Continuing where we left off yesterday…
In case you missed it, or don’t want to read the whole of Part 1 (although I’d love it if you did), let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up: (to steal a line from Inigo Montoya).
This week SCOTUS made landmark rulings, overturning Prop. 8 (which banned same-sex marriage in California) as unconstitutional and invalidated the provision of DOMA that prevented same-sex couples from accessing the same benefits available to heterosexual couples.
This is a GOOD thing.
As usual, and as noted by George Takei, the bible thumpers are out in force screaming about the whole thing- regardless of the fact that it affects the lives of heterosexuals in NO way, shape or form.
We talked briefly about the mythologies of Mesopotamia and Greece- two of the major cultures that influenced the development of biblical mythology- and found that neither of them took any issue with homosexuality, nor proscribed against it.
Which leads us to that much-thumped book of stories (terrible way to treat stories- all that thumping).
Starting at the beginning (or the re-beginning, anyway):
Genesis 9.1 And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”
Genesis 9.7. “And you, be fruitful and multiply, bring forth abundantly on the earth and multiply in it.”
This is YHWH speaking with Noah and the fam post-flood. Right after the deity had just completely wiped out his own creation (with the exception of one family and those animals that made it onto the boat. Poor dinosaurs and unicorns. Sniff). No over-reaction there.
He is setting the scene with this initial covenant (ironically- given its use by the LBGTQ community- represented by the appearance of a rainbow in the sky) for the big-C-Covenant-to-come by setting out some initial commandments and telling Noah and his progeny to go forth and re-populate the earth that he had just finished destroying.
Obviously, this would be difficult if there was much of a homosexual component to Noah’s family (being, as it was, the days before artificial insemination). These early passages set the stage for the oft-cited idea that marriage is all about procreation, a key facet of upholding the covenant with the deity.
The laws found in Leviticus echo this idea with a more definite attempt at controlling behaviour. Leviticus 18.22 and 20.13 both suggest that ‘lying with mankind as with womankind’ is an ‘abomination’. The Levitical laws are social controls– meant to establish order in the new nation under the covenant established with YHWH.
Some of them are practical concerns (the food laws are generally accepted to have had a whole lot to do with lack of refrigeration capabilities in the desert and therefore efforts to avoid having the population die out from food poisoning), while others were meant to set the Israelites apart from their neighbours, and those they conquered in the name of their god.
The gods, mores and practices of the Canaanites (the original residents of the ‘Promised Land’) had a great deal in common with those of the Mesopotamian City States, which were not institutionally against homosexuality. To distinguish themselves- and assert the holiness of their covenant- the Israelites had to adhere to an identity that was very much against the ‘other’- which meant distancing themselves from the social realities of the surrounding cultures.
Biblical literature is full of examples of the Israelites falling off the YHWH-wagon and taking up the pastimes and habits of those around them- which often included the worship of their gods. Major covenant violation there- breaking of Big Rules #1 and #2, in fact. Not going to please the old man at all. Best to enforce the complete separation from the other by reinforcing mores that are supported by earlier Hebrew myths.
Going back to Genesis, the story of Sodom and Gommorah is usually dragged out as the main justification for the ‘abomination’ associated with homosexual acts, because the mob at the door wanted to access Lot’s angelic visitors and to ‘know’ them- in the biblical sense. Even Lot offering his own virgin daughters to placate the crowd in their stead did not turn the citizens away from their violation of the laws of hospitality and lack of charity to visitors (I should think that the impulse to rape guests in the city would definitely qualify as being inhospitable).
If you read the Prophets (Ezekiel for example) and early Talmudic tradition, the ‘sin’ of Sodom and Gommorah was identified as this social injustice and lack of hospitality. Since violating the proper social order leads to chaos, such actions were deemed dangerous and punishment was required (with YHWH again following his pattern of the overkill model of punitive judgement).
Later interpretations and compositional strands in the mythology itself- and stronger shout-outs against homosexuality drawn from the influence of Zoroastrianism from the period of the Babylonian exile- tended toward a more completely negative view of same-sex pairings, based in cultural bias rather than social prescriptions. Even with this syncretism of prejudices, it wasn’t until the 1st century CE that Jewish writers- such as Philo of Alexandria and the Roman historian Josephus- unequivocally asserted that homosexuality was, in fact, the great sin that caused the destruction of the twin cities.
When it comes to support of anti-homosexual proclamations from the OT, basically we are talking about examples of institutionalized aversion to the other, as the political and religious powers sought to maintain control and social order in a developing nation, while avoiding the assumption of outside ideas into Jewish beliefs and practices.
Moving on to the NT…
Jesus says nothing, nada, zilch about homosexuality in the words that are attributed to him. In fact, in Matthew 10.14-15, he compares the fate of anyone who is unwelcoming of his followers to the lack of hospitality displayed at Sodom and Gommorah- noting that any towns that turned them away would suffer even more than the Sodom and Gommorah-ites.
Jesus was a 1st century CE Jew who was looking to reform the religious tradition in which he was raised. He welcomed those from the margins of society and his mission was one of inclusion- values that he felt were being ignored by the authorities of the Temple. If Christians want to maintain that his message was all about the love, they really need to stop involving him- completely undeservedly- in their hate-mongering. Poor guy must be rolling over in his grave.
On the other hand, the early Christian writers- Paul of Tarsus for example- were seeking to develop a minority new religious movement within a larger social, political and religious background. Like the Israelites, they had to differentiate themselves- first from the Jews and then from other cultural groups that were in any way displeasing to the Roman officials.
There are mentions made in some of the canonical epistles (Romans 1.26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6.9-11 come to mind) that speak against all kinds of perceived sexual improprieties, but this is hardly surprising. Paul wasn’t a big fan of sex in any form. Have a look at 1 Corinthians 7, if you have any doubts about that reality.
The upshot of all this discussion (and I could go on, believe me), is that ideological objections to homosexuality drawn from biblical mythology are few and far between (especially given the volume of canonical literature alone). Those that do exist are clearly culturally and temporally driven- by political expedience for the purpose of the maintenance of social order, flying under the radar of the ruling majority and/or in order to support increasing the number of followers of the deity of the covenant. Yet people want to use 2000-3000 year old political and cultural ideas as the basis for life-affecting legislation in the 21st century?
My wonderful friend Tracey had a conversation with her son about the events of the week. Hopefully more people will finally embrace the reality that this amazing child knows intuitively. It is beyond ridiculous to hold to the proscriptions dictated by Bronze Age people, looking to assert their national dominance (and that of their god) over the indigenous peoples of the land they sought to conquer and claim as their own. And citing the epistolary writings of the PR people for a struggling new religious movement trying to find its footing in the face of majority persecution- against the model and words of the ‘founder’ of said movement? You call that justification?
The SCOTUS decision is a welcome step toward the arrival at a point that should have become moot long ago. I honestly can’t believe we are still talking about this. Yet seeing the vitriolic responses in the ‘news’, the comments sections of opinion pieces and in various incarnations of social media, I realize that dialogue apparently remains necessary. Still. So let this be my two cents- and my happy (and relieved) reaction to an historic ruling that upholds equality, intellectual rationale and just plain common sense.
Happy Pride everyone. May the fact that human decency, fairness and reason finally saw some light this week set the tone for a joyful weekend.