The Klingon Bible Teaches…
One of my favorite TV shows is “The Big Bang Theory.” I know that, as an evangelical, I should not be enjoying a show like that but I must admit I do, even when they have super-nerd Sheldon poke fun at Christianity, particularly the brand of literalist Christianity that I come from. I know that the parody they do of our form of faith is not accurate but I also know how, from the outside looking in, it is not far from the way we appear. We do look a little peculiar at times; we have a faith that does not do well subjecting itself to human reason.
One of the running jokes about the nerdy scientists is that they are fluent in Klingon, the language born from the long-running “Star Trek” series. I recently learned that someone has started work on a Klingon Language Bible. I’m waiting for the writers of the TV show to pick up on this and include it in their script somehow. If you go to that web page (It is from Amazon but the link is not meant as a recommendation that you buy the book) the funniest thing on it is the review section where there are several indignant comments that it is not an accurate translation.
There is just something about people getting upset that a translation into a wholly imaginary language could be wrong that makes me smile. The smile goes away when I remember the fact that this dispute is a pretty accurate, if unintentional, parody of the way we evangelicals often treat translations and, even more so, interpretations of the Bible. We cling tenaciously to the belief that there is one, and only one, accurate way to read the Bible and that it is easy for anyone to understand it. We then gallop off in all directions on what the Bible teaches. Richard Beck puts it this way:
“People who claim to literally interpret the inspired and inerrant Word of God do not agree on what the Bible says. Christian Smith calls this ‘pervasive interpretive pluralism.’ And this pervasive interpretive pluralism isn’t just found among progressives and liberals. It is found among evangelicals and fundamentalists, among the very people who claim that they are reading the Bible very, very literally.”
He is right. Centuries of history show that, after the Reformation, splits on doctrinal understanding have been the norm in our faith.
I am comfortable with a Bible that is the inspired Word of God (although that phrase was actually used of Jesus, not the Bible). I am comfortable with it being a guide for my life. But I am also comfortable with the call Beck gives to show grace to those who read the Bible differently. It bothers me when someone’s understanding of what the Bible teaches is presented as if it was the Bible itself. It bothers me even more when I find myself thinking that way about my own understanding.
And yet, if anything, the teaching among evangelicals that there is only one true understanding for every Bible passage, and that it is not only our duty to find it but that finding it is really easy, grows stronger as time goes by, all evidence that this does not work to the contrary. Most of the flaming differences we rage about are on secondary issues. Yet our disputes come across to those watching us as harsh as those who were raving about the poor translation of the Klingon Bible. Why do we do this?
I think the answer is fear. We know we live in a post-reformation world that has thousands of Protestant denominations and a myriad of doctrinal disputes. Yet we have bought in to the “only one true meaning” theory. This leaves us on an endless quest for one “right” answer among hundreds of wrong ones. We then take verses like Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” and misapply that to our one true meaning quest. This leaves us desperate for the “right” answer lest we be lead to destruction. Sadly, it also leads us to say those who differ are headed for destruction.
We call what we have our “faith.” The Klingon Bible, and the dispute it triggered, reminds me that faith is the opposite of the unreasonable certainty we seek, not of doubt. Real faith thrives without having all the right answers.