Sunday, October 24, 2010

Don't Believe Everything You Read

I am just going to say it:

A literal interpretation of this writing leads to absolute abominations.
Am I talking about Hustler? The Marquis de Sade's libertine novel Juliette? Joseph Goebbels' anti-Semitic ravings?


It's the book that John Muir's father deemed “the only book human beings could possibly require,” the book that both Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama used to swear to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, the book that is so often quoted to justify hatred and violence.

I'm not just talking about loons like the Westboro Baptist Church, Rev. Donald Spitz or James Dobson. I'm thinking of people like a very nice lady who was my mom's friend, who took us out on her boat when the kids were little. Somehow we got into a discussion where she espoused the view that AIDS was God's punishment for homosexuality. I was as stunned as if she had mooned me and crapped on the deck. I disagreed with her politely (after all, we were on a boat, and I needed to get back on dry land eventually) and we moved on to other topics. But it was an epiphany for me. It's not just whack jobs like Dr. Laura who think this way.

I've been working on my upcoming Freedom of Religion class, reviewing popular culture films and television shows to serve as discussion starters. Here's a doozie on this theme.

I LOVE this clip. I love the writing. I love the delivery. And I have adored Martin Sheen since sixth grade, when a teacher screened The Missiles of October, in which he played Bobby Kennedy.

Just in case you can't get the clip to play, here's the script excerpt.

Bartlet: "Good. I like your show. I like how you call homosexuality ‘an abomination.'"

Jacobs: "I don't say homosexuality is an abomination Mr. President. The Bible does."

Bartlet: "Yes it does. Leviticus-"

Jacobs: "18:22."

Bartlet launches into an impassioned diatribe interspersed with shots of an uncomfortable Jacobs fidgeting: "Chapter and verse. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I'm interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She's a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? [silence in the room] While thinking about that can I ask another? My chief-of-staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police?

"Here's one that's really important, 'cause we've got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side-by-side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads? Think about those questions, would you.

"One last thing. While you may be mistaking this for your monthly meeting of the ignorant tight-ass club, in this building when the President stands, nobody sits."

This is not to say that I don't acknowledge there are lots of great lessons in the Bible. Many of my friends do wonderful things, helping others in amazing ways. They choose to focus on the aspect of love rather than be judgemental.

As a teacher and parent, I've been encouraged to foster critical thinking in learners and my own children. To comprehend, analyze and evaluate rather than simply swallowing whole everything I hear or read.

I find it troubling that some folks who rationalize their prejudices do so by contending they believe everything in the Bible, yet ignore many, many parts of it. If you're going to be a fundamentalist, I don't think you get to pick and choose.


Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

That is fantastic--and know I want to start watching West Wing all over from the beginning and I DO NOT have time for that.

Miss Healthypants said...

I couldn't agree more.

And I have to say, when I read your words "I was as stunned as if she had mooned me and crapped on the deck"--I literally laughed out loud. :) I would SO have felt the same way. :) :)

Mrs. Chili said...

I love, love, LOVE Sheen's Bartlet. I wish we could have HIM for President.

AMEN on this (and yes, I see the irony in that statement...). It's practically anti-American to denounce the way some Christians practice their faith so, consequently, no one is doing it. A little dose of healthy perspective would be nice, but I don't see that happening anytime soon, and it leads me to despair.

Have you seen this clip? Right along the same lines:

We need people putting pressure on leaders to denounce these nutjobs.

Jason, as himself said...

This is my all-time favorite West Wing moment. Thank you for posting this!

secret agent woman said...

I love the West Wing and Martin Sheen. And I have used some of these same passages arguing with Biblical literalists myself. And oh, how I especially love the barely-veiled jab at that hypocritical deceptive crackpot, Laura Schlesinger, passing herself off as a psychological expert..

lisleman said...

oh my I just read this on a Sunday.
I'm glad you posted that clip I like it and I had not seen it before.
I wish everyone spend more time learning about other religions. There are common ideas in them because (IMHO) the reasons for religion were common issues in society.

Aunt Snow said...

Yeah, I'm with you here. The other thing that fundamentalists seem to miss about the Bible, is that it's just a collection of random writings that happened to be chosen by a bunch of guys trying to put together what was, in essence, a political organization. They naturally chose to leave out writings from "saints" whose ideas didn't fit theirs.

A person may believe that the Bible was inspired by/"written by" God, but if that's the case, then human beings decided to pick certain pieces of God's writings over others. Unless we somehow stretch our beliefs to think that God guided the hands of the power hungry and battling church fathers?

That's like believing Sarah Palin was told by God to run for office.

Oops. What a minute.

Aunt Snow said...

I mean "wait a minute." Durh.

Stu said...

I can skip haircuts now? Phew, there is 20 bucks saved every month...

CashmereLibrarian said...

These people make me so, so tired. Amazingly, people I love follow this "pick and choose" reading of the Bible. Sometimes I get tired using a civilized Socratic method to make my point and go back to my seventh grade self: You're an idiot.

Emm said...

Great post Forrest! That episode of West Wing was so powerful.

I think by definition, the sheer presence of a "new" testament telling people that they no longer had to follow 99% of the rules of the "old" testament was problematic. That never made me comfortable.

Charles Pergiel said...

I've tried to read the bible a couple of times. Didn't pan out. From what I have heard other people say about it though, there are two parts: the old testament and the new testament, and they basically contradict each other. I am pretty sure you can find something in the bible to back up whatever you want to believe in.