Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Listening to Jesus

I’ll admit it: I went to a catholic elementary school. You know what else? I loved it!

I know it may be hard to believe. Popular culture is stuffed to overflowing with images of bare-knuckled nuns, browbeating pre-teens with rulers. But since Vatican II changed the rules concerning who was allowed to teach in schools (now laypeople can do it) none of my teachers were nuns. Not that I would have minded; everybody loved Sister Jackie.

Some people would also be surprised to learn that we had sex-ed and were told that masturbation was “possibly bad for you, but the evidence says it’s probably ok.” Most importantly, we had a religion class where I received a passable education on the teachings of Jesus. I usually like to keep my religious thoughts private, but in a spiritual landscape increasingly populated with bigots and thinly disguised social Darwinists it’s important to explain what Jesus actually said.

His main message was “Love God above all else” and “Love thy neighbor as they love thyself.” but a lot of what he said can be interpreted different ways. He did take a couple clear stands on issues of the day though. First, he was against divorce. No provisos or exceptions. This much was clear. Second, he was against capital punishment. On seeing a woman about to be stoned, Jesus got up and said “Let him amongst you without sin cast the first stone.” Notice the wording. He didn’t say, “Let the punishment fit the crime. This woman doesn’t deserve this.” He said, “Hey, no one susceptible to sin is qualified to take the life of anyone else. So cut it out!” This is why the Catholic Church is against divorce and capital punishment.

Another important teaching was the need to rethink the old kosher laws mentioned in the Torah (Old Testament). Specifically, Jesus performed miracles on the Sabbath and ate with his apostles off of unclean plates (a rule from Leviticus I happen to agree with). So now you know why Catholics don’t keep kosher, work on the Sabbath, and don’t mind wearing mixed fabrics.

Of course, this brings me to homosexuality. Sandwiched between admonishes to not cross-breed cattle and an advisory against mixing linen and wool you will find a rule forbidding male homosexual acts. Some bigots will give you a line about how Jesus said to rethink “procedural” rules, but not “moral” ones but this is basically a complicated invocation of the Chewbacca defense. Certainly, rules concerning who you can sleep with are just as procedural as ones about who your cow can sleep with. The placement of this rule pretty much closes the case for the rules procedural origins. At the time, the Hebrews were very sensitive to “improper mixing” which is where all the rules in that section come from (along with the no meat and cheese rule).

Bigots don’t want to listen to what Jesus said. They don’t want to argue on moral grounds whether gays should be allowed to do what they do. They don’t want to go through the complex Leviticus legal review process Jesus asked of his followers. They would rather point to a passage and close their minds: exactly what Jesus would have them reject.

Then there’s Sodom. Genesis recounts how some men in Sodom got angry after Lot refused to allow them to know two angels that happened to be staying with him. We can assume that the Sodomites also knew that Lot had spent the day going through town looking for some virtuous people to take with him before his God destroyed the city.

This reference to “know”-ing the angels has been interpreted by some to mean that they wanted to have homosexual sex. I suppose it could be: they don’t seem to be placated when Lot offers up his virgin daughters. Then again, you wouldn’t expect a bunch of cock-blocked gays to break down the door and kill a few unlucky servants. More realistically, we can assume that they were actually a bunch of straight men that were angry at Lot for threatening to blow up their wicked little town. It is clear that the real wickedness of the Sodomites was their failure to head the word of God, and perhaps their mortal intentions on unwary servants and well-hid angels.

So there’s my biblical talking-points. I know liberals hate to argue scripture, but it’s something we have to learn.


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