It may surprise you to learn that the concept of Biblical Inerrancy is a relatively new movement in the Christian church. In fact, it isn’t even as old as America – when Thomas Jefferson distributed copies of the Gospels to the other founding fathers, he left out all the miracles. He is on the record saying he did so because he did not believe in them. To him, Jesus was a great moral proclaimer whose divinity was far less important his discipleship. The founding fathers, mostly deists, weren’t offended.
These easily-verifiable facts, of course, call into question the “America is a Christian Nation” nonsense that evangelicals like to proclaim. Jefferson and his fellow slave-owners were all culturally “Christians” – but a distinction must be made between what a Christian was back then and what they have primarily become in America. The early American Church was mostly a place to congregate and make allies, and praying was obligatory. These men were philosophers, pioneers, generals – not theologians.
Evangelicals would beg to differ and write them all as patriotic missionaries out to save every last soul in America (especially the Indians and the slaves). They’d call any historian who pointed out these basic historical facts as a liberal who hates America. This despite the fact that everything I just wrote can easily be confirmed with a simple visit to your local library. Better yet, just read the Wikipedia pages – they’re well-cited!
The truth is, Christianity has historically been just fine with reading large portions of the Bible as metaphorical, and we don’t really see the widespread circulation that it is a God-written instruction manual on all things history and science until the prominence of the radio in American households. The best book I’ve read on the rise of Biblical literalism is STEALING JESUS by Bruce Bawer. It goes into razor-sharp detail about how the radio mobilized the evangelical subculture as the most prominent and outspoken of Christian traditions in the American Empire. And yes, I use that wording quite specifically as a nod toward the book’s reveal.
In short: The idea of Biblical literalism has been used as a tool to perpetuate White Nationalism by keeping people from accepting reality. It has been manipulated to keep the masses in a loyal frenzy, so that they may be better controlled. If there is an oligarchy secretly running this country (and pssst – there totally is), it understands how much Karl Marx was right about religion’s true function when weaponized by a government. Keep clinging to your guns, to your American flag, to all of these calls to violent righteousness about which Jesus never spoke – and in fact was pretty vocally against. Let us fetishize the birth of America so vulgarly that our devotion to it is joined at the hip for our devotion to the redemptive blood of Jesus Christ that has washed away all of our sins. Those stripes on our flag are His, and now they march us Christian Soldiers to war – for God and country.
We’ve got to get this country back to the way God intended, our pastors taught us. Back to the values that wrote the Constitution, from the same divine whisper that breathed the Bible to life. We aren’t just a country with culturally Christian origins that are easily distilled – we were conceived as a white Evangelical Haven. We have to keep fighting for these horrible causes – preservation of the traditional family unit (even though women were traded like cattle in the Bible, and men had multiple wives), of keeping prayer in schools (a practice common in those Indigenous schools in Canada, I’m sure), to save our unborn babies from their murdering mothers (fun fact: Abortion is only mentioned once in the Bible – Numbers 5:21 – where it provides instructions for a priest about how to perform one). This is a Holy War against the Satanic Liberal Scientists who are trying to take our country away from the values that our founding fathers intended. Which, considering they were all slave-owners, might actually be true.
Well congratulations, all you white rich gentleman at Oligarchy’s table: Biblical literalism has worked to keep us dumb, distracted, and bigoted.
Now: The premise that the Bible is God’s historical and scientific guide through history is positively crushed against basic Biblical scholarship that is taught in academia. (Again – It is a simple as Wikipedia!) But the evangelicals won’t hear it, and can only think to demonize it – “It” being common, basic reality based on all existing evidence. If the Bible and reality do not agree, then it is reality that must be revised. There’s a replica of the Ark in Kentucky as testament to how far they’ll go to just ignore evidence and replace it with idiocy.
Evangelicals rewrite reality all the time to fit into their box. They’ve got Young Earth Scientists and Christian apologists trying to philosophize Biblical literalism right now – asking ludicrous questions no scholar is actually asking and fashioning answers to “prove” their premise. Here’s a paraphrased example from Lee Strobel’s book THE CASE FOR CHRIST – a laugh riot of half-baked truths, fabrications, and rhetoric designed to sound intellectual while promoting an evangelical agenda instead of simply considering actual evidence:
Question: Why did the disciples tell people about Jesus after he died unless they really saw him resurrected? Why would they die for a lie?
An evangelical will hear this question as say, “That proves it!” because the question was intentionally phrased and set up in a way that its conclusion is in the question itself. A historian would answer, “That question literalizes the text. This story is legend and was never intended to be taken literally – and I can easily prove it. Your question is clearly deceptive.”
And the evangelicals would crucify this historian while thanking God for the opportunity to be persecuted by this man.
All this to say: A large number of people who believe this have made it very difficult for the rest of us to move forward into a world shaped by evidence and compassion instead of by Biblical literalism.
That is why most evangelicals believe in young-earth science and reject the absolutely unshakable fact that is the origins of our species. It is why they don’t give a damn about climate change. It is why they reject psychology that points out the overwhelming evidence that homosexuality is not a mental illness. It is why so many of them still believe in the literal reality of demonic possession. Dare I say it – it’s why the flat-earther movement is a thing, and the anti-vaxers, Trumpism, Q-Anon, this ludicrous controversy over Critical Race Theory, and this inexplicable debate over a fucking VACCINATION FOR A DISEASE THAT IS KILLING US.
Biblical literalism controls the mob by telling them what to believe. Church leaders will find a verse in the Bible to justify their bigotry, because a book with that much material probably has something close enough in an English translation that they can use it to convince the evangelical masses that the new form of intolerance they’re promoting today is God’s divine will.
It doesn’t matter how much reality crushes Biblical literalism’s narrative. It’s never going away, so long as the evangelical leaders remain important to the Oligarchy’s table. It’s why scientists, scholars, philosophers, educators, historians, psychologists, liberals, and Wikipedia-writers all have an anti-God agenda. Reality means nothing to an evangelical Christian – because their reality is what the Bible says, period. “I can choose to trust science, or I can choose to trust this book,” my pastors all used to preach, over and over again to one “Amen” after another.
Say you’ve always known for certain that the Bible is the literal Truth transcribed by the Holy Spirit through human vessels – that within contains nothing that will contradict science, history, common sense, or anything else that we encounter in reality. It is drilled into your head that believing this is one of the utmost important components to having the Truth inside you. If you question its inerrency, maybe you were never really saved. But you don’t have time to read this whole thing – you have a life. So you go to church every Sunday to let your preacher who at best has a theological degree from an evangelical seminary tell you what it all means.
We indoctrinate children to believe this nonsense from a very early age – watch the 2006 documentary “Jesus Camp” for information about how this is done. It is a horror film that I will never include on a list of favorites. That kind of weaponization of the Bible has made it so that when folks representing the aforementioned scholarships point out how preposterous Biblical literalism is, they literally have to start wearing bullet-proof vests (look up Gene Robinson’s ordination) to protect themselves. They are ancient witches, worthy of the stake.
I was taught in my home that scientists believed in Evolution because they didn’t want to hold themselves accountable to God. It was explained to me in pews that climate change was not our fight – because Jesus’s return is so imminent, and we must devote all of our time to save as many souls until then as we can. My church youth group went on a retreat where we dismantled Charles Darwin and his whole silly con that he devised while watching flightless birds on the Galapagos. They painted him like a super villain hatching a plot for world domination.
What struck me the most was the reason my youth pastor gave us for why we must resist the temptation to consider Genesis just a metaphor for Evolution: Because the idea that we are evolving contradicts the story of our fall. It made us fallen creatures, who were once perfect instead of a species still writing its unfinished story, still being a part of evolution. That story, we were told, simply could not be – we’re sinful, and evolution is out. I thought about that for a long time, because it always gnawed on me that the Bible would say we are fallen instead of unfinished. As a barely-blooming storyteller myself, it wasn’t the narrative I personally preferred.
Needless to say, sitting in science classes is an interesting experience for an evangelical kid. It requires us to believe that our instructor is in league with the Devil, spreading Satan’s lies to lead our souls astray. It forces me to accept that this affable man who loves blowing stuff up in front of us while laughing giddily about that one time when he nearly set his face on fire doing this one, making us all just riveted to observe chemistry in action – probably worships Lucifer himself, while scheming to drink the blood of every neighborhood child. (Mr. Jacobs – seventh grade.)
Seeing a therapist is interesting too as an evangelical kid – I learned this working with teenage clients and their parents. Therapists really need training in religious trauma, because they will be able to identify the reasons why their schizophrenic clients and their parents are refusing their help. It’s because the parents are convinced – and have continuing pressure from their pastors to believe – that the answers are in the Bible, and that their child is under demonic possession. The court order is the only reason they are here, and the only reason that they are playing this game. They don’t need medication. They need to get back to their pastor to finish the exorcism.
I think that Evangelicals have an aversion to therapy, because the idea that their child is mentally ill challenges the free-will theology as their church leaders have explained it to them. This has to be Satan who is making their child hear voices, hurt themselves. Satan has made their child gay. If I told you how many times I have seen this scene play out in a therapist’s office, you may not believe me. Biblical literalism has so much blood on its fucking hands.
I have realized just today, as a result of brave family members reaching out to me after I started writing these exvangelical posts, that this very thing happened to a member of my family. One who had walked away from God, who was probably demon possessed. There were legends whispered about this brilliant woman who became so bitter at God that it broke her mind and let the demons enter and descend her into madness. It didn’t help that she was alright with dancing. My grandparents refused to let her see a therapist, because they believed so strongly in free will as the Bible literalizes it that they refused to believe that a mental illness could take away her ability to make decisions. All of this behavior was due to her refusal to be right with God. It was the only narrative about her growing up that I knew.
I am writing this post to process this realization, because it breaks my heart. It changes a narrative that had been offered up as a sacrifice to Biblical literalism – of the wayward aunt who just let Satan overcome her.
She died when I was seven years old. I write this post in her honor. I suspect we had a lot in common, she and I. I also like to dance.
The actual tragedy of it is the Bible is quite a remarkable document toward humanity’s testament, if you look at through its proper historical lens. It is a hodgepodge of oral traditions, glued together by pre-existing savior stories they’d picked up along the way, all written down during a time when the Hebrews had been overtaken by an empire. As fast as the Assyrian borg cubes (hint: Not literally) were descending and assimilating, the Jewish people knew that this stuff needed to be written down if it wasn’t going to go extinct. So they assembled their creation myths, their Exodus stories. Combined them with these precise and intolerable laws that would keep them completely at odds to Assyrian culture. These books weren’t their authentic history preserved under God’s guidance – they were acts of protest and self-preservation.
The Bible was a living, breathing document – being written and revised as one empire after another cast its shadow. It has some fascinating characters, both heroes and villains. They all are part of this beautiful, evolving folklore within one people group’s history – of how they first slaughtered their enemies, but then realized that foreigners could be welcome, for they too were God’s children. After a while, these foreigners could be adopted as family among the Hebrews, to be taken in as brothers. It’s a perfect segue into the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus declares that the Kingdom of God lives inside all of us – even those whose Empire still stands on our necks. And then Paul comes around and says there’s no Jew or Gentile, master or slave, man or woman – we’re all equal under God’s love. This is the story of a people writing their evolution – a beautiful, invaluable compass for how far we have come and how much farther we still need to go as another empire casts a familiar shadow.
Literalizing all of this ruins everything. I can tell you that as someone who’s studied literature – it robs these stories of their nuance. It is mutilated as history, because in reality it is a meditation. Stories aren’t told to tell the facts of a history, but to rather reveal lessons that have emerged from our shared history. It seems to me that accepting these stories as metaphors actually makes them more worthy of reverence. Yet if I point this out, I’m not honoring God.
Well, I don’t care to honor that God. Literalizing the Biblical God turns Him into an ugly, petty, bloodthirsty, abusive, narcissistic, and insecure parent whose ways and methods are not big enough for me. I’m more interested in the evolving consciousness that we all share. That metaphor feels closer to reality.
Looking for something else entirely for another article, I stumbled upon this old email to myself from 2007, in which I’d copied and pasted these words. I do not remember their context nor their origins. But looking over them again they seemed like an appropriate benediction, so I shall leave them here. Remember, as you continue your week, that neither reality nor immersing yourself in its lessons is ever something to be feared:
“If I were a Christian, I’d have to guess that Christ wouldn’t continence lying about His Father’s breathtakingly beautiful handiwork. I don’t think I’d be able to stand by silently while people deceived their fellow Christians and counseled them to disregard His ingenuity and His scientific skill. I wouldn’t guess Christ would like folks dissing the fact that God is the most brilliant scientist imaginable, who created an ancient and vast cosmos full of splendors. A Creator who employed complex processes such as evolution, geology, astrophysics, and chemistry, operating over oceans of time, unfolding through countless steps, to produce this glorious Star studded Universe and ourselves, is a God worthy of worship. I would happily point out the caliber of scientist and artist God is, and note how His scientific capability far exceeds the scope of the most gifted intellects among mankind. I’d explain that God can Create however He Chooses to Create. That’s God’s prerogative, and we’re Blessed to be a part it.
“If I was a Christian I’d be down on my hands and knees once a day, thanking God for belonging to the Cosmos in all it’s resplendent majesty. I’d study every branch of science I could and hunger for more every day. If I were Christian, I’d be teaching biology and chemistry and astronomy in Sunday Schools to eager young Christian children who would learn reverence for those fields of knowledge and treat them as Holy and Divine.
“If I were Christian I would be filled with pride and wonder that my blood, organs, skin, and hair, are made from the elements cooked inside of ancient stellar furnaces. And I would weep with the glorious joy that I am made of star dust.
“All of this; I’d be shouting from the tops of buildings, in classrooms, at Church, across the radio waves, and through the optical fibers of the Internet, as evidence for God’s brilliance and love and beauty.”
I write this for my Aunt Patsy. I wish I’d known you. It’s clear you raised remarkable children.
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