Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Okay, I'll Multiply: One Times One Equals One

I'm not really part of a social circle that encourages me to reproduce for religious reasons, but apparently there are still religious communities in which there is pressure to have children as part of some larger holy mission. A few of the childfree sites banter back and forth about the "be fruitful and multiply" quotation from a current English-language translation of what many simply refer to as "The Bible." For now, I will focus on one tiny fraction of the religious universe: an unrepresentative sampling of early 21st century US English-speaking Christianity, mostly Protestant and/or evangelical.

Before I can really contribute my two cubits, I have to agree to some things just for the sake of argument, whether I really believe them or not. Let's assume that the most common current English-language versions of the Bible are more or less consistent with each other. Let's assume that it matters to me what they say. Let's assume that the variations in the versions of the Bible over the past nearly 4000 years don't really matter, that there was some clear, single, original intent to the document, and that the original intent has been well preserved into the present versions. Let's assume my very old memories of (Protestant) Sunday school and church and very superficial theological studies since then are enough to generate evidence to make a good case.

By the way, I call them "versions" of the Bible because that is what they are from a historical standpoint, and because that is the label found on most of them: New International Version, Revised Standard Version, King James Version, etc.

Here's what I've noticed:

Even if the Bible unambiguously says God wants me to have a kid, and I'm not sure that it does, but even if it did, I wonder where that command/wish fits in with all the other imperatives in The Bible that very few present-day Christians follow. For example, according to what I remember, the Bible also tells me:

1. Don't eat cheeseburgers or bacon.
2. Don't shave my face.
3. Don't wear blended fabrics -- no cotton-poly blend or cotton-wool blend.
4. Eat bread with a sweaty forehead.
5. Rich people can't get into heaven.
6. Disobedient children deserve the death penalty. (And, be ready to cut open even your well-behaved son if a voice you hear tells you to.)

Then there's that limited-edition 17th Century print run of a Bible in England that included the misprint "Thou shall commit adultery." The printers recalled the books and managed to get most of them out of circulation. I call it a "misprint," but that is of course a very value-laden term and suggests a real bias on my part. I can see how that version could in fact reinforce the command to procreate....

Now, I can see the most powerful way to counter my list is to say the Bible is not necessarily meant to be taken literally in all cases. Even the most diehard literalist Christian fundamentalists leave some wiggle room for metaphor and allegory and possible mistranslation. ("No, see the 'Eye of the Needle' was actually an opening in the wall around Jerusalem, and camels COULD go through it if they hunched a little."  Or "Well, it doesn't mean 'no other gods before me' literally, it's more like don't put money ahead of God and stuff like that.")

To the suggestion that the Bible is not meant to be taken literally word-for-word, I say:  EXACTLY.

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