Friday, April 19, 2013
Why the opposition to same sex "marriage"?
I urge you to stop before reading the following article, and I most emphatically urge you not to allow children or more sensitive people to read it. It deals very explicitly with a very delicate topic. There will be some who think these things should not be discussed in a parish bulletin at all. I am of the opinion that we can no longer avoid the issue. It is assumed by the majority of young people even in Catholic schools that same sex marriage is equivalent to traditional marriage and should be respected as such. They are being taught this in government schools and in some Catholic universities, so called. We live in a country founded by Calvinist Puritans who believed in predestination. I believe that it is part of the Puritan heritage to say "God made me this way." We Catholics believe in freedom and that behavior is a choice. The current climate says that a preference is unchangeable and that sexual activity defines the person.
We Catholics believe that the person is more than a set of predestined preferences. A person is not "gay" or "straight". A person is a child of God made in his image and likeness and thus all persons merit respect and the freedom of the children of God. A human person is not an orientation. A person may experience variations of attraction between same and different genders. Those attractions do not define the person and seem much more malleable than the current climate is willing to admit. Some of the finest and holiest people I know have struggled with these issues. Their very struggle is a token of their commitment to the Gospel and the Lord. Yet, they have struggled and refused to allow this corrupt culture to define them. The following pages are written as a real response to a real letter I received. It is written with respect and I hope honesty. I mean to offend no one, but I am bound to teach what the Church has learned from her Lord and has always held and taught.
Again I ask you to read this advisedly, carefully and prayerfully.
Dear Rev Know-it-all,
I have just read a book that went meticulously through all the scriptural and natural law arguments that are put forward in opposition to homosexual relationships, and for each one, the author showed how they failed to provide a valid basis for deeming homosexual relationships to be wrong or immoral. I think one of the things that makes this topic so difficult to discuss in the 21st Century western society is the yawning gap between our understanding of sexuality today and how the ancient civilizations viewed sexuality. All of the Biblical passages, for instance, were written for an audience of ancient societies very unlike our own in regard to sexuality. Anyone who has read about sexuality in ancient Greece or ancient Rome would be astonished at how vastly different their view of sexuality was from our own.
The book mentioned Leviticus 20:13 “If a man also lies with man, as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death.” The author made the case that it was shameful for a man to degrade himself to something resembling the status of a woman. The Catholic Church today would never dare put forward such a sexist justification for abstaining from homosexual relations. Likewise, the verses in the New Testament seem to have the same thing in mind. 1 Cor. 6:9-10 states that the effeminate “malakos” in Greek, was thought to be lacking in courage. In a couple other places, St. Paul uses the Greek term arsenokoitai to describe something that he considered to be immoral. Paul appears to have made it up. Both malakoi and arsenokoitai have been translated at times to imply homosexuality, but that's actually inaccurate. Neither of those terms means what we understand today to mean “homosexual.” So essentially the Bible doesn't say anything about homosexuality per se. It remains unclear, then, how the Church came up with a blanket prohibition on homosexual relationships. And in terms of Natural Law, I would just ask that in thinking about it, you put aside any preconceived notions you might have about homosexuality and simply ask yourself, why is it intrinsically immoral for two men or two women to be in a sexual relationship? What harm does that do?
Someone who is trying to understand
Dear Someone who is trying to understand,
You are making a few logical errors, at least in my opinion. The first is a very basic error, at least from a Catholic perspective. You are looking for an answer that is “sola scriptura ”, that is from the “Bible alone.” Your assumption is that the Bible is self-interpreting. How can any book be self-interpreting when the words with which it is written can be redefined to suit the argument or the will of the reader?
Here are the four offensive passages in the Bible that need reinterpretation to accommodate our enlightened age.
1) “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable. (Leviticus 18:22 )
2) “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” (Leviticus 20:13)
3) “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:26-27 )
4) “Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor the effeminate (malakoi), nor those who lie with males (arsenokoitai), nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”(1Corinthians 6:9-10)
The first two are in the Old Testament. The Old Testament does not count because, well, it’s old. Good and gentle Jesus did away with that Old Testament mumbo jumbo like stoning adulteresses and not eating barbecued pork ribs. The next two are St. Paul and we all know what a curmudgeon he was, indeed, an embarrassment!
There is one more Biblical passage that may bear upon the topic, and one rarely hears it referenced.
“Some Pharisees came to Him to test Him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’ ‘Haven't you read,’ He replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ ‘Why then,’ they asked, ‘did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?’ Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.’ ( Matt. 19:3-8)
This is not the Old Fashioned Testament, this not Paul the sexist curmudgeon. This is Good and Gentle Jesus defining marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman. It is pretty clear in addition that Jesus thought that intimate contact outside of marriage, was wrong, a forgivable sin, but a sin none the less. He was not lightening the law. He was tightening it. He was stricter than Moses regarding sexual morality. He forbad something Moses allowed. Do you think that having forbidden divorce he would then allow intimacies that Moses taught were capital offenses? Jesus limited sexual activity to a very narrow spectrum of activity and so do His followers. One woman. One man. Whole life. Exclusive relationship. Pretty narrow minded if you ask me. So your argument about same sex marriage is not with me, not with the Church, not with the Hebrew patriarchs not even with that old woman-hater, Paul of Tarsus. Your argument is with Jesus. You are perfectly free to disagree with him. Who was Jesus after all? Just a failed carpenter, and un-ordained itinerant Rabbi and a person convicted of anti-government sedition, at least that’s how His world saw Him. Maybe they were right. Maybe I am mistaken in my belief that He was the Son of God and the Savior of the world, born of a virgin, crucified and risen from the dead and the founder of the religious organization to which I adhere.
My point is this, if you disagree with a guru, a philosopher, a cult leader or a politician you cannot claim to be his follower. Christians are those people who, like me, believe what Jesus the Christ has said. You cannot say “I am a devoted follower of the Great Teacher Mahatma Sri Baba Lu except in those areas about which we disagree. You’re a follower or you’re not a follower. You may be an admirer, an aficionado, a student of, but you are not a follower of the teacher with whom you disagree. If you think Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, mistaken on some fine points of doctrine and practice, you cannot at the same time call yourself a Christian. In this glorious republic and in all the world you are free to not be a Christian. You are free to think Jesus of Nazareth an interesting philosopher. You are free to leave any church you please and to join any other church, but it seems rather preposterous to claim membership in a church and then to disagree with one of its central tenets. Marriage is one of the few things enshrined as a sacrament among Catholics. There are only seven sacraments in the Roman Church. You accept 6, but not 7? Can you be 85.6% Catholic?
The first four passages of Scripture have never been translated to mean anything but a condemnation of same sex physical intimacy until this our enlightened age. We Catholics have always believed that the interpretation of Scripture is impossible without reference to the tradition handed down to us from the Sts. Peter and Paul through the ministry of the early Christian authors and the unbroken chain of interpretation that links us to Christ and the first Christians. Trust me. Arsenokoitai and Malakoi mean exactly what they seem to mean, and that is people who engage in same sex intimacy. If you want to believe something else because of your superior enlightenment or your own political or personal needs, fine. Just don’t claim to be part of that faith which has come down to us from the apostles.
I was rather taken with a statement that you made in your letter. “Anyone who has read about sexuality in ancient Greece or ancient Rome would be astonished at how vastly different their view of sexuality was from our own.” I did read a little bit about sexuality in ancient Greece and Rome in my long distant college days as I got my degree in Classical Greek and then teaching classical languages and history for 25 years at a local university, and I suppose I qualify as “anyone.” I am not astonished by how different our attitudes are from theirs. I am astonished at how similar they are. Fifty years ago, when we were still a Christian culture, the difference was much greater. There would be no ancient Roman or Greek who would think any of our current practices odd or intrinsically immoral, except perhaps, the Romans regarding romantic love. Romans were not very romantic.
Upper class Romans thought romantic love was always a big mistake. They may in fact have had a point, but I digress. The western world was not Roman at the time of Christ. It was Greek, just as the world is American now. Perhaps it will be Chinese soon, but for the time being it is baseball caps, Nike shoes and Chicago Bulls t-shirts that generally clothe the world. So it was at the time of Christ. Greek language, architecture, sports and culture were everywhere from Germany to Ethiopia, from Spain to India. Quite possibly, more people in Rome spoke Greek than Latin at the time of Christ. Greek culture was embraced by the three great cities of the ancient western world, Antioch, Alexandria and Rome. Greek sexual morality was everywhere and it could be summed up in a simple phrase that echoes throughout our modern and enlightened times. “Whatever turns you on!”
Actually it was friendlier to gender diversity than that. Many educated Greeks believed that male/male relations were superior to male/female relations because women had no souls and were the intellectual inferiors of men. It was surprising to the Greeks that Christians thought women the equal of men which is why St. Paul says to the women of Corinth “Put your veils back on, girls, the neighbors are getting the wrong idea.” 1Cor. 11:5 (I am paraphrasing a bit.) Romans actually disapproved of same sex unions between adults. If a noble Roman wanted to indulge in such behavior he usually moved to Athens. Romans however had no problem with pedophilia with either gender. The stoic ideal frowned on romantic love of any kind and man was always to be the dominant partner. Greeks, had no such problems.
The Holy Land and the rulers of ancient Palestine at the time of Christ were not oriental potentates as portrayed in most Bible movies. They were thoroughly Greek. The Holy Land was dotted with temples to goddesses and fertility cults replete with prostitute priestesses and transvestite priests who plied their trade as a form of religious worship. For example, take a certain cup, which depicts things I would rather not bring up here. (Suffice it to say no women are depicted on the aforementioned drinking vessel.) It was found about two miles west of Bethlehem and had been made in around 5 to 15 AD, just a few years after Jesus the Carpenter had been born just down the road. Those who think that the very narrow sexual morality demanded by our Jewish Carpenter God was taught in a world with different sexual mores than our own; have not studied the period very thoroughly. Ours is still a more restrictive sexual culture than the Greco-Roman culture. We still don’t approve of adult activity with minors. In the ancient world it was taken for granted. It was actually considered a necessity in classical Greek culture. How else was a boy to be educated in philosophy and the military arts?
I am not making a word of this up. If it repels or offends you, good! Because that is where we are headed if we climb back into the Greco-Roman sewer from which Christianity lifted us. The words “Whom does it hurt?” would slide quite easily form the lips of an ancient pagan, once he got over the shock that anyone would take issue with any sexual activity whatever. Paul invented a word for such activity, “arsenokoitai” because no such word existed in the ancient world. The ancients did not differentiate one form of sexual activity from another. It was all just fine. There was just “Luv” (I use the 1960's spelling for the word, to more accurately translate the Greek word Eros and the Latin word Amor.)
To be continued………….