To the Editors of the Crimson:
William McKibben, in his editorial. "Homage to Pilgrimage," seriously distorts the message presented in the Bible. It is in fact difficult to say that there is any message in the Bible, since it is the accretion of over 1000 years' worth of tales, poems, history, and tracts, with little regard for internal consistency, and more often than not, more contradictions than a dedicated editor would care to try to correct. For McKibben to claim that "Old Testament and New, the Bible can be a profoundly radical document," seems to say much about his ability at selective reading, and little that can actually be substantiated.
The Old Testament is not "first and foremost" the story of God's intervention on behalf of an oppressed people, but the account of God's covenant with the Hebrews. When they follow his sometimes bizzare commandments and caprices. God rewards them; when they disobey, he punishes them, often with slavery at the hands of other nations that God is using as instruments of his will. We can perhaps gleam a sense of God's compassion from the following passages.
Thus says the LORD of hosts, "I will punish what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came out of Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek and utterly destroy all that they have, do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. (1 Samuel 15, 1-3)
I will summon every kind of terror against God, says the LORD God; every man's sword will be against his brother. With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgement with him and his hordes, and I will rain upon him and his hordes and the many peoples that are with him, torrential rains and hailstones, fire and brimstone. So I will show my greatness and my holiness...(Ezekial 38, 21-3)
Isarah, whose pious exhortation to the Jews to "Learn to do good, search for justice, help the oppressed..." prefaced McKibben's piece, also promised his listener that in return for such good behavior, Israel would be set above other nations, and that the others, "with their faces to the ground they how down to you, and lick the dust of your feet." God's justice is not what we might nowadays call universal.
As for Jesus, it is true that his mission was especially concerned with the poor, the sick, and the sinning, but what exactly did he offer these wretched people.' He gave advice like this:
Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right check, turn to him the other also, and if any one would sue you and take your cost, let him have your clock as well. (Mathew 6, 39-40).
Many times in his parables, Jesus speaks of servants, slaves, debtors, tenants, and the poor, but he rarely actually criticized these relationships (some of which I suspect McKibben finds explorative) as being unjust, for Jesus, they are a fact of life to be used in his engaging stories.
For sure, Jesus offers the downtrodden some consolation: in the afterlife, things will be reversed, and the virtuous poor will have their rewards, and the evil sinner his punishment. But so long as they are alive on the earth, the injunction is to turn the other check and await God's justice. (Jesus gives the reader a small foretaste of divine righteousness when he curses a fig tree, which promptly withers up.)
Not myself a revolutionary or a radical. I cannot say for sure what the Bible has to offer those who are, but I have my hunch that it is not much. For many, the Bible contains spiritual guidance, but to use it in seeking practical guidance seems rather unjudicious. I am sure, however, that a reorganization of this country and the world in accordance with what the Bible recommends is not my idea of an improvement. David M. Aceto'82