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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Waking up from a delusion

Google defines a delusion as "an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder." It occurs to me that this is a perfect description of the notion of Biblical inerrancy. One could marshal all of the available proofs that demonstrate the falsity of this idea without so much as placing a doubt in the mind of someone who holds to this belief. And I know whereof I speak: At one time, I believed in Biblical inerrancy.

Looking back on that experience, I can discern several things that enabled me to hold on to my delusion. In fact, I can now see an elaborate network of beliefs that made it possible for me to avoid the fact that Scripture is literally full of contradictions and errors of science, history and philosophy. I have read several interesting explorations of this phenomenon over the years, but a link from a friend to a piece that I had explored several months ago (Race Hochdorf's The Tyranny of Fundamentalist Language prompted me to offer some of my own experiences with the "disorder" in the interest of helping others who may still be operating under this delusion.

First, I think that it is important to acknowledge that I had been taught to respect and revere "God's Word" all of my life. My grandmother had read the Bible to me as a young child, and I had taken up the practice as soon as I had acquired the ability to read. For me, this foundation provided a strong underpinning for everything that was to follow.

Next, through my father, I was exposed to the radio broadcasts of a charismatic Fundamentalist preacher (Garner Ted Armstrong) who underscored a literal understanding of the Biblical narrative. His church taught that the Bible was God's complete revelation of "His" will to mankind, and that everything in it should be understood to mean exactly what was written on its black and white pages (e.g. the seven days of creation mentioned in the first chapter of Genesis meant seven twenty-four hour days). Also, chief among the tenets of this group was their assertion that the Bible "interprets itself." In other words, thinking and creativity were completely unnecessary in the realm of trying to understand Scripture. Moreover, the addition of God's Holy Spirit to the human mind would enable one to clearly see this "reality."

For me and my brethren in Christ, our acceptance of the "TRUTH" that the church proclaimed from the pages of the Bible was proof that we had God's Holy Spirit. Hence, we believed that any deviation from that truth was evidence of a departure from God's Spirit or evidence that one had never truly possessed it. Talk about a self-reinforcing mental straightjacket! In short, once we accepted these premises, the church didn't have to do much to keep us in line - we policed ourselves. After all, one did not want to wander away from the precious "TRUTH" and get gobbled up by the roaring lion (Satan) that was circling the perimeter of our group!

If we happened to see any error or contradiction, the fault was obviously in our own reasoning. The principle that was more important than any other was that "the Bible NEVER contradicted itself." The church employed a technique known as proof-texting to underpin its understanding of the Bible. It was "line upon line, here a little, and there a little." If a verse appeared to be wrong or contradictory, it was only because you had not interpreted the verse in connection with all of the other verses of Scripture that addressed the same subject. In other words, "You're not really seeing what you're seeing - the error and contradiction are in your own mind - YOU simply need to study harder."

Of course, on the rare occasion when all of these self-policing techniques failed, the ministry of the church was always ready to step in and "help" you see the truth. And, if after their assistance you were still unable to see the truth, there was always the possibility of being disfellowshipped (excommunicated) from the church. After all, God's people had to be protected from the spread of false ideas (heresy), and maybe the offending person would see the light when faced with the prospect of losing his/her salvation (the Lake of Fire yawning before you was a powerful incentive to get your errant butt back into line).

So what finally broke this delusion's stranglehold on my thinking? You might say that it was the Divine intervention of self-interest. Scripture clearly stated that homosexuals were an abomination to God, and they would not gain entrance to the Kingdom of God. As someone who had struggled against his sexual orientation for my entire life, I came to the conclusion that something must be wrong with my belief system. How could God condemn me for something which I had no control over? Oh yes, I could control the behavior (and I did); but how could I change the reality of my own nature? And why would God want me to change that nature if "He" was the one who placed it there in the first place?

I had done everything that the Bible said that I should do. I had married, had children, studied the Bible, prayed every day and attended church. What had I missed? Why was my life falling apart? I had the truth, and I was sincerely attempting to live my life in accordance with everything that I read in Scripture - What was the problem? My own life contradicted what I had been taught about the Bible. This launched the most intensive study of the Bible that I had ever undertaken in my entire life. And, it was about this time that I read Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture by John Shelby Spong. It was like an epiphany to me - it confirmed for me what I had begun to suspect for sometime prior to reading it: I had been in the grips of a mental disorder - a delusion known as Biblical inerrancy. It was literally like waking up from a bad dream!

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful thoughts and writing. I enjoyed reading it. Roy