In Which I Lead Astray
I wouldn’t call writing a careless enterprise. Every writer has obligations–some particular, some general: to be honest, to be truthful, to communicate in good faith. In this sense, every writer should take care, but as someone who writes about religion among other topics, I’ve noticed that the expectation that I be careful is voiced more often when I write about matters of faith, particularly my own. There is the concern that I might lead others astray.
This isn’t surprising. Religion often deals with professed matters of eternal life and death. If you believe, as many religious people do, that attaining salvation depends upon your having and assenting to the knowledge of what salvation requires, then you’re likely to fear any sort of discourse that questions or challenges or clouds that knowledge. If I write about my doubts, I might cause others to doubt. If I voice my disagreements, I might lead others to disagree. As these doubts and disagreements put souls at risk of eternal damnation, I shouldn’t raise them publicly, certainly not on the internet.
I don’t buy it. As a Christian, I read the Bible as a sacred text, as God’s Word. You know what I get from it? God’s not a control freak, scrupulously worried that we get the message exactly right. I can’t think of a book that in practice reaches its degree of ambiguity, engendering so many conflicting interpretations. Another religious text, perhaps? Even Shakespeare doesn’t come close. Consider the figure of Jesus–God revealed in the flesh. So far as we know, he didn’t write a thing (except in the sand), he taught by way of parables, he kept his followers in the dark, and he said things that prompted the immediate departure of the crowds. He didn’t teach in a way that minimized misunderstanding.
The history of Christianity is a history of rupture and division helped along by the ambiguity of the scriptures it holds sacred and by the desire to interpret these scriptures according to various odds and ends. Even seemingly clear passages, such as Paul’s exhortation that women learn in silence and with submissiveness or the old commandment not to kill, have received creative hermeneutic treatment and lots of it.
If religious writing runs the risk of putting people in danger of damnation by leading them away from the right path, then the Bible is in the running for the work that has run that risk most effectively. And it’s the book that Christians believe has the words of eternal life. You’ll have to forgive me, then, if I don’t worry about potential doubts and discord my writing may prompt. I take care to write honestly and truthfully and in good faith, but I don’t care to sanitize my own questions and criticisms because someone might also question and criticize.