Religious Interpretation

Religious Interpretation
I’ve been thinking about religion lately, specifically how it seems impossible to maintain the mythical separation between church and state in American politics. I’ve been focusing on how closely religion and patriotism operate, as so many people become passionate when God or country is invoked. I notice how violent religion seems to make people. I observe how similar the people who fundamentally practice the major religions of the world tend to be, as the image of the Christian and Muslim girls holding religious texts and assault rifles in front of their nation’s flags shows. Religion seems to promote an inflammatory dichotomy: harmonious love in conflict with harsh opposition. Practitioners insist their interpreted beliefs are more pious than others, and neighborly treatment can only come from fully accepting the tenets of a group’s organized religious faction. It can create a schizophrenic reaction in the human brain if one attempts to rationalize it; perhaps this explains why politics, which cannot fully sever its relationship with religion, drives the average person crazy.

I believe the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS decision has opened Pandora’s Box, and it’s okay for me to legally and subjectively believe this, as the decision now justifies subjective belief to oppose or endorse national policy and law, according to the loose interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The problem is that freedom of religion has been interpreted to mean freedom-to-practice-fundamental-Christianity only, as interpreted by five male partisan judges, who might lean towards the more misogynistic interpretations of Biblical text. We understand that bringing up the term “abortion” is satisfactory to incite Christian angst and opposition. The four contraceptive methods in question do not perform abortive medical techniques; it is sufficient for fundamental Christians to subjectively believe they are abortifacients. The five SCOTUS judges have approved a narrowly-construed subjective belief as sufficient to successfully oppose a law. The amount of interpretive religious beliefs that might now be invoked to oppose law is too numerous to count. However, it’s understood that the premise of the belief needs to be shared by a sufficient number of believers who join forces as a religious collaboration, and pro-life advocacy is more than sufficient to sway the paternalistic judges. What strikes me is that this decision has mostly to do with whether or not a rich corporate entity should spend money or not for the benefit of their employees. If enough Christians interpreted the Bible to oppose wealth and avarice in America—what with “thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15), Jesus’ angry tantrum against entrepreneurs in the temple (Mark 11:15-18, John 2:14-16), “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 19:24), and many more possible Biblical analogies concerning the evils of money—you might easily make a case that the entire free market system and economy used in America is in violation of religious belief. There is certainly a religious case to be made that corporations are not people. They promote wealth and avarice in violation of the Bible’s teachings, and they certainly would not have to present themselves for Judgment before God when they “die.”

The ISIS invasion of Iraq has religious belief to blame, also. It is fueled by the inner-turmoil of Muslim factions, the Shia and the Sunni, a conflict that is centuries old. Before Christians get too fulsome, remember that the conflict between Protestant and Catholic has its own bloody history. While the Islamic text of the Qur’an does in fact promote love and peace, similar to the text of the Bible, it is the portions that support war and violence that are wielded by ISIS militants (and the Bible suffers from this same multiple personality disorder, e.g., God is loving, and God is vengeful). This might be the latest example of how religious belief is more dangerous than peaceable…

• …except Israel and Palestine have reared their ultra-violent religious heads for the umpteenth time in world history. This time, innocent children are suffering in the most grotesque manner. Admittedly, children have been the victims of religious zealotry on multiple occasions, but these latest incidents are yet again fueling the escalation of a religious war that has brewed for the better part of centuries. Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, were abducted and killed to make some ludicrous religious statement. Then, Mohammed Abu Khieder, 16, is abducted and killed (more like mutilated and immolated) in a seeming act of retribution; Khieder’s cousin, Tariq Abu Khdeir, 15, can be seen beaten enthusiastically by Israeli police on video (after which, this American-Palestinian boy had been detained). Rockets are flying again in the Gaza strip, concrete is tossed back and forth, and military units stand at the ready. Wars fought for religious belief have been a mainstay of human history, and in 2014, we continue to witness the mistakes wrought by collective subjective belief. The only positive religious expression to be found in this conflict is at the individual level: the parents of these slain boys, the persons who suffer the most because of pain and loss, have comforted one another, despite their differing religious factions, despite the religious fervor and panic occurring in their nations, despite centuries-old animosity. They share one another’s grief, consoling each other, as neighbors ought to do, when practicing the substance of any religious interpretation of love and peace.

The Pope recently visited victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. While it is a small gesture, it is more than has been extended in the past. The fact that Catholic priests have violated the trust of their communities in such reprehensible fashion is enough to give pause to even the most devout Catholic. The fact that these sex-offenders have enjoyed protection within the Church in the past signals the necessity of the Pope to make amends. It is not fundamentally spelled out in the Bible that these Catholic priests had committed a sin, but it is common sense to realize that members of the Catholic Papacy have performed the most egregiously evil act of sin towards those whom they had been charged to protect and shelter.

• Back to the idea of American corporations possessing religious beliefs: recently Burger King decided to market the Whopper with rainbow colors to endorse gay pride and respect. Of course, the Christian community has lost their marbles again, skewering the internet with cries of censorship and hatred (here, here, and here). Apparently, Burger King has incorrectly read the Bible, and they should not have the right to express their religious interpretation; only corporations like Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A enjoy the protections of the Christian community…further proof that freedom of religion only extends to those Americans who endorse fundamental Christianity.

• Climate change is occurring, the average temperature of the world is rising, and human consumption of natural resources is to blame. It’s scientifically validated, and if we are to preserve the planet for our children, we need to collectively alter our consumption of fossil fuels. There is no good argument against this, yet we still allow opposing voices to overrule the logical conclusion…because the Bible tells us that the planet is 6,000 years old, dinosaurs had to ride on Noah’s Ark, and God has told us to pillage and plunder the planet so that corporate entities can make un-Godly profits (interestingly, the BBC is addressing this in their news coverage…if you’ll forgive the religious pun, it’ll be a cold day in hell before Christian-minded Fox News does the same).

• In Murrieta, California, protestors have signaled their hatred for needy children by shouting angrily for them to return to their crime-ridden neighborhoods in Central America. How dare they seek refuge from being killed violently at a young age? (…because they likely will be if sent back to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, or even Mexico). According to the Bible, we should love our neighbors (Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39), and certainly Jesus endorsed loving needy children: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). Apparently, these Christian edicts only apply if the children are born within the boundaries of the United States; after all, Christianity is best interpreted by a young country that adopted Christianity as its national religion…and only natural-born citizens are protected by the tenets of the Bible (sarcasm intended). Thank God (no sarcasm here) that Judge Clay Jenkins of Dallas County, Texas has confirmed for me that there are, in fact, good Christians who are willing to construe religious goodness in a manner that is antithetical to erroneous, fundamentalist interpretation (here and here).

I can only come to a startling conclusion as far as religion is concerned: The separation of church and state is a myth. The 1st amendment guarantee of freedom of religion protects fundamentalist Christian Americans only. For those of us who want to practice freedom from religion, we are out of luck. Instead of freely practicing individual religious faith and belief, we are compelled as Americans to follow fundamentalist Christian edicts, whether our personal individual beliefs and interpretations jive with the collective’s or not. As human beings, no matter in what country we live or in what government we follow, we are all at risk of suffering the dangers that humans’ religious interpretation has wrought. God help us all.

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Scott C. Guffey
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  1. As you stated in a previous post. The comments left by people who have read the article are more interesting than the articles themselves. Case and point, the comments on the Christain website you posted a link for. It’s freighting how medieval some people’s beliefs still are.

    1. Absolutely, Michael! I almost included a mention of the comments for that very website in the article, but I didn’t (I had a LOT of extra work and research to put into this blog post!). I’m glad you noticed them, only because it reinforces my greater claim about religious fundamentatlists who lean towards discrimination, violence, and hatred…unfortunately for those of us who interpret religion as tolerance, peace, and love.

    2. For those who want to review the comments of which Michael is referring, they can be found on this page:
      The comments range from Starbucks promotes paganism to gays should be killed. Fundamentalist believers confirming other fundamentalist believers, while some attempt to enlighten those who stubbornly resist. Welcome to modern America. Sheesh.

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