“The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love,” was written in 2005 by Episcopal Bishop John Wesley Spong, former pastor in Newark, N.J., widely published author and lecturer at Harvard University’s School of Divinity. In the introduction he states:
XI: I insisted on filtering the biblical stories through the crucible of contemporary knowledge …;
XII: “… especially … to examine and challenge the texts that Christians of a conservative bent were regularly using to keep their homophobia intact…”
XIII: “… but the back of this prejudice has been broken in both church and society, and no one doubts the final outcome.”
I am unsure whether his last optimistic statement is yet correct, but it is why he wrote the book: to address the misuse of the Bible to support many forms of oppression - homosexuality, anti-Semitism, disrespect of women, child abuse, overpopulation, environmental degradation and bigotry toward other religions and atheists.
I, too, have read and reread the Bible in many versions and translations. I don’t claim the authority of a scholar like Spong, but I have had an opportunity to reflect about my extensive experience with human suffering, with war, racism, sexism and poverty through working in my profession as a surgeon and in extensive human rights advocacy at home and abroad.
To me the meaning of sin, which originally meant “to miss the mark,” is to act to cause suffering.
I once spoke to the Red Wing Ministerial Association about the causes of suffering. To sum it up, I have long concluded that the vast bulk of human suffering is that which we inflict on each other.
Of course, it is often just a matter of bad luck, what Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote of in “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” All too often bad luck is used to rationalize suffering due to acts of commission or of omission.
The best current example of a sin of commission is the Iraq War, largely destroying the world’s most ancient land and leaving a residue of toxic chemicals and depleted uranium which will continue to deform and kill generations yet unborn.
As for an example of the sin of omission, I choose the failed response by every level of government to preventing and managing the disaster we’ve simply labeled, “Katrina.”
What are we to do – blame it all on fate or on an angry God, absolving ourselves of all responsibility? I say, “No!” That would be the ultimate blasphemy.
In my view, the Bible, a wonderful collection of sacred writings, saved among many, written over centuries by authors largely unknown, must never be used to justify immoral views or actions, which I define as those that inflict suffering. We must never accept as moral any justifications for cruelty, no matter what authority writes them.
I write by background as a Jew, but also as a lover of all those great traditions based on the Golden Rule, which include not only the Judeo-Christian but also Hinduism, Buddhism, Aristotelian ethics, Islam, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Native Americanism, humanism and atheism.
I especially love, and try to emulate the teachings of Jesus, and other great rabbis before him, who summarized the essential faith as loving the Creator and all the creation (“Thy neighbor as thyself”).
And, lest there be any question about who is the neighbor, he tells the story of the Good Samaritan, who to the Jewish people of the time was the stranger, the outcast, the enemy. And even though I am not a true believer in Jesus as Lord and Savior, I will always love him and will never forget the thrill of first reading the Sermon on the Mount and the staggering audacity of the one who said, “Love thine enemy.”
So from all this I draw three principles: We must do justice and tread softly on this holy ground we call mother earth. We must use all our hearts and souls and minds and might to love one another. We must, above all and at all times, strive for Truth.
Any misuse of scripture, or, more broadly, of religious tradition to promote hatred or suffering is the real sin, and, out of love, we must speak out when we see it. We must never remain silent in situations of injustice.