Scripture in Common Usage: Conclusion

November 17, 2013

I. Is Scripture a “Good” or a “Bad?” 

II. What will be Scripture in the future? What role will it play?      

III. What is scripture? 

I.  So after spending this much time looking at scripture in both its common positive usage and its common negative usage, what “final” judgement can we make about it? On the one hand, it can create community, serve as a positive personal meditative tool, and inspire, fuel, and amplify drastic positive social change as it did in the Civil Rights Movement. On the other hand, it can isolate, enforce prejudices, and lead to violence. So really, in evidence of its varying fruits, all that can really be said is that in and of itself, Scripture is neither a good nor a bad. Once something takes on the role of Scripture, it is the interaction that communities have with it that is good or bad; it is the motives, applications, and methods of interpretation and implementation that can be judged as good or bad.

Can we apply a consistent standard for judging scripture usage? Are there clear, definite, inflexible rules to use in the case of every scripture and every usage of that scripture to judge it “good” or “bad”?  No, at least not completely; scripture cannot be judged by a scientific lens that provides a stringent box within which it can be placed and analyzed. Scriptural literalists cringe at most discussions of varying interpretations because they often, shallowly, believe that the “face value” surface reading is the correct reading and any variance from that is misinterpretation. But as has hopefully been belabored throughout this series is that even a word-for-word reading of scripture will lead to direct contradictions thus any method of scriptural reading requires an individual or community to make choices in that reading. The only way to be consistent is to interpret through a consistent lens that applies the gleanings of interpretation in a non-schizophrenic manner. The major rule for judging whether scriptural usage is “good” or “bad” that I personally apply to any usage of any scripture is this–are the “fruits” of the scriptural usage positive or negative? We cannot judge metaphysical claims; that is, we cannot judge whether ones “soul is saved,” for example. We can judge whether the usage of scripture by an individual or a community leads to a person or persons becoming “better” in the sense of compassion, care, and whether the actions performed as inspired by that scriptural community lead to a better overall world for that community and those around that community.

II.  What will be the scripture of the future? What role will it play? The biggest examples of scripture (the Bible, The Qur’an) are firmly established in the lives and practices of millions today and it is highly unlikely that the influence played by these prominent examples will completely cease in human history. New scriptures, at least those fully endorsed and held as such by name, are rare births and very few have been established in modern history–The Book of Mormon being one strong exception. It generallly takes many generations, historic developments, and usually a highly charismatic person or group at the core of a scripture’s origin to cement a “new” scripture. Yet many things assume the role of scripture, often in an unacknowledged manner. Sufi poetry like that of Rumi serves as scripture for many both Muslim and non-Muslims with a mystical bent; Transcendentalist poetry and the work of American naturalists has oft served as scripture for more secular postmodernists; the Constitution has certainly assumed the role of scripture for many Americans, even spawning its own “fundamentalists,” (i.e. the Libertarians for one). Music, art, poetry, literature influence most country’s popular religion. Will the future be one in which that work influenced by ancient texts but simultaneously far removed from those texts become the actual scriptures, at least for all practical purposes? If the world ever truly enters a “scientific age,” in which the popular attitudes and practices owe more to “reason,” “logic,” research and technology than religous codes, parables, Myths and sacraments, will “science” and its applications assume the role of scripture?

III.  Every time I have attempted to posit an answer to the question “What is scripture?” I produce a different one. I have pursued this question, as noted in the prologue pieces to this series, in many different contexts most notably in a project with other graduate students from a religious studies program. I have crafted technical “Scripture is X when Y and Z occur…” type answers and practical answers, “spiritual” answers, “religious” answers. In concluding the last major paper I wrote on the subject, I determined that the process of inquiry with my group into the nature of what scripture is was itself the definition of scripture–truly seeking, questioning, arguing, and discerning an attempted answer to the utmost important of questions with the idea that an answer was possible, wanted, and could be applied–that act itself is scripture and it is what is at the core of everything that has ever attained the level and label of Scripture.

I end this series with these open-ended conclusions because I do not believe that the questions posed in this process are ever closed; that any answer reached is never final and certainly never “universal” in its every detail. The relevance of what is scripture and what function it serves is different for every group who seek to tap into something beyond their personal self even it that something beyond is no “higher” than the fellowship of those who seek with them. Yet whether one is religious or secular, Scripture is a force that will play a role in their life if only by shaping the context within which they find themselves; Scripture will forever shape human society and life regardless of what that scripture is and if it is even considered “scripture” at  all.


One Response to “Scripture in Common Usage: Conclusion”

  1. […] Scripture in Common Usage- Conclusion: I. Is Scripture a “Good” or a “Bad”? … […]

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