Monday, June 23, 2014

Fairness And Other Nonsense in the Gospels

I don't think Erick Erickson is a Viking, despite the name.  He's a conservative pundit who recently wrote about Christianity and the "gay mafia" (his term), the point being that Erick's  god will smite (smite!) gays and lesbians and orders true believers to disapprove of same-sex love.  That particular god also approves of the stoning of adulterers and otherwise matches the ancient models of the gods of thunder. 

Because humans interpret and define divinity on the basis of their own understanding, warlike cultures get war gods and so on.  The views of divinity change over time.  That's why the god in the Bible appears to have multiple personalities.  Only some of those, for example, want to oppress women a lot.  Jesus doesn't have much to say about the importance of keeping women down or about the perfidy of gayness.

Which brings me to the quote from Erick, the son of Erick, which I find most illuminating:

When preachers give up that prophetical role and focus only on the pastoral, we get people claiming the gospel is about fairness and other nonsense.
I'm for fairness and other nonsense myself.  But it's certainly true that any religion with staying power will be fuzzy and muddled enough (and even more so after a lot of interpretations) that almost anyone can find something in it to match their desires about how the divinity should be.  Thus we get the smiting god, the god who drinks blood, the god who chases the traders out of the temple, the god who defends the prostitute, the jealous god, the grieving god, the loving god, even the fairness-and-other-nonsense god.

And if your particular variety isn't catered for, you can always start a new sect.  For instance, one which tells that rich people are rich because god wants them to be rich, or one which tells you that you can have as many wives as you wish.

Religions also have wonderful aspects, great messages and the ability to help those who suffer.  At the same time, humans interpret presumed divine words (or their ideas of those) pretty poorly, on the whole.  We are very clever at stressing the bits we like and ignoring the bits we don't like.  Those who support literal readings of holy books are not much bothered by the fact that they talk about aspects of cultures which existed centuries ago and sometimes refer to very specific historic events or by the fact that literal readings are ultimately not feasible, because of both the internal inconsistencies they create and because of the problems of interpreting the meanings of ancient languages today.

What are you going to nail your view of life to?  That might be the ultimate question which religions try to answer, but as the case of Erick Erickson demonstrates, the answer depends on the wielder of the hammer.