Trusting the Bible vs. Trusting Human Reason

Trusting the Bible vs. Trusting Human Reason February 19, 2011

I have often encountered fundamentalists who made the antithesis referred to in this title, placing themselves in the first part and me in the second, of course. And so I thought perhaps it might be worthwhile sharing a brief thought on this subject.

The contrast is utter bunk.
Let me explain why. There are two main reasons why the oft-repeated contrast between “the Bible” on the one hand and “human reason” on the other is nonsensical. The first is that human reason cannot be bypassed when it comes to the Bible. To give just a couple of examples, without human reason, you would not have English translations of the text. Without your own human reason, you could not make sense of words on the page. And your human reason is involved in making sense of the words you read. Otherwise there would be no need for translations – you could study the Hebrew and Greek text and, in spite of not knowing the languages, understand, because human reason is not required for this process.

This leads to the second main point. Many fundamentalist readers of Scripture will tell you that they do not “interpret” the Bible – they merely read it.

This claim too is utter bunk.

Their human reason (or “skill” as interpreters, to put it another way) can be seen quite clearly kicking in when Jesus tells them that they must give up all their possessions to be his disciples. It is visible kicking into action when Paul’s language about justification by faith apart from works of the Law is allowed to trump those passages that depict judgment on the basis of works. It is there when someone claims to know that the six days in Genesis 1 are literal but the dome is a metaphor.

But apart from these obvious instances, it is there all along, because apart from “human reason” there is no reading and no comprehension.

I have yet to encounter a fundamentalist who was able to actually demonstrate what would admittedly be an impressive trick: reading without using their brains. I always try to remain open to changing my mind, and so if you are able to do it, please do show me how. But if when you read your EEG does not flatline, then please stop pretending things are otherwise.

And if you would say that the act of bypassing human reason occurs not in the process of reading, but in the choice of putting your faith in the Bible in the first place, it may indeed be the case that you ignored reason when doing so. But that ought to worry you, not provide comfort, because it is possible to ignore reason and place one’s faith in just about anything. And unless such a person at some point is willing to allow reason its proper role, then it is unclear how anyone, even God, would be able to get through to them and persuade them to think differently. And to be in that situation ought to be worrying, not reassuring.

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