UK Bishops speak out about Biblical literalism

The Times Online reports the following last month. (I encourage those interested to read the full article.) (Also, I originally posted that this article was from today’s Times Online, but actually it was from October 5.)

Catholic Church no longer swears by truth of the Bible By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has published a teaching document instructing the faithful that some parts of the Bible are not actually true.

The Catholic bishops of England, Wales and Scotland are warning their five million worshippers, as well as any others drawn to the study of scripture, that they should not expect “total accuracy” from the Bible.

“We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision,” they say in The Gift of Scripture.

The document is timely, coming as it does amid the rise of the religious Right, in particular in the US.

Some Christians want a literal interpretation of the story of creation, as told in Genesis, taught alongside Darwin’s theory of evolution in schools, believing “intelligent design” to be an equally plausible theory of how the world began.

But the first 11 chapters of Genesis, in which two different and at times conflicting stories of creation are told, are among those that this country’s Catholic bishops insist cannot be “historical”. At most, they say, they may contain “historical traces”.

Now I know that the ID movement purports to be based on “purely scientific” considerations, not on the Bible or Genesis, but I also know (we all know) that a substantial portion of the support for ID actually comes from Biblical literalists: for instance, in both Kansas and Dover key players on the respective Boards of education are on record as being young-earth creationists.

Furthermore, we have found that the vast majority of the IDists, even the old earth creationists, reject common descent, believing in some version of the special creation of “kinds.”

So I think it is significant that these Bishops in the United Kingdom have explicitly addressed this issue.

In addition, the Bishops point out the link between Biblical literalism and political fundamentalism. The Times article states,

They go on to condemn fundamentalism for its “intransigent intolerance” and to warn of “significant dangers” involved in a fundamentalist approach.

“Such an approach is dangerous, for example, when people of one nation or group see in the Bible a mandate for their own superiority, and even consider themselves permitted by the Bible to use violence against others.”

Now we see little danger of violence from creationists here in the US (although I am aware that there are militant Christian groups,) but we certainly see those who “see in the Bible a mandate for their own superiority” and who exhibit an “intransigent intolerance” of those who hold other religious views.

In fact, a defining characteristic of the Kansas ID Minority (and of Phillip Johnson, the IDFather of the ID movement) is the rejection and denouncement of those Christians who accept evolution – a rejection based on theological grounds. The creationists in Kansas are certain that they are right about the Bible and about their Christian faith, despite the arguments of both scientists and other Christians (including, of course, Christians who are also scientists.) These folks would do well to heed the words of the Catholic Bishops, I think.