[ExI] Are literalists the only consistent members of a faith?

Dan dan_ust at yahoo.com
Thu Jun 11 16:10:42 UTC 2009

--- On Thu, 6/11/09, Stefano Vaj <stefano.vaj at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Wed, Jun 10, 2009 at 6:36 PM, Dan<dan_ust at yahoo.com>
> wrote:
>> I think you're defining the various adherents purely
>> in terms of being literalists.  This is an identity problem
>> that depends on how you delimit these terms.  I'm not sure
>> that those who fall outside your limits are necessarily
>> inconsistent or unserious.
> What is unserious is affirming something to be the Word of
> God, and at
> the same time interpreting it in a way which is not
> "honest", but
> consciously or inconsciously aimed at minimising conflict
> with the
> Zeitgeist, other independent beliefs, your personal and
> collective
> interests, or the contemporary "political correctness"; and
> in any way
> which be however influenced by any other concern than the
> reconstruction of what the author originally meant and
> intended.

Well, therein lies the rub: you're assuming being a Christian or a Jew means you have to accept their respective Bibles as literally the "Word of God" and, further, that this is, for them, not open to interpretation.  Granted, some Christians and Jews do take that view.  (And for them the problem of interpretation still remains: this is why there are so many different literalist sects, though they remain a tiny minority, who often each condemn all their rival literalist sects as misinterpreting the texts.)  Non-literalists are nothing new either.  If my study of history is correct, up until the Protestant Reformation, the mainstream Christian view in the West -- Roman Catholicism -- put a premium on the ecclesiastical elites determining how to interpret the Bible and what it meant to be Christian.  (Judaism, IIRC, lacked any centralized authority, especially after the Temple fell.  Also, the Rabbinical Judaism which arose after this, IIRC, holds that the
 sacred texts must be interpreted via Mishnah, or Oral Law.)
> So, it is no so much non-literalist interpretations that
> are
> inconsistent with the monotheistic tenets (e.g., nothing
> requires a
> literal interpretation of what is obviously a metaphor, of
> the kind of
> "behave like a fox when you must outsmart your enemies"),
> but
> objective/evolutive interpretations as opposed to
> subjective/historical.

Okay, though this seems different than your statement that started this thread on literalism:

"My guess is that those who *really* adhere to monotheist tenets usually practise "doublethink", especially when they do not have any other choice..."

Here you seemed to be saying they [monotheist Christians and Jews] were being inconsistent with their "monotheist tenets" if they weren't Biblical literalists.  I think this can be summed up as there being two possibilities:

1.  "monotheist tenets" require Biblical literalism
2.  "monotheist tenets" do NOT require Biblical literalism

(I'm not even sure what you mean here by the specific "monotheist tenets."  Naturally, you could've defined one of those tenets as "Biblical literalism" winning an empty victory by definition for your earlier view.:)

> Note that as far legal texts are concerned, the solution
> adopted may
> well be the opposite. For instance, the Corpus Juris was
> utilised as a
> basis to develop opinions and precedents regulating the
> Renaissance
> life and economy without no concern whatsoever for its
> "philological"
> meaning or original intent.

I'm not sure, in this case, that there's a problem.  Since many of these people weren't pure literalists -- and they weren't necessarily non-literalist out of bad motives -- does this speak to the matter of Christians, Jews, and Muslims not being required to be literalists to remain, respectively, Christians, Jews, and Muslims?  (Also, even the Late Medieval debates out of which some of these Renaissance views arose had similar non-literalist views.  Sometimes, too, a so called literalist view was merely someone interpreting his favored view -- not, again, out of bad motives; I think most of these people truly believed they were right and probably believed their form of literalism was right AND further that they were applying literalism correctly.  I'm thinking, in particular, of their changing views of charging interest.) 

> The same is still been declaredly done by
> most interpreters of the US constitution, by whom it is
> mostly fully
> accepted that nothing similar to its current application
> was either
> intended or even imagined by its drafters...

This is true, though some modern Constitutional Originalists seem to play fast and loose with what they believe is the original intent.  I'm thinking, in particular, of Justice Scalia.  He talks a good Originalist talk (not meaning I agree with Originalism, just saying that when he speaks out on it, it seems, to me, all his ducks are in a row), but then seems to support _stare decisis_ (roughly, let the decision stand).  (Granted, one might argue that stare decisis is not so easily chucked out merely by being an Originalist, though my belief here is that stare decisis conflicts with Originalism directly and to the degree one accepts stare decisis, one is moderating or rejecting Originalism.)
>> They might simply have different views of what it means
>> to be a Christian, Jew, or Muslim.
> Sure. Everybody has a right to have implausible views of
> anything.
> Nothing prevents me from believing that general relativity
> arises from
> the work of Newton, but this is remains nevertheless
> factually wrong,
> no matter how much propaganda I deploy to support my
> theory.

This is true, though I'm not sure, here, what the connection is with being a Chrisitian, etc. and being a literalist.  It doesn't seem, to me, to be the case that one must be a Biblical literalist to be a Christian -- regardless of whether Biblical literalism or Christianity are plausible in and of themselves.  (And, for the record, I think they're not plausible.)
> Additionally, alternative interpretations to the obvious,
> crystal-clear meaning of embarassing legacy in most cases
> are not even
> seriously attempted, unless with a very few subjects such
> as the
> Genesis, etc.  What is embarassing is usually ignored,
> swept under the
> carpet or dealt with on the basis of Doublethink.

I don't disagree when this is applied to either full or partial literalists.  I reckon what you have in mind is what I used to experience before and in high school when arguing with Christian theists.  (I was an atheist from an early age.)  They would often present arguments for there being a God and Jesus, but when their arguments fell apart, they'd retreat to "I just believe it on faith" (often Christian non-literalists would take this tack because their specific beliefs might have been inconsistent with or lacked strong textual support in the Bible, such as views on abortion, which seem to lack strong textual support) or the ever famous "It's in the Bible.  God said it.  That's it!"

But the wider issue here -- rather than getting further into the quagmire of literalism -- is can someone take specific passages from a given religious movement's sacred text* -- e.g., the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Bible, or the Koran -- to draw the conclusion that all or most members of that movement will follow a literal (and often violent) interpretation of that text?  (Granted, a few will, but I think most of them can be easily monitored or avoided.)  And, further, since this came up, I believe, in terms of immigration, should people not be allowed to immigrate based on what's in their religious texts -- on the theory that, say, a Christian or Jewish immigrant might eventually try to put into practice the commands in Deuteronomy 13?



*  Leaving aside which versions (very few American Biblical literalists I've bumped into can read Ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, or Koine Greek, but even if they could, there are discrepancies between these texts.  And, regardless, there are many different English translations that are in disagreement on some points and these disagreements are not always of the form of "this is more traditional" and "this is from bleeding heart liberals who want to make the Bible politically correct") and which interpretations of those versions.


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