22 July 2006

The Book Of Punishment

"You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination."

"If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall be put to death (and) their blood is upon them."

The Biblical book of Leviticus expands upon the Ten Commandments and other laws given to the people of Israel during their trek through the wilderness. God brought the ancient Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, but every time a crisis loomed in their path, their faith in Him faltered. His patience with them finally snapped after He summoned Moses to the summit of Mount Sinai for Holy instruction. In Moses' abscence, the Israelites engaged in orgies and fashioned a golden idol to worship.

God imposed Levitican law on them as punishment: Stringent rules governing diet, hygiene, physical appearance, business transactions and sexual practices. Complicated rules for performing religious ceremonies. A long litany of sins for which animal sacrifice was the only atonement. Instructions for ostracizing people with skin diseases. Even a procedure for stoning transgressors when their sins were judged unforgivable. Much talk of slaughter and blood, and burning and defilement. All of it very, very detailed, and very, very tedious!

Leviticus can accurately be described as a pause in the Biblical narrative, because the story of the Israelites doesn't advance again until the beginning of the next chapter, the book of Numbers. It makes sense that the book of punishment would appear in the Jewish Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), but why include it in the Christian Bible? Clearly, early Church leaders included Leviticus in the Bible because of its draconian nature. This was a text Fundamentalists could easily use to subjugate believers once they'd successfully been sold the idea that all Bible scripture was Divine!

What's also clear is that these laws were intended specifically for the ancient Israelites. Every legal passage more or less begins the same way: The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, "Speak to the people of Israel . . . " The people of Israel are the only ones being addressed! Unlike the Ten Commandments, which Jesus Christ would later designate as law all people should follow, Levitican law was never meant to be observed by the world at large. You can argue that the Messiah even excused Israelites from observing it when He did away with Sabbath prohibitions, dietary restrictions and the requirement that people be stoned for certain sins.

Whether or not the laws of Leviticus are applicable to orthodox Jews is a subject of debate for orthodox Jews. It is not, has never been, and will never be a legitimate subject of debate for Christians! Levitican law has never been applicable to Christians! Common sense dictates that we observe some Levitican directives, such as the prohibition against incest, but we certainly don't deal in slaves, grow and groom beards by Holy mandate, shun tattooing, offer up animal sacrifices, abstain from eating shellfish or refuse to wear clothes of mixed fabric. We follow the commandments of God as the Christ defined them, not as Moses defined them!

Despite this, religious bigots throughout history have singled out what they interpret as God's ban on homosexuality and applied it to everyone regardless of religious belief. Just for the purpose of playing Devil's advocate, let's pretend this particular law does apply to everyone. If we know that a law applies to us, we should try to understand it as best we can, shouldn't we? Let's do so right now.

What does it mean to "lie with a male as with a woman?" Couldn't it mean exactly what it says? To sleep with both men and women? If you interpret Leviticus 20:13 as a ban on homosexuality (something I believe even the ancient Israelites did), then you are guilty of misinterpretation. My, just listen to those indignant howls coming from the Conservative lobby! God made men and women to be with each other in marriage, they're screaming. All men are meant to have sex with women!

Are they, now? Then why did Jesus Christ state otherwise? Reference Matthew 19:12, and read what He had to say about "eunuchs who have been so from birth." (Be careful that you don't define eunuchs as castrated males, because that wasn't the ancient meaning of the word. Don't read a celibacy requirement into that verse, either, because celibacy is not mentioned.) The Christ knew there were men who didn't relate sexually to women, and if He knew it, wouldn't the Creator know it, too? Of course He would; because who else could have created such men but the Creator?

That's why, if you believe that the aforementioned commandment came directly from God, it's phrased the way it's phrased. That's why it doesn't state "males shall not lie with males" and/or "females shall not lie with females." It's an explicit prohibition against bisexual relations. I look at it as something similar to Jewish kosher law, which forbids eating milk and meat products together. This law forbids taking both male and female sexual partners. It does not forbid homosexual men, those the Messiah called "born eunuchs," from acting in accordance with their natural sexual orientation.

Nor does it forbid Lesbians from doing the same (you can be sure that Jesus Christ knew about Lesbians, too)! I find the law's application to Lesbians particularly ludicrous. Numerous times, I've heard the verses from Leviticus as well as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah being used to publicly condemn Lesbians. Unbelievable! There's absolutely no basis for interpreting the text that way. The next time a religious bigot pulls that crap with a Lesbian, I sincerely hope that the Lesbian will educate the bigot as to what those Scriptures actually do and don't say. She should do it in a respectful manner, of course. She should take the ignorant one aside and enlighten him ever so gently. Or maybe not so gently! Whichever method seems most appropriate.

Needless to say, bisexual intimacy isn't a sin when engaged in by Christians or anyone else who doesn't practice the faith of the ancient Israelites. As to whether it should be considered a sinful practice by orthodox Jews, I couldn't possibly comment! Suffice it to say that I'm sure some Hassidim do practice it, regardless of what they might say to the contrary. Rampant sexual hypocrisy among theologians is one reason why I hold any and all forms of fundamentalist religion in very low regard.

Do you find these observations of mine to be disrespectful? What about the way Gay Christians are disrespected? And vilified? And lied about? There's nothing wrong with correcting religious leaders when they spread false information about us. On the contrary, I think it's mandatory! We know only too well what happens when homophobic falsehoods are allowed to gain credence. When we act to banish ignorance and inform the uninformed, we are blessed in the Savior's eyes. We are doing the work He wants us to do! I believe this is true, as fervently as I believe Jesus Christ walked this Earth and died for my sins.