Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What Is A Thinking Christian To Think Of Scholarly, Compelling, Negative Scriptural Analysis?

At the website EarlyChristianwritings.com the article "Analysis of writings attributed to Luke" by Alfred Loisy, is just one of a number of commentaries on "Acts of the Apostles" from what are obviously highly scholarly reflections, from analysts who don't appear to have a particular axe to grind. I don't either, but I am of course speaking as a layman, and don't notice any particular anti-Catholic or anti-Protestant bias. Readers from those areas of Christianity may find such bias, but to me it is certainly not overt.

If Loisy's article on Luke is read, we find that hardly any, if any, single sentence, much less section, is not totally exploded (in a scholarly fashion).They are exposed as being either an interpolation, a fiction, an insertion, a redaction, an alteration, a duplication, a fantasy, a placing back in time something from the future, a "classical format" wherein stock characters, used in antiquity are brought into life, to give credence to a writing as if it was from a famous author (e.g. attributing to "Paul" a work which is clearly not Pauline.)

Nothing of Jesus remains as historical, nearly nothing of Paul's travels, conversation, or speeches, remains intact. If they do, they are often or are shown to be later creations used by the nascent Christian community to prove arguments, and attract new adherents. Dates, times, personages are shown to be wrong, impossible to have been where they are said to have been and, as with the Lucan Gospel, the entire writing is basically set out as being an aid to faith with no basis in reality-a "Christian Catechises". Actions attributed to individuals, and particularly to Jesus, are, he shows, clearly copies of the acts of ancient heroes, or made up to "prove" the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.

In contrast there is, from the same site, an analysis of Acts by J.W. McGarvey from 1872 which treats the text as "gospel" in the Victorian tradition. Most of the other articles however, such as "Luke's Story of Paul in Corinth; fictional history in Acts 18" by Darrell J. Doughty of Drew University, follow the same scholarly path (as is obvious by the title) that Loisy goes down, taking the narrative to bits.

Again, not being a biblical scholar, and not one to blindly accept what is put in front of one from the church, one has to accept, I believe, that the arguments set out by these learned gentlemen are striking. The question is, in the light of them, what is a thinking Christian to think?

One can take everything on faith and disregard the scholarly analysis, much like one might the analysis of professor's of economics, of whom it is said, with apparent justification, that if of all of them were laid end to end they still would not come to a conclusion. We can see that since early Victorian times, and the commencement of critical biblical scholarship, fashions in analysis come and go. Thus perhaps, we are justified in putting aside Mr  Loisy and his colleagues arguments as fashions of a sceptical time-irrespective of how compelling their arguments appear-but that is, to me, an easy way out.

To me, if we set aside all dogma, miracles, epistles, articles of faith of whatever denomination one ascribes to and, for the sake of argument, accept these scholars views that what we know as the "memoirs of the apostles" are "aids to faith" and are not eye witness memoirs which contain seemingly irreconcilable contradictions, there are questions which are not answered by these scholars. In fact not only not answered but not even raised, which leaves a pathway for a thinking Christian faith which can accept the "catechesis' premise.

Again, these are a layman's thoughts, or rather questions, so if the following is simplistic I make no apology.

Something must have happened after the crucifixion to convince, not just one individual but a group, that Jesus was alive in a fashion beyond an apparition or an hallucination. Such phenomena may happen to an individual or even to a collected group once perhaps. But for the experience to have happened a number of times, and to the extent that rational people could accept it as proof of a resurrection, and so vivid and so valid that it could be not only accepted as real, but so real that it would enable them to die for it would, surely, be either inexplicable or proof of validity.

That the experience came later to be given an artificial gloss, so the analysts state, in the interests of "aiding the faith" for those who did not experience it first hand, is a strong argument but not a negating one.

It is, I think, no counter argument to say that being willing to die for ones faith, as millions have done for many faiths, gives no validity to the argument for the first hand experience presentation. Yes, certainly, millions have died for their faith, but it would be difficult to find many examples of a group of people who originated a faith and who were willing to die for it. If the disciples who experienced the resurrection invented it, or had any doubts as to its validity, or concocted a lie for whatever reason, it is hard to believe they would willingly lay down their lives for something they knew to be an invention of their own.

The second question is, even if it is accepted that the disciples believed in a resurrection, by what possible mechanism could they convince others, especially deeply faithed Jews who fought to the bitter end to ensure the purity of their religion? Pentecost, which, surprisingly, is not the subject of much critical analysis, is, perhaps, even more so than the resurrection, the key aspect of the making of Christianity as a faith. Something dramatic happened to the plain men who were  disciples of Jesus to transform them into propagators of an entirely new faith.

Something happened which so strikingly impressed those Jews who came in contact with them as to the truth of what would seem a preposterous claim. The miracle of speaking in "other languages" (not "tongues") as an explicable proof of a divine intervention, is beautifully set out by McGarvey, and does not seem to have a counter argument from the modern scholars. So in sum, there are two inexplicable aspects of Christian origins which stand aside from textual analysis-the resurrection and the imparting of the Holy Spirit. These two aspects can be textually attacked, but the underlying aspects are not destroyed and are, I believe, genuine items of faith which are beyond rational understanding, and do not stand or fall on textual exegesis.

The third question, which stands apart from Christianity, but is an adjunct to it is the matter of "creation" itself.
Modern science has shown that all life, and the universe as we have it is a mechanism of evolution. What no science can explain is the origin of the universe. Certainly its beginning can be described up to millions of a second before the "big bang" but the origin of the infinite amount of pure energy, in an infinitely small space, eludes science.The fact that so many astonishingly narrow levels of atomic interactions have to take place to allow for a universe where life could exist, and that there is just enough "dark matter" to keep the universe expanding instead on imploding, are mysteries that science has not, as yet, if they ever will, found the answer to.

Scientists posit "budding off" universes, expanding and contracting universes, "mulitiverses" which, if they happen enough times will, by sheer force of numbers, eventually give rise to a universe where a planet like ours could exist.

They describe balloon like universes, and anthropic universes, perhaps like ours, which can only exist by being "observed" by humans "that it was waiting for". And yet some of these scientists ridicule Christians for  fantastical beliefs! Here are some of the atheists and scientists fantastical beliefs; "For instance, Richard Dawkins maintains that an alien designer or designers are more plausible than a supernatural designer or designers because there is a known mechanism to produce them. He calls it the “crane” of Natural selection. Dawkins' claims, though, are criticized among philosophers (e.g. Richard SwinburneAlvin PlantingaNancey Murphy) to just push back the problem further (now it would be no more the case to explain this universe, but the universe in which those aliens live), and it could be argued that the resulting universe where the aliens live calls even more for a designer that would be eternal and uncreated (that is God). Further, in Richard Dawkins' ultimate Boeing 747 gambit he explains that evolution is an even more plausible "crane""

All these theories simply push back, or aside, the concept of a creator but by no means negate one-so there is room for faith in cosmology still:

Most religions have some kind of account of the creation of the universe, although they generally differ in detail from the ones listed above. Some of these may be compatible with known scientific facts. For example scientist-theologians such as John Polkinghorne emphasize the implications of Anthropic Fine-Tuning within an orthodox Christian framework whilst fully accepting the scientific findings about Evolution and the age of the Universe. This is also the position of the Roman Catholic Church and of most Anglican theologians.[31] 

So for me there is, despite the striking efforts of the negative biblical exegeses, room for a faith based Christianity, brought into being by the actions of the Holy Spirit, which, in a way, might be richer for understanding the texts in a new light, which might be a surprising, and perhaps unexpected result of the analysts scripture reconstructing actions.

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