The Abuse of Sola Scriptura


No one else can use your brain. That’s pretty obvious. That incredibly complex, three pound fleshy data collector is yours and no one else’s. Another person may manipulate it, warp it, twist it, break it, abuse it, but, to date, no one is able to experience your life through your brain. You may indirectly share your experience of life by talking or writing about it, you may capture and share a moment in time through photography. You may dig deeper and try to share your inner experience through poems or music. But you will never be able to experience another person’s life.

And no one will ever experience yours. We can never step outside of our own mind. We can never step outside of our own experience of life.

When I write the word “dog” most of us don’t mentally imagine an actual dog. We have a sort of “dogness” idea hovering around our consciousness like a Socratic Form. But if I asked you to imagine an actual dog, what would you imagine? I imagine a Saint Bernard. I’ll bet you didn’t imagine a Saint Bernard. There’s a reason why I automatically imagine a Saint Bernard when I see the word “dog” and not a German Shepherd or Poodle. My childhood dog was a Saint Bernard named Duchess. I loved that dog. So, every time I see the word “dog” I bring to that word my entire lifetime experience. And no matter how much I could write now about that dog, you will never, ever fully understand the depth of that experience. Period. If I wrote 10,000 pages of essays, poems, songs, and art, you may understand more about how I feel about Duchess (if done well) and you may share that understanding with others. But you will never experience my experience of that dog. I have family members who understand more than you do about that dog, and they have directly experienced that dog. But even their experiences are different than mine. My experiences are mine alone. And so are yours.

(What if I asked you to imagine a “dog” and you told me you imagined a poodle. If I screamed “WRONG!” at you and demanded you imagine a Saint Bernard, wouldn’t that make me the biggest asshole in the world?)

Everything you read will travel first through your experiences. You experience your experience of reading uniquely. That is especially true of a book like the Protestant Bible. Your pastor can’t experience the Bible for you. Your youth pastor can’t either. You read it and bring to your reading all your life filters. This is why the Bible means different things to different people. Some people love the “love your enemies” parts, and other people like the “miraculous healing powers” parts, others like the “eternal damnation” parts because their life experiences have created a personality that filters every experience. The Bible (and all religious texts really) works as a mirror revealing who we really are. You learn more about a person’s personality through their chosen religion than you do about their God.

Evangelical Christianity understands this also. They claim that after we accept the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross for our Sins, the work of the Holy Spirit is to lead us to the proper understanding of the Word separate from our psychological filters so that we are Born Again. We can’t do this on our own, they claim. We need the Holy Spirit. Different denominations have different interpretations about what this means but Evangelicals, where conservative or progressive, traditional or modern, agree that we can only be born again and understand the Scripture through the work of the Holy Spirit. They believe that we are “corrupt” and “sinful” and cannot trust upon our own understanding of the Bible. Without explicitly intending to, Evangelicals of all stripes instinctively understand that we all read the Bible through our own filters. But they claim that because that filter is corrupted through sin, we must rely on the Holy Spirit to bring them to the proper understanding of the Bible.

Evangelicals then come to different interpretations about what that exactly means and there are differences of opinions. The Holy Spirit, it would seem, is having some trouble with clear messaging. A closer examination of those interpretations is beyond this post. The purpose of this blog is to examine Conservative Evangelicalism and how it has poisoned American society. 

Conservative Evangelicals, as defined in Stepping Towards the Weeds and distinct from Evangelicalism at large, have done something rather insidious with the idea of the Holy Spirit guiding us to Biblical Understanding. The resulting philosophy is highly abusive and has done incalculable damage to the mental health of a generation of Americans.

Conservative Evangelicals claim an idea of Sola Scriptura; namely, that the Protestant Bible is perfect, without contradiction or error, and is the sole authority on all topics. That humanity has been spiritually corrupted by sin and must rely on the work of Christ for salvation is standard dogma for nearly every Christian. But Conservative Evangelicals claim that humanity is incapable of even *thought* without the help of the Holy Spirit and must rely on the Bible in all matters.

The fact that this does not immediately horrify you upon hearing it shows how pervasive and mundane the idea has become in the United States. You probably have a relative or neighbor who thinks like this. You probably laugh it off. But I sometimes tell people here in Japan that millions and millions of people in America believe that the Protestant Bible is the final authority in all matters, even matters of science and politics and they nearly always look shocked and respond, “What, like the Taliban do?” And I reply, “Yup.” Most Japanese people have no idea how prevalent this kind of thinking is in America and are properly shocked. Most Americans don’t understand how abusive and frankly dangerous to democracy this is. Kids living in abusive houses don’t usually understand that they’re being abused until they get some distance from their abusers.

(There have been extensive writings about how referring only to Scripture for information about our world is rationally and scientifically flawed. I may address this issue someday, but a library of literature has been written already. I’ll refer you to Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World. But I want to address how psychologically damaging to not only individuals but society at large Sola Scriptura really is.)

When I say that Conservative Evangelicals claim that the Bible is the final authority in all matters, I mean that exactly. Conservative Evangelicals believe that the Bible informs them on not only who can marry, what constitutes life, climate change, and the age of the Earth but also surprising topics like bearing arms, tax rates, Middle Eastern policy, and even diet. Strict obedience to the Bible is as high among Conservatives Evangelicals as it is among the most zealous Islamist.

(How many times have you been in a debate with one of these people and after you bring up a well-researched, rational opinion, the Conservative Evangelical laconically reply, “Well the BIBLE says…” and you wanted to choke them and scream “It doesn’t MATTER what the Bible says…” and they blink at you zombirifically and say it again, “Well, the BIBLE says…” )

Why do I say it’s abusive? Refer to the beginning of this piece when I wrote about our experiences. How those experience shape and mold you into who you are. What Sola Scriptura means is that your experiences don’t matter. What you experience in life is irrelevant. You must obey and follow the Bible verbatim (what they think that means). Your personal responses, your personal moral compass, everything that makes you *you* doesn’t matter. There is no attempt, ever, to examine an individual’s inner world. Addiction? Sin. Gay? Sin. Abuse? Sin. In a single puerile theological assertion, Conservative Evangelicals erase the whole of human psychology and mental health of every single human on Earth.

Teaching this to children is horrifying. “Hey kid, your feelings don’t matter. Your experiences don’t matter. The only thing that matters is that you believe every word of this ancient book of poetry written by Middle Eastern shepherds.”

And as a result, those children raised in Conservative Evangelical homes, who couldn’t escape it, display a shocking lack of human empathy. I’ve seen it personally with my own eyes. It’s why there are millions and millions of Americans who shrugged at the brutal torture and murder of Matthew Shepherd. That appalling lack of human empathy was in full display when Conservative Evangelicals voted en masse for an orange ogre whose complete lack of empathy actually endeared him to them.

Child abuse is immoral because not only does it inflict needless pain upon a child, but it also hinders that child’s ability to empathize with others when they get older. It’s time for America to recognize Conservative Evangelicalism for what it is: child abuse. And one of the most prominent of these child abusers, who advocates for the erasure of psychological well being and replacing it with superstition and bigotry, sits one chair away from the most powerful political office in the world.

Conservative Evangelicalism is a plague. And it thrives under the umbrella of liberal ideas of diversity and tolerance the same way anti-vaxxers are able to survive and maintain their superstitions under herd immunity. Anti-vaxxers were not vigorously combated when it started in the late 90s and we’re paying for that with outbreaks of measles again. It’s time to recognize Conservative Evangelicals as equally dangerous.

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