Scholar claims Bible misused in American society
By Matthew Stewart | (email@example.com)
Many American Christians have supplanted their love of God with family and nation, according to a Bible scholar.
Dr. Dale B. Martin, Woolsey Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University, lectured Tuesday about the misuse of the Bible in American public life. He spoke to an at-capacity crowd in Clayton Center for the Arts’ Harold and Jean Lambert Recital Hall.
“The two gods of American idolatry are family and nation,” he said. “It somewhat parallels the Romans. They had temples dedicated to the family and Rome.”
People have to divorce the Bible from its historical and critical context and “terribly twist” it to make it support the two items, Martin said. “Both the right and left pride themselves on family and patriotism. We may as well be burning incense and worshipping at the temple of Caesar.”
Discussing Jesus Christ, Martin said the “historical Jesus” was a construct, not the real person.
Jesus wasn’t a family man, Martin said. He called others to be itinerant men and women.
The professor referenced excerpts from Luke 9 and Matthew 8, in which a man tells Jesus that he will follow him after he buries his father. In response, Jesus said: “Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.”
Many scholars believe the man was referring to a secondary burial, Martin said.
Ancient ritual dictated that a body would lie on a slab in the family’s tomb for one year, he said, after which the eldest son would take the bones and place them in a box.
A pious Jewish man would mourn from death until the secondary burial, Martin said. So, Jesus’ order was radical for the first century.
Early Christians also advocated the avoidance of sex and marriage, he said. “It was the Christian way of higher virtue.”
The Apostle Paul preferred celibacy to marriage, Martin said. Ancient philosophers, including the Stoics, believed wise, moral people could overcome destructive emotions.
“Marriage was an unfortunate second choice,” he said. If people couldn’t control their sexual desires, Paul thought it was better for them to have release in marriage.
Martin cited 1 Corinthians 7:9, which reads: “But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” In the ancient world, people referred to passion and desire as a physical, literal burning.
Marriage wasn’t placed on par with celibacy for several more centuries, he said.
“Nowadays, a lot of people believe family is the higher virtue. They’re going against 1,500 years of Christian doctrine, tradition and practice. It’s a radically recent invention. The nuclear family wasn’t really promoted until 1950. It’s barely 60 years old. They’re reversing centuries of doctrine, and they say homosexuals who want to get married are radical,” Martin said.
He challenged audience members to think about new community models. “We need a vision of society bigger than marriage — some place for single people to feel at home besides a relationship. People are absolutely scared to death that they won’t find someone and fall in love. We need alternative communities open for everyone, not just families.”
Skeptical of state
Early Christians were also skeptical of secular authority, Martin said.
He cited Matthew 22:17-22, in which Jesus answers a question of whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. “Jesus said, give the state our taxes but not our loyalty. We owe that directly to God.”
The Apostle Paul taught that people should honor their leaders in Romans, Martin said. “That’s far from shouting love of country.”
Jesus was crucified by Romans and the ruling elite in Jerusalem, he said. The Romans were mainly responsible for the execution, because they reserved the right to crucifixion for themselves.
The Apostle John later equates Rome with Babylon in Revelation, Martin said. “It’s depicted as depraved, unjust, foul and thoroughly blood soaked. He said that Roman oppression of others through terrible violence and war would bring it down.”
The Bible doesn’t support national loyalty, he said. “Nowhere are we told to be patriotic. Nowhere are we told be nationalistic. It’s apathetic toward the state at best, and hostile in most places.”