Thursday, October 15, 2015

Ditch the Book, Reach for the Holy Spirit

An idol is a representation of a god, or any natural thing, used as an object of worship. Many well-meaning Christians worship the bible as an idol—a manufactured thing they have imbued with divinity. They attribute to the book the qualities of their mono-god, qualities like infallibility, immortality and ultimate authority. They revere the book as if it was their god and this can lead to any number of problems for Christians. 

The most obvious problem, of course, is idolatry itself, or bibliolatry. The second is that the book has become a kind of “holy handbook,” an ultimate authority in all areas of life. This is a claim it can’t fulfill, because the bible is an anachronism, the product of a time and place very different from ours. Because of the many contradictions in the book, bible believers are also caught in an intellectual bind; in order to maintain their belief in the bible’s infallibility, they have to deny its contradictions and anachronisms. Their constant practice of denial is a dangerous trait in a world that needs our conscious awareness and thoughtful participation. Last and most important, the book ends up taking the place of the Holy Spirit as their comforter and guide, and in so doing, it may lead them astray. Even the devil, as Shakespeare succinctly put it, “can cite Scripture for his purpose.” 

It’s easy enough to debunk bibliolatry. Let’s take a quick look at the holy handbook thing. To be a viable guide to life, the bible would have to transcend all times and cultures, but instead, it's firmly rooted in a particular time and culture. Issues of marriage, righteous eating, making war, holding slaves and so on have changed over the past 5000 years, and rightly so. In holding to biblical injunctions, therefore, we may act in ways that are illogical or cruel.

In order to cope with these problems, bibliolatrists have a tendency to pick and choose which words to attend to and which to disregard. The bible is so internally inconsistent that they may be forced to consider half a dozen options for addressing any particular issue. Wealth is a good case in point. The parable of the talents suggests that capitalist wealth management is a holy thing, however, not only will the rich have an awful time getting into heaven (as a camel through the eye of a needle), but the rich will whither as the grass and shouldn’t be trusted (according to James). This is of particular interest to me, as I personally believe that great wealth is a reliable indicator of sin. I stand with James in this case.

Many Christians believe their book
is a manifestation of their god.
Why do people feel the need to worship a book in the first place? Why do they cling to it in spite of its obvious inconsistencies and its own injunction against idolatry? I speculate that it’s because of our human need for certainty. Humans prefer certainty to ambiguity, it’s built into our nature, so in a world that’s becoming ever more insecure, we grab hold of absolutes. The bible is not an abstraction like the agnostics’ god. It’s real. We can touch it and smell the ink on its pages. We can spend money to buy it, which always makes something feel more real in our marketplace society, and we can carry it with us as an amulet.

Poor misguided Christians! They don’t need a book. Jesus promised them the Holy Spirit!

Polytheistic Animists also believe in a Holy Spirit, the divine that lives within us. The Holy Spirit is our guide and comforter. His voice can be trusted to lead us well and he will always speak to us of love, courage and wisdom. 

We don’t need a book. We’ve got the Holy Spirit!

The bible is a great work of literature. There’s wisdom to be found in its pages. It’s a compelling record of one culture’s struggle to define human nature and understand itself in relation to God and history. It’s the best record we have of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. But the Christ who is the Christian’s Savior is the mythical Christ, not the historical one. They don’t need the bible to know Christ. 

Our human craving for certainty can only be satisfied by the certainty of faith, faith in our Creator’s love for us and our safety in his hands. We don’t need a book. As you reach out for the love of your Creator, seek instead what one biblical author has called the “still, small voice within.” That is the voice of the Holy Spirit. Listen and you will hear him saying to you, “Be at peace, little human. You are loved.”

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