Sunday, January 30, 2005

Establishing A “Culture Of Life”

As an economist I am often amazed at how many people spout nonsense about economics, often misquoting something Adam Smith supposedly said, but who haven’t actually read anything he wrote. The same can be said about the Bible, which people love to talk about even if they haven’t actually read it. Readers of this site know that I am a regular critic of religion, but I have read the Bible (as well as many other major religious texts, including the Koran, the Upanishads, and various Buddhist Sutras), and I recently decided to read it again. With both this week’s celebration and condemnation of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I wanted to understand more precisely what Christians are referring to when they mention the “culture of life” that the Bible inspires them to establish in society.

What I discovered may surprise you (or maybe not).

Most of the Bible describes an intensely violent and vengeful Creator who routinely murders huge swaths of humanity, many of them innocent children (ones outside of the womb). This Creator adheres to a sense of justice that is often seemingly arbitrary (which is by definition unjust) and disproportionate. And no, this isn’t just in the Old Testament. Jesus says specifically that he has come to “bring the sword” and speaks repeatedly about the wrath God is going to unleash on the world in no uncertain terms, and doesn’t seem to be bothered by this (despite the fact that in other passages he preaches peace). The final chapter of the New Testament, Revelation, describes the coming apocalypse in graphic detail, culminating in the final cleansing of the earth in which only 144,000 are going to be left standing. If we take the present population as a guide that’s six billion dead, and we’re not talking peaceful death in your sleep.

The final lines of Revelation inform us that anyone who changes the words in the slightest way or doesn’t believe them will suffer plagues and be denied “the tree of life” (a rather harsh punishment for exercising critical thinking don’t you think?). What’s particularly eerie (especially in light of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz) is that Revelation talks about how after this epic bloodbath God is going to remake everything better than it was, which is almost word for word what dictators have used to justify their dreams of world conquest throughout history. The story of Revelation has now been popularized by the Left Behind series which has broken almost all records for book sales, selling more than 40 million copies to “true believers.”

The bottom line: the God of the Bible does not treat people as precious miracles that must be preserved at all cost, but instead as easily dispensable vessels that can be disposed of at will by horrific means if they upset “Him.” The obsession with the “sanctity of life” (which is in many ways a good obsession) that is expressed so often within the Christian community has little basis in what is actually written in the book from which they draw their inspiration (a rough unscientific estimate is that less than 1% of the Bible espouses such a view).

What I am saying is certain to upset some religious people, but facts are facts; this is what the Bible says. Certainly, some people may argue that I am taking the text too literally (something people like me often criticize religious people for), but what I have described is repeated so many times and in such explicit language throughout the text that there is no other way to interpret it without rendering the Bible ultimately meaningless; after all, if this isn’t really how we are supposed to believe God acts why mention it hundreds of times in gruesome detail?

Where does this leave us?

If we want to create a larger “culture of life” (which is a noble goal and hopefully would include more than just humans), we are going to need more than Bible and the Christian religion to do it. I am not claiming that there aren’t isolated passages of the Bible that could be used to promote the sanctity of life, only that the overall thrust of the text portrays God as a deity who does not treat each individual as sacred. In fact, the ease with which the God of the Bible kills people and their innocent offspring is inconsistent with the dominant sense of morality almost all people share and strive for these days.

Future posts will be dedicated to suggesting alternative frameworks that might do a better job of establishing the moral framework for a “culture of life,” which I believe should extend to non-humans. In the meantime, I’m curious what you all think, both the religious and non-religious.

As a side note, on the blog “www.freerepublic.com” (a GOP-friendly website) I pointed out a couple of these uncomfortable facts about the Bible in a low-key way (no profanity, no name calling, and prefaced by saying that I didn’t want to offend anybody) since I wanted a response from religious Republicans. I think this is a serious issue given that “moral values” and the role of (Christian) religion in society are such major topics these days. What did I get? My posting privileges were immediately revoked from the site. I guess freedom for these Republicans only means the freedom to echo the party line. What a shame, but unfortunately, not surprising and very in line with the way the Bush administration conducts its affairs.

J.S.

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