11 January 2007

Christian Hatred 2 - a little background research

For thousands of years, some Christians have used the Bible (that is, the Hebrew Scriptures or 'Tannach') to justify bigotry: the oppression of black people by white people, and the subjugation of women by men, are two examples which are less acceptable now than in earlier times. Unhappily, the Bible continues to be used to justify homophobia.

Concerns expressed by the protestors outside of the House of Lords are primarily about sodomy –doing- rather than sexual orientation –being. If read with care, the Biblical text relied upon no more supports their position, any more than it supported racism or sexism.

As a historical term, the word ‘sodomy’ does not necessarily relate to anal sex, and Article continues

according to Leviticus, sodomy can describe a variety of non-procreative sexual acts. The verse most commonly cited is Leviticus 20:13 "And a man who lies with a male as one would with a woman both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon themselves."

The key phrase is "lies (shachav) with a man as with a woman," and if you take that verse literally, sex between two men who are both standing is permitted. Moreover, from an anatomical viewpoint, it is impossible for a man to have sex with another man the way men have sex with women: again, if this verse is strictly literal, it cannot be a general prohibition against any form of sexual activity between two men.

If you don't take it literally, then you are interpreting in a non-literal way, and are inconsistent if you should criticise someone else for making a non-literal interpretation.

The word 'abomination' (Hebrew - to'eh'va) is also used to describe eating certain foods, having sex during the menstrual flow, or even remarrying a divorced spouse. So to start, anyone who thinks these acceptable yet condemns ‘a man who lies with a male as one would with a woman’ is, at the least, inconsistent.

Tannach (the Hebrew scriptures) uses various terms to indicate sexual activity; some, such as "knowing" or "uncovering the nakedness of" indicate an active/passive act of penetration or its immediate precursors. But 'shachav' seems to imply more than just penetration. 'To lie with' implies some degree of reciprocal relationship (at the very least the activity of getting into the horizontal position with someone else)

A sad fact of Biblical times is that marriage often involved no choice on the woman's part. Unions were often arranged solely by the man and the woman's father. As a result, a common way for a man to lie with his wife was with her not being able to refuse. Could this be what the Bible refers to; that any sex between two men be completely consensual and not, like between a man and a woman, have any compulsion?

Whatever the intended meaning of this verse, the literal words do not forbid all forms of sexual activity between two men, and the verse says nothing whatsoever about lesbian sex, so it cannot be relied upon as a general basis to condemn homosexuality.

Interestingly, heterosexual anal sex does not seem to concern society in general nearly as much as sexual orientation does. Sex surveys in men's and women's magazines show that more and more straight men and women enjoy anal sex. But the protestors outside the House of Lords haven’t raised that as an issue…

It seems that the problem isn't the act itself but who is doing it.

Which explains why lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual groups campaign around issues of identity rather than specific acts.

The current debate shows us that those who campaign against law reform are determined to focus on individual acts; these homophobes ought spend a little less time hating, and a little more time researching, which would dampen their enthusiasm to blame their righteous intolerance on the Bible.

Sources: grateful thanks to Lucy Robinson, lecturer in modern British history at the University of Sussex, who wrote this article in The Guardian, and the wonderful Zvi

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