Monday, January 2, 2012

What Bible Literalism Means

I found a great interview with Penn Jillette on BigThink that talked about Penn's take on the religion of the various candidates for US President.  He talks a lot about religion in general and about how he views the candidates in particular but the critical thing to me is that he isn't particularly partisan.  He is a crusading atheist who isn't particularly pleased by Obama and doesn't buy some atheists' theories that Obama is really a nonbeliever who just pays lip service to stay in office.  As far as Penn is concerned it is almost as bad to be lying about believing in completely batshit crazy stuff (his words, though I completely agree!) as it is to actually believe in it.  He really doesn't want to vote for either option.

Penn focuses a lot of attention on the idea of being a Bible literalist.  He wonders how the candidates can portray themselves as such when none of them has a particularly strong record of throwing rocks at people with intent to murder on the basis of working on Sunday.  In point of fact I think that if Mitt Romney wandered into Starbucks and began to hurl stones at the cashiers he would not be labelled a 'Bible literalist' but rather 'a murderous psychopath' and put in jail.  So since these people, and in fact very nearly everybody else, don't actually believe in the literal word of the Bible what do they mean when they say that they do?  Penn portrays himself as simply being clueless here and asks them to tell him what he is missing.  He feels like he is missing a key or a point of translation somewhere and that if only they would tell him what 'Bible literalism' is supposed to actually mean that communication would be so much easier.  I don't know if he is being deliberately obtuse or is genuinely confused but the answer is perfectly clear.

"I believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible."


"I support crazy assholes in my religion in their abuse of minorities and outsiders and their attempts to acquire power for themselves which is excused by convenient quotations from the Bible."

Nothing more complicated than that.  When you say you believe in Bible literalism you really just express support in a roundabout way for the greatest evil that comes from religion.  It is a political stance supporting a group and says nothing about the way you personally get your morality, code of conduct or information.  The Bible literalists are really what get my feathers ruffled because so often they are the ones responsible for the most awful crimes committed in the name of religion.  The casual hypocrisy of people who support their religion without believing in what it stands for is intensely frustrating but it is mostly just an enabler for the really bad folks on the fringe.

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