The Hahn-Wiker Vaccination Against Biblical Blindness
BOOK PICK: ‘The Decline and Fall of Sacred Scripture’
THE DECLINE AND FALL OF SACRED SCRIPTURE:
HOW THE BIBLE BECAME A SECULAR BOOK
By Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker
Emmaus Road, 2021
279 pages, $24.95 (hardcover)
To order: emmausroad.org or (740) 264-9535
In Sign of Contradiction, the future Pope John Paul II prophesied that the Church today was “in the forefront of a lively battle for the dignity of man.” No small part of that contemporary struggle surrounds the biblical, particularly the Genesis vision of man, made “male and female” in God’s image and likeness, blessed with fertility and sexual complementarity, and set over — not just in — creation.
Yet there’s no insignificant swath of “biblical scholars” ready to bend God’s word to human predilections across the board. Why does so much of contemporary “biblical scholarship” seem so accommodating to secular mores?
Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker offer two reasons for this: one anthropological, one political.
“The politicization of Scripture is one part of a much larger historical movement to purposely reduce human nature and human experience to a less-than-human level,” they write. “It begins with stunting Aristotle’s account of human beings, from rational animals who were somehow divine in their capacities and whose highest goal was to search the heavens to mere animals whose aims were entirely limited to the bodily concerns of animals. If there is nothing above material existence, then the worship of an immaterial God by human beings claiming they are made in the image of God — when they are really only animals — is foolish. But that doesn’t keep the belief itself, however foolish, from being useful for some wiser animals to control other foolish animals politically.”
This book is a popularization of the authors’ more scholarly Politicizing the Bible: The Roots of Historical Criticism and the Secularization of Scripture. According to Hahn and Wiker, the “historical critical” demythologization of Scripture is hardly the product of the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution that its votaries claim. Its roots instead reach into the late Middle Ages.
Figures like Marsilius of Padua and William of Ockham espoused particular ways of interpreting the Bible: having the temporal sovereign do it because of where they stood on the medieval dispute over secular versus sacred power at a time when popes were often more the former than the latter. Their biblical “exegesis,” driven by political goals, later encountered Machiavelli who, intent on bolstering the civil powers of “the Prince,” found politicized religion useful. As time went on, additional thinkers — Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke et al. — progressively adopted practical if not theoretical atheism, though they were not ready to discard the trappings of religion to control those deplorables still clinging to religion.
These cognoscenti knew, however, that there are no such things as miracles and so, progressively, chop Jesus down to a mere “moral teacher,” even if they preserve ideas of heaven and hell to pacify the rabble who threaten their favored parties or policies (e.g., the parliamentarians or the radicals in the English Civil War).
This “moral” Jesus approach preaches “tolerance” devoid of divisive doctrines, so long as one keeps one’s dogmatic differences private and keeps the civil peace through this tolerant “love.” Such neutered religion can be permitted if not even promoted as a way of maintaining “civil peace” (the ruler’s powers and policies).
The effort to reduce Jesus to a Jewish Confucius and Scripture to no more than a Hebrew literature collection no different qualitatively from Cicero or Livy or Plato therefore has deeper roots than the Enlightenment, however much it claims that lineage.
Christians need to understand the political project underlying the historicocritical “demythologizing” agenda in biblical studies.
In an era when basic human dignity is undermined by ersatz imitations, recovering the biblical vision — and not the ideological agenda some would superimpose on it — is imperative. Two key audiences: The general reader interested in biblical studies but confused by “scholars” impugning Jesus’ identity and mission, and many young people starting Bible 101 at many universities this fall, who would profit from Hahn-Wiker vaccination.