Bad scholarship is bad religion

It’s hard to find a commentary on the Bible that I can take seriously. The problem is, of course, that I took a class on this stuff, so now I know just enough to be able to weigh what I’m given.

I’m tempted to comment on “what’s allowed under ‘Biblical scholarship,'”, but the truth is that this happens in academic approaches, in religious-minded ones, and in political exploitation of religion, all three. It’s the most disappointing to see it in academia, of course, where people are supposed to know better, but there you go. It’s a heavily charged subject.

What happens, in a nutshell, is that whenever a person – scholar, preacher, political wingnut, whatever – approaches the Bible, they tend toward the following process. Note the order of the steps:

1. Form a hypothesis as to the nature of God the Father and/or Jesus. (Or Paul, or Topic X.)

2. Read and evaluate scriptures and/or other sources.

3. Dismiss material that does not match your hypothesis as later, less reliable, tacked in, etc.

4. Embrace what remains as the truest and most reliable information.

5. Declare that, since this information matches your hypothesis, the hypothesis is correct.

I’d love to assume that we all see the problem with this line of reasoning without my pointing it out, but if that were true it wouldn’t be so common, so I’ll call it for what it is: totally circular. If you use your hypothesis to choose which evidence you’re going to use, of course you’re going to end up “proving” your hypothesis. That’s how we manage to project onto God, onto Jesus, onto Paul, Christianity, Judaism, etc, etc, so many contradictory and sometimes seemingly insane personalities. I’ve seen it in academic treatments and religious ones, on the left and on the right. 

How do we learn to read with an open mind, and let the evidence form the hypothesis?


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