Topic: Media

The Bible: Legitimate Source, but No Excuse

The Rev. Pat Robertson is at it again. This time, he attributed Ariel Sharon’s catastrophic stroke as appropriate divine retribution for giving up land in the Gaza Strip to Palestinians. Coming on the heels of his other over-the-top comments, like advocating the assassination of the president of Venezuela and declaring that God should take revenge on the citizens of Dover, Pennsylvania for tossing out its anti-evolution school board, Robertson’s comments set off another round of condemnations and, incredibly enough, support for the Virginian fundamentalist. You may well ask how any fair and intelligent individual could defend a statement from a prominent public figure—a minister, in fact— that a foreign statesman felled by a near fatal stroke deserved to be struck down. Has kindness, empathy, sympathy, forgiveness, and charity been banished from civilized ethics? Can this conduct possibly be squared with the Golden Rule? Do not Robertson’s words obviously constitute a mean-spirited, tasteless and graceless attack on an aged and stricken man who cannot defend himself?

No, say his defenders. You can’t criticize Robertson, because all he was doing is quoting the Bible. Here’s former Congressman John Kasich sticking up for the Reverend, as he substituted for Bill O’Reilly on Fox News’ “The Factor”:

…It wasn’t a statement out of some mean guy — he claims that he was quoting the book of Joel, and if you read the Book of Joel and what it says here — he’s basically saying, it wasn’t him, it was something he quoted out of the scripture… it’s a reading of the Old Testament — he has his view, to label it somehow, you know, off the deep end, I don’t think is fair.

The Scoreboard has on multiple occasions derided the frequently heard argument that one’s beliefs are less legitimate when they spring from religious influences. This usually comes in the form of someone accusing a religious policy-maker or opinion leader of trying to “impose his religious beliefs.” Personal convictions come from many sources, and religion is as valid a source as any of them, including school, literature, family, personal experience, or inspiration. Opinions, convictions and policy decisions need to be judged on their own merits, and not based on where they came from. But those whose positions are heavily influenced by their religious beliefs can’t have it both ways. The can’t insist that their opinions be accorded respect based on merit, and then argue, when someone like Pat Robertson makes a hateful statement, that it isn’t “fair” to hold him accountable because it was inspired by the Bible.

The Bible contains support for many wretched and terrible things, such as slavery, stoning, the shunning of gays and apartheid. It’s a free country, and Americans who want to jump on the Biblical bandwagon and declare their support of such conduct can do so, but they had better be prepared to accept the public criticism that will, and should, follow. The Bible is supposed to carry spiritual inspiration for good, not ammunition for hate. If Pat Robertson chooses to employ it for the latter, he, and not the book whose words he has used repeatedly in inappropriate and profoundly offensive contexts, is wholly at fault and should be criticized accordingly.

To paraphrase a familiar slogan: the Bible doesn’t hurt people; irresponsible and hateful television ministers hurt people.

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