Southern Baptist minister Wiley Drake curses his enemies. Dominated by evangelical Christians, Texas leads the nation in executions. These are just two recent items in a depressingly long list.
In comments to the latter post, an anonymous commenter points us to a couple of links—Levellers and The Ivy Bush—critical of the Texas' evangelicals support of the death penalty.
One the one hand, good for them. I'm unreservedly pleased to see some evangelical Christians come out for a humanist ethical position. It's nice to see that evangelical Christianity does not necessitate every anti-humanist position imaginable.
On the other hand, who are we kidding? Texas is the second most populous U.S. state, and the nationwide and worldwide correlation between the predominance of Christianity and support for the death penalty is direct and clear. Wiley is a 2nd Vice President of the national Southern Baptist Church, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. I've as yet seen no hint that the national Church will repudiate Wiley, but I would suspect they would do so not because he had an unacceptable theology but because he was a little too public about what they mostly believe.
Across the board: the death penalty, the war in Iraq, homophobia, misogyny, the War on (some people who use some) Drugs, support for Bush, white Supremacy, etc. ad nauseam; look behind any anti-humanist movement, every hate movement, every anti-science movement, and you'll see... Christians. The Christians, at least those in the United States, who support the death penalty and other hateful and destructive ideologies are clearly in the mainstream; those opposing them are on the fringe.
These fringe Christians, however, employ a fundamentally inept line of argument. According to The Ivy Bush, evangelical support for capital punishment "represents a terrible misreading of Scripture and a denial of the nonviolent nature of God as revealed in the cross and resurrection of Jesus." Levellers concludes that "apparently Texas evangelicals have completely missed the gospel." But says who? There's simply no way to determine the "right" way to read any scripture. Worse yet, the more literally you read the Christian Bible, the less humanist it comes out; the mainstream case is far better supported on a literal reading than the fringe case. By promoting a variant reading, these fringe Christians are conceding the most important point—the authority of scripture—to the hateful mainstream.
Any time you interpret the literal meaning of a text metaphorically, you are substituting your own authority to choose a metaphor for the authority of the literal text. It's a slippery—and steep—slope. By insisting on the authority (of a metaphorical interpretation) of scripture, the fringe moderates are clinging to the middle of this slope. But by doing so the mainstream extremists can stand on their shoulders: Even the moderates say they accept the authority of scripture over individual conscience; the extremists are just taking them at their word.
The answer, the only answer, is to view the Bible as a work of literature (and, with a few exceptions, bad literature). The status of literature in human affairs is complex, but literature—which includes not only the Bible but also Macbeth, Middlemarch, Mein Kampf and My Little Pony—is clearly not authoritative. There is truth in literature, but nothing at all is true just because it appears in a work of literature. We must absolutely destroy the authority of the Bible if we are to extract any truth at all from it (if there is indeed any truth in the Bible to begin with) and structure our society and conduct our lives rationally, sensibly and humanistically.