[This is a response within a conversation sparked by An Open Letter to Atheism.]
A commenter said (in part):
“I did not say that it was a very small minority who think Homosexuality is an abomination. I said that it is a small minority who beat up homosexuals. I am talking about evil and immoral behavior. Believing that something is wrong is not immoral, where as showing violence or hatred towards someone for something like homosexuality is immoral.”
The bible is relevant because so many people think it is the Word of God. I don’t think it should be considered the Word of God – or any book for that matter. I think it is problematic to treat any book or person or thing as having ultimate authority – because it turns off your own discernment.
As far as theology is concerned, I think there can be a good argument within Christianity to not use the bible as the “Word of God” and an accusation of “bible idolatry” can be leveled against those that treat the bible as if it were God. The divinity of Christ is also a real theological question. However – IN THE END – when having these conversation we are (both you and I) simply doing what we can to theologically justify what we are already most comfortable with. I would rather have a conversation about the issues without the theological baggage – I would rather do away with any assumption that a God exists, much less that HIS WILL and opinions are knowable.
Although I do not know if this is true of you – I have conversations with many Christians who will vehemently deny that their opinion is their opinion. I will accuse them of attempting to speak for God – and they will claim that THEY are not even the one speaking – IT IS GOD. So, they are not speaking FOR God, they are just informing me what God has said (in the bible – through personal revelation – etc). I think this is an extremely dangerous mode of thinking – as they are using the bible to essentially absolve themselves of being responsible for their own actions and opinions.
As far as homosexuality – if “not beating up” homosexuals is your bar for treating them with respect, that is a very very low bar. I understand the idea that homosexuality is a sin like any other sin. However, this is not compassion. Homosexuality is not something you do – and although finally most Christian groups have abandoned the idea that homosexuals can pray or electrocute themselves into being straight – many still call on homosexuals to remain celibate. I do not think this is compassionate at all. I think I would rather be beat up occasionally than have someone guilt me into completely denying myself physical intimacy for my entire life, deny a social recognition of my love relationships, and assume that my partner and I cannot possibly provide a wholesome family environment. I can tell you very clearly – that I would rather be punched in the face.
To make it even worse – you know very well that homosexuality is NOT simply treated like every other sin by a large number of Christians. If this were so, there would be ballot measures all over the country calling to make re-marriage illegal. You are right that most Christians do not feel they need to follow the law – however, if they are consistent than they would hold themselves to the standard of attempting not to knowingly sin, not relying on grace for their forgiveness. I have a great deal of compassion for those that most people (Christian or not) would considered to be zealots or even “wackos” because those people are sincerely trying to follow what they see as “the law” even to their own extreme detriment. Those that would hold up the bible (or any other text) as a direct window into the mind of God, having ultimate authority of what is right and wrong, (even if they interpret it in socially acceptable ways) are enablers to those that pursue that ideal into ruin, psychological trama and suffering.
It is a difficulty to be compelled to justify to another person that God didn’t mean THAT – to attempt to modify their behavior. Instead, that step could become unneccesary. Instead we say – what you are doing is wrong because it causes unjustifyable suffering.
I think the story of the binding of Isaac is a good analogy of how religious ideas can completely short-circuit and disconnect compassion and empathy. How would you regard a person who would stab a child to death because God told them to? – would you revere such a person, or turn away in disgust? Would you distance yourself the way you have from faithful Christian people who are currently engaged in a witch hunt against children? Do you think that perhaps such practices would decrease if the book, regarded as sacred by millions of people, were not used to justify the fear of spiritual warfare?