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An end to fundamentalism
published: Wednesday | February 5, 2003


Peter Espeut

I AM pleased at the many responses to last week's column. Fundamentalism has deep roots in Jamaica; many accept it unquestioningly as the correct approach to interpreting the Bible and I sincerely appreciate when persons with this background engage believers like me in debate.

Paul Thorbourne from Silver Springs, Maryland, USA (last Friday) does not dispute my assertion that "The Bible contradicts itself with respect to history and science in so many places, that a sensible person could not honestly continue with fundamentalism". He wants to know the source of Catholic teachings not found in the Bible; although he knows the answer, for he asks: "While I agree that God can reveal truths to mankind outside of the Bible, should they not be consistent with his revelations contained in the Bible?" The three non-biblical teachings he wants explained are, in fact, biblical (he could have used the Assumption of Mary, or the Immaculate Conception, which are non-biblical; and he is spot on: even though these are not revealed in Sacred Scripture, they in no way are contradicted by Holy Scripture, and are consistent with it).

The first non-biblical teaching he mentions is "that Mary is prayed to as a mediator to God when there is absolutely no mention of this in the scriptures". In fact, the Roman Catholic Church does not teach that Mary is a "mediator" between God and humanity, for there is only one such mediator - Jesus the Christ, who was true God and true man. What we believe in is intercessory prayer, that Mary - and the Saints - being in the constant presence of God, can intercede for us with Jesus.

Catholics are not required to pray in this way. We Catholics are expected to keep up a lively and close relationship with Jesus, his Father and the Holy Spirit through personal and public prayer. But who has not asked and sought and knocked, and not felt that God was taking a little long to answer? Intercessory prayer is an additional extra to grab God's attention. Look at the story of the wedding feast at Cana, where the guests "drank out the bar". Mary asked Jesus to restock the bar but He was unwilling, and almost rude to his mother; "Woman, what is that to me? My hour has not yet come". Like most mothers, she has influence over her son, and she totally ignores his refusal, and instructs the steward: "Do whatever he tells you". The rest is history! Mary can help to "change the mind" of her son, and that is why we pray to her; not because she has any power of her own, but because she has influence in high places.

His second question - about the meaning of Mat. 16:18 - is easy. For Greek scholars, the clear pun ("Petros" is "Peter" and "petra" is "rock") indicates that Peter is the rock referred to here. Of course, Jesus is the rock of our salvation (see 1 Cor. 10:4); but in this passage, Peter is the rock upon which Jesus will build his church.

I always find it interesting that Fundamentalists take everything literally - except where Jesus says: "This is my body", and "This is the cup of my blood". Nowhere does it say "a symbol of my body" or "a symbol of my sacrifice". Here, a literal rendering leads to Catholic belief in the Eucharist. Fundamentalists, where are you?

I can see (Saturday) Gordon E. Mullings of Trafalgar Park in Kingston, trying to come to grips with how Sacred Scripture can be 100 per cent true and still literally contradict itself on matters of history and science. The texts he quotes suggest that he thinks I disbelieve the truth of the Bible. We Roman Catholics believe the composers of the Bible were inspired by God (2 Peter 1:21.), in the direct link between Scripture and faith, and that all scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness - (2 Tim. 3:15-17). Mr. Mullings continues to miss the point: "What is at stake is whether the text of Scripture as we have it materially preserves what God said through prophets and apostles, so that it authentically and authoritatively records God's revelation: the truth, in love, to us all".

There is no doubt that Scripture as we now have it, materially preserves what God said through his prophets and apostles, so that it authentically and authoritatively records God's revelation. What is at stake is whether the eternal truth contained therein is literal, historical and scientific. I stated last week that the many indefensible literal contradictions prove that God did not intend us to automatically take every word in the Bible as history or science, but as theology. Sometimes theology means history, but not always as Fundamentalists believe.

Last week I named the three points on which the four accounts of the discovery of the resurrection agree, which are not in dispute (it happened on a Sunday, Mary Magdalene was there, and He had Risen). I fail, therefore, to understand why Mr. Mullings claims that I am denying the historicity of the resurrection. What I am successfully demonstrating are some of the thousands of literal contradictions within the Bible, and I am amazed at Mr. Mullings' denial of what his eyesight is telling him.

The accounts disagree on whether it was light or still dark. There is no mention of any "group" of women; the four accounts do not agree on whether it was one, two or three women, and which women. Mat. 28:2 says "Behold - which means they saw the stone rolled away, while the other accounts say the stone was already rolled away when they got there. They do not agree on whether the woman/women saw one person, two persons, or any person at all! I do not accept Mr. Mullings' denial of Scripture, that when it says "one" person it could mean "two". Mat. 28:8 states "So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples", while Mark 16:8 clearly states "and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid." Why is Mr. Mullings in denial? He will not get at the sublime truth to be found in Scripture this way.

I challenge all persons who really want to know the truth to abandon fundamentalism and to study all of Scripture, and not bury their heads in the sand when it comes to contradictions. A mature Christianity born of deep understanding of the Holy Scriptures will prevent the sort of simple literalism which has caused so many scandalous divisions in the broken body of Christ.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and an ordained deacon of the Roman Catholic Church, serving in Guy's Hill and Ewarton.

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