Wednesday, May 05, 2010

More on Sodom and Sodomy

Genesis does not mention consensual gay sex. If one is entitled to assume that the only people who would try to force themselves on an outsider were people who enjoyed consensual gay sex amongst themselves, then one could make an inference that consensal homosexuality was rampant in Sodom, but I don't think we are entitled to make that assumption.




Ezekiel is consistent with homosexuality, in and of itself, being part of the problem, but it clearly implies that other types of problems existed. So, any attempt to say that homosexuality is the one sin that makes God so angry that he zaps people for it (as opposed to all the other deadly sins), collapses on the basis of Ezekiel.



Jude is probably the best passage for the anti-gay case, but are we entitled to identify perversion with homosexuality? The Sodomites may well have been motivated by sadism, and were intending rape. I consider rape and sadism to be sexual perversions in and of themselves, whether directed toward the same sex or the opposite sex. Sadism and rape also fit better with the passages suggesting that the sin of Sodom was related to arrogance.



Hypothesis: The sin of Sodom was the sin of arrogance on the part of the rich and powerful toward the poor and powerless, which expressed itself in sexual terms through acts of sexual domination, even toward sojourners. Such acts could well have been both homosexual and heterosexual, but the defining feature of this perversion of Sodom was domination, not homosexuality.



Can this hypothesis be refuted?

15 comments:

Joshua Allen said...

I've also seen Jewish exegeses arguing that Sodom was about lack of hospitality to strangers, which is a similar point, and relates to at least one other story in Genesis.

You are making a very important point here. Sexual sin is not about some specific physical configuration of a physical act -- it's about the intentions of the heart. To focus on the specific bodily configuration of the physical act is idolatry, plain and simple.

Of course, particular physical configurations are rarely completely separate from particular intentions of the heart. Or, said another way, certain intentions will *tend* to manifest in certain configurations of the physical act. We can congratulate ourselves all we want about the purity of our intentions, but when we see a vocabulary about "tops and bottoms" emerge repeatedly, it's cause for pause.

bossmanham said...

any attempt to say that homosexuality is the one sin that makes God so angry that he zaps people for it (as opposed to all the other deadly sins), collapses on the basis of Ezekiel.

I'm not sure many people say that. The reason so many defend the clear reading of the text is because of the revisionist interpretation that has gone on in the late 20th century through today to try to legitimize the sin of homosexuality. Sin is sin. We can't legitimize them.

Jude is probably the best passage for the anti-gay case

Romans 1 is pretty good too, as is 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10.

bossmanham said...

Incidentally, the early fathers thought the sin of Sodom was homosexuality (among other things) as well.

Clement:

""The fate of the Sodomites was judgment to those who had done wrong, instruction to those who hear. The Sodomites having, through much luxury, fallen into uncleanness, practicing adultery shamelessly, and burning with insane love for boys; the All-seeing Word, whose notice those who commit impieties cannot escape, cast his eye on them. Nor did the sleepless guard of humanity observe their licentiousness in silence; but dissuading us from the imitation of them, and training us up to his own temperance, and falling on some sinners, lest lust being unavenged, should break loose from all the restraints of fear, ordered Sodom to be burned,
pouring forth a little of the sagacious fire on licentiousness; lest lust, through want of punishment, should throw wide the gates to those that were rushing into voluptuousness. Accordingly, the just punishment of the Sodomites became to men an image of the salvation which is well calculated for men. For those who have not committed like sins with those who are punished, will never receive a like punishment" (Exhortation to the Greeks 2 [A.D. 190]).

Augustine:

"[T]hose shameful acts against nature, such as were committed in Sodom, ought everywhere and always to be detested and punished. If all nations were to do such things, they would be held guilty of the same crime by the law of God, which has not made men so that they should use one another in this way" (Confessions 3:8:15 [A.D. 400]).

bossmanham said...

Grabbed those quotes from http://www.catholic.com/library/Early_Teachings_on_Homosexuality.asp

mattghg said...

I guess this is the point at which we need someone who understands koine Greek to explain to us the most precise reading of the word from Jude 1:7 rendered "perversion" in the NIV and "unnatural desire" in the ESV.

It's also worth comparing the Sodom story with that of Gibeah described in Judges 19:22-20:48, though. I think this tends to support your hypothesis.

However, ISTM that Sodom got "zapped" because its sins were so many, and so perhaps it's besides the point to try to identify what *the* sin of Sodom was. That gay sex is a sin is made abundantly clear throughout the rest of Scripture, as bossmanham points out.

Shackleman said...

If we grant, for sake of argument, that homosexuality is a sin, what about it makes it different from any other sin to the point where people are completely obsessed with it? Why is homosexuality a bigger deal to heterosexuals than divorce is? I just don't get it.

Jesus instructs us, in his final commandment, to love one another as He has loved us. He didn't qualify that saying "except for homosexuals". And, in Matthew 7 we are reminded to avoid the hypocrisy of damning others for specs in their eyes, while we ignore the planks in our own.

Looking for exact exegetic proof that homosexuality is a sin is a wasteful, fruitless, and in some cases bigoted endeavor.

Shouldn't we be focusing our efforts on Jesus' final commandment to us instead? Mining the bible in an effort to enumerate and define all possible sins is a waste of time, and frankly completely misses the point of the Good News that is Christ Jesus.

Victor Reppert said...

This is not about whether homosexuality is a sin. This is about whether passages related to Sodom support an across-the-board condemnation of homosexuality. My contention is that the support it provides is relatively weak, and that persons who want to mount a biblical case against homosexuality need to look elsewhere. Jude 7 is probably the best verse to support an anti-gay reading of the Sodom story, but it is inconclusive because the use of sex to dominate others seems to me to be also a perversion.

The Romans passage is, I think, a more serious challenge to pro-gay exegesis than are any of the passages related to Sodom.

In particular, I think study of the texts suggests that any attempt to argue that homosexuality is somehow on the top of God's "sin list", so high that it alone prompts God to destroy whole cities, strikes me as completely wrong.

Shackleman said...

Dr. Reppert,

I completely agree with you FWIW, but considering where the comments have headed since your original post, I thought my note was warranted.

Even *if* one can find specific parts of scripture which explicitly define homosexuality as the capo-de-capo of sinfullness, it doesn't change the fact that in Christ we have been shown mercy and forgiveness.

Lamb of God...
Who take away the sins of the world (except for homosexuals?)....
Have mercy on us (except for homosexuals?)

I think we spend far, far too much time on this subject. As a member of the ELCA, my church has recently dealt with the issue of sexuality and the conclusions reached have begun to fracture this body of the church.

So much wasted finger pointing. Plank in your own eyes, people. Plank in your own eyes.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

The sin of Sodom seems to be a generalized wickedness, which is consistent with Ezekial and with 2 Peter 2: 7-8 (He rescued Lot, a righteous man oppressed by the licentious conduct of unprincipled people (for day after day that righteous man living among them was tormented in his righteous soul at the lawless deeds that he saw and heard).)

The question then is whether homosexual conduct was included as one of the sins engaged in by wicked men of Sodom (among whom not even 10 righteous men could be found.) As this Stand to Reason post observes, inasmuch as the attempted homosexual assault on the angels occurred after God’s decision to destroy Sodom, we would ordinarily think that the attempted assault would not have been the reason for that decision (albeit since God exists in eternity, it is hard to say for certain.)

On the other hand, it is noteworthy that the author of Genesis offers the example of a homosexual attempted assault as the signal characteristic of this wicked city. It seems reasonable that the message of the story is to demonstrate that the men of Lot really were wicked and the particular way in which they were wicked, i.e., homosexually raping visitors.

The objection would then be that the vice of the behavior is the use of force – the violence – and not the homosexual activity per se. That argument can be made, but given the other condemnations of homosexual activity, that is probably an anachronistic distinction, i.e., one that could only be made in the modern age.

Also, the argument is anachronistic in another way. In the ancient world, homosexual sex was invariably about the imposition of power, whether violence was involved or not. So, while Greeks and other cultures might recognize pederasty as an appropriate activity for a male mentor with a boy student, they looked down on men who were the recipients of homosexual sex as being perverts. (See e.g., The Gorgias.) That was because the “manly” role was to dominate and control, in other words, to exercise power. So, probably, to the mind of the author of Genesis, homosexual sex inherently involved a species of rape in that it could never be truly consensual. A man would never agree to be the recipient of homosexual sex and any man who did would be a pervert.

But, the argument would go, that was then, and we are enlightened, and we know that homosexual sex can be consensual.

The response would go that if we are going to assert our anachronistic distinction back onto the text, then why should we accept that anachronistic reading. Another way of reading the text is to make the distinction that Aristotle made between “violent” action and “natural” action. The argument there would be that the author of Genesis was making a distinction between the natural movement of something – when things do what they are supposed to do by nature, such as a rock falling – and a “violent” motion – such as when a thing was forced to make a movement that went against its nature, such as the rock being thrown. In the Sodom case, the natural movement would be heterosexual sex, the violent movement would be any kind of homosexual sex. The meaning of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was therefore to cleverly condemn all homosexual sex as inherently wicked and contrary to nature by highlighting its “violence.” In fact, it would be hard to dispute the observation that homosexual sex inherently objectifies the recipient of the sexual act because it is using the recipient as a thing, rather than embracing the recipient as a person in his entirety. (Certainly, heterosexual males in heterosexual sex can and often do objectify their female partner, but there is also the possibility that the sex is about more than gratification, such as creating new life.)

I don’t think that’s what the author of Genesis was really doing, but I think that trying to make the sin of Sodom the failure to get consent is probably just as anachronistic as my interpretation.

Victor Reppert said...

Present-day gay Christians would just argue that this proves that the OT criticisms of homosexuality don't apply to them, since present-day homosexuality has a radically different nature than ancient homosexuality.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

I'm sure that is the case, but my point was that it doesn't have an essentially different nature. Homosexual sex is quintessentially "violent" where "violence" is understood as not being "natural."

This is not necessarily a value judgment. Anyone who has read any postings by homosexual activists on the proper way to engage in anal sex, would be amazed at the level of preparation, precaution and practice involved in doing it "right." At some point, a reasonable person has to conclude that if it involves all that, and the warning that it won't be painful if "done right", then it probably is something that the human body was designed for.

Homosexual sex also involves an inherent violence in that it "forces a complimentarity" of the bodies that does not exist. Again, the warning that anal intercourse is painful if not done right is some indication of that.

So, the writers of the Bible could have said that being the receptive actor in the homosexual act is inherently to be the subject to the force and violence that is inherent in an act which is contrary to the structure of the human body. Consequently, we can read the sin of Sodom to be sodomy.

Obviously, my point won't be accepted by those who want to ignore or romanticize the mechanics of homosexuality.

Joshua Allen said...

@Peter - if you think that heterosexual relationships aren't about domination, you should read "King Kong Theory" by Virginia Despentes. She's lived a pretty interesting life, and has a lot to say about domination. She also has some choice quotes about male homosexual relationships.

Gregory said...

Victor said:

"My contention is that the support it provides is relatively weak, and that persons who want to mount a biblical case against homosexuality need to look elsewhere."

I am not a Hebrew scholar so, like most people who read the Bible, I have to depend on a reputable translation. In my case, that would be the NKJV.

The NKJV renders Gen. 19:5 thus:

"And they (i.e. old and young men of Sodom) called to Lot and said to him 'Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them carnally."

Now, based on this verse of scripture, it might be argued that the "sin" to which the men of Sodom were about to engage in was simply rape (i.e. a non-consensual sexual encounter). Furthermore, I think all would agree, simply from a plain reading of this verse, irrespective of one's translation, that the intention of the men of Sodom was sexual in nature. However, it's not clear whether the "sin" was exclusively the homosexual act or whether it was rape. If Genesis 19 was simply shunning the act of rape, then those exegetes who argue that the sin of Sodom was lack of hospitality are surely correct. Truly...rape is the most extreme form of impoliteness.

Even so, such exegetes are hard pressed to explain why the offering of Lot's daughters would fare any better in the sight of God if the act of rape, alone, were in view. In other words, there are no moral gradations in the act of rape. It's immoral, regardless if the victim happens to be a man, a woman or an angel!! Even more puzzling is why Lot, as a Father, would choose to offer his own daughters up for raping, instead of conceding to the wishes of the mob, if his fears were merely over the "abominable" act of rape itself.

Therefore, the peculiarity of Lot's reaction to the menfolk of Sodom leaves the "impoliteness" interpretation of Sodom's sin implausible.

Yet, it's not clear if homosexuality is exclusively in view either. Perhaps Lot considered the abuse of angelic Beings as an especially "wicked" act. Therefore, out of fear of Divine anger and/or angelic retribution Lot decided to offer his own daughters up as an appeasement to a lusty mob.

So, I think that Victor has a point.

My own view, like that of the Church Fathers, is premised upon a therapeutic/medicinal view of sin and salvation. In this view, "sin" is not so much a moral transgression deserving Divine punishment/legal action, as it is a spiritual disease needing Divine healing. If we were to simply take sin juridically, then all human judgment ends:

"For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law"

and

"There is none righteous, no, not one...they have all turned aside. They have together become unprofitable. There is no one who does good, no, not one."

--Romans 2:12; 3:10-12

Sodom is selected as an example because of it's acute and severe spiritual ailments. It's more accurate to say that Sodom was plagued by a host of symptoms of an especially dire and manifest kind....of which homosexuality makes up part of that complex.

The upshot of the story of Sodom involves the consequences of refusing treatment (i.e. terminal malignancy and quarantine) and the necessity of seeking Divine aid at every stage of spiritual pathology or spiritual wellness (Phil. 3:10-12).

The worst stage of spiritual sickness is the amnesia attending one's own spiritual condition (Luke 10:9-12).

JaredMithrandir said...

Jude actually destroyed the Anti-Gay case by comparing it to Genesis 6, which also involving Human-Angle interaction.

Inhopstiality was the Sin of Sodom. But the modern Western World can't relate to how vitally important Hospitality was to the Ancient Near East.

JaredMithrandir said...

"I'm sure that is the case, but my point was that it doesn't have an essentially different nature. Homosexual sex is quintessentially "violent" where "violence" is understood as not being "natural.""

The only way this makes any sense is if your assuming Anal Sex is all Gay man can or do do. In fact studies have shown that at different times Most Gay men don't like it at all.