Friday, April 18, 2008

Gays, God, and For the Bible Tells Me So

For the Bible Tells Me So makes a very moving appeal on behalf of accepting gays and lesbians by presenting the history of several families with deeply religious and conventional backgrounds who find, to the surprise of all, that one member of the family is gay. As a presentation of the idea that gay people come from very normal, boring, everyday backgrounds and live very normal, boring, everyday lives, it succeeds wonderfully. It turns out that gays and lesbians are just like you and me, just more gay and lesbian. This is still news to too many people, and I praise the film for the effectiveness with which it makes this salient observation.

As a presentation on theology, it fares badly. It discusses the several places in the Bible -- New Testament and Old -- in which homosexuality is condemned, including Leviticus 20:13:

If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
In the face of such teachings, the film interviews assorted preachers, theologians, and believers who repeatedly make the point that such a passage is not to be taken literally. They point out that no one bothers to take surrounding passages literally, such as Leviticus 20:9 and 20:10:
If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head.

If a man commits adultery with another man's wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.
It turns out that god wants to kill pretty much everyone for pretty much everything that has ever happened in a novel, and plenty besides that -- Deuteronomy 22, for example, is a smörgåsbord of offenses to god that never quite seem to make it to state-level ballot measures. Why, many in the film ask, is so much passion and energy devoted to one bit of Biblical teaching but not to all?

It's a valid question in its way, but it does not erase the force or clarity of Leviticus 20:13. God wants the gays killed yesterday. Period. And in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6, Paul made clear that gentle Jesus meek and mild still wanted the gays killed yesterday.

Other participants in the film make the point that the Bible's anti-gay passages can only be properly understood "in context," and whatever that context is -- I didn't get a clear sense of it except to note that no two of them seemed to agree on what it was -- it amounts to a negation of what the text flatly says. So if we read Leviticus 20:13 "in context," it should come with clarifying text, something along these lines -- clarifying, contextualizing words highlighted with bolding:
God would be a real asshole if he said that if a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
Or here's another try:
Back in the bad old days, before he had really thought through the matter thoroughly, god would say that if a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
Or here's a final try at pegging that proper context:
If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. Just kidding! Wouldn't that be awful!? Be as gay as you like.
Far from me to make light of anti-gay bigotry. In fact my point here is to take careful note of a very significant example and source of it: Christianity. Or if you prefer, Judeo-Christianity, or Abrahamic religion.

As he is represented in the so-called holy books of the world's three leading brands of monotheism, god is an anti-gay bigot. We can lay that bigotry at the feet of the fallible persons who actually wrote the books, and watch the baton of bigotry pass along to the many who have carefully preserved the books (strongly anti-gay sentiments unaltered) down to the present time. We can, I suppose, "feel in our hearts" that god has been misquoted, which seems to be the bottom line of many of the decent and well-meaning people presented in For the Bible Tells Me So.

To me, the proper response is to see the matter clearly and follow the implications. If you're gay, god wants you dead. If you have a gay child or a gay sibling, god wants your gay child or gay sibling dead. If you still want to cling to god through that, knowing what you know about love and life, feel free to do so. But for me, this is just one example of how the god of the Bible is a twisted monster, and a good enough reason I am glad he doesn't actually exist. That's my context.

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