Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fundamentally W R O N G

I learned a lot from Dr. Ken Kinnamon, my mentor and friend.  I learned about medical education, work ethic, and dedication to an ideal.  I also learned a lot about being a Baptist.

Dr. K was a born–again Baptist.  By this he would mean that he had repented of his sinful life, accepted Jesus as his personal savior, and tried from the time of that acceptance to lead a Christ–centered life. . . a Christ–centered life based on “the Word.”

Dr. K reads the Bible every day.  He collects various English translations of the Scripture and reads each from cover to cover.  He reads with a concordance, a biblical dictionary, and other aids.  He applies his habit of scholarship to his biblical study and reads not to feel better about his life but to try to understand the God of the scripture.  Dr. K’s personal theology is totally Bible–based.  If something isn’t addressed specifically in Scripture, then we can’t know for sure the mind of God on that topic.  I gather that Dr. K is fairly representative of a lot of biblical fundamentalists.

I also know Scripture pretty well.  Dr. K told me and many others that I am the only Catholic he ever met who actually has read and studied the Scripture.  He admired me for that, although he and I have entirely different views on the nature of Scripture and its place in the Church.

I developed a personal theology that was based on Scripture but also was open to understanding from Christian, especially Catholic, tradition and my own meditation on the Word.  My Christianity led me to believe that God and God’s ways are unknowable.  I came to the conclusion that God is a total mystery, beyond the capacity of the human mind to understand.  I also believed that the principal path to approach God was through silent meditation.  That meditation would bring me to adoration and gratitude, but never to any sort of comprehension of the Being that is God.

Dr. K thought this was a major catastrophe for me.  God is knowable, Dr. K believes, and God gave us Scripture specifically so we can come to know God.  That is why a belief in the literal truth of every word of Scripture is so important.  When we begin to challenge even a single line of the Bible, then we risk not knowing the full revelation of God’s person to us.  A single challenge puts us on the slippery slope to total loss of faith.

Even when I was a true believer, I had no problem challenging Scripture, especially things like the creation account in Genesis, the story of the Flood, the contemporary spiritual value of some of the Torah’s prohibitions, and the Nativity narrative in the New Testament.  I accept evolution as a given.  Dr. K, a practicing scientist with two scientific patents, had a huge problem with the Genesis account of creation.  He refused, however, to deny Scripture’s account of creation.  He came up with an understanding in which each “day” of creation in Genesis is something like six million years.

Dr. K was divorced.  I knew his second wife, and I also understood the horrible situation that was his first marriage.  I believe he was totally justified in divorcing his first wife and, some years later, in marrying his second.  I couldn’t help but ask him, though, how he reconciled his marital situation with Jesus’s straight–forward teaching in Mark 10/2-12:

>>>And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"  He answered them, "What did Moses command you?"  They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away."  But Jesus said to them, "For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.  But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.'  'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder."  And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.  And he said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”<<<

Dr. K and I had our chat about this Scripture and I have to say it was one of the few times Dr. K was at a loss to explain his understanding of Scripture.  A week or so after our chat, he gave me a book by F.F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, which tries (unsuccessfully, I think) to reconcile difficult Scriptures with modern practice.

Dr. K—divorced, re–married, and a good man and good Christian—believed he was in God’s good graces in his second marriage.  I believe that, too.  He considered my sexual orientation, however, an abomination, because he believed that several parts of the Scripture used that horrible word to describe gay behavior.  Jesus, of course, while so adamant in his prohibition of divorce and remarriage, had nothing whatsoever to say about gay people or gay sex.

I love Dr. K.  He is a great man and is a great friend.  I mention him here not to condemn him or hassle him, but to show how fundamentalists look at Scripture.  Even dedicated, rational, educated fundamentalists such as Dr. K cannot escape the pitfalls of trying to apply the teachings of 2,000 or 3,000 years ago to life in 2011.  The Scriptures, in my view, are not meant to be anything more than pious writings addressed to a specific audience at a specific point in history.  They cannot be seen as infallible and they don’t work as infallible documents.  They can and do give people comfort, challenge, hope, and inspiration.  To be understood properly, however, they have to be read with a mind that has been educated by psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, and literary criticism.   The emphasis in that last sentence is on the word “educated.”

To hear that, in this day and age, there are politicians who believe that our country should be governed by biblical principles and teaching makes me want to take my granddaughter and get her the hell away from here.

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