Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
April 9th, 2004

Blind Through the Bible

What Happens When Teachers of Faith Don't Know?

 
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The small, white-haired woman leading the discussion hesitated.

She coughed and bit her lip but managed to read the information on the paper clutched in her shaking hand. She spoke of the Church and Catholic beliefs and, sitting in a semi-circle before her, the members of her parish’s RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) group leaned in to listen.

For many of the class members—unbaptized and baptized non-Catholics—the information she shared was new, neat knowledge about a faith they sought to join. For me—a Catholic theology student and neutral observer placed in the parish by my school—the information was wrong.

Just the facts, ma’am
The facts, I thought, were important. The woman—the evening’s teacher for twenty up-and-coming Catholics—stated that the Immaculate Conception pertains to Jesus’ conception (it doesn’t—it pertains to Mary’s conception), that the Hebrew Scriptures’ Isaiah 46:11 speaks of Christ’s coming (it doesn’t—it speaks of the Persian King Cyrus’ coming), and that Mary and Joseph were model Christian parents (an unwed teenaged mother and the enraged fiancé who wants to dump her? See Luke 1:26-38 and Matthew 1:18-25).

Of course, I understood what she meant. The Hebrew Scriptures do prophesy about a Messiah, and Mary and Joseph were good parents (once they came to terms with Mary’s odd-ball pregnancy). Nevertheless, the basic information conveyed was incorrect—awkward—and, from what I gleaned from conversations after the class, no one seemed to know.

Bible blunders everywhere
It’s a problem and it runs deeper than basic information errors. Scripture is often misquoted, misconstrued, and manipulated. Indeed, in history women have been dominated, blacks enslaved, Jews persecuted, homosexuals condemned, animals abused, and natured destroyed, all using Bible passages as justification. In many circles, Scripture is still used against Catholics by fundamentalist Christians. In many circles, Scripture is still used against Darwin and evolution.

Scripture, however, is still priceless.

As Christians, we have a responsibility to read it and know it. We also have a responsibility to know it properly—to understand the context in which it was written, the people it was written for, and the damage its propagation has done. As Catholics, we also have a responsibility to understand our traditions and to pass them on without screwing them up.

The need to know
The woman at the RCIA class loves Scripture. She loves the Church and its traditions. So do I. But I question everything. I like to wrestle with religion and ask why. I want to know that no one has ever been able to properly translate Genesis 1:1 and that Revelation is about Roman persecutions and not a prediction about the end of the world. I need to know and am shocked when I meet Christians who do not.

This is the Church, though. And part of me thinks that if every member of the Church had the faith of the woman at RCIA then we’d do just fine. The other part worries. Over the centuries, blind faith and religious ignorance have proven deadly. Perhaps faith is not enough. Perhaps the Church should be concerned. After all, when the blind lead the blind, they end up in a ditch.

 
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The Author : Sue Birnie
Sue Birnie writes from Ontario in Canada.
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