In his book “The Good Book,” the late Dr. Peter Gomes references a study showing that 38% of Americans believed the Old Testament was written a few years after Jesus’ death, 10% believed Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, and some folks actually believed the epistles were the wives of the apostles. (You can’t make this stuff up.)
Biblical illiteracy is deadly; it allows good people to be manipulated by those who bastardize Scripture to promote their own ideologies and prejudices.
Never forget that the bible was used to justify the Crusades, the Inquisition, and burn heretics. It has been misused to persecute Jews, support Hitler, and fuel the Holocaust. In American history, the bible was used to promote the genocide of millions of native people, promote and justify racial slavery and more recently to fight integration, sustain Jim Crow, and deny millions their basic human rights.
William Shakespeare famously warned, “Even the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”
However, the bible has also been used to fight those same devils.
Sadly, once again devils gleefully misquote and invent biblical injunctions against homosexuality to foster intolerance and hate. If you or someone you know have been told by your priest or minister that God condemns homosexuality please also know this:
- Jesus said nothing about same-sex behavior.
- The Jewish prophets were silent about homosexuality.
- In fact, only seven of the bible’s one million verses mention same-sex behavior and none refer to homosexual orientation as it’s understood today.
People who misuse the bible tend to be remarkably brazen in their selectivity, especially when it comes to human sexuality.
The bible demands stoning non-virginal brides, as well as adulterers. It mandates dismemberment (if a man gets into a fight with another man and his wife seeks to rescue her husband by grabbing the enemy’s genitals, her hand must be cut off without pity).
It also forbids a married couple from having sexual intercourse during a woman’s period; disobedience calls for the favorite biblical fix: death.
In the New Testament, Mark repeats the Old Testament condemnation of divorce and affirms the religious practice that a widow of a childless man must lay with each of his brothers until she bears her deceased husband a male heir. (Funny, I’ve never heard the Catholic bishops insist Catholics follow that last rule, have you?)
However, the bible allows for some interesting manly pleasures: polygamy, sex with slaves, sex with prostitutes, marrying pre-pubescent girls aged 11-13, and treating women as chattel.
On the other hand, there are strict prohibitions against interracial marriage, birth control, discussing or even naming a sexual organ, and seeing one’s parents nude. (Yeah, well I’m definitely for that last one.)
Quite clearly, the Founding Fathers and a successive history of intelligent lawmakers have steered away from using the bible as the basis of American jurisprudence, legislation, and public policy.
There are, of course, other nations that have not — and in those countries stoning and amputation are acceptable. These countries are terrorized by religious fundamentalists who just happen to call themselves Muslim — but know this: Islam is historically an offshoot of Judeo-Christianity.
Therefore, we can look at Islamic theocracies and extrapolate what happens when a nation is shaped and operated by the worst that the bible has to offer. Never forget that Muslims revere the bible as well as the Quran. As I’ve already written, we can also look back in European and American history and see how the misuse of the bible caused a great many harms to a great many people.
The bible, of course, is also the most remarkable compilation of ancient texts in human history; its books are historical, poetic, revolutionary, and wise. My intention is to not denigrate the bible; I respect it as a historian and woman of faith raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition. My intention is to ask people to understand how it can be used to oppress, denigrate, and deny human rights. My intention is to fight biblical illiteracy, as well as the devils who use that illiteracy to justify hate.
On November 6th the people in four states, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington, have an opportunity to vote as 21st century Americans rather than as ancient Israelites or fearful people driven by biblical ignorance and flawed theology.
On November 6th voters in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington can choose to vote for marriage equality.
I’d never ask anyone to vote without reference to faith. I would, however, ask Christians to remember the best of Christianity, not the worst – and if they do, then surely love, rather than intolerance, will triumph.
After all, love is just as biblical as hate – but better. Why not choose it?