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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Observations on Inerrancy 

There has been a lot of talk about inerrancy on the blogosphere these last few days.

Recent Discussions

[A] question was raised about the advisability and expediency of having people turn to different passages during a message. I generally do not ask people to flip around too much during a message....There are exceptions: if the message is topical, or if the cross-reference is a "you just have to see this for yourself" type of point. Of course, the analogy of Scripture is based on the fact that the Bible is inerrant and does not contradict itself. I also like to illustrate using biblical examples. That gives a double benefit: it improves our people's biblical literacy while illustrating the point.

I believe that everything that belongs to Christianity can be summed up in the greetings of Paul’s letters. “Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Why not just say, “Hope things are going well”? Or “how’s things at the church”? Since the bible is the inerrant word of God, there must be a reason why Paul would always address his letters with the pronunciations of Grace and Peace—Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, Colossians 1:2, 1 Thess. 1:1, 2 Thess. 1:2, 1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 3. Why does he do this? Why is this important? Well, Paul isn’t here to explain himself but it speaks mountains to me.

I also wanted it to be clear that I believe the Bible, the Bible alone, as the holy God-inspired, every verse is translated correctly (it is inerrant), authority in my life. I thought this was an important aspect to share as part of my belief foundation (so readers would know where I was coming from) because the Mormon church says it only accepts the KJV bible "insofar as it is translated correctly".

One of my sharp criticisms of fundamentalism, both Christian and Muslim, is that to the fundamentalist, the holy book (Bible or Koran) becomes an idol in and of itself. Taken as the literal and inerrant word of God, it becomes God. This is nothing more than idolatry.

[Karl Barth's] doctrine of Scripture flows naturally from his doctrine of God, which is certainly light years away from that of Protestant Liberalism. Barth's view of divine transcendence so exalts God over man that he was unable to conceive of an objective deposit of divine revelation that any man could hold in his possession. Fearing that an inerrant Bible would threaten the freedom of God to speak sovereignly and unpredictably in the event of revelation, Barth refused to identify the Bible as the Word of God, as equal to divine revelation, as inerrant and infallible, because to do so would be to limit God.

The National Geographic is all agog over a newly discovered "Gospel of Judas." It totally changes our view of history's greatest traitor, or so goes the TV promotions. It's almost funny. When was the last time the Geographic crowd found scripture inerrant?

Truth cannot contradict itself. Ever. I believe there is such a thing as absolute truth, and it is absolutely always true. It is for this reason that I have a hard time accepting the Bible as we know it to be the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God. If the Holy Spirit spoke through the authors of every book from Genesis to Revelation, dictating what to write, then there should be no inconsistencies or contradictions, at all, period.

The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God. If this is not so, then everything else is fair game (creation, sin, virgin birth, death, resurrection, second coming just to name a few).

Some Definitions

Before offering my own thoughts, I figured that it was best to define inerrancy. Here are some definitions that I found:

If a text is considered inerrant, it is considered to be truthful, free of any errors.

Etymology: Latin inerrant-, inerrans, from in- + errant-, errans, present participle of errare to err : free from error

1652, in ref. to "fixed" stars (as opposed to "wandering" planets), from L. inerrantem (nom. inerrans) "not wandering," from in- "not" + errans, prp. of errare "to err" (see err).

Enough Preface - Let's Get On With It

Now that we've looked at some discussions on, and definitions of, inerrancy, I'm ready to proceed to share my views on the inerrancy of the Humanist Manifesto II, written in 1973 to supersede the original Humanist Manifesto, written in 1933 before the Nazi atrocities of World War II.

First of all, does the Humanist Manifesto II claim to be inerrant? You be the judge. On the one hand:

Those who sign Humanist Manifesto II disclaim that they are setting forth a binding credo....New statements should be developed to supersede this....

Yet I sm guilty of quoting selected text. Let's look at the whole paragraph:

Those who sign Humanist Manifesto II disclaim that they are setting forth a binding credo; their individual views would be stated in widely varying ways. This statement is, however, reaching for vision in a time that needs direction. It is social analysis in an effort at consensus. New statements should be developed to supersede this, but for today it is our conviction that humanism offers an alternative that can serve present-day needs and guide humankind toward the future.

Perhaps it's more accurate to say that this Manifesto is "inspired," yet there's an underlying thought that certain statements are assumed to be without error. Here's another statement from the Preface that today's believers would not reject:

As in 1933, humanists still believe that traditional theism, especially faith in the prayer-hearing God, assumed to live and care for persons, to hear and understand their prayers, and to be able to do something about them, is an unproved and outmoded faith. Salvationism, based on mere affirmation, still appears as harmful, diverting people with false hopes of heaven hereafter. Reasonable minds look to other means for survival.

Not just an opiate - theism is harmful. Ouch.

Does the Humanist Manifesto II exhibit the consistency that one would expect of a cohesive document? Let's look at this statement:

Traditional moral codes and newer irrational cults both fail to meet the pressing needs of today and tomorrow. False "theologies of hope" and messianic ideologies, substituting new dogmas for old, cannot cope with existing world realities.

So it's not just the old theist traditions that are a danger, but also the "newer irrational cults" with "new dogmas."

What is the solution?

We need to extend the uses of scientific method, not renounce them, to fuse reason with compassion in order to build constructive social and moral values. Confronted by many possible futures, we must decide which to pursue. The ultimate goal should be the fulfillment of the potential for growth in each human personality — not for the favored few, but for all of humankind.

Scientific method...fulfillment of human growth potential...for all of humankind. Why not use random observation, retardation of brainpower, for the selected few? Insistence on use of the scientific method and universal human growth potential sound somewhat dogmatic to me.

It appears that there is an original manifesto document (let's call it Q) that explicitly rejected all dogma, but that some later writer (let's call him Paul, or maybe it was Edwin) rejected the original teachings and grafted all this lovey-dovey "we are the world/science is cool" stuff onto the document. So how do we find the REAL humanist?

Well, let's stick with the obviously corrupted document as is. Here are excerpts from the first and second sections of the document, which deal with religion:

In the best sense, religion may inspire dedication to the highest ethical ideals. The cultivation of moral devotion and creative imagination is an expression of genuine "spiritual" experience and aspiration.

We believe, however, that traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above human needs and experience do a disservice to the human species. Any account of nature should pass the tests of scientific evidence; in our judgment, the dogmas and myths of traditional religions do not do so....We find insufficient evidence for belief in the existence of a supernatural; it is either meaningless or irrelevant to the question of survival and fulfillment of the human race. As nontheists, we begin with humans not God, nature not deity. Nature may indeed be broader and deeper than we now know; any new discoveries, however, will but enlarge our knowledge of the natural....

Traditional religions are surely not the only obstacles to human progress. Other ideologies also impede human advance. Some forms of political doctrine, for instance, function religiously, reflecting the worst features of orthodoxy and authoritarianism, especially when they sacrifice individuals on the altar of Utopian promises. Purely economic and political viewpoints, whether capitalist or communist, often function as religious and ideological dogma. Although humans undoubtedly need economic and political goals, they also need creative values by which to live.

If I can summarize:
  • Not all features of a religion are bad. Ethics that meet human needs, as well as things that inspire creativity, are good.

  • The bad parts of religion are those that limit humans. When a god or creed is placed above a human, that is bad.

  • The existence of gods has not been proven, and will never be proven.

  • Things other than religions can function as religions, capitalism and communism being but two examples

Now we're getting into what I believe to be the most important statement of the document. This is in section 3, one of the ethics sections (emphasis mine):

We affirm that moral values derive their source from human experience. Ethics is autonomous and situational needing no theological or ideological sanction. Ethics stems from human need and interest. To deny this distorts the whole basis of life.

Even assuming that the statement of autonomous/situational ethics is inerrant, there are two ways to interpret it:
  • As a statement complete in and of itself. In other words, everything is situational depending upon the community in question. Democracy is good in California. Laws that protect the society from the continued existence of Muslims who become Christians are good in Afghanistan. National Socialism was the will of the people in Germany and thus should be commended.

  • As a statement to be read in the context of the whole document. As we have already seen, the authors do have a world view in which certain things are good, and certain things are bad. Thus, abortion for minors is good because it allows the minor to reach her potential without limiting reservations. Similarly, the attempt to convict Abdul Rahman was bad because it limited his beliefs (although perhaps some offshoot humanist school might argue that Rahman should have been eliminated because of his theism - and his accusers should have been eliminated also).

The document is very pro-scientific method, which appears to be the savior of humankind. Here are some quotes from the document on the subject:

We need to extend the uses of scientific method, not renounce them, to fuse reason with compassion in order to build constructive social and moral values. (Preface)
Any account of nature should pass the tests of scientific evidence; in our judgment, the dogmas and myths of traditional religions do not do so. (Religion, First)
The controlled use of scientific methods, which have transformed the natural and social sciences since the Renaissance, must be extended further in the solution of human problems. (Ethics, Fourth)
We would resist any moves to censor basic scientific research on moral, political, or social grounds. (World Community, Sixteenth)

The last sentence cited, interestingly enough, is contradicted by the three sentences which follow it. I've reproduced all four sentences here:

We would resist any moves to censor basic scientific research on moral, political, or social grounds. Technology must, however, be carefully judged by the consequences of its use; harmful and destructive changes should be avoided. We are particularly disturbed when technology and bureaucracy control, manipulate, or modify human beings without their consent. Technological feasibility does not imply social or cultural desirability.

Again, this is obvious evidence of the work of Q (the first sentence) and Paul (the final three). Yet those who hold that the Humanist Manifesto is inerrant can use rational thought, the scientific method, and the goodness of the fully realized human to explain the thing that seems to be a "contradiction" to limited minds.

Basic scientific research should be conducted in all circumstances, and should not be constrained for social reasons. However, social reasons may be used to reject the implementation of the results of basic scientific research, especially the modification of human beings in a way that would retard their growth potential. For example, let's say that someone wanted to "mark" humans to better enable commerce throughout the world. The basic scientific research could be conducted by marking non-humans. Since animals should also realize their full potential, the researchers could mark plants instead. Or perhaps rocks. But maybe, perhaps, we could use humans in the basic scientific research if they were about to die anyway, or if they were naturally prevented from reaching their full potential by a phyical disability such as myopia...uh....maybe we should get back to testing rocks.

But you can read through the preface, and the seventeen points, and the closing, and still not get to the heart of Humanist Manifesto II. The heart of this manifesto can be found at the very end:

Permission to reproduce this material in toto in electronic or printout form is hereby granted free of charge by the copyright holder. Free permission to reprint the essay is granted to nonprofit Humanist and Freethought publications. All others must secure advance permission of the author through the American Humanist Association, which can be contacted at the address at the end of this file.

Remember the quote above, "[E]verything that belongs to Christianity can be summed up in the greetings of Paul’s letters"? Well, perhaps some humanist somewhere is arguing that everything that belongs to humanism can be summed up in the permissions statement. The basic thing that we learn here is that there are two classes of people, and one is better than the other. The "best" class has three attributes:
  • nonprofit - this is better than commercial

  • Humanist and Freethought - this is better than theist, pure economic, or what have you

  • publications - this is better than other forms of communications, such as the then-prevalent CB radio

People in the "best" class can use this material as they like without guidance, but people in the "other" class require the permission and guidance of the American Humanist Association before they can use the material.

(And yes, I'm in the other class - while this is a publication, and it's certainly nonprofit, it's not "Humanist" or "Freethought." So the American Humanist Association is probably after me right now, "fair use" or no.)

There is one serious implication of this - some people can realize their full potential better than others. Non-freethought idiots like me obviously can't maximize my humanity because I'm weighed down with negativity (from Xenu, no doubt). But I'm sure the American Humanist Association will help me.

Which reminds me - has South Park taken on the secular humanists yet? I can see it now:

VOICEOVER: Despite the Nazi atrocities, the Stalinist Gulags, and Guantanamo Bay, humans are wonderful, basically good people.

[FLASH ON SCREEN: This is what secular humanists actually believe!]

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

“I believe that everything that belongs to Christianity can be summed up in the greetings of Paul’s letters.”

Now you knew that statement would steam me up! Saying that Christianity can be summed up by Paul is exactly the problem I have with Pauline Christianity!!!! We should be saying that everything that belongs to Christianity can be summed up in the words of Jesus Christ himself.

“One of my sharp criticisms of fundamentalism, both Christian and Muslim, is that to the fundamentalist, the holy book (Bible or Koran) becomes an idol in and of itself. Taken as the literal and inerrant word of God, it becomes God. This is nothing more than idolatry.”

That is a very wise statement. I’m going to have to check out the Karl Barth doctrine. It sounds amazingly close to my own beliefs on the matter. You are right in pointing out the obvious contradictions in the Humanist Manifesto II. Who gets to decide what is harmful and what is progress?
Regarding the first quote, I had a dialogue with Josh Martin (the author) on it. Here's what I said:

I am a strong believer that you can't sum up the Bible in one sentence, or three sentences, or seven sentences - you're bound to lose something. For example, Paul's statement mentions nothing about the Holy Spirit, He who dwells inwardly within us and guides us....

His reply:

I appreciate your comment and thoughts, however, I did not say you can "sum up the bible in one sentance", if you recall, I said "christianity" not bible. The only error so far is that you changed my words. If you are a strong believer you would have to agree that all of life is grace. And the affects of that grace is peace. The only way for something to not be of grace is for you to earn it. I don't hardly think that a strong believer would begin to think that they have earned anything. The only thing that we have earned is the wrath of God and because of God's grace alone and through Christ's being my propitiation, I am at peace with God forever, period. The fact that we recieve the holy spirit is of grace. As far as losing something, grace never lost a thing!

I don't think his elaboration necessarily removes Jennifer's steam, but I wanted to reproduce it for the record.
His statement doesn't address your point that Paul's greetings leave out the Holy Spirit.
Is he talking about "the Biune God"?

Oh well, at least his reduction to "grace and peace from Father and Son" doesn't irritate me as much as THE FOUR SPIRITUAL LAWS (probably a registered trademark).
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