In Defense of Scripture, Reason and Tradition

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[1] In defense of Scripture.

Un-arguably the Bible as a set of ideas predates the Bible as a written text, no one can argue otherwise, at least not reasonably.  BUT – the reason we hold the Bible as “sacred” is because we believe (rightly or wrongly) that it is the best and the most accurate presentation of the Word of God possible (in our corrupted and fallen world).

We have no other text:
(a) as complete; and as (b) currently used as the Bible in the (c) West.

What I mean by this is:
(a) Though other texts with similar tales exist, they are always less so, than the Bible, they have not the range of the Bible.  This includes the Koran.  It overlaps the Bible in many places, but is actually shorter than the New Testament.  The Bible as understood by me is both the Old and the New Testament.  It is not the case with the Koran that less is more, here is a clear example of less is less – no moral judgment made against the Koran, just that it is incomplete by our Western standards.

(b) All of these other competing texts that are historical and may in fact predate the Bible are not currently used by any community of any world-shattering size.  Most are the tales of extinct religions or cultures.  I am not imputing here that they are less valid, just that their tradition has been extinguished.  The Bible as a source of morality is alive and well.

(c) There are competing non-Western texts that are currently used, the Bhagavad Gītā and the Mahabharata is one of them (the first being a subset of the second), the Analects of Confucius is another, the Book of Avesta a third.  Though all of these are valid for the groups that use them, they are not strictly speaking religious texts.  Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and Confucianism are frequently closer to a life philosophy than a religion.

But when they are treated as religious texts as the Bible, they serve exactly the same function, that of a contract and moral user’s guide.  The Bible when it works (or when we allow it to work) allows for an agreed upon shared cultural moral heritage.  It is what we use to distinguish barbarian from civilized.  With a written scripture we can argue, analyze and eventually come to some conclusion as to how to live in unison and in peace with one another.  One way to think of the Bible is that it is a large constitution.

A common European argument is that we don’t need a written constitution to live life, we can just treat each other decently.  I strongly disagree.  Laws have to be written down for the simple fact that life isn’t all that simple, and men and women don’t come from the same households or the same traditions, we need a unifying codex of laws and cultural inheritance that can be accessed with the full measure of the mind and heart.  I will take a Hindu from the past who has thoroughly studied his Mahabharata over a modern man who has never read any part of any book of scripture.  Secular Humanists don’t count – they have scripture too, it is their literature and their art.

Most Atheists I have met have read numerous great works of Western Literature and they are deliberately unaware of how informed and influenced these works are by the Bible (Old and New Testament).  So, though they are not getting their morality directly from the Bible, they are still getting it from literature that has borrowed from the Bible.

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[2] In defense of comparative-religious and pan-ideological studies as expressed by reason.

I agree that the Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf are in fact religious books for some followers of the cults they begat.  But – one CAN compare between them.  I can read the Koran and compare and contrast it to Dianetics.  I am not insulting either Islam or Scientology by doing so.  I am choosing between the two.  By the same token, I have the obligation to do the same thing when reading the Bible, I can compare it and contrast it with the Iliad and the Odyssey.   What I should not do is read them all the same.

Clearly the Bible is mean to be read differently than Mein Kampf.  The Bible isn’t even one work, but rather it is an anthology of various different works, each requiring a different reading, within the Bible there is contained poetry, historical narrative, mytho-poetic parables, epistles and prophecy, all of which require completely different ways of reading, no single way can apply to all of them.

One of the failures to read the Bible critically is applying one standard to the whole text, say a literal reading from cover to cover, or an allegorical reading of the whole book.  Even a cursory examination of the text will show that it is obvious that some sections of the Bible are meant to be taken literally, and others are meant to be taken metaphorically, some are personal and biased, and some are very objective.

This may hold true of many other works claiming the mantle of ‘sacred scripture,’ that they too may in fact be an amalgamation of various ideas each requiring a nuanced examination.  Thus it follows that I also have the right to ask what have these works created, inspired, both good and bad.  Finally what I must NOT do is take the interpretation of the followers at face value – BUT – I must NOT reject it out of hand either.  An Evangelical Christian will be very enthusiastic about his Bible and so will the Mormon about the Pearl of Great Wisdom.  I should not accept their word for it, BUT I should not ignore what they have to say about it.

Who better than a Muslim to ask about the Koran?  Who better than a Nazi to ask about Mein Kampf?  The followers of any text deemed ‘scripture’ should be listened to, and their remarks should be analyzed with the same objectivity one gives to the text itself.  The advantage is that the living followers or proponents of the text in question can be quarried and observed for evasiveness, or for clarity, for hypocrisy or for truth.  They can also be studied like rats in a lab, and conclusions can be drawn.

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[3] In defense of tradition.

The Bible is the tradition of Western society, as a religious work it is the only valid tradition still practiced in great numbers.  So, though there are plenty of neo-pagans in the West, surely their scripture hasn’t taken such cultural significance as the Bible.  If for no other reason than out of laziness (following the path of least resistance) one should treat the Bible with respect.  But, though other older texts and foreign texts may compete with the Bible – they aren’t really ours.  It is our distinction to have the Bible.

Why should I – as a Polish Catholic – suddenly start following the religious traditions inherent in the Mahabarata?  The only reason I should do this – is if I am very much convinced of the need to find some inner peace and I have thoroughly investigated the Bible and found that it does not offer it to me.  I happen to be happy enough with the Bible, it may not be the whole truth for everyone – but it serves its purpose for me – as far as I am willing to be bothered to actually read it.  Tradition is a short cut – it says, don’t re-invent the wheel.

My ancestors in Poland had many choices over the ages to accept all sorts of religions.  They could have become Eastern Orthodox, but Mieszko the First (c. 930 – May 25, 992) chose Roman Catholicism.  They could have remained Pagan, again Mieszko chose Christianity.  Long before the Poles became Christian they could have signed up to join the Viking-Norse religion, but they preferred an undefined Animistic faith until Christianity came to them.  Later, Poles could have converted en-masse to become either Lutheran or Calvin (and many did) – but they chose not to as a nation.

John II Casimir, King of Poland (Latin: Ioannes Casimirus rex Poloniae – March 22, 1609 – December 16, 1672) declared the Virgin Mary Mother of God – Queen of Poland – and Poles have been solidly Roman Catholic since.  There were enough Jews in Poland for Poles to become Jewish, and Poland had enough contact with Turkey and with the Crimean Tatars that we could have easily converted to Islam (and some Poles did), yet we did not as a nation.  Poland was saturated by Nazism and by Communism in the 20th Century, yet she remained Roman Catholic and recommitted herself to the faith over and over again as a nation collectively and individually.

Thus Poland has remained Roman Catholic since Mieszko’s fateful decision in 965 a.d. to marry Dąbrówka daughter of Boleslaus I of Bohemia (ca. 940/45 – 977) – and a year later had his whole nation baptized in the Roman Catholic faith.  In many cases he did this by Sword and Fire, but there were no border patrols then, Poles could have chosen any tradition, they could have left (and many did), they could have fought (and many did) but by and large they chose this one.  Why should I not only second-guess Mieszko, but also each and every one of his successors?  The only reason would be, if I investigated my faith thoroughly and having found it lacking needed something more and had to look elsewhere.  I have been studying the Roman Catholic faith and history and spirituality for most of my life, and I have yet to be bored or disappointed.

Tradition says – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.  Most Protestants and most Muslims would disagree with me – citing a need for truth as higher than a need for culture.  But this is where they miss the point.  It is not that the literal interpretation of the Bible – as espoused by the Evangelical Protestant community is superior to the Roman Catholic interpretation via sacred tradition – nor is it that the Koran is better, or truer, or more accurate or uncorrupted than the Bible – it is neither of these things.  Making such an argument is like saying – the Buddha is less or more important than Jesus Christ or Mohammed.  This is an invalid argument.

Jesus Christ is part of our tradition, and Mohammed is not.  The Buddha is part of a different tradition than either Christ or Mohammed.  You have your tradition, and I have mine.  Only time will tell which yields the greater benefit for mankind, which makes of men better human beings and which brings us closer to treating one another decently.  In the Polish tradition of Polish Roman Catholicism – the Blessed Pope John Paul II – has demonstrated that he is a man to be followed because his way is recognized as holy and saintly even by those outside of the Polish nation or the Roman Catholic fold.  If you are unconvinced, there is no coercion.  Lead by example and if none follow, walk alone.

But if some do follow… maybe they have found this way, this tradition to be a better guide than theirs, maybe theirs is spent, and this one has revived their desire to do good.  For me, Pope John Paul II – is a Saint.  Following his ideas, has made me a better Pole, a better Catholic, a better Christian, a better citizen of planet Earth.  So if in my tradition it is acceptable for me to venerate him and ask him for intercession on my behalf with the God I share in common with others of the Abrahamic traditions, the Jews, the Muslims and the Christians of all denominations, than it is not error, it is the way of my tribe, a time honored tradition ever since the time Saint Peter became the rock on which Christ built the church we call today the Roman Catholic faith.

May 6, 2011 – Konrad Tademar

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