True or untrue!?!

newsboyGreetings from London, GetReligion readers! My five days in the British capitol find me on the edge of my seat, per the huge news I keep reading in the easy-to-read-in-the-tube tabloids! So much seems to be happening! The families of delinquent children receiving £5,000 for misbehaving! Fathers receiving 6 months paternity leave! And the BBC asking for more British taxpayer money!

OK, so it’s not that exciting over here, but it’s certainly a change of pace from the staid Washington papers. I have noticed, in my completely unscientific poll of the London papers, an absence of religion coverage, but that’s not saying that there isn’t any.

Speaking of which, let’s move onto more important things that don’t include the newspaper headlines I’ve been reading.

One of our readers, Francis, found this article in the Times of London “interesting.” On a first read, I also found it interesting and also completely frustrating because it reads as a hit piece by an authority who knows little about religion. The headline, “Catholic Church no longer swears by truth of the Bible,” is enough to give anyone who knows anything about the Catholic Church heartburn. After that, the piece is all downhill:

The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has published a teaching document instructing the faithful that some parts of the Bible are not actually true.

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.

I’m sure the Catholic bishops of England, Scotland and Wales were thinking of the rise of the evil religious right when they “warned” their parishioners that Catholics do not swear to the absolute truth of the Bible. And since when was a group of bishops from Great Britain “the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church”?

Sullivan weighs in, and is predictably caught up in the misleading nature of the article:

Of course. Anyone who believes that the world was literally created in six days a few thousand years ago is not expressing his or her “religious beliefs”. Believing something that is demonstrably and empirically untrue is not religion. It is simply superstition or lunacy. It has nothing to do with faith in things we cannot know. The notion that it should actually be taught in public schools as science is beneath even debating.

I am not a Catholic, but I do know a thing or two about the Catholic Church, and one is that official Church doctrine has long rejected its traditional position regarding the absolute accuracy of the Holy Scriptures from a modern historical and scientific perspective. Then why is this paragraph in the article, referring to this somehow groundbreaking document?

The document shows how far the Catholic Church has come since the 17th century, when Galileo was condemned as a heretic for flouting a near-universal belief in the divine inspiration of the Bible by advocating the Copernican view of the solar system.

Right. From condemning Galileo to “some parts of the Bible are not actually true.”

And while this is possibly an editing oversight, the end of the article contains a list of passages from the Old and New Testaments citing, as fact, those that are true and those that are untrue, but it fails to cite a source.

Jimmy Akin has a much thorough breakdown of the articles failures than I could ever provide (and delivers quite a smackdown, by the way), so I encourage you to read more here if you’re interested. Here’s a snippet:

Ooooooh! That’s completely different, then! It ain’t “the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church” but just the bishops of England, Wales, and Scotland that issued the document!

Gledhill must have been raised in a non-Euclidian universe where the fallacy of composition works, so that you can identify the part with the whole without fear of inaccuracy.

Things — including news reporting — must be so much simpler in Gledhill’s universe of origin, what without having to worry about that pesky part/whole distinction.

Over there the Vatican has probably not bothered calling any ecumenical councils gathering all of the world’s bishops to speak for the Church. They’ve just let the bishops of Great Britain issue all of the Church’s official statements. Maybe the pope is even based in non-Euclidian England!

So why is this, along with the many other 32-point type headlined stories that I’ve read in the last few days, news to anyone? I guess you have to do something to sell newspapers these days, along with free DVD offers blasted across the upper folds. With these trends making their way across the Pond, I worry about the future of American journalism, though I wouldn’t mind a tabloid size Post or Times for my morning yogurt and eggs, minus the big headlines of course.

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  • Hector

    I also read this a few days ago and saw many. many blogs linking to this article. My initial thought was “what am I missing here?” This is not news! This has been the same position for years. I can see why the Bishops may want to remind their parishioners about this, but I fail to see why it should make the news…

  • George Conger

    This post is most unkind, and a bit unfair.

    It is unkind and inaccurate to say “it reads as a hit piece by an authority who knows little about religion.” Ruth Gledhill knows a great deal about religion and is well regarded amongst her peers.

    As to there being no religion coverage in the British press over the past five days, this is a silly exaggeration. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams had an article in the Mail on Sunday about Euthanasia—-imagine a cleric in the US being given space in the NY Post on this topic, or the Bishop of Oxford’s article on the same topic on the same day in the Observer. On Saturday you could read Stephen Bates’ article in the Guardian about the new Archbishop of York, the Bishop of Gibraltar’s article in the Saturday credo section of the Times or Ruth Gledhill’s review of two books dealing with Opus Dei in the same issue. And in the Telegraph Jonathan Petre has had five articles on religion related issues in the last week—ranging from the Chief Rabbi discussing the rise of anti-Semitism in the UK (something he has never done before) to coverage of Church leaders’ responses to the Euthanasia Bill before the House of Lords.

    The British press—-specifically the Times, Telegraph and Guardian and their Sunday counterparts, and even the BBC (believe it or not) far outshine their US counterparts with the quality and quantity of their religion reporting.

  • berenike

    If the British press have more of a clue than the American about religion, then the American press must be truly clueless. Funny that, if America is really so much more religious than Britain. Howabout that editorial-grabbing story some years ago about “the Pope making the Virgin Mary the fourth person of the Trinity”? On the basis of the errors and misunderstandings in the reporting of any Catholic story, I came to the conclusion some time ago that most news articles offer me misinformation to replace honest ignorance.

    Mr Conger has read Jimmy Aiken’s take on this story: so why has he said that “official Church doctrine has long rejected its traditional position regarding the absolute accuracy of the Holy Scriptures from a modern historical and scientific perspective”?

  • Lee

    Here’s one
    from the Telegraph

  • francis

    Second attempt:

    Since I had a hand in starting this, I might also weigh in.

    “This is not news! This has been the same position for years.”

    That’s quite true in regard to what the bishops actually said, but not in regard to what the article made of it. Had the bishops (or the Church) declared some parts of the Bible true and others untrue, that would have been news, but something like this hasn’t happened.

    That’s the really disturbing thing about Ruth Gledhill’s coverage (and she’s not a first time offender).

    George is right. There is religion coverage in the British press. However, opinions differ on the quality (if seen on its own regard), especially in regard to the Times.

  • Kyle

    Dave Walker at Cartoon Church has a good grasp on it…

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  • Dev Thakur

    You wrote: “I am not a Catholic, but I do know a thing or two about the Catholic Church, and one is that official Church doctrine has long rejected its traditional position regarding the absolute accuracy of the Holy Scriptures from a modern historical and scientific perspective. ”

    Is this true? The Church’s traditional teaching on the Bible’s accuracy was developed before modern history and science. Since modern history and science, has the Church ever taught, ‘Yes, this is the kind of accuracy we say the Bible has’, and then rejected that position?

    How could the Church even have a *traditional* position on the accuracy of the Bible from a *modern* perspective?

    My questions are of course rhetorical; my point is that Church never rejected her teaching on Scripture.

  • Lucas Sayre

    Dev is right. Catholic theology is not such that the Church wholesale rejects any major point of thelogy. Rather, the Church will elaborate upon a teaching.

    Notice that I said “major” there.

    I think what Daniel is referencing is the Church’s actions against Galileo. They went from teaching an absolute sense of the idea that the earth was the center of the universe, to a position away from that.

    This does not mean that there was a fundamental shift in how they view the Bible though. Correct me if I’m wrong, Daniel, regaring my interp. of what you meant by that.

  • dpulliam

    You’re interp. is correct Lucas. The Church has not fundamentally shifted its view of the Bible, rather, the references the author used in this article to highlight the church’s “past” views on the Bible have long since been abandoned.

  • Will

    “Fallacy of composition”… But, you see, Everybody Knows that TheCatholicChurch is a monolith where nobody is “allowed” to “think for himself”. (Oops, I guess that would be “think for themself”.) So any statement from anywhere in “the hierarchy” or “the Vatican” — say, a curial priest expressing his opinion of a children’s book series — must issue from the hive mind that is TheCatholicChurch.