I daresay that is exactly the sort of reaction that Eichenwald is hoping for because it plays into his clumsy stereotype of evangelicals. Snark is not Al Mohler's strength and he should stay away from it. The rest of us shouldn't be too concerned about stuff like Newsweek's article in the first place. Even the most well-written response from Al Mohler, and he is capable of some majestic rhetoric, isn't going to change the mind of Kurt Eichenwald or others. That is something we need to rely on the Holy Spirit to accomplish. We can't go charging of into the fray every time some wannabee deep thinker pushes out a clumsy attack on the Scriptures and the church. We should know by now that the heathen will mock and ridicule. Let them. We have a far greater mission than engaging in mud-slinging with the world.

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