“Epilepsy is regarded as demon possession in the same book people use to condemn homosexuality.
“We have not brought biblical scholarship to people in the pews. I guess the clergy are scared to let the genie out of the bottle.”
That’s from a recent newspaper article.
This is what I liked about Spong when I first discovered his books and then had a chance to meet him soon afterwards. (It’s also one of the reasons for this blog.)
Biblical scholarship has too few of the sorts of books that science has, books that popularize without cheapening the findings of modern research for lay readers. There are not many Susan Greenfields or Steven Pinkers or Richard Dawkins or John Barrows or William Clarks or Jared Diamonds or Paul Davies or Robyn Williams or Tim Flannerys on the biblical bookshelves.
There are lots of religious books, too many, but they are the maudlin stuff for “the spirit” and not for those wanting to catch up with what the scholars have been learning.
At a time when I had come to question my church, I went on to question my religious beliefs, then I could see no reason not to continue to push the questions to the limits of the Bible, and finally God. I was surprised how my intellectual enquiries were encouraged by other faithful “only so far” — one can question a controversial religious position, but encouragement to continue questioning soon dried up when one went beyond the edges. Spong’s Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism was one of the very few that filled that gap. (I can’t think of any others at the moment but will try and fill in this space at a future date . . . . )
I did find some whiffs of fresh air from being able to eavesdrop and sometimes contribute on internet discussion groups where biblical scholars exchanged views.
But those same discussion groups also exposed the dark side of that branch of academia: it was not at all uncommon to find doctors and professors arrogantly attacking the less scholarly — or even the more educated but in “the wrong field” — for daring to ask questions about the fundamentals of their scholarly paradigms. (Or sometimes questions were allowed but only when they were couched in obsequious deference — “the right attitude” that proved they would not attempt to rock the boat. Due deference is, after all, at the heart of religious prerogative. This did not apply to all — there are many good people among biblical scholars, but not enough.)
Some still go in boots and all and slander any person not of their respected academy for criticizing any of their works. Some even assert that people who have not studied in their specialist areas for as long as they have or who have not published as much as they have have “no right” to utter anything but respectful comment.
This is nothing but another form of cult mind-control. Intellectual snobbery and bullying.
One does not find it in the physical sciences. In the physical sciences there are institutions with programs to inform the public — in lay language — of the latest findings and ongoing explorations of science.
But among theological and biblical scholars there is very often only insult and abuse directed at “the unwashed” who have genuine questions and reasonable critiques.
Plato and his latter day echo, Leo Strauss, believed that philosophy and esoteric knowledge belong to the elite and crude religion for the masses. Scholars who disagree — like Spong — become the targets of insult and slander. The Leo Straussian approach is found among too many scholars within theology and biblical studies.
Intellectuals have a greater responsibility to society. But as Chomsky has commented, too often they become merely the defenders of their own privileges. (The message of his 1967 article has not aged one bit in 40 years.)
These scholars share the greater burden of the blame for the current rise of the more popular fundamentalist movements with the social consequences of their ignorance and bigotries. Dawkins is right on the money when he blames “soft religion” for sharing responsibility for the rise of extremism.
Those popular movements do, after all, share the same attitudes of arrogance, snobbery and vicious contempt for those who dare challenge the learned wisdom of too many of their “intellectual superiors”.
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