Society and the Bible
The reader will remember that inrikesminister Päivi Räsänen was a not very long time ago saying in front of an audience that there might be situations when the Bible could (should?) be more important than the laws of Finland. She said this in front of an assembly of Christian believers, so that one could say that the audience might well have considered her sayings as quite fitting (and one could excuse her for having adapted to the audience), but since then she was reported to have confirmed her formulation during the ensuing (less Christian) public debate. And in fact there really was a public debate as soon as her formulation had appeared in the media – the debate was heated, resulting in, among others, large numbers of people leaving the church.
Now to us on the political Left it is certainly no unfamiliar thought that in some situations there are considerations which are overriding the laws of Finland – such will then result in civil disobedience, in asylum seekers who are threatened with extradition being hidden from the police, and similar. As the justification for such illegal acts will, on the Left, usually be given terms like ”civilized conduct”, ”simple human decency”, or that what the authorities were planning is ”simply no way of dealing with humans”. Thus, do we then agree with Päivi Räsänen?
What I should say in answer is: Not quite. And the first reason for my disagreement is that she has chosen just the Bible as the higher authority. If one reads the Bible, then the seemingly simple truths of Christian rules are becoming very much less simple. If there is, e.g., somewhere written that ”Thou shalt not kill!”, then it turns out at a closer reading that the Bible is preaching that (a) on your own initiative you can anyway kill any member of another species, and (b) if an authority says so, you certainly can, even should, kill also other humans. This even then if the commanding authority is basing its position just on the claim that the word of the Lord has occurred to it (nowadays rather a case for the psychiatry). The resulting events, as reported by the Bible, reveal then somebody like Moses as something like ”Djingis Khan on foot”, i.e. a person to whom we are presumably reluctant to ascribe an authority which were higher than the laws of Finland.
The trouble with the church is that is has by tradition been inconsequent in its dealings with the Bible. It is logically really not possible to claim that all of the Bible were a sacred text and at the same time to claim things like ”God is love”. The Old Testament is full of commands which make it very easy to eagerly mob or otherwise mistreat minorities of any type (and as we see by the example of the American Christian Right, it is in fact used for just that), and it is also holding up as examples to be followed such persons whom we nowadays would rather consider as preachers of hate. In this situation the church would have the possibility simply to drop the Old Testament, saying something like ”sorry, but as Christians we accept only the New Testament as an authority, especially Jesus and those who have seemingly been in contact with him (which is not quite true of Paulus, who has still obvious difficulties with his Jewish values, e.g. concerning the position of women – he began, after all, as a Jewish hunter of Christians, and it would be unreasonable to assume that he could have got rid of all his earlier convictions just at one stroke …)”. Christianity, same as Islam, is an offshoot from the Old Testament. Its success, same as that of Islam, is presumably based on the fact that it is very much more compatible with the demands of a civilized society, while the Old Testament rather represents a rather bloodthirsty tribal religion. But the church does not take the step of cutting loose from the Old Testament. And that is why Päivi Räsänen’s formulation is not acceptable.
It arises the question how to react to the fact that Finland has a well-established church which publicly holds up the Bible as an authority. One idea could be to demand that the state, e.g., should stop collecting taxes for the church, so that the true believers would have to pay themselves for all the services they expect. Unluckily we see by the example of the US Christian Right that this would be dangerous: being aware that they are paying quite some share of their income for the upkeep of the church, the members might very easily get the idea that they also have the right to see some visible ”action” (up to and including the bombing of abortion clinics and murder of their staff), i.e. society might see the rise of a rather dangerous group (already as it is now the true believers show a tendency to describe all nonbelievers as, e.g., totally irresponsible consumerists who, e.g., want abortions just to secure their fun …).
To fight religion in general by militant atheism may sometimes be necessary (as it was, e.g., in Great Britain under Blair – and certainly no blame on Richard Dawkins for doing so – and is still necessary in the USA), but it will not easily succeed very far: for the brain it is impossible in principle to really embrace the presumably most realistic idea of our state after death (i.e. that there is nothing, not even the regret about the fact), as any attempt to imagine what comes after death will work with contents which are remembered from life (this is the ONLY material which the brain has available to work with when trying to imagine anything), so that there will usually be some ideas of an after-life around on which some religious tendencies will grow. Quite apart from further growing-grounds of religion.
Thus, I should suggest that we, in spite of Päivi Räsänen, accept the Finnish church more or less as it is, just reminding it every now and then of the possibility to drop the Old Testament. But of course we should develop an own position and keep it in mind. For this, I should suggest the following: (a) good and reasonable citizens are not produced by the commandments of the Bible but by letting them grow up in a society where they can, in their home environment as well as at school, automatically pick up a culture which is good for a civilized society. The church can justly claim that it has helped, in the course of history, to produce a civilized society, but also other big religions, and the European enlightenment, have quite a claim there, and the church has in fact produced also quite some sexual neurosis and authoritarian obedience to very uncivilized demands. (b) Once we do now have a reasonably civilized society, we should take care of it and defend it (e.g. against the capitalist brainwash which ACTUALLY tries to produce irresponsible consumerism). (c) The most adequate behaviour principles in this society may be those of Zen, namely: (1) look and listen CAREFULLY what the situation at hand is; (2) while assessing the situation, use your CONSIDERATION (what the situation of everybody involved might be) and APPRECIATION (so that you see what there might be good and worth encouraging); (3) and then do the ADEQUATE thing.