Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Studying the Bible: Carefully

Between growing up in a virulently anti-Catholic area and then earning two bachelor's degrees, plus part of another in computer science and some post-graduate work: I've run into at least my fair share of crackpots.

Well, "crackpots" in my opinion. It's remotely possible that we really did all die in the food riots - or somehow missed all the Raptures that were predicted - and that this blog and everything else is some sort of mass postmortem hallucination.

Very, very remotely possible. A little less likely, in my opinion, than the odds that the world is run by space-alien shape-shifting lizard people.

Which leads me into the subject of blogs, bloggers, studying the Bible, and paying attention to what the Pope says.

("Crackpots" leads me into Bible study?! As I told one of my kids recently: "I don't do 'conventional.' " And that's another topic.)

The Bible, Three Professors, and What Gandhi Said

With my background, reading that The Sacred Page was written by "three Catholic professors of Scripture and Theology" was bad enough.

I've done time in American academia - and wasn't particularly impressed by what I saw. Particularly in the eighties. Which is yet another topic, almost.

Then, skimming through the article/post, I ran into this sort of thing:
"...A Biblical Renewal...

"...Making Bible Study the Priority..."

"...Just look around at the Catholic blogosphere for posts examining the meaning of Bible passages. Some of course do an excellent job of covering the Bible. Yet many never or hardly ever do...."

"...Fellow Catholic bloggers: Let us offer biblical reflections. Let us talk about how we hear the Lord speaking to us in Scripture. Let us highlight lessons in the Sunday readings. Let us mention priests and bishops who do an outstanding job expounding Scripture, offering links to excellent homilies...."
I'll repeat phrases that jumped out at me:
  • A Biblical Renewal
  • Bible Study
  • Bible passages
  • Biblical reflections
"Biblical" can mean a lot of things. For me, the word doesn't stir up altogether-pleasant memories. Maybe because:
  • I'm a convert to Catholicism
  • Anti-Catholicism was endemic to the area I grew up in
  • Some Americans have really weird ideas
    • In my opinion
I've written about my conversion before.

Actually, the Bible-thumpers who infested some radio stations where I grew up are indirectly responsible for my conversion to Catholicism. They also drove me to listening to the rock stations - and that's definitely another topic.

Some of these 'Bible Christians' seemed to hate the Catholic Church even more than they hated commies and rock music. Which is saying something.

But my goodness, were they ever "Biblical."

Running through a transcript of their rants, it'd be 'Bible quotes to right / Bible quotes to left / Bible quotes in front...' And I am not going to get sidetracked into a discussion of Tennyson.

Listening to those 'Bible-believing' folks, I learned some really - interesting things. Remember, there's a difference between "interesting" and "true."

One chap had studied the Bible and discovered detailed descriptions of some then-current item in the Soviet arsenal. Now that's interesting.

To this day, when I hear words like "Biblical" - particularly in an exhortation to get 'back to the Bible' - I think of my youth: and the learned crackpots who inspired the phrase, "kill a commie for Christ." Their gospel of hate for things they neither liked nor - apparently - understood still has the power to stir. Not my heart: more my lower gastrointestinal tract.

Like I wrote before:
"I've run into too many folks who live up - or down - to what Gandhi is supposed to have said:
"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
"There are people who say that they're Christians, who also seem convinced that God will punish everybody who likes the kinds of music they don't, wears their hair the 'wrong' way, or breaks some other cultural convention."
(October 16, 2010)

Back to the Bible - Anyway

Here's what The Sacred Page said, near the end of that article:
"It's high time for Catholics to make the 'supreme and fundamental priority' of the Pope, their 'supreme and fundamental priority'. Let us all work together with the Pope as he calls for a renewal of Catholic biblical studies.

"As Jerome said, if the Eucharist were to fall to the ground we would be 'troubled'. Let us also be troubled by the way the words of Christ in Scripture are poured out and ignored, recognizing the 'great peril' we are place ourselves in when we fail to listen to God’s Word carefully.

"Fellow Catholic bloggers: Let us offer biblical reflections. Let us talk about how we hear the Lord speaking to us in Scripture. Let us highlight lessons in the Sunday readings. Let us mention priests and bishops who do an outstanding job expounding Scripture, offering links to excellent homilies...."
("Catholic Bloggers Ignoring the Pope's "Fundamental Priority"?," The Sacred Page (November 12, 2010))
I'm fairly sure that what the three professors do not have in mind is having Catholics in America start spewing hate for commies, boys with long hair, and rock music - with Bible references.

I'm also aware that I've got the full authority of "some guy with a blog." I'm not convinced that all bloggers have that awareness - which is not a different topic.

I've experienced the sort of weird blend of cultural biases, wishful thinking, Bible quotes, numerology and misdirected 'spirituality' that can happen when 'Bible Christians' take a running leap over a pile of Holy Writ.

The numerology kick may have run its course - but I don't think folks are any less likely to get convinced that God agrees with them now, than back in the 'good old days' of the fifties and sixties.

That said, I'm not going to stop mentioning the Bible in this blog, or shying away from what insights I've picked up. I'll also continue to distinguish, to the best of my ability, between my preferences, assumptions I encounter, and verifiable facts. Which is why I provide citations and links, where possible.

The Sacred Page article mentions a new document from His Holiness, Benedict XVI: Verbum Domini. I've mentioned that in another post. Two, actually. ("ADHD, an Apostolic Exhortation, Another Document, and V8," Meditating on the Word of God: New How-2 From the Holy See," both (November 11, 2010))

Looking at them now, almost a week later, I see they're not all that 'Biblical.' Not in one sense, anyway: Nary a "thee," "thy" or "thou." As for random "hallelujahs?" Well, I don't do that.

I don't try to correlate numbers from Revelation; the Washington, DC, zip code; and Stalin's shoe size either. Or get 'inspired' to write about the IRS 1040 form, Elijah, 2 Kings 1:10, 1 Kings 18:40, Revelation 11:5 and flamethrowers. (November 14, 2010)

For one thing, I take that Matthew 24:36 thing seriously.

Roll-Your-Own Theology: 'Be Careful What You Wish For

As for 'Bible studies?' I think the old 'be careful what you wish for' saying may apply here. I've run into enough roll-you-own theology - all of it very "Biblical" - to satisfy my interest in that facet of abnormal psychology and cultural anthropology.

Which is why I quote from official Church documents - including the Catechism of the Catholic Church - so much. I'm a convert, remember? One reason I became a Catholic is that I learned about Tradition and the Magisterium. (October 2, 2008) The odds of, say, the Catechism teaching some screwball idea - and backing it up with a Bible verse - is, well, very small.

Then there's the way that empires rose and fell, while the Church kept marching through time. And that is definitely another topic.

Somewhat-related posts:Views:Background:
A tip of the hat to newadvent, and NCRegister, on Twitter, for the heads-up on "Catholic Bloggers Ignoring the Pope's 'Fundamental Priority'?"

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.