Thursday, July 10

plenty to go around

Eric writes a a screed with which I am in some measure in agreement, and yet...

I suppose this is as good an occasion as any to voice my basic problem with self-declared liberals who take on issues of faith, sexuality, and politics:

they give the bible too much goddamn credit

I do not dispute that extremist religious fundamentalism, as expressed in the most diseased corners of the American political spectrum and the bottomless pit of vipers that is "Christian" radio, is a distortion of moderate Christianity and the better part of its scriptures.

What I have a problem with is the repeated assertion, often from people I respect who are clearly working from real knowledge, that it does not support the ugly interpretations, the murderous and despicable things done in its name. No matter what we may wish, this is not really true. The Bible, as with so many worthwhile written things, is as much a mirror as it is anything else. It can show you a great deal, but it is nearly certain to reflect what you have brought with you, or what you were seeking when you came. Those who come seeking justifications and reinforcements for bigotry will find them, and there is little to guarantee that they will heed the context or the admonitions to better things which negate their assumed righteousness.

The Bible that nearly all modern Christians accept, even leaving ever-multiplying translations and reams of apocrypha aside, did not begin as a monolithic document, and any assertion to the contrary is a denial of all of the available knowledge about its structure, content, and vast array of purposes. In real historical terms, the Bible is not one book; it is many. This matters, but it does not change the fact that the Bible is treated as a monolithic authority by many, many people.

And the truth is that parts of the Bible, both Old Testament and New, do support the beliefs and the deep, gut-level hatreds and revulsions which fuel bad laws and worse ideologies.

We can not afford to wall paper over this. There is much in the Bible which is worth seeing holy and taking repeatedly to heart. There is also much that is simply wrong, and to pretend otherwise is ultimately damaging to everyone who believes, even a little, and to everyone we share the world with.

I know and love a lot of people who would be deeply wounded by what I have just written, but I also know and love a lot of people (many of them the same) who have already been hurt by what is wrong in the word we are told is holy, and by the license it gives to things which are basically evil.

Ayn Rand, whose writing has sometimes angered me as much as anything I have ever read, had a term for this. She called it the sanction of the victim. She and I might have disputed the identity of many victims, but in this much I wholeheartedly agree: Those made to suffer by the twisted assumptions of others must not be willing to accept those assumptions for themselves, or feel the guilt those assumptions would impose on them. For many of us, ignoring what is wrong with a document like the Bible is dangerously close to sanctioning the false guilt that neither we nor the people we love should ever feel.

Rather than use footnotes, I think I will use my wiki page for this date as a sort of appendix to these scantly supported paragraphs. You should find more verbiage there from Eric and myself.

p1k3 / 2003 / 7 / 10