10 February 2008


With a tip of the hat to 3QuarksDaily for pointing us to it, I encourage you to read the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lecture on Civil and Religious Law in England.

It brings up an important theme we raised in a previous entry. Revealed law depends for its application on the interpreters of the text/code/law. That is to say, certain people (priests, rabbis, imams... whoever) claim to speak for God. They set themselves up as mediators between the lay folk and the deity. There can be no disagreement, no appeal of their dictates. This is the danger of allowing religionists to wield secular power.

In fundamentalist Christianity, for example, preachers claim to speak for God. Their authority, they claim, comes from God. They claim the Bible is the inerrant revealed Word of God, whole and complete and without any admixture of error. This, on any rational view, is a naked power grab. For when you look at what they are claiming, you see the delusions and deceptions at play.

First of all, they claim the original text itself was actually dictated by God himself through His Holy Spirit and that the writers merely took some sort of inspired divine dictation without adding a single comma, jot, or tittle of their own. [Old Joke: Where do you find the Bible in a fundamentalist library (assuming they have one) catalog? It will be filed under 'S', for 'Spirit, Holy']. The Bible is the sole authority—not the tradition, not the commentary, not the priesthood. Sola scriptorum. Second, they assume the translations they use are accurate and claim it is only the translation of the original words they choose that counts—some translations are holier than others. Third, they pick and choose which passages of the Bible count and which don't. Thus, war-mongering preachers tend to ignore Jesus's injunction to turn the other cheek and love your enemy. They choose to apply selected Old Testament laws when they suit their purpose (homosexual behavior is an 'abomination') and ignore them when they don't (don't eat shrimp or pork, also 'abominations') because Jesus's coming superseded the code of the Torah. Fourth, they claim their interpretations of the text are solely legitimate. And fifth, they claim their applications of their interpretations to contemporary situations are authoritative. The only thing they lack is the power, in our secular society, to enforce their claims.

This, in short, is the universal problem.

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