|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.*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.
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?