Don’t Shoot the Messenger; Destroy the Message
Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 15 June, 2016
Copyright © Dr. Seshadri Kumar. All Rights Reserved.
Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.
In the wake of the Orlando shooting, some people have posted links of Christian pastors who support the shooting because the victims were gay and because Christianity abhors homosexuality. Most people react to these posts by calling the pastors bigots and demonizing them. They refer to their speeches as hate speeches and ask YouTube to remove the links where they are supporting these killings.
But all of these people are misguided.
I saw one of these videos because one of my friends, in a similar vein, shared a news article about a Pastor Roger Jimenez, with a link to a video of his, who said that he was sorry the killer did not “finish the job.” Pastor Jimenez would have liked the killer to kill everyone in the bar because they were sinners owing to the fact that they were gay.
I saw the video. Pastor Jimenez is very clear and articulate. I thought what he says in the video is very logical and clear. Christians should react to this incident as Christians, he says, and then he proceeds to explain what exactly the Bible says about homosexuality. He quotes passage after passage, verbatim, from the Bible, that clearly talk about how God views homosexuality. There is absolutely no ambiguity about what God wants for these sinners. The implication is clear: if you are to be a true Christian, and if you claim to follow the Bible, then you must feel as he does – that those gays deserved to die, because that is what God would have wanted.
So, is the fault with Pastor Jimenez or the Bible that he follows? The Bible that all Christians follow? Which is also common to Jews and Muslims? (For the most part, with some minor variations, the Old Testament is common).
This is the book that is considered so holy that witnesses are asked to testify in Court after swearing on it. If the book is considered sacred, can we blame Pastor Jimenez from simply quoting from it and obtaining the logical inferences? I do not think anything that Pastor Jimenez said was inconsistent with the Bible. The God of the Bible would want us to kill all the homosexuals in the world. If we allow the Bible to be called holy, then Pastor Jimenez said nothing wrong.
If, on the other hand, we say that what he said was abhorrent, then understand that the abhorrent stuff came from a book that we say is holy. You cannot have it both ways.
It is kind of silly to expect followers of a religion to not follow the teachings in their holy book. Somehow we expect that Christians should selectively read from the Bible. Why? Why put this burden on the religious follower?
No. If you think what he said was wrong, change the Bible! Christianity, and every other religion, needs another reformation to keep with the times (to the extent that one needs religion at all.) Pastor Jimenez has done nothing wrong in simply quoting passages from what you accept as a holy book and giving the logical conclusion from the teaching in that book!!
This highlights one theme that I have believed in for a long time – that the key to changing the offensive behaviour of religious people is changing their offensive scriptures.
As long as the Quran says that it is okay to stone a woman to death for adultery, you are going to have Islamic governments practice such laws. When their religion places women so low, of course women, rather than their rapists, will be punished when they are raped by men. If Sharia says the penalty for stealing is to cut off the hand, should you really be surprised when an Islamic government actually institutes this punishment? No.
It is the same Quran that the killer, Omar Mateen, had read. The same Quran which shares the Old Testament with Christianity. Which, like the Bible, teaches its followers that homosexuality is a sin. That those who are gay or lesbian are sinners in Allah’s eyes. Should we be surprised that someone who believes his religious scripture takes it upon himself to kill people in a gay bar?
It is the same in any religion – only the themes may be different. When Hinduism explicitly tells you that high caste people should not mix with untouchables (yes, the scriptures explicitly say so – do not tell me it is a social custom. I have studied it, and it is in the scriptures), how do you expect upper-caste Hindus today to intermarry with Dalits, allow them into their temples. or even mix socially or eat together with them, when they know the caste of the other person? If they do so, they are disobeying their religious scriptures. In other words, a true Hindu cannot be free from caste prejudice, as Ambedkar said long ago in his “Annihilation of Caste.”
If religious scripture says something, then true followers of the religion are bound to obey the scripture. By asking them to be more liberal, you are essentially saying they should be apostates. Is this fair?
No, the solution is to change religious scripture for the better. It would be best to completely abandon religion and make everyone a humanist, but that would be wishing for the moon. So this is the next best thing: Get religious leaders to agree to change their scripture; ask them to tell their followers that these were wrong notions that are not central to the message of their God; that these have crept into their scripture over centuries; and need to be removed.
Religious leaders may not oblige, and it is quite likely there will be resistance. Religious leaders may plead inability – that they have no authority to change what they consider the word of God. Then it is the job of individual nation-states to declare offensive portions of the religious scripture of each religion illegal – that anyone preaching these offensive parts of their religion can be imprisoned and fined. If religions will not reform themselves, then civil society has to step in. If Popes and Pontiffs and Imams will not declare parts of their religion wrong, then Governments have to step in and tell them that yes, their God was wrong about some things. Anyone found preaching any of the offensive parts or propagating them in any form – in print, on air, or on the internet – should be arrested forthwith.
To be sure, there will be people arguing that this infringes on the right to practice their religion. But if your religion asks its followers to kill others or discriminate against others, is it not against the principles of your Constitution? How can you allow something unconstitutional and illegal to be preached and create a social crisis? Arguments for freedom of religion are untenable when considering the high cost of allowing these passages to be preached. The Constitution should be the holiest book of the land, and any holy book that contradicts the Constitution must be brought in line with it.
One cannot have two mutually contradicting codes of conduct for the same behaviours under two authorities. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”