I just got back from taking a tour through the deep south or what some, fondly (wink, wink), call the “Bible belt.” This is my culture and the place where I first discovered Christianity. I was there to visit family.
My Christianity has changed a great deal over the decades but when I visit with old friends down south, it is like watching an old re-run from the seventies. The script is unchanged, for them. They speak from a place I was, and maybe they are deeper into it now, while I have moved to a different place.
Sometimes we get an intuition that is beyond words. The words are probably available to express the feeling, somewhere, but we are too inept as word-craftsmen to assemble the words into a meaningful thought. Sometimes it takes time. Part of that process can be where we must over-come our own intrinsically applied mores to speak honestly without fear. This is what happened to me since my trip.
I had feeling or intuition during my visit and during my Bible belt conversations that there was something wrong. I sensed that there was something very different in how I saw the world now, something that can be explained in words if I could just find them. If finally dawned on me as I was on the Delta flight from Atlanta back to Seattle. Part of the difference in that old Bible-belt Christianity and my own view of faith is the cornerstone word, “Bible” and how it is viewed.
Even to walk onto the thin-ice of this topic would immediately raise eyebrows from my old friends. Their view of the world, in which Christianity plays out, is one where there is a narrow path of orthodoxy. Our Christian lives, in their eyes, is played out with us walking this tightrope of certainty. One step to the left or right, is a disaster, where our soul becomes lost and we suddenly become the most despised people on the planet (the Christian-has-beens). The greatest force wind against the tightrope walker is the force towards “liberalism.” This theological liberalism was born in the nineteenth century and moved aggressively into North America during the last century. From the Bible-belt Christians perspective, this liberalism is the most dangerous position for Christianity, and really isn’t Christian at all. It has many hallmarks but some of them include; not taking the Bible literally, accepting women into leadership roles, accepting diverse gender roles (approving gay marriage is the worst to them and a certain sign of liberalism) and being a political Democrat. The Democrat thing is another long story.
Their view of scripture is not just that it is to be taken literally (such as the six days of creation, six thousand years ago) but the position of the Bible is exalted to a very high place. I remember attending a revival at age 12 and the evangelist used an example where a little boy was at his house playing with Matchbox cars. They were using books to hold up the track. His friend grabbed a big Bible for this purpose and the evangelist’s son became very angry. He told the boy to leave because the “Bible is God’s work and you must treat the book with great respect.” That is just one example of this feeling. I allowed myself to think about this view of the Bible and it dawned on me that it could be a corrupt view, at least when I had it.
That statement right there would scare the crap out of my friends. But I want to explain what I mean by this and I don’t mean that the Bible is a myth or not important. I will speak in philosophical terms in order to remove the “religiousness” of my words. If God is there, and I believe that he is, the Christian God has spoken truth to us in the reality that he as created and the written word of the Bible. Therefore, reading the Bible and studying it, has great merit, but it should be read as any other narrative, not with magic glasses.
Here is where I think the Bible belt has gotten it wrong. I think they have raised the Bible to the level of idolatry. Some would ask, how can the Bible be an idol?
All idols were made out of God-stuff. If it was a stone or golden statue, that material if from God’s creation. So, the Bible can be an idol.
How they have moved beyond respect for the Bible into idolatry is exemplified in the following ways;
- Rather than the Bible being a straight forward text with clear meaning, it becomes a book of magic. God can speak directly to you about something very personal that has absolutely nothing to do with the meaning in the historical context.
- If reading or studying the Bible is not central to any Christian activity (fellowship, preaching, Sunday school, or Christian conversation) that activity is not authentic and a complete waste of time.
- Related to # 1, the Bible has the secret answer to all questions and all human problems. So, if the answer is not clear, you have to take obscure verses and craft an answer that works.
- Again, related to # 1, the Bible magically changes your life. If you were a horrible person, and you spend a lot of time studying the Bible, you will become a very good person over time. It is magic.
- Every position for every part of human life has a right and wrong answer and that answer with certainty is within that Bible.
I will pause here and like several other articles (better than this one) on the topic. I will close by saying that all idolatry is sin and obstructs our view of God.