Thursday, May 10, 2007

Theological Sophistication

Marvin Olasky teaches religion, so you think he'd have a mature understanding of it. Not so much, to judge by his latest article. But perhaps I'm being too judgmental. He discusses how he helps his students shift through four key questions. Was the universe created or did it just happen? Personal or impersonal God or Gods? Bible or Qu'ran? And Liberal or Conservative? That last one sticks in my craw.
Question No. 4: C or L -- theologically conservative or theologically liberal? The simplest way to hash this out: Do you think that the scripture to which you are connected tells you the story by which you are to live your life, or does it give you some general principles from long ago that, given changed conditions, are probably no longer valid?
Or in other words, Conservatives or Fundamentalists believe in the Bible, liberals don't.

This is patently nonsense, of course. What conservatives believe in is their particular interpretation of what the Bible means, and what it doesn't mean. I'm reminded of a line from Slactivist's review of Left Behind, describing the book's authors.
. . . they read Jesus' sermon on the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 and ignore everything it says about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and caring for the least of these. Instead they latch onto the introductory bit about the Son of Man sitting on "his throne in heavenly glory" and speculate what that throne is made of, and where it its, and how big it is, and how many air miles there might be from that seat of judgment to Waukegan.

This is also characteristic of their politics, in which things like disastrous wars of choice or the bankruptcy of the federal treasury are viewed as tangential matters compared with so-called "values" issues that often have little to do with the government.
Olasky's condemnation of "Liberal" believers is simply to shore up those who believe in his preferred interpretation of the holy work. I think Liberal Christians need to be more forthright in saying that the Conservative/Fundamentalist interpretation is just that, one interpretation. And not a particularly good one.

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