Liberal Bible-Thumping

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Published: May 15, 2005

Even
aside from his arguments that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and that St. Paul was a self-hating gay, the new book by a former
Episcopal bishop of Newark
is explosive.

John Shelby Spong, the former bishop, tosses a hand grenade into the
cultural wars with “The Sins of Scripture,” which examines why the
Bible – for all its message of love and charity – has often been used through
history to oppose democracy and women’s rights, to justify slavery and even mass
murder.

It’s a provocative question, and Bishop Spong approaches it with gusto. His
mission, he says, is “to force the Christian Church to face its own
terrifying history that so often has been justified by quotations from ‘the
Scriptures.’ “

This book is long overdue, because one of the biggest mistakes liberals have
made has been to forfeit battles in which faith plays a crucial role. Religion
has always been a central current of American life, and it is becoming more
important in politics because of the new Great Awakening unfolding across the United States.

Yet liberals have tended to stay apart from the fray rather than engaging in
it. In fact, when conservatives quote from the Bible to make moral points, they
tend to quote very selectively. After all, while Leviticus bans gay sex, it
also forbids touching anything made of pigskin (is playing football banned?) –
and some biblical passages seem not so much morally uplifting as genocidal.

“Can we really worship the God found in the Bible who sent the angel of
death across the land
of Egypt
to murder the
firstborn males in every Egyptian household?” Bishop Spong asks. Or what
about 1 Samuel 15, in which God is quoted as issuing orders to wipe out all the
Amalekites: “Kill both man and woman, child and infant.” Hmmm. Tough
love, or war crimes? As for the New Testament, Revelation 19:17 has an angel
handing out invitations to a divine dinner of “the flesh of all
people.”

Bishop Spong, who has also taught at Harvard Divinity
School
, argues that while
Christianity historically tried to block advances by women, Jesus himself
treated women with unusual dignity and was probably married to Mary Magdalene.

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.

Bishop Spong particularly denounces preachers who selectively quote
Scripture against homosexuality. He also cites various textual reasons for
concluding (not very persuasively) that St.
Paul
was “a frightened gay man condemning other
gay people so that he can keep his own homosexuality inside the rigid
discipline of his faith.”

The bishop also tries to cast doubt on the idea that Judas betrayed Jesus.
He notes that the earliest New Testament writings, of Paul and the source known
as Q, don’t mention a betrayal by Judas. Bishop Spong contends that after the
destruction of Jewish Jerusalem in A.D. 70, early Christians curried favor with
Roman gentiles by blaming the Crucifixion on Jewish authorities – nurturing two
millennia of anti-Semitism that bigots insisted was biblically sanctioned.

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.

7 thoughts on “”

  1. i dont know you and im glad i dont b/c i would have ripped your nuts off and made u eat them by now. first of all, that picture of wishing death upon someone such as a former american president is treason and you sir should be hung for it. although u amy not agree with him, this man was the top figure in america for 8 years and deserves everyones respect, even democrats. now to your little copy and pasted article. im not even a religious conservative and had to laugh at your ignorance here. bible thumping? im sorry, i dont see republicans running around quoting the bible in chambers or in public for that matter. and the little quote thrown about the invite to dine on the flesh of all people. did jesus not symbolically feed bread and wine as his flesh and blood to his followers? for god’s sake, i havent read the bible or know a damn thing about religion and i know that. so dont even get started about select quotes being used. this is possibly the most ridiculous thing ive ever read with the implications that the bible supports mass murder. the bible can be interpreted in countless ways but in the article attacking ones interpretation, the author makes their own interpretations. how ignorant can one be. that would be like me saying to be a vegetarian while munching on a fricking big mac in my other hand. how can u sleep at night knowing that you are so ignorant. disagreeing is acceptable but defaming such characters as a former president is wrong in every sense of the word. it takes a big man to copy and paste an article behind the wall of xanga and put that picture up. someone oughta beat some sense into you.

  2. As a liberal promoting world peace you sure aren’t very tolerant to other people and there beliefs. Christains don’t sit there and all out bash other religons. I’m sorry if Christian’s have morals that guide their lives, and they do what they believe is right. And no one is forcing you to listen to people pray or believe what christian’s believe, it’s totally up to you. So if you don’t like it, then don’t listen to it. Also about the Ronald Reagan, have some respect. Or maybe your just mad that he overcame your favored communism.

  3. freedom OF religion….not FROM religion……you cant wipe out religion so quit whining

  4. as much as we all wish we could remove remove religion we can’t without killing the followers (hmm that gives me an idea…) And while the Regan picture is kinda bland to me I still don’t mind it. people are still able to have there own opinions right, or do they have to agree with the ignorant Christian majority?

  5. kp51_us,
    Reagan did not beat communism.  Its actually on the rise.  Of course you probably would not know that, since it might require reading…
     
    Yourdigitalruler,  KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!

  6. I believe that all christians should be subjected to the same kind of shit that they inflicted upon the Jews in WWII. After all, most if not all of the Nazi’s were christians, right? Were they not hateful little pricks who tried to wipe out other races and religions? Did they not hate and kill gays? I believe so. Due to the fact that ignorance is on the rise among the uninformed republican party, I would have to say that these bible-thumping, ass-humping degenerates deserve the kind of death that they used to dole out like poison candy to the oppressed masses. Booyah bitches!!! And as for you, kp51_us, you are obviously blind. Do you know how often I see impotent fuckers like yourselves running around quoting the bible? How many christian pricks I see trying to shove their imbecilic religion down the throats of others? Far too often. If I had a dime for every one of you that I’ve met, I’d be rich enough to form my own private army and annihilate the lot of you. And believe me, I would not hesitate to do so. Go to hell for eternity, you pansy ass fetus fucker.

    PS for YDR: I’m still kickin it in the hizzie, my nizzie!

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