Friday, December 25, 2015
Narnia and Reality, Heaven and Earth
Tuesday, December 01, 2015
Ideology as Idolatry, Part 2B: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo
See Part 1: Setting the Stage
See Part 2A: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo
In my last post, I opened with a few quotes that point to a picture of Apollo at work in the wider world that served as the context out of which evangelicalism as we know it was formed. From there, I painted between the lines of evangelical belief and practice – which constitute our ideology - to bring out a picture of Apollo at work within. I then used Hal Lindsey, Jack Hayes, and George Bush as examples that show the ideology of the Inerrant Bible as idolatry at work in evangelicalism. I then discussed how the ideology of the Inerrant Bible works to subject people to it, bringing about an “empty politic.” The “emptiness,” I say, is precisely because of the idolatry.
So, the question remains, how do evangelicals become subjects to their Inerrant Bible? How are they initiated into the cult of their idol and, thus, shaped into its image?
Initiation Into the Cult of Apollo
Interestingly, Fitch also discusses the way the master signifier works and to what ends. According to Fitch, the subject is woven into an ideological system by the master signifier. In other words, every evangelical becomes subjected to the power and work of the Inerrant Bible, which is called and which works as a “master-signifier.” The Inerrant Bible becomes the way in which the evangelical finds his or her place in the world. And, as discussed above, because the inerrant bible doesn’t really exist, that means that evangelicals are subjects of a fantasy that organizes our desires. We belong to and are doing something important. We are allowed to feel comfortable that we believe rightly and without guilt. And, as discussed above, because the Inerrant Bible means anything to anyone, we can have our prosperity gospel, our avaricious capitalism, our self help gospels of our megachurches, and we can not only still have our Inerrant Bible but, in the midst of those things, we can be driven and held together by belief in the Inerrant Bible in the first place.
As Fitch puts it, because what drives us is “empty,” there is no change in our way of life demanded of us by the fantasy of the inerrant bible. After all, it’s OUR fantasy and OUR desires fulfilled by the object to which we have given our allegiance (the inerrant bible). The Inerrant Bible really only serves to distract us from ever fully participating in the story the scriptures tell of the mission of God.
I hear strong echoes of Isaiah’s condemnation of Israel’s idolatry here. Quit offering me vain sacrifices when you have blood on your hands and the spoils of the poor in your homes.
Speaking of having blood on our hands, Fitch discusses how the history of any ideological system is traced back to a “traumatic event” that serves as its founding moment. Where the “master signifier” – in this case the Inerrant Bible – is an elusive non-entity that organizes desires and is an object of fantasy, the traumatic event provides the conflict that is the real substance that drives and confirms the political existence of a community in the world that holds to the ideology of said master-signifier. In the case of evangelicals holding to the Inerrant Bible, the founding traumatic event, according to Fitch, is the modernist-fundamentalist controversy of the 1920s and 30s. In other words, this event is why I mentioned above that the Inerrant Bible drives who we are as evangelicals.
This event transformed scriptural authority away from something with actual practical value in daily life that lead to an active engagement toward justice at a social scale into something with no actual use in daily life that does not inform any activity at a social scale other than to rally the troops, to hold evangelicals as a set of people who believe in “the inerrant bible.”
The reason I spoke of “having blood on our hands” in regards to this event is because, through it, the inerrant bible was invented as a way to define evangelicalism over and against the modernist liberals who questioned the authority of scripture based on the critical scientific methods of Enlightenment historical science. In other words, a break occurred in the Christian body in North America, and, in the midst of that break, to grasp hold of the inerrancy of the bible became an act of confirming the bloody break in the body. Even further, as discussed by Fitch, the newly forming body of fundamentalists became defined by that against which it stood. We reveled in the bloodbath of it. We must believe in Inerrancy, or else we will become victims of “the liberals,” or, worse yet, we will become one of them!
The irony of thusly coming to be defined by what we stood against is that it became true. Those who became fundamentalists were challenged by the scientific methods of the liberals who – using scientific methods and thought - were criticizing the bible’s origins and questioning and challenging the bible’s authority and inspiration. Fundamentalists responded with the formation of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, whose whole point was the promise of objective certainty regarding the truth about God through the means of modern science and historiography. In other words, in the modernist-fundamentalist controversy, the Fundamentalists used the modernist-liberals methods to refute them. As I said, the Fundamentalists came to be defined by that against which they stood.
Joyful Exaltation In Sacrificial Worship of Apollo
As discussed in the introductory post of this series, one of the things that N.T. Wright says constitutes worship to a god is sacrifice to it. In this case, evangelicals are the Mayan empire, and the dreaded liberals are the decapitated victims of the game whose power we steal and whose life-blood runs in the veins of our body politic. Because the Inerrant Bible as a master-signifier feeds on the power generated by what it is not – because it feeds on an emptiness rather than on trust in and the presence of the All-Mighty – the desire to be right, in form of control over the truth, drives the political existence of evangelicals.
For a century before the bloody sacrificial break in the body during the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, we blame the liberals for working to steal our certainty by finding ways to disprove supernatural truths of the bible using scientific and historical methods. With those methods, “the liberals” came to embody the very goal we seek, which is perfect certainty and control of the truth. They emulate the certainty we can only aspire to. So, with our belief in Inerrancy that is put into practice with methods we stole from our competitors, we not only avoid becoming victims to our enemy in the Mayan game to the death, but we achieve victory over them.
The liberals become our sacrificial victim to the god of absolute and objective certainty and enlightenment. With the blood of their body on our hands after performing the sacrifice, we make a joyful offering to the lord of truth. Having been shaped into the image of Apollo, then, by the life-blood of the sacrificial victim, we, as discussed above, are shaped into the image of the god we seek to please. Our offerings constitute our aspiration to appease the gods of certainty. We may have forgotten we are on a mission for Jesus and empowered by the Spirit, but we certainly and joyfully know what and who we stand against!
This joy in certainly knowing who and what we stand against might go a long way toward explaining the boisterous outcries within evangelicalism against postmodernity and the emergent church. Of course, for Christians seeking absolute control of absolutely certain truth, the loss of absolute truth is viewed as devastating to the cause of Christ in the world. Again, the liberals, now in the guise of postmodernists and the emergent church, become objects of disdain, and, in the boisterousness of our outcries, we take joy in defining them as objects as such. But, if it weren’t for the dreaded liberals, would we even have reason to gather as a people? What would be worse, having an absolute truth to believe in or actually having to act like it? The boistrousness of evangelical outcries, in this instance, is an eruption of the false hubris of the pursuit to control the truth.
So, we exalt the god of the sun by saying that, through modern science and historiography, we can objectively prove the Inerrancy of our Bible. The idolatry of the Inerrant Bible that was never made of wood and stone in the first place (that no one has ever seen), and that doesn’t have eyes to see and a mouth to speak, dares to promise certain truth about God – independently of God. This means that the modern scientific and historigraphic methods – which are the life-blood we stole from our enemies the liberals – make God into an object of our own control. Of course, that is to say we craft our own god. And, this god we have crafted happens to look a lot like Apollo.
Of course, this false hubris – see Genesis 3: 4 – is covered over by the sanctimonious energy we evangelicals put into believing in our “Inerrant Bible.” With it, we come to believe we can know God – and truth – as our own Cartesian possession (grasped independently and individually in the mind) separate from our involved faith-participation relationship with God through His contextualized body of people. We believe in absolute truth without ever having to test it or live it. Or, said another way, we are blinded to the presence of the Word who is the Truth by our joyful exaltation of Apollo at the altar of sacrifice to him.
One way evangelicals exalt in offering individual sacrifices to the god of Cartesian Enlightenment is through the use of inductive bible studies. Similar to how expository preaching gives authority and identity, these studies give individuals or groups authority in their personal studies, which emphasize “word studies” and the scientific precision of a set of propositions that build on each other and come together to form a system of thought. In these studies, the individual is devoted to learning every word rightly and cognitively, using the light of the intellect. Or, as Corbusier put it, there is an emphasis on “logic, analysis, and minute study... based on a problem which has been well stated” and “definitely established by experiment.”
The Work of Human Hands?
In the introduction of this blog post, I noted:
"So, the question remains, how do evangelicals become subjects to their Inerrant Bible? How are they initiated into the cult of their idol and, thus, shaped into its image?"
In demonstrating evangelical’s ideological allegiance to the Inerrant Bible to be the new version of worship of Apollo, I just quoted Psalm 135:
The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
16 They have mouths, but do not speak;
they have eyes, but do not see;
17 they have ears, but do not hear,
nor is there any breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them become like them,
so do all who trust in them.
This raises an obvious question, which I also discussed in the Introduction of this blog series. The Inerrant Bible that rallies evangelicals together into an “empty politic,” shapes us into images of Apollo, and to which we sacrifice the heathen liberals in joyous exaltation of our inerrancy…well…it’s not made of silver and gold. Nor of wood. Nor of anything material, for that matter. No one bows down to it and worships it – explicitly. So, why am I making the apparently absurd argument that we as evangelicals worship it?
My answer to this particular question of the lack of materiality of our idol, and thus, the inability for anyone to watch us bow down to it with any degree of clarity is as follows. Again, as discussed in the introduction to this blog series, although we live in a postmodern world, we are still modern man. “Ergo cogito sum”, at a basic and fundamental level, still applies to us. I am, not because of my given whole self, including my body, but, instead I am, because I think. I am, because of something no one can watch me bow down to. That’s why it’s relevant that no one has ever seen the actual “original autographs” of the Inerrant Bible which evangelicals so zealously pursue. In fact, it is precisely the fact that modern man is defined by his (unseen) thinking that lends him to so easily be subjected to the power and dominion of Apollo!
The same goes for our postmodern world that is still post-MODERN. Although it is clearly pushed to and fro by forces greater than itself that any ancient would have recognized as divine, as N.T. Wright notes, just like the modern world, ours has no center. There is nothing at its center. So, our world is pushed to and fro by the same idols of silver and gold that were at work in the ancient world, but their work is harder to find, because the silver and gold have disappeared from the center of both our selves and our world, where we are quite obviously, when asking questions about what is occurring in said world, most prone to look. Again, that’s precisely why it is relevant that no one has ever seen the actual concrete reality of the ‘original autographs” of the Inerrant Bible that so captures evangelical attention.
None of that means, however, that the Inerrant Bible is not the “work of human hands.” As discussed above concerning the modernist-fundamentalist controversy of the 1920’s and 1930’s, along with the sacrifices by which evangelicals are initiated into Apollo’s cult, it is precisely the human discourse of evangelical history that has given shape to the Inerrant Bible around which we all gather and to which we bow in allegiance.
I suppose you could say I have – with the help of Fitch and N.T. Wright – framed the problem. So, if that is the case, then what is the solution? According to Fitch, if the problem is framed in terms of the ideology of an “empty politic,” then the solution is a “full politic” centered around the “fullness” of the presence of Jesus at his Table of thanksgiving and re-memberance. If, as I and Wright suggest, the “problem” – if it can be framed in that way – is idolatry, then the solution is to completely repent of idolatry and to turn to worship the One True God of Israel. In the context of a body of people whose beliefs and practices have come to constitute worship of Apollo, specifically, what that repentance means, is probably a whole other blog series, lol. But, I think it would start with, as Fitch notes, the fact that the Communion table is, not a system of thought to stand against a decapitated enemy, but rather a concrete reality around which people, full of given love, actually gather.
Ideology as Idolatry, Part 2A: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo
See Introduction, Part 1.
It is a question of building which is at the root of the social unrest of today: architecture or revolution. – Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture, 1929
If we eliminate from our hearts and minds all dead concepts in regard to the house, and look at the question from a critical and objective point of view… – Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture, 1929
The Engineer, inspired by the Law of Economy and governed by mathematical calculation, puts us in accord with universal law. He achieves harmony. The Architect, by his arrangement of forms, realizes an order which is a pure creation of his spirit; by forms and shapes he affects our senses to an acute degree and provokes plastic emotions; by the relationships he creates he wakes profound echoes in us, he gives us the measure of an order we feel to be in accordance with that of our world, he determines the various movements of our heart and of our understanding; it is then that we experience the sense of beauty. – Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture, 1929
Architecture operates in accordance with standards. Standards are a matter of logic, analysis, and minute study; they are based on a problem which has been well stated. A standard is definitely established by experiment. – Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture, 1929
The Inerrant Bible and The Apollonian Character of Evangelical Practices and Beliefs
According to Fitch, those methods employed by Evangelicals center on the politic of the Inerrant Bible. We most often hear the term “inerrancy” of scriptures, because that was the one of the Five Fundamentals being referenced, but, truthfully, inerrancy is such only because it points to an ideally Inerrant Bible that we constantly pursue but which is beyond the reach of our grasp. Of course, we keep reaching and grasping anyway.
That pursuit enacted by reaching and grasping is constituted by a group of Apollonian beliefs and practices that have interwoven themselves together into the fabric of what has come to be known over time as evangelicalism. In the center of all of that fabric is expository preaching and inductive bible studies. The supportive framework includes a belief in the literally and verbally dictated inspiration of scripture, in the quest for and finding of the original author’s single intent, in hermeneutical objectivity that allows the “data of Scripture” to speak for itself, and in the unwavering belief in the propositional nature of how truth is communicated.
In other words, what we have as our scriptures were generated by a divine copy machine. They are not an approximation; there is no veil between what we see or know and what we don’t. The space between every word and line is filled with sunlight. The words are not signposts; they are the truth itself. We bow to the Father, Son, and Holy Scriptures, precisely as a trace of Fundamentalist belief in verbal dictation of scripture.
That sunlight that fills the space between every word and line constitutes the original author’s single intent. Of course, that implies that either the original author is God or that there is no difference between God and whichever humans did the writing. It also implies that there is no darkness, no mirror, no growing into full seeing as we are seen when the truth is revealed. What the image reflects can’t possibly be seen from multiple angles - hence this truth in the form of the original author’s single intent. It’s already been revealed by the copy machine!
Of course, we are also talking about a copy machine that spits out bits of objective data that can be rationally and universally known without the need for interpretation. And, if rational humans are doing the universal knowing of self-evident truths, that puts us in the place of sunlight, which illumines all the earth. We only have to learn to employ the scientific method referenced by Le Corbusier, above, and adopted by evangelicals with the historical-critical method of interpretation of scripture.
Also, this divine copy machine seems to have a strong tendency to favor sets of propositions when it chooses its method of copying. Machines don’t tell stories that embody the acted out lives of a people. The figures of actual humans cast shadows on the stage. Evangelicals can’t have that. Copy machines rely on the omnipresent light of Apollo to properly scan the original page (much like the fluorescent lights in our fellowship halls).
The Inerrant Bible Reveals Works of Apollo
For those of you who are wondering, Apollo is the ancient Greek god of sun, light, prophecy, truth, and poetry. Apollo was the god invoked at the Delphic oracle. Apollo is considered to be the god of harmony, order, and reason, as compared to his brother Dionysus, the god of wine, ecstasy and disorder.
So, the divine copy machine mentioned above works by Apollo’s power, and we bow to it as we sit at the feet of the expository preacher and seek God through individual, inductive, propositional “word studies.” In contrast to the depths of earthly chaos that threatens us when presented with the beauty of Medusa, and in contrast to the subjective impulses for fulfilled natural desire borne of Dionysius – and not to mention, in contrast to the tyrannical, authoritarian collectivism of all ancient kings (wait, what about Jesus? lol) - in the face of Apollo’s light we are shaped into transcendental subjects who are identified by our thinking and who rationally and individually know objective and universal truth. Allegiance to and identification with Apollo puts us in the place of sunlight: coming from a place high above the earth, illuminating everything on it universally, each ray of light a dictated proposition.
Evangelicals, of course, would mostly not be comfortable being identified with or as (modern versions of) Apollo. The doctrines and practices we have developed have been intended to help us worship the one true God of Israel, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Right? David Fitch sees evidence of “empty ideology” at work in our body politic’s ways of thinking and practicing. Of course, based on my reading of N.T. Wright, I am suggesting that the problem is deeper than that, and that that language itself lends us to foreign influence. I am suggesting that we have been participating in worship a foreign god or gods. Fitch finds numerous inconsistencies and absurdities that reveal what he refers to as this “empty politic.” I think those very phenomenon that he points out point to idolatry. Notably, Fitch, in places other than End of Evangelicalism?, has, in general, not shown a diversion to speaking of idolatry in evangelical camps. I am specifically talking here about his work in The End of Evangelicalism?.
The absurdities and inconsistencies that reveal the ideology as idolatry in evangelicalism are revealed in public figures like Hal Lindsey, Jack Hayes, and President George Bush. In 1970, Lindsey’s The Last Great Planet Earth appeared and claimed that the bible, precisely because it is inerrant, could predict the future events of mankind. It sold over 35 million copies, which indicates that Lindsey had tapped into something deeply important to evangelicals. Apparent problems with the joy evangelicals took in being right and having such control over the truth were revealed when Lindsey had to keep revising the text. Oops.
If evangelicals assumed, believed in, and pursued the ideal of the inerrancy of their bible in the form of literal dictation by God, then the next step of belief in a God-breathed, infallible translation of said bible was inevitable, right? Within evangelicalism, along came the idea that the King James Version (KJV) of the bible is the only truly inspired translation of the Bible. That sounds absurd enough, in and of itself, but when Jack Hayes came along and decided that no one can be saved without the use of the KJV, the absurdity was confirmed and revealed. The infallible bible had very obviously become a means to say: “We are right, we have truth, and everyone else is going to hell.”
Of course, allegiance to the god of the sun has its advantages. The sun, throughout most of human history, at least, governed human life at the most basic level. Not only does it illumine and enlighten, but it also has great power. So, when George W. Bush was elected president, he became the figure by which evangelicals – with their Apollonian allegiances and hence their fantasies of the power of rays of light - could see their desires projected and played out on the screen of reality. His inductive bible studies were part of his campaign strategy, so he was seen by evangelicals as embodying their habits and beliefs. He was thought of as someone who reads the inerrant bible, prays, and, through the Holy Spirit, can come to know truth because of the clarity of scripture. Thus, it was seen as the ideal fulfillment of evangelical hope when Bush was now in charge of the world! In Bush’s own words: “God told me to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.” Apollo was also the god of colonization.
Out of his evangelical commitment to the clarity and infallibility of scripture and to our habits of studying it, Bush ended up daring to declare that he had a direct line to God in a way that was to determine specific events within the contingencies of current history and determine human relations on a global scale – by going to war for reasons not based on Just War tradition! The drive to be certain and to be right came to define Bush as president.
The Inerrant Bible and a People Defined by Allegiance to Apollo
Using language borrowed from the bible, Bush proclaimed, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” This reveals evangelicals’ excessive enjoyment in having something to be against. And, that brings us to where the above examples point to Fitch’s declaration that said examples are simply figures woven into the fabric that constitutes the very politic of evangelicalism. In other words, the above noted inconsistencies and absurdities, according to Fitch, are not marginal side notes to the real story of evangelicalism and its relationship to the inerrancy of scripture. Those inconsistencies point to and are inextricably connected to the center of what holds evangelicalism together. And, as it turns out, what lies at that center is Nothing – hence the inconsistencies, absurdities, and human pursuits of power in the first place. Evangelicals are living out and living out of what Fitch calls an “empty politic.”
Because there is nothing at the center out of which a body politic grows and by which it is sustained, the Inerrant Bible merely serves as a linchpin by which we measure and define who we are against and with which we pursue our fantasy of the grasping (the) power (of the god of the sun). As noted in the parentheticals of the last sentence, I am suggesting, again, that what Fitch is referring to as (an empty) ideology that holds evangelicals together is really idolatrous worship of the god of the sun who, in a particular time and place, was named Apollo.
Fitch’s point, in borrowing from the thought of Slavoj Zizek, is that the Inerrant Bible is not a concrete thing that has any bearing on our actual daily lives. Instead, the inerrant Bible is merely a fantastical object of desire that fuels evangelical fantasies and, thus, serves as something to rally around as a community, as a political body of people. As such, Fitch refers to the Inerrant Bible as a “master-signifier.” For more on what that means, you can look AT THIS LINK HERE. The rallying cries around this Inerrant Bible as the life of the evangelical community are the central practices and beliefs and their supporting framework discussed at the beginning of this blog post: inductive bible studies, expository preaching, verbal inspiration of scripture, the original author’s single intent, objective interpretation of the “data of scripture” that speaks for itself, and truth in propositional form.
For Fitch, part of what it means for the Inerrant Bible to be a master-signifier is that its meaning is elusive. No one really knows what it means. It is “inerrant according to the original autographs”….which no one has ever seen. Unlike the body and blood of Jesus, the Inerrant Bible is not a concrete actuality around which people gather together. As such, the Inerrant Bible is as fantasy that is forever beyond our reach. It is an “empty signifier” with no actual referent. It is unattainable, but we are in constant pursuit of it. The question becomes, if it is unattainable, if no one has ever seen the supposed original autographs according to which the Bible is inerrant, then why do we continue to pursue it? And, therein lies Fitch’s whole point. We pursue it precisely because it’s what drives who we are. If we quit pursuing it, we are no longer ourselves. I am suggesting that this is precisely what reveals such a pursuit as idolatrous. One of the defining characteristics of religious devotion – as discussed by N.T. Wright in Surprised by Scripture - is that we are shaped into the image of the god we are worshiping.
One piece of evidence we see in evangelicalism of the elusive quality of the meaning of the “Inerrant Bible” is that no one can agree on an interpretation of the scriptures that we all agree are inerrant. And, yet, it is the very same elusiveness of the Inerrant Bible that allows our continued pursuit of it. As Fitch put it, “the worst thing that could happen would be the discovery of the original autographs.” What drives who we are, why we gather, and (so the argument goes) why we exist in the first place, would be lost. Fitch notes the horror evangelicals felt with the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls. It was a threat to what makes us who we are and to the fantasy that drives our desires. If the Dead Sea scrolls would have turned out to actually be the concrete reality of the “original autographs,” then the distance between object sought and the individual putting their belief in that object would have been closed. There would have been no more space for an expansive imagining of the fulfillment of the fantasy of what the Inerrant Bible really is.
Something else we see at work in the way of life driven by the Inerrant Bible that reveals it to be “empty” – which is presupposed and allowed by its being “elusive” – is that the Inerrant Bible doesn’t actually mean anything when it comes to evangelical doctrinal and ecclesial practice. Many groups hold to inerrancy but have very different interpretations of the Bible. And, yet, it is their hold to inerrancy that fuels all those various interpretations! Pentacostals, Joel Osteen, Willow Creek, Saddleback, Billy Graham, and Moody Bible Institute all hold to biblical inerrancy. They all take the bible to be the perfect book that is verbally inspired and propositionally true. Biblical inerrancy is what drives their interpretations of scripture and their practices as a gathering church (ecclesiology). And, yet, all of their interpretations and practices are vastly different!
Fitch also discusses a couple of tests of where our allegiance lies as evangelicals. He mentions that the Inerrant Bible is, explicitly, at least, rarely discussed. It only comes up when a church has to prove its orthodoxy, when a church has to appeal to donors to prove its conservative stance. In other words, evangelicals use Inerrancy as a means to prove to donors that their church is “not liberal.” In this way, the Inerrant Bible serves as not only an identity marker but as a test of our allegiance. In addition, one of the central practices that gives definition to the ideology of the Inerrant Bible – expository preaching – gives inherent ideological authority from the evangelical pulpits. When those in the pew hear expository preaching, they can feel confident they are sitting on the right side of the aisle.
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