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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.