Monday, January 05, 2009

The Sin of Sodomy: AFA Morals v.s. Biblical Ethics

Bump and Update:

Google has been referring people to this post in response to questions about "sodomy," and re-reading it, it's also the perfect answer to the various trolls who seem to have no better use of their time than to further offend the sensiblities of honorable people and real Christians by defending the abominable abuse of process and principle that is California's Proposition 8.

As it happens, I'd been casting around for a good response to link to in comments myself; I'd forgotten that I'd already written one.

The key point here is that over the years, people just like "The American Family Association," the Mormon Heirarchy and the Catholic Church have all carefully steered us away from a proper understanding of the term "sodomy" - one that originally had nothing whatsoever to do with "unnatural sex" and everything to do with "thinking as did the people of Sodom."

The original (3/31/06) starts here.

It's instructive to look at what "Pro-family" folks like the American Family Association say about the "decline" of moral values, and the moral force of their arguments.

I believe a brisk Fisking is in order.

American Family Association - AgapePress news
Let us suppose for a moment that homosexual marriage does become legal. It is closer to becoming a reality than many believe. The world is changing around us, and we go merrily on our way pretending that such a change will not affect us or our children.

I don't know about others; but I'm doing it FOR the children. And affecting your children as early as possible by exposing them to healthy, ethical families of choice is one of the best ways to go about it. In this way, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who advised folks to preach first by example.

"Doesn't affect me. I don't want to marry someone of my sex, but I don't care if someone else wants to marry a person of the same sex. If two people are in love, they should be allowed to marry." So goes the thinking. The problem is that this thinking doesn't go far enough. If two people of the same sex can marry, then why can't three people of the same sex be legally married?

Indeed: why not? EXPLAIN to me in simple words why what was commonplace in the Bible would now suddenly be wrong? Or are only certain moral truths immutable and unchanging?

"Marriage" is a legal construct with the primary intention of codifying certain rules of inheritance and responsibility. Is there some reason why my preferences in this regard are any of your business?

Or four? Or two men and three women? Or any combination you desire to choose?

Well, I can give you all sorts of "why nots" based on practical experience, but mileage varies, people differ and culture matters. Marriage - as a legal institution - should ideally make it possible for the majority of people to determine matters of vital importance to them personally and not place restrictions upon them that arise from the superstitions of people they may radically disagree with.

Marriage - as a religious institution - is a matter for each religion to determine, and those unaffiliated with any particular religious group to determine for themselves, without let or hindrance.

Why can't a man who loves his daughter marry her?

Ah, I discern your point. Well, Sir, when all Dominionist daddies can assure me that they have never fiddled with their sons and daughters, your tender concern about legitimizing incestuous relationships might have more force. However, were you really sincere about the ethics underling this question, perhaps there would be fewer efforts from social conservatives to discredit the testimonials of women who grew up in the sorts of families you advocate while being sexually exploited.

Perhaps more evidence of personal responsibility in this regard might go towards credibility.

However, in a legal sense, a marriage contract is not required to define the family in this case, so from the viewpoint of the law, the idea is moot.

Indeed, so long as no-one brings forward complaint and birth control works, sexual behavior is legally, if not morally moot.

Our system of justice depends on being able to prove a harm.

Aside from that, daughters and sons, are family and need no particular additional legal recognition. Being family, they are also forbidden under existing law from engaging in either sex or marriage with their daddies and mummies. Or more to the Point, given how the law exists and how it is applied - they are forbidden to speak of it.

So this prong of your argument is - what's the word I'm looking for? Stupid? A straw man? Dishonest?

Yes, I believe all of those apply.

If you allow two men to be married, then you have no reason to forbid any couples or groups from being married.

I - and many other libertarians - would point to the fact that the very concept of Marriage licenses is an insult perpetuated by racists who instituted it in order to prevent racially mixed marriages. The idea that the state had a right, or indeed, any interest at all in the matter was entirely novel and is still, IMHO, decidedly dubious from a constitutional perspective.

Hence the push for an Amendment to the Constitution, in order to prevent the terrible consequences of Gay People having their illicit sexual practices legitimized. There never was any concern about white folks screwing black folks, or males screwing males - so long as they knew that they were being Disapproved Of and could be lynched if the local bigots weren't too drunk.

All of this, of course, goes back to the standard on which a person (or a nation) chooses to base the concept of good and evil, right and wrong.
It actually goes to the question of who should be able to impose their standard of "good and evil" and "right and wrong" on others, without any demonstration of "compelling state interest" or regard to the natural, individual liberties of persons.

If we have the right to free association - which we do - this very idea of there being conditions on the nature of that association is a violation of that most fundamental right.

There is truth, and there is relativism. Truth is constant. Relativism is something subject to change as the latest fad comes along.

No, sir. There are ethics, - laws, in the same sense as Ohm's Law, or the Law of Thermodynamics - which are expressions of the immutable laws of Reality. They are universally recognized and variously expressed in every single religion, philosophy and creed, worldwide. Even Satanists honor them in the breech. Secular Humanists have codified them as well - with no reference to Divine Authority.

One may or may not accept the existence of God, for instance, but the cause and effect reality of violating the principles set down in the Ten Commandments will occur nonetheless.

They are not "laws" in the human sense of simply pulling a "thou shalt not" out of nowhere; they are direct statements of things that will consistently and predictably result in Bad Things Happening.

They are immutable, but society is not. And therefore, we have evolved morals, which vary from place to place and time to time, in order for most of us to know, most of the time, the right course of action.

Morality has to be grounded in these ethical principles.

When your moral code can be used to justify doing direct and significant harm on others then it is wrong. Your beliefs, your faith, superstitions, bigotries or claimed affiliations with Divine Pesonages will not change that in violating these laws, you WILL pay.

You know, I bet you guys say that sort of thing a lot. How's it look from the other end?

Judge not, lest ye be judged also! It's not a law, it's a proverb and an observation. When you get up on your high horse, it's a lot easier to notice if you've waded through the mud to get there. If you make judgments about others that are based in your moral code and your reading of scripture, then responsible people must judge whether your codes and your understanding of scripture qualify you to make such a judgment.

Let me point out one of those ten Commandments that apples here with painful appropriateness.

"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."

This isn't saying "don't lie" - but it does say do not lie about your neighbor in order to influence others against him. Not in court, not under oath, not in a back ally, not in confidence with their friends, not to his wife, his cook or his colleagues.

It is a completely unambiguous statement. You do not say, upon your honor, that someone is doing something they are not doing, believing something they do not believe or saying things they have not and never would. Any time you say something about someone else that is false, and knowably so that could harm their credibility, reputation, their relationships; even their legitimate ambitions, you are bearing false witness.

Believe it or not, there are actually high-level officials in many denominations who are supporting the change to allow two men or two women to be married. Have they not read the Bible? Of course they have read it. They simply don't believe it.

This is verifiably false to fact. There are many, hundreds, if not thousands of powerfully grounded, well cited and biblically sound arguments that disagree with AFA theology on this point. It's been a hotly contended, divisive issue and as such has had people agonizing over it and digging deeply into scripture to see what it actually says.

Accessing other biblical passages to understand Genesis 19:

The interpretation of Genesis 19 as referring to a homosexual sin appears to have been created in the 11th century by the Italian ascetic St. Peter Damian. 7 Christian theologians generally accepted this explanation until recently. In fact, the English word sodomy, which popularly means either homosexual or heterosexual anal intercourse, was derived from the name of the city. The term "sodomy" is also used in some ancient laws to refer to a variety of sexual behaviors in addition to heterosexual intercourse. Some of these laws are still on the books although the U.S. Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional in 2003-JUN. Opinion among most liberal and mainline Christian and Jewish theologians has now reverted to the original Christian belief that Genesis 19 refers to a lack of charity and to ill treatment of strangers. Consider:

bulletIn ancient Jewish literature, such as the Ethics of the Fathers and the Talmud, there are many references to Sodom. The phrase "middat Sdom" was used. It may be translated as "the way the people of Sodom thought". It meant a lack of charity and hospitality towards others; ignoring the needs of the poor, etc. In the Middle East, a person's survival could depend upon the charity of strangers. To help strangers was a solemn religious duty of paramount importance. See Leviticus 19:33-34 and Matthew 25:35, 38 and 43.
bulletIsaiah 1; The entire first chapter is an utter condemnation of Judah. They are repeatedly compared with Sodom and Gomorra in their evildoing and depravity. Throughout the chapter, the Prophet lists many sins of the people: rebelling against God, lacking in knowledge, deserting the Lord, idolatry, engaging in meaningless religious ritual, being unjust and oppressive to others, being insensitive to the needs of widows and orphans, committing murder, accepting bribes, etc. There is no reference to homosexuality or to any other sexual activities at all.
bulletJeremiah 23:14:"...among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen something horrible: They commit adultery and live a lie. They strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his wickedness. They are all like Sodom to me; the people of Jerusalem are like Gomorrah." Jeremiah compares the actions of the prophets with the adultery, lying and evil of the people of Sodom. Homosexual activity is not mentioned.
bulletEzekeiel 16:49-50:"Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen." God states clearly that he destroyed Sodom's sins because of their pride, their excess of food while the poor and needy suffered; sexual activity is not even mentioned.
bulletMatthew 10:14-15: Jesus implied that the sin of the people of Sodom was to be inhospitable to strangers.
bulletLuke 10:7-16: This is parallel passage to the verses from Matthew.
bullet2 Peter 6-8: Peter mentions that God destroyed the adults and children of Sodom because the former were ungodly, unprincipled and lawless.
bulletJude, Verse 7: Jude disagreed with Jesus and Ezekeiel; he wrote that Sodom's sins were sexual in nature. Various biblical translations of this passage in Jude describe the sin as: fornication, going after strange flesh, sexual immorality, perverted sensuality, homosexuality, lust of every kind, immoral acts and unnatural lust. It looks as if the translators were unclear of the meaning of the verse in its original Greek, and simply selected their favorite sin to attack. The original Greek is transliterated as: "sarkos heteras." This can be translated as "other flesh". Ironically, our English word "heterosexual" comes from "heteras."

A likely interpretation is that the author of Jude 8 criticized the men of Sodom for wanting to engage in sexual activities with angels. Angels are considered to be a species of created beings who were different from homo sapiens. The sin of the people of Sodom would be that of bestiality. Another possibility is that the "other flesh" refers to cannibalism, which was a practice associated with early Canaanite culture.

AFA theologians - and indeed, the writer of this article - cannot honestly be unaware of those arguments. Therefore, the above statement is a conscious lie, intended to influence readers against those who can, have, and do find different truths in the Bible.

In my studies of these matters, it's more difficult to justify your interpretation than those who disagree. Moreover, in insisting that the sin IS homosexual behavior, you are insisting that the sin IS NOT "inhospitality to strangers." It is interesting to note how little Right-Wing Christians are concerned about the needs of anyone who is not a member of their own church.

This paragraph is saying that "anyone who has read the Bible" must be willfully rejecting "the truth" if they disagree. No, sir, they are not. They are honestly and reasonably rejecting your interpretations of the Bible. Tortured as they are, it is unsurprising that they do.

You are bearing false witness against your neighbor - and the consequences that come from this will affect you, and yours, "unto the seventh generation."

That's not a promise of divine retribution - that's a biblical observation of how these things work. Teaching your children to hate will bring bitter fruit to harvest - as a matter of fact. The consequences of their hatreds will affect their children, and their children's children in ways that cannot be predicted, but will be predictably harmful. So long as that hatred continues to be taught, so will that fallout continue - and indeed, for longer than that.

Our society has a new definition of God and love. In the past we saw truth in the definition that God is love. For centuries we have operated on that basis. But now, not satisfied with the restrictions that old definition imposes on us, we have turned the wording around. No longer is God love, but now love is god.

The final paragraph is really definitive about your understanding of "love."

It means sex. Who is permitted to have publicly sanctioned sex. For you guys, it's all about sex, all the time. Lord, you are a shallow people. There are many reasons for family and many sorts of bonds that may exist. Sex is one way to forge such bonds, but there are others - and sex itself is no guarantee that bonds will be forged well enough. Choice, also, is needed; a conscious choice to accept such bonds.

I've found that the more moralistic people are, the deeper their minds dive into the gutter in their assumptions about the motives of other folks. But then we always tend to project the worst in ourselves onto others.

The only way this moral position makes sense - and I'm open to argument on the topic - is if the word "love" is understood to be "Eros."

Well, marriage is not a fucking license. Indeed, if anything the bible takes a rather lazez-faire view towards extramarital recreational sex. But it's deadly serious about committed relationships - one of the Big Ten is about that.

Unfortunately, it says nothing that would limit the commission of adultery to a sexual act, or to the "splitting apart" of a man and a woman who were legally recognized as married.

It applies as strongly to buddy relationships as to married couples, and a mother in law who interferes is as much of a sinner as "that hussy" across the courtyard.

It does not condemn any act, it condemns a specific intent - to split apart relationships. Why? Because we are human beings and our relationships are critically important to us. To harm our relationships IS to harm us.

A crusade against any form of human relationship is then inherently wrong. Evil, if you will.

My understanding of love is more inclusive - especially the love of God. Or Goddess, However you see Them, which is an intensely personal matter and not subject to outside criticism, unless requested.

My idea of love includes Eros - erotic love. It also includes agape - selfless love. But it's more even than that.

God is love. And They are not obsessed with who is screwing who and why, nor issuing arbitrary punishments beyond the consequences of harming others would ordinarily bring.

My concept of God and how I'm supposed to relate to others is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

I cannot imagine how anyone can rectify that simple instruction with the idea of a wholesale reordering of society to make it "safe" for small minds and fearful hearts. I also point out that as you do hateful things - and this entire site is a hateful thing - people will come to hate you and all you stand for.

If there is a "threat" to the survival of good, Christian values, gentles - it is you.

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