July 22, 2012

Answering Anti-Gay Biblical Literalists- Part One- Understanding Their Side

They look (with a mixture of revulsion and pity) at the quiet, creative, effeminate teenager or the out of the closet news anchor or you and your life partner minding your own business. Although you did not ask for their opinion or even care to hear it, they feel it necessary to declare, “Homosexuality is a sin! The BIBLE SAYS SO!”
Of course, they are entitled to their opinion.
Free belief and free speech are fundamental rights. But so too is everyone’s right to a private family life, equality under the law and freedom to love, live, be productive and happy, at least in most civilized, western democracies.
The problem is that many anti-gay biblical literalists claim that you, as an LGBT person do not deserve to enjoy those aforementioned human rights, at least not while living as your sexuality dictates. Since they cannot make a valid case scientifically, sociologically, civilly and legally that the equally valid and happy existence of LGBT people will rob anyone else of their fundamental rights or ruin the planet, they are left with one last resort. You are not only making them uncomfortable, especially if they have to explain society’s acceptance of you to their children, you are making God very pissed off!

In fact, they claim that every time you feel attraction, get a crush, fall in love or make love, God gets madder and madder with you.  Some will even go as far as to say that living your life honestly is the gravest sin of sins. How do they intend to prove this is actually true? By using the bible, which they claim is God’s infallible word and the final authority on everything that exists, everything we could ever do or conceive of doing, even things the bronze-aged men who wrote it had no concept of in their time. And so, armed with this assertion and the 66 books, they go campaigning for punitive action against LGBT people at worst or at best quoting biblical verses out of good intentions with the hope it will cause you to feel just as they do.
How do you deal with such people? How do you answer them? Why bother answering them at all?
Well the bible-thumpers who are impassioned, virulent, unstable and clearly beyond reasoning I would indeed recommend ignoring them and if their actions go beyond free expression and descend into harassment, they should be met with zero tolerance.
But many who express their biblical objections to LGBT people are not foaming at the mouth or picketing the funerals of soilders. They condemn gays and lesbians with smiling civility and purport to be reasonable people with no hate in their heart. Lately such people are also met with zero tolerance and many gay activists and their supporters would argue, rightfully so especially when these “love the sinner hate the sin” types inconsiderately and some would say irresponsibly express their courteous condemnations at inappropriate times for example in public response to gay teen suicide and bullying.

After the spate of gay suicides and bullying of gay teens, certain spokespeople took the opportunity to inappropriately blame the victims for being homosexual. The complete lack of empathy on their part was even more gut-curdling than the foaming at the mouth Gods Hates Fags people because it was done often with a big smile.
Some dismiss anti-gay bible thumpers because they find their presumption and lack of perspective ludicrous. After all, isn’t the Old Testament just another set of myths, skewed history, illogical and chronologically flawed writings by bronze aged, tribesmen who did not even know that the earth revolved around the sun and microorganisms caused diseases? Was not the New Testament compiled by a corrupt, politically motivated Roman Catholic Church Empire in an attempt to forge a new imperial religion that could render Judaism defunct and compete with the Sun-worship and incarnating blood sacrificing deities of the pagans they wished to conquer? Obviously the people who believe the bible is the infallible, direct word of God must be just a little…well, nuts. Right?
Although this atheistic response is au current in most developed first world nations, here in the Caribbean, people still place a great deal of authority on holy texts, particularly the bible. They will not be dismissed so easily with a Bill Maher or Christopher Hitchens quote. This approach is also unhelpful in elevating and enlightening the continued dialogue on the subject. Nothing ever gets resolved. Instead, both sides simply dig in deeper with greater resentment and over-defensiveness.

Shutting down debate by degrading the bible accomplishes nothing.

In a previous essay on Bullying, I mentioned that a fear of delving into contentious debate when someone says, “Well God’s word says…” and simply going the route of censorship will degrade our society into a bunch of sissies who cannot deal with differences of opinion nor critically weigh two opposing views without feeling threatened and persecuted.
I have taken on bible thumpers in person, on live radio, in letters to the editor of newspapers, in online chat rooms and discussion boards and I have never once had to resort to threats, ad hominem or other fallacious arguments. Perhaps the reason why I am able to do this is because I feel no resentment towards the bible or bible believers.  It may not seem that way to them though. Many Christians who chance upon my blog get bent out of shape. But I am not defaming the individual believer. If any religion claims to have an absolute monopoly on truth and God’s favor, you cannot blame one for questioning and criticizing the existence of atrocious, ignorant or powerless manifestations within that religion.
I was made to read the bible over and over while growing up in a staunch evangelical household and I have found, despite all the flaws and atrocities great universal truths in both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures. So too have a lot of people, spiritual and not. You do not have to be a legalistic fundamentalist Christian in order to appreciate the bible. In fact, I have found that being a legalistic, fundamentalist Christian may actually hinder a deeper appreciation of the bible because you are made to treat it with kid gloves and operate on many false assumptions which the theologically trained clergy hesitate to dissuade you, even if they know you are not seeing things for what they really are.
I still meet Christians today who truly believe that the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were the literal authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
As an A student of Literature all the way up to Cambridge A Levels, this treatment of the scriptures bugged me no end. You see, on the one hand, I was being taught at school that in order to truly understand and appreciate any written work, you had to take the gloves off and tear into it. 

Only with the bible are we asked to abandon all reason and treat it like a mystical object.

In order to understand Shakespeare and Chaucer, I first had to glean an appreciation of old English and the idiomatic meanings of words. I had to understand the Middle Ages, the society, the culture and commonly held beliefs subjective to the time. At no time did my teacher give a pre-arranged doctrine about Hamlet or A Knight’s Tale and then taught me how to apologetically defend it with selective quotes. Instead, I was made to discover the writing on its own merit. This was a far cry from how the bible was being taught during bible study. It was not “study” in the purest sense of the word, but indoctrination and regurgitation which made me, like most Christians, woefully biblically illiterate.
I am telling you this because if you choose to reason with a bible quoting condemner of homosexuality, instead of dismissing them or censoring them, you must first understand what it means to be biblically illiterate. In fact there are Four Biblical Illiteracy Factors.

Bible Illiteracy Factor 1

A person who is biblically illiterate pays no heed to the type of translation they use or the process by which it now sits in their hand. As far as they are concerned, it is the Living Word made paper…and leather and ink. With this book, they can speak for God himself in plain English. In fact, they act as if that was the original language of the writers. They can tell others right now of what God thinks RIGHT NOW about anything, anyone, any situation. For this book is the very mind of God. And it only costs around $30 (unless you get a free copy)and weighs less than a pound. They truly believe that the Almighty Being who created the entire Universe can be predicted, quoted and represented by just opening this book.

Even if the bible were infallible what makes people so presumptuously certain that their understanding of it is also infallible? Not even the most accomplished student of literature ever claims to know exactly the mind of the human author whose work they spend a lifetime examining, far less a tome written by a Higher Intelligence.

Certain Christians use the bible in order to present themselves as the spokespeople for God who have intimate knowledge of God's mind, opinions, future plans on everything and everyone.
Most Christians who approach the bible in this way have no idea that this fetish-like, magic 8 ball relationship with the scriptures is actually a very recent thing in Christian history. In fact, you can bet that if someone views the bible this way, they also are entirely ignorant about the history of the Christian faith.
Biblical Illiteracy Factor 2
A person who is biblically illiterate is not very concerned with what bible verses ACTUALLY MEAN. They are only concerned about what bible verses SAY when they need certain things SAID in order to confirm the particular doctrine or social tradition they were taught alongside the bible.
I will use the example of the social tradition of corporal punishment. In order to defend it, many will quote verses like: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes” Proverbs 13:24 or “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” Proverbs 22:15.

At first glance certain verses in the bible do seem to SAY that beating your child with a rod is a good thing. But is that really what these verses MEAN?
Dig just a little deeper into the Hebrew language, culture, poetic metaphors common at the time and you will discover that the word for rod or staff is shebet. It is actually a crooked staff used by shepherds to manage their flock. Now, shepherds do not beat the sheep with the rod but use the crooked staff to hook a wayward sheep by the neck and guide it back where it belonged. As a result of this cultural practice, the word shebet was also commonly used as a metaphor for wisdom or authority.  When in Exodus, it says that Moses was told by God that “with this staff you will lead the people out of Egypt,” it does not mean the literal shebet but the figurative shebet- with this wisdom and authority you will lead the people out of Egypt.

 Proverbs is a book filled with metaphors and that is why its writer can say, “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.” Proverbs 23:13. If indeed the bible is true, this scripture can only makes sense if the rod is a symbolic one, after all every year, thousands of children die from being beaten with “rods of correction”.

Human life is lost when people do not take the time to understand a book they claim to be God’s word.

Unfortunately, for the biblically illiterate, understanding what the bible MEANS, is too tedious a process. You have to get hold of a Hebrew and Greek concordance, read up biblical scholars, Jewish scholars, anthropology and archeology that reveal the context of the writing, the culture of the people, cross-reference with similar writings for clarification. Too much work for the intellectually lazy! Others who are not lazy are simply not equipped to do the research or have been told they don’t have to go through all that trouble. Which brings us to the next factor of biblical illiteracy you must understand before you engage in debate.

Biblical Illiteracy Factor 3
The biblical illiterate believe that they will be mystically bestowed accurate understanding. Even with just a second grade education they CAN BE A BIBLE EXPERT.
If it requires special spiritual powers to understand the bible and two equally sincere people claiming to have received those powers from God after sincerely praying yet have come away with two entirely different understandings of the same verse, which one do you believe? 

What is amazing is that so many never wonder how come the holy spirit always seems to guide them exactly where their pastor wants them to be. When someone tells you, “I was guided by holy spirit to understand this scripture, so you must believe me!” or “If you were guided by holy spirit, you will understand things exactly the same way I am trying to show you,” what they are actually saying is that you must put your faith in them without asking them the obvious question: “How do you know it was actually the holy spirit guiding you or the pastor/priest/reverend that taught you? How do you prove it could not possibly be any other emotion, mental state or trigger? What faculties do you use to distinguish the difference?”
The irony is, many bible believers will tell you how unreliable things like logic and science are but what they offer as a superior methodology to enlightenment is actually entirely subjective. Call me an arrogant, elitist intellectual all you like for wanting things to be a little more definitive and objective when it will be used to dictate how others live their lives and what human rights they enjoy.
We trust evidence over speculation in almost every aspect of our daily life including a court of law. We need to have things proven beyond a shadow of a doubt in order to justify any action we take that will rob someone of their freedom or life or else it does not sit well on our conscience
You and I were given the ability to reason, discover solid laws and depend on them enough to explore space and perform open heart surgery. Why would an Almighty Being feel threatened by our exercise of the faculties it gave us? Yes, knowledge is power but no amount of empowerment we achieve could ever intimidate a truly Almighty Being that is also supposed to be benevolent. The human custodians of religion on the other hand, well, that is another story. The empowerment of their fellowmen is often the last thing on their agendas and they inculcate their followers in being forever dependent and disempowered.
Does a human grandfather feel threatened when his grandchild makes her first steps or does he instead feel proud and happy?
I hope you fully understand the factors at play in many of those who come at you with their biblical justifications for why LGBT people should be treated as second class citizens. Once you do, you are ready to learn how to reply to them. Knowing one’s opponent in any battle and that includes philosophical debate is very important and that is why the best rebuttals to this argument come from those who actually KNOW THEIR BIBLE and sadly most do not, on both sides of the issue.

Even among those who do know and can stand up to anti-gay biblical literalists with solid bible-based rebuttals, a kind of weariness sets in after a while when you have to make the same argument over and over again. But do not stop! Your counteraction is very important. Why?
Well, it is important for two reasons. I mentioned one earlier. Nobody’s holy text should be used as justification for robbing another human being of their fundamental human right to a private family life, equality under the law and freedom to love, live, be productive and happy if that person in no way threatens the fundamental human rights of anyone else.
The second reason is even more important and I warn you, I am about to use some fighting words. Here it goes:
Anti-gay biblical literalists are hypocrites.
They may not be consciously aware that they are acting like Pharisees but they are. You may have noticed that I said earlier that there are Four Biblical Illiteracy Factors but so far I only mentioned three. I saved the fourth for last.
Biblical Illiteracy Factor 4
All biblical illiterate people inadvertently find themselves cherry-picking, back-tracking , falling into inconsistencies and failing to carry the same burdens they try to load upon the shoulders of others.
For example, they have no problem cherry-picking Leviticus 18:20 out of the 613 Mosaic Laws in order to condemn sexually active (and even celibate, virginal) homosexual men and teens. They will even use it to get the Government to take punitive action against adult, consensual, relationships, even committed ones lasting many years. But ask these same people why they do not also follow the other 612 laws. How come they do not ask the Government to enact the death penalty against people who work on the Sabbath or quarantine menstruating women or declare themselves unclean after a wet dream or stone children who throw an expletive filled temper tantrum? Why do they eat shrimp and tuck into the Christmas ham with gusto every year?
This is the main reason why we must engage and answer anti-gay literalists. They are being dishonest not only with themselves but all of society. The same honesty that made you live your life truthfully despite persecution and rejection is what should drive you to set the hypocrite…straight.

The same unflappable need to be honest that made you come out of the closet even if it meant waiting generations before the rest of society learned to be tolerant, should make you fight hypocristy when you find it.
Next installment, we will show how the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures, namely: Genesis 19 (The Story Of Sodom), The Mosaic Law and Kings are wrongly utilized in order to condemn LGBT people today. In the installment after that, we will explore the New Testament.
Stay tuned!  


Rachel Lewis said...

I was raised to believe that the bible was infallible, that it was the word of God, that we could not question it or everything would fall down. The question of fallible humans being the ones reading the bible was side stepped as much as possible, other than to say that the holy spirit would guide people and not ALLOW them to get it wrong.

So much for human diversity and free will.

Your explanations make so much sense.

Jessica Joseph said...

Glad it reaffirmed things for you.

What is so ironic is that I glean more wisdom and comfort from the bible NOW than when I had to treat it like a holy relic of undisputable facts about the entire existence of man.