During the debate between scientist Bill Nye and creationist Ken Ham one of Ham’s most frequent responses to being challenged by Nye to present evidence for creationism was “There’s a book.” The response was to invoke circular logic and say that refuting the Bible was wrong because the Bible says it is wrong. While it likely did not convince anyone it did protect Ham from having to admit directly that there was no evidence. Ham could always just point at the mere existence of the Bible as proof that what the Bible said was true. For many desperate to cling to anachronistic ideas this circular logic feels solid enough to cling to.
Of course the problem is that argument could be made to justify any belief. “There’s a book” that says X therefore X is true.
Enter Damon Linker’s ridiculous argument in The Week trying to differentiate racism and homophobia on grounds that one should be more tolerated because it has a stronger theological justification.
We, as a society, should tolerate homophobia more than racism because – “There’s a book.”
… strictures against homosexuality are rooted far more deeply in the Judeo-Christian tradition than racism ever was. Yes, slavery is found throughout the Scriptures and comes in for criticism only, at best, by implication. But race-based slavery — and the racism that made it possible and continues to infect ideas and institutions throughout the West to this day — receives no explicit endorsement from the Bible…
The same cannot be said about the normative teaching on human sexuality contained within the Judeo-Christian scriptures — and even more so, within the interpretative and theological traditions that grow out of them.
Linker’s point in the context of proving homophobia and racism have different support in the Bible is probably correct. So what?
Modern racism as a social construct was designed, codified, and promoted by the British Empire and later European powers in the 19th century . So, of course, it will not be found among ancient texts. Though it is worth noting that the ancient Tribe of Israel is alleged to have engaged in what could today be called genocidal warfare – genocide blessed and commanded by God. Was the God of the Old Testament racist?
It doesn’t matter because the Bible is mythology and as a result not relevant to serious policy discussions in our secular society – whether those discussions be about sex, death, or taxes. That’s the point Linker is missing. It does not matter if the Bible justifies homophobia, it does not matter if “There’s a book.” The Bible or any other religious text is not valid evidence of truth in a debate over public policy. So while Linker’s scriptural point may be correct it is not relevant to the larger debate.
That being said, we have a First Amendment that guarantees freedom of expression and worship and should “people of the book” wish to deny some of their fellow citizens places in their hearts, for whatever reason, that is their right. Just not in the public square. That violates the First Commandment for a free society – keep thy religion to thyself.
Image from the Society of Biblical Archeology under public domain.