May 30, 2012
Recently I went off on a rant about the number of Christians who don’t even really know what their own religious text actually says, citing the lack of awareness/understanding of Peter’s vision in Acts as my prime example. I thought of that when reading Fred Clark, who has way more cred than I do on the subject, and so I wanted to point to him and say, “Look! See! This is what I was talking about!”
About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.
A little bit later, Peter draws this conclusion about the vision: “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
Fred Clark expounds on the different interpretations of that passage (i.e. the one that sees the story as just a rationale for why Christians don’t have to keep kosher, versus the one that reflects what the story actually says) here. A sampling:
Consider, for example, the purpose of Peter’s vision. It wasn’t sent because Red Lobster was about to bring back “endless shrimp,” but because of the people who were about to knock on Peter’s door. The author of Acts makes sure we don’t miss that point, writing: “While Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the [impure, uncircumcised, bacon-loving Gentile] men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate.”
I suppose it could be argued that stating that there’s only One True Way that Acts 10 can be interpreted, I’m no better than those against whom I would argue: I’m still using a particular religious text as a mere tool to argue for my particular point of view. At the same time, though… I dunno, it seems to me that if you’re going to go around calling yourself a biblical literalist and that kind of thing, it might be worth looking at what the bible actually says. And furthermore, the stories we tell one another mean things, things that have resonance beyond the literal words on the page or images on the screen. Dracula was about more than just a dude who consumed blood to survive. Dystopian novels aren’t just purely imaginatory exercises; they offer commentary on our world as it currently exists.
What we have here is not just a failure to communicate; it’s a failure of imagination. And as always, while I respect the rights of people with whom I disagree to believe whatever it is they believe, in the privacy of their own homes, in their places of worship, etc.—when they start bringing it into the public sphere and trying to create public policy based on who they believe is clean and who is unclean, well, I’m going to have something to say about that.