The Catholic bishops of England, Wales and Scotland are warning their five million worshippers, as well as any others drawn to the study of scripture, that they should not expect “total accuracy” from the Bible.
“We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision,” they say in The Gift of Scripture.
The document is timely, coming as it does amid the rise of the religious Right, in particular in the US.
While this comes as a great big "duh" to those of us who never entirely bought that woman owes her entire existence to one of Adam's less-crucial bones, there are certainly those out there who take the Bible completely literally, down to every "thou" and "begat," and it's good that church officials are willing to back down on that a little. More valuable to Catholics of my type, however, is the fact that now we don't have to feel guilty (and yes, we were supposed to feel guilty about this before) about disagreeing with sacred scripture and the official big-w Word of the church. Those of us who always saw the Bible as a guidebook more than an instructional manual have long been accused of perverting the sacred, inerringly accurate and perfectly translated word of God; it's nice to have an official word-'em-up from church leadership.
I think that this part is particularly valuable:
They say the Church must offer the gospel in ways “appropriate to changing times, intelligible and attractive to our contemporaries”.
The Bible is true in passages relating to human salvation, they say, but continue: “We should not expect total accuracy from the Bible in other, secular matters.”
They go on to condemn fundamentalism for its “intransigent intolerance” and to warn of “significant dangers” involved in a fundamentalist approach.
“Such an approach is dangerous, for example, when people of one nation or group see in the Bible a mandate for their own superiority, and even consider themselves permitted by the Bible to use violence against others.” [emphasis mine]
Unfortunately, while this does have serious implications for the Catholic community, it really does mean bugger-all for the rest of the country. To the rapidly growing and increasingly powerful fundie community, Catholics are freaks, cultists and Satanists who never got the Christianity thing right in the first place. We've been perverting the word of God for thousands of years now; what difference does one more official proclamation make? If we think that the Christian right is going to perk up and say, "Holy crap, you mean we're not supposed to be persecutin' brown people?" you've got another think coming.
Regardless, I'd like to see this as a prelude to further advances in Church doctrine that lead to a more realistic approach to religion, at least in the Catholic community. I'm not saying that the church needs to abandon all of its teachings for a completely humanistic approach; I go to church for the religion, and if I wanted churchy secularism I could just become a Unitarian. But I think that less emphasis on minute details and obscure doctrine might leave room for more emphasis on the actual teachings of Jesus, who, you might remember, was all, like, "Love your neighbor" and "Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me."
Who knows? This might well lead to a new image for Church as a place where reasonable, semi-intelligent people go to "serve God and one another" (which is what Father Schreck has been saying for years anyway). Bring in the people who want religion but are afraid of the Baptists, un-lapse a few lapsed Catholics, and suddenly we've got a new community of people who can be religious without being all freaky about it. In a country that currently has the freaky-religious at the helm, that's a very comforting thought.