Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Uhwholesome complexity"

Scot McKnight's scientist friend RJS put up a really fascinating post on a book I am almost certainly going to pick up at some point, Ronald Osborn's Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering. As the title indicates, it addresses an issue I continue to have questions on, namely how the biblical narrative in which Adam's sin introduced sin and death into the world (if only according to Paul) can make sense in light of the (we now know) fact that animals died long, long before humans were around.

But even the quotes from the book that RJS posts were illuminating. Particularly this one, calling out the arbitrariness and (ironic) lack of respect for the Bible of an approach of strict biblical "literalism":
The greatest problem with strict literalism’s “plain” reading approach to Genesis, however, is that it is not plain or literal enough. Creationists have treated Genesis as a story that is all surface with no depth that must now be validated or “proved” through – irony of ironies – the tools of a thoroughly rationalistic, quantifying and materialistic science. But the demand for scientific and historical correspondence – the criterion of “truth” demanded by modern, post-Enlightenment minds – introduces unwholesome new layers of complexity to our readings. These layers are not located inside the text, drawing us into its mysterious and undisclosed depths as I have attempted to do in my reading in Chapter one, but rather are piled on top of the story from without, strangling its poetic and doxological heart. (p. 52)
Osborn says what I think far better than I can. The term "unwholesome complexity" (one of his chapter titles), refers to the complexity that is not intrinsic to the message of Scripture, but that we create by trying to  fit it into a hermeneutical mold (such as literalism or reading it to speak to modern science) that it was never intended for. Says RJS, "Unwholesome complexity comes when we try to shape scripture into the book that we think it should be rather than immersing ourselves into the story to be formed by God’s message and work in the world."

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