I immediately get defensive when I see a person approaching me with a Bible in hand and a scowl on their face. I do not have anything against the Bible, the Koran, the Torah or any other religious “instruction” book. They all have some very interesting and worthwhile stuff in them. The reason I go on a “defensive” alert, however, is because 98% of the time that person is going to take exception to something I said by stating emphatically, “The Bible says….” For that person, if the Bible says it, then I am obligated to believe it or I am on the road to hell. The only problem with this way of thinking is that:
- the Bible sometimes contradicts itself.
- the same people who tell me that I have to believe what the Bible says word-for-word, more often than not, pick and choose only the passages that support their position or prejudice.
It would be easy to simply ignore these folks and hope that they will go away, but unfortunately there is too much violence and injustice on account of close-minded religion in our world to ignore them. Too often, such overly-righteous, judgmental people insist that their way of doing religion is the only way to do religion AND if you don’t do it their way, they might try to force it down your throat. Despite what we hear from the media, however, do not think for one moment that Islamic fundamentalists are the only ones guilty of inflicting pain or resorting to violence in order to convert the world to their way of thinking. Over the centuries, there are more than enough bodies pushing up daisies on account of Christians who insisted that it was “their way or the highway”.
A couple of Sundays ago after church, a man in a cowboy hat approached me with a Bible in hand and a frown on his face. I could only think to myself, “Here we go again!” I did not really have the energy or desire to argue with him. As a matter of fact, I decided long ago to avoid any more futile attempts to have a rational discussion with such folks. Generally, they are not interested in such open-minded conversation. They have already made up their minds.
I could not, however, avoid my cowboy-hatted friend and he did not contradict my expectations. “PJ, “ he said, “what do you think about gay marriage?”
“I am in support of two loving people getting married,” I replied.
“But PJ,” he countered, “the BIBLE SAYS it’s wrong!”
Thinking I might defuse the tension with humor, I said, “I suppose somewhere it might infer it, although I can’t think of where. Nevertheless, let me ask you this: The Bible also says women should have their heads covered in church and keep their mouths shut. I see your wife is not wearing a hat and is talking quite a bit with that lady next to her. I dare you to go over to those ladies and tell them to shut up and go get a hat!”
Surprisingly, the man didn’t bite my head off. Instead he asked, “Where does it say that?”
“In one of Paul’s letters,” I replied.
He thought for a moment and said thoughtfully, “Well, St. Paul probably wrote that for ‘back then.’”
I went for the jugular: “How do you know that? How did you decide what is for ‘back then’ or for ‘right now’? How do you know that any passage in the Bible that refers to homosexual behavior as sin was not written for ‘back then’ and applicable to ‘right now’?”
The man was quiet for a moment before he stunned me by concluding, “I don’t know the answer to that. I’ll have to think about it.” Then, he walked away.
I felt as if I had scored at least a minor victory. A major victory, however, might require the discarding of our current human-created religions and the creation of a new spiritual community that embraces what almost all religious people embrace as eternal, divine truths. The Higher Power we sense in our universe is most often described as a just, loving, grace-giving, peace-loving, hope-filled, creative Spirit that encourages all of humanity to stand for justice, live lovingly, err on the side of grace, engage in peacemaking and never, ever lose hope. If we measure our moral and ethical decisions by testing them against these divine, eternal values, maybe Christians, Muslims and Jews will stop killing each other. Perhaps when we encounter people who are different from us or do not believe the way we do, we can stop harshly judging them and instead try lovingly and respectfully to listen to them in order to gain new understanding and perhaps find some common ground.
Yes, that would be whole new religion, a new, positive, divinely inspired, unifying force in our world! Wait a minute! Such religions already exist! Maybe we only have to read our religious “instruction books” not as rulebooks, but as a source from which we can discover, through the thoughts and lives of those who have gone before us, the eternal and enduring truths that lead to a lasting interconnection between our hearts and the heart of the one we embrace as eternally Divine.
John E. Holt, Cotuit, MA