Friday, April 15, 2011

Scripture Cannot Be a Guidebook for Sexual Morality, Boston Baptist Scholar Argues

Kudos to the Houston Chronicle for carrying a slightly abbreviated version of the following article in its weekly Belief section (print edition) today. It's by Cecile S. Holmes of Religion News Service. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a link to the article on the Chronicle's website. So here's the link to the complete article as posted yesterday by The Christian Century.

I want to learn more about the specific content of Jennifer Wright Knust's scriptural analysis, especially where it might dove-tail with the analysis of various church teachings on sexual morality discussed in Part III of my doctoral dissertation (see link at right).

Is the Bible good for your sex life, but bad for a sex ed class?

A Boston biblical scholar challenges widely held beliefs about the Bible and sex in her new book, arguing Scripture cannot and should not be a guidebook for sexual morality.

The Bible is a complex compendium of human experience including stories of love, prostitution, extramarital sex and more, Boston University religion professor Jennifer Wright Knust argues in "Unprotected Texts: The Bible's Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire."

Her book goes against most biblical conservatives' view that the Bible specifically prohibits sex outside of marriage and condemns homosexuality. From Genesis to the Gospels, Knust's research turns many traditional interpretations upside down.

She's also unafraid to get a little racy: a full-page ad for her book in the venerable ChristianCentury magazine asks, "Is it OK to pray for better orgasms?"

Exploring the love poetry of the Song of Songs, for example, she notes the text does not shrink from describing "sexual intimacy and climax." Its vivid and lurid details worried some church thinkers, including the ancient Christian theologian Origen.

Turning the Bible into a sexual rulebook doesn't work, Knust says, because it can be use to support an almost endless set of "interpretive agendas." Too often, she says, the holy book has been used to silence rebels, repress women and minorities, condemn homosexuals and even justify slavery.

Her intent, Knust says, is to move conversations about sex and the Bible past "polemical and shortsighted" claims using passages to support this or that particular viewpoint.

A good example is "the unfortunate history around biblical interpretation around the slavery issue," she says. "Slavery was natural and even believed to be divinely inspired by some" who used the Bible to support their outlook.

"When the abolitionists began to argue that the Bible was against slavery, they really tied themselves up in knots trying to cite certain passages in a certain way that supported their arguments." The same can be said for arguments over sexuality, she says.

Equally alarming to Knust are present-day situations in which political opponents on either side of an issue use biblical texts to underscore their outlook.

"I hate to see the Bible being employed as kind of a weapon against women, against girls, against lesbian, gay, and transgendered people," she said. "I've seen so many people injured by this kind of biblical interpretation. For example, I was talking with a really wonderful woman recently who was saying she wanted to get a divorce from her husband because he was physically abusive. The message she was getting from her church was that the Bible was against divorce and therefore she had no choice but to stay in the marriage."

As a child, Knust read Bible stories before school most weekday mornings. Seated on her family's big gold couch, she and her mother read from a two-volume illustrated book. Never once did her mother tell her it was "silly or bad" to ask questions about the stories.

Knust grew up to see the Bible as neither a collection of policy statements nor a treatise to enforce a particular point of view. Instead, the Bible offered "an invitation to think abut who God might be and what it means to be human."

Knust is an ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches USA, which generally has a more open approach to interpreting Scripture than the more conservative (and larger) Southern Baptist Convention. As a scholar, Knust is at ease talking about the Bible in both church and academic circles. And as an author, she writes with authority yet keeps the general reader in mind.

Her book demonstrates "the extraordinary range of scriptural attitudes toward the body," says fellow scholar Peter S. Hawkins, Yale University professor of religion and literature. It also shows "the impossibility of using any particular saying as warrant for a monolithic biblical teaching," he says.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Au Contraire, Mr. Ryan: You Can't End the Deficit Unless You Tax the Super Rich

I am grateful to National Catholic Reporter columnist Joe Feuerherd for his blog posting yesterday saying that the conservative blueprint for eliminating the federal deficit unveiled by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) "lacks seriousness," especially in comparison to the real budget balancing and actual budget surplus achieved by the Democratic Congress and the Clinton administration in the post-Reagan 1980s and 90s.

Feuerherd ticks off several reasons why Ryan's plan won't accomplish what it claims:

"Repeal of last year's health care reform simply not going to happen." Maybe. But the chances that Republicans will succeed in rendering it unfunded seem pretty high.

Seniors and the AARP will not buy Ryan's proposal, a reiteration of the one he and Alice Rivlin submitted to the bipartisan deficit commission, to change the single-payer Medicare system--"socialism that America's seniors have learned to love"--into a voucher system to help them buy private health insurance. I think Feuerherd is right about this.

Governors "already facing the most daunting budget challenges since the Great Depression, will fight the plan to convert Medicaid to a block grant." Unfortunately, several Republican governors were already cheering for block grants, even though their states would be getting less money than they do under the current matching-funds approach. What they want is relief from having to provide state funds as a condition of receiving the federal match.

But what I am especially grateful for is that Feuerherd pointed his readers to an excellent April 4 posting by Robert Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley and Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, who again supports what I have argued repeatedly here:

"The only way America can reduce the long-​term budget deficit, maintain vital services, protect Social Security and Medicare, invest more in education and infrastructure, and not raise taxes on the working middle class is by raising taxes on the super rich."

Reich lays out in painstaking, unassailable detail all the ugly reasons why this is the case. Those who are not super rich cannot afford more taxes. But those who are super rich have managed to pay higher taxes in the past and still remained ultra wealthy. It is a time for a country that desperately needs their financial support to stop coddling them and block their relentless drive to impoverish the rest of us.

The question is whether serious people, including President Obama, will pay attention--or whether they will continue to cringe in fear before the tea bagger know-nothings who dominate what currently passes for political dialog.