Posted on 8/14/13 09:41 PM
But Really Understanding the Bible Is Hard!
Someone once told me that Catholics don't ever read the Bible. Leaving aside that Bible readings are part of the mass, my church gave Bibles to every Sunday school class in fourth grade. It's true that I doubt half my classmates ever read theirs, but I have no certainty that most Protestants read their Bibles, either. I know too many stories of Protestants who were ignorant of basic details of the Bible. In practice, this means that Catholics and Protestants alike--and probably the various Orthodox faiths, and Jews, and Muslims--are ignorant of what the book actually says. They follow it, but they rely on other people to tell them what they're following. They don't know enough to know for themselves what the Bible says on any subject, and I think that's part of the problem. I hope that this will be rectified, and sooner rather than later, but I am inclined to doubt it.
Ky Dickens went to Vanderbilt University because of a weird fixation with Southerners based on things like reading Fried Green Tomatoes. However, there's more to the South than that, and Vanderbilt is notoriously conservative. So when she came out to her closest friends, she was surprised and I am not to discover that they rejected her because of it. Without fail, they told her that the Bible supported such rejection. Hurt and sad, she decided to find out if that was true. She sought out the opinions of literally dozens of religious figures around the US, asking if they believed the Bible, interpreted correctly, considered homosexuality to be a sin. All the people she interviewed were heterosexual. She only found two who went on record stating that the Bible really said that, one of whom was Fred Phelps. The film is cute animation and serious conversation with her religious figures, including Phelps. She also does some "vox populi" interviews to find out what the average person the street thinks.
Oh, I find it very surprising that she only found two. I can name a few others she should have spoken to; I don't think she interviewed any Catholics, for example. However, I do think that even a Catholic, upon reading the actual history of those seven quotes, would be forced to concede that the quotes do not say what a lot of people think they do. Of course, it gets into the murky history of Biblical translation, and I think that's where Phelps goes wrong. At least one of the other people I think she could have spoken to knows that history and has consciously rejected it, going on record to say that the King James Bible is clearly the right one even with its known history of translation errors. (Which she wouldn't have gotten from a Catholic.) Still, she says nothing about her qualifications for considering people to be interviewed for the piece, which is one of several places where I think the documentary should have been longer than its bare hour.
A point worth mentioning, which she does, is that homosexuality as we know it today was literally inconceivable to the people who wrote the Bible. They were more discussing the Greek model, where an older man took a younger one under his wing and also expected sexual favours for it. A homosexual relationship of equals was as impossible to the people who wrote those verses as, in most cases, a heterosexual relationship of equals was. The problem isn't the sex, and even if it were, the Bible leaves lesbians out entirely. The problem is that a homosexual relationship was one in which one of the men ceded the power that he held by right of being male. That's entirely different. The idea of any marriage as a partnership of true equals was not one that was held by most cultures in history. This is where you get into concepts like "complementarianism," which is one that horrifies me. That's where men are men and women are women, and they have very specific roles, and how can you have a complementary gay marriage?
I have to say, though, I always tear up at these images of gay couples' finally getting married. We have a clip here from the moments when a Massachusetts minister performed her first legal gay marriage ceremony, and she has to pause for cheers when she announces that it is by the authority vested in her by the commonwealth. Just the idea that these people are able at long last to celebrate their love, especially when the couples have been together for literally decades, fills me with delight. The minister says that she trembled, not with nervousness but with joy. The idea that these people have suffered so much for their love, for their very identities, and are having it at least somewhat validated in one glorious moment to be shared with everyone they love? Great stuff. Great for all of us. We need to be reminded, now and again, of how important love really is to people. The moments of pure joy thrill me every time, and I am glad for them every time.