SERVING THE WORD by Vincent Crapanzano

SERVING THE WORD

Literalism in America from the Pulpit to the Bench
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A comprehensive overview of the resurgence of fundamentalist thinking in contemporary American religious and secular life. Crapanzano (Anthropology and Comparative Literature/CUNY; Waiting: The Whites of South Africa, 1985, etc.) offers a critical assessment of increasingly conservative interpretations of both the Bible and our Constitution. The first two-thirds of this study surveys fundamentalist approaches toward religion. Concentrating on the literal word, rather than on its interpretation or application, contends Crapanzano, is ultimately “deadening,” depriving the Bible of its beauty and complexity. Rather than fostering understanding, it silences it and produces a complacency that further widens the gap between believers and the secular. Creating an either-or world, the fundamentalist emphasis on the literal interpretation of the Bible “runs counter to the American emphasis on the individual and his freedom.” Particularly interesting are Crapanzano’s accounts of the role of salvation in the lives of fundamentalists and other evangelicals. Despite their varying experiences and diverse backgrounds, all spoke of the security that a literal interpretation of the Bible offered them. Once they viewed Scripture as a guide to their daily lives, they could more confidently chart those lives. Homosexuality, depression, and abuse were all viewed as practices caused by sin and treatable by biblically based short-term counseling. The final third of this study shifts its focus to the increasingly literal interpretation of the Constitution. Perhaps even more threatening than religious fundamentalism, argues Crapanzano, such a view of the Constitution erodes our fundamental rights. When judges approach the Constitution as though it were a religious document rather than a man-made one, they “give to its words the authority of the Word.” Crapanzano is especially concerned with how judges may decide to interpret individual rights’such as reproductive freedom—that are not mentioned literally in the Constitution. Scholarly, accessible, timely, and significant.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2000
ISBN: 1-56584-412-2
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1999