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Thursday, 5 January 2012

Life Choice?

There are definitely times when I despair for Christianity and the debate surrounding some of the candidacy for the US Presidential race is raising that specter again. Once again it is idiots whipping up a storm about "Gays" and "gay Rights," and once again they are reaching for their Bibles and their narrow interpretations of it to support their crusades. Fundamentalists of all religions tend to do untold harm to both the message of a faith and to those who try to follow it honestly and prayerfully. The extremists, though, always manage to steal the limelight and cloak themselves in the fable - at least in many media reports - as "the one true interpreter" of that Faith.

I was reminded of this when I read this report in the Guardian (NOT my usual paper!) I find myself, once again, wishing I could take the book they so abuse and bash it into their heads until they get to understand it. It seems that once again, the focus of the "conservatives" (I've always considered myself to be one, but now I'm not so sure!) is on lifestyles, specifically, those now labelled "Gay." Yes, there are three clear references to this in the Old Testament and a possible one or two (If you really stretch the imagination!) in the New. Once more all the Fundamentalists - those who want to "interpret" everything literally in the Bible are up in arms and claiming, yet again, that the choice of lifestyle is - choice! They refuse to accept the plethora of medical evidence to the contrary and continue to shout and scream about people in this category being "evil." It makes me want to foam at the mouth and bite someone in the hope I'll give them rabies!

First of all, the Bible is NOT one book, it is a library all on its own. All of the books in it were written at different times and in many different languages. Not all of it is "history" and will someone please, please, please, tell the American Fundamentalist sects that it was not written in English! Nor was most of it written in Hebrew! The original books were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and possible even in Persian in places. The modern Bible as we have it is a translation of, for the Old Testament, the Hebrew canon known as the Talmud for the King James Version (Which came from Babylon/Persia) and the Hellenic Greek version known as the Septuagint for the Vulgate version used by the Early Church and by the Roman Catholics and Lutherans. Until the invention of the printing press and movable type, it had to be copied by hand and, inevitably, mistakes were made by copyists. Eventually, in around 1500, it was agreed that there should be one "Authorised" text and hundreds of copies were examined to find the most reliable - and those became the text we have now.

The KJV (Published in 1611) drew on a completely new set of sources. The Talmud for the Old and the most reliable copies they could find of the originals for the New. This is why the KJV has fewer books in it than the Vulgate.

Right, that's the history out of the way, now to "interpretation."

You cannot interpret or understand the text of this collection without knowing what you are looking at and what it represents. Nor can you understand it outside of the setting of the book you are reading. In other words, the background is important. Why? Put simply, because the writers of the Biblical Books didn't write down all the background details, just the important bits - so they left out everything the reader was expected to "know." Why? Remember, paper wasn't easily come by, they wrote on papyrus which came from Egypt, or on hides, which had to be prepared and cost an arm and a leg. So you didn't waste space with details your reader should know. Except that they didn't consider the idiots who would read it 2,500 years later, insist that it should be read literally, in a different language and with a totally different understanding of the culture and events it is describing.

Modern readers also fail to understand that Genesis is an "Epic" rather like a Norse Saga, it has elements of fact in it but it is presented as a collection of folk memories and poetic explanations for an agrarian society. It is not a scientific treatise! Nor is it a "factual" "history." Daniel, Job, Ruth and Esther are "stories," and written to render theological argument and discussion accessible to the writers audience - again, probably never expecting it to be read and interpreted in a different culture 2,000 years on! The Psalms are poems and prayers, again, written at different times and in different places and circumstances - and certainly NOT all written by King David. Please people - learn the background history!

The Bible certainly does, in Leviticus, condemn same sex acts. But elsewhere there are suggestions that several of the characters in it were, if not actively engaging in those acts, at least in 'partnerships' with others of their sex. You cannot read these things literally. Christianity as a whole condemns the act, not the person, though, at the moment, with all the scandal of abuse in the Roman Church, there is a tendency toward both. This flags up another of the problems with the interpretation many fundamentalists place on certain texts from the Bible.

In the Middle Ages a tendency developed to seek texts which supported certain policies, doctrines and actions. In part the Reformation tried to sweep that away - but the allure for the newly free and self proclaimed "prophets" of various Protestant Factions soon brought it back, with a vengeance. In the process the whole Gospel message of love and redemption in and through Christ got buried beneath an avalanche of Old Testament fire and brimstone. And the Fundamentalists love that!

The Guardian article is concerned with homophobia, a dreadful word in my view, introduced amid a plethora of new "phobias" which we are now told are "institutionalized" in just about everyone and everything. I reject that, but I do accept that a very small minority of extreme fundamentalists in all religions are "institutionally" afraid of homosexuality. The associate it with a disease, and are afraid their children may be "corrupted" by catching it. Frankly that is best described by a word I can't use here.

In the 1960s a certain Dr Kinsey claimed 10% of the US male population was homosexual. That has since been debunked (And Kinsey and his wife exposed as sexual predators and voyeurs), though the number remains a significant portion of the population. It is also extremely likely to be the same proportion in every population. It is not a "disease" transmitted by contact or association, someone not inclined that way is most unlikely to even consider trying it. Why, therefore, can we not get past this and recognise that just as people are different colours, have different beliefs and cultures and lifestyles - they are still among God's children? They don't "choose" to be that way - I remember being asked by a Gay man once, "would you choose to be a member of a hated minority if it was up to you?"

So please, don't fall into the trap of seeking texts in the Bible to support your fear. Please, will somebody call a halt to the proliferation of Fundamentalist sects and interpretations of this really good and useful book? Please stop making ALL Christians look ridiculous! I don't mind your worshipping in your own way and even pondering on the meaning of scripture - I do, a lot - but I do mind very much being made to look like some hatefilled bigot by idiots who can't accept that, if they actually looked at what the stories say and what science tells us - there is no conflict and certainly nothing to fear!

Please will somebody stop the abuse of the message of the Gospel by the selection of out of context texts to fight their political battles and express their very unChristian ideas?

The Book of Jonah (Another of the allegorical "story" books) tells the story that Jonah, having gone to Nineveh after trying to evade the call to do so, is angry that, when the city repents and turns back to God, the Lord does not destroy it. He takes umbrage and goes into a monumental sulk. God challenges him with the words; "Have you any right to be angry?" Perhaps that is something those who parade their "faith" and throw about texts to "prove" their points should take time to consider. The Gospel challenges us to embrace those who are different and to show compassion - not to stand in the market place and shout condemnation!

I guess you can tell I am cross  ...

3 comments:

  1. My personal view of Hermeneutics is that for every argument to be found on one page of a biblical text, there is a counterargument in another book. This goes a lot deeper than the 'OT' saying "Eye for an eye" and the NT "Turning the other cheek." In my experience, people who hide behind their texts, stabbing their finger on the relevant (in their opinion) words, are amongst the worst possible practitioners of whatever art or science they pretend to practice.

    My students used to be so amazed firstly when I didn't actually look at their prized codes and guides until we had examined the problems confronting us and secondly when I pointed out to them what those books actually SAID, not what they had assumed.

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  2. I agree, hence my statement that you have to understand the context of the book, chapter or section you are reading before it can be understood - and then only in the light of counter arguments or utterances!

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  3. I stand and clap! I love your writing. I agree with you 100%. You should have seen the preacher's face when I argued over Adam and Eve. He kept throwing at me that Eve was Adam's 'helpmate'. (ie slave in his definition)... and I had him look it up in different languages. Boy was he amazed that it could be translated to friend, wife, lover, companion and yes... helpmate. Oh... but they seem to forget ALL the others. Ugh.

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