Saturday, October 23, 2004

Giving Kristof the kiss-off

Mr. Kristof,

Your article on "God & Sex" calls for quite a number of comments. You begin with a leading question: "So when God made homosexuals who fall deeply, achingly in love with each other, did he goof?"

How does this fit into your general argument? Are you using this as a reason to support same-sex marriage? If so, how does it follow?

To begin with, what’s the connection between homosexual boyfriends and marriage? If it’s all about falling in love, then if they fall out of love, that will end the relationship. Ditto: lesbians.

So marriage would be a ball-and-chain to following their heart's desire--if "heart" is the operative organ in question. And, indeed, most homosexuals have open relationships with a variety of promiscuous or serial love-affairs or one-night stands.

Why cling to the hoary convention of marriage? Doesn’t that represent a throwback to those old Victorian hang-ups over sexual liberation? Surely your average catamite is more emancipated than that!

Your question also tries to set up a dilemma: How can Christians condemn homosexuals if God made homosexuals without condemning God in the process?

This bit of sophistry may trip up the unwary, but it’s a false dilemma. Why does a playwright invent the character of the villain or fall-guy? To serve as a dramatic foil or catalyst. Likewise, God raises up evil men like Pharaoh, Herod, Nero, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Caiaphas, Pilate, and others, to serve as so many pieces on his chessboard. They further his overarching designs.

Incidentally, your example conjures up the image of consenting adults. But to judge by the Catholic sex scandal, isn’t the pattern more commonly an older man and an underage boy?

Indeed, this isn’t limited to the Catholic sex scandal. There’s the Platonic school of pedophilia, as well as the cult of pederasty among the Pashtun of Afghanistan--not to mention NAMBLA. Examples, past and present, could easily be multiplied.

You then inform the reader that you’ve been researching the Biblical view of sodomy for the past couple of months. I’m always impressed by the infallible correspondence between your leftwing politics and your leftwing scholarship. It’s almost enough to make me suspect that something above the law of averages must account for so striking a coincidence.

Continuing with the opening moves, you say you "think it’s presumptuous of conservatives to assume that God is on their side."

Speaking for myself, I think it’s more presumptuous to assume that conservatives assume that God is on their side. In apologetics generally, as well as sexual ethics in particular, conservatives do not assume, they argue. They make a reasoned case for their position.

Of course, if your research were ever to stumble upon the opposing side of the argument, you would know this.

Incidentally, why do you bring up evolution in the context of same-sex marriage? What is the evolutionary rationale for homosexual rights? Does it confer a survival advantage on the species? Seems more like a survival disadvantage, wouldn’t you say? Homosexual "unions" don’t make babies, but they do make STDs.

Okay, this is all a warming-up exercise before you get to the point. You accuse Christians of cherry-picking their favorite verses when it comes to the Bible and sex.

And, suppose, for the sake of argument, that your allegation were true. What does that prove? If Christians are inconsistent, then what should they do about it? Inconsistency is a two-way street. You can relieve the inconsistency in a more liberal direction or a more conservative direction. You can deny the Bible outright or you can affirm the Bible throughout.

Parroting one of the popular strategies of the queer lobby, you say that the story of Sodom is about hospitality rather than homosexuality.

Now, even before we get into the details, this is, on the face of it, a false antithesis. Hospitality, or the lack thereof, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You can only be inhospitable by doing or not doing something in particular. What concrete form does hospitality or its opposite take?

Suppose we were to say that Hansel & Gretel is about hospitality rather than cannibalism. Well, if you push it into a high enough orbit of abstraction, that is true. But I daresay most readers would feel that cooking little children alive is not the most hospitable way to treat a houseguest. If, for example, Nicholas Kristof woke up in a hot oven, smothered in blueberries and pie-dough, I rather doubt that he would be as patient of these fine Scholastic distinctions.

In fact, yet another strategy of the queer lobby is to admit that the story of Sodom is about homosexuality, but to draw the distinction, not between hospitality and homosexuality, but between consensual sodomy and homosexual gang-rape. Indeed, I know of no standard commentary on Genesis, be it liberal, moderate, or conservative, which interprets the episode as Platonic. Just consult Aalders, Baldwin, Brueggemann, Cassuto, Currid, Hamilton, Hartley, Kidner, Ross, Sailhammer, Sarna, Skinner, Speiser, Waltke, Wenham, Westermann.

You then introduce in Ezk 16:49-50 to bolster your case. But, among other things, the prophet condemns the citizens of Sodom for committing an "abomination." This is, of course, the very same word used to characterize sodomy in Lev 18:22 & 22:13. Now no Jew, conversant with Gen 19--which is about sodomy (even if you limit it to gang-rape)--as well as the Holiness Code--on the subject of sodomy--could miss the implication. Ezekiel is condemning the Sodomites in the very terms of the Holiness Code. The sin in question is the sin of sodomy.

What is more, rape and sodomy are separate sins in the Mosaic Law (Deut 22:25-27). Homosexual gang-rape would be an aggravated sin, a combination and intensification of two distinct sins.

Indeed, sins exert a mutual attraction. One sin draws another sin into its gravity well.

You claim that the classification of this sin is a theological innovation--dating to AD 11C. Actually, this interpretation can be documented in Philo, Josephus, and the OT Pseudepigrapha (e.g., Jubilees; Testament of Naphtali).

You then bring up the matter of Lot’s daughters. But this calls for a number of comments:

i) At most, Lot is placing the code of hospitality above the well-being of his own daughters. This doesn’t reflect Biblical ethics, but it does reflect the social mores of the time.

A Bronze Age Israelite would read this action at two levels. On the one hand, it is consistent with the honor-code of the ANE. On the other hand, it is inconsistent with the Mosaic code.

From the standpoint of a Bronze Age pagan, there is nothing morally shocking, either in the conduct of Lot or the conduct of the Sodomites.

Liberals like you can only take offense at this passage because you have been conditioned by the very value-system of Scripture which you now spurn and scorn.

It is easy for a modern-day reader to condemn Lot for the company he kept. And he is not above criticism by any means. But we must remember that in the Bronze Age, every city was a pagan city. Every city was a cesspool of pagan idolatry and immorality (e.g., Judg 19).

That is why God called Abraham out of Ur. That is why Abraham lived in tents.

ii) Lot may also be bluffing the Sodomites. His daughters were not merely virginal, but betrothed (19:14). So he is daring the mob to violate women who were engaged to two of their own citizens. Would their fiancées go along with that? This is a pressure tactic.

iii) You also miss the moral irony and symmetry of the narrative. In the beginning, Lot offers up his daughters to be gang-raped. In the end, Lot is gang-raped by his daughters (19:30-38). Poetic justice.

You then belittle the Mosaic ban on sodomy by linking it with other items in the Holiness Code, such as the dress code (Lev 19:19). You do the same thing with St. Paul (1 Cor 11). This is a popular tactic, but in several respects misguided:

i) You end your message on the "central message of love," but neighbor-love goes back to the Holiness Code (Lev 19:18), which you demean.

ii) In trivializing the dress code, you betray a shallow grasp of sociology. Fashion is all about making a statement, sending a message. People dress in a certain way to broadcast their social class, or their social alienation, or their occupation. They dress in a certain way to flaunt their sexuality, or muffle their sexuality, or blur their sexuality, or reverse their sexuality.

Dress codes can tell us quite a lot about cultural values. To be sure, some fashion statements are purely conventional. But others are more value-laden. One must judge on a case-by-case basis. Headgear is culture-bound, but hair is a cultural universal. Paul offers a number of reasons for his positions--some customary, others natural.

Incidentally, many women do look more winsome with long flowing hair. Why do you think Botticelli is so popular?

You say that 1 Samuel "can" be read to present David and Jonathan as boyfriends. Based on what? We need to keep several things in mind when we read this account:

i) Mediterranean men, as well as women, are very demonstrative. Have you never noticed this? You seem pretty provincial for a New Yorker.

ii) David and Jonathan were comrades-in-arms. This is where we get the word camaraderie. A military culture is characterized by machismo and male-bonding. This has nothing to do with sodomy. To the contrary, macho men are classic womanizers. The French Foreign Legion had its own traveling harem to service the men.

iii) You are ignorant of idiomatic usage, such as the political import of "love" (Heb.=aheb) in covenantal settings (e.g., 1 Kg 5:1).

You say that "Jesus never said a word about gays." By way of reply:

i) Even if this were true, it’s a red herring. On the one hand, Jesus reaffirmed the abiding authority of the Mosaic law (Mt 5:17-18). Yes, there are stated exceptions, but sex isn’t one of them.

On the other hand, he chose some of his disciples to speak on his behalf (Mt 10:40; Jn 13:20; 15:20). They speak with the same authority as the Master.

ii) Jesus reaffirmed the heterosexual archetype and prototype of marriage (Mt 19:4-6).

iii) Jesus cited, with evident approval, God’s judgment on Sodom & Gomorrah as a type of the final judgment to come (Mt 10:15; 11:23-24).

You say that the relation between the centurion and his sickly servant implies that they were lovers. Again, name me one standard commentary on either Matthew (e.g., Blomberg, Carson, Davies, France, Garland, Gundry, Hagner, Hill, Keener, Morris, Mounce), or Luke (e.g., Bock, Caird, Ellis, Evans, Fizmyer, Green, Johnson, Liefeld, Marshall, Nolland, Stein) which supports this contention.

You mention his statement about eunuchs. This is more cute than acute. Either you can't tell a hyperbolic figure of speech when you see it, or else you resort to ridicule when reason fails you.

You mention a couple of his statements about poverty and riches. Yes, riches can be a spiritual snare. This not a blanket prohibition against private property, per se, as is clear from the Biblical laws governing ownership and inheritance.

Anyway, how does this prove that Christians are guilty of cherry-picking Scripture? Are Christians disproportionately wealthy?

In fact, the usual smear from people like you is that "fundamentalists" are unlettered rednecks from Hicksville.

You also say that Rom 1 does not necessarily condemn lesbianism, for "it’s also possible that Paul was referring to sex during menstruation or to women who are aggressive during sex." By way of reply:

i) Name me one serious commentary on Romans that offers this interpretation (e.g., Barrett, Bruce, Cranfield, Dunn, Moo, Morris, Mounce, Murray, Sanday, Schlatter, Schreiner, Ziesler).

ii) Even if these interpretations were vaguely possible, sound exegesis is not about bare possibilities, but about what is probable.

iii) No, it can’t be about menstruation, for that could also happen in heterosexual activity, whereas the text is talking about homosexual activity--women with women.

As to who takes the lead, both lesbians and sodomites often impersonate the stereotypical interaction of straight couples, with one homosexual man or woman playing the part of the husband, and the other acting out the role of wife. This is reflected in a lot of sexual slang, viz., auntie, queen, bull-dyke, diesel-dyke, butchfemme. And these are just the printable usages.

iv) The parallel wording between Rom 1:26-27 leaves no room for doubt that homosexual activity is in view with reference to both genders.

Since you don’t believe in the authority of Scripture, why play these amateurish games? If you weren’t such a dilettante, and if you weren’t straining to prove a foregone conclusion, you could at least let the Bible speak for itself.

To say that "Paul disapproves of marriage except for the sex-obsessed" is a clownish caricature of his position. Paul points out that there are trade-offs between the single state and the married state. He also notes that marriage is less expedient at some times than others.

This is just sanctified common sense. But to judge by your article, sanctified common sense is the only kind of common sense left to us since liberal common sense is in such short supply.

You also labor under the mistaken impression that Paul is the only NT writer who condemns sodomy. Your ignorance is understandable. If you read only one side of the debate, and the very side which happens to have a vested interest in minimizing the Biblical evidence, you will only know what they want you to know, which isn't much. Yet it is highly likely that 2 Pet 2:7-8,10 & Jude 7-8 identify the sin of Sodom & Gomorrah as the sin of homosexuality.

Gen 2 doesn’t express the sentiment that it’s not good for the "human" to be alone. Yes, "adama" can either be a proper name ("Adam") or a generic designation ("mankind"), but in Gen 2 it is clearly a proper name, denoting a male human being.

What is more, the entire account is centered on the creation of a woman for the man.

However, in the interests of magnanimity, I wish to end my comments on a more generous note. To be an op-ed columnist for the NYT is was a shrew career move, for there are few fields which yield such princely dividends on such a miserly investment of fact. If you can't be a scholar, at least you can be P. T. Barnum.

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