Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Useless Words

David Klinghoffer has a post about the word "fundamentalist" up today. He argues that the term is no longer useful as anything but a negative epithet. This is because it is widely used to refer to any conservative religious person one doesn't happen to like, despite having a clear-cut and narrow historical definition.

His post got me thinking along similar lines about another oft-used term. In discussions of theology, people talk about interpreting the Bible "literally". Unlike fundamentalist, "literal" in this context is as likely to be used by a person defending the practice as it is by someone opposed to it. However, it doesn't make it any more accurate.

The problem with this way of describing a more traditional hermeneutical approach to the Bible is that it leads to misconceptions. I can guarantee you that, no matter how conservative your theology, you don't read everything in the Bible literally. If you don't believe me, check out Matthew 18:9. Unless you're reading this post while wearing an eye patch, there are at least some parts of the Bible you acknowledge to be metaphorical. Unfortunately, if you are a self-proclaimed literalist, it becomes pretty easy for the anti-Christian types to caricature you. "Man, this guy believes we should stone people who disrespect their parents!" Perhaps an acceptable alternative would be to tell people you read the Bible in its plain sense wherever possible. It's not quite as catchy, but may be more accurate.