The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 27, 2000 Issue
Local News

Scripture shapes world view

Scholar says how we understand the Bible spills over into all of life

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

DE PERE - Bible study is important because the Scriptures give us directions for making difficult decisions we face daily, Sr. Diane Bergant, CSA, told the Allouez Forum Oct. 20.

Beyond that, our interpretations of Scripture affect how we think and organize ourselves as a society, the professor of Biblical Studies at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, said in her talk at St. Norbert College.

Catholics have paid increasing attention to the Bible since Vatican II, said Sr. Bergant, who also serves as vice president of the Catholic Biblical Association of America.

But how we interpret the Bible varies around the world because of our own cultural insights, and that is good, she said.

"Every Catholic hears the same reading every Sunday, but we shouldn't hear the same sermon because our experiences are very different," Sr. Bergant said.

For example, the beatitude, "Blessed are the poor for they shall inherit the earth," should be preached differently to the poor than to the wealthy, she said.

The poor should hear it as a message of hope, she said, while the rich should hear it as a challenge to either share their wealth with the poor or risk having it taken from them.

Thus, preachers need to know their audience and meet their needs in the homily.

While Bible studies are interesting and it's good to know what a particular passage meant to the original audience, that's not enough, Sr. Bergant said.

"The challenge is how we interpret the reading. How do we read and understand it?" she said. That, in turn, affects how we think, live and even speak.

For example, she said, some people mistakenly understand the story of Adam and Eve as saying that women were derived from man. Our language and life reflect that, she said. Thus, we have an "actor" and its feminine derivative, "actress," and in health care, the traditionally male "doctor" and the female derivative, "nurse."

Some people think that because the Bible says woman was made from the rib of man that makes her inferior. But the Bible says "man was made from dirt and that doesn't make him inferior to dirt," she said.

The belief of some people that God gave us the earth to do with as we please is also a wrong reading of Scripture, Sr. Bergant said. What the second creation story in Genesis (Gn 2:4-15) tells us is "where you are, God rules supreme. That means we are to act as God would and there is no way that God would destroy the world."

We can not look to the Bible for all the answers to our problems today because we face problems the Bible doesn't address, such as cloning, she said. Rather, we need to look to the Bible for directions on how to live.

Sr. Bergant also spoke of the increased sensitivity toward the language used in Scripture and the liturgy as we've become more aware of the power of our words to build up or destroy. And, she said, the issue of inclusive language goes beyond gender to include race, color and physical disabilities.

She spoke of the need to go back to the original Hebrew when translating the Bible. Doing so puts us in touch with the earthiness, the humanness of our relationship with God, in contrast to the intellectual head-trip approach of the Greeks introduced in their translations of the Bible, she said.

Concerning last month's Vatican document on salvation, "Dominus Iesus," Sr. Bergant said it uses scripture in the same way all Vatican documents do. It starts with a conclusion and quotes select passages in Scripture to support that conclusion, rather than developing a position based on Scripture the way recent documents from the American bishops do.

Beyond that, she said, it accurately quotes documents of Vatican II. But, she said, the disappointment many people have with it is that it continues an attitude of "Join us to be saved."

While that attitude can be found among the Jews in the Old Testament and Christians in the New Testament, many people who are disappointed in "Dominus Iesus" thought that its "my way is the only way" attitude had been supplanted by a pluralistic religious view.

Sr. Bergant also advised against arguing with persons who interpret the Bible literally because first, "it can be very dangerous to be certain that my way is right." Second, such discussions are fruitless because there are too many basic points the two sides can't agree on, as if one party is speaking German and the other is speaking French.

Next month

What: Claude Allouez Forum, sponsored by the Green Bay Diocese and the St. Norbert College Theological Institute; it is open to the public.

When: 7:15 a.m. Nov. 17.

Where: Bemis International Center, St. Norbert College.

Who: Sharon Schmeling, former staff member of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.

Topic: Glancing Ahead: Glimmers of Hope as a Public Policy Analyst.

Cost: $8, includes breakfast.

Reservations: (920)437-7531 or (toll-free) 1-877-500-3580, ext. 8173.

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