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August 10, 2005

Distorting the message of Jesus

In the previous posting, I spoke about how the version of Christianity that predominates in the US and its media is one that does not draw much at all from Christ's own teachings. This means that these particular "Christians" have to really stretch to justify some of the intolerant positions that they espouse.

For example, take the current hot-button issue of homosexuality and gay rights. Some Christian groups (like the followers of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson) go to great lengths to portray this as one of the great abominations. But the problem for them is that nowhere in the Bible does Jesus himself even speak about homosexuality, let alone rail against it.

So I was surprised by this letter in the Saturday, July 30, 2005 issue of the Plain Dealer. It was by a Rev. Robert C. Hull of Lakewood who said:

In the discussions about homosexuality, there has been much confusion and many misrepresentations of the Bible. For starters, the biblical references have always been focused on homosexual acts - on sodomy. There has not been a biblical discussion of homosexual tendencies or the inner proclivities of a human being regarding sexual preference.

Jesus speaks directly against sodomy in four passages of the Gospels, all of which are in sections of direct instruction for the immediate task of spreading his word to the whole world (Matthew 10:14-15 and 11:23-24; Luke 10:10-13 and 17:28-30). Since the word "sodomy" comes from the name Sodom, it is evident that the reason Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God was because they engaged in sodomy, among other faithless acts. (emphasis added)

This was an impressive array of citations, enough to convince the casual reader that Falwell, Robertson and company are right and actually channeling Jesus on this issue. How could people like me have missed such a seemingly clear prohibition? But when you actually look up the verses you see that Hull's thesis is a lie and it exposes the fact that these groups have to go to great lengths to distort Jesus' message.

The first problem is that of sheer bad logic. All four citations are variations on the same theme, which in the first one (Matthew 10:14-15) has Jesus telling his followers to go and preach in his name and saying "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town."

So basically, Jesus is comparing what will happen to the people who reject his disciples to what happened to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom is being set as a standard of punishment, not of crimes. You cannot infer from this that it is an indictment of homosexual behavior. At most, the words are clearly a warning against being inhospitable and rude and indifferent.

The second point is that the sins that the people of Sodom allegedly were punished for were not what we commonly think them to be. In fact, as the prophet Ezekiel (16:49-50) points out, "Now this was the sin of Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen."

So if you want to associate a "sin" with the word "sodomy" and the people of Sodom, it would more properly apply to those who are haughty, arrogant, unconcerned, and who do not help the poor and needy.

The sexual connotations of the word sodomy were imposed as a much later development and to read them back into Jesus's words is just plain wrong. If a lay person had written that letter to the Plain Dealer, I would have been generous and dismissed it as intolerance arising from ignorance. But since this is by a clergyman who should know better, I can only put it down to a willful attempt to mislead, its success depending on people being too gullible and lazy to look up the citations.

POST SCRIPT

Paul Krugman describes how those with overtly political agendas are using their rich sources of funding to create a parallel intellectual universe that has little to do with reality. This strategy was initially used with some success to promote things like supply-side economics despite the absence of any evidence that it worked, and now this method is being turned to subjects like global warming and evolution.

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Comments

Sodom and Gomorrah as defined by wikipedia. There is more interesting sexual interaction later in a cave where Lot's daughters get him drunk and set upon him for the purpose of maintaining their family line with a male heir. Holy biblical incest Batman! And they were spared. Maybe god hadn't quite figured out the sex laws back then quite well enough for us to base major prejudice on.

Also check out this article written by a gay man entitled God hates Fags?

Posted by neuman on August 10, 2005 11:53 AM

Thanks for that link.

That whole story of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah is one of the most bizarre ones in the Bible. As your links point out, many of its most shocking and unsavory elements are glossed over and what most people remember is that Lot's wife was turned to salt and that somehow the city was punished for homosexuality.

The Bible is an interesting book, too interesting and valuable for its message to be controlled by a few people with a specific agenda. This is why I feel that even non-believers should really read it and come to grips with its many and varied messages.

Posted by Mano Singham on August 10, 2005 03:27 PM

The daughters of Lot were spared because they were convinced that the destruction of Sodom and Gemorrah killed far more than just the inhabitants of those two cities and, after seeing their mother, Lot's wife, turn to salt for looking back, they thought that they were the only humans left on Earth. Because of this, their actions could be excused - though not completely praised.

Posted by William Sherwin on August 10, 2005 08:18 PM

I haven't read all of the Old Testament, but I always interpreted sodomy as rape, not anal sex. It seems clear to me that the problem is that the men of Sodom want to rape the angels, not that some men want to have consensual sex with other men. Of course, it's supposedly okay for Lot to offer his daughters up to the mob, which I find to be abhorrent. Is the lesson there that gay sex is bad, but pimping out your daughters is okay?

I have always strongly disliked the book of Genesis, and reading the Brick Testament version only highlights how bizarre it is.

Posted by Becky on August 10, 2005 11:27 PM