Thursday, 11 November 2010

That horrible Old Testament - thank goodness those nasty bits didn't really happen!

Yup, that's the sentiment gracing the pages of the November edition of the Canberra-Goulburn diocesan newspaper The Catholic Voice, in the form of a book review by Janet Moyle.

I suspect that one of the reasons why Catholics are so reluctant to actually read Scripture, except in nice sanitised chunks (the Liturgy of the Hours for example, dumps whole psalms and many other uncomfortable verses as unsuitable to modern sensibilities) is that it contradicts their all-is-permitted, rose-coloured glasses view of religion.

The rose-coloured glasses version of the Gospels

Fr Finigan of the Hermaneutic of Continuity blog has written a great post on this problem in the context of a sermon reported in the UK catholic press, and puts the problem in a helpful context:

One question that tormented Cardinal Ratzinger when the files came streaming across his desk was how these men could do such things and then go out and say Mass next day as if they were in a state of grace. The answer lies at least in part in this kind of spirichooaliddy [Fr F's wonderful new term!] in which God loves us all unconditionally, we are all weak and broken wounded healers, everything is grace, all sin is forgiven; and don't you dare mention mortal sin or the possibility of eternal damnation.

The origins of this 'Catholic-lite' heresy comes from a failure to actually read the Gospels, as he points out:

"A headteacher, imbued with this spirichooaliddy once challenged me at a meeting, saying "Jesus did not impose conditions on his followers". I pointed out that according to the gospel accounts he did ("If anyone would be a follower of mine, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me", "If you love me, keep my commandments", "Unless a man is born again by water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" etc.) It seems to be a nice, child-friendly way to present the faith to remove all the difficult bits about sin and hell, and present a God who is a big fluffy teddy bear who magically transforms our broken vows into strings of pearls...."  

And as for the Old Testament...

The same mentality Fr Finigan takes to task is alive and well elsewhere, and reflected in the November edition of the Canberra-Goulburn diocesan newspaper.

The book being reviewed is "Making Sense of the Bible: Difficult Texts and Modern Faith" by Anthony Campbell (Paulist Press, 2010). 

Now I haven't read the book itself. But the review takes a perspective that reflects erroneous approaches to Scripture, and if the author's reading of the book is correct, she should be sounding a warning about it rather than lauding it.

Let's take a look at some extracts from what Ms Moyle writes.  She starts:

"Many times when reading parts of the Old Testament or when praying the Psalms, I have reflected that the history of Israel sounds more like a modern-day jihad than that of a pilgrim people's journey with their God.  There are accounts of wars, massacres and triumphalism which seems at odds with the loving, forgiving Father as revealed by Jesus Christ."  [Hmm, could it be that her view of what Jesus reveals is wrong?  That what she sees as 'triumphalism' might not be....That the 'pilgrim people's journey' doesn't actually mean drifting through life in an ecumenical and inter-religiously dialoging haze?  True, the Old Testament presents an imperfect people, with God only gradually revealing himself.  That does not make it any less true or any less important for our instruction.]

"Anthony Campbell SJ a noted biblical scholar and author, skilled at research and well-versed in the traditions and culture of ancient Israel, addresses these anomalies. His aim is to demonstrate how critical study together with current trends in biblical scholarship combine to make sense of difficult and even disturbing texts for the modern reader. [Nothing wrong with this objective].

Campbell's concern is less with the historical value of the texts than with their reflection on human experience and their theological value for assessing life before God. [If that's the case, that's a problem, the classic stuff of modernism.  Because the Old Testament is history.  We need to pay attention to the literal sense of Scripture first.  And one of the key messages of Scripture is that God continues to work through history to reveal himself and his saving plan.]    Nevertheless he is fully conversant with the arguments that archaeological discoveries prove the Bible right or conversely prove it wrong.[I don't think so!  Archeology, as Pope Leo XIII pointed out in Providentissimus Deus cannot disprove the Bible, since the Bible presents us with inerrant truth.  Where there is apparent contradiction, efforts should be made to reconcile it; where this isn't possible, judgment must be suspended until the matter can be resolved properly.  And besides, how many news stories have you read in recent years that basically say, ok so the Bible was right after all....]


What is needed, he says, is a wider interpretation of the biblical text, an interpretation that has always been possible but too often ignored.... He devotes Chapter 4 to the Book of Joshua and what he terms "the most appalling extermination levels" in this scripture. He is clear that the slaughter never happened which is a relief.  [Phew!  Great way to deal with the story of the people of Israel acquiring the Promised Land by conquest - it never happened!  Hmm, I wonder what else never happened in the Bible in this view....most of it?]  The nasty bits, he says, are mainly in the reports. [!] However, the book has been preserved over the centuries and we need to explore other perspectives also contained in Joshua.


Campbell has particular familiarity with the books of Samuel. It is fascinating to learn of the myths surrounding the person of David, of his military power and of his kingly court. Campbell states there is a massive unanswered question as to why the story of Bathsheba and David was ever told. [Perhaps because  these are not myths, but a real story providing an important lesson on sin and the need for repentance?  Because it shows that even someone on an importnat mission from God can fall into sin, and that serious sin has major consequences?] There is nothing like it elsewhere in the Bible. This book is at the cutting edge of scriptural studies. It would be of great value to those undertaking serious study. Being written in an easy style, it is also accessible to a broad readership.

Oh dear, doesn't sound like this book is helpful at all....

1 comment:

Gabriel Austin said...

Written by a Jesuit and published by the Paulist Press - need one say more?