Friday, December 28, 2018

Read Your Bible!

I've mentioned a number of times here how my opinion of any Christian always goes way down when I realize that I know the Bible better than they do. I'm a Thelemite. I did grow up Christian, but liberal ELCA Lutheran rather than literalist Evangelical. That being said, I attribute much of the disparity between my knowledge of the Bible and that of conservative Evangelicals on the fact that I've read the whole thing. Twice, as a matter of fact. The implication there is obvious - for all their claims to follow the literal Word of God, they usually haven't read very much of the text that they consider holy.

I don't necessarily think that's a blanket statement, as I have met conservative Christians who are extremely knowledgeable about the Bible, its history, its context, and so forth. But one of the things I have observed about these folks is that they generally don't want anything to do with the modern "Religious Right." As I see it, the problem is pretty simple - organizations like Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition of America are not driven by the values of Christianity as found in the Bible, but rather by the agenda of the Republican Party.

Don't take my word for it, though (which will be a recurring theme throughout this post). Check out this article from Vox by former Tea Party activist Cindy Mallette who voted Democratic for the first time ever this last November. What changed her mind, you ask, in this age of extreme partisanship? She sat down and read the Bible.

Like many Christians, I looked to the Bible for moral guidance. But I wasn’t relying on my own reading of the Scriptures. I was relying on the interpretations of pastors and evangelical leaders like James Dobson, whose readings happened to line up nicely with the Republican Party platform. This is not a coincidence; these same individuals have been politically active in the GOP for decades, going back to the 1970s, and their understanding of scripture informs the Republican Party platform.

My experience with the Bible was on par with the majority of American evangelicals: We have this perception that we know a lot about the Bible, but we hardly read it. In 2015, I decided to read the entire Bible on my own. I read from Genesis to Revelation in one year. I was astounded that so much of what the experts emphasized as good, godly living was not at all what God had in mind.

For the first time, I saw that overall, God cares most about how humanity treats its fellow humans. Before, the driving force of my political activism was a faith that said God wants us to live moral lives. I, along with the Republican Party, would define morality in narrow terms: heterosexual marriage, abstaining from vices, obeying the law, and not being a financial “drain” on society.

But now I see that God cares most about how those of us with power, privilege, and means help those who are poor, widowed, orphaned, a stranger in the land, in need of justice and/or mercy, and who are frantically searching for truth and love. This was the crux of the Bible. It revolutionized my worldview.

That is, Mallette saw through (what I consider) the bullshit because she actually read the Bible. To be clear, while I personally am on "The Left" politically, my point is not that Republicans are evil and Democrats are good. The Democratic Party has problems too, though I will say that in my opinion it currently doesn't have a problem anywhere near on par with Donald Trump. No, my point is that many of the things that the "Religious Right" touts as Christian just aren't. And if you want to see what those things are, read the Bible for yourself. Even if you read it and decide that you would still rather vote Republican, at least you're doing it from a place of knowledge rather than ignorance.

A few basics, which you should feel free to verify - the Bible does NOT say that the worst sins in the universe are abortion and homosexuality. According to Old Testament law, an injury to a pregnant woman that causes her to lose her child is NOT treated the same as murder. There's still a penalty, but it's less severe. The New Testament does not address the issue of abortion at all. Therefore, if you're running around with a sign that says "Abortion is Murder" that is NOT the Biblical position. You might believe it for other reasons, but leave the scriptures out of it. The same goes for contraception, which is not even mentioned.

Likewise, male homosexuality is condemned as "abomination" in Leviticus, but female homosexuality doesn't even rate a mention and the same word is used to describe eating shellfish. Jesus does not mention homosexuality at all. While there are some quotes from Paul's letters that seem to show that he considered both male and female homosexuality wrong, there is also some debate among scholars about the context of those quotes. And anyway, in every case the issue is not the focus of the corresponding epistle. Rather, it gets presented as part of a list of criticisms and doctrinal corrections.

The big focus of Jesus' entire ministry had to do with ending mistreatment and oppression of the poor by the rich and powerful. If you as a Christian are going to call anything the Worst Sin Of All that probably is your best bet. And while I grant that this next bit may reflect my liberal bias, I fail to see how Republican tax policy - push through a big tax cut that goes mostly to the wealthy and profitable corporations and then call for reducing services to the poor now that you have less revenue - is even remotely Christian. On the other hand, rich Republican donors and big corporations love it.

But I'm not trying to be overly political here. The main thing I'm advocating against is ignorance. If you are a conservative Christian who believes that the Bible is the literal Word of God, read it! Don't let pastors or evangelists or talk radio hosts or bloggers (yes, including me) - all of whom may have political agendas - tell you what it means. Engage with the material and make up your own mind, whatever conclusions you eventually reach.

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