My Bible in 90 Days experiment is not going well.
Part of it is simply because I don't have the time to follow the rigorous schedule...or, if I do, I'm speeding through the text at face value.
But part of it is...I think it's probably atrocious netiquette to talk about another blog I participate on on my own blog, but -- oh, well -- I am increasingly dismayed and frustrated by a certain Christian culture that truly believes that the best way to teach people about God is to hand them a Bible, say, "Just read this," and then walk off to hand another Bible to someone else. How crazy is this, really? I hasten to add that that's not the theological motivation or mindset driving our own little group's online experiment; but my experiences this week have made me think back to all the encounters I've had over the years with people who do seem to embue the Bible with an almost magickal quality to interpret itself outside the context of group discernment (which includes both formal scholarship and the kind of informal Talmudic back-and-forth that happens in Christian community).
This irritation is making me something of an agent provocateur on the other blog. I keep waiting for the e-mail suggesting that I'd maybe be happier as a non-participant.
What is someone who has minimal or no religious formation, or no understanding of the various contexts in which Scriptural texts were written -- a state, which, unfortunately, years of churchgoing and catechesis may not have helped at all -- supposed to do with, say, the Book of Leviticus, or Paul's more thinky and verbose theologizing in his epistles, or Revelation? How stupid is it to think that you can just hand someone a Bible, this set of very complex texts, written and edited over many centuries by many people addressing many audiences with in many situations, and say, "Here ya go! It's all in there!"? As I noted on that blog, I may have to turn in my Lutheran union card; although I suspect that when Brother Marty waxed rhapsodic about peasants and household help reading Scripture themselves, he was assuming that they were doing so in a supported way, in a faith community that could provide them with the tools to do this in an informed way.
Here's what happens when you don't provide people with context for reading Scripture: They think God's message to humanity is that snakes are evil animals, that once upon a time they could talk, and that God took away their legs; that women are inherently inferior to men; that there's something wrong with having normal cyclical bodily functions; that mules and triticale and cotton/linen-blend shirts are "sinful"; that the way to deal with people who are "different" is to exclude them, or possibly even kill them; that God has a strangely urgent concern about carbuncles and spotted sheep and priestly haberdashery, and in fact becomes homicidal/genodical if you don't get it all right. And that's just the first five books.
In my opinion it is absolutely irresponsible for the Church to not provide laypeople with the tools they need to read Scripture in an informed way, instead of keeping them in a kind of intellectual infancy regarding what the texts mean. How much of this is simple laziness and incompetence, and how much of it is an ecclesiastical power trip, and how much of it is the laypeople's own unwillingness to be proactive and thoughtful students of Scripture and risk being challenged by what they might learn...who knows. But it's not a good thing.