New Series: The Bible and Homosexuality

John BoswellBeginning June 1st, I’m starting a new series and invite my blog readers to join me in a book study and discussion regarding what the Bible says about homosexuality. Issues surrounding Gay Rights and the morality of same-sex marriage as well as homosexuality itself will remain front page news as more and more US States accept same-sex marriage, and everyone who cares about this Justice issue ought to be able to converse about what the Bible does and doesn’t say, even those who do not believe in the importance of the Bible.

Those who oppose same-sex marriage and the general acceptance of the LGBT Community, claim that what the Bible says is crystal clear, but there is scholarly work done that sheds different light on the subject. John Boswell’s seminal work, “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century” calls into question many of the ideas scholars and theologians have had about the subject. His book is not the easiest read, full of footnotes and written with a depth that allows it to be considered solid scholarship. But it is a valuable read none the less. So, get a copy of the book, and join me! Each week or so, I’ll post as I read through the book, cover to cover, exploring Boswell’s ideas. Read with me, or merely join the discussion offering your comments each week to my blog posts.

One might say, that what the Bible says is irrelevant given that here in the US, the Constitution is the basis of our laws and civil culture. But 100% of the vitriol and opposition to the full respect and equality for gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and queer persons is rooted in and supported by the use of this ancient text. We can expect the opposition to remain vocal, loud, and will grow only more hostile as same-sex marriage gets accepted everywhere. But full respect, inclusion, and equality is not a done deal here in the United States, and across the globe, there are many places more hostile towards LGBTQ folks. Our ability to counter the opposition is essential.

I’ll be using an electronic ebook from the University of Chicago Press. The book is available from them as a paperback, or as a download. It is also available for rent from your local library as well as purchase from other sources. You may be like me and have an original copy on the bookshelf as well. Get it down and read along with me.

Boswell died too soon, and I don’t believe anyone has really followed his lead in this area of scholarship. I won’t simply take his word as if he is definitely correct and thousands of years of the status quo are simply wrong in their understanding, but asking why Boswell has arrived at his conclusions and how they differ from traditional ideas will be the basis of discussion.

Are you ready for this series? I hope so! Summer is a perfect time to sit back with a book,so I hope you will choose this one and read along. Then each week participate in our discussion here about what I’ve read.

 

Religion has Failed: Insanity of Christianity

I can not begin to put into words, how my views of Faith, Religion and religious expression have been shifting since I started this blog. Well, long before actually, but given that I started this blog with a purpose, it is a useful marker for those changes.
A very long time friend, Janet Edwards has begun writing op-eds for the Washington Post on Religion and associated things, and so it was with gladness that I saw that she was writing about the Ugandan effort to criminalize gays and even execute them. She was writing about this, in relation to the Christian evangelism of Africa, where she draws distinctions between an evangelism of humility and call to the teachings of Jesus, and an evangelism of coercion and manipulation. It is a great read, and like any good opinion editorial, prompts the reader to consider the issues.
Here is a link to her op-ed:
http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/janet_edwards/2010/03/the_fine_line_between_persuasion_and_manipulation.html

Like some of her other pieces, I wasn’t originally going to write about it. I enthusiastically, take her text in and ponder it, allowing it to ferment and give rise to thoughts and ideas. But then, I started reading the comments. A number of them, are the standard, evangelical defensiveness and victim posturing, as if fundamentalists are the poor abused minorities. They wonder what they have done to deserve such scorn, whereas Janet’s op-ed doesn’t attack evangelicals in general at all, at least in my opinion. And there were the comments made by Bible thumpers, who characteristically pull out a few Bible passages, and offer them as if they are the answer to everything. Frighteningly, these seemed to be placed there as if they support the Ugandan move towards the execution of gays. But one caught my eye, and propelled me into this post:

Clearly, the idiots like Janet Edwards are spreading lies. I don’t think you understand that you are doing the work of the devil by spreading LIES. Jesus Christ was crucified because of lies. I hope you understand the punishment of God for liars.
Now, Janet is an adult and I’m sure has been called far worse before and will again, so no comment from me about the personal attack against her. But the quote I want to emphasize is this: “Jesus was crucified because of lies.”  What a theologically insane thing to say! Especially when followed with a statement about God and liars, and preceded with the claim that Janet is a liar. This person can if they like, equate Janet’s opinion with a lie, and align her with other liars, and claim that God hates liars, but the assertion that Jesus was crucified because of lies can not be substantiated  theologically.
Depending upon how you read the Bible, Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead because it was God’s plan. It was ordained to be that way, even before his birth. It was a required element of the narrative, for without it, the resurrection would mean nothing.
So, one has to wonder who is the one lying and what does it mean to suggest that God is unhappy with Janet’s ideas, but God has no problem that His greatest gift to humanity, the sacrifice of his Son is so misunderstood?
My favorite character in the Bible is the apostle Paul, who can be quoted to support or condemn just about anything imaginable. He lived and wrote at a time, when he, and others were struggling to comprehend the experience of Jesus in the context of the Hebrew Faith in which it had occurred. It troubled Paul deeply, and his attempt to figure out the relationship between Jesus, the death and resurrection, and God’s promise to the Jews is an underlying theme through out all of his letters. What was the role of the Law of Moses and now, God’s covenant through Christ- how to reconcile these things? How many of today’s far-right Christian fanatics seem to have no sense of this issue or theological problem!  They are stuck at the math equation of “2+2” but seem oblivious to the fact that the result is “5” and the equation and result can not be aligned.
What’s wrong with Fundamentalism, and the evangelicalism that grows from it, is that it has no basis in a sound theology. It is a bastardization of Christian Faith and lacks realistic, meaningful, and thoughtful theological basis. The truly faithful ought to be outraged, and alarmed by this. Real Faith, Real theology, and Real religion lose when this insanity reigns. Those who label themselves as the unfaithful or non-believers are not killing God or the opportunity for Faith. It is the insane within the Fundamentalist movement who are destroying the value of Faith and religion in real life.

God’s Last Gasps for Air

The premise of this post has been on my mind for some time, as I have thinking about how to frame the ideas I’m about to set out there for all to read. A number of different ideas have resided in my mind, but none have appeared to offer the desired frame. Even this one may seem a stretch, but I’d rather start my dialogue on it, than continue the inner discussion within my mind. A letter to the editor and book review are linked below, that I believe spell out “the case” superbly. So, I wish to label them as exhibit A, B, and C, and request you read them before continuing. Since you may not, these excerpts may help set the stage:

Exhibit A, Book Review by Nicolas Wade:

Dawkins invites the reader to share the frustration of an imaginary history teacher, some of whose students refuse to accept that the Roman Empire ever existed, or that Latin is the mother tongue from which the Romance languages evolved. Instead of concentrating on how Western culture emerged from the institutions of the Roman state, the teacher must spend time combating a school board that insists he give equal time to their alternative view that French has been spoken from time immemorial and that Caesar never came or saw or conquered. This is exactly analogous to the plight of the biology teacher trying to acquaint students with the richness of modern biology in states where fundamentalist opponents of evolution hold sway.

From exhibit B, letter by Daniel Dennett:

What is going on at The New York Times? Why is it so bizarrely respectful of those who doubt evolution? In recent years The Times has published three preposterous Op-Ed articles by evolution-doubters (Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Michael J. Behe and Senator Sam Brownback). These no more deserved space in The Times than the opinions of flat-earthers or trance- channelers. In the wake of Judge John E. Jones III’s decision in the Dover, Pa., case that intelligent design is a religious viewpoint that may not be taught in public schools, one would think The Times would finally recognize that the intelligent design campaign is a hoax and dishonest to the core, and stop giving it respectability in its pages.

from Exhibit C, Letter by Alex Rosenberg:

Evolution is a fact, natural selection is a process and Darwin’s theory is that the fact is explained by the process. The facts of evolution are as evident as any facts about the past can be. So is the fact that blind variation and natural selection can produce a lot of adaptational change. Darwin’s theory about how it does so is indeed a work in progress, but one whose basic correctness is no more open to doubt that General Relativity. In “The Greatest Show on Earth,” and in a couple of other books, including “The Ancestor’s Tale” and “The Blind Watchmaker,” Dawkins has shown us how this process, which is entirely free from purpose, goal, intention or design, results in the overwhelming appearance of all four. Processes, of course, are facts. No twist in Dawkins’s knickers.

from Exhibit C, Letter by Eric Delson:

In his otherwise excellent review, Nicholas Wade draws a distinction among theory, law and fact in science. He notes that Dawkins, in reaction to “creationists, who like to dismiss evolution as ‘just a theory,’ ” insists that evolution is a fact. Wade correctly recognizes that in science a theory is more than a supposition, as does Dawkins, but while criticizing Dawkins for calling evolution a fact, Wade falls back on using the term “theory,” which surely connotes uncertainty to the nonscientist. Both authors ignore the third option, to refer to evolution as a “law” in the same sense that most people speak of the “law of gravity.”

Yes, this may appear to be simply all about evolution and creationism, but my purposes are different, so bear with me. This debate about evolution, is simply an illustration of the line drawn in the sand. And, if I’m honest from the start, my premise and ideas have nothing to do with God, except I thought the title sounded catchy. God is not gasping for air, or dying, or fading from relevancy. However, I believe it true to say that those humans who refuse to accept Science and the fact of Evolution are afraid that this is the case. To them, Science is an attempt to kill God. Their insistence to hold so tightly to a disproved myth, and develop ideas like Intelligent Design, at all costs, suggests that without it, they have no ability to believe in God.

How else can you explain the construction of a Museum of Creationism, where robotronic dinosaurs frolic with humans, in a way that scientifically could never exist, but must be constructed and sold as undeniably true so that the myth of the great flood can be aligned with scientific fact? Why else work so hard to hold the Bible as ultimate history, except that without it, they are afraid that God will cease to exist, or more accurately, never had existed in the first place. Personally, I don’t think the existence of God is up for grabs, and any discussion of it, is a red herring, designed to shift focus away from the bigger question: what is the validity of Religion, or more specifically- what is the validity of seeing a Judeo-Christian perspective as the only accurate and true expression of Religion. The Christian religion (lower-case “r”) is what is at stake of being disproved.

My intentional splitting of Christianity from the whole Judeo-Christian branch of history should not be minimized. Philosophers and theologians within the Hebrew tradition have, since the dawn of their faith tradition and ancestral beginnings, seen the value of interpretation. Volumes upon volumes exist as different individuals have chosen to explore sometimes subtle, and sometimes drastic explanations for scripture, practice, and belief. It has only been the comparatively recent Christians who seek to mold an understanding of fact into something that might fit within their locked-down scriptural words. In other words, only the Christian Church works so to declare the fact of the Holy Bible as more important and above all other fact, and even above the importance of Faith.

So, what the heck does this have to do with anything Queer, or Gay, or whatever words you choose? Can you believe I just wrote 1000 words as a set up to what I really want to say? Yes, I guess I did.

Virtually all of the backlash and opposition to full equality for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgenders, is rooted in a religious objection to homosexuality. While Christianity isn’t the only faith tradition to oppose homosexuality, it does hold a singular spot as the predominant religion of the advanced Western Culture. The attack on homosexuality from the Christian extremists is completely an effort to support their fallacy of the Holy Bible as Fact, and plays the same role in the perpetuation of this fallacious fact, as the attack on evolution. While in practical terms, the opposition to full equality for LGBT’s is the oppression of actual people, the goal of any of the Christian Far Right isn’t to harm people, but rather to defend their stronghold on the Fact of the Holy Bible, and thus, their own sole connection to God. This is partly how these Christians can claim to love the sinner but hate the sin, because to them, it isn’t about real people, but about actions and behaviors. They don’t set out to cause harm, even if for them, the ends justify the means. Not all Christians operate that way. Even some denominations articulate that Faith and Experience play key roles in understanding God’s plan. But in moments of fear, even the most moderate Christians can fall into the trap of the Bible as Fact.

The issues of the Fact of Evolution and the Fact of Homosexuality are both, at the core, issues of biology and science. The war raging between the Christian extremists and Science concerning evolution has been going on for some time, so it is easier to see and analyze a history for that struggle. It follows other similar battles with Science such as the struggle of the Church to condemn Galileo because his astrologic observations did not match their literal Biblical reading. The Battle against the science of homosexuality is relatively new. Previously the Church used only a moral argument against homosexuality, but in reality, it didn’t care if homosexuality was going on, as long as it was secret and hidden. However, as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people have become more visible, and want the rights that everyone else has, as out visible and happy people, this acceptance of secrets no longer functions, and the Church has lost most if not all of it’s moral authority.

So, The Christian extremists have nowhere else to turn except to their Holy Bible as fact.

The Holy Bible’s Last Gasps for Air

Therefore, the battle against Homosexuality is really the battle to save the authority of the Holy Bible. If they give in on this one, they have nothing left that they can see to justify the need for their religion. The rest of the things that they could possibly grab hold of as justification for Christianity have long since passed away. Greed and Coveting rule- look at how the Banking industry or the Health Care industry work to shore up their profits over the well being of our society as a whole. Gambling is everywhere; Divorce is prevalent; Lying almost the default behavior. The Golden Rule is tarnished and appears to look more like plastic that a precious gem.

Unlike the fact of evolution, the Science of Homosexuality isn’t as well understood. Not yet. Still so much that we don’t understand about genes, and proteins and hormones, and all of the various things that play into the biology of it. And we understand far more of the Biology, than we do of the sociology of Homosexuality- how culture and environment affect the Biology as well. In time these too will be well understood. But for now, we must accept that there is still much that we do not yet know as fact in the same way as we know about the fact of evolution.  This isn’t really any different than the process by which the fact of Astronomy and the solar system came about. It just takes time.

If I am right however, that this is the last big stand that the Far Right Christians have to support their Holy Bible as fact, then, the fact of homosexuality is likely to be even more dismissed than the fact of evolution. This last attack on the fallacy will be fought with greater blindness and zeal. So we have a real battle to look forward to.

Letters – The Fact of Evolution – NYTimes.com.