Last week I wrote two articles for American Chronicle about General Pace’s “homosexuality is immoral” statement and as a result found myself in an interesting email exchange with a guy who disagrees with pretty much everything I said, but with one thing most of all: that homophobia, however someone tries to justify it, is bigotry, and that people who would deny gay citizens of the U.S. their civil rights are bigots. It isn’t bigotry to denounce homosexuality, he says, because it’s not his personal opinion — it’s the clear teaching of scripture, and all Christians are bound to abide by it.
“Would you call me a bigot for speaking out against a man who had raped and murdered your 9 year-old daughter?” I was asked. “Of course not,” the guy answered himself. “And just as the Bible condemns the rape and murder of children, it also condemns the practice of homosexuality.” I know, airtight logic, right? Does this guy’s own conscience enter into his sense of morality at all, or does his sense of right and wrong depend entirely on what the Bible tells him? I asked him if he honestly believed that the only reason raping and murdering a child was wrong was because the Bible said so, and he didn’t answer me.
I’ve been swapping emails with this guy for a few days now and he hasn’t budged. He’s more dug-in than ever after three rounds, using his religion — scratch that, using the undisputed truth of God revealed in the Bible to justify his anti-gay views. Religion, especially in such a narrow-minded and arrogant form, is no excuse for bigotry.
Here’s the thing: the Bible has been interpreted a thousand different ways by a thousand different people, and everyone thinks their way is the right way — the only right way — to read it. I think how someone interprets the Bible says a lot more about them than it does about the Bible. Those who delve deep into scripture trying to undermine and discredit its homophobic and misogynistic teachings seem a lot more serious about the whole “do unto others as you’d have others do unto you” thing than the guys who read the verses demanding homosexuals be stoned to death, nod their heads obediently and say, “You’re the boss!” If the Bible jumped off a bridge, would you jump off, too? Of course you wouldn’t — but what if the Bible shoved a woman caught in adultery off the bridge? That’s the real question.
The Biblical justification for homophobia really falls apart when you look at all the other atrocities that have been carried off with the perpetrators believing that God, through the Bible, approved of what they were doing. The big one in the United States is slavery, which Jefferson Davis called “established by decree of Almighty God . . . [and] sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation.” A learned fellow (a minister, actually) named Thornton Stringfellow published a book about the Biblical justification for slavery in 1860 — the grippingly-titled Scriptural and Statistical Views in Favor of Slavery (read the whole thing online here) — in which he argues that slavery not only is not sinful, but is sanctioned by God, completely legal, and merciful to the slaves. He backs himself up 100% with support from the Good Book[tm], mostly the insane story of Noah cursing his son Ham and his descendants to be servants for sneaking up on him while he was passed out drunk and naked and then telling his brothers about it (Genesis 9, starting in Chapter 20). Somehow Stringfellow — and a lot of other supposedly intelligent people — concluded that the descendants of Ham, called the Canaanites in the story, were the ancestors of the Africans whom white Europeans had kidnapped into slavery. Nevermind that a distant (probably fictional) ancestor embarrassing his father is just about the worst excuse for enslaving a race ever, the connection between the Canaanites and modern Africans was pure conjecture based on absolutely nothing. But it stuck as the moral license for slavery for centuries.
Most people today, Bible scholars included, are dismayed and embarrassed that men like Stringfellow were ever taken seriously, and that particular reading of the Bible is seen as illegitimate. In our day the slavery apologists have been replaced by homophobia apologists who claim that a handful of passages scattered throughout the Bible gives them all the reason they need to make sure gay people return to and remain on the outer fringe of society, or better yet, go away completely. It’s always the people who claim to love God the most who are the most eager to pass the buck for their own bigotry on to him. Bet he just loves that.
What people believe the Bible says ultimately doesn’t matter. Despite what Christians (and Muslims and Jews and followers of other absolutist faiths) are always saying, morality doesn’t come from the Bible. It doesn’t come from any book, or any code or any philosophy. It comes from the conscience of people. If an action, or a philosophy that leads to an action, causes unjust harm to others, then that action or philosophy is immoral. Believing people of a different race or religion or gender or sexual preference to be inferior, and acting to harm them, is wrong, not because any spiritual or philosophical authority said so — because it demeans the individual and robs them of their opportunity to live freely as they choose. The world is a big place with a lot of people who have a lot of different ideas about God and about each other. Civilized people can’t keep using their religions as a pretense for hating and killing and oppressing each other. Check out Iraq or Israel/Palestine to see what that gets you.