Exposing religious jingoism and biblical literalism: Part I

Two recent events brought the debate about civil equality back into the headlines and, once again, threaten to turn a country supposedly dedicated to human dignity and equal rights for all Americans into a state in which religious jingoism and biblical literalism attempt to dictate civil law. The observation was made by ordained priest, theologian, psychotherapist, professor of psychology, and author of What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, Dr. Daniel Helminiak, in a May 15, 2012, CNN article:

President Barack Obama’s support of same-sex marriage, like blood in the water, has conservative sharks circling for a kill. In a nation that touts separation of religion and government, religious-based arguments command this battle. Lurking beneath anti-gay forays, you inevitably find religion and, above all, the Bible.

We now face religious jingoism, the imposition of personal beliefs on the whole pluralistic society. Worse still, these beliefs are irrational, just a fiction of blind conviction. Nowhere does the Bible actually oppose homosexuality.

In just 937 words, Professor Helminiak debunked virtually all the religious right’s supposedly Bible-based anti-gay arguments, beginning with “the case among the Sodomites (Genesis 19), whose experience is frequently cited by modern anti-gay critics”:

The Bible itself is lucid on the sin of Sodom: pride, lack of concern for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:48–49); hatred of strangers and cruelty to guests (Wisdom 19:13); arrogance (Sirach/Ecclesiaticus 16:8); evildoing, injustice, oppression of the widow and orphan (Isaiah 1:17); adultery (in those days, the use of another man’s property), and lying (Jeremiah 23:12).

But nowhere are same-sex acts named as the sin of Sodom. But nowhere are same-sex acts named as the sin of Sodom. That intended gang rape only expressed the greater sin, condemned in the Bible from cover to cover: hatred, injustice, cruelty, lack of concern for others. Hence, Jesus says “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31); and “By this will they know you are my disciples” (John 13:35).

In relation to other favorite passages cited by those using the Bible to condemn gays and argue against civil equality—Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1:26–27—Professor Helminiak had this to say:

The Greek term para physin has been translated unnatural; it should read atypical or unusual. In the technical sense, yes, the Stoic philosophers did use para physin to mean unnatural, but this term also had a widespread popular meaning. It is this latter meaning that informs Paul’s writing. It carries no ethical condemnation.

Compare the passage on male-male sex to Romans 11:24. There, Paul applies the term para physin to God. God grafted the Gentiles into the Jewish people, a wild branch into a cultivated vine. . . . An unusual thing to do—atypical, nothing more. The anti-gay “unnatural” hullabaloo rests on a mistranslation.

Besides, Paul used two other words to describe male-male sex: dishonorable (1:24, 26) and unseemly (1:27). But for Paul, neither carried ethical weight. In 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul says that even he was held in dishonor—for preaching Christ. . . .

In this passage Paul is referring to the ancient Jewish Law: Leviticus 18:22, the “abomination” of a man’s lying with another man. Paul sees male-male sex as an impurity, a taboo, uncleanness—in other words, “abomination.” Introducing this discussion in 1:24, he says so outright: “God gave them up . . . to impurity.”

But Jesus taught lucidly that Jewish requirements for purity—varied cultural traditions—do not matter before God. What matters is purity of heart.

“Purity of heart.” An interesting phrase when applied to those using “Christianity” to campaign against civil equality and line their coffers. On May 17, my in-box contained a message from Tom Minnery, Executive Director of the American Family Association, a theo-political right-wing organization identified as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of their repeated use of stereotypes in combination with bogus “research” to demean and degrade gay and lesbian Americans:

Dear XXX,

President Obama has finally confirmed what we long suspected: He is no friend of America’s FAMILIES.

With his announcement of support for same-sex marriage on Wednesday, May 9, it’s now absolutely clear that President Obama wants to redefine marriage in America. We cannot count on the leader of this great nation to champion, let alone defend, marriage.

Please send a generous gift now to support marriage—and bring pro-family Americans to the polls in record numbers on Nov. 6. . . .

Please stand with me now in support of marriage with a generous gift to reach voters with the information and rally cry they need to elect leaders who will stand up for family, faith and freedom this November.

Thank you and God bless you. [emphasis in the original]

Apparently, Mr. Minnery doesn’t consider same-sex couples and same-sex couples with children “FAMILIES.” How’s that for blatant blind bigotry and the denial of obvious common sense? Mr. Minnery’s plea for money is, however, akin to other groups that use Christianity as a means to make a buck, such as ChristianMingle.com. Their trademarked corporate logo claims “Find God’s Match for You.” Do they really think “God” intervenes and orchestrates their on-line dating service?

And speaking of blatant blind bigotry and preposterous statements as a way of “making a living,” right on cue AFA’s ridiculously rabid homophobe Bryan Fischer chimed in with another of his diatribes. Mr. Fischer is a biblical literalist, at least in regards those passages of the Bible he can use to promote hate and his political agenda. He began his May 16 posting with his usual arrogant pomposity:

There are three purposes for marriage: companionship, sex and children.

When God created Adam, he said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make him a helper for him.” That would be Eve, someone who completed him and complemented him and met his need for a companion, someone to relieve his loneliness and be his mate for life.

Mr. Fischer believes he absolutely knows the “purposes of marriage,” and there are only three. Apparently, he never took a history course, or a family studies course, a sociology course, or a science course. If he did, he obviously chose to replace knowledge (as well as common sense) with bumper sticker simplicity: the hallmark no-thinking-required biblical literalism and religious fundamentalism. He concluded his piece with another statement at odds with history, archeology, anthropology, and common sense: “God defined marriage at the dawn of human history and has never changed his mind. What God has defined, man must not redefine.”

At the “dawn of human history” there was no such thing as “marriage.” The institution evolved as civilizations in Sumer and Egypt developed, and it evolved as a civil contract the primary purposes of which were to guarantee lineage and property rights. Moreover, as Stephanie Coontz so well documented in Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage, most of what we associated with “marriage” today—love, fidelity, intimacy, commitment—are relatively new in the history of the institution. Contrary to Mr. Fischer’s bumper sticker mentality, as Dr. Coontz and others have documented, “man” has periodically redefined “marriage,” most recently by doing away with laws prohibiting marriage between races. It must be noted that those who supported miscegenation laws also used the Bible to plead their case.

As for Adam and Eve—the “dawn of human history” couple to which Mr. Fischer refers—they’re mythological figures. The texts describing them were written long after human civilizations—in Egypt, for example—were already ancient. Adam and Eve were conjured by “tribal” people to explain human origins and create a “religion”: both of those terms and the facts they denote are important in understanding the Bible as a biblical scholar would, not as the cherry-picking literalist uses it. Dr. Helminiak explained in What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality:

the literal approach reading [of the bible] . . . has disadvantages. Since this approach has no elaborate [hermeneutical] guidelines, different people can arrive at different meanings for any text they consider. All can claim that the text means what it means to them. . . . Popularity decides what the Bible means. An influential preacher could even impose a personal view on a whole congregation.

Contemporary examples of such a potentially lethal situation are noted in Part II. But to continue with Dr. Helminiak’s analysis:

But the fact that many people believe something, doesn’t necessarily make it right. The long history of slavery is a clear case in point. So the serious disadvantage here is that people may well end up believing not what God requires but simply what makes them comfortable and secure.

Another disadvantage is selective use of the Bible. That is, this [literal reading] approach tends to emphasize one text and overlook another. Preachers condemn lesbians and gays because the Bible mentions same-sex acts in passing. But the same preachers do not advocate slavery even though many long passages support it . . . They do not encourage people to gouge out their eyes or cut off their hands even though Jesus’ literal words suggest that remedy for temptation (Matthew 5:22–29). Those preachers often allow divorce even though Jesus’ teaching taken literally condemns it (Matthew 5:32; Mark 10:1–12; Luke 16:18). They allow women to teach in Sunday school or to speak in church even though 1 Timothy 2:11–14 clearly forbids that. . . . They do not believe the earth is flat as Genesis 1:1–17 suggests. The literal approach is almost forced to pick and choose as it applies to the Bible. Otherwise some very unaccountable situations arise.

Finally, the literal approach is hard pressed to address new issues—nuclear energy, surrogate motherhood, environmental pollution, the use of outer space, genetic engineering, regulation of the Internet. The Bible never imagined these things, so it never really addressed them.

Of course, some will insist that God did speak of these things in hidden and symbolic ways. . . . But if this is so, in some cases a symbolic interpretation is allowed, and the rule of literal interpretation is abandoned. Then what is the rule for knowing when to interpret literally and when to interpret symbolically? Without changing rules in the middle of the game, the literal approach cannot use the Bible to answer pressing questions of our day.

To be continued . . .

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2 Responses to Exposing religious jingoism and biblical literalism: Part I

  1. Pingback: Exposing religious jingoism and biblical literalism: Part I | Intrepid … |

  2. Heart break is when your child says to you if i was created in Gods image then why do Christians hate us