The critically-acclaimed movie "Memento" was unique in its depiction of anterograde amnesia, the inability to form new memories or to recall the recent past. In the flick, Leonard Shelby wrote notes to himself in order to function on a daily basis. The movie was also significant in portraying the problems of written communication. What is written in one circumstance can mean something completely different in another. To make this point, the film was shown as two series of events: a black-and-white sequence and a color sequence. One was chronologically forward and the other backwards, meeting at the end of the film. As the two sequences unfold, the viewer realized Leonard’s notes were written in one context and understood completely differently in the other. The result was tragedy.
When it comes to reading the Bible, today’s scientific society has anterograde amnesia to the civilization of when the Bible was written. Despite all the efforts of translation, words in another language do not mean the same thing in a context that is poles and thousands of years apart. Scientific precision has permeated our culture. When we demand that every word be infallibly inerrant, we are reading our science into an ancient society that had no such notions. An example is the first chapter of Genesis. Many Christians today say Genesis speaks of a literal seven-day creation, but is that they way the ancient Hebrews would have recognized their own work?
It is difficult for us to understand the viewpoints of a close brother, sister, or spouse living today, much less somebody from so long ago on the other side of the world. Fortunately we have help. Biblical criticism or higher criticism is available to understand the original historical context of an ancient work. As an example, consider Genesis. The higher critics assist us by comparing Genesis to other writings of that period, such as the Babylonian Enuma Elish. That ancient work helps scholars see Genesis as highly symbolic, and not a literal “seven-day” work. Genesis speaks of one God who brought order out of chaos, with the seven-day regimen as reinforcing the concept of order.
Sadly, much of the church does not accept this help. A vast majority of the Christian churches that I’ve visited in the Spokane region reject the work of the higher critics, the evolutionary scientists, and the academic intellectuals. Instead of listening, we insist on reading the Bible as if it were a modern newspaper or a SpokaneFAVS blog. Worse, we gather around our own “Bible-believing” experts such as the Institute for Creation Research who tell us what we want to hear. We read ourselves and our own culture into the Bible rather than getting God’s word out. Even the new atheists are no help. They project their own scientific precision into the Bible as a point of their contention.
Like "Memento," the result is tragedy. There is a proliferation of misunderstanding and a continuing but completely unnecessary battle between science and religion.