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21 February 2007

Interesting, The Best Thing Since Wrestling

I've written before about Christian fundamentalists and their selective reading of the Bible, particularly as it relates to the charging of interest.* It's good to know I'm not the only one who wonders how homosexuals can be kicked out of churches while bankers can be deacons. As usual, Slacktivist says it better than anyone:
Let's consider a case of actual conflict. Based on my e-mail, my fellow evangelical Christians are greatly interested in the matter of homosexuality. Many of my correspondents disagree with my advocacy of equal rights for homosexuals because they perceive such equality as incompatible with the teaching of scripture. I'm not talking here about the Phelpsian homophobes or those who seem primarily motivated by bigotry. I'm talking about people who seem like they wish they could agree with me, but feel they are not allowed to do so because they have no choice but to side with the map.

I don't think this perceived conflict is as substantial or as actual as they imagine. Their premise of unambiguous biblical teaching may be much closer to Hall's "biblical" geocentrism than they realize. (I don't want to get sidetracked here into a detailed exegetical analysis of the handful of New Testament passages dealing with the subject, so let me just generally point out that if your interpretation of scripture leads you to believe that "homosexuality is a choice," yet you cannot find a single homosexual who thinks this is so, then perhaps you ought to consider rethinking your interpretation.)

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that this is an actual instance of actual conflict and that I am, in this instance, siding with reason/experience against the text. In that case ...

Wait. You know what? This example is too easy. I'm a straight guy, and my evangelical critics on this matter seem also to be heterosexual, so this seems a bit too conveniently abstract. (It's also unseemly, too much like we're telling homosexuals, "You wait out in the hall while we discuss your fate. We'll call you in later and let you know what we decide.")

So let's pick an example that hits closer to home.

The Bible prohibits the charging of interest. No getting around it. This is explicit and unambiguous and more frequently discussed in scripture than is homosexuality. Jesus himself didn't just repeat this prohibition, he amplified it by forbidding the expectation of repayment. So no wiggle room there.

The charging of interest is, of course, the basis of our market economy. It is as unavoidable now as the air we breathe. I have several interest-bearing accounts (as well as, unfortunately, several interest-charging accounts). So does my local church. So does my denomination. So do even the least "worldly" of our coreligionists, the Amish. And so do, I'm guessing, my evangelical detractors who feel my advocacy of homosexual rights is "unbiblical."

How on earth do we justify this? More to the point, why is it that we don't even feel the need to bother to justify this?

I would argue that free markets can be a Good Thing. The charging of interest, when properly harnessed, can be a powerful engine for growth and prosperity, creating incentives for investment that makes possible many good things which would otherwise be impossible. The recognition of this fact, over the centuries, led to an evolution of our interpretation of the prohibition against usury. It ceased to mean the charging of any interest (even "the hundredth part" or 1 percent) and came to mean, instead, the charging of "excessive" interest. We began to reinterpret the evident meaning of the text in an effort to reconcile it with what we were learning about the world and how it works. The prohibition against usury remains in recognition of the principle contained in the text, a principle we continue to honor despite the sometimes laughably elastic application of that weasel-word excessive.

This argument can be challenged as mere "rationalization," in the psychological sense, an after-the-fact attempt at self-justification by a religious tradition whose adherents had become wealthy and worldly. But I would counter that in the non-psychological sense, rationalization is, well, rational. The application of reason is reasonable and necessary, and I find the reinterpretation of the prohibition against interest to be a reasonable step.

This reasonable step is regarded as noncontroversial when the matter involved is our own money. When the matter involved is someone else's sexuality, however, such a reasonable step is regarded as extremely controversial. Why do you suppose that is?
*An aside for all the people who surf through here looking for where to find the phrase "neither a borrower nor a lender be" in the Bible (and there seem to be a lot of you): It's from the apocryphal book of Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3.

Comments on "Interesting, The Best Thing Since Wrestling"

 

Blogger Geosomin said ... (2/23/2007 04:23:00 PM) : 

Your coherent thoughts and solid arguments are so very refreshing. I find myself agreeing with you time and again.

This post reminds me of a discussion with inlaws after a trip to Vancouver when we discussed the homeless people there-how it is so far out of hand. Comments like "well they just don't want help-if they just went to a shelter and got welfare they'd be fine". Sometimes the perspective of people who've never had hardships and face reality from a religous window can be baffling...and make me want to find a different window at times.
The no interest thing and homophobia has always baffled me. Somehow one has become so very important and the other...well, best not to talk about it.

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (3/04/2007 11:27:00 PM) : 

Hi Wasp....
Well, as i landed on this blog spot from "in another land" and "only visiting this planet" and was really trying to find the words to express a great american novel, it occured to me to look and listen to one blog and see what else this person possesses , and had to say ...... and from one so young with a love of a certain L Norman ... i mean, Larry is a little older than you.

As much as this posting is well presented, and i found myself thinking hard about what you had to say ......
i still wonder, if when you are comparing scripture, that you are second guessing God, if the Bible is the "inspired word of God".
I notice so many people give their opinion on what it says, without really considering the implication and implicit direction of God in this. Contrast and compare if God is to be believed, then you stand on shakey ground, and if you do not believe, then you are coming from a point of view that the Bible is nothing more than a interesting book to be reviled, revered, disputed or praised for it's interest sake.
Men/Woman/Clergy/Scholars seem to work out of a "personal" point of view, on this stand point. "We"/"They" make the Bible open to conjecture from all sides. Even to the point that maybe we could take out and inject any, all or part of what it says for our own means and beliefs.
If you do believe in "the Bible", you second guess the fact that God (not man) decided that Sodom and Gomorrah was to be wiped from the face of the earth because of their sins .....
and if you do not believe, then you are coming from a purely synical and dispassionate view point, unaffected by the real and absolute power and divinity of "God".
But hey, i am no Christian, (now) but know that if the Bible is Gods word, then who are we as mere mortals to argue HIS (God's) view point.
As for my point of view on such a subject, i have no homophobic tendencies, however, i think if you asked God, there might be a good argument to be had .....and what would happen if He answered??
I would really be interested in your retoric to me if you would like to......

i am steve , i do not have a blog spot here, but i do have one in bebo , although not updated .... my email is moojg@hotmail.com
Thanks for the time, and i used the Larry Norman lyrics to share a little of me to a lady i have met online in the States. I am from NZ (New Zealand)

bye for now.

 

Blogger Wasp Jerky said ... (3/08/2007 05:35:00 PM) : 

geosomin,

Thanks for your thoughts and for reading. And bonus points for being Canadian. I'm not that familiar with homelessness in Canada. I know in the U.S. that something like 20 percent of homeless men are veterans, a fact seemingly lost on a lot of people.

anonymous,

Thanks for your comments. I'll try to address these soon.

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (3/11/2007 11:08:00 PM) : 

thanks...

steve

 

Blogger Wasp Jerky said ... (5/03/2007 06:55:00 PM) : 

Steve,

Sorry for taking such a ridiculous amount of time to respond to your question. If you're still reading:

The post wasn’t so much about the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality as it was about the extremely narrow focus that a particular subset of very vocal Christians have in the United States. Such Christians focus on things like homosexuality, I think, because it’s easier to do that than to deal with much of the rest of what the Bible teaches.

Once you throw out the Old Testament sanctions against homosexuality, which no longer apply because they were part of the purity code, you’re only left with a handful of verses in the New Testament about the subject. And many of those verses are pretty questionable. For instance, both I Corinthians 6:9 and I Timothy 1:9 translate “homosexual” from two Greek words: malakoi arsenokoitai. The first of those words means soft. No one really knows what the second word means. At other times in history, those passages condemned people with “soft morals” and people who masturbate. Now the passage is translated to refer to homosexuals. That says more about the prejudices of the people translating those verses than it does about what the text actually says. In contrast, Jesus and the prophets have quite a bit to say about the way we treat the least of those among us, about economics and so on. Yet Christians in the United States seemingly have no problem accumulating wealth (and compared to most countries in the world, even the poorest of us are wealthy). Why focus on something of such minor importance at the expense of something that was clearly one of the focal points of Jesus’ ministry?

Part of the issue, I think, is Christians have a difficult time figuring out which bits of the Old Testament to keep living out. It’s pretty clear that Jesus completely rewrote the way the people of God are to act in many respects. Some Christians prefer to keep living by those rules anyway. Still, you have to jump through a lot of theological hoops to reconcile killing people in Iraq with Jesus saying love your enemy and turn the other cheek. “God is the same yesterday, today and forever” doesn’t get you very far when you have a very specific command to love your neighbour as yourself. Generally loving your neighbour means not killing him.

But I think you’re right. We all bring our own prejudices to the Bible. We all decide which parts to abide by and which parts aren’t so important. We all ignore the bits we’d rather not have to deal with, or we reevaluate the Bible in light of the modern world. The Bible is fairly pro-slavery, for instance. I don’t think too many Christians today would say that it’s acceptable to own slaves. Yet neither Jesus nor Paul condemn the practice. In fact, Paul basically tells slaves to behave themselves. You can argue that modern slavery is different than slavery in antiquity, or that the logical extension of the teachings of Jesus precludes the owning of slaves, or whatever you need to do to make the Bible really be anti-slavery. But the bottom line is that if homosexuality is still evil and if it’s still OK for Christians to fight in wars and kill people, then it’s still OK to own slaves.

All that, of course, completely ignores issues surrounding the Bible itself. I don’t necessarily regard the Bible as inerrant, which I think is a pretty modern phenomenon. And I believe that Jesus, not the Bible, is the Word of God. In other words, while I consider the Bible important, I don’t, unlike a lot of Christians, consider it to be the fourth member of the Trinity.

All of that really to say, for me two men having bareback sex isn’t all that important when thousands of people are starving to death each day. If that makes me a bad Christian, I guess I’ll just have to deal with the consequences.

(And by the way, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for being “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” (see Ezekial 16:49-50, Matthew 10:14-15 and Jewish tradition).)

 

Blogger ding said ... (5/15/2007 10:43:00 PM) : 

i think you get a slow clap for that response.

i'm secretly going to crib from this when my pastor dad comes to visit. heh.

 

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