Romantic Readings

Through a series of recent conversations I’ve had with a dear friend and mentor who happens to be a conservative theologian, I’ve learned that there is a stigma placed on liberal theologians; namely, that we are intellectually dishonest. It’s pretty easy to see how this stigma developed. Liberal theologians tend to have a “low” view of scripture, one that admits that the various works that comprise any religious canon come to us filtered through disparate cultures and personalities, leaving them full of claims that, when held up to a modern historical account (or a modern conception of ethics and morality), don’t necessarily line up.

To admit such a thing doesn’t seem like much of a problem to me. The problem, according to those with a “high” view of scripture (stereotypically seen as deeming scripture to be inerrant), is that liberal theologians shouldn’t be claiming that scripture has the power to reveal the truth or provide a moral framework for one’s life. Therefore, liberal preachers who tell entire congregations how the world works or how to act based off of a scripture they don’t actually consider to be “true” are engaging in intellectual dishonesty.

I’m not a preacher. I’m technically not a qualified theologian. That said, this controversy touches on something very dear to my heart: romantic readings. What is a romantic reading? The most iconic example of romantic reading is the way Don Quixote reads the world around him. He is obsessed with the chivalrous ideals touted in the books he has read, and believes with all his heart that he is a knight errant charged with the duty to defend the helpless and destroy the wicked. He sees a windmill and reads it as an evil giant he is duty-bound to slay. In the end, he is killed because of this belief. He was willing to die for a romantic reading of reality.

There is obvious danger in this kind of faith. Religious fanatics engage in bloody crusades motivated by this kind of faith, and I by no means condone such acts. On the other hand, Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer also had this kind of faith. He admits in his book The Quest of the Historical Jesus that Jesus believed the end of the world was coming within a generation. He admits that the Bible is probably not “true” in the literal sense of the word. Yet, he gave up all the celebrity and fame he’d acquired in Europe and moved to Africa in order to establish a world-class hospital, where he died.

The point is, you don’t have to believe something is actually true in order to give your life to it. You don’t have to empirically prove something before you consider it worth sharing. And even though I don’t think the Bible is literally true, that doesn’t preclude me from believing that it was divinely inspired, and it certainly doesn’t preclude me from reading it romantically, and in turn reading the world around me romantically. I believe in Jesus Christ and am willing to die for this belief. Does this make me intellectually dishonest?


Anonymous said...

Kudos Bryan!

Resist. Refuse. Renounce. said...

The short answer to your question is: no.

Bryan Tarpley said...

Thanks, RRR. Is there a long answer?