Monday, May 23, 2011

Mr Camping and Fundamentalism

So the purported 'rapture' came and went. As a Catholic, I am not in the least bit surprised.

What does surprise me still is the way in which Fundamentalists read the Bible. Certainly, Mr Harold Camping does not represent Fundamentalism insofar as he set a date for the End. He does, however, represent Fundamentalism insofar as his method of Biblical interpretation sets up the individual reader (or one to whom the individual reader defers to) as a magisterium unto himself. The grand irony of Fundamentalism in particular, and Protestantism in general, is that it rejects the authority of the Church, only to insist on the authority of the individual believer, the pastor, or a denomination. In other words, the very premise that is rejected--the authority of the Church--becomes the very premise of Protestantism--the authority of the individual. Protestantism, and especially Fundamentalism, is founded upon a self-contradiction.

Even more than this, however, is the way in which Fundamentalism brings the obscure passages of Scripture into high relief to the point of suppressing some of the more prima facie assertions of the Biblical writers. In the case of Mr Camping and his followers, there was a strange silence on the question of Mt 24:36, "But about that day and hour, no-one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (cf. Mk 13:32). Even more astonishing is that, for all the reputed Biblical literacy which Fundamentalists advertise to be their greatest asset, hardly anything was said about the fact that even the Lord Jesus did not know the time of the End.

My point here, really, is the metod of setting aside the prima facie meanings of certain Biblical passages in favour of a collection of more obscure passages in the Protestant method of reading the Bible. A classic example is the Bread of Life discourse: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh" (Jn 6:51). Jesus repeats his assertion several times in vv. 53, 54, 55, 56, 58. In the attempt to escape the prima facie meaning of Jesus' Eucharistic words, the Old Testament prohibition of eating blood is often invoked. Still others resort to a kind of Rationalism: "How can bread and wine be the flesh and blood of Jesus?" And, despite the masterful study of the Lutheran exegete Joachim Jeremias (The Eucharistic Words of Jesus [London, UK: SCM Press, 1990]). The same can be said about holy baptism as effecting interior regentation by a realist participation in the Passion of Christ (cf. Jn 3:5; Mk 16:16; 1 Pt 3:21; Col 2:12-13; Rom 6:3-4); the falsity of 'eternal security' (1 Cor 4:4; Gal 5:4; Heb 6:4-6, 10:26-27; 2 Jn 8-9, et al.); the existence of a doctrinal and moral Magisterium in the Church (Acts 15, et al.).

Unfortunately, the loudest bark provokes the greatest scare, and Mr Camping's doctrinal monstrosities have already caught the attention of the world and away from the authentic Christianity which has existed for two millenia. As an insider--I hold two Masters' degrees in sacred theology and I am in preparation for Holy Orders--I know that the Catholic Church does not share the eschatological views of Mr Camping or of Fundamentalism, and so I am surprised when strangers ask me whether Mr Camping is correct in his calculations. To ask a Catholic whether Mr Camping is correct is like asking a Latinist whether the magical incantations in the Harry Potter series are pronounced correctly. Although I will save the topic for a different posting, I seriously suspect that, given the theology of Divine Revelation professed by Fundamentalists, Fundamentalism disqualifies itself as "Christianity."

Yet Mr Camping has done incalculabe harm to the Church's mission. The propaganda stir he effected has rubbed off onto Christianity and damaged its credibility because most people--especially the New Atheists--are unable to ditinguish between the "christianities" of Protestantism and the Christianity of the Catholic Church. Five years ago, any theological discussion by a nonbeliever necessarily included a refutation of the historical fiction that is The Da Vinci Code. Now, any such theological discussion will necessarily include a disclaimer on Mr Camping. In fact, Mr Camping can rightly be called the next Dan Brown.

Heresy is serious business, so serious that it was a capital crime in certain parts of medieval Europe. Instead, today, we have hundreds of disappointed people, without jobs, massive credit card debts, shattered faith, and hundreds of secularists who have since become even more hardened in their unbelief. I suppose the element of surprise in the actual coming of the End will have something to do with the incredulity contributed by Mr Camping.