Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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Saturday, May 27, 2006
Not one jot. In Saturday's Times Victoria Hislop writes about her experiences meeting lepers in India. Heartwarming stuff. That leprosy is not, contrary to popular belief, particularly infectious and is curable is a message well worth repeating. It would be hard to disagree with passages like this:
I met many who were less “lucky”; for example, the case of someone who had ignored early signs and in whom the disease had taken hold. He was 20 and had several large, numb skin patches and when I held his arm I felt the tell-tale rope-textured thickening of the nerve down his forearm. I suspected that his delay in seeing a doctor was the result not merely of lack of education but also of denial. His first thoughts on diagnosis had been: “How will my family react? Will my neighbours shun me?” In this patient, I saw how dangerous stigma can be, almost as destructive as the disease itself.
But then came this:
In the Bible, Leviticus xiii and xiv detail how someone with leprosy should be treated, that he should cry: “Unclean, unclean” and live alone outside his community. Leprosy was believed to be a punishment from God but, even though we know that it is just great misfortune, the stigma remains, even today. I’d like to see those pages removed from every copy of the Bible.
Er, why? What good does she think this somewhat drastic step might do? I grant you, the passages concerned are not quite in accord with modern clinical practice but is there a special problem with Christians excluding lepers these days? Rather the contrary, I would have thought. She says herself that 70% of sufferers live in India, a mainly Hindu country. I do not seek to claim that this fact is an example of cause and effect, merely that it is a fact, and that ministry and assistance to lepers has been if anything a Christian speciality. As it ought to be, given Jesus's own actions.

Has Ms H really considered the practical difficulties involved in her proposals? As the Soviets found out, the trouble with excising bits of reference books is that it leaves embarrassing gaps that have to be filled somehow. When Beria fell purchasers of the Soviet Encyclopedia were sent an article about the Bering Straits with strict instructions to paste it in; when Krushchev fell in turn his monument was an article about the krushchev, a beetle. In order to achieve a complete obliteration of the offending Biblical sentiments Ms Hislop would have to extend the blue pencil to numerous other mentions of how the LORD smote the king, so that he was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a several house. And why stop with lepers? (Come to think of it, why stop with several houses, as John Prescott might say? Sorry. No self discipline. Couldn't resist.) As many reformers have observed the Good Book is chock-full of stonings and sexism and stuff: get rid of all that and the Bible would be so much nicer. The only problem is that it would not, unfortunately, be the Bible. Look, when Waitrose sends round a Faulty Product Notice announcing that traces of nuts have been uncovered in batch #1234-Z of its strawberry-flavoured caviare and offering a replacement or a refund, 99% of customers ignore it. I really don't think you are going to get a better response rate when half the customers regard the product as the unalterable Word of God.

It won't just be the Christians refusing to put their scripture in the pre-paid envelope provided, either. The first five books of the Christian Old Testament are also the Jewish Torah, and the Jews have a bit of a reputation for being stubborn about these things. Deuteronomy 4:2:

Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

Despite all this, you know, leper colonies are not found in modern Israel. I guess the Jews, like the Christians, have found ways of reconciling Leviticus with a world in which there are drugs for leprosy - did you know that thalidomide of all things works wonders? - even without a scissors being taken to anyone's holy book.

If Ms Hislop is by any chance a Christian, perhaps she ought to be advised that her proposed censorship would not have met with Jesus's approval. And that disapproval was recorded in a section that it would be particularly difficult to edit down without anyone noticing: the Sermon on the Mount.

For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.