Saturday, December 13, 2008

Biblical Illiteracy, Magisterium, and Newsweek

Several comments have referenced the general lack of biblical knowledge, even among Christians. As Mark Bauerlein observes, and proves with exhaustive research, in his book The Dumbest Generation, this is to be expected in a digital age. I love email and blogs...look at where you are reading this post...but the sound-bite generation lacks the sustained engagement with primary and significant secondary sources to be well informed about anything.

A troubling parallel would be with the Eloi in H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. Remember those happy-go-lucky folk who had lost the capacity to read and therefore to reason?

But this raises another issue. Even among the biblically literate, we have to face the question of whose exegesis, whose interpretation? Clearly the Miller piece was more on the lines of screed or rant, but there can be found other, more sound attempts at proving something like her thesis. Mind you, I am not saying such other attempts are persuasive, but the point is this. If person A pursues a legitimate form of argument and says X, and person B does the same and says Y, then who is right?

Some will say that the Holy Spirit will lead a given person into the truth. Yet many can say that they were led by the Holy Spirit. How are the rest of us to know?

And is the idea that the Holy Spirit will lead each individual person into the truth flawed, or at least not complete? Could it be rather, or along with this individualistic approach to truth, that the Holy Spirit leads the body of Christ at large into the truth?

Now we are thrown back upon the idea of a magisterium or teaching authority. As troubled as I am that our widespread bibilical illiteracy makes us unable to understand why a piece like Miller's is laughably flawed, and as bothered as I am that even those who sense that something is amiss lack the logical and rhetorical skills to combat blatant error, I am perhaps more concerned that Protestants who have the raw knowledge to take a stand cannot do so, for they have no appeal to authority. If a well-meaning, intelligent, liberal-mainline-Protestant makes a cogent argument for the legitimacy of sodomite union, and a well-meaning, intelligent, Protestant-of-a-different-stripe makes a cogent argument against such, is truth simply determined by who wins the debate? And of course, who would arbitrate?

1 comment:

eutychus said...

John Wesley took the Anglican trilateral and added experience. Of course primary to Wesley was scripture, followed by reason and tradition and followed by experience and here I 've heard it explained as not so much as personal feelings but rather the manefestation in real life terms of the works of mercy.
Of course you know where I lean on such matters and the answer is part of your e-mail question "why do you believe what you believe.."
Protestants on the whole have jettisoned tradition in favor of experience.