Column: Following the Bible literally misses its true messages

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 21, 2003

Always makes me a little nervous when people throw in a bit of the Bible to settle political arguments. Every time someone comes out against civil rights for homosexuals based on a passage from the Bible, I find myself harking back to that inglorious era, 1691-92.

That, you will remember, was when 31 persons were hanged as witches and one pressed to death with heavy stones because he woudn’t confess to being a follower of Satan. This in Salem, Mass. The trials were made possible because it says in the Bible that a witch should not be allowed to live.

Some months ago an acquaintance, newly converted to an extremely fundamentalist church, interrogated me as to whether or not I believed in the Bible. I told him yes, but he was not satisfied. Did I believe in it literally, every word?

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Since that would require me to believe that the sun revolved around the earth, that a merciful God ordered one group of people to kill another group including women and children, and a number of other things, I’m afraid I disappointed him.

I did ask him a little maliciously if he had seen his way clear to stoning any witches lately, but he ignored the question.

The Bible was read to me on the day I was born and every day following until I was old enough to read it for myself daily, as I still continue to do.

To me it is wonderful beyond measure because it so clearly points out our relationship to God and our fellow creatures. Whether or not we believe the world was created in seven days or in millions of years, seems to me to have far less bearing on our progress than whether or not we love our neighbors.

I know of no major religion that doesn’t teach the necessity of loving our fellow human beings, yet we argue over doctrinal points, war over them, kill over them, missing the whole value of the religious experience.

Four of the 10 Commandments deal with our obligations to God, six with our obligations to fellow humans. Of the seven petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, three concern God, four concern human needs.

Politicians promise one promise after another, then destroy the environment, ignore the needs of the vulnerable, but make sure the rich and powerful grow more rich and more powerful. This is true of both parties.

Judges hang copies of the 10 Commandments in their courtrooms and the often innocent spend years on death row.

The argument goes on as to whether school children should repeat the Allegiance to the Flag. As a child, I repeated it every schoolday morning. I hadn’t the slightest notion what it was or why we said it. At that time, it didn’t have the &uot;under God&uot; line. It wouldn’t have troubled me anyway.

If I had children in school, I wouldn’t want them saying the pledge. Not because of the religious message, but because of the &uot;with liberty and justice for all,&uot; phrase. We do not live in a country where there is liberty and justice for all. It is good that there are those among us who hope for that blessing. We have no right, though, to claim a blessing we have not demonstrated.

To be aware of our shortcomings is not to display a lack of love for our country, to continue in our faults through a false sense of patriotism is to break faith with those who first envisioned the American dream and to defraud those who come after us.

There is great power in simple kindness. As Thomas Carlyle said, &uot;He who touches the hand of a friend, touches God.&uot;

(Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column appears Thursdays.)