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Sodomy and the Bible

Whenever amateur Bible thumpers seek to prove that homosexuality is wrong, they trot out the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18, 19), recounting how God destroyed the entire city because it was filled with sodomites. And sodomites, as we all know are men who have sex with other men (i.e. homosexuals) -- ergo, we can tell that God hates fags because he wiped out the city of Sodom and Gomorrah for being filled with fags!

What this kind of deduction really proves is the veracity of the saying "garbage in, garbage out," meaning that a shortage of the facts, added to prejudiced assumptions, inevitably leads to bogus conclusions. Sadly, such bogus conclusions can have dire effects on our society. Specifically, ignorant and prejudiced conclusions about the Bible's "position" on homosexuality have led to generations of unnecessary guilt, suicide, sexual repression, violence against homosexuals, and legal persecution.

While a significant number of Americans have little or no interest in the Bible's position on homosexuality (turning elsewhere for their moral standard), the fact yet remains that all of us are affected to some degree by spurious biblical interpretations of the past and present. American culture is deeply saturated by "Christian" moral codes, and our laws regarding sexual conduct were originally based on them, having been modeled on English law, which was in turn derived from the do's and don'ts of the Church. Current attempts to challenge these laws and their penalties (in some cases up to 20 years in prison for acts of consensual sex) are still being countered by morally outraged individuals who invoke the Bible's alleged standards for sexual conduct.

So what then does the Bible really say about homosexuality? Let's briefly examine those parts of the Bible most commonly presented as "evidence" against homosexuality: the story of Sodom & Gomorrah in Genesis, the book of Leviticus, and words of St. Paul as recorded in the book of Titus.


Lot's wife, turned to stone.

Sodom & Gomorrah

First off, let's set the record straight: Sodom and Gomorrah were really two cities, not one. Second, at the time the biblical book of Genesis was written (somewhere between 2000 and 800 B.C.), "sodomite" simply meant "inhabitant of Sodom", not a person who commits sodomy. And while the term "sodomy" was eventually coined to refer to the wicked acts committed by the residents of Sodom (in the 11th century A.D.), it actually subsumed a wide variety of so-called "unnatural" sexual acts, not limited to anal and oral homosexual intercourse.

The habit of equating "sodomite" with "homosexual" appears to have begun around the time that the King James Bible was created, which teasingly suggests that the KJV itself may have inspired this particular misperception -- a misperception which is still alive and well 400 years later. (Note that the King James Bible was cobbled together in 1611 out of pre-existing religious texts. It also excluded a good number of equally-relevant religious texts, in part because they were deemed politically incorrect by King James' scholars.)

If we examine the book of Genesis in the King James Bible (or in later bibles based upon it, such as the Living Bible, the Modern Language Bible, etc.) we note that it is actually rather vague as to what the Sodomites did to piss off The Lord Almighty ("their sin is very grievous"). How, then, have readers in the past four centuries jumped to the conclusion that the residents of Sodom were destroyed for their homosexuality?

Essentially, most readers seeking to decipher the exact nature of the dirty deeds (and so perhaps sidestep the commission of similar "grievous" sins) have placed a great deal of emphasis on one particular passage, Genesis 19: 4, 10, which is commonly interpreted as indicating homosexuality.

In order understand why this conclusion is in error, let's take a look at the passage in question. At this point in the story, the angels of the Lord have come to Sodom to check things out for the Big Guy and to determine whether or not there are even 10 good men within the wicked city. (God had promised the faithful Abraham that he would not destroy the city if even 10 good men could be found there.) Lot, the only godly man the two angels cross paths with, has invited them to his home to spend the night. There is also some hint that he fears for their safety, should they simply camp out on the street corner as planned. They return to Lot's home and prepare to retire for the evening. Then comes the critical passage:

But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter; And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them.
"Know" here connotes know "in the Biblical sense." In other words, the men of Sodom were essentially shouting, "Send out the newbies so that we may rape them!"

According to historians, when tensions were high between towns or tribes in some parts of the Middle East, the convention arose of ass-raping the new guy in town, to make him feel cowed and humiliated. (Such rape was sometimes part of the treatment of enemy soldiers defeated in battle as well, although castration was another technique.) This rather unsavory tradition existed in counterpoint to the more benevolent tradition of acting as benefactor and host to visitors, a tradition much more in keeping with Mosaic rules of appropriate, godly, pro-social behavior.

To return to our story: Lot, who subscribes to the latter philosophy, is horrified by the crowd's threats to rip his two male guests from his protection and sexually assault them. So he offers up his two virgin daughters, so that the crowd might rape them instead. The crowd declines, threatens to do even worse to Lot, and tries to force their way into the house. Lot's male guests (a.k.a. the angels of The Lord, in disguise) put a stop to all this with their magical powers and warn Lot that he should take his family and get out of Sodom -- quick -- because they are now going to destroy the city (indicating that, after this incident, they have made up their minds -- the city is indeed so overrun with wickedness that it should not be saved).

So let's evaluate what we've just witnessed. Taken at face value, the above passages may seem to be saying that men having sex with other men is the deciding evil, the thing so terrible that the angels of the Lord said, "Whoa! That's it -- it's smiting time!" But this would be as ridiculous as saying that the passage proves that "godly" men should offer their daughters up to be gang-raped, or that Christians should prefer the raping of women to homosexual intercourse.

If, however, one places the passage within it's proper historical and cultural context, it becomes apparent that the crowd was not being portrayed as homosexual so much as they were being portrayed as cruel. They were sadists hell-bent, literally, on taking sexual pleasure from the suffering and humiliation of Lot's visitors. (As a side note, psychologist Erich Fromm once stated that sadism is the only true sexual perversion.) This kind of antisocial behavior runs contrary to the code of conduct later dictated by God to Moses (Exodus 20-23), which essentially amounts to treating others with fairness and respecting their persons and property rights.

Meanwhile, there is no reason for devoted Bible readers to conclude that Lot's plan of tossing his daughters to the crowd was an especially good plan worthy of future emulation. After all the angels never chime in with "Great idea! Better to rape and beat innocent young girls than strong adult males stupid enough to wander into foreign cities unarmed and outnumbered!"

As a side note, most likely Lot perceived that it would be less humiliating and scarring for his daughters to be raped, than it would be for his two guests. That is, for two women to submit to a man sexually, versus for two heterosexual men to submit sexually to other men. After all, ultimately that's what women did, submitted to men (although more properly their husbands). Men, especially, adult men, could not allow themselves to be penetrated without becoming, or being made, effeminate. And male effeminacy, in their view, had no place and was thoroughly revolting and disgusting -- why it was almost Babylonian!

Probably few readers of the Bible have been persuaded that abandoning young girls to rape and violent death is an acceptable idea. Yet, historically, many have willingly embraced the same passage as justification for the violent deaths of homosexuals (in England it was a hanging offense by decree of Henry the 8th). Why? This is a difficult question to answer. And in fact a similar quandry was faced by St. Thomas Aquinas when he tried to determine just why homosexuality was to be deemed an "unnatural" sex act. After lengthy consideration, St. Thomas concluded that it was basically the pre-existent prejudice of the common people that made it so. They had decided, for reasons unclear to him that it was unnatural, hence the Church followed suit in declaring it a sin.

So prejudice clearly has swayed Bible readers to conclude that homosexuality, even in loving, mutually consenting forms, is an unforgivable evil. The source of this prejudice, before it became self-perpetuatingly attached to the bible, is difficult to determine and warrants a separate discussion of its own. But suffice to say, at some point, the Bible became propaganda tool in the cause of bigotry.

Taking biblical passages out of context, both literary context (the story as a whole) and cultural context (the hidden subtext of meanings and morals) makes it easier to misunderstand and misrepresent the message of the stories from which they are plucked -- and to use these stories as weapons of propaganda and cultural repression.

Leviticus

If one needs further convincing upon this point, it may be worth considering some other Bible passages used to condemn homosexuality. The book of Leviticus is often trotted out as "proof" that God abhors fags. Take for example this passage: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination" (Leviticus 18;22). Again, on the surface, this appears to be iron clad proof that homosexuality is wrong. But what does that mean "as with womankind"? Does it really mean you can't have sexual relations with a person of the same gender? Why, then, is there no injunction against women lying together? We might assume a lack of specificity is at fault, though this seems unwarranted since the next line specifically says, "Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion." Shall we assume that lesbianism is okay but that gays are damned? Seems rather ridiculous (although some lesbians might disagree).

A more contextual reading of Leviticus begins with acknowledging that this part of the Old Testament is essentially about ritual purity. It drones on ad nauseam as to who should sacrifice what kind of animal for what occasion and to redress which transgression and so on and so on. It then further details all the things that one might do that would make one impure in the eyes of the Lord. Lying with a man as with a woman is one of these. But think about it, what would you say about a man who just stuck his bare penis up another man's butthole -- wouldn't you say he was, at least temporally, unclean? Yeah, a little purification, or at least a good soapy shower, might be in order here.

But what about this abomination business? To answer this, let us digress to consider that, as a people, the Hebrews had spent a goodly amount of time in bondage to the Babylonians somewhere around the 6th century. Many scholars believe that a good deal of the Bible's negative spewage about "men who lay with other men as with women" was less a generalized hatred of homosexuality, and more a reaction to the religious practices of the Babylonians. Specifically, to the fact that in Babylon (and other parts of the Near East) the priests dressed in women's clothes and had anal sex with male worshippers. The Jews, followers of the male God Yahweh, were to purify themselves of all allegiance to foreign "idols" ("Thou shalt have no other god before me."). Hence all such goings on were forbidden to them. It was an abomination.

Certainly this does not "prove" that homosexuality was or is okay according to Christianity. But should at least make us think twice before trotting out the same old passages as evidence that sodomy equals anal sex and that anal sex equal homosexuality and that homosexuality is evil. Taken bit by bit, the pieces of this equation simply fall apart.

In the effort to defend or dispute this equation however, a great war of debate has raged between various biblical scholars who themselves are prejudiced to defend or condemn homosexuality. Essentially it has amounted to a great deal of arguing over subtle nuances of translation and the conclusion that one can or cannot draw from them regarding the Bible's real stance on homosexuality.

The Epistle of Paul

Ironically, most of what the Bible says on the subject of homosexuality may not even be relevant to gentile Christians. That is, for all that the anti-homosexuality camp has quoted the Old Testament books of Genesis, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, etc., the fact remains that St. Paul himself absolved all gentiles converting to Christianity of the ancient Hebrew purity laws. (Hence Christians can eat pork, go uncircumcised, etc.). Paul wrote:

Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. (Titus, verse 15)

In other words, it was one's earnest efforts to know the teachings of Christ and live according to them that was important. The soul's love of Christ purifies, sanctifies. Outward observance of traditional customs, on their own, accomplished little.

Yet there is further irony in the fact that it is St. Paul, who was responsible for the few passages in the New Testament that condemn homosexuality. The God Loves Gays camp is quick to point out that Paul's words can be translated into English in a number of ways and that perhaps what he was really talking about was male temple whores and the men who utilized their services. Looked at from this point of view, Paul's prohibitions may, again, have been about the spiritually polluting influence of the old pagan religions.

Although this may not have been Paul's intent at all, the point is an interesting one to consider. Many early bishops in the Christian Church had been influenced by the Greek Stoic philosophers. The Stoics believed one had to abstain from indulging in sexual pleasure (and other pleasures of the flesh) as much as possible because they distracted one from the pursuit of higher ideals (a belief shared by Buddha as well).

So to the potential Christian convert, here was the old religion on the one hand, offering ready sexual gratification as part of religious worship, and here -- on the other hand -- was the Christian religion, offering (at least according to some who taught it) a life of sexual chastity. To the average man on the street, the sexier religion may have seemed considerably more appealing. Leading to the ire of St. Paul against these the pagan temple whores. And who can blame him. It's hardly fair is it?

If indeed St. Paul's words, spoken in Greek, can truly be translated as referring to these temple whores and their patrons, then his admonitions have very little to do with homosexuals in general.

Evidence that this may indeed be the case, comes to us from records dating from the 8th through 18 century of same sex weddings performed within various branches of Christianity. Illustrations of these ceremonies show the priest placing the hand of a man, upon that of his male betrothed in exactly the same fashion as in male/female marriages. The obvious conclusion here is that early Christian fathers, relying on texts that predated the King James era English language translation of the Bible, found nothing within the bible itself to prohibit these relationships.

Of course, it has not been satisfactorily proven that sexual gratification was expected within these relationships. Meaning that the evidence, thus far absolutely supports the sanctity of the love between same sex partners. But it does not absolutely prove that their sexual union was everywhere granted the same approval as in a heterosexual union.

Still, the imagination is tantalized by scattered evidence which, if accurate, would indicate that in at least some instances, a physical relationship was acknowledged and sanctioned. For example, we have records describing St. Serge as the "sweet companion and lover" of St. Bacchus.


Sodomy Scripture in the Bible


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