Christians in the Hand of an Angry God (part 3)
From the very earliest days of the Republican party, it was the party of the wealthy. But starting with the 1950s, it became something else as well: the party of social reaction, the party of the "return to normalcy." You see, in the late 1940s, the entire population of the USA had a small problem: they had no idea how they were "supposed" to live. They knew what they thought of as a "normal American," namely the rural farmers and small-town shopkeepers that made up the bulk of the (white, northern) population from the 1700s to the 1870s. But then came oil, and steam, and industrialization, and with that came rail, and factories, and with that came the beginning of the rush from the rural countryside to the (perceived) corruption of the Big Cities. Society was still reeling from that generational shock when the automobile came along, wreaking its own havoc on geographic ties and doing more to empower illicit sex than any invention since the condom ... and not coincidentally, technology made condoms a heck of a lot more reliable and comfortable around the same time. Society was still being knocked loopy by those social changes when America got dragged into World War I, and for the first time in American history huge numbers of American men were intimately exposed to European ways, and (as the song went), how are you going to keep him down on the farm after he's seen Paris? Those shell-shocked and culturally broadened soldiers hadn't yet been integrated back into society when Prohibition came along, and plunged America into a gangster war and an era of corrupt politics that took two generations to overturn. Prohibition no sooner began than the economy collapsed on a scale never before seen in America, destroying whole families, communities, and almost the whole states of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. That period was barely being struggled out from under when World War II erupted, and yet again whole families were torn apart as nearly all of the young adult men in America were dragged into wartime service, mostly abroad. So with one thing and another, nobody in America reckoned that society had had a breath of "normal life" in at least 80 years, longer than almost anybody was alive. So when relative prosperity came along, the American people had a chance to re-imagine what "normal life" would be like in an industrial society, and they agreed upon (and were aggressively recruited by advertising into) setting their ideals by the TV fantasy of Father Knows Best.
But no sooner did Republicans begin to sell this upper-middle class white suburban fantasy than it began to slip away from them. Those who saw that such a world had no place for them now had tools that they might never have had before: cheap printing presses and mimeographs, networks of telephones, and above all cheap inter-city travel, and so there arose subcultures of dissent, most famously Civil Rights, feminism, the rock-and-roll counter-culture, and the struggle for legal life for homosexuals. As the lead purveyors of the consumerist conformist fantasy of the Return to Normalcy, wealthy Republicans were the perfect party to endorse the discomfort that many Americans had with these movements. And so the purveyors of the false gospel found their calling, their contribution towards making the Republicans look respectable and Christian: to convince the public that God Himself hated uppity Negros, feminists, rock-and-roll, and above all homosexuals, and anything else that might make a white conformist upper middle class family uncomfortable.
Now, the rock-and-roll argument is almost a straw man. If you've never been inside fundamentalist culture, this must seem as funny as heck to you, but take my word for it: from the earliest days of rock-and-roll up through at least the mid 1980s, and in some places up until the present time, it is/was an article of faith and frequently preached in sermons that any music that's danceable, any music with a back-beat, any jazz or rock-and-roll, is Satanic, directly opposed to God, and something that all true Christians should abhor and avoid. The logic that is used to supposedly "prove" this from a Biblical literalist perspective is so tortuous, circular, irrational, specious, and down-right silly that for me to pick on it would be like setting up a straw man to knock down. Suffice it to say that nobody with any intellectual honesty would look at any of those arguments and conclude that they were reached through an honest investigation of the Scripture. No, they were reached because someone, or more precisely several someones, were looking for an excuse to preach pro-Republican sermons. The false gospel attack on feminism has concentrated on three arguments, one of which the fundamentalists lost so badly that even Tim and Beverly LaHaye only barely whisper the first one: that women should be subservient to men. The other two, opposition to birth control and abortion, is a fascinating topic but one I have no patience for tonight, I'm too tired. If I still have the energy to extend this topic tomorrow or soon, I will.
Instead, let me tackle one of the clubs that the ministers of the false gospel use to persuade people that to be a good Christian is to vote Republican: homosexuality. The ministers of the false gospel, the gospel of Satan, tell you that the Bible is clear and unambiguous: "God hates fags." Does He? Or is this a false gospel, one cooked up to please the false ministers' masters in the Republican party? Let's look.
Does the Old Testament condemn homosexuality? Yes, clearly and unambiguously, at least if we're talking about MSM (men having sex with men): "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." (Leviticus 20:13) On the other hand, that same general part of the Old Testament also prescribes the death penalty for working on the weekend (Exodus 35:1-2) and for cursing (Leviticus 24:13-16). It also requires that houses with mildew on the shower wall be torn down if the priest doesn't like its color (Leviticus 14:33-53). It also equally fiercely condemns cotton/wool blend suits (Leviticus 19:19), playing football (Leviticus 11:7-8, and boy, tell that to a Southern Baptist from Texas), and most famously, eating shellfish (Leviticus 11:9-12). That's right, folks, God Hates Shrimp. What should all of those rules mean to a contemporary Christian? Remarkably little. How can I say that? Simple: I've read the book of the Bible called Acts, short for "The Acts of the Apostles." It tells the story of how Christianity first spread from a relatively tiny persecuted sect of Jews in Jerusalem to a world-wide religion with more gentile than Jewish believers. And all the way through the first half of the book, the apostles wrestle with the question of just how much of the holiness code, the law of Moses, do the gentiles need to adopt? And when all was said and done, when God had finally gotten His point through their thick skulls, the answer was this: no meat offered to idols. In the opinion of the apostles, and of nearly every Christian scholar from that time until the Republican party takeover of the Church starting in the 1960s, the vast majority of the holiness code, all of the weird little nitpicky details, was not a set of universal laws for all people for all time but a very specific set of laws for a very specific group of people (Jews) in a very specific place (Palestine) during a very specific time (the transition from nomadic tribes to agricultural kingdom). Of all of those details, the only one that the apostles felt worth preserving was a rule requiring that Christians abstain from sharing the food offered at the ceremonial meal at pagan religious ceremonies. That's it. Other than that? Do what Jesus said.
You remember Jesus, right? The guy who stood up against everything the Republicans stand for? Supposedly your savior if you call yourself a Christian? That guy. And oh yeah, he never mentioned anything about homosexuality, or, for that matter, much about any kind of sin other than robbing the poor. In fact, the only time that anybody forced the issue on him, it was a trap by the Pharisees, who hated Jesus with a fiery passion. You see, the Pharisees were exactly like modern Republicans. The Pharisees were a sect who believed that the Roman occupation of Israel was God's punishment on the Jews for not being holy enough, not being pure enough. So the Pharisees taught a regimine of rules about sex, hygiene, and diet that went even farther than God Himself did in the original holiness code. So when they caught Jesus travelling on the sabbath, or gleaning stray grains from the fields he walked through on the sabbath, they were all over Him like flies on excrement. They also hated him for associating with people and ethnic groups that the Pharisees didn't like, and they were constantly smearing Him as a drunkard. And when a group of Pharisees caught an adulterous couple, they figured they had the perfect trap for Jesus. You see, the holiness code very specifically prescribes the death penalty for adultery (Leviticus 20:10). However, Roman law said that only the Roman governor could prescribe the death penalty. So by bringing him the woman caught in adultery, they figured that they could force him to choose between offending the Jews (and losing his followers) or offending the Romans (and being put to death). Instead of answering, Jesus just crouched down and wrote on the ground with His finger for a while, then stood up and said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." The Pharisees slunk away in cowardice and shame, which raises the interesting unanswerable question, what the heck was Jesus writing? My theology professors' favorite speculation was that it was a list of other death penalty offenses that the Pharisees might reasonably suspect Jesus of somehow knowing they were guilty of, daring them to start a stone-throwing festival that would have left the hypocrites as dead as the adulteress. Nonetheless, as fun as this story is, let's not miss part of the point here. Jesus was specifically asked whether or not we as human beings should continue to enforce the holiness code in the Law of Moses, and Jesus very specifically said no. (John 8:1-11)
Paul, on the other hand, we're told from the pulpit that he had a few divinely inspired things to say about homosexuality, right? And since that moves the prohibition on homosexuality into New Testament times, into the mouth of an apostle, surely that means that even if the kosher laws no longer apply and it's legal to play football, it's obviously still wrong to have sex with someone of the same gender. Right? Right? Well, you tell me -- where does Paul supposedly say this? Oh, yeah, it's right here: "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." (1st Corinthians 6:9-10)
But you see, there's a problem with that passage. That phrase "abusers of themselves with mankind" is a translation of one word in the original Greek: arsenokoites, and that word does not mean homosexual. Now, how can I possibly know that, when scholars of Greek don't even agree on what the word means? Simple, I know this by process of elimination: ancient Greek doesn't have a word that means "homosexual." Why? Because neither homosexuals nor heterosexuals existed in that culture. History does not record a single example of a man who was only attracted to men or to women, nor a clear and unambigous example of a woman who's only attracted to men or to women. Normal life as it was lived was for romantic relationships to be with either gender older/younger members of the same sex; same age members of the opposite sex. One married the opposite gender, in an arranged and generally loveless marriage, for the purpose of producing children to take care of you in old age in exchange for an inheritance. In fact, in Plato's famous book The Symposium, there's a long and involved argument that only sex between older men and younger boys qualifies as spiritually pure romantic sexual love; all other forms of sex or love are based in some way or another on narcissism or selfishness. Does a culture that thinks this have a word, let alone an insult, for men who love men? But anyway, if Paul had meant to say that God condemned men having sex with men, or women having sex with women, he could have done so. As one of the most famous students of the Mosaic Law of his time, he could have effortlessly done so by quoting the Septuagint, the widely respected translation of those books from Hebrew into Greek. He could have said "nor men who lie with men as with women ... shall inherit the kingdom of God." You can say that in Greek. But he didn't. Instead he used a word specific to the Corinthian dialect, one not written down in any other source that survived into modern times. So whatever sin he's condemning there, it's not homosexuality. (The leading contender among scholars is "temple prostitutes," and that would make sense: Corinth was the capital of the biggest cult of temple prostitution in the entire Greek-speaking world, the famous Temple of Aphrodite at Corinth.)
So why would so many Bible scholars say otherwise? Why the lie? Why substitute this "Bible full of holes" for their so-called-beloved whole Bible? I'll tell you why they do it. Because by so doing, they take the clash of cultures between Republican reactionaries and Democratic idealists and make it look like God Himself demands that you vote for the reactionaries. And so by this and similar lies they distract people from voting the party that stands up for Christ's principles, and lure them instead to vote for the party that most closely resembles the competing religious sect that most loudly and fervently demanded Jesus' death, the Pharisees.
(P.S. Because somebody else is bound to point it out if I don't, there's a famous bit of satire that deals with some of these themes, and yes, I'm somewhat indebted to it: James Kauffman's famous letter to Dr. Laura Schlesinger.)