In the Tuesday, Aug. 27, edition of the Red Deer Advocate, Guillermo Barron takes Bill Pogmore to task for pointing out that the Bible condemns homosexuality. “And he’s exactly right,” claims Barron, referring to the Levitical injunction to execute homosexuals. (Lev. 20:13)
Then he goes on to list various other capital offences mentioned in the Law of Moses. Turning to the New Testament, he also wonders whether Luke 18:22-25 indicates that God dislikes the wealthy, but I fail to understand his exegesis. Why does Christ’s suggestion that one person share his wealth constitute dislike of the wealthy as a group? And when Barron wonders about God’s possible disapproval of the traditional family, he cites Matthew 10:35-37, but this passage simply asserts that in the Judeo-Roman world, becoming a Christian would not make you popular with your relatives. Again, I question his analysis.
I’ll be charitable and simply surmise that Mr. Barron is not Christian-bashing but simply reacting in kind to an overly literal reading of the Bible. If so, his use of satire is instructive, since literalism and fundamentalism are tearing the world apart as we speak, although Christians certainly have no monopoly on this error.
After pointing out the diversity of opinions among Christians, he wonders “… why is it so hard for (God’s) followers to actually find out what (the Deity’s) plan is?” Actually, it’s quite easy. In Mark 12: 28-31, we read that one of the teachers of the law who had heard Jesus debating, asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” And Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” In Matthew 7:12, he tells us to do for others what we would like them to do for us.
Humankind intuitively recognizes the wisdom of this. Not only Christian groups, but all major world religions profess the Golden Rule, and if the “inhuman race” would only practice it, there would be no wars, drug addictions, violence, bullying, suicide bombings, or similar evils. The whole spectrum of nastiness would disappear. Love would displace politics as religion’s driving force. This is what the apostle James means when he says that “… the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does.” (1:25) In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul adds that ”… we have been released from the law, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (7:6)
Discrimination is another matter, though. To discriminate means to differentiate. It is simply not possible to avoid all discrimination, nor should we have to. When we jail child molesters or murderers, for example, we have discriminated against them, but in a positive sense. Society must be protected from those who ignore their responsibilities, or chaos will result. The crunch comes when we disagree on what is damaging to individuals and society as a whole, but we do have the Golden Rule to guide us in everything, including our attitudes and practices toward homosexuals.
In our pluralistic society, we occasionally also need to react with toleration and even humour, even while considering certain concepts and practices repugnant. On a visit to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, we encountered a bumper sticker which referred to heterosexuals as “breeders.” The intent was likely to point out that heterosexuals are supposedly responsible for overpopulating the Earth, thereby stressing the environment. Did that bit of discrimination constitute a hate crime against heterosexuals? Perhaps, but we tolerate that sort of thing. Ironically, no homosexual would exist without the active collaboration of heterosexuals!
Another word that is often carelessly and inappropriately used in this connection is “homophobia,” Phobia means fear, not disapproval. Yet it is entirely possible to oppose something that doesn’t necessarily frighten you. Does Barron’s opposition to Christianity make him “christophobic?”
He also wonders whether “… God keeps his real priorities under wraps because he wants to sow religious discord.” No — God is good, by definition. Webster describes God as “the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness whom men worship as creator and ruler of the universe.” So if religious discord exists, it is not the fault of God, but of God’s purported followers.
“Or maybe he’s not even there,” adds Barron. That, of course, is difficult to prove, one way or another. When a Christian looks at the sky, (s)he sees the handiwork of God. When an atheist does so, (s)he sees the product of naturistic processes.
We need to recognize that what we think we’re observing depends on certain a priori commitments we’ve made.
Most Canadians, continues Barron, “are pretty committed to a democratic state that accepts everyone, no matter what their religious or sexual orientation (as long as they don’t threaten the social order.)” But then why are female Canadians, who constitute over half the population, ignored in our national anthem, when it urges, “True patriot love in all thy sons command?” And women are also under-represented in our assemblies. It seems that our liberal democracy also has some serious shortcomings.
Note Barron’s own fundamentally sexist assumptions about God as well. God is referred to as “he,” “he’s” and “his.” Is Barron being swept along uncritically by the majority of Christians? Or of our democratic state? By contrast, consider that the Bible also contains many feminine metaphors about God, such as in Isaiah 49:15 and Luke 13:34, and that these were written in times of male domination. God transcends the material world. God’s nature is spiritual and therefore asexual.
Barron is right when he states that “… merely quoting the Bible won’t necessarily shake our values.” Our society has indeed lost its Christian consensus. We live in a post-Christian age. In many circles, appealing to the Bible is probably less effective than appealing to Wikipedia. Pity. In Genesis, God makes males and females co-responsible managers of the earth, and in his letter to the Galatians (3:28) the supposedly sexist apostle Paul asserts that in Christ, “there is neither … male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
What probably bothers me most about Mr. Barron’s thinking, though, is that he’s apparently religiously committed to the god of reason, but doesn’t recognize this. Reason seems to be his ultimate source of meaning: “cogito ergo sum”. Let me ask: if the path of reason is so satisfying and salutary, why did it help produce at least three major revolutions, with all their respective violence, terror, and injustice? I refer, of course, to the French, American, and Russian Revolutions. How could reason produce such destructive polar opposites as individualism and collectivism? It seems the rationalists are not all on the same page either — no better than the Christians.
In my opinion, the main religious problem with the “inhuman race” is that we keep creating gods in our own image, rather than acknowledging that we’ve been made to reflect God. That’s to be expected when our natural desire is to be in control.
As one sage put it, “Civilization will really advance when the love of power is replaced by the power of love.”
Jacob M. Van Vliet
Red Deer County