Bil Browning

When you don't know the context

Filed By Bil Browning | December 26, 2006 6:16 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Media
Tags: Christian beliefs, fundamentalists, gay icons, Wizard of Oz

Why do so many people think things are exactly as they seem?

One of the tenets of modern fundamentalism has become that the Bible is the literal word of God. They conveniently forget a few things, however. They overlook that the Bible was actually written by man (whether or not divinely inspired) which indubitably overshadows the text with man's emotions and rationale. While the fundies love to bash gays and lesbians with quotes from the Old Testament, they hate to be reminded of the other laws in the same book. They have no problem eating shellfish, shaving their face and skipping the animal sacrifices. The prohibition against homosexuality should be federal policy, but where is the national shut down of the oyster and lobster industries?

I'm reminded of how silly it is to automatically assume you can interpret old texts without any knowledge of the times and what the message really meant to it's original recipients. My reminder? An article about one of the Holy Grails of Queerdom - The Wizard of Oz.

This fascinating piece spells out some misconceptions modern readers might have about the "children's classic." In actuality, it was a political allegory about the gold standard starring the American farmer as Scarecrow, the American factory worker as the Tinman, and William Jennings Bryan as the Cowardly Lion. Dorothy, of course, represented the average American. And they all went merrily down the gold path to the capital to see the man pulling all the levers behind the curtains - Marcus Hanna, known as the wizard of the gold ounce (but shortened to the Wizard of Oz).

In the Emerald City ruled by the Wizard of Oz, the people were required to wear green-colored glasses attached by a gold buckle. Beyond the city, the Wicked Witch of the West had enslaved the Yellow Winkies, a reference to the imperialist aims of the Republican administration, which had captured the Philippines from Spain and refused to grant them independence.

In the end, all the good American citizens had to do was expose the wizard and his witches for the frauds they were, and all would be well in the bimetal monetary world of silver and gold. In the process, the farmer Scarecrow found out how intelligent he was, the lion found his courage, and the working Tin Man received a new source of strength in a bimetallic tool--a golden ax with a blade of silver--and he would never rust again as long as he had his silver oil can encrusted with gold and jewels.

I've seen the movie a zillion times. I've read the book at least a dozen. I had no idea that it was anything other than a children's story. Did you?

And can you now honestly believe that a text written thousands of years ago on the opposite side of the world by a civilization that doesn't exist anymore will be any better understood? The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was first published in 1901. It's been a little more than 100 years and most people have no idea it is a political allegory. Can you imagine presupposing you know the intent of even one entire book of the Bible - let alone enough to base the laws of a nation on it?

I certainly can't.

(Cross-posted on American Values Alliance)

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Fabulous piece Bil!!!! I'd like to say that the ancestors of the writers of that book are still around, and they have been studying it and its meanings for thousands of years! Also, thank you for pointing out that we must remember that the Old Testament was not written in a vacuum - it is (and was) a living and breathing text which was set in the midst of ancient history. We need to read some of that history in order to put the stories of the Old Testament into the context with the world in which it found itself. Maybe then we can have a better understanding of some of the written laws.