The next great task for the human race is to wean ourselves off literal interpretations of religion. We need to eradicate fundamentalism in all its forms.
Atheism is no help. Human beings are spiritual and look for meaning. Science holds answers but not "THE" answer we look for and long for. Family life and love -- continuity of relationships -- come closest for fulfilling our longing for purpose.
As I argue in my book Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism) the answer to fundamentalism, literal-minded religion and all the horror and absurdity they create is to work on the evolution of religion: reject false certainties rooted in myth and embrace myth as a window into the unknowable.
Clearly the issue for any sane Christian believer (or any believer in not just religion but any human construct, including science) is how to decide what parts of the moral teaching of the Bible (or Koran, or scientific theory) to edit or discard and what to live by.
Those of us who have no problem with celebrating the fact that some people are created gay, or that other people live with a girlfriend or boyfriend because marriage isn't always the best way to relate to a lover, have drawn an admittedly arbitrary circle of what is acceptable to them a bit wider than other believers have.
But the truth is no one (not even the dourest Reconstructionist Christian or Orthodox Jew) takes everything any religion teaches completely seriously, let alone practices it faithfully.
The truth is that interpreting religion is just that: interpreting. All that means is that common sense and compassion are the filters through which we look at religion, as we do with all of life. There is such a thing as freedom of conscience and the right to think!
In that sense everyone is a "liberal" and those who pretend they are consistent to their stated creeds are liars.
The big "Moral Teachings" fundamentalists love so much because they provide a stick with which religious bullies may beat their fellow human beings into submission, are meaningless. If these same anti-gay or anti-abortion advocates actually took their Bibles literally they would be weighing people at their church door to check for gluttony and excommunicating half the parish for being overweight. As it says in Philippians (3:18-19); "For many... walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things."
Well, there goes the whole of American God-is-their-belly porkers-for-Jesus evangelicalism with its consumer-oriented free enterprise "ethic" and overeating!
Or what of Romans 13:13: "Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy." In this verse orgies and quarreling are denounced as equally evil.
So that's it folks: since the very existence of competing seminaries is in its essence a quarrel about theology, therefore all theologians that oppose the views of other theologians have been dismissed by Paul as working against God's will in the same way that participants in orgies are denounced. So let's pick on quarreling theologians and not on gays!
Or maybe the best thing is to not single out anyone. How many fundamentalist Southern Baptists strive to apply this verse literally to their daily lives? "If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity."
Admit it: the Bible is nuts in many places. Who follows this stuff? No one! So why stick it to people for choosing to not follow homophobic nonsense?
So why do do fundamentalist take verses on gay love any more seriously than on cutting off that woman's hand? I never met an Orthodox Jew who did that either, for all their talk about strict adherence to the Scriptures.
And here's a verse you don't hear preached on much these days: "Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin and threw it at Moses' feet, and she said, "You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me.'" (Exodus 4:24-25)
Now THAT'S a wedding gift worthy of some real "family values!"
We're morally evolving as a species and each new stage is always in tension with the prior stage. For instance, how would even the strictest of churches apply this teaching to one of their parishioners who had just had a bad car accident? "No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord." (Deuteronomy 23:1)
My proposal is this: To be true to the heart of the gospel message -- redemption through selflessness, hope, justice and love -- necessitates a new and fearless repudiation of parts of the same book (and tradition) that also bring us a message of hate.
To find the spiritual truth that is hidden within the Bible it must be mentally "edited" by people of goodwill who are informed by the spiritual truth we carry within our evolving ethical selves.
The loyalty of those who wish to live as Christians (as opposed to those who wish to force others to be like them by using Christianity as a weapon), must shift from fidelity to the Bible (or any other text) to seeking the life-affirming message of transcendence buried within the madness, ignorance and fear that we discover not just in the darker portions of all "sacred" texts, but in every human heart.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His new book is Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism)
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