Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Ideology as Idolatry, Part 2B: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo

Here, my blog series on Ideology and Idolatry continues, in which I explore how I think the same concrete reality is being spoken to by David E. Fitch in The End of Evangelicalism?, on the one hand, who speaks of the “empty politic” and ideology of evangelicalism, and by N.T. Wright in Surprised by Scripture, on the other hand, who speaks of the idolatry that drives our world.

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.

Now What?

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.

Comments: Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]