Guidelines for Gynecologists and Biblical Scholars
Published on: April 13, 2011
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  • John Barker

    “I can look at the Bible as containing messages of salvation coming from God.”

    I should like to know what those messages are, which Berger is reading. Perhaps, some have left the church because they could not understand the message or no clear message was sent.

  • Spot on!

  • Colin

    Is it possible to accept that some see it and some don’t, through no fault of either?

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  • A well-written article.

    (To Peter Berger: I’ve no idea whether you read comboxes, but if you do, I’d love to see your response to the following challenge:)

    Dr. Berger states, “I can look at the Bible as containing messages of salvation coming from God. I can look at the Bible as containing texts written by human beings in specific historical and social circumstances. The two relevance structures are not intrinsically contradictory….”

    Well, that rather depends on the what facts are uncovered by scholarship, doesn’t it?

    So long as the facts uncovered about the authors of the Biblical texts and their intended meanings jive more or less amenably with some form of Christianity, then any Biblical scholar can be a Christian.

    But if good scholarship leads necessarily to the conclusion that the Bible’s human authors and their “historical and social circumstances” are utterly incompatible with the claims of Christianity, then all scholars would be non-Christian and all Christians would be non-scholars.

    This suggests a breakdown in the wall of separation between Church and Scholarship, don’t you think?

    The reason for this breakdown is because in being a Christian (or not being one), a personal and free choice is involved.

    In choosing between mutually-incompatible alternatives, a person becomes necessarily one; he cannot be divided because there are not two of him which he can send down each of the mutually-incompatible paths.

    Now Dr. Berger states that “In the present controversy, some on both sides share what may be called the holistic fallacy—the notion that one’s approach to life must be an undivided whole.”

    But is that a “fallacy?” I thought it was a truism…in any matter where a choice must be made.

    I suppose the question “How can a gynecologist manage to have sex?” at the outset of the article was intended to pre-empt that challenge. And of course it is true that we can look at a given object in different ways by shifting our mindset.

    But the gynecologist example is a misleading one. For the analogy to be a relevant one, this sexual difficulty would need to arise specifically because the gynecologist knows, as part of his work, something which makes sexual relations with his wife unwise. In other words, the real information afforded him by his vocation would need to provide rational grounds for a particular choice.

    But barring health problems (and with the understanding that I am here taking far too seriously something intended as an off-hand joke) this is not the case for most married gynecologists. For them the problem, if they have one, is an irrational one: How to get over the purely emotional sense of having taken his work home with him, or of a lack of novelty, or some such thing.

    Now the significance of a religious text is that it calls us to make certain choices. And there is no option to permanently put off the choice, because death comes for all: These are areas in which “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

    So the choice is inevitable, and the options are mutually exclusive, and by selecting one option or the other one changes the remainder of one’s life for good or ill.

    Were it not for this, Biblical studies would be much like studies in ancient Nordic languages — interesting for a scholar or two but irrelevant to most of humanity.

    Biblical studies are of broader interest precisely because in making the choice to become a Catholic or a Baptist or an atheist knowing whether (a.) the Biblical texts are, or aren’t, reliable expressions of witnesses to unusual events and personages, and (b.) if so, what message their authors really intended to convey is important data. It is, to borrow a military term, “actionable intel.”

    The outcome of one’s scholarly investigation — assuming it is an honest seeking of the facts and not an attempt to curry favor with the religious or the non-religious by publishing results crafted to draw book sales from one group or the other — will necessarily impact one’s personal decision.

    How then can the two realms be kept entirely separate? They cannot.

    I do not mean, here, that good scholarship is impossible. I believe that a man may produce good scholarship if he “holds firm to the end” in pursuing the facts, in vicious disregard of any qualms about his conclusions compelling him to alter his life or philosophy in uncomfortable ways. (Dr. Scott Hahn’s biography comes to mind.)

    But once he is persuaded, to whatever religious view (including atheism for convenience as a “religious view”), what then? Can he still produce good scholarship, after he commits himself to a partisan view, Dr. Berger?

    Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps you think it depends very much on which partisan view he embraces!

    But all this demonstrates, I think, how wrong it is to think of “holism” in religious matters as a “fallacy.” It simply isn’t. There are always many views about any topic — until one knows the facts.

    After that, for sane men, there’s only one.

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