Friday, April 27, 2007

Homosexuality & The Bible: The Truth, Part 5:
Paul's Letter to the Romans

To read earlier parts of this series, please click on the following links:

Homosexuality & The Bible: The Truth, Part 1:
Sodom & Gomorrah

Homosexuality & The Bible: The Truth, Part 2:
Levitical Law

Homosexuality & The Bible: The Truth, Part 3:
David & Jonathan

Homosexuality & The Bible: The Truth, Part 4:
The Words of Christ

Homosexuality & The Bible: The Truth, Part 5:
Paul's Letter to the Romans

So Paul... Paul, Paul, Paul... Probably the only man more worshipped by the "dead in Christ" than the son of the Big Cheese himself. He was quite a verbose person with an opinion on everything, least of all the issues in the young church back in the day. He appeared quite suddenly in the church's good graces after being one of the biggest Christ-bashers of his day after a "conversion" in which he fell off his ass, hit his head, and heard sky god speaking to him (Acts 9:1-9; remember that if someone claimed this had happened today, they'd be on Zoloft and in a rubber-suit so fast even sky god would be blind-sided...).

Yes, Paul "Concussions Saul" is quite a favorite among the fundies of today's day and age, mostly because he said all the things back then that most white males of fundism wish they could say today (the least of which telling women to be silent...)

But our little expose revolves around a singular passage that fundies oft-quote as "irrefutable evidence" that sky god doesn't like homosexuals (or wait: lest we forget, it's the act of homosexuality, right?). It reads as follows:

Romans 1:17 through 2:11: For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed [it] unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified [him] not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in [their] knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God.
First, there's the obvious conundrum--why are their gays who believe in god? Who worship god? If we follow the translation as read by fundamentalists and right-wingers which they claim to be literal (which in actuality is a metaphorical translation in English of the literal Greek which has been mistranslated into English, explained below), rejecting god leads you to being gay, which in turn leads to a whole host of other "sins." But there are plenty of homosexual persons who pray to the same god they do, believe in the same Jesus they do, go to the same churches and hold to the same doctrines they do. It creates a fallacy which can mean only two things:
  1. Fundamentalists are wrong in their interpretation of the passage, or
  2. Scripture is wrong
both of which lead to the conclusion that homosexuality in general is not a sin and does not lead one away from their god. Paul states quite clearly that only homosexuality in regards to the worship of a graven image leads one away from god and is not a result of having turned away from god.

Now keep in mind two things:
  1. Most fundies stop with chapter 1's verses, content that they have made their point, and
  2. ignore where Paul rebukes them for judging people in chapter two.
It's all a matter of hermeneutics (Bible interpretation) and an understanding of the Greek language in which Paul was writing. Being the "literal interpreters" of the Bible that fundamentalists are, they fail not only to take into account the translational issues from a very specific language to the more malleable English language, but cultural influences, contextual grammar, and linguistic subtleties.

Being that this passage if the main tour de force of the right-wing Christian argument against homosexuality, this only reinforces the need for a complete all-encompassing interpretation in regards to what Paul was actually trying to communicate to the Roman church, especially in light of the "Paul said, I believe it, that settles it" mentality that runs rampant in the United States religious arena.

One of the principal fundamentals of hermeneutics is this: Do not ground a theological belief on only one passage. And being that fundies themselves preach that people no longer live under the "law" of the old testament (despite their love for quoting levitical passages, most of the others of which they break) takes anything in the old testament out of the running for a total hermeneutically correct theological approach to the issue. And since even this passage isn't even regards to such (as shall be explained), and other new testament passages are "iffy" at best, to say that this is THE answer, and THE reason the church opposes homosexual behavior is ludicrous. One wouldn't say "snakes talk only to women in temptation" is a biblical truth based solely on the Genesis account, would they? Fundies won't even go so strong as to proclaim that women keep silent in church under all circumstances, even though Paul himself said as much quite clearly in a separate letter--and why? For those passages, they take into account cultural standing (despite the fact that women were quite active and vocal in the early church) and (in regards to the talking serpent) perhaps a bit of the allegorical phenomenon that early Jewish writers were fond of (although, I'm frightened to say, we may yet get a fundie or two on this site who will state unequivocally for the record that they do believe that Eve was real and had a conversation with a snake...). But, as stated, one passage (incorrectly interpreted) does not a theological stance make.

The second issue in regards to this passage comes in contextually in regards to Greek grammar: I'll try to break this down as simply as possible, but no guarantees, okay?

The overarching pattern in this chapter is the repeated use of two key phrases: "they exchanged" (kai/allasso; verses 23, 25, and 26) and "God gave them over" (paradidomi; verses 24, 26, and 28), which encompasses three parallel trains of thought in verses 23 through 28. The use of parallels was common practice in both the Jewish and Greek writings, which involved the repetition of key phrases and thoughts in an attempt to get across the importance that lies within them. Paul, a product of these cultures, used this "parallelism" quite a bit in his letters, and in this case, he is trying to emphasize the tremendous weight that the sin of idolatry has in Paul's interpretation in the mind of god (two of the top ten in the almighty "ten commandments"...)

This parallelism can be seen as such:

And changed (allasso) the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up (paradidomi) to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed (kai/allasso) the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

For this cause God gave them up (paradidomi) unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving (kai/allasso) the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in [their] knowledge, God gave them over (paradidomi) to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
Paul actually begins to set this up in verses 18 through 20, in which he speaks about how the Greeks do know god through his creation alone, so that therefore they are "without excuse" in not knowing about god (yeah, it's that simplistic "It's all about me" approach god is fond of...). But since the Greeks have decided to ignore him (and here, Paul is referring to all non-Jewish persons, not just the Greek folk...) and tried to, in Paul's view of things, to understand the world "apart from god," god let them go and revert to "unnatural states" (an oxymoron). The basic premise being this: The sequence of events that happen if you don't worship god simply for who he is, you end up being a very bad person, whose major character flaws will consist of anything as listed near the end of chapter one. And even though Paul had yet to make this list of "character flaws" public (as the printing press hadn't been invented yet), apparently they were supposed to somehow "know" these laws and abide by them (having "known" god by his creation alone), and know that in their engagement and approval of these behaviors, they would die...

Paul apparently thought the Greeks were mind-readers.

The passages of both verses 23-24 and 25-26 are inextricably bound by the Greek words kai/allasso and paradidomi, which very clearly describe idol worship in Greek religions, specifically graven images. But the main message Paul is trying to get across is about Gentiles who stopped worshipping god, and who "exchanged" (kai/allasso) the worship of God for the worship of idols. Of course, though one could surmise that anything that takes up time that could be "better spent" in a house of worship is indeed an "idol" in the lives of people (work, television, kickball practice...), Paul's language is clearly in regards to graven images ("changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things"...), "other gods" that were prevalent in the Greek culture.

(Yeah, I've looked over this many times now and can't think of a way to make it any clearer...)

You will, however, note a change from the first two uses of the Greek words to the third usage: when Paul switches the parallelism from clear idolatry to a more sexually-natured type of idolatry (so it seems). The difficulty in how these relate comes from a more cultural standpoint and less of a universal understanding of what idolatry is; in essence, Paul was making a very direct connection from the overall idolatry across all cultures to specifically the idolatrous practices of the Greek religions to drive home his point to the Romans about idolatry. If you allow metaphorical derivatives from verses 23 to 25 (in that idolatry can be anything that keeps you from worship of god), then one would easily surmise that homosexuality is indeed the ultimate in idolatry, the ultimate in turning your back on god, and therefore concrete proof of the "sin" nature of homosexuality (of course, then, denying the very "literalness" with which fundies claim to hold the bible to...) This is a complete reversal from the intent which Paul established earlier when speaking in concrete terms of graven image idolatry as stated in "changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things." This is a very specific type of idolatry to which Paul refers, and to allow the metaphorical interpretation to insert itself at this point does a grave disservice to Paul's intent. But when placed within the context, we find that the continuity is preserved when these specific homosexual acts are viewed culturally as the temple worship practice of the Greek culture that it was. Homosexual prostitution was a religious action in certain "graven images," most notably the Cybelean cult, the most prominent cult in Rome at the time (not counting, of course, the rise in popularity of the Christian cult). It had been around for hundreds of years by this time, and the priests and priestesses (the galli) were constantly trying to achieve gender neutrality in order to be more like their goddess:

Cybele's religion was a bloody cult that required its priests and priestesses as well as followers to cut themselves during some rituals. The priests castrated themselves at their initiation; there was wild music, chanting, and frenzied dancing. During the Republic and early Empire, festival days were celebrated with eunuchs preceding the goddess through the streets, banging cymbals and drums, wearing bright attire and heavy jewelry, their hair long and 'greased'. (Source.)
The early Christians were determined to destroy the cult and St Augustine condemns Her as a "demon" and a "monster" and the Gallae were "madmen" and "castrated perverts" (hardly an unbiased opinion). In the 4th century CE Valentinian II officially banned the worship of Cybele, and many of her followers perished at the hands of zealous Christians.

Justinian continued the persecution of the cult and the Gallae. Under his reign, transgendered persons, and those indulging in same sex eroticism had their property confiscated, sacred texts burned, temples raised; they were tortured, forced to commit suicide, or burned alive.

By the start of the 6th century CE, the Cult and the ancient Gallae were extinct. Elements of the cult were transferred into Christianity in a manner similar to that of Isis. There is a much of Cybele and Isis in the Virgin Mary. Source.)
Paul himself would have been very aware of this religion, as stated earlier, it had been around for centuries, having spread from parts of Asia to become a mainstream part of the vast Roman empire. And, as he was speaking specifically to a church which was in the heart of an empire which had a great many followers of these "graven images" of Cybele, he would have been very aware of what practices were part of this idol worship. And, as established, he was speaking very specifically about graven image worship (of which homosexual worship acts were a very large part of), not homosexuality (the act of which is not a graven image by definition).

Now a point could be made in light of the fact that Paul goes on to list a whole host of sins, and that this last reference (in the parallelism) to homosexuality is just the beginning of this list, and therefore is just further proof for them that homosexuality in the most general of terms (as opposed to the specific conditions which Paul set forth) is indeed a sin, and therefore condemned as such (and again, taking into account how basically wrong this is on the premise of biblical interpretation alone), it must be again pointed out that linguistically, this is not a case of "homosexuality is a sin is a sin is a sin." Looking at a certain phrase embedded in the text, it separates the three points made above to the list of sins that follows, that phrase being kai kathos. It is located in verse 28, and quite simply, it makes the bridge from saying "Because of this above," to "this is what happens now." In other words, because of this idol practice (which happens to involve this homosexual idol practice), this (list of sins) is what can/will happen to those whom god has left go. Not "homosexuality is chief among them and here's a few more just for good measure." It is quite clear from this hard look at the original Greek that Paul is simply referencing idol worship and not the act of homosexuality as a separate entity unto itself.

So, rewritten a little more clearly, Paul states three times that idolatry separates you from god, even though he's all around you and you have no excuse. Therefore, because of your idolatry, here's what happens when god gives up on you. Note that the homosexuality is part of the idolatry, not a part of what will happen after god leaves you to your idolatry (a very important distinction given how it is commonly referred to in fundie circles as an effect of having given up god and not a cause of worshipping someone other than god). To restate, it was not the homosexuality which caused god to "give them over," but their rejecting a belief in god which caused him to give them over. The homosexual activity was a part of the process of them rejecting belief in god, just as making and worshipping idols was a part of the process in verses 23 to 26.

Which brings us to the list of sins. And only one word in the list is used to again try to bolster the claim that "homosexuality" is a sin, that word being porneia, typically translated as "fornication" in KJV bibles; as more and more fundies have rewritten and retranslated the bible, it has been written as "homosexuality," which does a disservice to the overarching meaning of this word in Greek, which is to say this: it means any type of sexual act deemed "unclean" in the eyes of the old testament law, not just one specific sexual orientation-type of sexual abnormalcy. In fact, in Strong's concordance, this is the list of definitions for porneia: 1. illicit sexual intercourse (a) adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals etc. (b) sexual intercourse with close relatives; Lev. 18 (c) sexual intercourse with a divorced man or woman; Mk. 10:11,12 2. metaph. the worship of idols (a) of the defilement of idolatry, as incurred by eating the sacrifices offered to idols Note that it includes sex with a divorcee (how many right-wing Christians just became "depraved" persons who don't worship god? After all, this is a list of things that happen to people who engage in idol worship, not a list of things homosexuals do...).

Lastly, however, there is the beginning of chapter 2. Please remember that Paul himself did not separate his words and letters into tidy chapters and verses. He wrote a letter the same way you or I do--as sentences and paragraphs. It was the church, in an effort to make translating easier (wouldn't an "inerrant" word have come with these in place?) and making locating certain passages easier (mostly for ripping them out of context and misusing them) added them in, breaking them up "logically." Note that after Paul states the list of "sins" and "character flaws" of persons who don't believe in god, he says to the Roman church:

Rom 2:1-4: Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
"Who are you to judge those people? You are guilty of the same things!" cries Paul (meaning the list of sins of those who have turned away from god). "You will be judged by the same god who will judge them for what they do!" he reiterates.

This passage is the most damning of all to those who cite this passage as a judgment against homosexuality, no matter how wrong or right they may be in their interpretation of such. To read the same passage in the NIV:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?
I'm reminded of when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees:

Mat 23:15: Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
Fundies mostly miss this, though. In fact, a lot of persons engage in judging something as "wrong" or "bad" through a non-understanding of the reality all the time! If you will recall, there were days in our history when mental retardation, red-heads, left-handed individuals--all of them were branded evil, of the devil, or demon-possessed. Colored people were seen as property, women were inferior, and anyone else was a pagan who should be put to death, if not converted first and then put to death.

One wonders how homosexuality will be viewed by the church after a few more hundred years have passed...
Being as it took forever for me to get around to finishing up this part, it may be another fair bit of time before I get around to Part 6. But I'm sure this as well as other topics of conversation will have you guys with plenty of reading for months.

8 comments:

Darkmind said...

Yes, one of the false logic problems that plague biblical interpretation...if all of A equals B, then all of B equals A. In this case the idea is all sinners are homosexual, therefore all homosexuals are sinners. That's false logic. For example, all salmon are fish, therefore all fish are salmon. The false reasoning is obvious when you switch around the subjects. They think that because a particular group of sinners did something, that makes it a sin. You know, the sinners in question also breathed, ate food, and blinked thier eyes several times a day. I suppose they'll just let those sins slide, though! BTW, if you did a few more of these, you'd have a decent sized book on your hands. THINK ABOUT IT...

Anonymous said...

you can't handle the truth!

Jason Hughes said...

Darkmind: Why thanks! We'll see how the rest of the series goes, then perhaps I'll do some clean-up and revisioning, and we'll maybe see where it goes...

Anonymous: Way to preach it, moron.

penguin said...

GREAT reading! I have had a great deal more respect for the bible after taking a course on religions 7 or so years ago. The professor had studied ancient Greek and Hebrew (as well as Japanese and Chinese). It was fascinating to hear about the impossibilities of translating a language like Hebrew (where one word has multiple meanings and ALL of the meanings are embodied) into Greek (where each word has a very distict meaning). It was interesting, in part, because it made the bible more believable. Funny how that is-the orginal text making more sense than the translation.

Anyway, it was wonderful to read. Honestly, I have never met any Christians who know the bible well enough to make the arguments you bring up. They generally know where the parts are, but I have seen no evidence that they have interpreted (or even read them) for themselves.

People who are afraid rarely logically justify their feelings/behaviors, I have found. Fears, to a certain extent, are of the unknown, and how can you really argue for or against something you don't know or understand? And not knowing or understanding it, how can you make any kind of reasonable argument? I don't know anything about programming with Java. Like, absolutely NOTHING. I don't even know a single command. Now, how smart am I going to sound offering opinions about whether or not people should use it?

In the end, I must confess, I am a conservative: I generally want the government, and other people, to leave me the fuck alone unless I am doing something to harm others. I still believe in the freedom to express any idea or belief and I don't believe any body (personal or governmental) should get in the way of that unless it is posing a real threat to another.

Good luck convincing frightened, threatened idiots to not lash out at others... using logic, reason, historical fact, verifiable evidence, and compassion no less. I mean that both literally and sarcastically.

Jason Hughes said...

Thanks, penguin! It's always nice to know that when you take the time to write these things out, people are willing to read them instead of simply reacting to the premise...

Incidentally, I now can't stop quoting lines form Happy Feet... LOL! Welcome to the blog!

mevans said...

Jason--thank you so much for your intense research on this subject...keep up the good work! I guess I just wanted to encourage you for part 6...keep on truckin'!

Jason Hughes said...

Thanks, penguin! It's always nice to know that when you take the time to write these things out, people are willing to read them instead of simply reacting to the premise...

Incidentally, I now can't stop quoting lines form Happy Feet... LOL! Welcome to the blog!

mevans said...

Jason--thank you so much for your intense research on this subject...keep up the good work! I guess I just wanted to encourage you for part 6...keep on truckin'!