Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"Word of God": More Deceptive Evangelical Christian Semantics

I truly hate to be mired in semantical fiddle-faffery, but Orwell was right: controlling language can control how people think.

I am currently discussing the term "Word of God" with a group of Christians on the Facebook group "Christianity Debate." It seems that those with a Biblical inerrant outlook refer to the Bible as the "Word of God", and whenever they see a writer (in Scripture, or outside of it) use that term, they consider it a reference to the Bible.

First, there is a context to this: off-and-on in the group, we've been discussing the role of human conscience in both our moral lives and our exegesis. A learned (I assume) Christian man explained to me that to appeal to conscience is "special pleading", and a kind of logical fallacy. But this would seem not to be the case when discussing our moral development, because what would these "morals" be without conscience to discern them?

So my new turn of phrase is the say that "morals are the ethics of conscience." Already, folks have been working to develop a scientific ethics -- particularly, business ethics -- through study of Information Theory, specifically Game Theory. But there is no way to make the leap from ethics to morals without involving our consciences.

Fortunately, when talking with Christians about conscience, we have the backing of church fathers who grappled with matters of natural religion through the lense of human conscience -- and attempted to show how these findings were compatible with the Christianity that they practiced. But they did not believe in Biblical inerrancy, any more than any rational and responsible theologian would today.

Today's evangelical Christians don't seem to have a sense of that history. "Word of God", to them, is the Bible -- and Heaven help anyone who dares disagree with what they find written there. But (hopefully) we know better: "Word of God" is the Logos, which Heraclitus termed the Divine Order in our Cosmos.

To clarify: I believe the Logos to be the very fabric of the Cosmos, its set of Natural Laws. We can argue if the Logos is actually part of God, or those Laws that He fixed to create our reality...but there can't be any confusion that the Logos is that Word of God that we find here:

In the beginning was the Word (gk "Logos"),

and the [Logos] was with God,

and the [Logos] was God.

(Jn1:1, of course.)

But mainstream, rational, responsible Christians are not Biblical inerrantists -- and indeed, almost certainly don't fall into this error of thinking "Logos" refers to Scripture. Because while Scripture may be inspired by the Logos...the map is not the territory.

It is becoming more and more apparent to me that this confusion is exploited by irresponsible evangelical Christians to lead their congregations astray. They tell people to deny their God-given consciences and trust in the Bible, which they conflate with the term "Logos" under discussion. But our God-given consciences are just as much a product of that Logos as any inspiration the Logos had given prophets, apostles, or any other churchmen, great or small.

Except for a few sad pathologies, we humans are, indeed, Persons of Conscience. We can't tell this by looking at what passes for "news" on our airwaves, because such media specifically seeks out thos pathologies, and clouds the fact that almost all people act decently when they can. But if we examine great dramas from Hollywood, we can discern that the moral dilemmas found therein would be unintelligable to an audience that didn't have servicable consciences.

Expanding on the latter will be the topic of another post.

Scott Doty
Santa Rosa, California
November 9, 2011