The Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). As reason would follow, if God cannot be wrong neither can the Word. And thus begins the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy to which many Americans subscribe. In fact, a 2014 Gallup poll revealed that nearly 30% of those surveyed believed that the Bible is not only God’s Word, but it should be taken literally.
The doctrine of Biblical inerrancy is a relatively new one, which began to emerge toward the latter part of the 1700s. The doctrine was encapsulated in the 1978 Chicago Statement of Inerrancy, in which over 200 evangelical leaders agreed to defend their position against liberal theologians as a sign of solidarity. Harold Lindsell, in his 1978 book, the Battle for the Bible, noted that if the inerrancy of Scriptures were not true, then Christianity would come undone. Co-incidentally, though not by chance, evangelicals and the religious right were gaining significant political power at the time.
Since then, the Bible has taken on a life of its own. While it has been historically used to justify slavery, racism, sexism, and xenophobia, in more recent years, its been used to justify anti-immigrant and anti-science policies, as well as deny wedding cakes and pizza to a select few.
The problem, according to one of my readers, is that people are misinterpreting the Bible. “Only about 10% have a true biblical worldview,” this reader said. “My version isn’t new. It’s always existed for as long as we’ve had his word. True Biblical worldview!” This person believes, arbitrarily, only “about 10%” of others share their particular brand of “true world view” Christianity.
The canonized version of the Bible first appeared around the 4th and 5th centuries. It came in the form of disparate scrolls and scraps, along with verbal stories and traditions. Some stories are mirrors of centuries older stories of virgin births, wilderness wanderings, and divine encounters. It underwent several iterations and changes, adding and deleting books, which contemporary religious and political authorities deemed relevant at the time. A change in leadership led to changes in the canon. Before one can even attempt to interpret Scriptures, one has to determine which canonized version to start with. There are several versions to this day.
Once a version is settled upon, one has to get through cultural and language barriers of ancient worlds, which have been interpreted and reinterpreted hundreds of times. Humans are incapable of processing information without a unique lens representing our own experiences, biology, beliefs, and influences. It’s no wonder there are over 40,000 different sects of Christianity worldwide.
While one sect deems one aspect important – taking care of orphans, the poor, and showing compassion for all humanity – another prioritizes God’s truth and its representation as the most important function of their faith. Scriptures are easy to find in support of either or both perspectives.
Truth is loosely based on the Bible verses we state to back up our positions, and more closely aligned with our intuitions. If truth was based on facts alone we wouldn’t feel the passionate rage we often feel to defend our positions. Truth would speak for itself.
The religious right’s grandstanding with the Chicago Statement of Inerrency in 1978, enshrined a bedrock of authority on which they have based their political power grab. By stating the Bible is in the inerrant Word of God, and using it as absolute authority, these Christian leaders empower themselves in ways that best suit their ambitions. Furthermore, they have created two generations of religious-political activists who believe their, often sociopathic actions, are sanctioned by God through a version of Christianity that has existed since the time of Christ. It hasn’t.
Biblical inerrancy, as Biblical infallibility, is a misnomer. It requires people to live up to standards, or “laws,” set by institutions, which are universally impossible to meet. The Prosperity Gospel, for example, only works in cultures where people have access to money to pay their extravagant leaders. Additionally, it creates a religious divide driven by ideologies based on nothing more than cultural perceptions and beliefs. Our strong opinions are often reinforced by the belief that, not only are we justified, but God himself defends our view.
Over the last few decades, the Bible, from an evangelical point of view, has gained equal footing with God Himself. The strict interpretation, and unwillingness to think differently, has wrapped God tightly in a box, united Christianity with Republican politics, and cordoned off a large segment of the population as enemies of God. Should these religiously divisive dogmas persist, it’s not unthinkable to find ourselves in another dark age where one religion rules and dissenting views equal blasphemy.