As Mark Twain said, its kind of like dandruff; a lot of people seem to have it and spend an inordinate amount of time and money fooling with it.
My Salvation Army grandfather gave me a King James Version Bible back when I was just a little proto-atheist and I've always treasured it just for the connection to him and the poetry. Whether or not you buy the religion the KGV does have some pretty terrific poetry.
I think part of being irreligious but intrigued by religion is that I was raised in a conventionally religious household but also raised United Presbyterian.
In case you're not familiar with this suburban sort of American Protestantism I should note that it's perhaps the whitest of Wonder Bread religions in this country. Even the Episcopalians (who are probably "whiter" in the pasty-faced Aryan sense) have their smells and bells and their faux-Catholic imagery. The Presbies?
Let's put it this way; when I was a kid I'd actually watch the service and take in what happened and what seemed important and what didn't. Finally one Sunday morning I asked my mother "So...what's so important about the money?"
Because to eight-year-old me the most exciting, most fun, most interesting part of the morning was when people got up and started passing these big brass dishes around. They were heavy, shiny brass with a broad brim and red velvet on the bottom of the cup-shape in the middle. Everybody put money in them while we all sang a song and then the passers took them up front and set them on a table and we all sang another song. It seemed like the highlight of the whole occasion, so I kind of figured that the object was to worship the money. This "God" stuff seemed pretty opaque but the money had its own cool dishes and songs and everything.
My mother was pretty irked at how I missed the point to churchgoing as she saw it. But that is a pretty good summation of how religion never really "took" to me.
So when speaking of the whole "buying the religion", the other morning my Bride (my rose of Sharon, my lily of the valley, my sister, my spouse...) asked me "Are you an atheist, or an agnostic?" and for the life of me I couldn't come up with a good answer. Given my background that probably shouldn't be a real shock, but, still.
"I haven't really thought about it enough to say." was my reply, and I realized that I really hadn't. In a backhanded way I suspect that I'm open to the idea of a god or gods - if no other way simply because I don't know enough about Life, the Universe, and everything to rule out a god or gods - but in my everyday life I really have no use for one or more of them. If there is a god, or are gods, it and they seem to me to be pretty careless of human lives. Both "careless" in the sense of casually throwing them away or bending and breaking them and "care less" in the don't-give-a-shit sense. If there are then they owe me huge for the death of my oldest child. But I don't see anything that makes me suspect that there is anyone there. Our lives appear to be just what we, and others, make of them.
I can see how comforting it'd be to think that there was this incredibly powerful mystical Being that cared about me and had my back. I just don't see any evidence that's true, and don't see the sense in spending a great deal of time fretting about that. I have all sorts of intellectual and moral wellsprings to learn from and to guide me. I don't feel the lack of or the need for a deity for that, so I guess the best way to describe wouldn't be "atheist" or "agnostic" but "indifferent".
Anyway, I got to thinking about all this when I came across Jim Wright's post over at Stonekettle Station about the recent brou-ha-ha over "religious freedom" and hatin' on Teh Gays that cited a bunch of the usual directives from Leviticus. You know what I'm talking about, right? Don't eat owl, leave seed in the field for the poor, don't bonk a guy like you would a girl, that sort of thing.
As you'd expect, down in the comments section several discussions ensued about the Levitican prohibitions and how they apply, or don't, to Christians. And that was sort of fascinating to me, historian and self-identifying scholar that I think I am. Because they all circle back to a single source; the text of one of the Gospels, Matthew, chapter 5, verses 17-19:
"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled."That made me run down a bunch of commentary on this piece of Matt, which seems to be one of the more contentious issues in Christian exegesis.
The bottom line seems to be the question of "when the Christ said "fulfilled" what did he mean by that?" The passage in Matthew seems to suggest that the old Levitican strictures - indeed, all the laws and directives laid down prior to the 1st Century C.E. - might "pass" once "all is fulfilled". And it seems that many Christian theologians think that with the Christ the law was fulfilled; that with the events that are reported as occurring 2,015 years ago the old laws "pass". These scholars cite passages like Paul's Epistle to the Romans, chapter 10, verse 4: "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth."
What the hell does that mean?
But does it mean that modern Christians are exempt from the stuff laid down in the Old Testament?
(As an aside, let's hope so. There's some pretty appalling shit in there. Take, for example, Exodus, chapter 21. That's the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" bit that a lot of us think of when we think of "Old Testament-y" crime and punishment. But that's actually pretty mild compared to the slavery. Selling your daughter into slavery? Jake with the Lord. You just can't sell her to smelly foreigners. Or if you and your wife are slaves after six years you get your "Get out of slavery free" card. But...if you married during those six years? Your wife and kiddies belong to your former master. Seriously.)
All this is good fun, but the question before the floor remains; are modern Christians bound by the Levitican strictures against homosexuality and homosexuals? Or does Christ "fulfill" those strictures and replace them with his own words, none of which discusses the question of who gets to go into the Fun Zone and how and whether that's bad?
Lemme cut to the crux of the biscuit: it doesn't really matter. You either don't get to hate on the queers...or hatin' on the homos is the least of your worries.
If old laws still apply, and if you want to hate the homos you also can't eat fat (Leviticus 3:17) or pet a dog (Leviticus 5:2) or wear cotton-poly fabrics. You basically can't live a modern life. I suppose if the idea of a couple of husky bears kissing reeeeeally drives you wild you could do that, but I'd put the actual number of Americans that could in the low single digits.
Go read that Leviticus stuff. I'm serious - it's completely fucking whack.
Or they don't, and you pretty much have to go with what J-dawg said:
"And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these."Don't see "...except for the homos" after the "thyself". Seems to pretty much settle that.
So Christopath-Americans? You can all go home now. You're wrong.
Sue, kiss Sally. Joe, kiss Matt. Everybody happy now?
The hell with all this legal parsing. Let's have some poetry.
"Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks.
Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armoury, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.
Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies.
Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense.
Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.
Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions' dens, from the mountains of the leopards.
Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck.
How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices!
Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.
A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.
Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard,
Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices:
A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon."
(Song of Solomon 4:3-15)