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Sunday Special: How I Rediscovered Faith: Malcolm Gladwell

There has to be plenty of music out there to be waiting to be discovered for this Sunday feature, but I’m finding myself having to look further and further to dig it up. So here then is a shift in focus, to an essay that I came across. Malcolm Gladwell (whose work I do not know) writes about how his Mennonite faith got re-engaged.

Update: Most of the article has now disappeared behind a registration wall. (Registration will give access to this and four other articles. Your call!)


3 responses to “Sunday Special: How I Rediscovered Faith: Malcolm Gladwell

  1. Liz

    I didn’t register, but what I read was a great springboard for a question I don’t know what to do with. Curious what your thoughts are. Is the Bible truly factual or is much of what goes on only symbolic? I don’t doubt any of it is “true” in the sense that it teaches lessons and is God-breathed, etc, but I have trouble wrapping my mind around the David and Goliath, guy in the furnace, Daniel in the lion’s den, Adam and Eve in Eden, etc stories. Can only think they’re meant to teach us. Though had a pastor disagree strongly saying it all happened and to think otherwise is to doubt God’s power. ??

    Not questions I get a chance to ask much in daily life, so thanks for the space here.

    • wdydfae

      Whew. That’s a doozy of a question, Liz!

      I went a year without a religious discussion, so that’s doing pretty good!

      Well, I grew up completely secular, went through various strains of Evangelical Protestantism, and eventually came out Catholic (and a miserably inadequate one at that). So, as you might imagine, I’ve been all over the map on this question. In addition, some of the intelleckshul stuff I’ve been into is related to anthropology, religion, monotheism, Judeo-Christian influence, etc. from a more theoretical standpoint, so there’s that angle for me, too.

      It’s a more complicated question than the pastor you mentioned might realize, because, for instance, in John 6 Jesus says, “Eat me. No, really. Seriously. You’ve got to eat me.” Catholics and Orthodox and Lutherans and old fashioned Anglicans take that totally literally. That pastor probably doesn’t. “Of course, Jesus doesn’t literally mean, eat me!” (Oh, yes he does.) But conversely, he probably takes the first chapters of Genesis totally literally, with the cosmos taking 6 24 hour days to pop out, whereas the Catholic “exegesis” (bible interpretation) would generally (but not dogmatically) take a “symbolic” approach to that.

      But “symbolic” might be an inappropriate word. A useful distinction I’ve come across is “literal” (what the author intended) vs. “literalist” (going overboard on literal interpretation of every phrase, as in “raining cats and dogs” means dogs and cats are literally falling from the sky). The biblical writers are writing over many many years, in many styles and genres, and with radically different ideas from us about what the spoken or written recounting means. (Our ideas about factual narrative is itself heavily influenced by the bible, especially the New Testament, which is very factually and historically grounded.)

      Here is a nutshell Catholic approach to your question:
      For whatever that is worth.

      “Magisterial” interpretation seems in principle to be rigid and limiting but in fact it’s kind of liberating, because it usually says in effect, “Well verses X, Y, and Z you have to take literally because it’s central to the faith (e.g. resurrection, virgin birth, real presence). But verses A, B, and C are likely symbolic, looking at the intent and historical context. And verses Q, R and S are undecidable at this point.”

      Practically speaking, I’d say start with the resurrection (literal, totally literal!) and then work your way back and around to the rest of the bible, with the help of reflection, prayer, and reading scholarship or summaries thereof, commentaries, essays by people you respect, etc.

      Short answer: Literal or symbolic is a demonstrably insufficient dichotomy because NOBODY (see example at top) reads the bible consistently one way or the other.

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