A reader sent me a picture of a guy proudly displaying a Bible scripture tattoo. On the guy's arm is inked the entire verse of Leviticus 18:22, denouncing what he apparently believes is a horrible sin.
The caption reads: "Tattoo of Leviticus 18:22 forbidding homosexuality: $200. Not knowing that Leviticus 19:28 forbids tattoos: Priceless."
Cool. You can sum up the entire problem with religion in this one picture clueless irony.
Note: OK, it's not so much a religious problem as a fundamentally human one. But this is for the faith section of the newspaper. So.
Given human nature that of understanding what's clearly wrong with everyone but ourselves it stands to reason that most people rarely identify with the bad guys in whatever religious tome they're studying.
For example, when was the last time anyone read the account of Christ trashing the Pharisees for being viciously arrogant and concluded, "Wow, Jesus is totally talking about me"?
I never did. I always figured he was talking about someone else, someone worse than me. Someone I already didn't like. Probably the person who was insisting that I read the scriptures in the first place.
It could be argued that the message in any holy book would depend almost entirely on the sort of person reading it. In that case it wouldn't matter what you were studying, but rather why you were studying it.
Another note: I tried using this logic on my old man when he caught me studying a Playboy. Didn't work then, either.
I suspect the confusion happens because when we pick up the scriptures, we're not looking to be taught anything new about ourselves. We're looking to have our ignorance of other people reinforced. You know. Sinners?
Keep in mind that I'm referring to any holy book. This isn't about whether our respective books are true. It's about whether or not we're all dangerous imbeciles. And you don't need a book to prove that.
Rarely does someone approach a study of their chosen scripture thinking something like, "It's time to figure out what the hell is the matter with me and what I might be able to do about it."
More often than not, it's to find out what's wrong with everyone else who doesn't believe exactly the way we do. It would explain why we zero in on the scriptures that support this line of thought and skip over the parts that lead us right back to ourselves.
But if you dive into a book thinking you already have the answers, it's amazing how many really important questions never seem to come up.
If you want to blow yourself up on a bus filled with schoolchildren, you can find a part of your holy book that suggests you should. And you'll ignore the parts that flat out tell you not to.
The true test is how the scenery may have changed when you pull your head out of the scriptures.
Is the view you have of other people a more kindly one, or is it more like the one you'd find peeking through the view slit of a tank?
That's an extreme example, of course. Most people understand their scripture just enough to change the angle of their nose. And given our nature, that's dangerous enough.
Robert Kirby can be reached at email@example.com or facebook.com/notpatbagley.