Right before Huck Finn decides he'll go to hell rather than turn Jim in as a runaway slave, he says something deliciously ironic:
"Well, I tried the best I could to kinder softn it up somehow for myself by saying I was brung up wicked, and so I warn't so much to blame; but something inside of me kept saying, 'There was the Sunday-school, you could 'a' gone to it; and if you'd 'a' done it they'd 'a' learnt you there that people that acts as I'd been acting about [Jim] goes to everlasting fire.'"
Reading the passage 134 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, we're pretty sure that Huck isn't frying in hell for his refusal to betray Jim. It's Twain's way of reminding us that in the pre-Civil War south Huck and Jim inhabited, slavery was justified from church pulpits as being divinely sanctioned by Biblical authority.
The Bible teaches us lots of Good Things, many of them disregarded by the most enthusiastic Christians. What comes immediately to mind is the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus warns against judging others and against praying in public so everyone can admire our piety.
But the Bible has also been used to promote some Bad Thingslike slavery, like keeping women subservient to men, like running electricity through human bodies until the heart stops beating and the skin starts smoking.
And, of course, it's been used to justify our collective homophobia.
A selective reading of the Bible can reinforce almost any hangup we have. We all pick and choose those parts that support what we're already convinced of.
A recent letter to the editor points out verses in chapters 18 and 20 of Leviticus condemning males who lie down with other males. My own favorite Leviticus injunction comes in chapter 19 that says with equal firmness, "Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed; neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee."
But how long's it been since you've seen pickets outside a church accusing the minister of being soft on crossbred cattle, hybrid seed corn, or garments mingled of linen and woollen?
But here's hope that Sweet Reason crushed to earth may rise againand right here in Nebraska:
The United Methodist Church refused this month to find the Rev. Jimmy Creech guilty for performing a union ceremony between two lesbian members of his church in Omaha. There was an ecclesiastical trial. Made the NY Times.
Oh sure, you're saying. They're Methodists and Methodists are so full of affable good will that they're theologically suspect. They've got so many social concerns you can't always tell them apart from those dirty rotten secular humanists who hang out at the Unitarian Church.
The Truth, Mainly
So Methodists aren't your really hard-line Christians. Not like, say, the inmates of the Baptist church I'm an alum of.
But listen to this: even Baptists are turning on to tolerance. And they're Baptists in Texas! Yes!
Not all of them, of course, but some.
The University Baptist Church in Austin got kicked out of the Baptists General Convention of Texas last month for being too friendly to gays and lesbian members. The congregation had even ordained a gay deaconand the estimate is that 10 percent of the church's 200 active members are out of the closet.
The church pastor says "We embrace homosexual persons as persons beloved of God."
Imagine a God like that.
And it's not just the work of young bomb-throwing anarchists in the church. A 76-year-old longtime member, Vera Lee, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying "the people involved are some of the nicest young men and women you'd want to know."
She went on: "This is a situation we're all going to have to facenot only University Baptist, but all denominations and all churchesbecause it's a reality. Someone always has to be first."
It's probably too much to expect that the humane good sense of Nebraska Methodists and Austin Baptists have soon be imitated by the hard-line homophobes. Still, it's a hopeful sign.
And maybe sometime in the sweet by and by weill into the Millennium. I imagine it'll be possible for a later-day Huck Finn to point out that "There was the Sunday-school, you could 'a' gone to it; if if you'd 'a' done it they'd 'a' learnt you there that gays and lesbians ain't no more likely to go to everlasting fire than them rascals that crossbreed cattle, grow hybrid corn and wear linen and wool."
At which time I invite all of you religious folks and dirty rotten secular humanists alike to join be in a rousing rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus.
Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes
to salvage clarity from his confusion.
His column appears on alternate Mondays.