Bruce Gerencser has posted an item that reprises an old gripe hereabouts — the resolute ignorance of many evangelicals.
Over the years, I met pastors who prided themselves in being men of one book. One man, a Church of the Nazarene pastor, was proud of the fact that his entire library fit on two four-foot shelves. His library consisted of a Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, several books of illustrations, and a smattering of easy-to-read, pabulum-level books. These kinds of pastors believe that they can just read the Bible and understand exactly what the text says and means. After all, the Holy Spirit lives inside of them.
Religion is protected by our First Amendment, which is a good thing, but that freedom has a dark side: If I wanted to rent a storefront and open Uncle Bob’s Church of Corndogs and Eternal Sunshine, and start making all sorts of gaudy and extremely loud metaphysical pronouncements, there’s nothing to stop me. If I can draw a crowd and get myself a whopping tax shelter and a Bentley … well, good for me. It works for Joel Osteen, right?
The bald fact that a man stands behind a pulpit and howls and bellows says nothing — Nothing. — about his knowledge; it proves only that he is able to draw a paying crowd.
Nor, in fact, does a seminary degree. I operated a used bookstore directly across the street from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary for a couple of years, and acquired very nearly a complete set of the books then in use at the seminary. It was thumbing through them that I learned something I’d never previously suspected — that there is a huge body of water between the conclusions of modern Biblical scholarship and the traditional Christian narrative; they are different countries.
Southern Baptists encourage early marriage by their seminarians, and I am convinced that one of the reasons is to imprison young men with family responsibilities — to short-circuit the possibility that he will leave on the day he realizes that the traditional narrative he grew up with is untrue. After all, he is married to a pretty, flawlessly groomed and –mannered young woman raised to be a preacher’s wife — who is impatient to get out of married student housing — has children, debts to pay off, et cetera, et cetera. He is treated with deference wherever he goes, and is invariably asked to give the blessing before the meal. He is assured that even the most Godly have episodes of doubt, reminded that anguished souls cry out for succor, on and on.
His entire identity, his whole sense of himself, is … I’m a preacher. So he takes the path of least resistance, which he has been trained from infancy to do anyhow, pockets his diploma, finds a job, then spends the rest of his life knowingly mouthing falsehoods.
And that’s the well-educated pastor. He avoids theological depth when speaking to his congregants, in order to minimize his lying, and thereby avoids in-depth discussion of the very thing in which he has some expertise. He consoles himself with the thought that he has sometimes actually helped people: those immigrants making their way in a strange country, that troubled family, that rebellious kid. Honestly, part of me feels sorry for those guys; they are usually reared to their disastrous lives and never had an even chance of living like honest men, and they haven’t the personal courage that their brains require.
But the majority, I am certain, haven’t the slightest idea that they are preposterous idiots. They go through life stout-heartedly shouting the exact same nonsense that was shouted in torch-lit caves 2000-years ago, that was shouted to the accompaniment of medieval auto da fes, that is taught today in rural Bible Colleges located over the town laundromat. And they do actual harm — to gays, for instance — and they make the world a poorer, meaner place.