Thursday, October 28, 2010

Some common sense thoughts on the Bible, same-sex marriage and abortion

I found this opinion article by Michael Coogan really interesting. He nicely summarizes what I've always felt about the Bible: Take from it the valuable lessons about treating others well and being a good citizen, and leave from it the sexist, racist, out-dated and old fashioned ideas (after all, it was written thousands of years ago! Times have changed!)

Unless you've been living in a cave for the last few years, you'll know that tension is rising in America between Christians and non-Christians, and some of the big issues that cause that tension are abortion and gay marriage. Below are a few paragraphs from Coogan's article that address these issues in the way I wish all Americans could address them: with common sense. It seems to me that common sense is not all that common anymore! Anyway, enough of my ramble, here's what Coogan has to say:

When talking about so-called family values, pastors, popes, and politicians routinely quote the Bible as if it were an unassailable divine authority -- after all, they assume, God wrote the Bible, and therefore it is absolutely and literally true.

But that is a misconception. As the Bible itself makes clear, its authors were human beings, many of whom are named: David, Isaiah, Luke, and Paul. These human writers wrote over the course of more than a thousand years, and their writings reflect their own views and the values they shared with their contemporaries. So it's not surprising that inconsistencies are frequent in the Bible, both trivial and profound.

Although Jews and Christians, individually and collectively, have for the last 2,000 years accepted the Bible as authoritative in principle, in practice many of its values have been rejected. On issues such as slavery, no one today would maintain that slavery is acceptable, even though, according to the Bible, it was a divinely sanctioned institution. In the debates about slavery in the 19th century those opposed to its abolition cited the Bible in support of their position, but despite such biblical warrant, their views were renounced.

According to biblical law, a father could sell his daughter as a slave, and the last of the Ten Commandments lists as off-limits a neighbor's possessions -- his house, wife, slaves, and livestock. But the majority of modern Jews and Christians no longer accept the biblical view of women as men's property and hence subordinate to them, as they have also abandoned the biblical practice of polygamy.

In current debates about family values, most of which have to do with sex, opponents of abortion and advocates of a woman's right to choose both cite the Bible in support of their conflicting views, even though the Bible in fact says nothing specifically about the issue. And with regard to same-sex marriage, although the few biblical writers who mention same-sex relationships, especially between men, were unequivocally opposed to them, many contemporary believers would argue that, as with slavery and the status of women, it is time to recognize that the values of the biblical writers are no longer necessarily our own.

Opponents of same-sex marriage cite Leviticus, which says that when a man sleeps with a man as with a woman it is an abomination. They're right: It does say that. But it later calls for the death penalty for such activity, which only the most rabid opponents would insist on. The Bible also calls eating pork and a woman wearing a man's clothes abominations, yet many would no longer enforce such prohibitions.

So, I suggest, the essence of the Bible -- its ultimate authority -- is not in its individual pronouncements, but in its underlying message: equal, even loving, treatment of all persons, regardless of their age, gender, socio-economic status, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

To read the full article, click here.

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