The Bible is an account of religious experiences. It is used as a template for day-to-day life by many people and even in official situations, such as ‘swearing on the Bible’. Jesus mocked overt, ostentatious signs of purity, which he felt concealed inner corruption or hypocrisy. Nonetheless such behaviour remains popular amongst religious people who yearn for certainty in an uncertain world. Their motivation is to lead a fully endorsed Biblical life: to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. The principal difficulty is that the Bible is ambiguous on many critical features of righteous behaviour.
Searching for certainty helps define acceptable action. What does the Bible advise? New Testament ferocity states that, “But for the cowardly and unbelieving…their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is a second death.” (Revelations 21: 8) This competes with Matthew (6:14-5), “If you forgive…Your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.” Vengeance and love are both endorsed and choosing one is a simple matter of taste. The Bible authenticates both.
Vengeance is the Westboro Baptist Church’s choice. Their virulent anti-gay message is based on Genesis 38: 9-10, which states God’s hatred of non- procreative sexual activity*. Thus two verses seemingly authorise fanaticism**. Fanaticism isn’t endorsed throughout the Bible. Numerous references to peace in the New Testament conflict with the Westboro interpretation of the Bible. There are many examples of peace endorsed by the Bible. The opposite of vengeance is also an authentic action as can be seen in the following quote, “He who is without sin…. cast the first stone”. Quite what the congregation of Westboro make of this quote is difficult to assess based on their stated positions.
Anyone sensing that vengeance or love could be a programme for action would be denounced as being hopelessly naïve. British chancellor George Osborne might take comfort in Matthew (10:25) “…the poor you will always have with you.” This more or less endorses the government’s attitude that money spent on poor people is money wasted. Unfortunately in Mark (10:25) “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” there is an endorsement of the redistribution of wealth from the wealthy for the spiritual benefit of the wealthy.
Retribution – ‘Talking tough, Acting tough’ – is ubiquitous amongst politicians. When David Cameron intelligently said that the idea that retribution is an ineffective strategy for young delinquents he was derided as being weak. He quickly modified his (overt) position to match public opinion, as all good politicians do. Vengeance has triumphed in our hearts and minds to the point that love, forgiveness and peace are characterised as emotional extremism: liberal fanaticism, if you will. Religion doesn’t make fanatics, it is used by fanatics as a prop.
Fanatical** behaviour is a problem for religion because prior beliefs are authenticated by religious books justifying any action. Fanatics, as it were, outsource their moral actions because they are unable to justify their own actions independently. Just as mobs have a ‘mob identity’, which overwhelms personal judgement, fanatics behave without personal, autonomous identity. The maintenance of personal identity and personal responsibility is the ultimate problem for religion.
*Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, USA has a web site ‘Godhatesfags’ and believes that the USA is doomed because of its irreligious laws, attitudes etc.*Fanatics want to force their certainties on other people.
**Presumably this entire post could be a critique of Islam, Judaism as well as any other religion of the ‘book’ but no claims are being made due to ignorance.