Whether based on an infallible Pope or inerrant scripture, fundamentalism appeals to those who need to believe that it is possible to actually possess a source of ultimate truth. While that belief may soothe their fear and overwhelming need for certainty, it can not stand up to scrutiny. And it breeds an arrogance that can lead to horribly wrong decisions.
The infallibility of the Pope is difficult to maintain when you know the Catholic Church had two “infallible” Popes each condemning the other from 1378 to 1417. There is also the fact that in the 1800s the Catholic Church had to modify its explanation of Jesus’ escape from “original sin.” Originally, Mary was not considered relevant to the issue because women were not thought to play a role in conception. They were thought to be only a receptacle for the male “seed.” When science discovered that women provided the egg for conception, the Church had to invent the “immaculate conception” of Mary.
The inerrancy of the Bible is also not defensible. The original Bible texts had no punctuation, paragraphs, capital letters, or space between words. Interpreters added all those hundreds of years later. The earliest existing copy of any complete gospel is from the sixth century and is a handwritten copy of a handwritten copy of a handwritten copy, etc. It defies reason to think that all those interpretations and copies are inerrant.
And then there are the Biblical internal inconsistencies. For example, in 2 Kings 8:26, Ahazi’ah is said to have been 22 years old when he began to reign, and in 2 Chronicles 22:2 he is said to have been 42. There are two creation stories with contradictory event sequences; three sets of the “Ten Commandments,” with the one most commonly quoted not called the Ten Commandments and not written on stone; two genealogies of Jesus that don’t agree in names or number of generations from Abraham; several conflicting stories about who was at Jesus’ crucifixion, who visited His tomb, to whom they spoke, etc.; and numerous other discrepancies throughout the Bible. When Biblical scholars read the gospel narratives in the order they were written – Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John – they can easily see what each subsequent writer added, deleted and revised.
There are also many Bible statements that have subsequently been proven wrong. The sky is not a dome of water. Epilepsy, Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy) and deafness are medical conditions and not demon possession. Rabbits do not chew a cud.
Claiming the Bible is literally “the Word of God” has been used to justify many forms of evil throughout history – slavery, racism, segregation, child abuse, oppression of women, persecution of Jews, and demonization of homosexuality. Two-hundred years of modern Biblical scholarship has helped identify the cultural biases and pre-scientific ignorance of the ancient tribal people who wrote the Bible. When it is viewed as a description of 1200 years of an ancient people’s spiritual experiences, the errors and inconsistencies are understandable and excusable. Only when it is presented as an inerrant, infallible dictation by God does the Bible become illogical, unbelievable and subject to evil misuse.
Some argue that any modern interpretation is cherry-picking, as if thinking and reason are not appropriate when reading the Bible. And yet there are numerous verses that even the most devout literalist would not promote. No sane person today would advocate stoning someone to death for working on the Sabbath, cursing, disobeying one’s parents, being unable to prove one’s virginity upon marriage (for women only, of course), or for worshipping other gods. Convoluted arguments are invented to explain why we no longer follow these commandments from God but must follow others, but such arguments also require reasoning and interpretation.
Even a Bible writer’s experience of God cannot define the reality of God. Biblical literalism attempts to halt spiritual searching at the primitive understanding of ancient Middle Eastern tribes. The quest for spiritual inspiration may be eternal, but it depends far more on wrestling with unanswered questions than on stagnating in unjustified certainty.