afflatus is a bit of an experiment for me as a writer. I write unabashedly from a position of faith in God as revealed in the Bible. Yet, I hope to write in identification with humans generally and avoid pontificating. Ok, so I am idealist among other things.
I don’t practice religion as one might expect. Annually I visit the same doctor for a physical. Every year I have to fill in a bio page of health information. One box asks if I have a religion. I check “None.”
The reason is simple. Religion as a word has two parts: re = again and ligion = connect (think ligaments). Practicing religion is an attempt to reconnect with God. Since He and I are already connected by virtue of His grace, the connection thing is a done deal. I don’t have to practice any ritual to get back to the Lord.
Recently, I found myself in a discussion with a guy and felt to describe my perspective of faith. Communication being the tricky business it is, and the thick, religious/political polarization of US society dominating civil (sometimes not so civil!) discourse as it does, the exchange pretty much failed.
I used a loaded word, and immediately said guy threw a label clearly indicating he would never consider anything I said. I was packed away by him into a walled ghetto of association which he categorically rejected. So it goes. Civil discourse went on life-support in the 60’s as the beat went on and humanity moved into the Sexual Revolution. (It wasn’t a revolution by the way. The 60’s SR was a reemergence of openly accepted hedonism as in ancient Greek culture, but that’s a tangent for another essay.) Today, the “civil” part is in a vegetative state and the plug appears pulled.
The label I found plastered over my forehead was literalist. This was in response to me stating I read the Bible literally. Ostensibly, it seems a fair conclusion: reading literally makes one a literalist. But I think that fails fairness if literal is assumed to be something dirty; and the label is–like all labels– permission for shorthand dismissal rather than take the time to think about what another person says.
Looking up literal in the dictionary, it has a noun and adjective form. The adjective form has nine uses. For this discussion, I use “…following the words of the original very closely and exactly.” When I say to someone I read the Bible literally, I indicate I am keen to know what the meaty words in a passage of Scripture precisely mean in the original language. I rarely read a passage of scripture without taking the time to check a lexicon for some word. Studying a verse usually means I restate the verse substituting multiple meanings that may be indicated by any given term. I want to know possible nuances that the translation into English I am reading does not indicate. Thus I read literally to find a literal meaning. Stop. No other expanding or variant meaning of literal needs be considered.
This is the problem with communication generally and in our polarized society particularly. People will construe what has been said by others a gazillion ways without taking the time to understand a narrowed usage the speaker might intend.
In today’s culture, literalist has become associated with narrow-minded dogmatism. This system approach seeks authoritative power by warnings that all opposition is in conflict with God. Regrettably, such an approach is likely delivered in a cold, demeaning manner. Westboro Baptist Church comes to mind.
If this is literalism and I am a literalist in this sense, there is no surprise the guy wanted to hear nothing from me! I get it and am not offended. I regard him only as using an ad hominem argument as his basis of rejecting what I have to say.
Though I read literally, I carefully consider what I am reading and seek to understand it in context as the most reliable means of determining how to respond and apply. I don’t believe in slavery though literally the Christian population of the first century accepted it. Paul’s admonition to slaves to obey their masters is evidence of this. Religion of southern states during the 1800s routinely used Scripture about slavery in the first century as justification for the slaves owned in modern times. So, I get it. Someone claiming to read the Bible literally both scares and angers people over what religion sometimes teaches.
As fraught with problems reading literally may encompass both in what to do with what has been read and how others misconstrue the approach, I still do it this way. The blessing far outweighs any stumbles along the literal path.
If a reader here does not accept the Bible or believe in any God, I hope he or she will not run off. Rather, hear this here: It is recorded in Matthew, chapter nine, that Jesus said, “I desire compassion and not sacrifice.” He stated such against the religionists of His day. I hear him today telling me who reads him literally to make compassion my main mode of interaction with others. Then Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 tells the believers in Corinth to not judge folks outside of the faith.
I am glad anybody is taking the time to read afflatus. Come as often as you will!