Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
The latest little craze on the web is something called Bad Lip Reading, in which some clever folk take various videos of various public figures or pop stars and redub them with gibberish they appear to be saying. Some of them are quite hilarious, though some are not in good taste either.
Anyway, the reason I mention it is because people of common sense recognize that when you take things that somebody is actually saying and don’t just reinterpret it, but ruthlessly ignore their entire point and replace with something having nothing whatsoever to do with what they are saying, you are either (as with badlipreading.com) making a joke (assuming everybody is in on it) or you are lying (assuming only you are in on it). So when the Bad Lip Readers take some politician’s remarks about tax reform and tell us the pol is really saying, “My sister talks to Bigfoot” we laugh, because we get the joke. But if somebody were to dub in a credible sound bite of the pol confessing to graft or drunk driving and try to sell it as serious news, we would recognize that this was a malicious lie.
Cut to another sort of Bad Lip Reading, namely, the tedious attempt by modernist exegetes to make the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes into the Miracle of Caring and Sharing. The point of the story is, in all four versions in all four gospels, that Jesus miraculously multiplied loaves and fishes, just as the point of the resurrection narratives in all four gospels is that Jesus was raised from the dead in a glorified body and seen by many witnessess thereafter. That’s what the text says and it continues saying that even after one has made generous allowance for all the spiritual significance one can draw from these events. What the texts do not say, what the texts are carefully written to reject and repudiate, are things like, “Jesus was such a warm and fuzzy person that everybody shared their lunch and, when he died and was eaten by wild dogs, they all hallucinated that he rose from the dead because it made them feel better.”
Such “readings” of Scripture are not readings at all, because they have no more to do with what the authors of the gospels actually say than Bad Lip Readings of Michelle Bachmann mean that she “really” is trying to say, “If I assault you, your arm will not defend you.” The difference, of course, is that everybody knows the people putting words in Bachmann’s mouth are kidding around, while people take it very seriously when bad exegetes cram words into the evangelist’s mouths that not only bear no relation to what they are saying, but actually aim to contradict and override what they say.
The words are crammed into their mouths for one reason only: Some interpreters of Scripture are eager to contradict the possibility of the miraculous. I repeat, this is not because they have studied Scripture more than the rest of us and come to a principled conclusion that the Gospel records of the miraculous are just stories concocted to illustrate a spiritual and moral point. It’s because they have an a priori philosophical prejudice against miracles that is so strong, they simply do some bad lip reading on the evangelists, take the words they actually said, and replace them with words of their own in order to force the Gospels to fit their philosophy. Only with them, it’s no joke because lots of people, unfamiliar with how to read the biblical text in the light of the Tradition, accept the bill of goods they are selling and buy into a lie.
This is why it is so vital to do as Dei Verbum says and “read the Scripture within the living Tradition of the Church.” When we do that, with particular attention to how the magisterium understands that Tradition, we immunize ourselves against the temporary fads of trendy people and acquire much better tools for navigating the word of God.