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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Christians divided on biblical interpretation

It has become quite common on college campuses to see young liberal students defending religions against detractors who would paint all adherents of faith as radical or militant.

While the former is undoubtedly a positive trend, it has yet to spread to the religion in dire need of public defenders: Christianity. Even as largely uneducated fundamentalists such as the Duggars or the Palins give the world’s most popular belief system a bad name, there are countless adherents of classical Christianity who legitimately seek a meaningful spiritual experience.

The differences between fundamentalism and classical Christianity are myriad, however the two are probably best contrasted by their view of scripture. In the fundamentalist view, a primary tenant of the faith is a completely literal interpretation of the Bible.

As retired Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb and colleagues describe it in their 1989 letter to Catholics in Mississipi and Alabama, “At the very core of Fundamentalism lies the doctrine of strict and literal individual interpretation of Scripture and the absolute inerrancy of every word in the Bible. For those who now called themselves ‘Fundamentalists,’ this is the key to defending what they perceive as traditional orthodox truth against any threat to it.”

In the classical view interpretation of the Bible is important, but adherence to Church teachings is paramount.

Father Robert Barron of Chicago clarifies this distinction in his online video series.

“You have to know what kind of text you’re dealing with,” Father Barron says. “Genesis is not science at all. … I would call it theology.” Essentially, mainline Christians such as Catholics, Orthodox followers and certain Protestants rely on an extensive history of church teachings dating back to the beginnings of the church in Rome to aid them in their understanding of the text.

Such a distinction is key, as it belies a genuine effort to engage with a historical faith rather than the more selfish evangelical or fundamentalist practice of bending scripture to suit a certain political viewpoint. This practice is especially dangerous, as it can lead to the kind of toxic marriage between faith and ambition that has spawned such disastrous movements as the Ku Klux Klan or even National Socialism.

New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan further expounds upon the fundamentalist viewpoint: “If I believe that what you’re saying is not only wrong, but against the will of God, I can easily start [saying] ‘… people who oppose God don’t have any right to exist.’”

Fundamentalist interpretations inevitably lead to this sort of thinking, as they demand unwavering confidence in an extremely illogical, contradictory belief system. As is apparent in such pathetic displays as Ken Ham’s Creation Museum — which features a version of history that has humans astride dinosaurs — attempts to follow such a doctrine can result in unpredictably bizarre social movements.

In Christianity’s favor is the fact that the last Pew Research Center poll showed that the vast majority of self-identified Christians follow a classical version of the faith, with less than 30 percent of the global Christian population adhering to anything that could be considered fundamentalism or evangelicalism. The question then becomes: Why is it that the popular American perception of a Christian is still more Joel Osteen than Ross Douthat?

Part of this is likely due to simple visibility. To use the aforementioned example, Osteen is available on basic cable every Sunday morning in over 100 countries. Douthat is a Catholic New York Times columnist whose body of work requires that Americans, you know, read.

Also of import is the plain truth that Christianity in any form is still likely to strike most Americans as overly conservative. Classical Christians, if they adhere to the official principals of their Church, are still anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion and typically against female church leadership. The previously quoted Father Barron, often more liberal in his positions than your average priest, published an article on June 9 to his Word on Fire online ministry stating that Caitlyn Jenner’s belief in there having been a disconnect between her body and soul is “as repugnant to Biblical religion as it was nineteen hundred years ago.”

Ultimately, Americans must recognize that most historically based religion, be it Christianity, Islam or any other, is never going to fit comfortably within a liberal framework. But perhaps in the same way that an individual would not look to the Bible for scientific answers, they similarly would be poorly served looking to religion for political ones.

Instead, Americans might find greater meaning if they took to a faith system with the simple desire to have a unique, even mystical experience.

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