Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

Signs of the Times

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Oct 05, 2005

OK, the news reports are not designed to put the best face on the story. Yet it never should have happened in the first place. Shocked by the decline in the eating of gecko lizards (forbidden in Leviticus 11:30), the UK bishops have chosen this moment to deplore the scourge of scriptural fundamentalism.

As examples of passages not to be taken literally, the bishops cite the early chapters of Genesis, comparing them with early creation legends from other cultures, especially from the ancient East. The bishops say it is clear that the primary purpose of these chapters was to provide religious teaching and that they could not be described as historical writing.

Similarly, they refute the apocalyptic prophecies of Revelation, the last book of the Christian Bible, in which the writer describes the work of the risen Jesus, the death of the Beast and the wedding feast of Christ the Lamb.

The bishops say: "Such symbolic language must be respected for what it is, and is not to be interpreted literally. We should not expect to discover in this book details about the end of the world, about how many will be saved and about when the end will come."

Ruth Gledhill, the Times's religious correspondent, spins the story ("Catholic Church No Longer Swears by Truth of the Bible") as a doctrinal about-face, and lists biblical passages tagged "Untrue" and "True." None of the excerpts she quotes from the bishops' document quite justifies this conclusion, and the authors seem to have stayed within the boundaries of Dei Verbum 11: "the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation." On the other hand, it appears that the bishops have seized the occasion to make yet another Fashion Statement, trying less to address a pastoral problem than to distance themselves from the unseemly literalism of the proles:

[The bishops] go on to condemn fundamentalism for its "intransigent intolerance" and to warn of "significant dangers" involved in a fundamentalist approach. "Such an approach is dangerous, for example, when people of one nation or group see in the Bible a mandate for their own superiority, and even consider themselves permitted by the Bible to use violence against others."

In the 11th century, that might have been a timely admonition. Today, it's the equivalent of slapping a "Save the Whales" sticker on the back of the episcopal Mercedes. The following passage from C.S. Lewis's Screwtape is apposite:

The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under. Thus we make it fashionable to expose the dangers of enthusiasm at the very moment when they are all really becoming worldly and lukewarm; a century later, when we are really making them all Byronic and drunk with emotion, the fashionable outcry is directed against the dangers of the mere “understanding.” Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against Respectability, lecherous ones against Puritanism; and whenever all men are really hastening to become either slaves or tyrants we make Liberalism the prime bogey.

So, at a time when fewer than 30% of Catholics profess belief in the biblical witness, what problem do the bishops see fit to pounce upon? Fundamentalism.

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