Updated: January 4, 2013 6:18AM
The Bible never actually tells Jews they can’t eat cheeseburgers. What the Bible — or the Torah, as we call it — actually commands is to never “cook a kid in its mother’s milk,” saying it three times, in fact, twice in Exodus and again in Deuteronomy.
Now the Jew looking to justify eating a Big Mac wouldn’t need to be a Talmudic scholar to find his way around that edict, which could be read, if one chose, as applicable only to the cooking of young goats.
But that isn’t how centuries of sages spun it — they said it related to the avoidance of cruelty, and thus applied to all meats and all milk. No goat cheese on your beef burger, even though the odds of one giving birth to the other are pretty slim.
Just one reminder that scriptures — whether the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Quran, or whatever tome you permit to run your life — are long, complicated works open to endless interpretation.
In a strongly fundamentalist society, such as the United States, where clerics have an outsized influence in public policy, the faithful like to pretend that they are only following the will of God as commanded in the Bible. When, if you actually look at what the Bible says, the situation often becomes murky, and you get people doing not what they’re ordered to do but what they want to do, and then shoring up otherwise indefensible positions by pointing to a line or two of scripture.
For instance, creationism. The earth is 4 billion years old — we know that as solidly as we know anything. But if you take the Bible as literal truth, as many do, you can read it in such a way that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. And while you’d think that nobody in the modern age would want to do that, nearly half of Americans — 42 percent — not only believe that but believe it so strongly they insist it be taught as science in public schools.
That believing the creation myth to be literal truth is an interpretation, like the cheeseburger ban, which even the most fundamentalist Christian can either accept or reject, was driven home last Tuesday by Pat Robertson, of all people, on his program “The 700 Club.”
Typically Robertson uses his faith — as so many of all religions do — as a pretext for cruelty and irrationality. It was Robertson who called Hurricane Katrina divine punishment for American abortion policies, and who vigorously agreed when Jerry Falwell blamed the 9/11 attacks on feminists, gays and the ACLU. “I totally concur,” Robertson said.
But times change, as sometimes reflected, where you least expect it. A woman wrote to Robertson, upset because her husband and son, by not believing dinosaurs to be 6,000 years old, would therefore not go to heaven.
“People will probably try to lynch me when I say this,” Robertson began. “But Bishop Ussher, God bless him, wasn’t inspired by the Lord when he said it all took 6,000 years. It just didn’t. And you go back in time, you’ve got radiocarbon dating, you’ve got all these things, and you’ve got the carcasses of dinosaurs frozen in time out in the Dakotas. ... There was a time when these giant reptiles were on the Earth, and it was before the time of the Bible. So don’t try to cover it up and make like everything was 6,000 years. That’s not the Bible.”
When I first heard about this, I assumed someone had taken an Onion parody seriously. Then I viewed the actual video. You could argue that Roberston, bless him, says whatever pops into his head. This just happens to be something I agree with but has no more weight than when Robertson claimed Doomsday would occur in 1982.
But Robertson added something at the end of his remarks, which makes me think this statement might have actual significance.
“If you fight science, you are going to lose your children,” Robertson said. “And I believe in telling them the way it was.”
A primary, if not the primary, purpose of religion is to replicate itself. That, by the way, is what those kosher laws are really for. Jews might tell themselves they’re keeping them to declare their adoration of the Lord, but what the laws actually do is make it difficult for observant Jews to eat with gentiles. You can’t break bread together, you can’t socialize, your daughter doesn’t marry their son and so eventually your religion isn’t assimilated away — a doom we are seeing played out now, by the way.
As much as religion pretends it reflects eternal verities, the fact is, when faith serves up too much nonsense for the rank and file to stomach, and they start walking out the door, it is religion, and not the truth, that shifts. Creationism won’t prevail because it is a fiction. Even Pat Robertson, 82, can see that, now.