24 May 2012

Bible lessons

How coincidental that I should read Cal Thomas's commentary on the Book of Revelation just after finishing Elaine Pagels's new study of the controversial scripture. That puts me in a position to give the horselaugh to Thomas when he attributes Revelation to "the Apostle John," since Pagels nicely summarizes the argument that John of Patmos, the reputed author of the book according to scholars, is not the same person as John the son of Zebedee, the disciple, apostle and supposed gospel author. Few of the early church fathers attributed Revelation to the Apostle, and those that did sought to improve the pedigree of a disputed tome because they could use its prophecies as allegories for their own struggles with alleged heretics. Thomas cites Revelation to criticize President Obama's supposed "spin" of scripture. He has a notion that the President is trying to cite biblical authority for his new position in favor of same-sex marriage, though he produces no more evidence for this than Obama's citation of the Golden Rule. Assuming that Obama means the Golden Rule to abrogate the familiar animadversions against homosexuality, Thomas accuses the President of "claim[ing that Scripture] says something it does not," an offense the columnist equates with heresy. Revelation comes into it because the final book of the Bible ends with a threat of punishment for anyone who tries to add or subtract from it. Pagels argues that authoritarian early Christians like Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria liked that bit because it helped them enforce a canon and exclude more problematic writings. They liked Paul's warnings against preaching "another Gospel," also cited by Thomas, for the same reason.

At this late date, I'm stunned to find a Christian homophobe like Thomas arguing against selective reading of the Bible. Don't you suppose that he gets hundreds of e-mails every time he raises the subject citing all those nasty prohibitions and death penalties from the Old Testament (for disobeying one's parents, eating shellfish, etc.). Liberals and atheists have those lists readymade, and you know that Cal Thomas will never affirm any of those exotic strictures. Doesn't that make his a selective reading bordering on heresy? You can't criticize anyone else for a selective or insidiously creative reading unless you're prepared to affirm the whole thing, verse by verse, or you can claim some sort of divine revelation of the correct reading of the Old Testament. But to my admittedly limited knowledge I know of no officially established rationale for ignoring all the zany and barbaric prohibitions while continuing to affirm ancient homophobia.

Thomas himself appeals to a divine totalitarianism to validate his discrimination.

Scripture teaches that the marriage union between a man and woman is an illustration of how Christ and the church are one (Ephesians 5:32). It also teaches that since God made us, conceived of marriage and created sex to be enjoyed within the marital bond, He gets to set the rules and establish the boundaries for human behavior, not because He is a curmudgeon who wants to deny us pleasure, but because He knows what is best for us.

But the argument from universal creation that God knows what's best is equally applicable in defense of every archaic taboo in the Bible, even those from which even Thomas might recoil.  Some Christians argue that Jesus abrogated the Old Testament and that Leviticus and Deuteronomy can be ignored, but Thomas isn't one of them. Historically, what's happened is that Christians stopped caring about most of those primitive mandates, but continue to care about stigmatizing homosexuality. Christian homophobia has less to do with God than with Christians -- and when Christian homophobia is rampant in Africa or the U.S., it probably has less to do with Christianity than with the attitudes of Americans and Africans. That should be obvious whether you believe in God or not. It's up to homophobic Christians to explain why they care so much about this issue, compared to everything else in the Bible -- and not for politicians to square their literary allusions with anyone's selective orthodoxy. 

8 comments:

Crhymethinc said...

Considering that book of lies and fables has absolutely no legal authority in the United States, I'm not sure why it should even be an issue.

Obama's counter-attack should be to continuously demand to know why Repugnicans refuse to except equality in a country with equality as one of its founding ideals. He should ask why repugnicans continue to alienate every minority group who refuses to conform to their idea of "normal" and he should question their patriotism in being willing, in a time of economic hardship, to further cause mischief among the population.

What the left in general should be pointing out, time and again, that marriage is not a "right". That it is NOT listed among the amendments to the Constitution. They should insist that the right either give up this notion and accept that marriage is a religious construct and therefore, NOT legislatable or, barring that, if they continue to insist that marriage is a right, the left should insist that, according to the Constitution, all citizens have equal rights, therefore these cretins have no legs to stand on.

If that doesn't work, perhaps we should take a page from the operating manual of the Norwegian death metal scene. . .

Samuel Wilson said...

The book of lies etc remains an issue because the US remains an electoral democracy and you can't legislate against people voting according to religious prejudices. The gay left wants government to recognize gay marriage everywhere and therefore has to press it as a right even though the Constitution itself, as you note, doesn't confer a right of marriage on people except as interpreted by the Loving v. Virginia decision that struck down anti-miscegenation laws. Both sides want the state to define what marriage is, and I suppose it should be up to the state rather than the churches if marriage confers legal rights upon the contracting partners. But the state is silent until the people speak, and "defense of marriage" amendments still win a lot of the time when put to votes. Gay-marriage advocates want to argue that a right shouldn't be put to a vote, but unless they can show how the Constitution has defined marriage it's hard to argue that the document has already given them what they want.

Crhymethinc said...

Is marriage listed as a right within the Constitution as it stands? No. Then states must have the jurisdiction over this one and many states have spoken in favor of same-sex marriage. Those states, in all likelihood would not approve of a Constitutional amendment that would overturn their decision.

What needs to happen is that the left needs to hammer home, very publicly, how hypocritical the right is in insisting muslim law has no legal authority, yet attempting to legislate their own book of lies into national law.

Again, barring that, we could always take a lesson from the Norwegians.

Samuel Wilson said...

You mean we should open fire on the socialists and start a crusade against immigrants? That hardly seems fair.... Or am I missing something?

Samuel Wilson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hobbyfan said...

As I understand it, the Apostle John is credited with having written 5 books of the New Testament. The Gospel and 3 letters bearing his name, and Revelation. Enough said.

Oh, by the way, Sammy, you may want to delete your duplicate comment. I've had that problem myself of late.

Samuel Wilson said...

John gets a lot of credit he doesn't deserve, according to authentic textual scholars, most of whom doubt that even the gospel was written by the disciple named John. Revelation is believed to have been written some sixty years after Jesus was crucified, making the disciple's authorship of the prophetic book unlikely. As I alluded to in the original post, many early Church fathers recognized stylistic inconsitencies between the Gospel of John and Revelation and presumed two different authors, while Bishop Athanasius, the great canonizer and a bad guy in Elaine Pagels's account, insisted on both the disciple's authorship and the book's inclusion in the definitive New Testament, for what that's worth.

Crhymethinc said...

1) I was not referring to Brevik, but rather to the underground movement seeking to eliminate the christian influence from the original Norse culture.

2) I really don't care who claims who wrote which fairy tale. Since you cannot offer any evidence that any of it is true, especially the psycho-rantings of the final book, and since your imaginary friend refuses to come out in public and speak for himself, religion is nothing more than superstitious nonsense.

The Constitution gives you the right to believe whatever stupidity you wish to believe. It does NOT give you the right to dictate to others how they may live their lives, who they may love, etc.

If the christian right does not get that message through it's head, then I sure as hell hope to start reading about their churches being burned around their heads.