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Friday, March 25, 2011

Barking up the Wrong Tree

So another long hiatus in blogging.  It seems I only blog when I am annoyed at something, which I suppose would lead one to conclude that nothing has annoyed me me in over 2 months.  Nothing could be further from the truth, but nothing has really seemed blogworthy in that time.

Until now.

Recently I was checking up the headlines on CNN.com when an article caught my eye: "PETA: don't call animals 'it' in the Bible".

Really?

This is what is going to make the world a better place?  PETA woke up one morning and said "We need to leave a mark, it shall be this"?

Before I come across as a hick, let me just say that I eat meat guilt-free but I would be squeamish about having to slaughter my own supper if there were other options on the menu.  Actually, that probably does make me come across as a hick.  Oh well, that is my hypocrisy, judge it if you must.

My issue with PETA is not that they campaign against cruelty to animals.  I think they have acheived some great things.  But I just don't think that compiling a gendered-animal Bible is the change the world needs.

Let me tell you why.

Very rarely in the Bible are animals specifically gendered to begin with.  For example, who can tell whether the lions to whom Daniel was thrown were male or female?  Who can tell what gender the dove representing the Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus was?  Who knows the gender of all three fishes the disciples had to divide up when they fed the crowds?

Perhaps the greater question is: what does it matter?  Who cares?  Well, obviously PETA for starters.

Several problems with what PETA proposes immediately spring to mind:

A: I cannot think of a single Bible story that would be enhanced or clarified by gendering the animals portrayed therein.  Assigning gender to these animals clouds the message that just about any Bible passage is meant to convey.
B: assigning gender to these animals will be a uniquely arbitrary exercise: because the gender of the animals in the story is rarely IF EVER the point of the story, editors would have to basically flip a coin to assign gender to most of the animals in the Bible.
C: assigning gender to animals will only outrage masculinists/feminists as a bias will almost certainly be perceived by these groups: "Why are the male animals always sacrificed?  Why are the female animals always so submissive?"...those of you who have been to theological college or conferences will no doubt have a face that comes up when you hear statements like that.  It is the face of someone who stalls all attempts at productive discussion while they grind their own personal axe at everyone else's expense.

I actually left one whole college and one whole denomination because in my humble opinion, they spent an inordinate amount of time trying to decide whether God has a wee-wee or a hoo-hoo.  I admit, I refer to God as He, not because I think for a moment that God has any gender, but simply because it is clearer than saying "He/She/It" every time I need to make a reference to God.

The real issue is one of Biblical literalism.  It is not that I don't think animals are necessarily deserving of being referred to by their gender.  The real problem which Jesus spent His ministry decrying and was eventually killed for criticizing openly is literalism.  Jesus spent much of His ministry pointing out that the myriad laws that the people had to follow were largely arbitrary in that they simply did not show love to God or neighbour.  This is something I can get behind.  I openly proclaim that I am more about the spirit of the law that the letter of the law, as I think Jesus was.

For example, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for being critical of him healing in the Sabbath.  Yes, there was a law that you couldn't heal on the Sabbath, but what person imbued with any sense of Godliness and human decency would allow someone to suffer for another day just because of an arbitrary rule when they could have put a stop to it?

Let's bring it into a modern context.  What does it matter to any country digging out from the tsunami or earthquake whether God is male or female or gender-non-specific or transgendered or hetero-flexible or metro-sexual?

What does it matter to modern-day Libya or Egypt if the Serpent in the Garden of Eden was a boy-snake or a girl-snake?

It doesn't matter to them one iota.

Literalism is what is largely holding back the same-sex blessing debate.  Literalism held back the ordination of women.  Literalism is what fueled the Crusades.  Literalism is what fueled the witch-hunts.  Literalism kills the message of many Bible passages by obscuring the metaphors which would allow someone to internalize the lesson.  Literalism is pedantic, rigid and myopic.

The problem with the he/she animal debate is that there are questions which are purely academic, and as much as I am a fan of academia, some of these questions simply find no traction or application in the real world, and the issue of the maleness or femaleness of animals in the Bible is one of these issues, as is the issue of God's gender.

While academics argue these points, REAL people are starving, REAL people are naked, REAL people are being oppressed.  While the Pharisees argued how much weight one could carry on the Sabbath before it was constituted as work, REAL people were starving, REAL people were naked, REAL people were oppressed.  See the connection?

As Dennis Miller once said about the ACLU, "they expand pinprick causes into yawning chasms of need", and I can't help but think that this is what PETA is doing with this issue.

I think there are bigger fish to fry.

Whoops, sorry, that's probably offensive to fish.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why Richard Dawkins is not actually an atheist

Well, a bit of a hiatus from blogging!  My apologies, Xmas and New Year's tends to be busy in this line of work.  I do hope not everyone was losing sleep waiting for the next installment...but here it is anyways.

I have long harboured a suspicion about atheist-poster child Richard Dawkins.  It has nothing to do with our difference of opinion: his lack of faith does not threaten mine.  But I do suspect that my faith threatens him.

Put another way: I suspect that, contrary to his books, interviews, TV appearances, webpage, t-shirts, lapel pins and bobblehead dolls, Richard Dawkins is not an atheist at all.  Here's what I think:

Richard Dawkins absolutely believes in God, and he absolutely hates Him.

The reason I suspect this is that I, for example, do not believe in leprechauns, the boogeyman, UFO's or ghosts, yet I have not dedicated my career, nay my very life to disproving the existence of these things, while taking cheap potshots at the intelligence of those who do.

I just casually disregard these things and get on with my life.  I don't even thunder from the pulpit about the things I believe in, much less about the things I don't.  You must really have a hate-on for something or someone in order to dedicate your life to undermining them to the degree that Dawkins has.

Let me use a real-world example: you remember that guy in who high school or college who was a raging homophobe?  Did you even flinch at the reunion when he told you he was married to a guy?

No, because those who rattle the cage the most do so not becase they love their cage, but because they are scared witless of what lies outside that cage.

To be fair, this argument goes both ways: many people of faith are equally prone to get upset when their deeply-held assumptions are challenged, and rattle their cages when threatened because deep down, they don't feel all that secure about themselves either.

But I digress.  I was unimpressed in seminary by a professor who was a Freudian, not because I dislike Freud, but because I find his material and his contributions to the field of psychiatry to be (although fundamental to the discipline) quaint, arcane and out of date.

Similarly, Dawkins is a devotee of Darwin.  Sorry Dick, old news.  150 years old, in fact.

I have my own biases which admittedly not all people of faith share: although a priest, I was educated secularly, and so the concepts of evolution and survival of the fittest are accepted by me as fact.  That being said, while I believe in evolution, I do not find that it contradicts the concept of divine creation.

And neither did Darwin.  I will not try to claim that Darwin was a theist.  Both religious and nonreligious camps try to claim him as their own, and I never met the man, but he did write that it was  "absurd to doubt that a man might be an ardent theist and an evolutionist".

Here's why I think Chuck was right:

You know the story of Chicken Little?  CL gets nailed in the head by an acorn, thinks the sky is falling, whips up a mob of farm animals, spreads fear and panic, etc.  The moral of the story is that you shouldn't go around spreading rumours based on partial information because bad things can happen.  Good moral, right?  Universally applicable?  You bet!

If, however, you get to the end of the story and say, "Wait a second!  Chickens don't talk!", and you discard the moral along with the story, you have missed the point.

Don't mistake me, I am not trying to compare the Bible to a fairy tale.  There is much in the Bible which can be verified as historically accurate, but there is much which is certainly apocyrphal, if not wildly innaccurate.

The problem is that people try to read the Bible as a book.  It is not.  It is a library of books written by different people, at different times, for different reasons, for different audiences, and written in different genres.  Some books in the Bible are poetry, others song, others corretional, others eyewitness accounts, others geneology.

The relevant question then becomes: Does believing in the minutiae of the Bible make you a good person?

I would offer that it does not necessarily, and in fact it is the literalists who are not only the greatest embarrassment to rational people of faith, but who are also some of the most dangerous people I can think of.  I for one cannot relate personally to either the process of evolution or to Adam and Eve.  The simple reason: I wasn't there to see either of them happen.

What I can relate to is feeling, like Adam and Eve, that I have lost my innocence, that I have been ejected from paradise, that I feel spurned by God.

This is the key to reading the Bible, as it is to how we approach our favorite music, our favorite poems, songs, literature, films.  They touch us deeply because we can relate.  Thematically, there is nothing new under the sun; the Bible touches on it all: lust, greed, heartbreak, betrayal, mortality, heroism.  These are themes which are endemic to the human condition.

The stories in the Bible are supposed to be taken personally, not literally.  We are supposed to ask ourselves, "Who am I in that story?".

And this is why I feel rather sorry for Richard Dawkins.  His outlook on the world is mechanistic, Hobbesian, Newtonian, and quite frankly, a little outdated and not a little bit hollow and unsatisfying.

I say that I am sad for him because among other things that I am, I am in love.  According to the Dawk/Darw-inian outlook, that feeling is not real.  It is merely a random (yet somehow reliably regular) delusion induced by random chains of chemical compounds interacting with randomly occurring receptors in my randomly developed brain.

If I am indeed delusional, then I for one am happy to be.