Friday, May 06, 2011

All things bright and beautiful

How Many Gays Must God Create Before We Accept That He Wants Them Around?

Those were the words of Rep. Steve Simon on May 2nd at a Minnesota House committee hearing on the proposed gay marriage ban amendment to the Minnesota Constitution. You've probably seen the video, but just in case you haven't, here it is:

In his remarks, Rep. Simon observed that most of the objections to gay marriage lodged at the hearing were on religious grounds; he raised the question about whether that was appropriate to make law on that basis, regardless of how strongly the objectors held those beliefs.

Perhaps in other words, your truth is not necessarily my truth. Rep. Simon is right about this, but it is hard to say this to religious fundamentalists, and even harder to get it to sink in.

Rep. Simon's words stand in counterpoint to those of Katherine Kersten, delivered in her cudgel for Easter Day, that I posted about here:
[T]hey [the left and the opinion elites] don't like the idea of truth -- the idea that there is, in the nature of things, a blueprint for human flourishing. They don't like the notion of moral parameters that limit our actions on matters such as cloning, stem cell use, abortion or marriage. They believe that man can make himself: that there is no "floor" to the universe.
Kersten, and the objecters to gay marriage that Rep. Simon was addressing, are pushing the "natural law" position: laws come from God. Kersten and the people testifying to oppose gay marriage get to tell us what God really meant.

But not so fast. Can we really be sure these people, or the humans who wrote the Bible, or those who seek to interpret it now, really know the mind of God? Let's consider some other examples of people claiming to speak for the Almighty.

One of the first persons who springs to mind for me is Pope Urban II, who called for the First Crusade and its charming brother, the People's Crusade, in 1095. Urban was one of the guys in a string of cheerleaders for religious carnage in the Middle East that has taken place ever since. His osensible purpose was to "save" the eastern orthodox churches from the Muslims, but he clearly hoped that reunification would cement his status as pope numero uno in the Christian church.

Let's skip forward now to the Spanish Inquisition and the loveable Tomás de Torquemada. Torquemada was a poster child for religious belief, um, carefully applied. Ol' Tomás was the first Inquisitor General in Spain, and he laid down a mark that others have been striving to meet for centuries.

Or imagine the help that the Roman Inquisition and Pope Urban VII gave to Galileo in seeing the error of his ways, thinking that the earth was not the center of the universe, poor misguided sap.

But you say, these were the olden days; the church is much better now. Why, modern church leaders couldn't hold a candle to the feet of Torquemada! Let's see.

Clearly, the Christian church was wholly and unalterably opposed to slavery. Well, wasn't it?
[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.

Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America
Or how about this one:
The right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.

Rev. R. Furman, D.D., Baptist, of South Carolina
 And my personal favorite from the same site:
The doom of Ham has been branded on the form and features of his African descendants. The hand of fate has united his color and destiny. Man cannot separate what God hath joined. 
Africans and slavery joined happily in marriage?

The Bible was also trotted out by the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa to justify apartheid.
The history of the church has been very much bound with the politics of the Afrikaner community of South Africa. The church supported the system of apartheid, which institutionalized separation and stratification of the people of South Africa according to race. The social segregation of Black, Coloured and White people was reflected in the establishment of churches of these three groups. In the 1980s the [Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa] was expelled from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches for its support of apartheid. In 1986 the church showed its repentance by preaching for all members of all racial groups to pray under, one umbrella, thus making South African history by welcoming Black people back in the church.
Christian leaders haven't always had such great attitudes toward women, either. Of course, there is plenty of support for their positions in the Bible.
Women should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children...If a woman grows weary and, at last, dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing - she is there to do it. 
Martin Luther
Or how about this one:
If it were not for some [divine] power that wanted the feminine sex to exist, the birth of a woman would be just another accident, such as that of other monsters [= a dog with two heads, a calf with five legs, etc.]
Thomas Aquinas
The Christian church's profound conservatism can even be found in the Anglican hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful, the third stanza of which is:
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
He made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.
A splendid little shout out to feudalism, or at least the class system, isn't it? And let's not forget the divine right of kings!

And I'll cite one last example. Martin Luther King wrote his famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail to the members of the clergy in Birmingham, Alabama who had urged him to go slow on civil rights.

In each and every one of the examples I've cited, there were people who thumped on their spittle-flecked Bibles and argued for subjugation or exploitation of, bigotry against, or the outright killing of people.

Kudos to Rep. Steve Simon for at least beginning to articulate the problem.

No comments: