One thing that irks me as a post-Biblical literalist is the reminders I get from so many who take the Bible as inerrant on what, “[it] ‘clearly’ says.” It’s as if my twenty-seven years of living that life never happened. Like I didn’t go to church thrice a week for nearly three decades and hear the same teachings and messages that everyone else heard. And while I don’t have the Bible memorized as well as others, now I get treated like I don’t know what it says at all, and that can get frustrating all too quickly.
Biblical literalists don’t seem to comprehend that there is a difference between what the Bible says and how it reads through a critical lens. Literalists also like to treat the Bible like a book of law or a rulebook in general, which it isn’t. And even when specific laws are outlined like in Exodus and Leviticus – these laws are historical in context and were meant for a specific group at a specific time; most do not apply in modern society. What these scriptures mean to us today is always a matter of interpretation.
For example: “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13 KJV). The following are some justifications and interpretations as to when and why it might be okay to disregard this commandment though:
- “Thou shalt not kill,” unless you’re called to war. It’s okay if you’re a soldier with a duty to protect our “Christian” nation. It’s okay because you’re either proactively or reactively fighting an enemy in a cosmic war against God’s people. As long as it’s for your country, it’s not a sin to take a life. The Bible says, “thou shalt not kill,” but that’s not what it means in this context.
- “Thou shalt not kill,” unless it’s self-defense. If someone comes at you or your family, or breaks into your home you are morally obligated to protect them and yourself. Use any means necessary if you have to. If you happen to kill the attacker or intruder, it’s okay. This isn’t what the Bible meant when it says not to kill. Self-defense isn’t murder. Self-defense is self-defense, and whoever attacked your family or broke into your home is responsible for their death.
- “Thou shalt not kill,” but some people deserve to die. Capital punishment is an acceptable form of punishment for those who have committed egregious crimes. Besides, advocating for laws in favor of, or resisting laws against, capital punishment isn’t the same as killing someone. If someone is executed, it’s done by the state in which they reside, not by a random individual. And even for the executioner(s) themselves, they’re not violating what the scripture means. They’re not just arbitrarily killing anyone. So, it’s okay.
- “Thou shalt not kill,” but there’s nothing against owning a weapon intended to kill. In fact, you should definitely own a weapon intended to kill. It doesn’t mean you’ve violated God’s law because you won’t actually use it for its intent. Unless of course, you have to if someone attacks you or your family or breaks into your home. But again, self-defense isn’t the same as murder, and so it’s not a violation of the commandment. And since it’s not a violation to kill for self-defense – then you should be prepared to deliver your personal brand of capital punishment. Get yourself a gun and if ever provoked to use it – shoot to kill. God will understand.
Now, of all the laws or instructions littered throughout the Bible, The Ten Commandments are probably the most well-known and also revered as the highest set of laws. If there were a hierarchy of the most important things to follow from the Bible, I would imagine most Christians would place The Ten Commandments towards the top of this list. I’d also imagine that, of the natural laws within the Ten Commandments, not killing someone would be at the top of that list
I think it’s safe to assume that we’re all on the same page as to why murdering someone is wrong. We all agree, not only that this is what the Bible says, but that this is what the Bible means. But if that’s the case, then why do we have so many justifications for when it’s okay to take a life? Why is it okay to approve of war on an institutional level or go to war on an individual level? Why do so many Christians approve of the death penalty? And why are so many so active when it comes to gun rights but passive when it comes to talking about legislation to limit the, roughly, thirty thousand deaths that guns cause annually?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not against self-defense when it’s necessary. I’m not against gun ownership, generally speaking, and I’m not a pacifist. The death penalty is the only example I use that I’m broadly against. But my point is, if staunch literalists can understand the difference between blatant murder and self-defense, then how come so many can’t understand the difference between two adults of the same sex who love each other and an adult that commits sexual assault or rapes someone of the same sex?
The way in which we interpret, “thou shalt not kill,” today is with the understanding that there are mitigating circumstances where it would be legally and religiously permissible for a person to disregard a chief commandment, one of the Ten Commandments. We know the difference between murder and self-defense, even though the Bible makes no “clear” distinctions of this nature for us. Many, however, still struggle with understanding the difference between sexual orientation and exploitative practices like pederasty, prostitution, and slavery.
Perhaps this isn’t the best comparison, I know. But if you can distance yourself from the ingrained biases and precepts about what the Bible “clearly” says – maybe you can take some time to critically examine the passages you believe condemn the lives of your LGBTQ brothers and sisters who embrace their orientations. Maybe you could stop referring to their love as abominable and instead reserve those types of accusations for those who sexually exploit, harm and abuse others.
Leviticus doesn’t speak against homosexuality. And Paul doesn’t speak against homosexuality; not any more than The Ten Commandments speak against self-defense or acts of war. There is a distinction, and it’s time more people understood that.