Sunday, October 07, 2012
I thought we could start our day with a little Mark Twain.
Below are a few excerpts that came to my attention recently from a collection of Twain's writings titled "Europe and Elsewhere," which he wrote sometime between 1872 and 1908. It was published in 1923, thirteen years after his passing.
The portions below are taken from the part of the collection called "Bible Teaching and religious Practice."
The Christian Bible is a drug store. Its contents remain the same; but the medical practice changes.
The texts remain: it is the practice that has changed. Why? Because the world has corrected the Bible. The Church never corrects it; and also never fails to drop in at the tail of the procession - and take the credit of the correction.
Christian England supported slavery and encouraged it for two hundred and fifty years, and her church’s consecrated ministers looked on, sometimes taking an active hand, the rest of the time indifferent. England’s interest in the business may be called a Christian interest, a Christian industry. She had her full share in its revival after a long period of inactivity, and his revival was a Christian monopoly; that is to say, it was in the hands of Christian countries exclusively. English parliaments aided the slave traffic and protected it; two English kings held stock in slave-catching companies.
Our own conversion came at last. We began to stir against slavery. Hearts grew soft, here, there, and yonder. There was no place in the land where the seeker could not find some small budding sign of pity for the slave. No place in all the land but one - the pulpit. It yielded at last; it always does. It fought a strong and stubborn fight, and then did what it always does, joined the procession - at the tail end.
Slavery fell. The slavery text remained; the practice changed, that was all.
During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after doing its duty in but a lazy and indolent way for eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumbscrews, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood.
Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry. Who discovered that there was no such thing as a witch - the priest, the parson? No, these never discover anything. At Salem, the parson clung pathetically to his witch text after the laity had abandoned it in remorse and tears for the crimes and cruelties it has persuaded them to do. The parson wanted more blood, more shame, more brutalities; it was the unconsecrated laity that stayed his hand. In Scotland the parson killed the witch after the magistrate had pronounced her innocent; and when the merciful legislature proposed to sweep the hideous laws against witches from the statute book, it was the parson who came imploring, with tears and imprecations, that they be suffered to stand.
There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain.
"The texts that authorized them remain."
Today we are dealing with the growing acceptance of homosexuality. And of course, as every time throughout human history, the church is fighting social change. Ultimately we know it will gain acceptance, and will no longer be the subject of persecution, despite the best attempts of the church to hold progress at bay.
The practice of fearing homosexuality and punishing those in the gay community will change. But the text will remain the same.
The text always remains the same.