Clerical Errors for Clerics

In light of current research [LINK] it appears that 666 is not actually the number of the beast, it’s 616.

Often when discussing the Bible with my father I took the position something like this:

What’s so special about that book? It’s a collection of folk tales that happened to get on the most powerful broadcast medium of its day (the Roman news network). Had the Apache been in Judea, it might be in The Great Sprit we Trust.

Pretty much every tribe has written a story about how they were the first, most beloved by God, deserve to have the good land, etc. What’s so special about the tribe of Israel?

I mean the Bible was assembled by men at a conference, it’s not like poof a big hunk of scrolls dropped from the sky. Most of the books weren’t written at the time the people involved in the stories lived. And the extent of writing by the most focal character in the New Testament seems to have circles in the dust! [which I actually sorta like, but that’s a discussion for another day]”

My Dad would counter that one would have to believe that the book were assembled under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That instead of this conference being a boondoggle to go to Nicea and hang with similarly-minded people (I doubt the modus operandi of conference attendees has changed much in the last dozen centuries), this conference was different thanks to the unseen hand of the Spiritus Sancti.

This recent discovery would seem to undermine my Dad’s position.

Dad’s position can be logically expressed as:

“The assemblage of all text produced at the Council of Nicea is known today as the Bible.”

“For all texts selected at the Council of Nicea it was done under the guidance of the Holy Sprit”

“For all objects, if it is produced under the guidance of the Holy Spirit it is perfect.”

“For all objects, if it is perfect, it is true.”

Now, the news of the day is:

“There exists a fact in the Bible that is wrong.”

And we come to the uncomfortable position that either the Holy Sprit allowed man to be deceived or that there’s no good reason to believe that the Bible is flawless. This, of course, is nothing new to philosophers who recognize this as a permutation of The Problem of Evil.

Now the question as to whether God (i.e. the Holy Sprit) would allow man to be decieved is at the heart of Descartes’ meditations. Descartes loved God so much that he couldn’t allow God to be a deceiver (ironically enough, he had to obfuscate this position because he was afraid the Catholic Church would burn him for saying there was something God couldn’t do). I’m willing to side with Descartes on this one, anything worthy of the apellation “God” doesn’t go around like the petty Olympian Gods machinating to fool mortals.

By my own setup above, that means I have to accept my position that the Bible is a dusty book of folk tales, inspirational stories, tribal wisdom, tribal chauvanisms and propaganda (“Israel is the best! You get here, we’ll do the rest! Beat Nineveh for the Homecoming Game!”), and the story of a remarkably benevolent man who claimed to be the actual son of God and was nailed to a tree (thanks Douglas Adams!) for being a traitor to the empire.

I hasten to add that I’m not advocating the wholesale discarding of this book. For one thing it’s too culturally significant, it defines what it is to be Western in many ways. Secondarily, the power and comfort people find in this book is in no way lessened due to the fact that it wasn’t flawlessly assembled. Mankind evolves his relationship to his diety(ies) every day he continues existing [1]. That that relationship should evolve in custom, speech, practice and text is perfectly appropriate!

Nevertheless I think we stand at a new era of religion. The Protestants got rid of the the excessive and bloated machinery of the Pope’s fleet of intercessors in favor of the printed word’s relation with the worshipper. In the maw of Naturalism the Catholics reach for The Virgin as intercessor. In the maw of Naturalism the Protestants (best captured in American literature esp. Nathaniel Hawthorne) reached for The Word itself. This begat an unholy and unhealthy logocentrism - an overimportance of the words and the sentences themselves. It’s no accident that the study of structuralist philosophy began in divinity schools as the pious sought to wrench every bit of understanding out of the sentences themselves (i.e. Schliermacher).

But if the book is just as I’ve said it is, a dusty book, and the fascination with the words therein an obfuscation of the essence of its content, just as the machinery of the Catholic institutions obfuscated the spiritual content of the religion according to the Reformation, then what I’m proposing is something akin to a “second reformation.”

We could get rid of our obsession with words (logocentrism) and get back to a primary spiritualism (that certainly would be welcome in the form of a Christian variety of course!) that is faith plus nothing in pursuit of gnosis.

When people can’t rabidly attach themselves and their logocentrism to dusty books, fundamentalism suffers (John Ashcroft and Osama bin Laden, watch out), and the spirituality that’s at the heart of religion blossoms again within each practitioner. It could be a religious renaissance, an 1800 year detour righted. In this sense The US Constitution is superior to the Bible; by being a series of principles it guides by generality and rules by its spirit. Dusty old book religions guide by the particular and (largely) hide the higher spiritual law of the actual practice.

Now I’ve taken Christianity to task a bit in this posting so let me clarify a few points. Far from the destruction of the Christian religion, I’m advocating a purification and a rebirth. When we’re no longer slaves to the social customs of the religion (selling of indulgences, papal courts) or the logocentric fascination-unto-distraction of the text (post-Reformation), we’re able to return to what spirituality is about: transcendence, communion, growth, and the flourishing of the human spirit.

We can be free and closer to God, if we want.

Update: I realize that, reading this, one could think that my father is a dogmatic sort of fellow. In fact he absolutely is not. He never asserted this position as a “that is the way it is” he asserted this position as a Jehova’s advocate to my line of reasoning.

Incidentally, the church knows well the stakes of making something that can be materially disproved part of their “one and only eternal truth.” This is why the stakes were so high for Giodarno Bruno (burnt by the Church for dogma’s sake), Galileo, and Copernicus.

The church had, as part of its one true, eternal, immutable teachings taught that the Earth was the center of the universe. When the heliocentrists espoused their view (backed by observation) the Church realized that this questioning might not have an end. If the material content of the bedrock book of the church can be held dubious, where does the questioning end?

Footnotes: 1. Aldous Huxley amusingly described this “We create our gods, our gods then exist outside of us, but yet we make them move” phenomenon by having the scarecrows in the fields in Island be made to be look like dieties. The image and story of the Buddha / the Christ / the X is a product of mankind, thus we “create” the god; then that story achieves immortality and the tellers die, and thus the god becomes immortal; yet it is human attribution that makes the gods move and act, so even now that the story surpasses the teller, it’s only by our attribution of activity to a god that it actually lives.

This phenomenon is something that the Greeks realized early. It would be a fruitful area of research as graduate work and is what I referred to in this previous post.