Saturday, December 17, 2005

Just a little more and then I'm lightening up for a while....

I ran across some silly Bible history at an anti-Catholic website recently. They tried to answer some of the arguments posed in those "The Catholic Church gave the world the Bible" books that are out these days, but it wasn't apparent that they'd actually read them.

They started by talking about how God wrote the Old Testament (using the hands of men, I think they conceded) hundreds and thousands of years before the Church even existed. Yeah, true enough, but it's rather beside the point, as Rome never claimed authorship of all the books within. There was also a time of prophetic silence in the centuries before Christ, the argument continues, even though a few books accepted by every mainliner still get dated into the earlier part of the silence. Only the mainliners, though, apparently.

They then jump rather abruptly, touching on how the apostles wrote much as the prophets had along the way, to how the King James version was what God had in mind all along, or something, like a Christian Qur'an, and that most of Christendom sinned gravely and perfected their apostacy by going back to the Alexandrian manuscripts, even though the apotheotic edition was now available to them.

Their justification for rejecting the Septuagint canon in favor of the Masoretic was charming. Books like II Maccabees were left out because it preached (ever notice that preaching seems to be the one Fundamentalist sacrament? Altar calls and witnessing to the heathens specifically are important, but talking generally about Jesus seems to trump everything. I don't mean to belittle the Great Commission; it certainly helps explain the verbal/academic, faith-is-an-act-of-will lens through which they view grace and salvation, though) "unbiblical doctrines" like praying for the dead.

Unbiblical? Methinks this expert is begging the question. What makes something unbiblical? The fact that it doesn't show up in some other books that may or may not have already been declared canon? What else shouldn't make the cut, by that metric? Who gets to make the declarations? Why them?

Apparently we can't look to the Church Fathers for guidance, but only the actual apostles or whoever actually wrote the books in their names that end up being recognized as inspired. Patristic documents might be inspiring, but they're not inspired, so we can't look to them for guidance in discerning the canon any more than we can look to them for interpreting the canon.

Wait. Patristic writings might be inspiring, but they're not inspired? No, there's not a contradiciton here; they can be inspiring in the sense that reading and meditating upon them can be spiritually fruitful, but they're not inspired in the sense that God specifically guided their composition to become part of an anthology intended to guide the whole species until the end of time. Fair enough. However, if we shouldn't be relying on it for discerning what should be scriptural, we probably shouldn't be using it for other spiritually oriented purposes. Again, there's no contradiction here; it's what the patristic documents are for. You can't have it both ways.

I mentioned II Maccabees to someone I once studied with who mentioned that the particular "unbiblical doctrine" of purgatory was an equally silly Catholic invention, since the references to purifying fire seemed unconvincing. He seemed willing to consider that there could be an instantaneous, dramatic purification as one dies and enters eternity, but this interpretation was too different from the usual conception of purgatory, so I guess it didn't count. "There's a second Maccabees?" he asked me. I replied, "There are at least three, actually, although the others are even less widely accepted." Someone remind me what I'm supposed to learn about the Bible from someone even less informed about its history than I am.

Harumph. Most Jews were using the more inclusive Septuagint, which from what I understand actually has older credentials than the Masoretics, but they were wrong? Maybe the Church at large went apostate retroactively in the Greek speaking Jews, before Christ even founded the first congregation. What, am I going too far? Would I be the only one?


This past summer, there was an article in Newsweek about a woman who became a nun late in life. She was a widow with a few grown children, and allegedly joined some cloistered order, although she lived alone in a cabin or hut and met her neighbors several times a year. I don't know how all these things work; maybe it's normal. I don't remember them specifying the name of the order or anything useful, but who knows?

The next week, a few of the people who had written in to the magazine commented on the article about the nun. I only remember one in particular. The reader was, predictably, lambasting the Church, talking about how she would want no part with any religion that would do something so scandalous as to take a mother away from her family.

Let's all mentally roll our eyes together, here. No one forced this widow to do anything. Her husband was no longer alive for her to leave. Her children were no longer home for her to abandon. Yeah, I'd have mixed feelings, too, if my dad died and my mom entered a convent, so I would never or rarely see her again, but I'm an adult, so she would basically be free of her responsibility to me. I don't know if having some family would disqualify a candidate, but she wouldn't be the first widow called to religious God. Don't put my mom's, or this widow's, discernment on the shoulders of a bureaucracy, even the Magisterium. It's her choice. Choice is good, right?


It's interesting. At night my roomie puts on Fox News, where they've been talking about the war on Christmas, presenting some mix of factual and anecdotal evidence. During the day, I run into people who assert the war on Christmas doesn't exist. My personal opinion is that the war is an actual phenomenon that is being blown out of proportion, that the people who are trying to be inclusive of minority holidays (to whatever degree and from whatever motivation) are getting lumped in with the people who are trying to be exclusive of the majority holiday. I don't know what the proportions are, but I doubt the latter is lacking its Michael Newdows. You can't tell me that when Christmas trees, which are only used by people celebrating Christmas as a religious or secular holiday, are being renamed holiday trees under the vain presumption that nomenclature dictates nature (that a "secular Christmas" still bothers nonchristians and less compromising atheists); while menorahs are not being renamed holiday candelabras; there isn't any sign of at least a little hostility. To some, perhaps many, it seems reasonable that to openly celebrate and honor one tradition, another must be oppressed. It doesn't seem reasonable to me, but people don't ask for my opinion. I don't think they even read me. I'm willing to make room for explicitly honoring less popular holidays, but I also think there's enough room for everyone without having to take away from anyone else on this matter.

No, the war on Christmas exists, but perhaps it is a fiction rather than a caricature, like I originally thought, even though winter minority holidays are emphasized while Christmas is banned in both word and decoration in some venues. In an environment where grade schoolers are harshly admonished for just referring to Jesus but menorahs (not to pick on Hannukah, but I don't know anything about the traditions of Kwanzaa) and such this time of the year are permissible in public, maybe it's just a real war against religion outside the context of two consenting adults in their own home, or at least against the most popular religion around here. The war on Christmas, real or hypothetical, is but one battlefront.

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