An absolute Bible harms absolutely

It cannot be said that any religion is absolutely false, but it can be said that no single religion is absolutely correct.

Two weeks ago today, St. James’ Street published a controversial piece titled “How to throw away the Bible?” that was met with hostility, praise and well-constructed rebuttals. Overall, we concede the piece attempted to say too much via an editorial, and our arguments became somewhat diluted and feral. It is a central theme of our column to spur intellectual civil discourse and seek an objective truth on the issues of which we write. When the integrity of this column is challenged, we either aggressively defend our position or thank those who point out the inferiority of our stance. “How to throw away the Bible?” unintentionally printed an incorrect suggestion of the idea of the Immaculate Conception, and for that, those who brought this mistake to public attention need to be recognized. Be that as it may, some key concepts of “How to throw away the Bible?” need to be reiterated and, this time, better defended.

Perhaps the greatest criticism of our piece was that it took biblical quotes out of context. It is of no surprise that Christians would not suggest that Jesus is being unfair or callous in Revelation because, to them, it is a story of salvation. However, Revelation can be read with a different ontological light. To the nonbeliever, Revelation paints a story in which the majority of humanity is rejected by the benevolent arms of the Alpha and Omega that is Jesus Christ. For those rejected, it is not a triumphant tale of the prevailing of moral justice, but a horror story that would make Stephen King blush.

A second key criticism was of the reference to the Hebrew word “almah” being used as a word to describe the Virgin Mary. A letter to the editor on April 22 suggested that we made an error by making this reference because the New Testament was written in Greek, not Hebrew. Our column never suggested in any way that the New Testament was written in Hebrew. Matthew 1:23 (New Testament) directly references Isaiah 7:14 (Old Testament where almah is used) to fulfill the prophecy of a virgin giving birth to a son. Matthew is, of course, alluding to the birth of Jesus, unless the letter to the editor was referring to some other messiah born of a virgin that he wishes to defend.

Both Christians and biblical skeptics generally agree that Jesus was born out of wedlock. Because this was not accepted by Jewish society (or what would be Christian society) the Virgin Birth would have been necessary to maintain moral purity.

The inconsistencies of the four canonical gospels are many times viewed as proof that the Bible was not collusive in nature. The notion that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were even the original authors of the Gospels of their respective names is a debated issue. However, when the Bible is invoked to suggest public policy, often, nothing more than a single passage is referenced.

When Romans or the story of Sodom and Gomorrah declares the moral error of homosexuality, Christians turn gays into sinners, and might even suggest a constitutional ban on gay marriage. When Luke talks of birth and conception, Christians call young mothers who have abortions murderers. And when Ecclesiastes, 1 Corinthians and Hebrews speak that only God has the power to take away life, euthanasia (as seen in the Terri Schiavo case) becomes an issue not to be decided by humans. But when Exodus 21:7 sanctions fathers selling their daughters into slavery, the Christians fall silent. When Exodus 35:2 clearly states that those who work on the Sabbath should be put to death, the Christians fall silent. And when James 5:14-16 suggests that children only remain sick because they have not gone through the necessary rituals to heal their sins, the Christians fall silent.

Despite that, “How to throw away the Bible?” was viewed primarily as Bible bashing, it was never our original intention. The intention was to show that the Bible is the source of Christianity’s heterogeneity. We suggest that the problems of clashing civilizations need to be combated by a philosophy of toleration to those who are tolerant. All cultures have texts and tales that attempt to make sense of an often malevolent, cold or simply misunderstood existence. Religion has helped build societal frameworks, inspire civic ideologies and is responsible for countless acts of social work.

St. James’ Street simply implores all religions to question the religious text’s source and contextualize its historical significance before reading its pages as divine corollary. The conclusions one draws are purely their own. Although this column does not accept the Bible as divine doctrine, it does tolerate, respect and occasionally share the views expressed by those who practice Christianity. Just as Christians hope to attain their worldview of a homogeneous Christian society, we seek to advance ours of toleration, respect and fraternity between cultures. Many Christians suggested we could never understand Christian theology without knowing Jesus personally. At St. James’ Street, we understand this assertion; after all, your correspondent once said the same thing.

Those at St. James’ Street welcome comments at [email protected]