In his Sept. 26 op-ed, "Even moderate Christianity enables intolerance," Gregory Clark says, "the Bible contradicts itself," and goes on to dismiss the whole thing as erroneous. That is a lackadaisical (and not very thoughtful) response to a collection of writings written over a period of perhaps 1,500 years.
A critical reader would look harder and see that the Bible, over the course of that long history, corrects itself, which would be my view. People who take the Bible literally, and those who have little use for it, both suffer from the same myopia. They can't see the forest for the trees.
The biblical "forest" — that is, it's ultimate message — goes beyond intolerance. It calls loudly and confidently for the embracing of diversity; for true understanding and valuing of the "other." As Clark rightly attests, Jesus did (at first) dismiss the Canaanite woman, but he fails to include the rest of the story: When she gets the best of Jesus, saying even little puppy dogs are allowed to eat the crumbs that fall from the tables of their masters, Jesus honors her, a gentile, as a woman of great faith.
The Bible, written as it was by dozens of authors, is full of self-correction. Where the ancient book of Joshua calls for the genocide of all the Canaanite peoples (men, women, and children) there follows the book of Ruth, in which a woman from Moab (read: major enemy of Israel) becomes the grandmother of King David. When the main character in the short story known as Jonah calls for the destruction of all the people of Ninevah (capitol of Assyriah – read: supreme enemy of Israel in 722 B.C.E), God speaks to Jonah and says he loves and has empathy for all the Assyrian people and, as the last verse of the story attests, even "all their cattle," something Pope Francis (who says he can imagine a heaven full of animals) would cheer.
Clark is simply wrong when he says that "hate speech and intolerance" represent "the very Word of God himself." The "truth" represented in the book of Jonah is not that a man can be swallowed by a great fish and live. It is that the God, who brought to life all sentient beings, loves all of those creatures.
Yes, Mr. Clark, the Bible does contain instances of bigotry and worse, but taken as a whole, every instance of it is answered squarely and deftly by stories, parables, and iterations valuing diversity that, when brought to light, more than win the day.
Biblical fundamentalists also only tell you part of the story. What they either don't know, or refuse to disclose, is that no one took the Bible literally before the 19th century. Bullying pastors who insist that God made the world in six 24-hour days (and say that those who don't believe it are going to hell) are a relatively recent aberration.
Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant movement, was very critical of the message of the Epistle of James and thought it ought to have been discarded. He also thought the book of Revelation was unChrist-like. Luther would have been completely stumped by the arrogance (and alleged "scholarship") of modern Biblical fundamentalists.
Moderate Christians only "enable intolerance," as Clark avows, when they remain silent in the face of poor arguments from fundamentalists and those, like Clark, who take sections of scripture entirely out of context. Just because a person doesn't take the Bible literally doesn't mean they can't take it seriously.
Rev. Scott Dalgarno is pastor of Wasatch Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City.