Sunday, October 7, 2012
Hateful Passages in the Bible? Just Ignore Them.
For far too long, men have quite successfully used the Bible to justify all kinds of evils.
They have equipped Exodus 22:18 to justify the murderous Salem Witch trials. They have called upon verses like 1 Samuel 15:3 to justify every war and genocide from the Crusades to the Holocaust. They have used Titus 2:9 and 1 Peter 2:18-25 to justify the institution of American slavery. They have called upon 1 Timothy 2:12 to justify male dominance and the subjugation of women. They have smiled gleefully while reading Psalm 137:9 to justify the cruelest forms of revenge their dark hearts could imagine.
And, of course, they have used the Bible to justify hatred of gay people in the name of Jesus. Take your pick among choices like Romans 1:26-27, Leviticus 20:13, and 1 Corinthians 6:9; all roads lead to bigotry.
Well-intentioned Christians, on the other hand, have done a juggling act attempting to reconcile some of these passages with their faith, though often allowing at least several to stand "as is." Still, it's been tough trying to force the aforementioned passages to harmonize with "love thy neighbor."
But here's a radical idea: What if we all simply, I dunno, ignored these parts of the Bible?
We could ignore Exodus and 1 Samuel when they justify war and murder. Instead, we could pay more attention to Jesus when he said "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matthew 5:9)
We could ignore Titus and 1 Peter when they order slaves to be obedient to cruel masters. Instead, we could become like Isaiah, who said he was sent by God "to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from the darkness for the prisoners." (Isaiah 61:1)
We could toss aside that passage from 1 Timothy and recognize that, throughout the Bible, God elevated women to positions of power, influence, and prominence that override anything Paul could ever have said about women being silent and obedient.
We could completely discard Pslam 137:9, preferring Mark 11:25, in which Jesus says, "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him."
Speaking of forgiveness, if anyone has read to this point and found herself horrified at the notion of simply ignoring biblical passages we don't like, just remember that Jesus did it, too.
Exodus 21:22-25 records that God himself recommended that we respond to crimes, insults, and offenses by returning the same: "You shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."
Yet Jesus, who preferred a message of peace, tolerance, love, and forgiveness, told his followers something different:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth,' but I say to you now, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles." (Matthew 5:38-41)
Jesus' message was so radically different from the one supposedly given by 'God' that he quoted it and preceded to tell his followers to ignore it and follow a bolder, better way.
In the same way, Christians and non-Christians alike who disapprove of anti-gay language in the Bible don't have to jump through hoops to dispel unkind words in Leviticus, Romans, and 1 Corinthians. It's not necessary to, as many have done, scour ancient texts in order to prove that the Greek word arsenokoites in 1 Corinthians 6:9 doesn't actually mean "homosexuals." We can just ignore everything Paul said in that passage, relegating it to the dustbin of history, while still upholding his beautiful prose four chapters later, in 1 Corinthians 13, in which he asserts that, of all virtues, love is the greatest.
The truth is, Christianity already ignores passages that have been deemed unacceptable to the modern world. Most Christians ignore the verses that justify slavery. Most, too, have chosen to ignore biblical assertions of male superiority over women, recognizing that such thought is a relic of history. Christians too, can do the same with passages that demean, brutalize, terrorize, and dehumanize gay people.
In the end, the parts of the Bible that withstand history and the onward march of mankind will be the ones that speak of forgiveness as the answer to war, justice as the antidote to oppression, and love as the most powerful thing of all. That's because those are the things that do not age, that do not fall victim to progress, that do not end with the fall of frail human institutions. They are the messages that most ring true. That's because they are.