My brother Anthony asked me an interesting question today. He’s aware of my issues with Biblical authority and of the issues that led me to doubt scripture (succinctly, I am unsure of the Bible’s authoritative scope). The Biblical depiction of gender roles, gay rights, basic human rights, and origins have all become ‘stumbling blocks’ to my confidence in the moral authority and reliability of the Bible. Today, however, I discovered an incredible video, one that challenged my previous understanding of the biblical stance on homosexuality. I shared my feelings about the video with Anthony, to which he responded, “Why do you care if someone makes a good biblical argument about homosexuality when you’re not even sure it’s that kind of an authority for you?”
“Because perhaps my problem with the Bible isn’t its content, but the way I’ve been reading it,” I replied.
Anthony was silent for a moment before asking, “When something offends you do assume it must be wrong?”
His question took me aback, but I could see his line of reasoning. He was asking if I decided what was right and wrong according to my own personal tastes and desires. Did I simply discard every unsettling idea in the Bible? More importantly (to Anthony), were my preconceived notions of truth determining my perception of the Bible’s moral value? “Just because it offends you doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong,” he said
True. One reason I stopped reading my Bible was because I was paralyzed by the fear of simply cherry picking the text to my own ends. And I wondered if any biblical interpretation was anything more than personal agenda wrapped in proof-text analysis. So when Anthony challenged the intellectual integrity of my approach to scripture, I took a moment to examine my thought process before answering.
“No,” I eventually said. “Not automatically. At least, I try to not to assume everything offensive is wrong. But there’s a reason things offend me. I am offended by things that violate my ideals, and those ideals are—by and large—non-negotiable.”
“So what do you do when something in the Bible offends you?” he asked.
“I first have to determine why something offends me. Then I have to decide if it truly violates one of my ideals, and if so, if that ideal is wrong. Usually I hold onto the ideal.”
We continued to talk, and I shared with Anthony my belief that most Westerners do not actually derive their core beliefs from any text or religious tradition. Rather, they embrace the parts of their religion which support core beliefs they already hold. One may allow a religion to guide her sense of morality by yielding to the wisdom of a particular sacred text or philosophy. And if a religion is a part of her upbringing, it will play a key role in developing her core beliefs in the first place. However, I find it compelling that millions of people claim their ideology promotes love, peace, and the good of mankind in opposition (or at least superiorly) to all others which may be shrouded in violence, intolerance, or darkness. Perhaps most people have similar core ideals: love, peace, justice, and—at least to some degree—interpret our various religious traditions to highlight these ideals. Perhaps this is why some people change religions, exchanging their former ideology for one that better supports their understanding of how the world should be. Perhaps this is why when my friend Janet repeatedly observed Christians justifying judgment and intolerance as a function of their religion, the Bible and Christianity—not her core belief in the primacy of love—were discarded from her worldview.
Personally, I have reached a place such that even if I found compelling arguments for all the biblical interpretations I most prefer, they would not be enough to convince me of biblical authority. Just as my disgust does not invalidate an idea, my approval does not validate it. I am not looking for a palatable version of truth. But I desperately hope the truth is palatable.
(The video that inspired this post is called “The Gay Debate” and is presented by Matthew Vines:)
- Kate Blanchard: The Bible Hates Homosexuality. So What? (huffingtonpost.com)
- My Take: The danger of calling behavior ‘biblical’ (religion.blogs.cnn.com)
- How Do We Defend Biblical Authority in Postmodernity? (spurgeon.wordpress.com)