"What if this whole crusade's a charade, and behind it all there's a price to be paid for the blood on which we dine, justified in the name of the holy and the divine?"
I'll never fully understand religion. The topic itself fascinates me because it is one that so many people get worked up over. Although I was raised Catholic, I currently am at a stage in my life where I don't know if I believe in the existence of a higher being nor do I truly care. At one point in my life I probably would have said that death was my greatest fear because of my wavering faith in Christianity and the overall uncertainty that comes from it. But now I have come to realize that death isn't something to be feared and that my energy and worries are must better wasted on issues relevant to the present situations that I live in. I simply do not feel that I need to have the looming threat of eternal damnation in order to force me to be a good person. To me, it seems inherently hypocritical to one who practices a religion to say that they require a religious backing in order to create or even reinforce a desire to do good. I have never felt that I should be a good person because it is what was expected of me by a higher power. Nor have I ever felt that I need a super-empirical safety net to give my life value. I guess what I have come to realize is that the reason I am not religious is because I have no purpose for being so. I am able to obtain ethics and value out of my daily life without a need or desire for religion or spirituality.
However, even though I personally do not need religion in my life to be a happy and fulfilled person, I wish to clarify that I do not condemn those who do. Furthermore, I find nothing wrong with having a strong religious identity and I do not belittle those with a solid faith or spirituality by labeling them as weak-minded. I do, however, have a huge issue with religion when it becomes appallingly misinterpreted and abused. Too many times throughout history (and even in modern day) religion has been used as a justification for actions that are in no way, shape, or form truly representative of the intentions of religious practice. To further elaborate this point, I call upon an example that illustrates how modern misinterpretation of the Bible can cause religion to be vilely misconstrued and used as a weapon of intolerance and injustice.
But, before I do so, I would like to say that despite the fact that I am not religious, that does not mean I do not think that the Bible is not an excellent source for values and morality. Although I may not believe in some of the Church's teachings about the divine nature of Jesus of Nazareth, that does not mean that I do not think the message that Jesus preached does not have any value. In fact, I truly think that the message and values Jesus taught are ones that all people should live by so long as they actually put into practice his message and values and do not corrupt them to their own benefit. What I mean by this is that many modern interpretations of the Bible are not truly interpreted in the spirit of the message of Jesus of Nazareth.
This becomes clearly evident with the issue of homosexuality. If I could only count how many times that I have heard someone say homosexuality is wrong and that sodomy is a sin. While the Catholic church has recently slightly changed their position on homosexuality (they now preach that being a homosexual is not a sin so long as homosexuals do not engage in sexual behavior) many fundamentalist Christian denominations believe that homosexuality is not only inherently wrong but that it is sinful and disgusting. To this, they back their arguments by quoting scripture and different biblical verses. Apparently, after doing so, they find that their arguments have sound proof and that their stance on the issue is thus completely justified.
How very foolish this approach really is.
I am not sure how many people have ever heard of the idea of "context" reading but if anyone has ever taken an SAT they probably recall coming across the reading section of the SAT and encountering a question that in one form or another asked, "What is the main idea of this paragraph?" Following this question, there would be four options. Usually a couple of them would be direct quotes from the passage that, although they were mentioned within the passage, are really just diminutive details that really are not representative of the overall purpose or intention of the passage. Then there will be a couple answers that don't quote the text, but offer a summary of it—one correct, the other wrong. One answer will have clearly nothing to do with the topic and offer a summary to some text completely foreign to the passage on the page before it. The final answer may not have any words directly from the text but after deductions and analytical connections are made, it is evident that it truly gives the best representation of what the intention of the passage was. This answer is the correct answer.
I call upon this example to show how one quote or one scripture citing can rarely truly represent the main idea of a text. So when people use Old Testament passages to justify their anti-homosexual stances, I become upset by their method of biblical interpretation. First off, most Christians argue the Old Testament in itself is outdated and whereas the Old Testament was a document of the covenant of the Jewish people with God, the New Testament is a document of the new covenant of all people with God. Since this is the approach taken by most Christians, I find it in bad taste to turn to the Old Testament to justify a teaching of anti-homosexuality. But even then, my biggest issue goes back to saying the Bible justifies anti-homosexuality by quoting single biblical passages. It is at this point that I say people need to learn how to "context" read, that is, look for the main idea of the Bible as a whole—and, if you are a Christian, specifically emphasize the main idea of the New Testament. To those who think they can justify any interpretation of the Bible as being anti-homosexual after doing so I must say to them--Think again. I've read the bible in its entirety and I've been educated on it thoroughly (13 years of Catholic Schooling!). I know I am capable of quoting more scripture verses and showing more knowledge of biblical history, authorship, themes, and purposes than most Christians or Catholics who swear by the Bible as their book of salvation. In other words, I know a bit about the bible so I truly despise when religious folk argue with me that I am uninformed of the purposes behind Christian texts and doctrine just because I do not practice them. So, when you tell me that the Bible is anti-homosexual I simply cannot do anything but tell you that you have been utterly misinformed. The Bible I know shows Jesus as a healer, forgiver of sins, and a friend to societal outcasts. Jesus was a friend of the prostitutes, the beggars, the tax collectors, the Samaritans—all groups of people that were considered the outcasts of society in his time and day. So, if you, by any capability are able to apply situational factors from the past to the present, you would realize that, had Jesus been around today he would have befriended society's outcasts--who better to fall in that category than the homosexual community which so many continue to condemn today. To those Christians who condemn homosexuals, I say to you, who are you to condemn, when your own God told you "Let he without sin cast the first stone." The God of the New Testament, the God of the Christians, is a loving and forgiving God who extends his welcome to all people. And, as Jesus himself told his disciples, the final and greatest commandment of all is "To love your neighbor as yourself." If this truly is the commandment above all other commandments, laws, and teachings, it seems that any teaching that could even begin to appear anti-homosexual would be overridden by the ultimate commandment that Jesus established. As Jesus told us, all people are our neighbors (a category that includes homosexuals) so his commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves meant that we must love all people as we do ourselves. So I must ask then, how can one even begin to love a homosexual if they condemn their very being? I just don't see how that is possible. To me it seems that any person who is homophobic on the basis of religious belief is actually in violation of their own biblical doctrine, for they are, above all things, breaking the greatest commandment of them all.
It is with this interpretation in mind, that I believe society has wronged the homosexual community. Many religious people do not support gay marriage today because they either believe that 1. Homosexuality in itself in wrong or that 2. Marriage is a holy institution established by God between a Man and a woman. To any person who finds themselves falling into either of these categories, I would like to point-out that marriage was an institution separate of religion long before the time of Jesus. It wasn't even viewed to be a ceremony in which God intervened until a Church council if 300AD decided to make it a sacrament. So, marriage was an institution originally established by mankind that mankind later transformed to be a covenant between two people and the Lord. In this sense, the intolerance that arises from not allowing homosexuals to marry does not come from a biblical standpoint or even an accurately interpreted religious viewpoint, it really comes from the prejudice of those who attempt to justify their intolerance by basis of their faith even when their faith, in essence, does not truly allow for it.
It is for these reason that I do not believe that the anti-homosexual base in America is rooted in the proper practice of religious doctrine. I truly believe, and do so with biblical evidentiary support, that anyone who attempts to use scripture to justify injustice, intolerance, and prejudice does so out of their own selfish bigotry and contempt. For, as Shakespeare once wrote, "Even the devil can quote scripture for his own purposes."
As Shakespeare believed, at the end of the day, any religious book--be it the Bible, the Tanakh, or the Qu'ran--can be used to justify evil actions that contradict the original intentions of the text from which they are derived. It is these contradictions that lead to problems when they are grossly misconstrued. And it is these problems that have become a significant issue at the heart of religious intolerance and misunderstanding in the world that we live in today.