February 26, 2009
the birds and the bats
One of the problems I have with the fundamentalist approach to religion is the tendency to insist on the literal interpretation of written words, often without regard to context.
Yet on the other hand (in a paradox that never made much sense to me), fundamentalists will often gratuitously supply context which is otherwise missing from the text. A good example is the story of Sodom, from which derives the word sodomy. Two angels (whose sex is unstated in the Bible) were sent by God to Lot's house, and while there they were threatened by an angry mob of local villagers who tried to break down the door in order to commit angel rape, and who would have succeeded had God not blinded them. Now, if we assume the sex of the angels was male, that would have been homosexual rape, just as if they had been female, that would have been heterosexual rape. Yet the story is widely interpreted as condemning all homosexual conduct. Why? Had the threatened angels been female, would anyone see the story as a condemnation of all heterosexual conduct? But despite these problems, out of this story the word "sodomy" was manufactured by medieval clerics as a synonym -- not for angel rape, not for ordinary rape, and not even for homosexual rape, but for ordinary homosexual acts. Taking into account medieval prejudices, it is certainly understandable how this might have happened, but to call it a literal interpretation of the Bible is simply at odds with the words that are there.
The story of Sodom is one of the many reasons I have trouble seeing fundamentalism as accurate biblical literalism, despite the frequent claim that all they are doing is following the exact word of God.
The problem there is what words? Whose or which translation is most favored by God?
Speaking of Leviticus, I stumbled onto a fascinating passage which made me wonder about the correct interpretation of the simple word "bird":
Does God think bats are birds? Or was something lost in translation? How much any of this really should matter is of course a good question, but even posing such a question can lead to a charge of religious insensitivity in some quarters.
While I believe in God, because I don't think God consists of text I don't lose much sleep over what the literal meaning of repeatedly translated words. Otherwise, I might be worried that God might think our national symbol is, as the passage says, detestable.
(Probably best not to let religious nuts like Reverend Wright know....)
posted by Eric on 02.26.09 at 11:00 AM
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