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Who makes the rules?

Delegates to the 1997 Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, Texas, voted to boycott the Walt Disney Company because of its "gay-friendly" policies. And what is the ethical basis for the opposition to Disney's open endorsement of human rights? The Bible -- writings produced in a small corner of the world some 2,000 to 3,000 years ago!

If we are to take the Southern Baptists seriously, the boycott means that in Baptist households children are being forbidden to see The Lion King, 101 Dalmations, and any other Disney movie. Disney theme parks are also off limits. Can you imagine the number of family arguments that have developed over pre-planned vacations to Orlando or Anaheim or over whether Disney movies can be watched on television? And, of course, the TV is not tuned to ABC.

Have 15.7 million Southern Baptists conformed? Probably in about the same proportion that Roman Catholics have conformed to that church's ruling on birth control! Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics, like most of the rest of our society, pick and choose what moral and ethical precepts they will accept or ignore even if their behavior constitutes a rejection of patterns proscribed in what they believe are divinely revealed scriptures. For example, despite the brouhaha in the military over adultery, most Christians quietly ignore the biblical teachings regarding this "sin." Of course, Jimmy Carter admitted that he had "committed adultery in his heart" because he had conjured up lust-filled mental images (see Matthew 5:27), but I doubt that even he would label every man who married a divorced woman an "adulterer" (Matthew 5:32). We also have long since abandoned the notion that the only acceptable ground for divorce is adultery (Matthew 5:31). Our society has decided that these "divinely revealed" rules are passe.

Humanists and secularists are realists. They know that moral and ethnical prescripts grow out of communal living. Ethics are given supernatural authority when religious organizations project them into the heavens and then present them as revealed dogma. The examples are far too many to list here, but perhaps a few with suffice.

In the Louvre, a slab of black diorite presents the law code of King Hammurabi of Babylon (1792-1750 BCE). In the top panel, Hammurabi stands before Shamash, the sun god who was the god of justice, receiving authority to develop the law code in accordance with the wishes of the god. A careful examination of the regulations demonstrates that some prescription echo laws already in existence which been "revealed" to earlier rulers by other gods.

In the Bible, Moses is the channeler for the divinely revealed codes of conduct, and again the regulations are not all original. For example, the law pertaining to ox goring (Exodus 21:35) is like that found in the Hammurabi code and in other ancient law codes, which suggests that the Hebrew regulation simply reflected current near-Eastern legal practice. And the pattern goes on and on. Muhammed recited the teachings of the Qur'an as quotations of regulations revealed through the angel Gabriel. Joseph Smith reported a series of revelations that climaxed in the discovery and translation of a set of gold plates. In the minds of Seventh Day Adventists, their founder, Ellen G. White, was divinely inspired and is regarded by many of her followers as a prophet. The church she founded is one of the few Christian groups to take seriously the biblical commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, is revered as a revealer of basic truths that lay hidden in the Bible.

Humanists' moral and ethical conduct develops out of reason, experience, and compassion. The so-called Golden Rule (do not do unto others what you would not have them do to you), which is found in cultures throughout the world, does not rest on divine revelation; it is learned in the home. When a child's behavior negatively affects another, the parent says, "How would you like it if someone did that to you?" The Golden Rue, like all other moral precepts, grows out of communal living. We do not reach out to those in pain and suffering because some "revealed writing" tells us we must or to earn benefits in an afterlife. Our outreach comes from the well-springs of compassion and from our desire to elicit what is noblest and best in ourselves and in others.

Humanists will pick and choose which Disney productions they will watch or attend on the basis of merit. We support the nondiscriminatory policies toward gays and lesbians that Disney has adopted. We find Southern Baptists out of touch with the variations in the human family. We also believe that Roman Catholic regulations regarding contraception are out of touch with human sexuality (which can embrace pleasure without the intent to reproduce), and we think the biblical notions about adultery are absurd.

Gerald A. Larue is emeritus professor of religion, adjunct professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California, and the 1989 Humanist of the Year
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Title Annotation:southern Baptist delegation boycotts Walt Disney for gay-friendly policies
Author:Larue, Gerald A.
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Column
Date:Mar 1, 1998
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