Wednesday, February 26, 2014

When will Uganda abolish interest?

I keep promising to myself that I will not read the commentary threads attached to newspaper articles. With honourable exceptions, they appear to be written by people of such entrenched opinion paradoxically grounded in air, whose world never made it into colour (or even shades of grey). They hurl their opinions at one another across divides, cloaked often, if certainly not always, by anonymity. I can feel the tempting power behind that very strongly!!!

Most recently I saw the threads following articles on the new law in Uganda on homosexuality. The trenches here are manifold - the 'Keep out of Uganda's business' trench (especially if you are white)' faces the 'Uganda is a beastly non de-script country occupied by bigots' trench. The former trench is noticeably supplied by the 'The Bible condemns sodomy' supply trench and the latter is happily reinforced by atheists everywhere!

It is an unedifying spectacle (as, sadly, is the law itself).

Being me, I was most drawn to the religious argument. Happily I live in a day to day world where the strange habits of fundamentalism play out at a distance; however, here they were in all their peculiar glory.

The Bible condemns 'homosexuality', here are the texts, the law is justified. The first problem with this is, even if this were true, since when have 'men' taken upon themselves to administer what ought rightly to be the judgement of God and where in the operating manual that the Bible apparently is (in this scenario) does it instruct the faithful on how such judgements ought to be applied. As my Jesuit ethics teacher constantly reminded us, it is exceptionally difficult to read ethical precepts out of the Bible (that actually help you solve problems) without bringing to the text philosophical judgement and contextual interpretation.

The second problem is, of course, that whereas fundamentalism pretends to a literal understanding of the text, they are as guilty (or innocent) of interpretation as the next man (or woman) though usually less consciously.

This brings me to my title. If you read the Bible, the condemnation of charging interest is a more persistent, well articulated and insistent theme than the rather minimalist discussion of homosexuality. The charging of interest as Christian tradition recognised into the Middle Ages (and Islamic tradition continues to recognise) has a much greater and potentially more corrosive impact on society than men and women enjoying congress with 'themselves' indeed I cannot think of any credible negative impact this would have nor, as far as I can see, can anyone else. Nobody seems to say why, in everyday human terms this is 'bad' but default to its unnaturalness, the unarticulated threat it poses to families and God says No!

However, does anyone in the Christian fundamentalist camp get worried about the prohibition against interest, campaign against it, warn us of the continuous, sustained Biblical condemnation of it - not that I can see. They usually neatly argue that what is meant is 'usury' or excessive interest. In other words because it is in their interest to do so, they interpret the Bible so that it aligns with their extra-Biblical convictions. The text is a plastic one, for everyone, when they want it to be; and, of course, it should be. No text, even a canonical one, lives outside an evolving tradition of interpretation (whether conservative or radical) and no text, on its own, can or should have the final word.

Nevertheless I look forward to President Museveni outlawing interest (at least possibly it will be a law easier to enforce than peering into people's bedrooms)...

Finally a word on those other trenches - Uganda for the Ugandans and are they not all beastly. If I had thought either I would not (as a very young but 'important' person [sic]) have persuaded my then trustees to help fund one of the first effective HIV/AIDS awareness programmes (and NGOs) in Uganda when, ironically, those rather staid trustees thought that AIDS (from a Western European perspective in the late 80s) was a disease of gays and drug addicts (or both) of whom they heartily disapproved but loved nonetheless because they were Christians! Nor have helped found one of Uganda's most effective micro-finance organisations (though I may have to suffer in purgatory over the 'interest' question)!

I love Uganda and have demonstrably helped its people and that gives an all too sharp edge to my sorrow at this new law that despoils its image so markedly, based in part on a distorted (and frankly hypocritical viewing) of the Bible. The Bible ought always to rest in the transforming light of God's ever present love and forgiveness. If it does not, it usually becomes a continuing instrument of our own sinfulness.



  

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