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Modern ‘Christian’ Oral Tradition

July 9, 2010

An article by VorJack pointed me to a post at Blog on the Way in which a new book by James Ault, Spirit and Flesh, is summarized.

Ault is a sociologist who spent three years attending a fundamentalist church and studying different conservative religious movements.

One paragraph of the summary struck me in particular

Ault’s most disarming and perceptive insight is that Fundamentalism, though it emphasizes reliance on the sacred Scripture, is primarily a religion in the Oral Tradition. The beliefs, which have a certain flexibility, are disseminated through the sermons and lessons and by person-to-person conversation. People share sermons, pass around tapes, and attend conferences where they hear the leaders of the religion make their pronouncements. Bible reading, rather than being systematic or scholarly, is performed selectively in order to “hide God’s Word in the heart,” which is a euphemism for memorization. At the appropriate time, learned texts are slapped onto a situation. But sermons carry the beliefs and transmit them. Bible reading serves the sermons.

It certainly struck me that some of the tripe that has been posted here over the last few years and has vexed more than a few observers–how on earth could they believe that?!?–very much makes sense within this observation.

Scripture really does not matter; it is the oral tradition and the authority of the person passing it on in which the value is invested. The oral tradition is merely parsed and passed on through the matrix of biblical language. Biblical words and people merely come signifiers for the beliefs and traditions of the oral community: glory (really effective if you add kavod, or shekinah), David danced naked (which really means: you can act as crazy as you want), God is doing a new thing, etc.

Here’s an example of someone we’ve seen too often here, and who I hope to never post a video of again, but there’s a problem: on the one hand he can’t stop acting like an idiot, and on the other he can’t stop recording it for posterity. Deadly combination:

via: UF

Hey at least you have to give them credit for honesty with their opening title: “This Will Brainwash You Into the Glory.” However, there’s so much wrong with that opening statement it’s hard to know where exactly begin.

But we’re talking about oral tradition, so… at about 33 seconds psychopath on the left says, “The apostle Paul says I thank God I can talk in a trance more than all y’all.”

Considering the context of 1 Corinthians that this verse is ripped from it’s hard to believe that Dunn has even read that part of the Bible. But, of course, he has turned it 180 from its context so that he could substitute the word “trance” for “tongues”, and all so that he could talk about the “trance love” and “gospel trance” he is taking to garbage dumps in Central America.

Lucky people in those dumps, eh? You see an affluent white man coming and you get your hopes up about maybe receiving some charity, and this kid shows up acting like a clown, inviting you into the heavy drunken glory… yoing, yoing, yoing, wheeeeeeeeee.

The Bible is merely a tool for words and concepts to be twisted to the oral tradition… in this case, the oral tradition happens to be immature, inbred, and ignorant, but I’m sure there are more modest examples.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2010 10:20 am

    Something I found extremely gratifying when I got out of fundamentalism and started studying things other than the King James Version was how much of the oral culture that I had received was derived from apocrypha, pseudoepigrapha and Jewish writings (“shekinah”, frex), something that would no doubt horrify the people who were transmitting the ideas.

  2. Jake permalink
    July 9, 2010 12:55 pm

    From one extreme to another: We can (obviously) see the ridiculousness and the folly of too much emphasis on an oral tradition in a religious context but I think we can also find examples of when we don’t have enough emphasis on this tradition. In a hyper visual culture, the loss of the oral tradition means we’ve lost much of the power of our storytelling and narratives. In a society where television, film and video games are the vehicles for delivering meaning, I think this strips us of our capacity for empathy. Hearing or reading a story or a message forces us to think beyond ourselves and forces us into a place where we must identify with others.

    It seems to me that both extreme ends of the oral tradition gives us the same kind of person: A very self focused one.

    • Chris E permalink
      July 9, 2010 4:28 pm

      In a hyper visual culture, the loss of the oral tradition means we’ve lost much of the power of our storytelling and narratives.

      I have no problem with this argument in principle. In practice though the oral culture being defended is fairly recent – and often manufactured. Defending Henry Morris’s ideas as a ‘christian tradition’ is rather like thinking that Celtic Culture starts and ends with Walter Scott.

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy permalink
    July 12, 2010 5:49 pm

    Speaking in Trance/Tongues?

    Sounds more like
    1) Dudes are high.
    2) Dudes are crazy.
    3) Legba has opened de gates and de Loa ride dere horses.

  4. phil_style permalink
    July 13, 2010 3:02 am

    those dudes have some weeet lyrics going on there. I loved the “wow-wow lithuanian” bit. Rock ‘n’ roll. Eminem would be proud of that.

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