Are we in bondage to a Book?

In a recent email exchange with Orthodox Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, he expressed concerns about the recent situation in Turkey (to which the Archbishop is slated to travel this fall) as well as his take on the the root reason for the conflict–Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s surreptitious attempt to institute Islam. The Archbishop sees this as a form of religious violence that is repeating itself all over the world. I found his perspective rather interesting. He gave me permission to reprint his thoughts in full below. I’d be curious to know what others think.

We should never overlook acts of religious violence against individuals and their personhood. Difficult as it is for us to engage, religion in general is antithetical to democracy and prone toward one or another form of violence, by its very nature. Everyone’s dogma is “divinely revealed” in the inscrutable cacophony of Olympus, Sinai or banyan forests. Anyone who deviates from someone’s system of dogma is “dangerous” and in need of punishment of extermination, or at least bullying. How could it be different for Christians who deeply believe that God is the supreme bully, the apex of child abuse, omnipotent, but unable to simply forgive because He is in thrall to some immutable law of the universe that demands vengeance and a death penalty?

We are in bondage to a book. Truly, we are in bondage to a book that cannot be interpreted the same by all people, and every group, bound to a set of interpreted propositions, must consider every other group, bound by a different set of interpreted posits, worthy of death or dismemberment. Not Christians only. All the terrorism in Iraq today is aimed by one set of Quaran followers against another set. There are, in particular, three Books that hold the vast majority of the world’s population in bondage, yet no two groups of “Book Absolutists” manage to interpret any of the three books the same way. Even Zarathustra’s book generated agitated divisions among his followers.

Ultimately, too many people worship The Book, rather than the deity they proclaim to be great. There is not only a bondage of the Book, but a narcissism of the Book. Discussing the sources of violence in religion, one might think, begins with deciphering the vision of God and the dogmas about salvation.

About Kevin Miller

Kevin Miller is an award-winning screenwriter, director and producer who has applied his craft to numerous documentaries, feature films and shorts. Recent projects include "The Chicken Manure Incident," "Hellbound?," "Drop Gun," "No Saints for Sinners," "spOILed," "Sex+Money," "With God On Our Side," "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," "After..." and the upcoming biopic "The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton." In addition to his work in film, Kevin has written, co-written and edited over 45 books. He lives in Kimberley, BC, Canada with his wife and four children.

  • Juan Carlos Torres

    We have definitely made an idol of our holy book.

    • rudycarrera

      I second that, Juan Carlos. The problem is that, in the West, a sort of fakelore has sprung up about how the Ancients practiced Christianity, and usually not of their own making. Protestants of different stripes should take the time to talk with their brothers in faith, and both Orthodox and Catholics should be humble enough to return the favor. Only then will this problem be ended.

      • Ian

        ‘Fakelore’: love that.

  • rudycarrera

    Kevin, a wonderful article. Thanks for this. There are many Orthodox always willing to dialog, and it’s so good to see this happening all over the world.

  • Curt Day

    I am not sure if the reason for this is veneration of the book but many of us have depersonalized Christianity. I noted this in a blog[post that reviews a former seminary professor’s view of war

    We should note that due to the over dependence on technology and the businessfication of society, depersonalizing human endeavors has become an unfortunate trend.

    • http://rudycarrera.com/ Rudy Carrera

      A great and valid point, Curt. A lot of people have also become a bit lazy in their history, thinking that what we have today is how it always was. Nothing could be further from the truth, as most people did not have the ability to read outside of scholars, and really, the Church housed the scholars. Public education is barely two centuries old, yet it seems now that everyone, and I mean everyone, thinks that they can just pick up a Bible, interpret it at will, claiming the Holy Spirit’s guidance. This has led to the further fracturing of the Body of Christ (His Church). Combine that with the relative ease anyone has to look up historical documents (without any sort of context, nor understanding of linguistic trends of the period, how the neighbors’ cultures would effect them, et cetera), and general laziness with our new-found toy of being able to read, it makes sense that people have depersonalized Christianity.

      There is another side to this, though. Hyper-personalization, making God our ‘buddy’. ‘Friend’ is one thing, but ‘buddy’? I see people driving around in my area, proudly displaying bumper stickers like, “Jesus Is My Homeboy.” Imagine that. The King of Kings, our Master and Benefactor, reduced to the status of what one thug might call another.

      • Curt Day

        Rudy,
        I guess there are a number of times where we need Goldilocks to lead the way. Here, for example, we can afford to neither depersonalize God nor make him just one of the fellas.

  • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana Hope

    This reminds me of Les Miserables. The contrast between the man bound by law and the man bound by love.

  • David

    I agree that there’s definitely bibliolatry present in a lot of Christian circles today. My only ten cuidado sort of problem with this statement is that it seems to imply that Christians who take Christian doctrine seriously are always going to be divisive and violent, whereas there is a way to maintain serious respect for scripture and serious respect for civil rights.

  • Susan Gerard

    a bondage of the book (great phrase) which leads to a bondage to interpreters of the book, worship (and corruption) of interpreters of the book, then violence among believers and non-believers. This never fails to amaze me (I guess I’m easily amazed).

    Good article.

    • Kevin Miller

      Good observation. It is amazing how easily we all slip into this way of thinking. It’s the path of least resistance.

  • Lawrence Mckechnie

    great article……. I think the bible is supposed to be a guide but I fear it overtaken the recipe, making the whole Christian experience less beautiful. We have to get back to what it is all about, an experience of a LIVING God, as opposed to a dead religion. People have even used scripture (the hammer of the bible verse) to justify slavery. However, when we look at Who Jesus actually is, such an inference does not make sense. We have to get back to who God, not who people say He is.

  • Lawrence Mckechnie

    a book is important FOR something and isn’t important in and of itself. The bible has a function, a goal but shouldn’t be treated as sacred in and of itself.

  • Ian

    A very good point, but the core of the Book is a person who reveals not only truth but grace and in whose face shines the glory of God. The Book bears witness that the Gracious Christ is the highest authority in the universe by the decision of God. Therefore, being Lord of all, Christ is Lord of the Book and we judge even Scripture by him. He is the ‘canon within the canon’. Looking at him will prevent us falling into slavery to the Book and using it to justify our own acts of hatred and violence. The Book was meant to lead us to Christ, and Christ saves us from making the Book an idol, an end in itself. It is meant to help us become more like the Gracious Christ; if we do not hear his words of grace through it, or feel the kindly voice of our friend the Holy Spirit through it, we are doing something wrong to our Book; we are subjecting it to the violence in our own hearts and trying to twist it to conform to what we are. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, including freedom from a slavish self-centred reading of Scripture. Christ is Lord of Scripture and we judge it, even as it were ‘edit’ it, by him.

  • Ian

    Just noticed: the Archbishop is certainly a man to be trusted – he has a cat. Come to think of it, what DID become of Dumbledore?


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