14 November 2010

Not all Christians are to blame, but Christianity is

Last month saw an interesting exchange, right here in Portland, on the question of religious responsibility for the bullying, bigotry, and general hatred directed at homosexuals in our society. A brief posting by Michael Stone at the Portland Examiner asked "Are Christians responsible for anti-gay bullying?" and summarized the case for the prosecution:

Christian conservatives assert that homosexuality is a moral disorder. Such assertions create a cultural climate that tacitly legitimizes the stigmatization of gay young people.....

It often appears that right wing Christians fear the day they can no longer use shame and violence to punish and intimidate gays and lesbians.....

Christian rhetoric is complicit in creating a climate of alienation and despair for the gay, lesbian or questioning teen, a climate that too often leads to tragedy.

The next day TomCat at Politics Plus posted a response along the following lines:

.....I have no argument against his position. I agree with it 100%. My disagreement stems from categorizing the Theocons and InsaniTEAbaggers as Christian.

.....On the subject of sexual orientation, whatever [Jesus] may have said has not been passed down, so we draw a blank there, but we can follow the example of how he treated other people that the religious hierarchy labeled as outcasts. He met them at the point of their need and treated them with kindness and compassion.

So I conclude, that the real Christians today follow Jesus’ exam- ple by opposing the hatred and intolerance under discussion here, and that those who are responsible for it, are not Christians.

(In both cases, of course, read the original post -- I'm posting only excerpts here to give the gist of them, not the full arguments.)

It's clear enough that the Christian Right is promoting bigotry and hatred (see for example here; we all know that such rhetoric is ubiquitous in those circles). But there are also millions of liberal Christians who support gay equality and denounce the bigotry. Is there any objective way of telling which stance represents real Christianity?

Liberal Christians like to point out that Jesus is not recorded as having mentioned the subject of homosexuality at all. However, one might well ask, "Why not?" The New Testament records many instances of Jesus objecting to prevailing attitudes with which he disagreed. The Jewish culture of his time was presumably still guided by the laws of the Old Testament; the more gay-friendly Romans were deeply resented as foreign occupiers bringing an alien, pagan culture. If Jesus saw those who were persecuted for homosexuality as being analogous to "other people that the religious hierarchy labeled as outcasts", what stopped him from saying so?

In the same vein, as far as I know, Jesus never said anything against slavery, a ubiquitous institution at that time. Either he didn't find slavery objectionable, or he never said so in any way that anyone thought worth preserving. This certainly weakens the case of those who like to claim that he had a moral outlook similar to that of modern liberals.

(I don't, of course, believe that Jesus really existed or that the New Testament is an accurate record of anything. But we are talking about what is and is not real Christianity, and Christianity assumes that Jesus was a real person, and the New Testament is the only source we have concerning the sayings and actions of that person.)

If Jesus was silent on the subject of homosexuality, certainly the Old Testament is not. Its best-known passage on the subject is Leviticus 20:13 (KJV translation):

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

The meaning is crystal clear and not open to "interpretation": at least among males, homosexual behavior is an "abomination" and even a single homosexual act, never mind orientation, must be punished by death.

Modern liberal Christians try to get round this and other revolting and barbaric Old Testament laws by claiming that they were all somehow abrogated by the coming of Jesus, whose love-thy-neighbor philosophy superseded them. This enables them to claim that a man who lived 2,000 years ago somehow held values and attitudes not too different from those of liberals in the vastly different American society of today, even if they were utterly unknown in his own era. Unfortunately, Jesus himself explicitly ruled out this view (Matthew 5:17-19):

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whoso- ever shall do, and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

I discussed this issue in greater depth here, and I stand by my conclusion at the time:

There is no wiggle room there. All the laws of the Old Testament remain in full force and will continue to be so for as long as the Earth itself exists. If you are a liberal Christian and you claim that Christian morality does not require enforcing Leviticus 20:13 and executing every man who has ever committed a homosexual act, Jesus Christ himself says that you are wrong and that Fred Phelps ("whosoever shall do, and teach them") is right.

(Notice too that almost all of the Biblical passages condemning homosexuality which are cited in Phelps's propaganda are from the New Testament, not the Old; they are not the actual words of Jesus, but they are the words of people much closer to him in time and culture than any modern Christian is.)

Many liberal Christians are decent people and I have nothing against them, as people. But they are decent people only because they do not get their morality from the Bible.

The last refuge for the attempt to assert a gay-friendly (or for that matter civilization-friendly) form of Christianity is "non-literal interpretation" of the Bible, which I discussed here. Non-literal interpretation basically means, "I don't like what the book actually says, so I'll make up something I like better and pretend that that's what the book means, even though it's not what it says." As a basis for a comfortable middle ground for those who cannot stomach the hideousness of the sacred texts but are not ready to make the leap to rejecting religion entirely, this is of great practical value, since it enables them to treat other people decently without being forced to confront the (to them) unappealing prospect of atheism as a precondition for doing so. But as a means of determining what is or is not real Christianity, it's untenable, since it simply exalts the preferences of the individual believer above the documentary evidence (such as it is) of what Jesus and his immediate followers did or didn't do or say.

Finally, if we insist that those self-proclaimed Christians who hate gays are not true Christians, we are forced to a rather bizarre conclusion. After all, institutional and popular Christianity has been violently hostile to homosexuality for its entire history until the second half of the twentieth century, and broad swaths of it -- the Christian Right, the Vatican, etc. -- remain so today. Were the vast majority of self-professed Christians over the last 2,000 years, including millions who embraced the religion with a fervor almost unimaginable to most moderns, all somehow not true Christians? Surely this is straining the plain meaning of words to the breaking point and beyond.

As I've said before, there are moderate Muslims, but there can be no moderate Islam. By the same token, yes, there are millions of gay-friendly Christians, and they are valuable allies in the struggle against the Christian Right; but in all honesty, there can be no gay-friendly Christianity.

19 Comments:

Blogger Ahab said...

A hard-hitting commentary on whether homophobia is intrinsic to the Christian faith. I agree that a literal, fundamentalist reading of the Bible is incompatible with LGBT-friendly attitudes, but when we look at moderate or progressive forms of Christianity, things get more complicated.

14 November, 2010 11:13  
Blogger Sue said...

I call myself a Christian, and yes a tolerant liberal Christian. I believe we all are responsible for our own actions and what you could call sin if you believe the words of God. I don't judge a person by their lifestyle, which the Christian right fanatics seem to do. I think it comes down to tolerance, liberals have more of it.

14 November, 2010 15:07  
Blogger maryb1161 said...

Excellent piece,Infidel. I have a cousin who just posted (on FB of all places) the Leviticus verse to express her homophobia. I didn't have the time to post the Gen. 9:20-27 about the curse of Ham which allows Christians to express their racism, before she erased it from her status. I would really like to have her opinion on why I should think that my family is lesser than hers because the "Bible tells me so."

Out of all the ideology in the bible, it was my inability to reconcile the homophobic attitudes of that bible that led me to no longer believe. I can't tell you how much better I actually feel about life now that I don't have to explain it, I just live it and when I am done living it I will be GONE!

14 November, 2010 15:43  
Anonymous Jolly Roger said...

And here, you illustrate the problem with ALL organized religion, PERIOD.

It is a flat-out fact that Osama bin Laden's "Islam" is every bit as legitimate as anyone else's "Islam" is. The same truth applies to Christianity; the "Christianity" of Fred Phelps (or Jim Bakker) is as legitimate as anyone else's.

Unless a Deity steps in and corrects us so that we know who is right, then ALL of them are right.

Or wrong. Take your pick.

14 November, 2010 18:55  
Anonymous Tim said...

Good post, well thought out. The rest of what I say would inevitability hurt someone's feelings.

14 November, 2010 19:31  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Thanks for all the comments. It's always difficult to determine which is the "correct" form of a religion, but what I'm trying to do here is go by the criteria the religion itself accepts as valid -- what the sacred texts actually say.

I've been aware of this issue with Islam for a long time -- moderate Islam is simply not a viable or coherent concept, because the actual content of the Koran and Hadîth makes it clear that what bin Laden and the Taliban are preaching is the real Islam, and any "moderate" version has no basis. With Christianity the situation is a lot more ambiguous, but I think an honest assessment is forced to the same conclusion.

It's an awkward posting to write, in the sense that I'm ultimately saying the more humane and tolerant form of Christianity, the kind which is helpful rather than harmful, isn't theologically valid. But that's the reality of the situation. I hope this post has made it clearer why I believe that in the long run the only solution is for religion to disappear entirely.

Mary B -- congratulations on your escape. Tim -- I think it's impossible to write honestly about religion without hurting somebody's feelings. There are plenty of religious people who never worry about hurting mine.

14 November, 2010 23:24  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

A well balanced posting and view of the condition as well Infodel. Although I have never been a Christian ... I have read the KJV of the Holy Bible entirely (80/85% of the Old testament and 100% of the New Testament), of course the Quran as well entirely. It all has to do with individual flock's to me, how folk's are raised especially, etc, etc. (I feel if I was raised in a Christian fundamoralist type familia say in rural Texas or the south for instance, I would not think the way I do today) I know a fair amount of gay/ lesbian people for instance ... and most of I known and even met ... were people of some denomination of Christian faith actually, in the underground and punk scene's even ... most of the people I've known for year's have a "faith" in a higher power even ... so I almost look at alot as genetic in a sense ... and what you are raised up around. Then I met those who are really hardcore in rural area's ... real extremist's, believe me. What I see happening in the near future (I cant say the time frame though) is a new change in religion's unlike anything of the past, here in the west ... alot more independent, and more people instead of attending churches, will be independent more in their spiritualism and practice's ... I believe that a day will come in time, where the mega religious movement's/ institution's of now and past will just lose support for various reason's, and folk's will simply walk away from them and be far more liberated and solo/ independent than today or of past ... and have a different perception of spirituality ... that is just my opinion ... I'll leave it there.

15 November, 2010 05:41  
Blogger BLParks said...

Infidel, thank you for this thought provoking post. I think it reflects well the fact that Christians have not done well in studying their own Scripture and many follow blindly what they are told by the leadership in the Church. With that said, I disagree with you on where Christians have been misled.

You see, what is most generally cited as admonition against homosexuality in the NT (Romans 1) is so often taken out of context. What the passage is doing (if one reads into Romans 2) is to show the guilt of those people who accuse others and judge them of sin. What Paul is doing in Romans is telling the Jewish Christians that they are just as guilty of sin as those they judge. He is bringing them down from their feeling of superiority.

The reason Christianity is compatible with the GLBT culture is because, whether homosexuality is a sin or not, Christianity is intended to accepted all people, especially those who are often disparaged in a society. Look at the people Jesus hung out with; he spent time with those who were perceived as the worst in society. That was what Jesus was all about, showing love and acceptance to the unloved and unaccepted. Christians have lost this understanding today, unfortunately and turned to an unChristian hatred and judgment toward others.

I am a Christian by the way, and I am doing my part in trying to fix this false perception of Christians that has been perpetuated by Christianity itself.

To read more about my views, check out my blog at:

http://whatjesusdiddo.blogspot.com

God bless.
-Brandon

15 November, 2010 18:47  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

Here are the comments of a rightwing Christian on a rightwing blog (the "someone" he refers to is me):

"Someone wrote, "Homosexuality makes SOME people uncomfortable. So your statement isn't entirely true.” I disagree. It makes MOST people uncomfortable. The only people who are comfortable with perversion are brainless leftists and homosexual themselves, always looking for ways to justify this behavior and convince others they are normal.

They are not normal. Personally, I don’t care what people do in the privacy of their own homes. I’m perfectly content to allow sexual orientation remain a personal, private thing. In this context, DADT makes perfect sense. Why does the government have to know anyone’s sexual preference? Why would anyone wish to broadcast the fact that they are perverts?"


Where else but from religion would this person have learned this sort of bigotry?

He's hopless no matter what any rational person's argument is, he's unconvinced--and may I add my own suspicions--a bit too fervid in his revulsion to NOT have had some personal experience of it?

15 November, 2010 18:57  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

RC: It's already happening, if you look at the unprecedented increase in the percentage of unbelievers in the population over the last decades or two.

BLParks: whether homosexuality is a sin or not, Christianity is intended to accepted all people, especially those who are often disparaged in a society.

This is a common claim and I already addressed it in the posting -- see the paragraph beginning "Liberal Christians like to point out that....." (and the following paragraph). Christianity may be intended for "all people", but it still condemns many things as sins, and all evidence is that homosexuality is one of those things. See also the point that homosexuality is clearly condemned in Old Testament law and that Jesus clearly endorsed the continuation of that law for all time.

The claim that Christianity should tolerate homosexuality (or that Jesus would have tolerated it) is a modern idiosyncrasy with no basis in the Bible; the vast majority of Christians who ever lived would have rejected it.

SK: I agree. My impression is that most people are made uncomfortable by the thought of any sexual practice which isn't among their own preferences, but the denunciation of a few instances such as homosexuality as "sinful" and "abnormal" comes from religion. In societies where the local religion doesn't have a taboo on homosexuality, my impression is that most people consider it mildly repulsive and baffling, but not "wrong", certainly not grounds for persecution.

Religion is evil. There's no way around it.

16 November, 2010 05:28  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

A brief comment here if I may ... concerning this DADT stuff, dont even know what it all consist of anywayz, however when folk's are kicked out of the service or ommited from entry because of who they sleep with, it's diswcrimination/ lawsuit material as far as I'm concerned. But this whole thing is more difficult than some imagine, there is no easy way out, on this issue (I been meaning to do a post on this as well, just havent got to it) ... even though I would just abolish it personally, only because were going to have to get past this shit sooner or later ... the reason they are having so difficult time deciding this is because, this is a Hell of a time in the middle of two war's to even start political shit over something like this, and our military is somewhat spread thin, it also effect's morale of some soldier's. Now it's easier for someone of even the female gender in particular to rant how everyone is a bigot if they dont just have gay studies or acceptance ... but as man ... who has spent a fair amount of time in male institution's, can tell you that when you live in close quarter's, sleeping, showering, foxhole's etc, with say a gay man ... many guy's that simply hadnt been around many gay men, may feel uncomfortable, but for pete's sake ... it doesnt mean the guy is automatically a hate monger, or bigot ... they just feel a tad uncomfortable. I been around gay's all my life, and had same sex contact as well back when I was 19 or so with a gay man ... so it doesnt bother me ... but these folk's that squawk because a poor guy may feel uncomfortable around a gay man should have some understanding. These women that pitch a bitch ... how would ya'll feel if you had to start coed showering with men all of the sudden ... I bet some of ya'll would bitch. I'll shut up.

16 November, 2010 06:57  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

sleeping, showering, foxhole's etc, with say a gay man ... many guy's that simply hadnt been around many gay men, may feel uncomfortable, but for pete's sake ... it doesnt mean the guy is automatically a hate monger, or bigot

True, but with DADT, the question isn't whether their feelings make them bigots -- the question is whether their feelings should be allowed to influence the civil law that applies to everybody.

16 November, 2010 07:43  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Oh definitely Infodel .... I totally agree with that. The only reason I brought this issue up was simply because I have noticed, so many frolk's assume a guy is a bigot, or something like a Nazi, or whatever, simply because he may feel uncomfortable around gay's, especially female's ranting shit that they know nothing about, folk's that never lived in similar enviroment's, etc. It's just something I noticed alot of .... and not just on DADT either .... I mean ... like damn near everybody is a racist ot nazi or some other crap on alot of these sight's ... all Texan's hate and hang black's, etc. So it just really dont apply to DADT issue alone ... I reckon a type of mindset on some. Either way it goes .... it wil all get ironed out soon.

16 November, 2010 14:56  
Blogger Nance said...

Impeccable logic. I share your conclusions.

I do, however, so far, think that the man Jesus existed--a prophet in their tradition and a martyr to the political ambitions of his people. Most of my studies have acknowledged the existence of a man who served as the original Chauncey Gardiner, so I am interested in the notion that he did not.

I'm new to your blog. I will be following. I wonder if you can point me to previous posts or specific reading on Jesus as a figment of religious and political longings.

17 November, 2010 05:45  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Hi Nance, thanks for visiting. I can't immediately think of an internet source on the improbability of Jesus having existed -- most of my own reading on such subjects was done before the internet was widespread. However, the story of Jesus as given in the Gospels is too riddled with implausibilities for it to be credible that it's based on a real person -- too many chronological impossibilities, too many points not compatible with the actual Jewish culture of the time, too many things that couldn't have happened given the political situation of the time, too many events that would have been mentioned by Roman historians if anything remotely similar had actually happened -- and too many resemblances to other Middle Eastern god-king-sacrifice myths of the time which everyone acknowledges to be myths. Most likely it's just another such myth, but one which got picked up and elaborated on over centuries due to various historical accidents.

My impression from my time in academia was that almost no serious scholars still believe that Jesus actually existed, but this wasn't the main emphasis of my studies (Islam was).

On a different but related subject, this book might interest you.

Thanks again for your interest.

17 November, 2010 07:18  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

PS: Look at it from another viewpoint -- what evidence is there that Jesus did exist? As far as I know, there's none. The mere fact of being mentioned in the Bible counts for nothing -- if we take that as evidence, we need to take the Kojiki as evidence that Amaterasu Omikami really exists, Norse mythology as evidence for the existence of Odin and Thor, etc. If we hold the existence of Jesus to the same standards as the existence of Zeus or Vushnu, we find no basis to believe in either.

17 November, 2010 07:34  
Blogger Nameless Cynic said...

Further, the homophobia in the Old Testament is apparently due to a translation error.

18 November, 2010 08:47  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I've heard of the "translation error" claim before, but it doesn't sound convincing based on what I know of Semitic languages, nor is it accepted by most specialists in the field. Also, homophobia is pervasive in both the Old and New Testaments (as are many other moral outrages).

Sorry, but the Bible itself is evil, not just this or that interpretation of it.

18 November, 2010 09:11  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent article Thank you very much

10 December, 2010 10:57  

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