Interpretive Dance

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The preacher stood behind the pulpit of Grace Baptist Church in Mableton, Georgia and said, “Catholics are cat-holics, which means they are wholly given to the cat.” I think he was trying to say cats were evil, suspicious creatures so anyone given wholly to the cat must be evil and suspicious, too. Since he apparently wasn’t interested in the actual definition (catholic means universal in Greek), the actual truth would take a backseat to his truth. Honestly, I have no idea what the man meant by this other than general “we’re good, they’re bad” rhetoric. 

I heard these nonsensical statements along with “I don’t trust electricity. Anything that can travel through wires has got to be dangerous,” from an Independent Baptist preacher years ago. I had just started going to Grace Baptist Church (the irony is not lost on me) and honestly, had no clue about God, Jesus, Christianity, or anything else to do with religion. I was a teenager at a formative and influential age being taught a hostile, suspicious, and sometimes hate-filled version of Christianity. Worse than that, I was being taught how make the bible justify this kind of nonsense. The church, and those like it, used a specific kind of cherry-picking interpretation that created doctrines and ‘Thus says the Lord” kinds of statements by taking things out of their context.

Fast forward six or seven years and I’m in college at Mercer University studying hermeneutics (an academic word for interpretation) and learning how people develop this kind of thinking. Move ahead another dozen years and I get an advanced course on the same thing in seminary. And what I learned is that most anyone can use most anything to justify what they want or feel they need to believe. That doesn’t mean it’s a good interpretation or even a rational interpretation but when it comes to religion, many people are driven by fear and comfort over rationality. What makes sense to them may or may not make sense to anyone else, but they will fight tooth and nail to defend it. 

Interpretation has always been (even in biblical times) as much art as science. The same two people can read a passage and come up with two very different understandings of it depending on what they already believe. No one comes to the text with a completely open mind. No one can see without the bias of their experience. In ancient times, people accepted this and while we see the history we want to justify the things we believe, there were many interpretations of the bible’s meaning and many ways of arriving at it. 

So, what am I getting at with all this?

In a roundabout way I am saying we all come to follow Jesus from different places for different reasons. We bring those reasons with us every time we open the bible, sit in a Sunday school class, hear a sermon, or simple think about our beliefs. We all interpret the bible differently and all have different ways of coming to those interpretations. It would be impossible to for anyone to see God without the bias of our experience. With that in mind, shouldn’t we be less judgmental of others for arriving at different conclusions than we do? Shouldn’t we withhold anger, aggression, and hatred from those who see the world differently? Do you have to agree with them? No. Do you have to love them? Yes. 

Learn. Seek. Explore faith. Experience God. But don’t use that experience or the interpretation of it to harm others.