Sunday, April 24, 2011

Jonathan Dudley's "Broken Words"

Jonathan Dudley is a graduate of Yale's Divinity School and currently a M.D. student at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. In Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics (published by Crown), he writes about the evangelical Christian community that raised him.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Broken Words and reported the following:
Page 99 of Broken Words is at the end of a section titled “The Bible Isn’t Pro-Environmental” and the beginning of another, titled “The Bible Isn’t Anti-Environmental.” These seemingly contradictory section headings reflect an ongoing argument I make throughout the book: how readers interpret the Bible reflects the beliefs they bring to it. As I argue in the first section, there are a host of different passages in the Bible that can be used to justify environmental exploitation, and most theologians in the past did read the Bible in ways that had sorry implications for the environment.

But as I argue in the second section, these previous readings were no more required by the text of scripture than the pro-environmental readings advocated by green evangelicals today. Both sets of readings emphasize some passages and de-emphasize others, construe words this way instead of that, and reflect the culture and assumptions of the interpreters. The God of Genesis may have destroyed almost all biological life on Earth in Noah’s flood, but on the other hand, the same God also commanded Noah to preserve two of each kind of every species.

This page also reflects my efforts in the book to demonstrate that the “Religious Left” has many of the same flawed assumptions about biblical interpretation as the “Religious Right”—and that all appeals to “what the Bible says” are veiled appeals to the cultural values of its interpreters. As I note in my chapter on Christian environmentalism, “the Bible isn’t proenvironmental, and it’s not antienvironmental either, because what the Bible is reflects the beliefs we bring to it.”
Learn more about the book and author at Jonathan Dudley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue