Review by Dr Pravin Thevathasan
Decline And Fall of Sacred Scripture
How the Bible Became a Secular Book
by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker
Emmaus Road Publishing
Both authors are well known for their superb contributions in the cause of Catholic orthodoxy. They deserve our gratitude. When I started reading this book, I assumed it was going to be about the nineteenth century biblical critics who have done so much to secularise the Bible. But it would appear the rot set in long before then.
For example, there was one Marsilius of Padua. He lived in the fourteenth century when there was a crisis in the Church. The popes were not really doing their job. Marsilius was a secularist who wanted the pope to be subservient to the emperor. He said that the pope should not even be allowed to quote the Bible to combat laws introduced by the emperor that were contrary to biblical teaching! He taught that only this life mattered. Religion could be made use of for utilitarian purposes such as making people more generous. But if it condemns unjust laws, it should be suppressed.
Martin Luther also believed that the church should be subservient to the state. He believed that people should be allowed to interpret the Bible according to their conscience. Unfortunately for him, many German peasants did so in ways not to his liking. So he effectively used the state to declare war on them.
Subjective interpretation of the Bible continued after the English Civil War. In consequence, there emerged a whole array of peculiar sects. It was also around this time that the philosopher Thomas Hobbes said that the state must have control over the church. He saw the sovereign as a secular version of Moses. Perhaps the Liberation theologians were inspired by him. Hobbes is like so many other biblical critics: he made use of the Bible to promote his own agenda. Spinoza continued the work of Hobbes by stripping the Bible of all supernatural perspectives.
So the authors have demonstrated that well before the Enlightenment, the secularist agenda of getting rid of the supernatural was up and running. This in turn means that you can use the Bible to push your own agenda. The gay rights activist will tell us that Sodom was destroyed because its inhabitants did not offer strangers their hospitality. Saint Paul, they argue did not really condemn homosexual activity. And if he did, that was just his viewpoint.
What the authors have demonstrated so well is that the philosophical foundations of secularism were present well before the ninteenth century. When subjectivism rules, anything goes. Including making the Bible a secular book.