March 04, 2015

Yes, the bible is anti-gay, contra deniers

Updated to note that Jesus' silence about homosexuality issues as an alleged mark of liberality actually doesn't necessarily that. See italicized section below for details.

There are several passages in both Old Testament/Tanakh and New Testament that have commonly been cited by Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals, and Orthodox to ultra-Orthodox Jews (on the Tanakh side) as strongly condemning homosexuality.

Two similar and interconnected but not identical questions arise:
1. Are the passages that clear about what they're condemning?
2. Are they condemning homosexual desires/status/inclination or "just" individual acts of homosexual sex? (That's assuming the two are that delinkable.)

More on both of these, with a passage-by-passage overview of the biggies, below.

Now, I can understand liberal Christians (and to a lesser degree, liberal Jews against less animosity on the issue) wanting to say, no the bible doesn't say that. For liberal Christians, I can definitely understand them wanting to say the New Testament with Jesus, love, and other pablum, wanting to say that. (That ignores the fiery Jesus of Revelation, the Jesus of "I came to bring a sword, not peace," and other things.)

I can less understand a certain strand of atheists, whether gay or straight, who try to defend the Judeo-Christian scriptures. In fact, having read nonsense by one such person, defended by another on Facebook, that's the primary trigger for this post. (I refuse to link to the post, especially since its defender hauled back down the Facebook post that linked to the original blog post. If you can't stand the debate, while attacking me, you don't deserve or get the PR.)

Working in order of appearance, we'll start with Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. On the surface, this appears to be their destruction for wanting gay sex with the angels in disguise. However, with Genesis 18 as background, we learn that they've already been marked for destruction and Yahweh has not specified for what sin or sins. Therefore, I'm in agreement that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (which the blogger above didn't cite, anyway) is not about anti-gay issues.

The biggies, on the Old Testament side, though, are Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20, two similar passages that list a range of prohibited sexual activities, most of which either explicitly or by implication are deemed worthy of death.

Leviticus 18:22 says: "Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable."

Leviticus 20:13 says: "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."

Now, here's where our atheist blogger starts to get fun and funky. 

First, trotting out a German phrase from biblical scholarship, "Sitz im Leben," he claims that the priestly writer can't have been condemning homosexuality because it was never so condemned, and never singled out for condemnation, anywhere in the ancient Near East.

Well, "Sitz in Leben" just means "community setting." And, yes, religious books are written to particular communities in particular settings. However, the entire ancient Near East was NOT the SiL for Leviticus! To claim such makes a mockery of the whole idea.

Also, to claim that religious scriptures can never talk about an idea de novo, even for a true SiL, not a red herring one, is false. I cited for said blogger the example of Buddhism discussing new ideas, and old ideas in vastly new ways, as compared to the proto-Hinduism contemporary with the start of Buddhism.

Said blogger was obtuse enough to not grasp that one can list two separate and independent lines of logical argument in attack on the same point, first of all. Second of all, he appeared to simply not grasp what I said about Buddhism.

Second, in the same response to my comment on his blog, he claimed that the male-male sex in Leviticus was about forcible sex only!!!

That was an easy one to shoot down. In a second comment, I noted that none of the other passages implied force, just sexual acts, period. (I said I wasn't going to return to see his response.)

The person who posted his blog post to a Facebook group then made the claim that Orthodox Judaism has never had the same opposition to being gay (or lesbian), just opposition to actual acts, kind of like some Christian denominations, or Catholics on priests and acts. 

That said, beyond the lack of forcibility, the context of both Leviticus chapters, for all the forbidden acts, at least leaves open the possibility of interpreting them as ongoing relationships. And, overall, are sexual acts really that separable from sexual orientation, inclination, or "status"? Only if one expects gays to be celibate.

Beyond that, at the time of Jesus, many a Pharisee (while not rejecting the idea of unclean foods) would have agreed with him that what came out of the heart was the ultimate definer of purity, an idea Jesus also stresses in the Sermon on the Mount. That, too, would point at sexual inclination, not just individual acts.

One thing the blogger did not do with Leviticus, though I've seen it elsewhere, is claim that because only a male-male sexual act is mentioned, that means that the Old Testament is not anti-homosexual.


Every sexual act in Leviticus is mentioned only from a male-initiator point of view. The reason lesbian sex isn't mentioned in Leviticus is because Leviticus is sexist in general.

Now, per the update, what about Jesus?

Anybody who talks about how Jesus didn't condemn gay behavior (lesbians were women, so didn't get considered in the bible in general) is making an argument from silence, and such arguments are usually dicey.

Jesus did reportedly say he had not come to set aside the law, as noted in Matthew 5 and elsewhere. Presumably that included not setting aside certain passages in Leviticus.

On a related issue, Jesus of course opposed divorce in general. Whether that was better for women than the Torah, or not, is questionable. But it should also at least partially put "paid" to the idea that Jesus was sexually liberal-minded.

He may have been, or he may not have been. Yes, one person can talk about how Jesus said that all the Law and Prophets is summed up in his saying that loving God above all else and loving one's neighbor like one's self is the fulfilling of the law, while another can quote Jesus saying he came to bring not peace but a sword.

Meanwhile, on to what the New Testament directly says.

Romans 1 is the New Testament passage that most clearly writes about homosexuality. 

Here, our blogger has another tack. But, a wrong one, again On Romans 1, it's a red herring to focus on the Greek for "unnatural relations." In talking about men, Paul says "men... burned in their lust one toward another." That, even more, would seem to talk about inclination, too. There, you're not the first atheists I've seen to make this claim. I know Chris Stedman said similar. Well, he was wrong too.

Let's look at Romans 1:24-27 for a bit of context:
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
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.
So what about this "unnatural ones"? Is it really that obscure? Is it something more narrow than gay sex in general, like 1 Corinthians 6

Classical, pre-fundamentalist Christian exegesis says, per Wikipedia, it's not a blanket condemnation. Some scholars, citing 1:24 and 26, say it's god inflicting homosexual behavior as a punishment for other sins. As for lesbian sex, others say that's not what 1:26b means.

And, we have to add in that Paul was likely writing to an audience of primarily Gentiles, who had a somewhat different take on homosexuality than did Jews. (Especially if you follow the line of reasoning of me and many others about Leviticus.)

However, said Gentiles would often have been "god-fearers" and had knowledge of some sort about Jewish scriptures.

Next, our blogger says that "unnatural acts" is open for debate. It is to some degree. However, unless one wants to go John Shelby Spong and claim Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was being gay (an idea I reject), one can't forget that Paul was a Jew.  Writing with knowledge of the Tanakh.

And, within this passage, we have support for "unnatural acts" being homosexual ones.

1:26b and 1:27 clearly talk about men having sex with other men, and implies that these, too are "unnatural acts," precisely because they are not "natural relations." In any case, in Greek as in English, the same phraseology is used about both men and women. 

Therefore, Paul seems to be condemning, in modern terms, lesbian sexual acts as well as gay ones. And, with the "inflamed with lust," he certainly seems to be talking about gay sex acts in 1:27. Nothing obscure there. So, our blogger fails again.

As for lesbian sex acts? Well, Sappho the Greek poet from the island of Lesbos, may not have been known about by the priestly author of Lesbos (on normal dating, she died before its final redaction) but Paul certainly would have heard something about her, and the island's, reputation.

Now, is Paul condemning just sex acts, or inclinations?

One could argue, at least, that "inflamed with lust" implies inclinations. One could also note my take on Orthodox Judaism's take on Leviticus, the Catholic Church on non-practicing gay priests, etc., and say that the issue of separating acts from inclinations is dicey.

Speaking of inclination vs. specific acts, and the Old Testament, and purity codes, maybe we could link that to pork-eating. Any ancient Jew frying himself up a pork chop or a rasher of bacon wasn't doing it as an individual act; he had a hankering for pork.

Next, though Rabbinic Judaism says Sodom and Gomorrah were punished for lack of hospitality, (an interpretation first developed in Ezekiel) Jude 1:6-7 relates it to gay behavior ... and, one could say, gay inclination.
And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.
The apocryphal Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, per Wikipedia, has a similar take on Sodom and Gomorrah.

That all points to the issue of how bible interpretation evolves, is individualized, and therefore is often outside questions of rightness or wrongness to some degree. If our blogger wants to admit that this is HIS interpretation of the bible on homosexuality, rather than hide behind scholarship claims to try to say it's the correct interpretation, fine.

I understand why a Chris Stedman takes this line. It's part of his Faitheism marketing program. That still doesn't make it accurate or correct.

Why our blogger of yesterday believes this, and gets more tendentious with his scholarship, I don't know. With last night's discussion and now this post, I've wasted enough time on him and his now-blocked Facebook supporter. A Facebook supporter who, after implying I was intellectually lazy and other things, then hauled down the Facebook post linking the blog, after not being able to get in an unopposed last word.

As I've said before, atheism is no guarantor of morality. I add that it's no guarantor of intellectual rigor. 

Meanwhile, off topic from this blogger, yet more weirdness on some people's take on the bible and gays.

Some claim that the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts was actually a gay male? Wow, all sorts of people can misinterpret religious writings like the bible in all sorts of ways, I guess.

Now, per the header for this post, the Bible is not as anti-gay as modern Christian fundamentalists claim. Gays aren't seen as lurking under every bush. Of course, if you were threatened with being stoned to death, you probably kept a very low profile in the first place. 

Update, April 3, 2014: No, the centurion's servant that Jesus healed was NOT his lover, contra the claims of a "Bible loves gay" blogger at Puff Hoes. Let's deflate his nutgraf claims:
Now, could pais really just mean "servant"? There are several reasons why this makes no sense. First, one would not expect a Roman centurion to intercede, let alone "beg" (parakaloon), on behalf of a mere servant or slave. Second, while Luke refers to the young man as a doulos (slave), the centurion himself specifically calls him a pais; this strongly suggests that the distinction is important. Third, we know that the erastes-pais intimate relationship was common practice among Roman soldiers, who were not allowed to take wives, and whose life was patterned on the Greek model of soldier-lovers. If pais just means "servant," none of this makes any sense.
Why not, on the begging? Slaves and freedmen ran the Roman imperial bureaucracy. Second, Luke's "doulos" is just the use of a synonym. Third, if pederasty was as common as you claim among Roman soldiers, where's a link? Yes, it was practiced, but the "common"? Roman soldiers could use prostitutes, rape either male of female prisoners of war, use slaves for sex and more. And, by the later Roman Republic, let alone imperial times, male-male sexual relationships were often more like "homosexuality" of today, and not like Greek pederasty. And in the earlier Republic, as well as in Greek city-states, pederastic relationships were NOT about social equality between the two partners.

Pais CAN mean what Michaelson claims, but, if it really DID mean it, why not use the actual Greek term "paiderastes"? So, Michaelson is all wet.

And, once again, intellectual honesty falls by the wayside. Hey, liberal Christians and Jews? (And Muslims?) Especially gay or LGBT-supportive ones? Admit your scriptures have at least some degree of anti-gay bias and you're radically reinterpreting them. Form new denominations, or even movements, like Unitarianism. 

Rather, what you're doing right now is a form of quasi-fundamentalism. 

Oh, and per what started this all? If you're an Xn-friendly atheist, in my opinion, this is going to far to help Christians, or other liberally religious, out of their own jam. 

Why didn't more people support Occupy Wall Street?

That very issue is the subject of a brand-new book, which is a must-read for any true liberal.

The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and PowerThe Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power by Steve Fraser
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Age of Acquiescence

First, Steve Fraser has a word for us to learn: “Precariat.” You can probably see the word from which this portmanteau derives, in turn riffing on “proletariat.” Yes, we are the class of the precarious.

So, why didn’t more Americans join Occupy Wall Street a few years back, or start their own, similar movements? That’s the thesis of this book.

One of the greatest strengths of this book is Chapter 10, titled “Fables of Freedom: Brand X.” Of course, branding and its adjunct, marketing, become fiercer by the day. But, as Fraser shows, their roots go back at least to the Keynesian consumerism which he marks as the real “settlement” of the New Deal and later. He’s true about this in general — American “mainstream” organized labor accepted the offer of a theoretically guaranteed piece of the capital pie on wages, health care and other benefits, while agreeing to keep its collective nose out of corporate operations, unlike in a Germany, and to also play good soldiers abroad in undermining labor movements elsewhere that wouldn’t salute the flag of high-octane American capitalism.

Indeed, though, branding has become much more scientific, at least in theory, than back in Bernays' day. In fact, I've blogged before that people at Zucotti Park were surely communicating not just on cell phones, but the latest version of the iPhone. I've also noted, per self-reporting that nearly 25 percent of them had graduate degrees that, before the great Recession, many may have wanted to work FOR Wall Street. But, I digress. Fraser's point is that branding has been a major factor in inducting acquiescence.

So, too was the challenging of organized labor's often philistine stance on social issues. And so, as the Sixties drew to a close, organized labor had trouble incorporating the Vietnam generation into its ranks. Fraser even shows that many strikes of the early Seventies were wildcats, without hierarchy’s OK, and at times aimed at the hierarchy as much as the employer. Hence, Reagan Democrats were "easy pickings" for the GOP.

And, from there, the first waves of outsourcing and offshoring meant fewer non-Reagan Democrats in unions to protest, let alone pre-Reagan Republicans in middle management, when folks like Chainsaw Al Dunlap popped up.
It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the new corporations emerging out of this bazaar of buying and welling were in a new business: the fabrication of companies to trade back and forth.

It's all a game; that's from 245.

And, the game needed old rules broken, which itself became a new rule.
Employers all over the country think nothing of violating labor laws covering minimum wages, overtime pay, hours of work, and safety regulations — all the basics of civilized capitalism. Beating the system is the system. No one is watching.

Page 354

And, it goes without saying that this has become true of both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations.

Fraser notes, correctly:
After Ronald Reagan’s election, what remnants there were of New Deal populism and class consciousness were shuttered away in some attic of the Democratic Party. Legions of working people, whether unionized or like the thirty million or so unorganized working poor, could expect little help from that quarter.. They had been abandoned not only by government but by the political machinery their forbears had created to help them cope.

That quote is part of a section about the rise of neoliberalism after McGovern's defeat.

Fraser also reminds us that finance dereg, along with trucking (bad) and airlines (good and bad, IMO) started under Carter. Ditto for electric utilities.

He then notes that free market thinking pernicious not just in public policies but in exiling communal ways of thought.

As for Democrats becoming more and more associated with social liberalism and identity politics, Fraser notes this as part of the “Southernization” of both politics and of the American working class. This, too, intruded into the modern Democratic party with Carter.

A smiley face on top of this is neoliberalism, which Fraser calls the technocratic equivalent of Marxism. I could go even worse, but that’s a good start.

Specifically, Fraser says, on page 417:
Neoliberalism as a way of thinking about the world has been profoundly disempowering precisely because it conveys a techno-determinism about the way things are. It presents itself as a kind of Marxism of the ruling classes, suggesting that the telos of history and the relentless logic of economic science lead inevitably not where Marx thought they were heading, but rather to just where we are now.

In other words, an economically determined version of Fukuyama’s end of history.

That said, Fraser holds out a modicum of hope in his epilogue. But, he at the same time notes this hope is not guaranteed to come to fruition. A new Gilded Age won't be easy to overturn, and it won't be quick to overturn either.

View all my reviews

March 03, 2015

Hillary Clinton, meet Sarah Palin

Because you now have one big thing in common: using personal email accounts, repeatedly, deliberately, for an extended period of time, to conduct government business.

I wasn't going to vote for Hillary Clinton if she got the Democratic nomination anyway, but this is more reason to be even firmer in that resolve.

Brains and Eggs has yet more, with plenty of links, all of which I fully endorse, including how it stinks in manifold ways and underscores every myth out there about the deviousness of both Hillary and Bill.

That deviousness is likely more hers than his, anyway. I doubt there was anything criminal in Whitewater, and I do think Ken Starr was on a witch hunt, but Hillary Clinton's deviousness goes back to Rose Law Firm days. So, too, does the issue of which one of the two wears the pants in this family. Please, folks, no "blue dress" or "not wearing pants" jokes!

Media Matters works hard to shoot some of the story, at least, down. It seems correct in that Hillary Clinton's practice was not illegal. Beyond that, though, the optics still aren't good, no matter what MM protrays.

And, MM can't explain away what the Times notes in a follow-up: That Hillary had been asked for emails before, and the State Department had not provided them. Whether that's simply due to not being aware of her personal account, or active stonewalling, is unclear.

And, contra MM, the Times notes that since 2009, government officials using private email have had a responsibility for appropriate archiving:
Mrs. Clinton’s aides have said her use of private email was not out of the ordinary, pointing to the fact that former Secretary of State Colin Powell also used a personal email account, before the current regulations went into effect. But since 2009, said Laura Diachenko, a National Archives and Records spokeswoman, federal regulations have stated that “agencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency record-keeping system.”

Seems pretty clear. So, MM trying to claim that another, 2014 law requiring public email accounts be used as the only operative law in this situation is wrong.

Arizona (and California and Iowa) meet Citizens United II

The Supreme Cour's Obamacare case is important enough (though I bet the Chief, John Roberts, makes sure that Obama wins on this one). Hype aside from Slate, I don't think it's that poorly understood.

Perhaps even bigger (and less understood on its potential ramifications) is the case where Arizona's nonpartisan commission for redistricting after Censuses is being sued by its own state legislature, an earlier version of which created said commission.

It's just Arizona on the surface, but, really, this is Iowa, California and every other state with such a commission. As the New York Times explains in detail, both Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia, at least, seemed determined to take a very narrow view of one sentence in the Constitution about electing Members of Congress to gut such commissions everywhere:
The case, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, No. 13-1314, will turn on the meaning of a single word: “legislature.” The Constitution says that “the Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.”
Gut nonpartisan redistricting commissions, and post-Citizens United Koch money floods states even more than now, in the last election before redistricting, especially if that's a non-presidential election year.

Look at 2010. Obamacare was unpopular, in part because of Dear Leader's lame job of selling both it and his stimulus package. It was an off-term election. The GOP killed Democrats in state legislature and gubernatorial elections, then redistricted like hell.

Where it could.

Eight states, including the three above, have some sort of redistricting structure for both U.S. and state elected positions that is not the state legislature. Swing states Colorado, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are among them.

Now is it a bit more clear how big of a deal this could be?

March 02, 2015

Meet the gravediggers of Russian democracy

With the death of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, it's pretty clear that Russia is a non-democratic state, de facto.

So, who killed Russian democracy?

Vladimir Putin is, if anything, only a final cause.

The real gravediggers are six.

And, they are two Russians, and four Americans.

The Russian I propose is Boris Yeltsin, and the three Americans are George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jeffrey Sachs, a single name to represent the neoliberals who got Yeltsin to "burn down" Russia.

Poppy Bush first refused to see Yeltsin as an alternative to Gorbachev, perhaps setting him up for future sensitivity to would-be slights. He then, despite earlier pledges not to do so, became somewhat triumphalist over the end of the Cold War. Even worse, although German Chancellor Helmut Kohl put a big crowbar in the Federal Republic's wallet to ease the financial shock of East Germany being reincorporated into the West, Bush refused to offer significant aid to Gorbachev.

As a result, he lost credibility at home, and thus the coup. When it failed, Yeltsin, still not well-appraised by the West in general, became "the option."

That's even though it was clear that another Russian — vodka — was clearly in charge of Boris Yeltsin.

That alcoholism is why Yeltsin rapidly cycled through would-be political heirs, especially after Sachs et al convinced him to burn down Russia. Nemtsov was the second-last of those heirs, before Putin.

Bush was wrong in encouraging Sachs et al to do a neoliberal sell-off of Russia, and Clinton was wrong in encouraging it to continue.

Then, there's Yeltsin vs. "what are the options," namely leading up to the 1996 elections.

The "leader principle" probably seemed to Clinton to be the best that Russia could do. Was he right?

First, he was wrong to not "nudge" Yeltsin to settle on one good choice.

Second, he was wrong to not have other people, whether instead of, or in addition to, the Sachses of the world, working on improving Russian democratic and electoral structures.

Third, he was wrong to not consult more with Yeltsin on the Balkans War. Even if we eventually ignored Yeltsin's ideas, not talking to him more, especially as we expanded NATO eastward, which made Russia feel more isolated, and  fueled strong nationalistic sentiments inside Russia.

The fourth American?

John McCain. He was right to see "KGB" inside Putin's eyeballs. He, and others, were even more wrong than the first round of NATO expansion, when they wanted to expand at least affiliate membership to countries like Georgia and Ukraine. The result is that Georgia's already gotten its war at Russia's hands, and Ukraine is getting it now.

In both cases, affiliate membership offered little, yet was almost as stupid as full membership. Plus, NATO now looks like its words won't ever be backed with actions. And, Putin and other ultranationalists had their triumphalist lust fed in Georgia, and want it fed again now.

And the second Russian? Symbol of nationalist intellgentsia even as he was dying, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave Putin the intellectual blessing to pursue a neo-Tsarist past to a new, strong, nationalistic Russia. His sentiments about Ukraine, his totally wrong claims that it was never a separate country (Kievan Rus, the first "Russian" state, that introduced Christianity to Russia

Putin as the final cause? Yeltsin's alcoholic erraticness may have led him to settle on somebody worse, if he'd lived another year. That said, once tabbed, Putin wormed himself totally into Yeltsin's life, both personal and political.

But, otherwise, the others are the real gravediggers, and the real pallbearers.

Of these people, Yeltsin died dead and drunk. Solzhenitsyn died dead and unapologetic. Sachs was later partially apologetic; none of the three American politicians ever have been.

To put it another way, other than a bit of euthanizing help, Putin didn't kill Russian democracy. He's just the greedy heir rewriting the will to make sure he's the only real beneficiary of its demise.

March 01, 2015

Daffynitions — with a hat tip to Ambrose Bierce

A while back, I did a blog post called "Observations about life." I still occasionally update it, primarily with real-world observations, no fluff or New Ageyness, about the real world.

Well, being the editor, writer and language maven that I am, I'm now starting a blog post with a slightly skewed set of fake word definitions.

These won't be "cutesy" ones, at least I hope not. Rather, think of a kinder version of Ambroise Bierce's magnum opus, The Devil's Dictionary.

 To allow for updates, until my cup overflows, I'll alphabetize the words and phrases, starting with:

Fauxtrage: A fake outrage over some President  Barack Obama or general Democratic Party or general liberal political action or news event, as "reported" by Fox, er, Faux, News.

Libertarian: An elitist who thinks his lucky ascent into a highly valuable position of employment or social standing is proof of the existence of meritocracy.

Pine Time: A would-be-in-his-own-mind sports god, "gifted" with even more ego than the actual Prime Time, Neon  Deion  Sanders, but about half the talent and hence, at some point, when his ego not only can't cover lack of skills but actually becomes an irritant to his manager or coach when said skills slippage becomes apparent to everybody but him.

-Splaining: A suffix attached to certain nouns wherewith the user, at least in his or her own mind, attempts to simultaneously prove the social elitism of the target and disprove the social elitism of the user.