Tuesday, October 4, 2011

CONFESSIONS OF A LEFT-LEANING LITERALIST

I was pleasantly surprised (or should I say, blown away?) by an article that appeared in the October 2011 issue of Christianity Today.  The title was, “A Left-Leaning Text” and the note below the title said, “Survey surprise:  Frequent Bible reading can turn you liberal (in some ways)".  The author is Aaron B. Franzen, a graduate student in sociology at Baylor University.  The data used is from the 2007 Baylor Religion Survey and we are assured that the research is undergoing peer review.

In my 74+ years on this earth, I have managed to accumulate a large number of beliefs and opinions, many of which have been modified, or in some cases, thrown out.  And I am always happy when I read or hear someone who agrees with me.  Especially when they have survey or poll data to back them up!  And this was one such case.

I actually remember coming to the conclusion, at least 40 years ago, that a “conservative” (i.e., literal) interpretation of the Bible should lead to a “liberal” application of its truths.  I quickly learned, however, that I dare not share this opinion with any but Uni and a few other close friends and family members.  (Although, readers of this blog may have had their suspicions.)

But now this article/survey has freed me to come out of my liberal closet.  There are others like me.  I am not alone!

The article refers to previous polls, such as Gallup, which asked Americans how literally they took the Bible.  The conclusions usually found that the more literally one holds the Bible, the more they were apt to be moral and political conservatives.

As one who holds the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant Word of God, I have for a long time been troubled by this finding.  While I agree with many moral positions taken by my literalist/conservative friends, I have found myself at odds with most of their political conservatism.

But now this new survey seems to imply that the pollsters may have been asking the wrong question.  The new question has to do with whether those polled actually READ the Bible.  And when this is the question, the results are surprisingly different.  As the author tells us, “…, reading the Bible more often has some liberalizing effects – or at least makes the reader more prone to agree with liberals on certain issues.”

And it apparently makes little difference who those readers are:  their denominational, theological or political views or even their views on biblical literalism (although they do see the Bible as authoritative).

This article goes on to describe “liberal” views held by those who read the Bible.  The readers were rated on a 5-point scale as to how frequently they read the Bible.  The more frequently they read the Bible, the more liberally they hold these views.

Some of the views mentioned:
·        Decreased support for the Patriot Act.
·        Criminal justice – less support for harsher punishment and the death penalty.
·        “More likely … to believe that religion and science are compatible.”
·        “Social and economic justice.”
·        “Reduced consumption as a part of ethical living.”

The article attempts some explanation for this phenomenon.  Why does the Bible push the reader “leftward”?

One explanation the author offers “is that readers tend to have expectations of the text prior to reading it.”  I’ll agree with that.  He goes on to say that “many people think they know what’s in it before they open it up.  But once they start reading it on their own they are bound to be surprised by something.”

I’d say a problem may be that many do not bother to open it up.  They feel they already know what’s in it, so why bother?  Their preacher or teacher, or some author, has already explained it.  Those other people have done all the hard work; I don’t need to.  There’s a big difference between believing in the literalness of the Bible and applying it literally in my life.

Look at all the nice clean new looking Bibles carried into church.  How do they stay so clean?

And then there is how people read the Bible.  For many (including literalists) it’s simply a how-to book; but even here it’s easier to read other books that tell me what the Bible says or means, than to read the Bible itself.

Another explanation given is that frequent Bible readers “… tend to read it devotionally, looking for ways in which Scripture is speaking directly to them.”  I’ll go along with that!  In fact, I’ll add that I believe much of what the Bible convicts us of occurs by osmosis.  By simply reading the text over and over, its concepts penetrate our thinking.  (I’m sure the Holy Spirit has something to do with the process.)

I can think of a lovely woman whose old worn King James Bible lies open on her kitchen table next to her ash tray, and also a few others I know who are like her.

So my challenge to my conservative friends is simply:  Read your Bible.  Then read it again.  Don’t cherry pick it.  Look for its repeated themes:  moral, ethical, political (?).  What obligations does it place on you?  You may not agree with all I’ve said, but hopefully you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

3 comments:

Preach said...

Once again, brilliant!!! I learned my scales and chords with a little saying... EBGDAE... or Every Bible Gets Dusted At Easter. I used that with my guitar playing because of those that "cherry picked." A pericope here, a verse there. I thought hmmmm... shouldn't that Bible look a bit more worn than that, or did he/she have to buy a new one? Great read sir! Me personally, I do not enjoy the ride on the extreme wings. Too far is too far, right or left. I like it in the plane, the extremist can have the wings.

Sherry said...

fascinating Dad
may have to borrow the magazine

or take a copy with me in case I ever get forced to talk politics

it is good to know tho that we're not alone in our conservative Christianity & liberal politics

once on FB I said I was a conservative Christian and a liberal friend said, no you're not. I explained my views of God & the Bible were conservative and because of that my political views were liberal

I've noticed lately that somehow the Biblical teachings against greed and for caring for the oppressed don't seem to be considered by business people or politicians who claim to be Christians.

this offers an explanation

John Kulp said...

There are no scriptures indicating that any New Testament believer or any New Testament Church ever espoused or was ever encouraged to espouse any political view or support/oppose any political regeme. None!

Standing on that truth as our model to emulate, as you have in this post, can be a lonely position. You are running against the wind.

Please know that you are not alone. I stand with you.

And as in the story of Elijah, recounted in Romans 11, there are many who stand with you. Roughly 25-30% of evangelicals stand with you. Most of these are simply silent today because of the risk in opposing the current wave of political christianity.