C.S. Lewis was brilliant, even when he was bleating. That’s his own word for what he was doing in “Fern-seed and Elephants,” in which he says that the one who cannot see the point of the Gospels “has simply not learned to read.” There’s a lot of that going on still today — especially among atheists.
Yesterday on Twitter someone calling himself “Voice of Reason” started a conversation by claiming “religions bludgeon language into obscurity, like the words ‘faith’ and ‘salvation.'” I’ve had lots of interaction — online and elsewhere — with skeptics claiming the word faith means “belief without evidence,” so I had a good idea where he was going with that. He went on to explain that “faith has been warped into belief without evidence, while salvation has been reduced to a banal, blind slavery.”
The “Voice of Reason” Argues
When I offered to explain what the relevant passages meant in context, he answered, “I, like you, am capable of reading a text and determining its meaning. And this is not a matter of interpretation — it is exactly what your book says. If we cannot start from the raw biblical assertions, an intelligent conversation be impossible.”
And also, “Let’s not pretend the Bible doesn’t say what it does.”
This Twitter user suffers an insidious kind of illiteracy. He knows how to read, but he hasn’t learned to read. If he had learned to read, he would have realized that “banal” and “blind” are not “exactly what your book says.” He would recognize that he’d inserted that out of his own bias.
The “Voice of Reason” Doesn’t Read
If he had learned to read, he would have paid attention to more than three words in the passage on “slaves of righteousness,” which is where he’d pointed when he spoke of this supposedly “banal, blind” condition. Had he widened his vision as far as just three sentences, he would have read,
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. (Romans 6:16-19)
Merely from this near context, it should be easy enough to see that Paul isn’t talking about becoming slaves, he’s talking about exchanging a deathly slavery for a better one. How much better? For that, someone who has learned to read could expand his scope to verse 4 of that chapter, which tells of “newness of life,” or verses 8-11, which tells us we will live with Christ (eternally), and that death itself is no longer master over the one who follows Christ. In fact someone who has learned to read might even look into what we can know about the author of this passage. He’s a man of love and joy, of high leadership, high intellect, even high adventure.
So someone who has learned to read could never say, “Let’s not pretend your book doesn’t say what it does,” and then tell us it speaks of “salvation reduced to banal, blind slavery.”
The “Voice of Reason” Doesn’t Care
By now you’ve come to the same conclusion I have. This man’s insidious illiteracy isn’t a failure of education. It’s a matter of motivation: He doesn’t know what it means to read the context because he doesn’t care what it says. If he read it, he would have to quit pretending he can nail Christianity down with three short words. He would have to deal with what Paul really says, instead of his highly negative caricature.
It isn’t a reading issue. It’s a character issue.
Our Twitter conversation spilled over into a blog post that I wrote in response to the other part of his challenge, as well as another written by Amy Hall at Stand to Reason. He referred to both of them in later conversation, even quoted one of them in part. But he missed crucial portions of what we’d both written, focusing only on what he thought supported his position, overlooking our solid rebuttals.
So I finally called it off. That’s all you can do with someone who knows how to read, but doesn’t know — or care — what it really means to read.