Monday, March 20, 2006

I PREFER THE CONSTITUTION

Editor's note:


Portions of the following post can be found on a previous post title "LETTER FROM THE BISHOP: GAYS AND LESBIANS GO TO HELL," which I wrote with my team member, Daniel Gallagher. At the time I wanted to include more material about the manner in which a literal interpretation of the King James Bible might prove detrimental to women, but as the post grew longer and more complicated, Daniel and I decided to cut some material. After talking to Daniel (who is scheduled to be released from the hospital today after a nasty brush with pneumonia), I have decided to present an alternative version of the same post; replete with the edited material I hope you enjoy it.


Enlightenment



I PREFER THE CONSTITUTION
WHY THE BIBLE IS A POOR MODEL FOR GOOD GOVERNMENT


By Enlightenment and Daniel Gallagher


I don't know what things are like in your state, but here in Wisconsin the Republican controlled Legislature recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment which, while claiming to protect heterosexual marriage, would both, outlaw gay marriage and civil unions between gays as well as civil unions between heterosexual couples.


First, please let me say that these marriage protection amendments fly in the face of everything the far right has ever told us about personal responsibility. When my wife, Rachel, and I took our wedding vows we promised to love and honor; we promised to remain loyal to one another in both, sickness and in health until death do us part. In other words, our marriage--the health and vitality of our relationship--is our personal responsibility. And yet the Christian Right really believes that healthy, heterosexual marriages will be threatened by what the gay or lesbian couple down the road are doing in the privacy of their own bedroom. To quote one of my team members on Coalition, "if you're worried about what Adam and Steve are going to do to the sanctity of your marriage bed, you don't need a constitutional amendment, you need a marriage counselor, and badly."


Another argument, which I find equally imbecilic, is the idea that gay marriage will lead to bestiality, incest, or polygamy. In the area of Wisconsin where I live, the county board, during a foolish debate over whether or not it should approve a a local measure supporting a marriage protection amendment, drifted off on a demented tirade about how gay marriage would result in people wanting to have sexual relations with animals. Excuse me. When was the last time you heard a mainstream argument promoting sexual relations between Mister Smith and his loyal Doberman, Fido. Do you think having sexual relations with your Doberman is normal? Do you know anyone, either gay or straight, who wants to have a passionate affair with a German Shepherd? Of course not. How many people do you know who are demanding state sanctioned coitus between parents and children; between brothers and sisters? I would suggest that such examples are extremely, extremely rare, incest still being recognized as a type of abuse between related individuals. And if you want to talk about polygamy...I would remind the readers that the only people (at least in America) who are proposing this alternative life style, are right wing Mormons who view women as little more than property. But that doesn't stop the Christian Right from both, obsessing over the dirty parts of the Bible and from clouding the issues with these foolish, foolish non issues which are only intended to disguise and conceal the true purpose behind these so called "marriage protection amendments."


Red herrings not withstanding, marriage protection amendments are nothing more than another step towards the idee fixe of the ultra-fundamentalist right: the creation of a Christian Republic, a fundamentalist theocracy in which the King James Bible would replace the United States Constitution as the framing document.



But that doesn't change the fact that America has made beneficial progress on those occasions when it has interpreted the Holy Bible to mean the opposite of what it actually says, when we adopted an inspired, not a literal interpretation of the text.

European monarchies, including Great Britain, once maintained that The King ruled by Divine Right. That may sound repugnant to our readers, but it can actually be supported from a Biblical point of view. The primary forms of government which are mentioned in the Holy Bible are theocracies, monarchies, and military dictatorships. Christ may have reached his highest degree of eloquence in the two great sermons (some might actually that one was only a retelling of the other), but he never really endorsed a specific form of government, representative forms included. In addition, the Bible is replete with commands to obey the repressive governments which were in power at the time the various books therein were written. Indeed, those who seek to undermine the American Constitution argue that the power to govern flows from God--a belief which is diametrically opposed to the American understanding that the right to govern flows from the people. That more or less flies in the face of the American system which is based on the premise that the people have the right to question or even change their elected government. To be succinct, the Bible quite literally endorses repressive, non-representative government, and yet we had a revolution to free ourselves from a corrupt monarchy with an established (Anglican) church.



Slavery is another troublesome issue. Anyone with a conscience and an IQ above 60 knows--or should know-- that slavery is wrong, and yet the culture which produced the Old and New Testaments openly endorsed slavery as a viable and honorable practice.



If we take a literal interpretation of The Bible, slavery is instituted by Noah in Genesis 9:20-27. The American Abolitionists maintained that God disapproved of slavery based on the events described in the Book of Exodus, the freeing of the Hebrew Slaves, but what the Abolitionists ignored, and what the dyed in the wool Southern racists did not, was that the Hebrews then turned around and re-instituted the same practice under which they had suffered in Egypt.



Even the 10 Commandments make a reference to slavery. In Exodus 20:17 we read "you shall not covet your neighbor's house, you shall not covet your neighbors wife or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbors." Note also that this particular interpretation equates women with animals such as ox and asses. Only a few verses later, in Exodus 21: 1-11 we find guidelines for the conduct of the slave trade; and in Exodus 21:20-21 we find this peculiar tidbit: "When a man strikes his slave, male or female with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be punished for the slave is his money." Similar regulations appear in Leviticus 25: 44-55. So much for the sanctity of human life.



The Old Testament is littered with references to slavery and the New Testament is no better. In 1 Timothy 6:1-2 we read: "Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their master as as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be defamed. Those who have disbelieving masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brethren, rather they must serve all the better, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved." In 1 Peter 2:18-20 we find the following: "servants be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the kind and gentle, but also to the overbearing. For one is approved, if mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly." Similar passages appear in Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, and Titus 2:9.



Despite the fact that Christ traveled in a society that was populated by servants and masters, he did very little to outlaw the barbaric practice of slavery itself. Rather, His Apostles not only refused to condemn slavery, they required slaves to be obedient--even to cruel masters. And if you wants to talk about the morality of the early church fathers and Protestant reformers, I would remind the would be theocrats out there that St. Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and John Calvin had all been slave owners at various times in their careers.



The United States, however, had a civil war which was based on the premise that slavery was wrong. We interpreted the Bible to mean the opposite of what it actually said, and a great scourge was cleansed from our country because we refused to adopt an evil interpretation, of an archaic text. Putting it another way, we made progress for the good when we interpreted the Bible to mean the opposite of what it actually says.



Shall we talk about women? After Eve tempts Adam in the Garden of Eden, we get the following rant against females in Genesis, Chapter 3: "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." With the only a few exceptions, women are treated like property throughout most of the Biblical text. In 1 Timothy 2:8-15 we read: "I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling, also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not braided hair or gold or pearls, or costly attire, but by good deeds as befits women who profess religion. Let women learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was created first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty."



In 1 Peter 3:1-6 we read this. "Likewise you wives, be submissive to your husbands, so that some, though they do not obey the word, may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, when they see your reverent and chaste behavior, Let not yours be the outward adorning, with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of robes, but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. So once the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves and were submissive to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham calling him lord..."

And if you want a real hoot, I suggest the following snippet from 1 Corinthians, Chapter 11, where the author sounds like the Prophet Mohammad: "Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head because of the angels." Then there's the old time classic from 1 Corinthians, Chapter 14, which reads: "As in the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate as the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is shameful for a woman to speak in church."


Basically, the Biblical attitude towards women* can be summed up as follows:


1. Women should learn in silence and subjugation. (1 Timothy 2:11-14)


2. Women should not teach. (1 Timothy 2:11-14)


3. Women should not have authority over men but should remain silent. (1 Timothy 2:11-14)


4. Adam and Eve were not equal in sin. Adam was not deceived but Eve was. (Genesis 3:12-16 and 1 Timothy 2:11-14 )


5. Women are commanded to be under obedience to men. God ordained that men shall for all time rule over women. ( Genesis 3:12-16)


6. Women must keep silent in Churches. It is shameful for them to open their mouths therein. If they have a question they should ask their husbands before going to church and then their husbands will ask for them in the church. (1 Corinthians 14:34)


7. A woman should neither pray nor profess with her head uncovered. (1 Corinthians 11:13)


8. If a woman prays with her head uncovered then she might as well shave her head. (1 Corinthians 11:5-10)


9. Man was created in the image and glory of God, and Woman was created in the glory of Man, thus Man must have power over her. (1 Corinthians 11:5-10)


10. Any woman who delivers a male baby shall be unclean for one week. But any woman who delivers a female baby shall be unclean for TWO weeks. Thus, females make their mothers DOUBLY unclean as compared to males. (Leviticus 12: 2-5)


11. While it is possible to find one upright man in every thousand, it is impossible to find even one single upright woman in every thousand. (Ecclesiastics 7:26-28)


12. Woman is a snare, her heart is a trap, and her hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but she will ensnare the sinner. (Ecclesiastics 7:26-28)


13. If a woman had her period and touches a chair or a bed or anything else then that item immediately becomes unclean. Anyone who then touches those things shall also become unclean. They must then bathe themselves and wash their clothes because they have touched an item that a menstruous woman has touched. (Leviticus 15:19-30)

Today we recognize this for what it is--overt sexism. Instead of embracing a literal interpretation of the text, we passed a Constitutional Amendment, gave women the right to vote, and have, on the whole, embraced the idea of equal rights and equal opportunities for women. Women are free to speak in American churches, while some denominations embrace the idea of female pastors.


In each of these cases we, as a society, agreed that The Bible and the early Church fathers had it wrong; we eased the obvious cognitive dissonance by interpreting the Bible to mean the opposite of what it actually said, and society made tremendous advances.


And the same thing will almost certainly happen when we grant equal marriage rights to gays and lesbians.




*See "WOMEN IN CHRISTIANITY AND ISLAM" for more information about the treatment of women.

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