Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Quote of the day

But the average Protestant--and I mean the average, church-going Protestant, someone who claims his religion as an important part of his identity--does not appear to be reading the Bible himself. He relies upon other people to tell him what the Good Book "says," and from what I can tell, many if not most nondenominational church services don't even present the text of the Bible in any systematic or thorough way. These days, ironically, a Catholic who attends church every Sunday is likelier to know the Bible than many Protestants who do the same.

That leaves the Bible in a strange limbo: continually touted as the Word of God, but removed from the intellectual and spiritual traditions that made meaning out of it.


Withywindle said...


Hilarius Bookbinder said...

I have no idea what kind of churches Flavia's talking about, and from the original post, it's not clear to me she does, either.

But one should make note of a slight cognitive dissonance: Flavia reads "Biblical literacy" as the ability to identify stories from the Bible, while Flavia's students identify it as the ability to derive the correct doctrine.

Also, I'd be interested in an explanation of how "a Catholic who attends church every Sunday" is not relying "upon other people to tell him what the Good Book 'says'".

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested in an explanation of how "a Catholic who attends church every Sunday" is not relying "upon other people to tell him what the Good Book 'says'".

That's the old saw about Catholics not needing to read the Bible because they have priests to do it for them. And the small bit of truth in it is that the readings -- three each day [Prophet, Apostle, Christ] -- proceed through a multi-year cycle. Sooner or later, you hear quite a bit. (Personally, I'm still waiting for Jonah and the Whale, and I'd prefer to skip the Wedding at Cana until the new English translation is approved by the bishops -- I find it seriously annoying to hear the house steward, who was almost certainly a slave, called a "headwaiter.")

And then there are the homilies, which are ostensibly keyed to the readings, and often reference other parts of Old or New Testament which have recently appeared in the readings, or apposite writings by various saints or Doctors of the Church.

Beyond all this, and more important, is the fact that Catholics are now a more diverse group than they once were. Some show up only for Christmas and Easter, others scarcely more than that. But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that we are talking only about those Catholics who a) belong to a parish, b) go to Mass at least once a week, c) who attend all Holy Days of Obligation, and d) who regularly attend reconciliation (at least once a quarter, say).

THAT group reads the Bible quite a bit. That group often attends Mass with their own Missals and their own (Douay-Rheims) translation of the Bible. (And you can bet they know what's in it.)

Flavia said...


"The ability to derive the correct doctrine"? Please. If my students don't know or can't remember the Bible's basic stories, I'm pretty skeptical of their ability to interpret critically on their own--or even to give a coherent explanation for how their pastor or youth leader derived a given doctrinal point from the text in question. (And "correct doctrine," really, gives away the fact that it's usually someone else's doctrine that we're talking about.)

Believe me, I'd be delighted to have more students who engaged deeply with the text of the Bible--regardless of what their politics were, or their denomination, or their understanding of correct doctrine. What I'm frustrated by is the way the Bible is so often used as a proof-text by those who don't actually know it well or at all. Real engagement with the Bible involves serious intellectual labor, even and indeed especially for those who regard it as God's literal, inerrant word.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people who wrestle with the Bible in a serious way, and who don't let themselves or the text off the hook when it seems confusing or contradictory. That's what the Reformers did.

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