“Religion Without Truth”

Stanley Fish is not a Christian, but he understands the claims of Christianity better than some Christians.

Discussing the recent Time piece on teaching the Bible, he writes:

Stephen Prothero of Boston University, who is cited several times by [author David] Van Biema, describes the project and the claim attached to it succinctly: “The academic study of religion provides a kind of middle space. … It takes the biblical truth claims seriously and yet brackets them for purposes of classroom discussion.” But that’s like studying the justice system and bracketing the question of justice. (How do you take something seriously by putting it on the shelf?)

The truth claims of a religion — at least of religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam — are not incidental to its identity; they are its identity.

He points out the foolishness of pretending that the Scriptures can be encountered as neutral objects to be studied:

Of course, the “one true God” stuff is what the secular project runs away from, or “brackets.” It counsels respect for all religions and calls upon us to celebrate their diversity. But religion’s truth claims don’t want your respect. They want your belief and, finally, your soul. They are jealous claims. Thou shalt have no other God before me.

I don’t think Fish believes that the Scriptures themselves are dangerous; rather, he thinks that it is ridiculous to teach something without taking it as seriously as it takes itself.  “But if you’re going to cut the heart out of something, why teach it at all?”  

The Scriptures are dangerous because the Spirit is dangerous; He moves whither He wills.  It’s always dangerous to encounter the Word.  It is a double-edged sword.  It cannot be wielded as if it were a toy.  If you don’t know what you’re doing (and even if you think you do), you might cut yourself open on it.  Beware the thought that you have control over the Scriptures, as in, you can just “teach them,” or simply “hear them,” or merely “read them.”   If you think you can thump the Bible, be careful or it might thump you.  You are not in control.  The Scriptures are not for your use.  You are for God’s use through them.  They read you.  They grasp you. 

“They want your belief and, finally, your soul. They are jealous claims. Thou shalt have no other God before me.”