Theologian admits: “the good book is not a rule book”

Better than that, Jennifer Knust wrote a book herself: Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire and I’ve come across an interview with her done by Stephen Prothero (author of Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—and Doesn’t). Says Knust about why she wrote her book:

the Bible continues to be invoked in today’s public debates as if it should have the last word on contemporary American sexual morals. The only way the Bible can be a sexual rulebook is if no one reads it. Unprotected Texts seeks to offer a comprehensive, accessible discussion of the Bible in its entirety, demonstrating the contradictory nature of the Biblical witness and encouraging readers to take responsibility for their interpretations of it.

I bold what I find funny, especially on account of Prothero’s next question:

But everybody knows the Bible is against abortion and gay marriage and premarital sex. Is everybody really wrong?

Short answer, yes. Knust even provides an example from the Bible of pre-marital coitus from the story of Ruth and Boaz, who thought she was hot.

When Naomi heard about it, she encouraged Ruth to adorn herself and approach Boaz at night while he was sleeping to see what would happen. Ruth took this advice, resting with him until morning after first “uncovering his feet” (in Hebrew, “feet” can be a euphemism for male genitals).

Who knew? Of course, this makes me wonder about suggestions to kiss and wash feet elsewhere in the bible…but I digress.

In terms of using the bible as a basis for morality in general:

We can certainly turn to the Bible for guidance on moral issues, but we should not expect to find simple answers to the moral questions we are asking. Sometimes Biblical conclusions are patently immoral. Sometimes they are deeply inspiring. In either case, we are left with the responsibility for determining what we will believe and affirm.

And interpretations always tend to reflect the bias in the reader, what appeals to the reader, and what he/she already abhors, like homosexuality. She also reminds Prothero that everything we think we know about Jesus has come from earlier interpretations and adjustments made by transcribers and translators.

Both authors agree that politicians manipulate interpretations of the book to fit their own agendas even when the verses they might use to prop up their hollow arguments are used without comprehension of the history and original intent.

I’m not interested in judging who gets things wrong or right. Instead I would like to convince all of us to take responsibility for the interpretations we are promoting. I would like us to stop pretending that the Bible has been dictating our conclusions to us so that we can evaluate the implications of what we are defending. The question for me is not whether an interpretation is valid, but whether it is valuable, and to whom.

Who is it helping, who is it hurting? Prothero makes the point that most people think they have the power to make God do what they want, as if God were some genie in a bottle they can haul out for revenge purposes every time somebody hurts their feelings. Yet they’ll later claim God wanted to do it because that’s how they want to interpret events. But what happens when people actually think God speaks through them by their actions, Prothero seems to ask. Are they wrong? Knust’s response:

we are human beings, not God. By claiming that we can be certain about matters that we only partially understand, we are placing ourselves in the role of God. From a Christian perspective anyway, this is a serious sin. Certainty is not granted to us.

Knust then uses herself as an example. She’s come to the conclusion that “loving one’s neighbor is God’s chief requirement.” She explains how she came to this conclusion and admits there are parts of the Bible that clearly contradict this idea so she can never be positively certain she’s right. But she’s going to believe this is true anyway. It’s better than the alternatives.

As an atheist, I don’t think I’d suggest people look in the bible for truth. All one can really say about it is that it holds a lot of information people have thought is true. Parts of it probably are. Parts of it probably are myth. Parts of it might be completely made up and folkloric, stories told for the lessons we can glean from them, not because they actually happened. Parts of it are likely propaganda. Parts of it are likely flat-out wrong.

Sure, it’s useful to know what’s in there, but what really matters is what you wind up doing with that knowledge. Are you using it to justify your hatred? Are you using it to promote peace? Are you using it to unite or divide? Are you using it to guide your own life and morality or because you think quoting it gives you the right to say how others should live? What are you doing with it?

edit 4:10 pm — There’s another book that might be interesting to check out and read along side hers: God and sex : what the Bible really says by Michael Coogan. See if they are saying the same thing or contradicting each other…

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Canadian Atheist Basically ordinary Library employee Avid book lover Ditto for movies Wanna-be writer Procrastinator
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