“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
– Strength to Love, 1963
It happened to me this past week. There I was sitting at a red light, minding my own business, and then I saw it. The driver ahead of me had a bumper sticker that read: “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” For a long time, I studied the back of that driver’s head, gauging it for both its thickness and for its pointiness. When the light changed to green, I honked my horn (because I love Jesus), turned left and merrily went on my way.
But, you know, one has to admire an attitude like that: so open, so curious, and so relentless in its quest for truth and understanding. (I’m being facetious, of course.) Here is this poor soul so determined to make things simple that he can frame his entire belief system around a bumper sticker. Not many people can do that. Remember those old contests that asked for a reply to a question in “twenty-five words or less”? Well, this person in the car ahead of me managed to answer all the questions in the Universe in just nine words. Plato? Aristotle? Confucius? Dear Abby? Dr. Phil? Judge Judy? Even Jerry Springer? All of them are certified dimwits compared to the bumper sticker philosopher in the car ahead of me. No. All one needs are nine succinct words: “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”
Imagine a conversation with someone like this. Say whatever you like about any subject under the sun – history, philosophy, cosmology, art or science – and he has a catchy, but simplistic nine-word reply: “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”
For me, there are so many contradictions built into those nine words that the formulation of that small thought seems almost a miracle in itself. For one thing, I have always associated the word “Christian” with the word “humility,” and for the life of me, I cannot find any humility whatsoever in that little mantra. Perhaps my bumper sticker theologian needs to do some more thinking!
In The Good Book, the late Peter J. Gomes, prominent African-American preacher and theologian at Harvard Divinity School, wrote the following: “In preparing for her novel The Drowning of Stephen Jones, based upon the true story of a young gay man tossed from a bridge to his death by a group of young gay-bashers, author Bette Greene interviewed more than four hundred young men in jail for various forms of gay-bashing. Few of the men, she noted, showed any remorse for their crimes. Few saw anything morally wrong with their crimes, and more than a few of them told her that they were justified in their opinions and in their actions by the religious traditions from which they came. Homosexuality was wrong and against the Bible.”
“God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”
Well, the Bible says: “A man who lies with a man as with a woman is an abomination. Both shall be put to death.” (Leviticus 20) This text is one of nine biblical texts, stretched to the breaking point to cover the visceral, uninformed prejudice that has plagued and victimized gay, lesbian, transgender and bi-sexual people for centuries. At the Wyoming funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man set upon by a group of adults, beaten into unconsciousness, and hanged on a fence post in sub-freezing weather until he died, the Reverend Fred Waldron Phelps Sr. and members of the Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church carried picket signs stating “God says fags should die – see Leviticus 20” and “God hates Fags.”
The above is just one example of how the Bible has been used to justify actions that any civilized person would consider barbaric. We should bear in mind, however, that in Biblical times, the actions of the men whom I have just described would be applauded as justified by the Jewish laws concerning homosexuality. It says so in the Bible, but neither God nor even God-inspired people wrote the Bible. It was over a period of about 1500 years, on three continents, in at least three languages, that people who were intent on promoting their own religious and spiritual beliefs wrote the Bible. These writers lived in a pre-scientific age, an age that treated slavery, genocide, mass murder, the oppression of women as acceptable behavior, and an age that treated homosexuality as an abomination. Since meaningful scientific study of sexual orientation did not really begin until circa 1950, biblical authors had no awareness of the topic. And, I have to confess that when the Bible and science disagree, I will give greater weight to the recent findings of human sexuality researchers. For the real tragedy in all of this is that most genetic scientists today agree that one’s sexual preference is genetically determined, and that approximately five to ten percent of the population is homosexual, and that this figure applies to the animal kingdom as well.
Furthermore, the Bible became known as The Word of God for political reasons. The origin of this understanding can be traced historically to a church council that made the declaration to protect the orthodox doctrines and dogmas of the early church. According to Professor John Crossan of Biblical Studies at DePaul University, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, who was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity, needed a single canon of scripture to be agreed upon by the Christian leaders to help him unify the remains of the Roman Empire. Until this time, the various Christian leaders could not decide which books would be considered “holy” and thus “the Word of God” and which ones would be excluded and not considered the Word of God.
Emperor Constantine used what motivates many to action – MONEY! He offered the various church leaders money to agree upon a single canon that would be used by all Christians as the Word of God. Church leaders gathered together at Nicaea in Bithynia (present-day İznik in Turkey) and voted the “Word of God” into existence. The church leaders did not finish editing the “holy” scriptures until the Council of Trent when the Roman Catholic Church pronounced the canon closed. However, it seems the real approving editor of the Bible was not God but Constantine!
Are there other consequences to “God said it. I believe it. That settles it?”
Yes there are.
“God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” If that is true, than I wonder what my bumper sticker theologian does with the meaning of the verse: “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” (Matthew 27:25) are words the Bible attributed to the Jewish crowd at the time of the crucifixion. God said it. I believe it. That settles it? Those words have been a factor in a series of killings, anti-Semitic activities throughout the centuries reaching a culmination in a final act of orgiastic frenzy, the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust in the twentieth century, in a Western, civilized, ostensibly Christian nation.
How about “I forbid a woman to have authority over a man.” (1 Timothy 2:12) or “Woman was created for man.” (1Corinthians 11) and “Wives obey your husbands.” (Ephesians 5)” God said it. I believe it. That settles it? These are just a few of the texts from the Bible that have been used to dehumanize the feminine half of the human race. In response to the these biblical definitions of what a woman is, higher education was denied to women until the twentieth century; the right to vote in national elections was not extended to women until 1920, and the doorways to economic opportunities and just wages have been closed to women until fairly recently. Even in contemporary churches, we Christians still use the definition of a woman as the property of a man in wedding ceremonies, as one man gives the woman away to another man as if either of these men had or would later own her.
Then there are these words right out of the Holy Bible: “Slaves obey your masters.” (Colossians 3) Slaves must be returned to the life of bondage, says Paul’s Epistle to Philemon. God said it. I believe it. That settles it? The injunction against enslaving a fellow Jew is found in the prophets and the direction to Jews to take their slaves from nearby countries is stated in the Torah. Each of these texts has in the past been enlisted in the service of the human institutions of slavery, segregation and apartheid. The “Bible Belt” of the American South, home of Protestant Evangelical and Fundamentalist religious exponents, the region of our nation where both church going and Bible reading are clearly saluted as values, is the same part of our nation that first established, then protected and fought to defend slavery. After defeat on the battlefield forced these good, Christian people to end slavery, they installed segregation as the law of the land. When segregation was finally declared illegal, these same evangelical Christians employed police dogs, fire hoses, bull horns and even murder as legitimate tactics to keep segregation alive. The Southern police, who refused to arrest the guilty and the Southern juries that refused to return appropriate guilty verdicts were made up largely of those who “acknowledged Jesus as my personal savior.” The Bible, they felt, justified this behavior toward those whose true humanity they could not see.
To proceed even further, I will have to broach that almost forbidden subject: politics. Actually, there really should be no issue here because, as we all know, this country was founded on the principle of separation of church and state. It follows, therefore, that religion and politics do not mix. But I do wonder sometimes.
For example, Katherine Harris, the former Secretary of State of Florida and former member of the United States House of Representatives, said this to a group of constituents: “We have to have the faithful in government and over time, that lie we have been told, the separation of church and state, people have internalized, thinking that they needed to avoid politics and that is so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers. And if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women and if people aren’t involved in helping godly men in getting elected then we’re going to have a nation of secular laws. That’s not what our founding fathers intended and that’s certainly isn’t what God intended. We need to take back this country. And if we don’t get involved as Christians then how could we possibly take this back? If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you’re not electing Christians then in essence you are going to legislate sin. They can legislate sin. They can say that abortion is alright. They can vote to sustain gay marriage. And that will take western civilization, indeed other nations because people look to our country as one nation as under God and whenever we legislate sin and we say abortion is permissible and we say gay unions are permissible, then average citizens who are not Christians, because they don’t know better, we are leading them astray and it’s wrong.”
Such statements worry me. And they should worry you as well.
For me, Harris’ remarks are quite astounding! For me, she has absolutely no grasp of history whatsoever, and her total disregard for what our founders said and wrote is so abysmally wrong that it almost defies description.
Furthermore, when one is elected to political office, such as to the Senate or the House of Representative of the United States, that person should not let personal religious beliefs influence decisions affecting the welfare of the nation. But this is not always the case.
For example, Georgia Republican Representative Paul Broun, a physician who sits on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, says that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory are all “lies straight from the pit of hell.” Broun made these comments in a speech at a sportsman’s banquet at Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell, Georgia. Here is the full transcript of what Broun said: “God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is [sic] lies straight from the pit of hell. It’s [sic] lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior. There’s a lot of scientific data that I found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I believe that the Earth is about 9,000 years old. I believe that it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says. And what I’ve come to learn is that it’s the manufacturer’s handbook, is what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives individually. How to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all our public policy and everything in society. And that’s the reason, as your congressman, I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.”
Such statements worry me. And they should worry you as well.
All these words are from a man who is a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee! I wonder if Representative Broun is also a member of the Flat Earth Society. (Just for the record, most members of the scientific community agree that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old, not 9,000 years old as the good congressman would have it – and that the Universe is 14 billion years old.) For me, the Bible is a book to be taken seriously, but not literally. That idea does not seem to resonate with Representative Broun.
This same Representative Paul Broun, now a Senate hopeful, said during an interview with the Tea Party Express – a political action committee – that he will only vote for bills he thinks fit “Judeo-Christian Biblical principles.” The full quotation of his actual words is interesting: “I do go against my leadership all the time because I stand firm on the four questions that I ask about all legislation. The first, is it constitutional according to the original intent? The second, does it fit the Judeo-Christian Biblical principles that our nation is founded upon? Third, do we need it? Fourth, can we afford it? If all four are yes, I vote yes; otherwise, I vote no.”
Again, such statements worry me. And they should worry you as well.
But if Broun really means what he says, no such bill will ever come before him because the United States is not based upon biblical principles, Judeo-Christian or otherwise. The Constitution establishes the United States; it does not establish Christianity. Neither Jesus nor the Bible nor the Ten Commandments are mentioned in the Constitution. The Constitution is based upon English Common Law. While it does owe something to ancient pagan Roman law, it has nothing to do with biblical law, Old or New Testament.
(TO BE CONTINUED)