The Morning Prayer service tomorrow of The Episcopal Church calls for the public reading of this bit of happy talk from the Hebrew Bible:
If any who are dependent on you become so impoverished that they sell themselves to you, you shall not make them serve as slaves. They shall remain with you as hired or bound laborers. They shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. Then they and their children with them shall be free from your authority; they shall go back to their own family and return to their ancestral property. For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves are sold. You shall not rule over them with harshness, but shall fear your God. As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness. (Leviticus 25:39-46, NRSV)
It makes me furious to have to impose this garbage on unsuspecting faithful people who come to my Daily Office websites looking for solace and strength, only to find bad, bad news.
So I posted this picture and caption to go with it:
I could have said a lot more, but I saved that for you. 🙂
A table of lessons appointed for each day, called the Lectionary, is printed in the back of The Book of Common Prayer; every church and website in 18 nations that offers Morning Prayer tomorrow has to print this crap. Every priest and deacon (I’m a layman) has to say it privately if they don’t offer it as public worship. If they’re on an airplane to Timbuctu, they are obligated to read this junk from Levicitus.
Obviously we need a new lectionary. But don’t get me started on that or my head will explode.
Having to post this passage made me so angry this time that I walked away from my computer and decided to go to the grocery store instead – only to find that my car has a dead battery. This did not make me Happy Josh.
The worst of this is that I have thousands of people relying on me to give them some spiritual sustenance; 900 in my Facebook group, almost as many e-mail subscribers, and 2000 more who click on my sites from their smartphones, tablets and desktops. They aren’t an audience of millions like TV, but nevertheless I have a serious responsibility here. And the last thing I want to give them is 5000-year-old rules for ancient Hebrews about who they can buy and sell.
I’m not going to stop posting the Office but it does get discouraging at times – mostly because passages like Leviticus 25 drive people away from God instead of bringing them to her.
It’s hard to be a shepherd with one hand tied behind your back.
If we ever get lectionary reform this passage will be dropped like a hot potato. We won’t be “editing the Bible” to take out the nasty bits; lectionaries are always selective, God’s Greatest Hits. But this isn’t one of them. Hasn’t been for centuries. So what is it doing in our churches today?
God damns Leviticus. You read it here.
The existence of the passage can be rationalized; God’s actually putting limits on slavery, which was universally practiced when Leviticus was written. But that doesn’t do us much good now, when it’s universally abolished (though not, of course, eradicated). Google “tortured slaves” and you’ll get the most awful pornography – almost all of it heterosexual, with women as victims (of course).
The real issue isn’t the original text of the Bible, or even the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music’s failure to update the lectionary; we’re talking about words from antiquity here, and nobody’s promoting the Code of Hammurabi and the worship of Marduk these days.
No, the real issue is our understanding of the text – and the callous, wrongheaded, damnable promotion of Biblical infallibility by fundamentalist Protestants all over the world. You know, brain surgeons like this guy:
“Possibly a meteor?” Only if it falls on your head, Pat.
The issue is fundamentalism, whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian; not every last word in their holy scriptures.
The issue isn’t conservative vs. liberal, or or modernity vs. the Middle Ages, or science vs. faith; it only masquerades as these things. Fundamentalism is a method by which some people gain money and power over others, exploiting them and eventually trying to destroy them.
In that way fundamentalism is exactly like the human nature described in holy scriptures: Evil. Selfish. Violent. Deadly.
That’s why we need redemption, and the bibles are right about that. You can’t trust humanity at all.
Christian fundamentalism was invented as a vehicle of power in 1910, with the publication of The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth.
We know, with the rise of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, when Muslim fundamentalism was invented; we know, too, when the Jewish Haredi version appeared, about 1830. All these forms of fundamentalism, which cause so much trouble (and death) in the world, are defensive in nature, trying to protect “the old religion” (or their claims about it) from reason, scholarship, changing times, improving ethics – and the ongoing revelation of God.
The slave atrocity photo I embedded in tomorrow morning’s prayers is an example of improving ethics. Americans fought a Civil War over whether people could own each other; hundreds of thousands of men died saying yes or no. The answer was no; people came to the moral conclusion that no matter what Leviticus says, you may not own another human being. Full stop.
No matter what Leviticus says.
So here came these American fundamentalists to say, “No no no! The Bible is perfect, it’s infallible, it’s inerrant! You must live this way or go to hell!”
And they still say it. Bi, Trans, Gays and Lesbians are the current targets of their murderous ferocity.
Make no mistake, their philosophy is violent, just like the Taliban, just like the ultra-orthodox Jews. They want power and money and they’ll do anything to get it; people are sinners.
And this philosophy has largely captured the Republican Party. Wealth is now God, and war is how they get rich.
They all swore that George W. Bush was appointed by God, and in 2008 they decided Obama was the antichrist. The latest one, anyway; they’re forever declaring antichrists.
We can certainly expect a knockdown-dragout campaign this year. Ironically, one of the targets of The Fundamentals was Mormonism, a new religion which was becoming more and more popular.
Now they’ve got Mitt Romney, a Mormon one-percenter and high school bully, as their Republican nominee.
But since they don’t care about the actual Christian faith, which was only a means to an end anyway, they’re free to hail the Mormon as their new savior. Any port in a storm, I guess.
I’m sure Mitt’s better than John Rushdoony, the ultimate Christian fundamentalist, who hated democracy, promoted home-schooling and wrote that America should enact Leviticus as its moral law, including putting homosexuals to death, along with women who lie about their virginity. (Men apparently are free to lie about theirs.)
Rushdoony wanted his brand of Christians to control the government and every other aspect of life; this is not much different from Pat Robertson or ultra-orthodox Jews.
But God damns Leviticus; you can see why. If Leviticus was the final word, there was no need for Jesus Christ.
I would like The Episcopal Church to stop thinking it has to promote these foul excerpts of Leviticus to satisfy its fundamentalist critics.
But more than that, I think we all need to understand that God does give us the comfort of ongoing revelation; that God hated slavery so much he slew Mississippi to get rid of it; that male ownership of women is as wrong as wrong can get; that capitalism is the unleashing of human depravity; and that, at the very least, we need to treat others as we’d like to be treated.
President Obama cited the Golden Rule and the Crucifixion of Christ last week in endorsing same-sex marriage.++