30
Oct
10

Homosexuality vs. the Bible

Before I begin, I would like to make it clear that although I am a member of the church in name, I’m probably at best an agnostic. I certainly do not believe in the infallibility of the Bible. However, whatever my private convictions are, I don’t think faith or spirituality is a bad thing; on the contrary. I don’t disapprove of Christians, Muslims, Buddhists or Taoists; what I do have a personal problem with is bigotry; to think that a person is somehow worse than someone else because of their faith or sexual identity. To use one’s faith to justify one’s prejudices is both childish and ignorant and tells the world nothing but the fact that someone needs to grow a spine. We’d do well to remember that asshole-ism is rampant across all demographics. I think there are also good people in all groups…*cough* But I digress. To quote Terry Pratchett: ”All tribal myths are true, for a given value of ‘true’.”

If you’re easily offended in your faith, don’t read the below. I’m not looking to start a fight, nor do I have a mission for un-missionarying. If this opens up a discussion, good! If I’m dead wrong about something, feel free to educate me. That’s what I live for…

Oats sighed. ‘Many people find faith a great solace,’ he said. He wished he was one of them.

‘Good.’

‘Really? Somehow I thought you’d argue.’

‘It’s not my place to tell ’em what to believe, if they act decent.’

‘But it’s not something you feel drawn to, perhaps, in darker hours?’

‘No. I’ve already got a hot water bottle.’

Gay rights

Finland is aroar lately over homosexual rights. This started from a talk show on the national television over gay rights – which I did not watch – culminating retrospectively over the right of homosexuals for a Christian wedding. I’ve been seeing articles being quoted back and forth, but I’ve tried to stay out of the whole issue. I’m not a believer in anything much, except that which the Bible accredits to Jesus as follows:

Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.* (John 13:34)

*Some Christians claim that this message is unique to Bible, but they’re mistaken. Pretty much all religions preach the same basic idea: be nice to other people.

The whole I quoth the Bible to have the Bible quoth back at me is starting to piss me off, so I decided to see if I can find out what the whole fuss is about. The idea about the bible is, and do tell me if I’m wrong, that it’s the word of God, and the men who wrote it (and they were invariably men) were ”divinely inspired”, ie. infallible in this context. I presume, then, that each new translation and update is likewise inspired. Therefore everything in the Bible is true, for a given value of truth. What bothers me is the tendency of the contemporary believers to pick laws and rules and commandmends out of context; many outspoken homophobics seem to pay little heed to what else is being said in the same book, or even the same chapter.

And even if you take the issue of (of Xians over) homosexuality (or any other non-straight sexual practice) with a pinch of salt, and claim that gays are a-OK, the only thing we’re opposed to is the right to a Christian wedding and/or adoption of children, it would seem only reasonable to read the rest of the text and dilute – but apply – them all the same way.

…I understand, though. Humans are victim to their animal instincts (or Satan’s influence, if you prefer), so all things sexual tend to be highlighted in the eye of our minds.

‘My god, Mistress Weatherwax, you try me sorely.’

‘Your god, Mister Oats, tries everyone. That’s what gods generally does, and that’s why I don’t truck with ’em. And they lays down rules all the time.’

‘There have to be rules, Mistress Weatherwax.’

‘And what’s the first one that your Om requires, then?’

‘That believers should worship no other god but Om,’ said Oats promptly.

‘Oh yes? That’s gods for you. Very self-centered, as a rule.’

‘I think it was to get people’s attention,’ said Oats. ‘There are many commandments about dealing well with other people, if that’s what you’re getting at.’

‘Really? And s’pose someone doesn’t want to believe in Om and tries to live properly?’

‘According to the prophet Brutha, to live properly is to believe in Om.’

‘Oho, that’s clever! He gets you coming and going,’ said Granny.

The Bible told me so!

So, the following excerpts regarding sexual practices are from the New International Version of the Bible, as published at Biblegateway.com. Bear in mind that, apart from the bit about ‘divine inspiration’, these texts have gone through numerous translations (both translinguistic and transgenerational), so some meanings are debatable.

Anyway.

In Romans 1:26-27, Paul the Apostle wrote about the Gentiles (pagans):

Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians (the members of the church of God in Corinth):

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

”Search The Scriptures”… I can’t express myself in public without extensive fact-checking (although trying to find the appropriate passages in Hebrew at five in the morning proved futile*). And whatever my gut-felt, personal opinion might be, in case of third party (God) information, I need to be as accurate as possible. Therefore the two words picked up from the Greek text from 56AD which bear judgement on homosexual men are malakoi and arsenokoitai. These have been translated, above, as ”male prostitutes” and ”homosexuals”; elsewhere, in earlier translations they have been, for example, ”effeminate” and ”abusers of themselves with mankind” (King James version), ”those who make women of themselves” and ”(those) who abuse themselves with men”(Darby version).

In a Latin Vulgate version of the text from 405, the words in question are molles and masculorum concubitores – ”soft” and ”male prostitutes”. After that, we get references to Sodom, buggery, et cetera.

The original meaning and the intention of the words chosen is pretty important when the said words are used to discriminate (bully, kill, drive to suicide) against someone. Wouldn’t you rather know if soft-spoken, gentle-mannered (ie. feminine) heterosexual men (say, with long hair (1Cor 11:14)?) should also, by the aforementioned logic, be banned from Christian wedlock; or if the same ban should be extended to anyone and everyone who participates in anal sex? Anyone, who likes to exchange male-female power roles in sexual play (See this paper on the topic)?

*Thanks to my brother, I found a Hebrew-English transliteration of the Bible. But it wasn’t very helpful in this context – I merely ended up feeling I’d had a long discussion with Yoda…

The context of the belief.

Furthermore, as Paul was a Roman from Tarsus (present-day Turkey), and although he was apparently raised as a Jew, he argued against the necessity of converts to perform circumcision (which Romans found repulsive) or the learning of the Mosaic Law, from which the below list is quoted. Paul never met Jesus personally*; there is no record of Jesus voicing concern over people’s sexual habits. I can find no Jewish law, and here again I’m definitely no expert, to explicitly ban homosexual relations, although other sexual practices were very clearly listed:

*Fine, not counting hearing Jesus’s voice, post-mortem, and seeing a sheet of light; these contributed to Paul’s conversion to Christianity and becoming a self-proclaimed Apostole.

  1. Not to have sexual relations with your mother Lev.  18:7
  2. Not to have sexual relations with your father’s wife Lev.  18:8
  3. Not to have sexual relations with your sister Lev.  18:9
  4. Not to have sexual relations with your father’s wife’s daughter Lev.  18:11
  5. Not to have sexual relations with your son’s daughter Lev.  18:10
  6. Not to have sexual relations with your daughter Lev.  18:10
  7. Not to have sexual relations with your daughter’s daughter Lev.  18:10
  8. Not to have sexual relations with a woman and her daughter Lev.  18:17
  9. Not to have sexual relations with a woman and her son’s daughter Lev.  18:17
  10. Not to have sexual relations with a woman and her daughter’s daughter Lev.  18:17
  11. Not to have sexual relations with your father’s sister Lev.  18:12
  12. Not to have sexual relations with your mother’s sister Lev.  18:13
  13. Not to have sexual relations with your father’s brother’s wife Lev.  18:14
  14. Not to have sexual relations with your son’s wife Lev.  18:15
  15. Not to have sexual relations with your brother’s wife Lev.  18:16
  16. Not to have sexual relations with your wife’s sister Lev.  18:18
  17. A man must not have sexual relations with an animal Lev.  18:23
  18. A woman must not have sexual relations with an animal Lev.  18:23
  19. For men not to use sex to gain ‘ownership’ over other men Lev. 18:22
  20. Not to have sexual relations with your father Lev.  18:7
  21. Not to have sexual relations with your father’s brother Lev.  18:14
  22. Not to have sexual relations with someone else’s wife Lev.  18:20
  23. Not to have sexual relations with a menstrually impure woman Lev.  18:19

(You’d think having consensual homosexual sex would be listed, if it was that bad, wouldn’t you?)

Elsewhere in Romans and Corinthians, Paul passes judgement (either God’s or his own) on the following practices:

Godlessness, idolatry, greed, generic evil and wickedness, gossiping, slandering, God-hating, disobeying the parents (Rom 1:18-30), ”…you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.” (1Cor 5:11); laying with a prostitute (numerous references), knowingly eating food sacrificed to a (pagan) idol (1Cor 10:28), man praying or prophesying with their head covered, a woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered (1Cor 11:4)…

And there we go; suddenly you should, by the same rights, deny the right to Christian marriage to prostitutes or thieves of any gender, anyone who is greedy, likes his or her drink too much, says bad things about other people or cheats others of their possessions. I don’t know; why one thing from the same sentence and not the other?

Some people are quoting Leviticus 20:13 to justify their homophobia. I’ll get to that in a bit. But first, I’d like to see what else God told Moses…

I decided to skip the beginning chapters as mostly irrelevant, so I started at Leviticus 11 where there are laws about eating; the code lists animals you may eat, and animals which will make you unclean. These are largely ignored by practicing Christians. Leviticus 12 instructs us that a woman is unclean during menstruation and the act of giving birth and must atone for her sin (of being a woman) as soon as she’s clean again. (Sorry, pro-women’s-right Christians, that’s just how the cookie crumbles.) People with infectious skin diseases (Lev 13) ”[…]must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’” – they should also be isolated from the (camp) village/town/city. Leviticus 15 tells us that poo is bad (as with any other bodily discharge), although it does not mention how to deal with babies, which just goes on to prove that God is, indeed, a male. Lev 18 lists the forbidden sexual acts (homosexuality, close relatives, menstruating women, neighbour’s wife) and states that those who commit any of these acts should be exiled. Lev 19 lists a whole number of rules, including the usual ones about lying, cheating, gossiping, being naughty or mean, as well as some very specific ones: wearing clothing with two kinds of material, cutting the hair on the sides of the head or trimming your beard is forbidden, as well as eating the fruit of any fruit three you plant for the first four years, no tattoos… And a very nice one which says that if an alien lives in your land he is to be treated as a native. Sorry, white supremacy Xians! The Bible says so! Leviticus 20 lists the famous line about homosexuality:

If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

Funny enough, most people ignore some of the other laws in the same chapter (I’m choosing the obviously ignored ones, see the rest for yourself):

9 ” ‘If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head.

10 ” ‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.

18 ” ‘If a man lies with a woman during her monthly period and has sexual relations with her, he has exposed the source of her flow, and she has also uncovered it. Both of them must be cut off from their people.

27 ” ‘A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.’ “

Lev 21 instructs the priests not to shave their heads, trip or shave their bears, cut their bodies (piercings? Tough luck!), tear their clothing. The High Priest shouldn’t enter a place where there’s a dead body (so much for presiding over funerals). Lev 22 reiterates some of the rules above and mentions that unclean people are not to enter the place consecrated to God, or else they’ll be excommunicated. Lev 24 instructs how blashemers should be stoned to death, and has the famous line about eye for eye and tooth for tooth – so much for mercy – and Lev 25 pretty much takes credit for any good or bad things that happen to you. If you are unlucky in health, financial matters or pretty much anything else, too bad, because you obviously deserve it in the eyes of the God.

Some people will say that the Old Testament isn’t all that important anyway, that what Jesus did in God’s name overrode all that silliness over fabrics and stuff; but in my experience most people don’t actually read the Bible even if they claim knowledge of what it dictates.

IMHO

What I think, firstly of Leviticus, is that the rules have made sense in the time and place they were first used: the people had no concept of science, which can explain why and how infectious diseases spread, how to cultivate land to maximise profit, about hereditary diseases or recessive genes, how the female body actually works (”I don’t trust anything that bleeds for days and doesn’t die!”), etc. I think it’s ridiculous to follow ancient laws to the letter, when we have a clearer overall picture, as provided by science and common contemporary sense.

My opinion on quoting the Bible to justify your homophobia is a cowardly way to disguise your own fears and prejudices, and makes you nothing but to an abominable hypocrite. So you hate gays and other non-heterosexual practices – fine, that’s your problem. But claiming that GOD TOLD ME SO is a disgrace to your religion. What happened to neighbourly love?

***

All bold quotes are from discussions of the witch Granny Weatherwax and the Omnian missionary priest Oats in Terry Pratchett’s book Carpe Jugulum.

***

She turned to face him, suddenly alive. ‘It’d be just as well for you if I didn’t believe,’ she said, prodding him with a sharp finger. ‘This Om… Anyone seen him?’

‘It is said that three thousand people witnessed his manifestation at the Great Temple when he made the Covenant with the prophet Brutha and saved him from death by torture on the Iron Turtle-‘

‘But I bet now they’re arguing about what they actually saw, eh?’

‘Well, indeed yes, there are many opinions-‘

‘Right. Right. That’s people for you. Now if I’d seen him, really there, really alive, it’d be in me like a fever. If I thought there was some god who really did care two hoots about people, who watched ’em like a father and cared for ’em like a mother… Well, you wouldn’t catch me sayin’ things like ”There are two sides to every question,” and ”We must respect other people’s beliefs.” You wouldn’t find me just being gen’rally nice in the hope that it’d turn out right in the end, not if that flame was burning in me like an unforgivin’ sword. And I did say burnin’, Mister Oats, ‘cos that’s what it’d be. You say that people don’t burn folk and sacrifice people any more, but that’s what true faith would mean, y’see? Sacrificin’ your own life, one day at the time, to the flame, declarin’ the truth of it, workin’ for it, breathin’ the soul of it. That’s religion. Everything else is just… just bein’ nice. And a way to keep in touch with your neighbours.’

She relaxed slightly, and went on in a quieter voice: ‘Anyway, that’s what I’d be, if I really believed. And I don’t think that’s fashionable right now, ‘cos it seems that if you sees evil now you have to wring your hands and say ”Oh deary me, we must debate this.” That’s my two penn’orth, Mister Oats. You be happy to let things lie. Don’t chase faith, ‘cos you’ll never catch it.’ She added, almost as an aside, ‘But, perhaps, you can live faithfully.’

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