Monday, September 19, 2011

Homophobia in the Bible

Yeah! Three cheers for suffocating,
moralistic theocracy!
Murder, slavery and misogyny are all evils which the Bible supports but most Christians today would strongly condemn. In contrast, homophobia and anti-gay sentiment are still rampant within modern Christianity, which makes the biblical support for this kind of bigotry all the more significant. Let's start by examining such references in the Old Testament:
"You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination." (Leviticus 18:22)
"If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them." (Leviticus 20:13)
Notice the intensity of the language: few if any words could condemn homosexuality more forcefully than "abomination." And OT law is both unambiguous and gruesome: the punishment for gay sex is death. Apologists (perhaps with a hint of relief) are quick to argue that Jesus rendered this law obsolete, but that's of no consolation to those who were oppressed and killed beforehand. For example:
"Then the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the LORD out of the heavens. So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground." (Genesis 19:24-25)
In the story, the male population of Sodom tries to rape Lot's male companions—a bigoted portrayal which implies that all homosexuals are depraved monsters. But since everyone in multiple cities is killed, the attempted rape can't be the reason for God's wrath. God is incinerating the inhabitants of these cities for their "sexual immorality," including the horrific crime of... being gay. Jude offers further commentary:
"...as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." (Jude 1:7)
The people of Sodom, Gomorrah and the surrounding cities have "gone after strange flesh," presumably a euphemism for the ostensibly "unnatural" act of gay sex. Jude even takes it a step further: their crimes are worthy not only of death, but of endless torment in the flames of hell. Finally, let's take a look at one more common anti-gay theme in the Bible:
"[T]he law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars..." (1 Timothy 1:8-10)
"...For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind... filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them." (Romans 1:26-32)
Homosexuality is not merely condemned, but repeatedly associated with truly horrendous acts like kidnapping and murder, not to mention every negative character trait imaginable. In Romans, Paul claims that people who reject God are inclined to commit all kinds of sin, and that homosexuality is thus correlated with everything from boastfulness to deceit to violence. And for good measure, we have another candid pronouncement that gay people deserve death.

Conclusion
As homophobia becomes less acceptable in modern society, it's likely that Christians will try to downplay and explain away instances of anti-gay sentiment in the Bible, just as they did for slavery and misogyny once black people and women began gaining rights. They have no basis for doing so. The Bible quite unequivocally condemns homosexuality as disgusting, immoral, and worthy of death and eternal suffering. No amount of rationalizing or evasion will change that.

10 comments:

  1. I realize that there is a lot of truth to your response...however, I feel that if a gay christian were to happen upon this article they would be crushed. I agree that they should completely turn away from christianity altogether, however in many instances I think most gay christians would further hate who they are. I tend to try to side with the openly gay christians and tell them that they can believe in jesus and still be gay. Even if I disagree with it, i think it can help thousands of gay christians to actually be happy.

    The church is going to come around on gay issues a long time before they ever give up religion altogether. For the sake of all the gay christians out there, shouldn't we help foster a welcoming environment for them inside the more liberal churches, instead of furthering the hate? I normally would never promote ignoring such hateful parts of the bible, but in this case people's lives are on the line, and I just can't get over the fact that with all the lgbt kids committing suicide, I don't want to give religious people any reason to look at the non-religious and say "see, even they agree that the Bible is against Homosexuality. However we believe the bible is the truth, and therefore we hate homosexuality".

    Anyone agree/disagree? Is it okay to not side with the anti-gays, even if we truly believe their interpretations are correct? In this situation, with people's lives and happiness on the line, is it okay?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Kait,

    I get what you're saying, but I respectfully disagree, for two reasons.

    First, we shouldn't settle for getting people from conservative to liberal religion, because liberal religion is still harmful. It discourages people from thinking critically about extraordinary claims of supreme beings. It provides a camouflage for conservative religion, without which fundamentalists would be viewed as extremist, cultlike outliers in society. And even if fundamentalism were to disappear entirely, the existence of liberalism would increase the likelihood of its resurgence: it seems almost inevitable that a splinter group would decide to actually start taking everything in their holy book seriously, and the cycle would begin again. By fostering a healthy disgust for the unambiguous cruelty in the Bible, we can get people to deconvert entirely, not just partway.

    Second, I don't think this is necessarily as much of a problem for gay Christians as you think it is. If they want to retreat to liberal Christianity, they're certainly free to do so. The key thing to remember is that liberal Christians generally don't believe the Bible is infallible, so pointing out that the Bible speaks out against homosexuality isn't likely to phase them. They'll just handwave it, saying that God is love and that anything in the Bible that contradicts that must have been lost in translation some time in the past two millennia.

    The bottom line: it's better to speak the truth and get people to realize the Bible is homophobic so we can move on from it entirely—and if gay Christians don't want to accept that, they can always retreat into the safe little bubble of liberalism.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I completely agree that they can retreat into the safe little bubble of liberalism...however they don't. Instead they internalize their feelings and grow to hate themselves, leading them to potentially disastrous things such as suicide.

    I am all for getting people to deconvert entirely, and I'm a very outspoken atheist when the topic comes up around friends. However I would never tell a fundamentalist christian who is struggling with their sexuality that they should leave christianity because their book clearly states that God hates homosexuals. This wouldn't get the desired response that I am looking for (getting them to deconvert), but instead would further engrain in their minds that God really does hate who they are.

    I think the main difference between us is that I don't think the majority of gay christians retreat into a safe little bubble. Instead they suffer enormous amounts of unnecessary pain. That's what I'm worried about...is it bad if we help foster that pain? I just can't see this situation as black and white. I guess it depends on the situation and who you're talking to. As an atheist I thoroughly enjoyed your article as it shows me exactly why I hate religion. However it makes me nervous to think of the in the closet gay christians who happen to stumble upon it, or hear us talk about it.

    Something for me to think about though! Thank you for your thoughts. I enjoy reading your blog!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Kait,

    Everyone is different. There are going to be some gay Christians who react with self-hatred, some who retreat into liberal Christianity, and others who react by rejecting their faith. The thing is, most people in that situation will already know very well that the Bible is anti-gay. It's not going to be news to them, so there's really no point in us trying to whitewash it.

    On the other hand, though, if a gay Christian is clearly in anguish about homophobia in the Bible, I agree that it would be a bad idea to add insult to injury by emphasizing it to them. If you're talking to someone in that situation, the best course of action is probably to focus on all the other reasons that Christianity is likely to be wrong.

    Thanks for your comments, though. I'm glad you like the blog.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Tim,

    The "strange flesh" mentioned in Jude probably refers to sex with angelic beings, rather than sex of a homosexual nature.

    See verse 6 of Jude, as well as Genesis 6:1-2 reference to "sons of God." These beings are also known as "The Watchers," and are mentioned in several books of the Apocrypha, including I Enoch which Jude quotes in verses 14-15.

    Drop me an email if you'd like more info.
    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  6. Steve,

    Your interpretation is certainly possible, but I see a few problems with it.

    One is that Jude criticizes several cities for going after strange flesh, but there's no indication in the Genesis story that any of the cities God destroys is lusting after angels, except for Sodom. The second is that even in the case of Sodom, there's no indication that the people are aware of the angelic nature of Lot's two male companions. They could hardly be guilty of a sin they aren't aware of.

    The third is that "heteros," the word translated here as "strange," means something closer to "another" or "the other," especially in the context of having only two choices. That sounds a lot like a gender binary to me.

    That said, though, I'm far from a Bible scholar, so I still could be wrong. Thanks for the alternative viewpoint.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi Tim,

    Your first point is a good one, and I don't really have a good rebuttal to it.

    To your second point, I'd say two things. First, my understanding of Biblical theology (and law for that matter) is that ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it. For example, Jesus tells us that in Matthew 5:27-28 that lusting after a woman is equivalent to adultery. Would you argue that lusting after a woman was only a sin after Jesus made this pronouncement? Second, Jude is giving his interpretation of what happened in Sodom, rather than the perspective of those involved in the event. It's possible that he believed the sin was sex with angelic beings, rather than sex with same-gendered humans.

    To your third point, "the other" could certainly refer to gender, but it could also refer to the other part of the human/divine binary. But if it does refer to gender, wouldn't it refer to the other gender, i.e. female? I think "the other" isn't the best translation though. If you look down in the Thayer's Lexicon portion of the page you linked to, it indicates that the better translation in Jude would be " another: i.e. one not of the same nature, form, class, kind, different." That definition is at least as ambiguous as "the other" one, and I'm not sure it helps either of our positions.

    Robert Gagnon, one of the leading proponent of the traditional Scriptural view of homosexuality, says this: "... the clause 'went after other flesh' probably refers to their attempt to copulate with Lot's angelic visitors." (The Bible and Homosexual Practice, p. 87)

    Having said all of that, I am also not a Bible scholar, so I could still be wrong as well. :)

    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  8. Steve,

    Thanks for the response; you make some solid points. Since my knowledge on the subject is limited, I'll just respond to a few of them.

    First you said: "my understanding of Biblical theology (and law for that matter) is that ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it. For example, Jesus tells us that in Matthew 5:27-28 that lusting after a woman is equivalent to adultery. Would you argue that lusting after a woman was only a sin after Jesus made this pronouncement?"

    If it wasn't, that would be highly unjust, but I suppose injustice is nothing new in Christianity. Anyway, I don't think is a good analogy. In your example, people would be committing a sin due to a lack of information about the law, but in the Sodom case, it would have been due to a lack of information about the circumstances of that particular situation. If one unknowingly makes false statements, or steals something that one honestly believes to be free, I don't think most Christians would consider that to be sinful.

    You also said: "But if it does refer to gender, wouldn't it refer to the other gender, i.e. female?"

    When talking about sexual relations, the Bible writers would have considered men having sex with women the "default" case. The "other" in this context, then, would be men having sex with men.

    Finally, I'd just like to add one other point, which isn't necessarily in direct response to you. Let's assume not just that I'm wrong in this case, but even that there are no New Testament condemnations of homosexuality whatsoever. Even in this case, the very fact that it can so easily be interpreted as condemning homosexuality is itself a strike against it. If God were truly the all-good, all-powerful being Christians claimed him to be, I would expect him to be able to communicate in such a way that he wouldn't be so gravely misinterpreted.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi Tim,

    To your first point: That's an interesting argument, and I think you may be right. So how about this analogy instead: most states consider the "age of consent" to be 18. If someone (over 18) has sex with someone under the age of 18, the law considers it to be a crime, whether or not the older person is aware of the age of the younger. The older person would be knowledgable about the law, but not the circumstances of the situation, but they could still go to jail, and be found guilty of a crime.

    To your last point: "... the very fact that it can so easily be interpreted as condemning homosexuality is itself a strike against it. If God were truly the all-good, all-powerful being Christians claimed him to be, I would expect him to be able to communicate in such a way that he wouldn't be so gravely misinterpreted."

    I totally agree. Wikipedia says there are somewhere around 38,000 Christian denominations (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations). And none of them would agree with any of the others about some particular point or another. It is certainly a major issue that the Bible is so unclear as to its true meaning, and that this has led to exactly the thing that Paul warns against in I Corinthians 1:10.

    I've enjoyed the discussion.

    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  10. For the sake of sodomites' abomination acts, God destroyed Sodom as Ezekiel 16:49,50 shows for us. Ezekiel uses 16:50 Hebrew word towebah, which is the same Hebrew word in Lev 18:22 (and Lev 20:13) that describes homosexuality as abomination. It is very clear that in Ezekiel 16:50, abomination means homosexuality acts as the reason for destroying of Sodom. Sodomites pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness and hardened hearts towards poor and needy were sins, but destruction came for the sake of homosexuality, and the New Testament confirms this:

    Jude1:7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

    Apostle Paul wrote very clearly that homosexuality (men having sex with other men; women having sex with other women) is a sin. Ro 1:27 is word error, which is in Greek plane, which means error, to deceive, deceit, one led astray from the right way, error which shows itself in action, a wrong mode of acting. In this place, the Bible in the New Testament shows very clearly that same-gender sex is a sin and aberration from the right way. Apostle Paul taught very clearly that homosexuality is unnatural sin.

    Many scientists believe that homosexuality is congenital, a matter and orientation that can't be changed as heterosexual. Paradoxical is that many scientists don't believe in God of the Bible, and they proclaim that God of the Bible is not existed. Nevertheless, God of the Bible is capable of change homosexuals individuals to be as heterosexuals.

    Arsenos means male and koiten means bed. Lev 18:22 and 20:13 teach that a man cannot lie (sexual act) with another man as he lies with a woman. The origin of the word arsenokoites means homosexual activity and homosexual. Lev 18:22 and 20:13 prove very clearly that arsenos koitenmeans homosexuality sex, because the Jews scribes translated words' arsenos koiten to describe men who have sex with another men (homosexuality), which is a sin and against the will of God. Apostle Paul didn't make up the word arsenokoites, but it was already as the concept in the Old Testament, where it meant homosexuality.

    It is very clear that the words' arsenos koiten meant homosexuality (man who had sex with another man) to Jews of the Old Covenant era. In the same way arsenokoites meant homosexuality (man who had sex with another man) to Jesus' disciples in the New Covenant era.

    Jewish philosopher Philo lived in the same time as Jesus Christ and Philo has said that arsenokoites meant shrine prostitute (male temple prostitute), and not homosexual. Some people have made from this a conclusion that the word arsenokoites meant a male temple prostitute. Philo's interpretation was totally wrong, because the Bible proves this undisputedly and shows that Philo erred.

    Lev 18:22 and Lev 20:13 doesn't use temple prostitute word, but words in which is denied that a man can't lie sexually with another man. Always when the Bible speaks for temple prostitutes, so the Bible uses words gedeshah and gadesh. If Lev 18:22 and Lev 20:13 told for temple prostitutes, so verses would mention them, but there isn't, because in those verses, the Bible forbids homosexuality. It is very clear and undisputable in the light of the testimony of the Bible, that arsenokoites means homosexuality.


    Reference: http://koti.phnet.fi/petripaavola/homosexual.html

    ReplyDelete