In 1865 Lewis Carroll wrote a novel about a seven-year old English girl named Alice who, bored with a book her sister was reading, chased a large white rabbit with pink eyes down a rabbit hole “into a subterranean fantasy world populated by peculiar anthropomorphic creatures. It is considered one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre.”1 The literary nonsense genre “is a broad categorization of literature that balances elements that make sense with some that do not with the effect of subverting language conventions or logical reasoning.”2 It strikes me that the definition of literary nonsense literature in many ways is an apt description of the biblical world when compared to the world in the 21st century. Nonsense literature “has a kind of internal lunatic logic of its own, and often comprises enigmatic variations on the absurd.”3 The absurd in contemporary literature and literary criticism is a term reflecting “[e]xtreme forms of illogic, inconsistency, and nightmarish fantasy.”4
The Earth and the cosmos, as we currently learn about them in public schools and the universities of Western culture, are quite different from the worlds reflected in nonsense literature. The world today operates on the basis of the observations and principles of modern science. This includes the physiological and psychological make up of human beings, and the animal and plant kingdoms, which evolve on the basis of natural selection.
Reading the Bible, entering its world, is much like going down Alice’s rabbit hole. One finds in its pages a world that operates with a logic all its own yet illogically from the perspective of modern science. In the Bible one finds talking snakes (Gen 3:1-13) and donkeys (Num 22:5); that the laws of physics can be suspended so that the earth can be paused in its journey around the sun (Josh 10:6-14); that a Judean Holy man can feed 5000 people from five loaves of bread and two fish (Mark 6:32-44); that the dead can walk after an earthquake opens their graves (Matt 27:52-54); that magic cloth has the “magical” capability to heal disease (Acts 19:11-12); that ax-heads can float (2 Kgs 6:1-7); and that the bones of a dead holy man, like a talisman, possess the power to raise the dead (2 Kgs 13:20-21).5 The “logic” that enables these fantasies to work is the presence in the universe of invisible spirit forces.
The biblical world is the scene of a great cosmic struggle between the invisible forces of Good and Evil (Eph 6:10-12). Demonic forces cause sickness (Luke 11:14), insanity (Mark 5:1-20), epilepsy (Matt 17:14-21), paralysis and other diseases (Matt 4:24). They can demonize the human body (Matt 12:43-45) and cause deafness and muteness (Mark 9:25). On the other hand, there are emissaries (Matt 25:41) of an invisible power stronger than the demons but this power sometimes helps (Acts 12:11) or sometimes harms (Acts 12:23) people.6
Many continue to view the cosmos from this religious and superstitious perspective. Nevertheless, in the modern Western world, the strength of the biblical worldview has been rendered ineffective because of the advances of modern medicine. In the ancient world what was attributed to unseen invisible forces has been successfully explained by science as due to natural causes. For example, organisms (germs and viruses), unseen by the naked eye but visible under magnification, cause disease; evil spirits do not. Medical practitioners have virtually replaced the religious shaman as the first to consult in the case of illness. The physician’s advice and treatment, rather than prayer or exorcism, is now sought first to combat what in the ancient past were understood to be disease-causing spirits.
The texts that comprise the Bible are flawed by their antiquity and hence the collection is only marginally reliable as a basis for contemporary life. Those anti-intellectual institutions that continue to measure the world and human life by the Bible’s flawed views will only succeed in marginalizing themselves further from the mainstream in the 21st century. Figuring out what century one lives in is a primary responsibility of living in the present.
Here is the main point of this mini-essay: The Bible does not depict a world that actually was but rather a world as it was perceived to be.
Missouri State University
3J. A. Cuddon, The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (revised by C.E. Preston; 4th ed.; London: Basil Blackwell, 1999), 551.
4C. H. Holman and W. Harmon, A Handbook to Literature (6th ed.; New York: Macmillan, 1992), 2.
5Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 1-12.
6Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 20-22.
Thanks for this, Charlie. When I saw the title of this ("Down the Rabbit Hole"), I wondered if you might be offering some analysis of the current woes of our political system. After all, millions and millions of Americans are down the rabbit hole when it comes to the question of what happened on November 3, 2020, or January 6, 2021, and so on. Interestingly, there appears to be a significant overlap between those choosing to live down the ancient biblical rabbit hole and those choosing to live down contemporary political rabbit holes. Any chance we could entice you to expand the scope of your razor-sharp analysis to include the overlap between ancient and contemporary rabbit holes?
Warm best wishes,
Charlie's comparison of Lewis Carroll's imaginative children's story to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, etc... is nonsense in and of itself. Churches do not teach the bible as being a book of science. It is taught as a book of spirituality. People identified with their intellect, however, cannot appreciate the bible from a purely spiritual perspective.... There's no curriculum vitae in the index.
All books "depict the world" as it is perceived to be by the author. It is virtually impossible to depict the world around us outside of one's one perspective- for the simple reason that no author's depiction is 100% objective. And If one believes their depiction is objective- that's a nice belief but it's not a fact. Elizabeth
Correction to second sentence in last paragraph:
*It is virtually impossible to depict the world around us outside the boundaries of one's own perspective- for the simple reason that no author's depiction is 100% objective*
The bible is a spiritual book, not an intellectual one. It may not be pleasing to some people hear that- but the good news is there are plenty of other books in the world to satisfy ones intellectual pursuits. Only those with a spiritual perspective can benefit from the Bible's teachings.
I view the Bible as the result of the Hebrew/Israeli tribal experiences with their god(s) across approximately 1500 yrs ending with the Jesus story approximately 1500 years before the enlightenment of the scientific method in the 16th century, Galileo being a major player. During that first 3000 years the perception of folks was determined by all the imaginal forces that the human mind can generate and all the natural forces that it can't control. The biblical writings were very much a part of their own times, but at least occasionally they also rose to incredible heights of interpersonal insight and maturity which are their contribution to humanity. This contribution for perhaps 500 years has lived along side the rapid pace of scientific development which manipulates the world in a way to increase human longevity and control the laws of nature. The world is surely imperiled if these two major historical thrusts do not learn to work together.
I prefer the word "interpersonal" to "spiritual," and the word "investigative" to "scientific/intellectual." It's almost like spiritual and scientific/intellectual were born to fight with each other. Interpersonal and investigative seem to have great potential for a complimentary relationship.
I see the Bible as depicting the world the way the authors wanted, looking back to create “history.” The narrative on the whole of the Hebrew scriptures can be classified as “prose fiction,” according to Alter (The Art of Biblical Narrative). I would add to this that from Judges forward, it was pro-Judean propaganda. If one applies the literary techniques used in the aforementioned book, the narratives of the Christian Testament probably can be read with these factors in mind as prose fiction. Though the Christian contributions in the gospels tend to be anti-Judean, motifs are recycled from the older texts. The author of Mark wanted a Jesus that was greater than Moses so he used motifs that pointed to the exodus tale, a Jesus miracle worker that could “best” the best Elijah and Elisha had to offer.
There were also stock themes one finds both in antiquity (and today) reiterated throughout the Bible.
The worldview, however, was a product of its time and the authors’ understandings of how the Earth and cosmos operated. The fable of Adam and Eve, as was the beginning of Genesis six flood tale, the Babel tale and others reinforced boundaries between the gods and humanity, the known and the unknown... And were probably written with that purpose in mind. Nonsense? Certainly, if viewed from a modern viewpoint looking at them as if they were stories explaining the world, especially from a scientific lens. In a world where gods were real, the authors, probably priests, needed this separation between gods and humanity in order to be relevant. Ecclesiastical structure still implicitly reinforces this in Christianity. I think there are different ways to approach literature.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Good Morning Bob,
I hope things are going well in Berea.
I have occasionally strayed into the contemporary scene with respect to political and moral issues. In this case, however, with respect to Nov 3 (presidential election) and Jan 6 (the insurrection) I think it would be wasted ink (so to speak). The votes in Georgia and Arizona (I believe the two main states in contention) have been recounted and the election certified. Those who cling to Mr. Trumps "Big Lie" are suffering from willful blindness and/or political expediency. And that is also the case with Jan 6. Those who refuse to make the connection between Mr. Trump's stump speech and the immediately following insurrection are likewise suffering from willful blindness and/or political expediency. Logic cannot undue willful blindness and political expediency. To quote Dorothy, "Toto we are not in Kansas anymore."
Logic CAN indeed undo (Charlie used the word undue) blindness, willful or otherwise. I'm very sorry that Charlie doesn't understand the use of logic and it would be nice if he could explain his logic in clear concise English. If he could, we would listen and learn attentively. Many eyes have been opened through the careful application of logic and reason, however one has to have a logical analysis to begin with. That's the missing element here. All Charlie has to offer are very strongly held opinions about the above mentioned events, to which he is entitled to hold... And with which he freely condemns his fellow (and in his eyes lesser) human beings who do not share his strongly held opinions. Elizabeth
Very good article Charles, totally agree. I recently read this conversation: There are elephants up in that tree. No there aren't, that's impossible! Yes there are, you just can't see them because they are hiding.
When I read Plato, Aristophanes or any other ancient writer, I read realizing that they too were captive within their view of the world, like us. Religious literature is no different. Is today’s worldview superior? My answer? “It’s different.” In the future people will probably see the present (modernism) worldview as archaic. Each person packs one’s suitcase with hubris along with one’s selective schema of the world. When the suitcase begins to smell musty, most, as a corollary of the extent of their hubris, either begin searching , pitch out what is decaying, maybe toss the suitcase, or try to sanitize, at least try to cover the smell. Some, however, the most arrogant, will merely redefine the stench as fragrant. Such is the way of metaphorical cognitive dissonance.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Thank you Al! Your "conversation" brought a hearty chuckle!
Perhaps it is hubris, but I am surprised to see you write that today's world view is only different and not superior. Perhaps you might accept that it is better or more reliable? In any case I suspect that there are a number of worldviews out there today. Which one are you referring to when you say it is different? In the future when people pronounce today's worldview as archaic, what will they say about the biblical worldview? From the things you have written on this blog, I do not assume that that you conduct your life in accord the biblical worldview, which suggests to me that you consider it outmoded and archaic in comparison to what we have learned since.
There's no "perhaps," it is the definition of hubris for one to pronounce their worldview as being superior to the biblical one. Charlie is merely the fortunate product of twentieth century advancements in science, technology, education, and medicine. The biblical worldview isn't inferior merely because these scientific theories hadn't been discovered yet. Is it possible to comment upon present & past societies without labelling their views as superior or inferior? With attitudes like that, no wonder there's so much division in our country. Elizabeth
It’s different in the tools and toys, the way one thinks of medicine, Earth, the cosmos... I won’t make the value judgment of whether it is superior or even better. Those observations generally come with hindsight. Here are a few ongoing effects of the modern worldview that suggest it could use a tad of tweaking. Life is more convenient, but convenience can bring a range of health problems due to a sedentary population (heart disease diabetes, etc.). It allows for the fast spread of information, food, other products at the same time allowing fatal diseases to spread worldwide faster than at any other documented time. It allows for the lengthening of life to a point a decent quality of life is non-existent. It allows for mass communication, which divides people into “warring tribes” to more efficiently spread propaganda and hatred. The modern world has been a marvel of food production while the by-products pollute the soil and runoff from pesticides, fertilizers and cattle excrement pollute water. Rain forests have become devastated, largely to provide coffee. The marvels of industry produce by-products which pollute water, land and air and exacerbate climate change. We can get oil now (conveniently in the USA) from fracking, which leads to pollution of aquifers. We have nice disposable plastic utensils and packaging cluttering the oceans, choking out the ecosystems. I thought some years ago about fishing in Michigan until I read their fishing literature and found that there were limits on amounts one could safely consumable, because of carcinogenic chemicals in Lake Huron. Nah, I’m not ready to call the effects of this modern worldview “superior” because they seem to perceive Earth as a disposable product to be exploited.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
I'm not understanding your reference to a "hearty chuckle." Speaking only for myself, my thoughts were coming from the deepest level of seriousness that I could muster. I took your commentary to also be of the greatest seriousness.
Good Morning Gene,
I thought that I had replied to your comment about the chuckle. I was not clear. I was referring to Al Gents' story about the elephants in a tree, which brought a hearty chuckle.
In the blog I was serious and I took all your comments seriously (as I always do). I took Al's comment to be referring to my response to Bob Fowler's challenge that I should stumble into the present political scene.
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