Sunday, April 12, 2009

Why theology doesn't belong in politics

[I wrote this post to be part of Blog Against Theocracy 2009, but had internet problems and couldn't get it posted in time. Here's my late contribution.]

Because our interpretation changes. There's a passage describing Moses coming down from the mountain carrying the Ten Commandments, his face radiating with divine light (
karan ‘or panav). At some point the line was misread as keren ’or panav, the light from his face was a horn. From this people naturally assumed that all Jews had horns, a bizarre prejudice that endures to this day.

Because our understanding changes. It was just last year that giraffes were declared kosher. Will this have a huge impact on many people's lives? Probably not. But the point is our understanding and definitions of words like "life", "slavery", "moral", and "marriage" have changed a great deal since our holy texts were first written, and they continue to change today.

Because our application changes. In the past three years the Catholic Church eliminated limbo and introduced several new mortal sins. These changes made sense within the Church at the time, and still do, but are of such magnitude and touch on such central issues as to give the lie to the idea of religious constancy.

Because the wording changes. To misquote my favorite Biblical exegesis scholar, there are more variations between known versions of the New Testament than there are words in the New Testament ("
There are approximately 150,000 variations in the manuscripts we have today" according to The Interactive Bible).. We cannot base our legal system on a book, any book, when we don't even know what words it uses.

Religion influences people. It influences the way we develop, the people we become, and yes even the laws we make. Key word there is influence. The final decision still must be made by the person. Our government, our laws must be in the best interest of the country, not the best interest of a book.

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