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Selective Literalism

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Those who oppose equal protection for homosexuals and who are outraged by the Court’s decision say that it is “incompatible with scripture,” but a closer look at the book reveals other possibilities.

The concept of "sodomy" is derived from a story in Genesis 19:1-11, in which Lot and his family visit Sodom along with some angels, and the men of the town surround the house to demand that Lot send the angels outside so the men might "know" them. Oddly, at this request, Lot offers to send out his virgin daughters -- not a likely response to a crowd of horny homosexuals.

If we research this word "know" we can find that it is translated from the Hebrew word "yada" (pronounced "yaw-dah"), which is properly translated "to ascertain by seeing" according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. This verb generally means casual, nonsexual, social knowledge and is translated as such 645 times in the Old Testament. In only a tiny handful of occasions, as in Genesis 4:1 concerning Adam and Eve, does the word imply sexual, carnal knowledge, yet prejudice favors this unlikely minority interpretation for the story of Sodom.

Anti-gay forces often quote Leviticus, the book of priestly law, to justify their prejudice. The King James version of the Bible tells us that Leviticus 18:22 states that "thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination," yet there are dozens of other Levitical directives and prohibitions that are completely ignored -- a questionable interpretive approach called selective literalism. Surely if we are to interpret the Bible literally, we can’t be that selective.

Conveniently, we ignore the many verses in Leviticus urging compassion for the poor. And in Leviticus 17:10, those of us who enjoy a bloody rare steak should be "cut off" from God’s people. Expulsion is also mandated for any man who has intercourse with a woman "in her sickness," or in her period. In Leviticus 19:27, those with facial hair are prohibited from cutting their beards. Tattoos, consulting astrologers and gossip are also prohibited. Chillingly, Leviticus 20:13 mandates the death penalty for homosexuality. Before anti-gay folks get smug about this one, they should read Leviticus 20:10 and note that it also mandates the death penalty for adultery.

How literally should we take this book anyway?

If we passively accept the interpretations of our leaders, we risk being led astray by petty prejudices. Nowhere in the Bible is there a clear confirmation that the "sin of Sodom" was homosexuality, yet this obstinate prejudice lives on. In fact, Ezekiel 16:49-50, explicitly states that the reasons Sodom was destroyed were pride, idleness and ignoring the poor.

While Paul’s own conflicted sexuality prompts him to include homophobic verses in the New Testament, Jesus says nothing about homosexuality. We could expect that he would, especially since John is described in John 13:23 as "leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples whom Jesus loved." What topic could be more relevant to a group of single men living and working together?

If we look at past biblical excuses for prejudice, we will see that the Bible has been used to justify slavery by noting the practice of slavery in the Old Testament, and in books like Philemon in the New Testament, where Paul instructs a runaway slave named Onesimus to return to his master. Some slave owners even declared the "mark of Cain" in Genesis 4:15 to be black skin to justify their enslavement of the offspring of the first murderer.

Only 14 states out of 50 still maintain sodomy laws on their books, and four of these (predictably Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri) have laws that apply only to homosexuals. Ultimately, it should not be the business of the courts to regulate our private, consensual sex lives, and it is dangerous to let them do so. In Virginia, even if you are heterosexual, it is a felony to engage in anal or oral-genital stimulation. I’ll bet our laws would change rapidly if the commonwealth prosecuted such "straight" behavior like it does homosexuality.

The simple fact is that our unconstitutional laws against sodomy and our lingering bigotry against homosexuality are nothing more than institutionalized prejudices shamefully excused and promoted by political and religious leaders for their own purposes. Nothing unites a crowd so well as a common hatred.

Let’s not forget our recent war in Afghanistan. Americans fought to liberate the Afghans from the Taliban, a repressive and fanatical group of religious "scholars" who, among other things, punished sexual "crimes" with horrific severity. The Taliban were experts at twisting the Koran to suit their theocratic motives. We would be foolish to think that the dangers of religious fanaticism exist only in other countries or that the relevance of civil rights and equal protection under the law are only applicable to homosexuals. S



Lee Carleton is a writer who lives in Richmond.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.


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