Friday, April 17, 2009

Enemies of Harvey Milk

"You can argue with me, but you cannot argue with God." -character of former Senator John Briggs in Gus Van Sant's 'Milk'

There's man's law, and then there's God's law. Man's law is a driver's license, taxes and orderly conduct. It keeps a society under control. God's law is quite different. It can be learned in books like Leviticus and Exodus, and should be applied as universal truth for all men for all time. It is unchanging and perfect.

I searched some other blogs for topics on 'Man's Law vs. God's Law,' and came across this gem from an extreme-right brother: "You may not believe in God, that is your God given right, but what you cannot deny is the immutability the laws he has given us and of our equality under those laws." This was his closing sentence. He has granted the reader the right to not believe in God, but he has denied the right to not believe in God's Law. I'm not sure how you can believe in an effect without also believing in a cause, but I suppose this blogger has the right to believe in such a thing...

There's a scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou in which Delmar gets saved. "All my sins been washed away, including that Piggly Wiggly I knocked up... Neither God nor man's got nothin' on me now," he beams. But then Everett reminds him, "Even if it did put you square with the Lord, the state of Mississippi's a little more hard-nosed."

So we can be eternally free of all sin in the eyes of the creator and God of the universe and yet still have to answer a measly little man-made ordinance? Non-believers call it contradiction, Christians just say one truth supersedes another. And Christians take this "higher law" and try to apply it to political situations all of the time. It's the strongest arm against abortion and homosexual marriage today.

But this is nothing new. People have been trying to use "God's law" to supersede equal rights for as long as America has existed. Interestingly, "God's law" is the thing that segregates people (I mean this altogether in the context of America's history, and do not think that Jesus would give our history a thumb's up). Man's law unites, but God's law divides. It's not just gay rights, it was civil rights for the blacks, and it was women's rights too, and those are just the obvious examples. People in positions of power have been trying to use the Bible as a means to control for a very long time. (Has anyone heard of Constantinople?)

There's something people should know about "God's law" though. If it hasn't been made clear already, this divine "law" is no different from man's law.

I searched the word "homosexual" in the NIV Bible. It appears once, in first Corinthians chapter 6. It is grouped this way: "Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." Interesting that it doesn't merely say "homosexuals," but rather "homosexual offenders." What really caught my eye was a verse in the previous chapter though: "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?" Whoa. Wait a minute. What was that? Was I just reading the Bible in context? Am I to assume that it's improper to take one verse from the Bible as objective truth without first looking at the surrounding passages?

There's no such thing as a single verse. Each one is a link in a chain.

What we must remember is that I'm quoting from something that was written a couple thousand years ago. And when it was written, it wasn't these exact words. Truly, this piece of writing has gone through changes. The Bible that we have today was not only written by humans, but was interpreted and re-interpreted by many more humans. Whatever we read in the NIV version of Corinthians may very well be similar to what was written 2000 years ago, but we will never know. We do not have original manuscripts, only copies of copies of copies. And translations of translations of translations. Humans decided which books to be included in the canon of scripture. And humans decided to compile the "Holy Bible."

Ever make a really great mix CD? That's kind of how the Council of Trent did it. They found their favorite epistles and letters, put them together in a comfortable order. It's the best mix of holy writings we've seen in 500 years (that's right, we've only had the immutable and inerrant "Word of God" available to us as it is for about 500 years...), sure there have been some quality remixes in the way of The New Living Translation and The Purpose Driven Life, but the best-seller is still the source.

Another appropriate quote from O Brother, Where Art Thou is when we meet Big Dan the Cyclops. The Bible salesman explains his job: "What do I sell? The truth! Every blessed word of it, from Genesis on down to Revelation. That's right, the Word of God, which, let me tell you, there is damn good money in during these times of woe and want. People are lookin' for answers, and Big Dan sells the only book that's got 'em." The only book with answers? That's the line. Absolute truth. Written by a human, read by humans, believed by humans. For nearly 500 years now.

Men use this Bible to claim authority. They say that it doesn't come from anything of their own worldly nature, but from what is the ultimate truth of God.

I know that referencing the Westboro Baptist Church on a blog is all too predictable these days, but it's an important example to drive home what I'm saying. Sure they're extreme, but this church proves that (in this country especially) people can interpret the Bible to mean whatever they want. The Bible really is a masterful piece of writing in that way, and I don't say this with any hint of sarcasm or cynicism. Some of the greatest art humans have produced admonishes a timeless quality through its ambiguity. Just look around, how many denominations of the Christian faith are there again? Hundreds? Thousands? It's the result of a powerfully ambiguous book.

When politicians claim to adhere to a higher law, they fool themselves. Their law is what they want it to be. The Bible is full of good and evil, and has been interpreted to mean so many different things... It means something to me, and it means something to you. Who's right? Who's wrong? ...Wait a minute, why am I even asking these questions? What does being right and wrong have to do with Christianity? I thought this was about loving our neighbors.

I'm not going to say what I think of abortion and homosexual marriage right now. That would make this post way too long (maybe another day). But I think it's time to stop using the Bible like a magic wand. It is literature, and appeals to our spiritual nature. It is not meant to be a civics textbook (or a history or science textbook either... Ken Ham.). I will argue that this human-penned book is something that should not be interpreted literally. If that were the case, we wouldn't have so many different denominations. But the subjective nature of the Bible is one of its greatest strengths. You might see in it something that I could never see, and nobody should be wrong for interpreting it differently.

Maybe someday people will stop saying things like "I don't believe in the separation between church and state." I hope I live to see the day. We have freedom to believe whatever dumbass thing we want. The Bible gives us this right (free will), and America does so as well (Constitution), let's stop "superseding" and put an end to "judging those outside of the church." Oh, dear readers, is it even possible?

Man rewrites God's laws every day. But this blog post was not one of them.

1 comment:

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