We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Bible as a Weapon

In a blog post entitled, "When Christians become a 'hated minority'," John Blake observes,
"Intolerance may be difficult to define, but some evangelicals say they have become victims of intolerance because of their reverence for the Bible. The conservative media culture is filled with stories about evangelicals being labeled as “extremists” for their belief that homosexuality is a sin. Their sense of persecution goes beyond their stance on homosexuality. There are stories circulating of evangelical students being suspended for opposing homosexuality, a teacher fired for giving a Bible to a curious student, and the rise of anti-Christian bigotry."
Evangelicals who complain that they are "victims of intolerance because of their reverence for the Bible" are wrong.  The problem a growing majority of Americans have with evangelical beliefs is not with their reverence for the Bible.  They do not have as corner on that market.  The issue at hand is they way they use the Bible to define others—and, secondarily, their inconsistent use of the Bible to define others.

Most Evangelicals, but not all by any means, claim that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin.  They condemn it and frequently stand at the forefront of those political and social forces dedicated to withholding basic civil rights from homosexuals.  Their concern is for the sanctity of marriage and the purity of society.  Let us ignore for a moment the fact that homosexuality is a private "sin," one that does not do harm to others.  Indeed, it is social repression that has driven homosexuals into what evangelicals consider to be promiscuous behavior.  But set that consideration aside.  Let us take the evangelical definition of homosexuality as a sin at face value.  Let us take their desire to protect American society from this sin at face value—for the moment.

One cannot help but wonder then at a fundamental inconsistency in their application of biblical principles.  In the case of homosexuality, they claim the Bible teaches it is a sin and thus must be repressed as much as possible for the sake of homosexuals as much as the rest of us.  OK.  Why then are these same evangelicals, as a rule, willing to make allowances in their application of the biblical principle, "Thou shalt not kill," that they are not willing to make for homosexuality?  The biblical teaching is clear and absolute.  We humans are forbidden from killing other humans.  Yet, in the United States, we have a whole class of individuals who are trained in the art of killing, the military, and evangelicals are more often than not ardent supporters of this very class.  The Bible doesn't teach any exceptions to the biblical law that we are not allowed to kill.  Yet, patriotic evangelicals set that very principle aside for the sake of national defense.  In the case of abortion, most evangelicals passionately advocate this same divine prohibition of murder, yet in the case of the military they make an exception to a fundamental biblical teaching.

So, what is different about homosexuality?  Is not the sin of murder far, far more serious than the supposed sin of homosexuality?  Murder is a brutal, violent act with clear personal and social consequences.  Homosexuality is not.  So, why make an exception for murder?  Why apply biblical teaching in a limited way when it comes to murder but not in the case of homosexuality?

Here's the thing.  Evangelicals would quickly find themselves no longer "persecuted," if they would stop using the Bible as a weapon against others.  The larger society is not behaving intolerantly of evangelicals.  We are protecting ourselves and others from the way many evangelicals invasively interpret the Bible so as to deprive those who are not evangelicals of their basic human rights and freedoms.