Friday, January 23, 2009

Fun with Christians II-A

You know, I've had a lot of arguments with christians over the years. I've used logic, insults, scholarly analysis; I've reduced them to tears and impotent rage. It's never worked. Little fuckers are too pigheaded. Plus, I have this suspicion that, once they start arguing with a heathen, they automatically discount any argument, regardless of how obvious or reasonable it seems, as coming from a poisoned well. So I decided to do a very bad thing.

I was going to lie, and pretend to be another christian, but one with a different slant on the scriptures.

There were challenges involved (for example, I was going to have to remember to capitalize "Christian" and "Scripture"). But I figured I was up to the challenge.

(Oh, by the way, if you didn't read the original post, now might be a good time. And feel free to borrow any of the following arguments that you like. Few of them are original to me, anyway.)

I'm not going to go over the entire argument. You can read it on your own if you want. What I explained seemed quite reasonable to me, and between years of arguing with Christians, and with the benefit of having the internet for research, I figured that I could throw down with the best of the theocrats.

But here's how it went. With our boy Bobby interjecting variations on "I don't understand what you're getting at," I wrote pretty much the following thesis. Feel free to use it, but give me credit. I'm relatively proud of it.

I mentioned the tired old "shellfish" argument, but only as one piece of a set of three. I’m fully aware of Matthew 15:11, where He cast off the kosher rules ("Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man."), but on that same subject, you should remember Matthew 5:17-19, where Jesus upheld the Jewish dietary laws:
"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."
However, let’s put aside that argument. There’s more to Leviticus than just chapters 18 and 20. Why are you demeaning gay people, but not the other abominators? Because seafood and gay sex aren’t the only abominations in the Bible.

Have you killed a teenager for yelling at their parents lately? Leviticus 20:9:
For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.
(KJV, of course. I’m normally an NIV kind of guy, but you can’t beat King James for the beauty of the language.)

For that matter, all of Leviticus 20 is a killer. Literally in some cases; in others, the violator is left either childless or shunned: adultery or marrying your mother-in-law or daughter-in-law, are apparently capital offenses; weirdly, having sex with your sister just gets you shunned.

But, of course you know that, since that’s one of the chapters you quoted.

A lot of Leviticus 19 is pretty straight-forward, Ten-Commandments-like stuff, but there are a few exceptions: not planting your field with two different seeds won’t come up a lot for the average city-dweller, but have you worn a cotton-poly shirt? It's forbidden (Lev 19:19). Haircuts and shaving are right out (Lev 19:27), as are tattoos (Lev 19:28), astrology (Lev 19:26) and fortune tellers (Lev 19:31).

While you’re at Leviticus 19, please note that you are allowed to have sex with another man’s slave, but you have to sacrifice a ram to do it. (Lev 19:20-22).

And that’s just Leviticus. Why do you choose to selectively follow some parts of the Old Testament, but not others? The dietary laws were pulled (or not, depending on your reading of Matthew 5), and the daily animal sacrifices were stopped by the selective reading of Hebrews 10:2-11 (of course, it doesn’t say that you should stop, just that it can never “take away sins” – oddly, the purpose is not simply to take away sins, but because the Lord Thy God commanded it, so is that really a good argument?). But I’ll bet you still get haircuts, and I’ll bet that, even if you have a wool suit, the thread holding it together is cotton.

You can't just selectively decide which parts of the Old Testament to follow. Particularly not when (as I said before) you aren't even necessarily following an accurate translation.

Being straight myself, I don’t have any particular stake in the question, other than Christ’s exhortation to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Like I said, I may use NIV [New International Version of the Bible] simply for clarity, but I love the KJV [King James] language.)

But I’ve found that most arguments regarding homosexuality being a sin are simply mistranslations and phrases taken out of context.

One of the words mistranslated that way is arsenokoites. It’s a Greek word formed from the words for “male” and “bed.” It isn’t not found anywhere else in the Bible, and has not been found anywhere in the contemporary Greek of Paul’s time. We don’t know what it means. Although you can see where some translators might have decided on that meaning, it could also refer to male prostitutes with female customers (a common practice in the Roman world - look at Pompeii).

Furthermore, the word often translated as “effeminate” (1 Corinthians 6:9, for example; the Greek word malakoi) means “soft” or “vulnerable.” The same word is translated as “soft” in reference to clothing (Matthew 11:8, Luke 7:25) and as “illness” (Matthew 4:23 and 9:35). It is not used anywhere else in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 6:9, it probably refers those who are “soft,” “pliable,” “unreliable,” or “without courage or stability.” The translation of malakoi as “effeminate” is incorrect and impossible to justify based on ancient usage.

One of my very good friends was kicked out of the Air Force because of her beliefs and her lifestyle. The mealy-mouthed phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” makes very little sense when you consider that the “sin” in question is an important part (possibly the most important part) of someone’s personality and emotional life.

I can’t change anyone’s beliefs. But I can point out some logical inconsistencies in your arguments.

First of all, marriage in biblical times was not based on romantic love but on a legal contract usually entered by parents on behalf of their children. The Biblical view held that the role of women was property belonging to their father or husband. Women were members of the people of God only because of their relationship to their father, brother or husband; women could not carry circumcision (the “sign of the covenant”) in their bodies, and were therefore less important, except as breeding stock. (Women were listed in there among the “do not covets,” right next to the house, the servants and the animals - Exodus 20:17.)

People had children specifically to continue the family; the only way a man could live on after his death was through his children, and should never remain unmarried (one of the many words that ancient Hebrew did not contain was any term for “bachelor”). And if you want to see a blatant demonstration of male dominance over women, check out Genesis 38.

The Greek word for romantic love (eros) is never used in the New Testament, though it was the most common word for love in the Greek-speaking world. In fact, the Biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek do not have a word for “homosexual.” Old Testament Hebrew is a primitive language, the first step above picture writing (some historians think that it might be the first alphabetic language). Like Egyptian, it originally had only consonants (no vowels). It had about a 30,000-word vocabulary (modern English has over 300,000 words). One Hebrew word could be used in dozens of different ways, with the meaning determined by the context. Each word was made up of 3 letters of the alphabet and usually expressed some form of activity or action. It is impossible to translate most Hebrew words exactly into modern English. Linguists and translators end up having to guess a lot.

The Greek of the New Testament was more complex than Hebrew, with a 250,000-word vocabulary and several words for “soft” concepts (feelings, philosophical concepts, and so on) which were somewhat beyond the Hebrew language. For example, Greek had four different words for “love.” The Greek used in the New Testament is different from classical or modern Greek. For many years, some scholars thought that New Testament Greek was a special language created by the Holy Spirit. Then, in the late nineteenth century, documents from the time of the New Testament (letters, bills of sale, and news reports) were discovered written in exactly the same kind of Greek (called koine) that the Bible used. The King James Version of the Bible, on the other hand, was translated in 1611, long before these manuscripts were discovered.

The reason that there are so many different Bible translations (about 30 major ones) today is because the exact meaning of many words is still in question, and even what should be included as original material is hotly debated by Biblical scholars. To read bits and pieces of biblical material into present-day culture is to misrepresent the Bible and to distort its message of God’s love in Christ for all people in today’s world.

For example, “sodomy” is a modern word, and its origin is taken out of context. A “Sodomite” in the Bible is simply a person who lives in Sodom (which includes, by the way, Lot and his family). The term “Sodomite” in the King James version of Deuteronomy 23:17 and I Kings 14:24 is an incorrect translation of the Hebrew word for “temple prostitute.” (See “The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology” by Mark D. Jordan, University of Chicago Press, 1997.)

No Jewish scholars before the first Christian century taught that the sin of Sodom was sexual. None of the biblical references to Sodom mention sexual sins, but view Sodom as an example of injustice, lack of hospitality to strangers, idolatry and as a symbol for desolation and destruction (see Deuteronomy 29:22-28 and 32:32; Ezekiel 16:49-50; Jeremiah 49:18; 50:41; Isaiah 13:19-22 and Matthew 10:14-15).

And not only are you misunderstanding both the language or culture of the time, many aspects of the Bible are completely ignored.

Leviticus 12:1-8 declares that a woman is unclean for 33 days after giving birth to a boy and for 66 days after giving birth to a girl. It goes on to demand that certain animals must be offered as a burnt offering. Read Leviticus 23 to see the detailed regulations concerning “complete rest” on the Sabbath day, and the demands of animal sacrifice. Leviticus 18:19 forbids a husband from having sex with his wife during her menstrual period. Leviticus 19:19 forbids mixed breeding of various kinds of cattle, sowing various kinds of seeds in your field or wearing “a garment made from two kinds of material mixed together.”

For that matter, Leviticus 25:44 says that you may own slaves, as long as they’re from neighboring nations (which would be, for Americans, Mexico and Canada). On the other hand, Leviticus 21:20 says that you can’t approach the altar of God if you have a defect in your sight. I’m pretty sure that would include glasses.

Exodus tells us some interesting facts. For example, 21:7 tells you how to sell your daughter into slavery, while 35:2 tells you to kill someone who works on the Sabbath.

That’s why I prefer to take my faith from the New Testament. (For example, Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”) After all, it says right in Colossians 2:14, “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” (This of course, ignores the “jot and tittle” argument, but I have no problem reconciling that.)

Jesus and Paul both spoke against the misuse of Leviticus, both in Mark 7 and Colossians 2. In fact, I kind of like part of that last bit from Mark. “And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”

Of course, on the subject of Paul, let’s remember that he only came around after Jesus was crucified, and like many people who end up “born again,” he went a little overboard. He wrote more than any other author of the Bible. Paul’s writings have been taken out of context and twisted to punish and oppress every identifiable minority in the world: Jews, children, women, blacks, slaves, politicians, divorced people, convicts, pro choice people, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals, religious reformers, the mentally ill… the list goes on and on.

Paul is often difficult and confusing to understand. Since most of his letters were written in response to news from other people, reading Paul can be like listening to one side of a telephone conversation. We know, or think we know, what Paul is saying, but we have to guess what the other side has said. As 2 Peter 3:16-18 pointed out, we have to be on guard against using Paul’s writings in unhealthy and destructive ways.

A few final verses, and I guess I’ll be done (and it’s about time, isn’t it?). Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” It doesn’t specify where they find love, but merely that they love God and His Son. That is the path to deliverance.

Romans 2:1: “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.” That must be an important message - it’s repeated several times.

Actually, I’ve quoted enough. For further reading, you can look up the following (in no particular order). John 12:47; 13:34-35; all of Acts 10 (but specifically verses 28 and 34); I Corinthians 13 (yes, the whole thing); all of Galatians (especially 3:1-5 and 23-28; 5:14-15 and 22-23); all of Ephesians (especially chapter 2); Philippians 2:1-13; I John 3:13-21; 4:7-19; and, most of all, Romans 15:1-7.

(Final update, if anyone cares.)

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