I’ve been too busy to read the Times for the past couple days, and I’m making up for it now… so please excuse all the Times-linked posts. I can’t help it. NPR may be next.
Anyway, Kristof (who I love, but know is disputed in many feminist circles for his paternalistic tendencies) is right on this week as he covers the new book, “The Sins of Scripture.” He goes after conservative Christians for clothing themselves in the Bible while not acting particularly Christ-like. Of course, this isn’t new stuff; “Christian” politicians and leaders have been selectively quoting from the Bible for centuries, using it to justify everything from slavery to mass slaughter to the virtual enslavement of women. Politicized interpretations of the Bible have also lead to the virulent anti-sex mentality that seems to have always been attached to the church. Kristof writes:
Christianity may have become unfriendly to women’s rights partly because, in its early years, it absorbed an antipathy for sexuality from the Neoplatonists. That led to an emphasis on the perpetual virginity of Mary, with some early Christian thinkers even trying to preserve the Virgin Mary’s honor by raising the possibility that Jesus had been born through her ear.
The squeamishness about sexuality led the church into such absurdities as a debate about “prelapsarian sex”: the question of whether Adam and Eve might have slept together in the Garden of Eden, at least if they had stayed longer. St. Augustine’s dour answer was: Maybe, but they wouldn’t have enjoyed it. In modern times, this same discomfort with sex has led some conservative Christians to a hatred of gays and a hostility toward condoms, even to fight AIDS.
One thing I think Kristof is particularly correct on is his suggestion to take on conservatives for their un-Christ-like behavior instead of insulting them or mocking religion (and this is something that I have certainly been guilty of). What are the basic tenets of Christianity? How did Jesus behave? With charity, love and kindness. He helped the poor. He treated women well. Yes, he made particular demands of his followers, but the most in need were given healing and real help, not just a promise of salvation (although that was certainly there too). It’s fair to ask, if Jesus was alive today, would he be waging an unnecessary war in Iraq, or would he be making sure that every kid has access to healthcare? Throwing billions at the Pentagon, or directing a fraction of that to battle world hunger, HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis? Dropping an exhorbitant sum on inaugural festivities, or urging world leaders to step in and end genocide in Darfur? Just some thoughts. I’ll let Kristof end it:
Some of the bishop’s ideas strike me as more provocative than persuasive, but at least he’s engaged in the debate. When liberals take on conservative Christians, it tends to be with insults – by deriding them as jihadists and fleeing the field. That’s a mistake. It’s entirely possible to honor Christian conservatives for their first-rate humanitarian work treating the sick in Africa or fighting sex trafficking in Asia, and still do battle with them over issues like gay rights.
Liberals can and should confront Bible-thumping preachers on their own terms, for the scriptural emphasis on justice and compassion gives the left plenty of ammunition. After all, the Bible depicts Jesus as healing lepers, not slashing Medicaid.