May 2, 2012

Reply to John Mac

It seems that Dan Savage's recent comments in which he called for Christians to 'learn to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about gay people' have caused something of stir.  Many Christians feel themselves ill-used--bullied, even--by this sound advice.

Complains one John Mac: "Dan uses Levitical laws (which were only germaine to Jews) to goof on Christians. He doesn't understand the Bible."  I tweeted back: "Xtians use Levitical laws (which were only germaine to Jews) to goof on gays. They don't understand the Bible."  We had a longish conversation; well, I tweeted two more things and I didn't actually count his, though I did read them.  Dan even got into things, and I saw--be still my heart--a little @decrystallized coming from @fakedansavage.

Now, Dan did an excellent job of responding to that particular criticism, so let me address another.  In our repartee, he played the reverse victim card: "By pushing the idea that adherents of the bible are beating up gay kids, you put a target on Xtians kids", which is a bit silly, not least because it's perfectly true that many self-proclaimed adherents of the Bible are saying nasty things about and doing nasty things to gay people, kids and and otherwise.  But he preemptively defended the idea by saying: "There are morons throughout the world in all religions that pervert the Bibles message.  Not TRUE Xtians", and it's that idea that I want to take a look at.

What is the Bible's message?  It's a big book--more than that, it's a collection of books--and yes, I've read them all, even if I couldn't necessarily tell you what Nahum was about without checking.  A book that varied becomes a bit of a Rorschach test--people look at it and see what they want to see.  Abolitionists saw 'do unto others' and 'neither slave nor free' as powerful calls to action; slaveowners saw in 'the slave is his property' and 'slaves obey your masters' an equally powerful affirmation.

So which ones were the true Christians?

Over spring break, for complicated and inescapable reasons, I became embroiled in a discussion on the nature of government regulation and what Leviticus has to say on the subject.  I do not care what Leviticus has to say on that or any subject, but chose not to open that can of worms for practical, rather than tactical, reasons, and argue within a Christian worldview.  I would describe my opposite's position as government nihilism: pure laissez-faire capitalism with no prior restraint because that's what Leviticus says.  Well, what about forbidding interest?  A mistranslation.  What about the numerous 'regulations' in Leviticus?  Carried no penalty (which I haven't looked up, but see sentence #2 in this paragraph).  What about Jubilee's mandatory property redistribution and debt forgiveness?

I don't recall getting an answer to that last one.  However, he defended his position as the 'true'-est interpretation and application of Scripture--and he believes it.  When I still believed, my beliefs were the polar opposite of his--which one of us was the 'true' Christian, and whose interpretation correct?

A key difference is that I freely acknowledged my departures from Holy Writ, and my disagreements with its authors.  I'm against slavery because slavery is wrong, and I knew this apart from the Bible and despite the bits of it which say otherwise.   Same deal with gays: even while a Christian, I thought that Paul and Leviticus were both just wrong--as wrong as they were about delicious bacon and my metalhead hair.  In other words, I took my Bible and saw what I wanted to see--liked the parts I liked, and ignored the parts I didn't.  As does my laissez-faire friend, as does John Mac, as does everyone else.

Of course you can have an incorrect interpretation, one not supported by the text--for example, Jesus was not a time lord, despite certain temporal remarks regarding Abraham--but the text will support a clamoring multitude of incompatible interpretations.  Calvinists and Freewill Baptists, snake-handlers and Catholics, libertarians and dominionists, abolitionists and slaveowners alike all claim to be the true guardians of Holy Writ.  Each musters arguments and ardent conviction; how then to decide between them?  And that is a grave problem: what are the odds that, out of all the interpretations that ever were, the one that you happen to hold at the moment is the correct one? 

Perhaps--just perhaps--there is no one correct interpretation.  And that is a very liberating thought, because it allows you to come at the issue of homosexuality from a perspective of love, reason, and empathy, as untroubled by 'clobber passages' as by those proscribing long hair and bacon.

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