Monday, October 11, 2010

Getting Stuck in a Pumpkin or How To Destroy Christianity through Biblical literalism

Up until very recently, very few people outside the United States had even heard of the state of Delaware.  Then Christine O’Donnell came along and changed all that thanks to a seemingly endless stream of clips of her making statements that make Sarah Palin look like a reasoned intellectual.  Now there have been a couple of doozies but arguably the most famous is the one of her arguing against masturbation, claiming that based on the Bible it was the same as committing adultery.

The strange thing is that this is probably the least crazy of her statements.  A very large subsection of Evangelical Christians would tell you the exact same thing – especially if you’re a teen at a Christian Youth Camp.  Many Christians would tell you that Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:28 – “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." should be interpreted literally and therefore it’s a sin to even fantasize about another person.  I bought into this too as a teen and suffered endless guilt for being normal.  Eventually I figured out a loophole for myself.  Since the verse specifically mentioned “adultery” I would therefore be OK as long as I never fantasized about a married person.  I still recall the sad day that all my Sarah Michelle Gellar posters had to come down because she got married...  But I digress.  I mentioned this in an earlier post on the Ten Commandments but this literal interpretation is a vital weapon in the evangelism arsenal of groups like Way of the Master.  To recap, their method of evangelism typically goes as follows:

  • Ask the target if he/she considers themselves to be a good person.
  • When they answer “yes”, test them against the Ten Commandments (aka God’s rules for being good enough to make it into Heaven.)
  • When they do well on this test (and they tend to since most people aren’t adulterous, thieving murderers), go “Oh Snap!  But what about thought crime?”
  • Then convince them that since God counts sinful thoughts the same as sinful deeds, they are horrible, evil people deserving of an eternity of torture.

Now this approach is surprisingly effective at making converts but it does have a rather severe flaw built in.  See, while it can convert you, it cannot convert you to Christianity.  This is because if the premise of this method – that God punishes thought crime – is true then Christianity is false.  Don’t believe me?  Let me show you how a literal interpretation of Matthew 5 utterly destroys the Christian religion in just a 3 easy steps:
  1. If you take Matt 5:28 to mean that lust in your heart is literally the same as adultery in the eyes of God then it follows that anger must literally be the same as murder to God, according to Matt 5:21-22.
  2. Now then the Bible records several instances of Jesus being angry (Mark 3:2-7; John 2.13-22; Matt 23:13-36).  Therefore Jesus must have been guilty of several instances of murder in the eyes of God.
  3. Therefore His execution would have been just and He could not have been the sinless Lamb of God who bore our sins in our stead and impugned his perfect, sinless life to us. 
Presto, the entire Christian faith is invalid, all because you just had to have the thought crime stick to beat people with!  Thing is, you don’t need the weapons of guilt and shame to win converts – you would be hard pressed to find examples of anyone in the Bible doing that and Christianity somehow spread just fine back then.  However, some people just can’t do without it.  They have to make people feel as rotten about themselves as possible, they have to make them feel ashamed and since people are rarely as evil as they need them to be, they need thought crime to do it.  They never stop to think of the logical consequences, they just have to have guilt as a weapon.  It reminds me of how baboons get trapped.

See a popular way to trap a baboon is to anchor a pumpkin securely to the ground and to then make a hole in it just large enough for the baboon to squeeze his hand through.  When a baboon then reaches inside and grabs a handful of tasty pumpkin flesh he can’t pull his stuffed fist back out of the hole and so becomes stuck.  The thing is, the baboon can be free at any time, he just needs to let go of the stuff in his hand, yet they never think that far.

It’s exactly the same with many Evangelicals.  There is a world of freedom out there but they cannot enter into it because they are stuck holding on to the notion that God will damn you for your emotions and thoughts.  Even though it traps them in a religion that cannot – by their own rules – exist.


GumbyTheCat said...

The fact so many Americans love Christine O'Donnell makes me ashamed to be an American. We use to have more sense than this. Really, we did. It seems like evangelical Christianity, through the guise of the Tea Party and other forms, is going on the offensive in this country. Freedom-loving Americans everywhere should be very worried. Do people really think that a country with a political landscape dominated by the theo-political likes of Palin and O'Donnell would still be a free country? I can easily imagine "morality police" knocking on our doors, searching for Sarah Michelle Gellar posters and demanding to see loyalty pledge cards. I'm hyperbolizing a bit, but in truth the direction this country is taking is starting to worry me greatly. That anyone would take lunatics like O'Donnell is very worrisome... and now we have an entire "tea party" movement that places people like her and Palin center-stage and makes them out to be "what this country needs". Scares the hell out of me.

All that aside, I see a problem with your otherwise sensible interpretation of Matthew 5:28. You're just looking at it from one aspect (the aspect it was intended to address), and that's fine. However, in traditional Christianity, God sending people to hell for thought crimes is the religion's core belief. Because, you see, the decision to accept or reject Christ is a process of thought. Choose the wrong thought, and you're guilty, and off to hell you go. Ask any evangelical and they'll tell you that deciding to not be a Christian is a terrible crime, fully deserving of an eternity of agony. Which, of course, just shows how awful the mindset of Christians can really be. The further I get from my former religion, the more disturbing it gets. Time plus distance equals perspective, after all.

Eugene said...

I will grant you that many evangelicals do believe as you say. However I have always liked the way CS Lewis imagined it. In the last book of the Narnia series, there is a scene where Emeth, a follower of Tash (a demonic entity that was the god of a different country in Narnia) meets Aslan in the afterlife:

"But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek."

GumbyTheCat said...

I like that. It shows a much wiser and decent deity than the ones we're used to around here. You know, those supremely wise and all-powerful beings who just happen to have every silly foible and moral weakness that humans do...

I've had the thought that since no just and fair God would choose just those who practice in one particular way out of thousands and reject all others, then he must accept all who earnestly seek truth - even the atheist who has thrown his hands up in frustration at the inanities inherent in all religions, and simply walked away from the concept of a god altogether. Because that, too, is seeking truth. Back in earlier (pre-apostate)days, I wrote in my blog that no matter what road one travels, they all lead to the same destination. If there is indeed some Big Hoodoo in the sky, it's the only way he makes sense.