Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

The backfire

From the Spectacular Backfire department, today we have: the guy who sponsored a bill to crack down on "pornographic and inappropriate" materials in public school classrooms in Utah has stated that he needs to "revisit" the wording of the law when a school district used it to remove Bibles from elementary and junior high school libraries.

Representative Ken Ivory (R-West Jordan) was alarmed at the unintended consequences of his bill, and held a rally of "faith and conservative" groups at the State Capitol this week, where protestors held signs saying "God cannot be cancelled" and "Remove porn, not the Bible."

"Is there any artistic value to the Bible?" Ivory asked the crowd.  "Has anyone been to Rome and visited the Sistine Chapel?  Has anyone also been to Paris and in the Louvre, seen The Last Supper?  Or have you been to Florence and seen the sculpture of the David?"

Which is an interesting example to choose, because it was people of precisely the same mindset who, just three months ago, got a school principal in Tallahassee fired for showing fifth graders a photograph of Michelangelo's David.

But hypocrisy, however blatant, never seems to register with these people.  Apparently, material is inappropriate whenever they say it is, and might well be appropriate tomorrow if the context changes.

[Image licensed under the Creative Commons Amandajm, Bible Johns Gospel 3 16, CC BY-SA 3.0]

The deeper problem is, it doesn't take much searching to find parts of the Bible that are inappropriate for children.  I mean, really inappropriate.  One of the best-known examples is Ezekiel 23:20-21: "There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.  So you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when in Egypt your bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled."

Then there's Genesis 19, which is not just about sex, but about drunken incest:
Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains—for he was afraid to stay in Zoar—where they lived in a cave.  One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man in the land to sleep with us, as is the custom over all the earth.  Come, let us get our father drunk with wine so we can sleep with him and preserve his line.”

So that night they got their father drunk with wine, and the firstborn went in and slept with her father; he was not aware when she lay down or when she got up.

The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Look, I slept with my father last night.  Let us get him drunk with wine again tonight so you can go in and sleep with him and we can preserve our father’s line.”

So again that night they got their father drunk with wine, and the younger daughter went in and slept with him; he was not aware when she lay down or when she got up.

Thus both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father.  The older daughter gave birth to a son and named him Moab.  He is the father of the Moabites of today.  The younger daughter also gave birth to a son, and she named him Ben-ammi.  He is the father of the Ammonites of today.

And don't even get me started about the Song of Solomon.

The trouble is, people like Ken Ivory want one standard for Christian texts and a different standard for everything else.  A kids' story about a child with gay parents?  Oh, no, can't have that, it's inappropriate.  But a text that features lots of sex (consensual and not), violence, torture, and genocide -- that's just fine, because "God cannot be cancelled."

If he, and the others like him, want to have an honest conversation about what is and is not appropriate to have available to schoolchildren, that's just fine.  I don't know of a single person -- liberal or conservative, religious or not -- who wants to expose children to material that is unsuited to their personal and emotional development, and no one argues that young children should read explicitly sexual or violent books.

But you can't just set a standard, then when it's applied to your favorite book, say, "No, wait, not like that."

So as usual, it's not the idea behind the law that's the problem, here; it's the hypocrisy of its supporters.

Something I don't suppose Ken Ivory will understand.  People who specialize in performative virtue seldom do.  But maybe another biblical quote, from Matthew chapter 6, will strike home with him more clearly, something Jesus said about making a show of being holy: "When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men… but when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray in secret, to your Father who is unseen."


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