Today is Friday, December 20, 2013.
I’m going to update this particular blog to include the controversy over Phil Robertson’s comments on the sinful nature of gay sex. It has created such a tempest in teapot across the country, I suppose because he’s a reality TV star on A&E. He didn’t say anything I haven’t heard Christian hetero men say before. I wasn’t outraged and I wasn’t shocked. In spite of his claim to ‘logic’ in his statement, nothing he said was really logical at all. He showed his ignorance on two fronts: scripture and gay sex. In the first place, I will try to prove that according to Jesus there may not be any spiritual issue around any sexuality as long as it’s oriented towards relationship or celibacy. And as for gay sex equating to anal sex, I guess Phil doesn’t know that straight couples also do this? Anal sex isn’t exclusive to gay men. So, why is Phil’s imagination running away with him? Why do so many homophobic straight men always think of specific sexual behaviors that they themselves do with their women, but they associate their own behavior with love and affection, unlike their view of gay sex. Apparently, they think two men can not fall in love and express their love and affection in the very same way as a hetero couple. But I can forgive him on those two counts without it bothering my conscience. Ignorance can only be healed by education. Rather than suspending him from his job, I’d make him go on a hunting retreat with very masculine, handsome gay men who like to hunt, and see if a little sensitivity training and male bonding might not help. His statement, however, parallels the judgmental attitudes of many Christians, Jews and Muslims, and certainly echoes the homophobic laws recently passed in Russia.
I have been watching the drama in Russia concerning the LBGT community and the new law banning so-called ‘homosexual propaganda’. I have become facebook friends with Nikolai Alekseev, the founder of MoscowPride, and one of the leading LBGT activists in Russia. After seeing what he is attempting to do in his activism and the government reactions, after reading the new Russian law and also listening to Russian politicians try to rationalize their support for it, I’ve concluded there are two basic reasons for the Russian attitude towards homosexuality–1. There’s still a belief in the Freudian view that there’s something called ‘latent homosexuality’ in all people, and it only takes a little propaganda and recruitment to lead children to ‘the dark side.’ So, banning any visible signs, symbols or conversation about homosexuality should keep what’s latent latent, and children will grow up heterosexual. Here in the West, we’ve been subject to studies on sexuality from the late 40s to the present, and the general consensus is that there’s a spectrum of sexualities from completely gay to completely straight, and Freudian ‘latency’ is pretty much bunk.
And the other, second issue is religion, i.e. Christianity and Islam. I don’t have enough historical or theological background to tackle the Quran, so I decided to investigate the New Testament to find out what Christ said about the subject of love and sexuality. I was completely surprised to find that the Book of Matthew has Christ’s teaching on the subject!
But before I could really be sure I was reading things correctly, I had to examine multiple versions/translations and, boy, there is quite a difference from one to the other! I, therefore, decided to find a Vulgar Latin version to read something maybe a little closer to the original text. Then I looked at the German Luther version to read something not in English. All together, I examined 18 different translations of Matthew and discovered in Matthew 19 Christ’s view of male/female relationships, marriage, divorce and men who don’t associate with women. Oh, yes, indeed, He mentions the subject!!
The chapter starts out with Christ teaching the disciples about his view of marriage. They ask him about the issue of divorce, since they had heard He was against it. He said he was against it, in spite of Moses’ acceptance of it. He maintained that Moses only allowed divorce since men were so unteachable and emotionally unintelligent, there was nothing else he could do. But, in reality, it was never really meant to be, and in the new age He was going to ban divorce. The following are two translations of the conversation that followed and my analysis/commentary on them:
Vulgar Latin Matthew 19:10-12
10- dicunt ei discipuli eius si ita est causa homini cum uxore non expedit nubere 11- qui dixit non omnes capiunt verbum istud sed quibus datum est 12-sunt enim eunuchi qui de matris utero sic nati sunt et sunt eunuchi qui facti sunt ab hominibus et sunt eunuchi qui se ipsos castraverunt propter regnum caelorum qui potest capere capiat
10-And then the disciples said to Him, “If that’s the situation between a man and woman, then it isn’t expedient (good, practical, appropriate) to marry. 11-He said to them in response, “Not just anyone can grasp (understand) this proverb (idea, teaching), but rather only those to whom were given the capacity to [be with women will understand it]. 12-That is to say, some men were born from the womb eunuchs, some become eunuchs because of other people, and some cut themselves off [from women] for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever has the ability to understand this, understands it.
The first thing that occurs to me is the use of the verb ‘dare’ in the perfect passive ‘datum’, which literally means ‘to give’ and ‘has been given’, but also means ‘surrender; give over to’ or ‘attribute or ascribe to’. In this context, it seems to be saying that the teachings about marriage and divorce are attributed to, ascribed to or meant only for men who are oriented to women and marry them. If a man is meant to be with women, then this teaching about divorce is meant for him.
However, Christ leaves open the possibility that not all men are destined or meant to be with women when he talks about ‘eunuchs’. Clearly, the word ‘eunuch’ is used here metaphorically. The Christ does not appear to be referring literally to men who have been castrated, because in the third example in verse 12, He doesn’t use the word ‘eunuch’. In the Latin, it’s expressed in a passive reflexive verb form (se ipsos castrav.erunt): “are cut off by themselves”, i.e., for their own reasons, and specifically for spiritual purposes (for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven). This suggests the word ‘eunuch’, as used in the first two examples, is a metaphor for men who do not relate sexually to women. In researching castration in 1st century CE Roman culture, I found that there were two meanings for eunuch: one that described a man’s sexual behavior as celibate or not active with women, and one that described a man who had been castrated. That carried over into early Christian culture and continued well into late antiquity among Byzantine Christians who also used the term in those two ways. So, we can safely say this Matthew 19:12 reference indicates celibacy or a non-sexual orientation to women.
In looking further into various translations of these verses, the German Luther Bible stays very close to the above Latin version—in fact, much closer in meaning than many early modern or modern English translations.
Luther German Matthew 19:10-12
10- Da sprachen die Jünger zu ihm: Steht die Sache eines Mannes mit seinem Weibe also, so ist’s nicht gut, ehelich werden. 11- Er sprach zu ihnen: Das Wort faßt nicht jedermann, sondern denen es gegeben ist. 12- Denn es sind etliche verschnitten, die sind aus Mutterleibe also geboren; und sind etliche verschnitten, die von Menschen verschnitten sind; und sind etliche verschnitten, die sich selbst verschnitten haben um des Himmelreiches willen. Wer es fassen kann, der fasse es!
10-And then the disciples spoke to him: if such is the situation of a man with his woman, it is therefore not good to become married. 11-He spoke to them: Not just anyone grasps the concept, but rather only those to whom it has been given. 12- For there are some cut-off [from women], who were born that way from the womb; and there are some cut-off, who were cut-off because of people; and some are cut-off, who have cut themselves off, for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept [what I’m saying], should accept it.
Luther takes the Latin verb ‘datum’ (literally meaning ‘have been given’) and translates it directly with the German ‘gegeben ist’, meaning here something like ‘to whom it has been granted.’ This seems to be echoing quite directly what is intended in the original Vulgar Latin, that is, the teaching is meant for those men who relate to women and want to marry.
As for those for whom the teaching is not meant, Luther doesn’t use the word ‘eunuch’ at all in his translation. He uses instead the verb ‘verschnitten’, meaning to have been ‘cut off or cut away’, a direct translation of the Latin ‘castrav erunt’ used in the 3rd example in verse 12. Luther seems to be translating verses 10-12 to mean ‘removed from or cut off from’ relating sexually to women, because the word ‘Eunuch’ as well as the verb ‘kastrieren’, to castrate, existed in 16th century German. If he meant literally a castrated man, one would assume he would have used ‘Eunuch’ or ‘kastriert’.
I looked at over a dozen English translations of Matthew 19:10-12 including the following versions: King James, Wycliffe, American Standard, Revised Standard, New Revised Standard, New Century, Good News, Complete Jewish, Hebrew Names, Common English, English Standard, Bible in Basic English, Tyndale, Weymouth, New International and God’s Word. It is rather astonishing to me the variety of meanings given in these various translations. Some actually translate the verses to mean ‘castrated men’, which in the context of the teaching, makes no sense. Some just say celibate or renounce marriage. One version suggested that Christ said in the first example in verse 12 that some men were born without desire for sex, but then translated the second example as ‘castrated’ and the third as ‘renouncing marriage’. In the end, I studied the Latin and Luther’s German versions, reviewed all of the above versions and came up with my own translation that I believe clarifies the teaching:
10-And then the disciples said to Him, “If you require this kind of relationship between a man and a woman, then perhaps it’s best not to be married to a woman at all.” 11-He said to them in response, “Not everyone can understand this, but If you are oriented to be with a woman, then this teaching is meant for you. 12- That is to say, some men are born not to be sexual with women, some men are socially conditioned not to be sexual with women, and some men cut themselves off from relating sexually to women for their own reasons, for example, for spiritual reasons. If you have an open mind about this, you should be able to understand what I’m saying.”
Christ seems to be telling his disciples there is an orientation to be or not to be with women. You can’t just decide that you are or aren’t going to be with a woman because you won’t be able to divorce her. You have the choice if you’re choosing celibacy for spiritual reasons, but otherwise He seems to be saying, you follow your nature and accept the responsibility. What I find fascinating in these verses is the subtle but clear message that a man’s sexuality is not a spiritual issue, but if he’s oriented towards women, then he’s obligated to get married and remain committed to her and the relationship to protect her from potential abuse and harm from society. It becomes a spiritual problem for the man if he divorces her for selfish reasons, leaving his wife to suffer the social consequences. Based on verses 1-9, it’s obvious that Christ is trying to protect unmarried and/or abandoned women from being socially ostracized and abused, suggesting that it’s the man’s fault if anything happens to her once abandoned and on her own. However, Christ makes it abundantly clear that not all men are meant to be with women and that is not, apparently, a spiritual issue. It’s a matter of your genetics (birth), or it can be a matter of learned, conditioned behavior, or it can be a choice. It’s not important. What IS important is how a married man treats a woman and how committed he is to the marriage.
In Matthew 5, Christ also says that He fulfills the old Law, and that, as the Son of Man, he is the new archetypal man for the new age. He is the new model for a new spiritual culture and tradition. Then to back that up, in Matthew 15, He says we no longer have to adhere to Levitican Law to be ritualistically clean, for it is what’s in the heart and what comes out of your mouth that makes you ritually clean or unclean. It’s not the food that goes into your mouth or washing your hands that determines your level of cleanliness for worship, but rather the words, thoughts and ideas that come from the heart and come out of your mouth. He also criticizes people for being rigid about following Levitican rules and not His ideas. Christ lays it out clearly in reference to this in Matthew 11, that even those communities previously destroyed by their own sin, for example, Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, will be forgiven before those who stick irrationally to old dogmas and don’t follow his new teachings. That’s a pretty shocking claim. Superficially, this often becomes interpreted as simply the punishment for turning away from Christ. However, there’s something deeper in the message. This is specifically about being dogmatic about Leviticus and the Old Testament rules for worship, and not just a general admonition for not following His teachings.
The way I read it, the core message of Christ’s teachings has to become central to spiritual practice and we can now abandon the old ritualistic requirements for worship. The new standards still include some of Mosaic Law, for example, the Ten Commandments, but beyond that the only thing we need to pay attention to are the teachings of Christ, whose central message is ‘love’. In Matthew 5: 44-47, “ 44- But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45- so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil. 46- Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the tax collectors do that! 47- And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that!” (Good News translation)
So, it’s clear to me that all of the listed abominations in Leviticus are no longer spiritual issues for Christians. Christ did not adhere to those rules and clarified why. The only specifically worded rule against same-sex behavior, other than Paul’s admonition of ritualistic same-sex behaviors at the altar, pedophilia and random acts of lust, is in Leviticus, and it seems Christ didn’t have much use for those rules. That being the case, and considering Christ’s teachings on male sexuality and marriage, where is the problem with same-sex relationships when they are based on commitment and love? It is obviously a problem within Christianity for heterosexuals as well as homosexuals to give oneself over to sexual lust without an emotional relationship and some level of commitment between the two people. OK, I can accept the premise that it’s a ‘sin’ to have sexual relations without the benefit of an agreed upon commitment between the consenting adults. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but I can accept the premise. But there is nothing in the New Testament and nothing in the teachings of Christ that would prohibit two adults of the same gender to commit to each other in a loving, long-term sexual relationship, for example, a marriage. In Paul’s letters, he talks about the sin of pedophilia or the sin of ritualistic sex at the church altar, or giving yourself over to lust randomly with someone of the same sex. But even Paul doesn’t say anything about a committed adult same-sex relationship.
So, where is this rigid, dogmatic fundamentalist anti-gay sentiment coming from within Christianity? Why are so many Christians not reading and following Christ’s actual teachings regarding such an attitude and such treatment of others, when the Good Book lays it all out quite clearly that such attitudes and treatment of others is, in Christ’s view, sinful? Certainly, there can be no confusion over the definition of marriage, since the only time Christ really focuses on marriage is when He says heterosexual men should be married to women and once they are, they must remain so for life. He does describe what the relationship should be like, but he doesn’t really define marriage at all.
My conclusion is that based on Christ’s actual words, a person’s sexuality is not a spiritual issue. It’s what one DOES with that sexuality that is or isn’t ‘sin’. Within a Christian context, a heterosexual shouldn’t be promiscuous, nor should a homosexual. A heterosexual should develop a durable, committed, loving relationship. A homosexual should theoretically do the same. It’s fascinating that in Christ’s teachings on love and marriage, He never once suggested that marriage’s primary purpose is procreation. His overriding concern was protecting women from societal abuse because of being unmarried or divorced. I can only assume, our contemporary social problem accepting homosexuality as just another sexual orientation, and that same-sex marriage is somehow un-Christian, is a cultural tradition rooted in a long-standing homophobia and bigotry from the early Middle Ages, and it’s not specifically related to the teachings of Christ in the New Testament at all.
Afterword: Referring again to the situation in Russia, they seem to be stuck in Old Testament thinking, on the one hand, and Freudian psychoanalytic theory on the other. In the final analysis, they are delusional and ill-informed. They are behaving in exactly the way Christ says they should not, and they believe in a psychological theory that has long been abandoned in the West. This is also the case in the West among those fundamentalists who preach against homosexuality, marriage equality, adoption rights, etc., and equate homosexuality automatically with pedophilia. The majority of Russians and ‘our own’ fundamentalists are cut from the same cloth and neither is correct. They are guilty of cherry-picking from the list of abominations in Leviticus and irrationally adhering to them as ‘law’, although Christ taught very exactly not to do that in the Book of Matthew, and warned that doing so would make it more difficult than even the sinners of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom to receive forgiveness from God. These people who quote from Matthew 19 to define marriage as described by Christ are not reading the whole set of verses 1-12 that outline Christ’s views on the subject. Just as in the West with our homophobic fundamentalist Christians, the majority of Russians are morally and ethically wrong in the stand against homosexuals and their equality in society. What they’ve done with the law against ‘homosexual propaganda’ is a serious violation of human and civil rights.
Returning to the topic of Phil Robertson’s comments regarding the sinful nature of gay sex and his strange delusion that only gay men have anal sex–or at least that’s what I thought he was saying–I believe there’s an argument against the whole idea of heterosexuality being the only ‘moral’ sexuality and anything else is sinful, and that argument comes straight from the New Testament, as I hope I’ve demonstrated here. The Biblical reality is there is no prohibition of gay relationships, and by extension, gay sex, beyond criminal behavior like rape, immoral relations based on fleeting lust (I assume that’s like one-night stands, bath house or glory hole sex), and ritualistic sex at the altar. Those prohibitions are no different for heterosexuals. It also seems clear to me that Jesus had a sense of sexual orientation in his instruction to the disciples on marriage, divorce and for whom his message was meant.
Christians almost exclusively draw from the Old Testament, e.g., Sodom and Gomorrah and Leviticus, to support their argument that homosexuality, as a sexual orientation to the world, is sin. But in Leviticus it’s called an abomination–an act that makes you unfit for worship in the temple–something quite different than sin. They often bring up Paul’s letters as well, but Paul never says a word about committed, loving same-sex relationships–he was exclusively concerned with pedophilia, uncontrolled lust, and ritualistic sex. And other than the ‘eunuch’ references, Christ doesn’t bring up the subject at all. So Phil Robertson either hasn’t really studied his Bible, or he’s allowed himself to be duped by other ignorant preachers. They read and study the Bible, but not objectively. Rather they have their opinions and formed assumptions about homosexuality then find language in the scriptures that supports those assumptions.
This is rather unfortunate for everyone, but here Phil Robertson became a victim of his own assumptions and prejudice that he rationalizes as ‘freedom of religion’ and ‘freedom of speech’. Indeed, he has those freedoms in our society, but he was still wrong in saying what he did. He believes he knows what he’s talking about, but not being gay and not being a biblical scholar puts him in this awkward position. Spreading denigrating remarks about an entire category of people, even if you wrap it up in free speech and tie it with the bow of religious belief, will result in a swift and certain wide-spread criticism and indignation.