Fundamentalists and Atheists: Two peas in a pod?

Fundamentalists and Atheists appear to be opposite sides of the same coin. Think about it.

  1. When interpreting Scriptures, both factions insist on a literalist translation, ignoring genre, original audience, and idiom.
  2. Both insist that their own view is 100% correct, and all else are absolute fools, decreeing themselves to be the final arbiters of truth.
    3.Fundamentalists will not discard their misguided faith under any circumstances.
    4.They are militant in ‘evangelizing’ the unwashed.

Thoughts?

This is true because they have a very limited understanding of what the Bible is and its place within Sacred Tradition. Both groups can’t seem to handle the concept that the Catholic Church is not based on anyone’s interpretation of the Bible, because both groups certainly are. When told that the Church is not Bible-based, but rather that the Bible is a witness to the truths of the Church they either don’t know how to respond, say we’re rejecting Scripture and/or they ignore it–because it doesn’t play into their preconceptions about religion.

  1. Both insist that their own view is 100% correct, and all else are absolute fools, decreeing themselves to be the final arbiters of truth.

Well, many have that attitude, but not all. In my experience it’s only the militant of both groups that think that way.

3.Fundamentalists will not discard their misguided faith under any circumstances.

In general I’ve found that to be true, but there are always exceptions–which gives one hope when first engaging them.

4.They are militant in ‘evangelizing’ the unwashed.

Those that have the idea that it’s their duty to do so, yes. Others could care less considering all outside their narrow viewpoint not worth the effort.

Thoughts?

Them’s me thoughts. :smiley:

I want to start with the first contention and maybe get to the others later.

I understand that the Catholic church teaches that Scripture can be interpreted in either a literal sense or one of three non-literal, spiritual senses (allegorical, moral, or anagogical).

The problem comes when a tricky passage of Scripture is pointed out non-believers will also be told that “Catholics don’t read the Bible literally”, but won’t go further in explaining that position. It’s as if stating that it’s not literal is a magic salve that clears up any and all uncomfortable scripture.

If a passage is not literal, the next steps would be:

A. Show why the passage should be interpreted in a non-literal sense.
It’s not enough to just claim a passage is not literal, there must be a reason to opt for that over a literal interpretation. It can be frustrating for non-believers when seemingly the only reason for such an interpretation is because it casts the God of the Bible in an unflattering light.

B. State whether non-literal passages can intersperse with literal passages, and if so how and when we can tell which is which.
I was discussing Exodus 21:20-21 and Leviticus 25:44-46 (where God is quoted as saying slaves are property) with someone a few months back and the person stated the passages were not to be taken literally. The problem is that both passages are in the middle of other passages that are to be taken literally. For example the end of Exodus 20 through the beginning of Exodus 24 is a long quote from God containing literal rules to follow, including the Ten Commandments. Yet for those people who state Exodus 21:20-21 (which I understand is only some Christians) they have to explain why a non-literal interpretation is smack dab in the middle of God giving a list of laws.

C. Determine whether a quote from God can be non-literal. If God the Father or Jesus is quoted as saying something in the Bible, can we say that he literally said it. I’m not talking about whether what is said is a parable or something like that, but if those words (translated from the original language) is an accurate representation of what was said. The Bible writers are often said to have been guided by the Holy Spirit, so I would hope that he would not allow for misquotes or inaccurate paraphrasing.

D. Showing that if a passage is non-literal in nature that it doesn’t show God as being reprehensible. So God says or does something that atheists find objectionable. Catholics state that the passage detail what was said or done is not literal. If the figurative reading of that passage still shows God as being objectionable then it is imperative that the believer demonstrate a different reading or why that reading is not objectionable. Again, solely stating that a passage is not literal is quite insufficient.

E. Determine which non-literal interpretation is to be used and why. Let’s take Matthew 24:29. It’s a list of signs that all the world will see when Jesus returns. Matthew 24:34 says that it will happen within the generation of the people Jesus was speaking to. Now I think it’s safe to say this is not literal. The stars did not fall from the sky. My understanding is that Catholic Church believes in a form of preterism. There are several forms and some are in conflict with each other. There are also those who use futurism to interpret these passages (think the “Left Behind” folks). In short, when speaking to atheists about those passages which have multiple non-literal interpretations it’s vital that the believer explains why we should go with one such interpretation over all of the others.

I’m sure I’m missing more points as to what some atheists see are issues when we are told parts of the Bible are not literal. If I think of any others I’ll post them as well.

Guess I’m not an atheist, then.

Mike from NJ has a really good explanation for this IMO, so I’m just going to state that I agree with him on this.

I’m sure that anyone belonging to a religion would claim it was 100% correct, and I’m sure an Atheist or any religious person would insist their view is correct otherwise they would not believe it. As for the rest, that is a generalisation. Not all Atheists are like this, and I’m sure not all Fundamentalists are either.

If they believe they are right, then why should they discard their beliefs? And what kind of circumstances would they discard their faith over?

I can’t speak for Fundamentalists, having never met any, but not all Atheists are like this. Most don’t care if people believe in a religion and respect the differences between them.

Again, I can’t speak for Fundamentalists, but Atheists are not all like the ones you have described above.

Lou

Hi Mike from NJ. :slight_smile: This is the thing about biblical interpretation. It’s very loose, not static as many seem to think. Any passage can have any or all of tje four ways of interpreting Scripture given by the Church. From the Catechism:

The four ways of interpreting Scripture: #s 115-119.

The senses of Scripture
115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.
116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."83
117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

  1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.84
  2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”.85
  3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.86
    118 A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:
    The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
    The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.87

119 “It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgment. For, of course, **all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgment of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God.”**88
But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me.89

Have you ever read Maimonides’ “Guide of the Perplexed?” Excellent and very illuminating, it deals with this issue. Of course, it doesn’t have anything to say about the “New Testament” but it is a very interesting attempt to reconcile reason with the Torah.

I agree that this is an issue. It’s very difficult to make final determinations on whether a portion was intended literally or figuratively. There are people who have devoted their lives to studying the issue, and the average debater won’t have the knowledge necessary to make the determination.

The other issue is that the Church generally doesn’t make official proclamations on the historicity of a specific passage or book, which means that the topic if left open to personal determination.

What a person should do when they claim that a bit isn’t literal is present their reasons why, and then they can discuss those with the atheist / fundamentalist.

B. State whether non-literal passages can intersperse with literal passages, and if so how and when we can tell which is which.
I was discussing Exodus 21:20-21 and Leviticus 25:44-46 (where God is quoted as saying slaves are property) with someone a few months back and the person stated the passages were not to be taken literally. The problem is that both passages are in the middle of other passages that are to be taken literally. For example the end of Exodus 20 through the beginning of Exodus 24 is a long quote from God containing literal rules to follow, including the Ten Commandments. Yet for those people who state Exodus 21:20-21 (which I understand is only some Christians) they have to explain why a non-literal interpretation is smack dab in the middle of God giving a list of laws.

I don’t know why they’d claim that. That passage was pretty obviously literal, mixed in with other literal passages. It has the same form as the surrounding passages and is not indicated to be a parable or sub-story or anything. I don’t think they have a valid reasonto claim that its not literal apart from thinking it makes God look bad and wanting to dismiss it. This approach is erroneous because it not only ignores the surrounding context, but also because it doesn’t account for the historical context and the culture to which the commands were addressed.

C. Determine whether a quote from God can be non-literal. If God the Father or Jesus is quoted as saying something in the Bible, can we say that he literally said it. I’m not talking about whether what is said is a parable or something like that, but if those words (translated from the original language) is an accurate representation of what was said. The Bible writers are often said to have been guided by the Holy Spirit, so I would hope that he would not allow for misquotes or inaccurate paraphrasing.

I think this is a faulty notion of being guided. We don’t believe the Holy Spirit set on the author’s shoulder and whispered in his ear. I don’t really have a good analogy to express what we mean by inspired, sorry.

D. Showing that if a passage is non-literal in nature that it doesn’t show God as being reprehensible. So God says or does something that atheists find objectionable. Catholics state that the passage detail what was said or done is not literal. If the figurative reading of that passage still shows God as being objectionable then it is imperative that the believer demonstrate a different reading or why that reading is not objectionable. Again, solely stating that a passage is not literal is quite insufficient.

The problem with this stems from both sides. Atheists frequently apply modern views of what is right and wrong to a particular passage, which ignore their greater historical and cultural context. This forces the fundamentalist to react defensively and explain away something which doesn’t make sense within a modern cultural system. Take, for example, your issue of slavery above. The Exodus Jews are a tribal culture, similar in many ways to concurrent tribal cultures. We have some surviving examples of this type of culture in Africa and the Middle East, so we can have at least an idea of what this sort of culture would look like.

When a tribal culture goes to war, they frequently seek to wipe out the opposing tribe. Any members left alive would be a potential hazard down the line, especially if they actively desire revenge. As such, men, women and children were usually wiped out. Now we see a law which elevates the culture above this point. Instead of killing everyone, they can take them as slaves, sparing their lives. After a time, these slaves were allowed to integrate into the culture, or leave. (It was more like indentured servitude in this regard).

While it looks bad from our perspective, it was an improvement over the existing system.

E. Determine which non-literal interpretation is to be used and why. Let’s take Matthew 24:29. It’s a list of signs that all the world will see when Jesus returns. Matthew 24:34 says that it will happen within the generation of the people Jesus was speaking to. Now I think it’s safe to say this is not literal. The stars did not fall from the sky. My understanding is that Catholic Church believes in a form of preterism. There are several forms and some are in conflict with each other. There are also those who use futurism to interpret these passages (think the “Left Behind” folks). In short, when speaking to atheists about those passages which have multiple non-literal interpretations it’s vital that the believer explains why we should go with one such interpretation over all of the others.

I’m actually reading a book about this specific issue at the moment. If you’re interested, it’s titled What Jesus Really * Said About the End of the World*. There are several understandings of this passage, some of which do conflict. The thing is, there is no official Church teaching on the issue. 2000 years later, we’re still studying it, and we’re still finding new information from our study.

Depends on the fundamentalist, and on the atheist. You can’t pigeon-hole whole groups into a certain type of behavior.

Did I really write that?:eek:
Dang, I’ve mellowed over the years. :wink:

One rather important difference, among others: Fundamentalists are saved, assuming they are baptized with the Trinitarian formula having accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. They also often have humility, in my experience. I guess that’s two differences, right there!:smiley:

I agree. In fact, all of us have areas where we only have very limited knowledge. It’s no sin (if you pardon the usage) to say here’s what a famous apologist or top-notch astrophysicist has to say on the matter. So if someone wants to link to an article or video explaining the Catholic position, it’s completely understandable. My one gripe is when it’s a link to some 35 minute video with no summary of what it states :stuck_out_tongue:

The other issue is that the Church generally doesn’t make official proclamations on the historicity of a specific passage or book, which means that the topic if left open to personal determination.

What a person should do when they claim that a bit isn’t literal is present their reasons why, and then they can discuss those with the atheist / fundamentalist.

I think for the most part you, I, and the other posters in the thread are in agreement: It’s not right to dismiss the possibility of non-literal pieces of scripture out of hand, while at the same time it’s important for the person stating it’s not literal to explain how and why that is the case.

I don’t know why they’d claim that. That passage was pretty obviously literal, mixed in with other literal passages. It has the same form as the surrounding passages and is not indicated to be a parable or sub-story or anything. I don’t think they have a valid reasonto claim that its not literal apart from thinking it makes God look bad and wanting to dismiss it.

For that discussion I mentioned I think that’s exactly what it was. My point was that the passages reflected poorly on God, and the response was not to take those passages literally. I agree that it’s meant to be taken literally, although obviously you and I will have to disagree what that ultimately says of God.

I think this is a faulty notion of being guided. We don’t believe the Holy Spirit set on the author’s shoulder and whispered in his ear. I don’t really have a good analogy to express what we mean by inspired, sorry.

And that’s sort of the problem that can frustrate doubters. If it’s not verbatim, then how much is essentially true? That leeway when someone question something God said and the response is to focus on certain aspects of what is said can sometimes feel like the question isn’t being properly addressed.

Agree

While I agree that sometimes atheists can view items in the Bible from a modern perspective, speaking for myself here there are numerous items that I find distasteful even when taking into account the time and place. For many of those items it’s not what the people but did but what God is said to have done.

One of those items is slavery, but I don’t want to muddle the thread with that. I think the topic of whether fundamentalists and atheists are similar to each other, but if we start going on the slavery tangent that’ll get buried. I’ve participated in more than my share of slavery threads and I tend to get… verbose… long-winded… I won’t shut up about it :smiley: If you’re super-bored you can check out my posting history where I’ve gone post history on threads about slavery.

I’m sure when the next slavery thread comes along (as it seems to every few months) I’ll be there typing far, far, far too many posts!

I’m actually reading a book about this specific issue at the moment. If you’re interested, it’s titled What Jesus Really * Said About the End of the World*. There are several understandings of this passage, some of which do conflict. The thing is, there is no official Church teaching on the issue. 2000 years later, we’re still studying it, and we’re still finding new information from our study.

I saw it and didn’t get it since I thought it was just one interpretation, but if it’s comparing and contrasting different intrerpretations I’ll see if I can get a copy. Thanks!

As far as whether fundamentalists and atheists are alike, I’d say at least a few are. There’s always a few people in all walks of life and in all things where they obsess and won’t even discuss alternatives, whether it be family life, politics, or boy bands. Atheists and the religious are no exceptions.

You’re better than me. I still can’t see Dallas Cowboys fans as real people :smiley: (I kid! I kid!)

I have not read it, but if Amazon has it on the cheap I’ll add it to my reading queue. Thanks!

Thanks for the quote, but the Catechism is where I got my list of scripture senses. You didn’t think I got the term “anagogical” out of thin air, did you?

Reading, studying and understanding scripture is a life long endeavor. I can read the same passages over and over and discover new meaning every time.

Unfortunately, I don’t have time to continue our discussion today, perhaps we can get more into it in the future.

I wanted to comment on this point though. I believe it is only one interpretation, the author’s, when looking at all Gospel accounts of the discourse together, and comparing it to OT scriptures, concepts, and writing styles. I’m only about fifty pages in, out of around two hundred, so I’m not very far into it yet. That said, he has some discussion about styles of writing and common literary tools used throughout the Bible that has been very informative to me. It makes me wish I knew Greek / Aramaic so I could really delve into the scriptures more fully. Translations are nice and all, but there’s nothing like being able to read a work in its original language.

I quoted the paragraphs more for the sake of our seekers and lurkers who don’t post, but read everything. :tiphat: “Anagogical” is not part of my daily vocabulary either. :stuck_out_tongue:

Having said that, though, I bolded the part that is important for our discussion:

119 "It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgment. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgment of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God."88

This explanatory paragraph answers your questions. It is up to the Church to determine what is literal and the various meanings Scripture passages may have. This is the task of biblical scholars and theologians.

You see, the Church is not concerned with proving anything to satisfy everyone’s ideas about what a passage means. Why? Because our faith is not based on interpreting the Bible. It’s helpful to the faith to have solid reasons for interpreting passages as literal, but they don’t determine what is believed and what we must believe. We are not “people of the book” as most Protestant bodies are. Indeed, the Church has declared only a handful of passages must be being read according to a set interpretation–just for the sake of clarity and sound theology.

The Bible is not meant to be read cold, without proper interpretation, which is the purview and responsibility of the Church, not of the average lay man. It’s a huge mistake for you and I to try to decide what is literal and what isn’t because we haven’t the skills nor the authority to do so. Catholics are guided by our bishops in union with the Pope, the Magisterium in such matters because Christ gave the Apostles and their successors that authority and duty.

I’m sorry for the lengthy explanation, but books have been written on the subject, so it’s unrealistic to think it can be explained in one post on a public forum. :wink: So I ask your indulgence and patience and advise you to dig deeper by going to the proper sources rather than asking a group of well-intentioned but unqualified people like us to answer all your doubts and questions–although you’re welcome to ask and we will do our best to answer, just the same. :slight_smile:

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