Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Two items caught your indefatigable correspondent’s eye today, Dear Reader.

The first is a YouTube video (currently 65 million hits and rising) in which 20 strangers volunteer to kiss someone they have never met before. And we mean, properly kiss: real tonsil tangling, spit-swapping snogging.

It is really rather beautiful and life affirming and funny and wistful and weird and vaguely erotic and heart warming. See what you think.

It’s the work of someone called Tatia Pllieva and it’s the first video she has posted. I suspect we’ll be hearing more from her. Well done.

The second is the death of Fred Phelps, the founder and thoroughly awful leader of the Westboro Baptist Church who became famous for celebrating the death of American soldiers (and picketing their funerals) as punishment from God because gays exist in America.

If you really want to refresh your memory as to his drivel, you can watch this.

He thinks he’s going to Heaven. I was never more certain of anything but that he is going straight to Hell … do not pass Go, do not collect $200 … and people like Tatia Pllieva are going to Heaven.

The one thought that cheers me this morning more than any other is that Fred Phelps is today standing in front his Maker, hearing in no uncertain terms exactly how much of an un-Christian asshole he was.

Phelps died on Wednesday in a Kansas hospice at the age of 84. “People die – that is the way of all flesh,” a blog post on the church’s website said.

Earlier this month, his son Nathan, who ran away from home as soon as he turned 18 and later became a gay rights advocate, said in a Facebook posting he had learned Phelps was near death in a hospice and that he had been excommunicated in 2013. The church would not confirm the excommunication report, saying membership issues were private.

Phelps’ church was widely denounced as a hate group and was not part of any mainstream Baptist organization. Its membership has been estimated at about 100, many of whom were related to Phelps.

By Phelps’ reasoning, cancer, the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, school shootings and the deaths of soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other tragedies involving Americans, were God’s retribution for a lax attitude toward what he called “the modern militant homosexual movement”.

“God Hates Fags” was the overriding slogan for Phelps and his followers, as well as the name of their primary website. They carried that message to protests, brandishing signs declaring “Thank God For AIDS,” “America Is Doomed,” “Thank God For Dead Soldiers” and “God Blew Up The Troops”.

“Look, you can’t preach the Bible without preaching the hatred of God,” Phelps said in a 2010 Huffington Post interview.

The news of his death was met with an outpouring of comments on social media, including many who said Phelps’ teachings inadvertently served to promote tolerance.

“I’d like to thank Fred Phelps today, for accidentally inspiring me and countless others like me to fight for tolerance and against hate,” Russell Hainline, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, tweeted.

Phelps’ rhetoric was hotter than fire and brimstone. He called President George W. Bush a “Bible pervert,” Barack Obama a “bloody beast” and conservative TV commentator Bill O’Reilly a “demon-possessed messenger of Satan”.

Phelps’s church gained notoriety in 1998 by picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was beaten outside a bar in Wyoming and left to die. His story was turned into a movie and play.

SUPREME COURT RULING

Phelps and his congregants had their biggest impact at military funerals, where they faced an angry backlash from veterans’ families and their supporters. Their right to picket led to action by the U.S. Congress and a freedom-of-speech legal battle that the church won at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The father of a Maryland soldier killed in Iraq took on Westboro, seeking damages and saying church members had turned his son’s 2006 funeral into a circus. But in an 8-1 ruling in 2011, the court said that even though the Westboro protest was hurtful, it was constitutionally protected. Phelps’ daughter, Margie, argued the case.

To curb Westboro, Congress in 2006 passed the Fallen Heroes Act, which prohibited protesters from coming within 300 feet of a federally administered cemetery within an hour of the beginning or end of a funeral. States passed similar laws.

Phelps based his ideology on an Old Testament passage – the book of Leviticus, chapter 18, verse 22 – that says, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.”

Phelps, however, was mis-informed and wilfully ignorant, as you can read here: http://wp.me/p1LY0z-wX

If you’re feeling research minded, (or just irritated by bigoted fundamentalist neighbours) you can also read how it is now scientifically proven that the Bible is not literally true by clicking here: http://wp.me/p1LY0z-1Y5

Or even how the Roman Catholic Church no longer believes the Bible is literally true: http://wp.me/p1LY0z-ud

On its website the church claimed to have held almost 50,000 demonstrations since 1991. Westboro would send protesters on the thinnest of premises. A store in Topeka was a regular target because it sold vacuum cleaners made in Sweden, where a preacher had been prosecuted for his anti-homosexuality message. Phelps’s church even sent a contingent to Pittsburgh in 2003 for the funeral of Fred Rogers, the mild-mannered host of the children’s TV show “Mister Rogers Neighborhood,” on the grounds that he was “a wuss” and had not denounced homosexuality. Other protest targets included churches and synagogues, rock concerts, NFL games, Twitter headquarters and the school attended by President Barack Obama’s daughters.

British journalist Louis Theroux lived with the Phelps clan for three weeks while making the 2007 documentary “The Most Hated Family in America”.

“The dominant note in his personality was a bitter contempt for humanity in general and me specifically,” he wrote in the Guardian newspaper.

Theroux said the family did not always seem hateful.

“Away from the pickets, they were – much of the time – very, very normal,” he said. “Not just normal, but intelligent and urbane. They’re not hillbillies, they’re urban professionals.”

Well, anyway, he’s gone, Thank God.

And now I think I’ll go and watch the 20 strangers kissing again and make my mind feel just a little cleaner, and creep a little closer to my understanding of God at the same time.

Atheism

Even as someone convinced of god’s existence, I understand this challenge, I really do. I would simply insert “Agnostic” instead of “Atheist”. What do you think?

As one does, I got involved in a bruising little debate between “Lili”  and “Mike” on Facebook today.

Lili, a feisty and opinionated mid-teens schoolgirl was being taken to task by Mike for posting one of those silly greetings cards that pop up all over the Net.

This one had a 1950s family of Dad, Mom and two kids leaving an old-style church with the headline: “Well, that was a bunch of bullshit.”

She repeatedly challenged Mike to “prove” God’s existence. Mike repeatedly ignored her. This was my response: I’d be interested to know what you think.

“I think, respectfully, Mike, that you are not providing answers to Lili’s challenge. Because the only possible answer to “Prove to me that God exists” is surely “I can’t.”

But not because, in my considered opinion, that he/she/it doesn’t exist.

But rather because if we could prove God exists then there would be no point in faith, and faith is what makes life meaningful. Jesus makes this point himself with the Doubting Thomas episode … it is one of the most significant passages in the Bible.

Lili, I applaud your scepticism. I would simply suggest you keep an open mind, not a closed one. To me, as a believer, the appropriate response for someone who is not convinced that God exists is agnosticism, not atheism. Atheism is a very hard row to plough. It means you have to dismiss the vast literature and experience of God throughout human history.

Please note, I say God, not religion.

Plenty of skeptical, liberal people, plenty of scientists, for example, in all different cultures around the world, nevertheless report having experienced something so other-worldly as to be both beyond coincidence and inexplicable.

To be an atheist is to accuse ALL those people, every single one, of being either deluded or stupid. Big call.

I believe that no one ever reaches a knowledge of God through study, or even through the remonstrations of others. Jesus said “I stand at the door knocking, if you open it, I will come in.”

agnostic-cemetaryIt is my life experience that many people answer that challenge at some stage of their life, and become, through it, convinced that God exists.

Not that they understand “It”, or that, even, they are particularly comforted by the experience.

Simply that they experience something they cannot otherwise explain.

I would therefore urge you, simply, to leave enough of the door ajar to consider that all those people are not idiots.

Agnostic I can definitely understand. Atheist? That seems much more problematical for me.

Oh, and by the way? I think God enjoys your questioning, and your intelligence, and your compassion. Go for it.”

Does my argument have any value? I’d like to know what you think. If you disagree with me please be as blunt as you like, but keep it nice :-)

The Pope has given his blessing to breastfeeding.

Telling a Vatican website that he encouraged a young mother to breastfeed her baby he said:

“There was a young mother behind one of the barriers with a baby that was just a few month s old. The child was crying its eyes out as I came past. The mother was caressing it.

I said to her: madam, I think the child’s hungry. “Yes, it’s probably time…” she replied.

“Please give it something to eat!” I said.

She was shy and didn’t want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing. I wish to say the same to humanity: give people something to eat!”

The Pope kisses the feet of a drug-addicted youth. Quite a remarkable man: score one for the Holy Spirit.

The Pope kisses the feet of a drug-addicted youth. Quite a remarkable man: score one for the Holy Spirit.

A fresco depicting Guru Nanak

A fresco depicting Guru Nanak

Today, President Obama tweeted that he hoped Sikhs would have a happy time celebrating the birth of their religion’s founder, Guru Nanak.

Over here at the impeccably Christian Wellthisiswhatithink chapel, it reminded us that we don’t have a clue what the Sikh religion is all about, apart from their very groovy turbans which we have always sneakily been rather jealous about, so we wandered over to Wikipedia to have a look. What we read there was fascinating, so we decided to share. A little understanding goes a long way, we think, in reducing world tensions. Or just tensions in one’s own street.

Guru Nanak  pronunciation (Punjabi: ਗੁਰੂ ਨਾਨਕ; Hindi: गुरु नानक,Urdu: گرونانک, [ˈɡʊɾu ˈnɑnək] Gurū Nānak) (15 April 1469 – 22 September 1539) was the founder of the religion of Sikhism and is the first of the ten Sikh Gurus, the eleventh guru being the living Guru, Guru Granth Sahib. His birth is celebrated world-wide on Kartik Puranmashi, the full-moon day which falls on different dates each year in the month of Katak, October–November.

Guru Nanak travelled far and wide teaching people the message of one God who dwells in every one of God’s creations and constitutes the eternal Truth. He setup a unique spiritual, social, and political platform based on equality, fraternity love, goodness, and virtue.

It is part of Sikh religious belief that the spirit of Guru Nanak’s sanctity, divinity and religious authority descended upon each of the nine subsequent Gurus when the Guruship was devolved on to them

 Family and early life

Nanak was born on 15 April 1469, now celebrated as Guru Nanak Gurpurab, at Rāi Bhoi Kī Talvaṇḍī, now called Nankana Sahib, near Lahore, in present day Pakistan.

Today, his birthplace is marked by Gurdwara Janam Asthan. His parents were Kalyan Chand Das Bedi, popularly shortened to Mehta Kalu, and Mata Tripta. His father was a patwari (accountant) for crop revenue in the village of Talwandi, employed by a Muslim landlord of that area, Rai Bular Bhatti.

He had one sister, Bibi Nanaki, who was five years older than him and became a spiritual figure in her own right. In 1475 she married Jai Ram and went to his town of Sultanpur, where he was the steward (modi) to Daulat Khan Lodi, the eventual governor of Lahore during the Afghan Lodhi dynasty.

Nanak was attached to his older sister, and, in traditional Indian fashion, he followed her to Sultanpur to live with her and her husband. Nanak also found work with Daulat Khan, when he was around 16 years old. This was a formative time for Nanak, as the Puratan (traditional) Janam Sakhi suggests, and in his numerous allusions to governmental structure in his hymns, most likely gained at this time.

Commentaries on his life give details of his blossoming awareness from a young age. At the age of five, Nanak is said to have voiced interest in divine subjects. At age seven, his father enrolled him at the village school as was the custom. Notable lore recounts that as a child Nanak astonished his teacher by describing the implicit symbolism of the first letter of the alphabet, which is an almost straight stroke in Persian or Arabic, resembling the mathematical version of one, as denoting the unity or oneness of God. Other childhood accounts refer to strange and miraculous events about Nanak, such as one witnessed by Rai Bular, in which the sleeping child’s head was shaded from the harsh sunlight, in one account, by the stationary shadow of a tree or, in another, by a poisonous cobra.

On 24 September 1487 Nanak married Mata Sulakkhani, daughter of Mūl Chand and Chando Rāṇī, in the town of Batala. The couple had two sons, Sri Chand (8 September 1494 – 13 January 1629) and Lakhmi Chand (12 February 1497 – 9 April 1555).

Biographies

The earliest biographical sources on Nanak’s life recognised today are the Janamsākhīs (life accounts) and the vārs (expounding verses) of the scribe Bhai Gurdas. The most popular Janamsākhī were allegedly written by a close companion of the Guru, Bhai Bala. However, the writing style and language employed have left scholars, such as Max Arthur Macauliffe, certain that they were composed after his death.

Gurdas, a purported scribe of the Gurū Granth Sahib, also wrote about Nanak’s life in his vārs. Although these too were compiled some time after Nanak’s time, they are less detailed than the Janamsākhīs. The Janamsākhīs recount in minute detail the circumstances of the birth of the guru.

Sikhism

Rai Bular, the local landlord and Nanak’s sister Bibi Nanaki were the first people who recognised divine qualities in the boy.

Happy Gurpurab

Happy Gurpurab

They encouraged and supported him to study and travel. Sikh tradition states that at around 1499, at the age of 30, he had a vision.

After he failed to return from his ablutions, his clothes were found on the bank of a local stream called the Kali Bein.

The townspeople assumed he had drowned in the river; Daulat Khan had the river dragged, but no body was found.

Three days after disappearing, Nanak reappeared, staying silent. The next day, he spoke to pronounce:

“There is neither Hindu nor Mussulman (Muslim) so whose path shall I follow? I shall follow God’s path. God is neither Hindu nor Mussulman and the path which I follow is God’s.”

Nanak said that he had been taken to God’s court. There, he was offered a cup filled with amrita (nectar) and given the command,

“This is the cup of the adoration of God’s name. Drink it. I am with you. I bless you and raise you up. Whoever remembers you will enjoy my favour. Go, rejoice of my name and teach others to do so. I have bestowed the gift of my name upon you. Let this be your calling.”

From this point onwards, Nanak is described in accounts as a Guru, and Sikhism was born.

Teachings

Guru Nanak’s teachings can be found in the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib, as a vast collection of revelatory verses.

From these some common principles seem discernible. Firstly a supreme Godhead who although incomprehensible, manifests in all major religions, the Singular “Doer” and formless. It is described as the indestructible (undying) form.

Nanak describes the dangers of egotism (haumai- “I am”) and calls upon devotees to engage in worship through the word of God - Naam - which implies God, the Reality, mystical word or formula to recite or meditate upon (shabad in Gurbani), divine order (hukam) as well as listening to the words of gurus and to engage in the singing of God’s qualities, discarding doubt in the process. However, such worship must be selfless (sewa).

The word of God cleanses the individual to make such worship possible. This is related to the revelation that God is the Doer and without God there is no other. Nanak warned against hypocrisy and falsehood saying that these are pervasive in humanity and that religious actions can also be in vain. It may also be said that ascetic practices are not favoured by Nanak, who suggests remaining inwardly detached whilst living as a householder.

Through popular tradition, Nanak’s teaching is understood to be practised in three ways:

  • Vaṇḍ Chakkō: Sharing with others, helping those with less who are in need
  • Kirat Karō: Earning/making a living honestly, without exploitation or fraud
  • Naam Japna: Meditating on God’s name to control your five evils to eliminate suffering and live a happy life.

Nanak put the greatest emphasis on the worship of the Word of God (Naam Japna). One should follow the direction of awakened individuals (Gurmukh or God-willed) rather than the mind (state of Manmukh – being led by self will) – the latter being perilous and leading only to frustration.

Guru Nanak’s Divine Journeys

Although the exact account of his itinerary is disputed, he is widely acknowledged to have made four major journeys, spanning thousands of kilometres, the first tour being east towards Bengal and Assam, the second south towards Sri Lanka, the third north towards Kashmir, Ladakh, and Tibet, and the final tour west towards Baghdad, Mecca and Medina on the Arabian Peninsula.

Nanak was moved by the plight of the people of world and wanted to tell them about the “real message of God”. The people of the world were confused by the conflicting message given by priests, pundits, qazis, mullahs, etc. He was determined to bring his message to the masses; so in 1499, he decided to set out on his sacred mission to spread the holy message of peace and compassion to all of mankind.

Most of his journeys were made on foot with his companion Bhai Mardana, a minstrel. He travelled in all four directions – North, East, West and South. He is believed to have travelled more than 28,000 km in five major tours of the world during the period from 1499 to 1524.

Nanak saw the world suffering out of hatred, fanaticism, falsehood and hypocrisy. The world had sunk into wickedness and sin. So he decided that he had to travel and educate people, pressing home the message of Almighty Lord. So he set out on his mission for the regeneration of humanity on this earth. He carried the torch of truth, heavenly love, peace and joy for mankind.

He visited various centers of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jainis, Sufis, Yogis and Sidhas. He met people of different religions, tribes, cultures and races.

His travels are called Udasis. In his first Udasi, Nanak covered east of India and returned home after spending about 6 years. He started from Sultanpur in 1499 and went to his village Talwandi to meet and inform his parents about his long journey. His parents wanted their young son to provide comfort and protection for them in their old age and so they told him they would prefer it if he did not go. But he told them that the world was burning in the fire of Kalyug and that thousands and thousands were waiting for the Divine message of the Almighty for comfort, love and salvation. The Guru, therefore, told his parents, “There is a call from Heaven, I must go whither He directs me to go.” Upon hearing these words, his parents agreed and gave their blessings. So Nanak started his mission.

The five journeys

Below is a brief summary of the confirmed places visited by Nanak:

  • First Udasi: (1499-1506 AD) Lasted about 7 years and covered the following towns and regions: Sultanpur, Tulamba (modern Makhdumpur, zila Multan), Panipat, Delhi, Banaras (Varanasi), Nanakmata (zila Nainital, Uttranchal), Tanda Vanjara (zila Rampur), Kamrup (Assam), Asa Desh (Assam), Saidpur (modern Eminabad, Pakistan), Pasrur (Pakistan), Sialkot (Pakistan).
  • Second Udasi: (1506-1513 AD) Lasted about 7 years and covered the Dhanasri Valley and Sangladip (Ceylon).
  • Third Udasi: (1514-1518 AD) Lasted about 5 years and covered Kashmir, Sumer Parbat, Nepal, Tashkand, Sikkim, Tibet.
  • Fourth Udasi: (1519-1521 AD) Lasted about 3 years and covered Mecca and the Arab countries.
  • Fifth Udasi: (1523-1524 AD) Lasted about 2 years and covered places within the Punjab.

Nanak appointed Bhai Lehna as the successor Guru, renaming him as Guru Angad, meaning “one’s very own” or “part of you”. Shortly after proclaiming Bhai Lehna as his successor, Guru Nanak died on 22 September 1539 in Kartarpur, at the age of 70.

So there ya go, everything you ever wanted to know about Guru Nanak, but were afraid to ask!

moon-pond-ripples

Stephen Yolland writes:

I am often asked – surprisingly insistently, by some people, actually – why I keep on rabbiting on.

Why don’t I just bugger off and make more money, or watch some more football, or make love to my wife or just sit and bliss out. (All attractive options, I must say.) Why must I choose to have an opinion on this and that, and with such ferocious passion, sometimes, and why on earth anyone would care, anyway, what I think?

Why do I feel I have the right to pontificate freely on topics of great diversity, and sometimes topics with which I am not, apparently, personally involved?

The answer is quite simple, and it is threefold.

Firstly, I believe we are all born with innate gifts.

Whether these are devolved to us in some spiritual way or merely the result of genetics, accidental wiring and our birth environment I have no idea. I have a suspicion, but I cannot be emphatic. I believe, nevertheless that it is true. It is why some people grow up to be fine artists, administrators, musicians, farmers, pilots, poets and so on. They have a natural aptitude which gets developed.

I believe passionately that the world requires us to build on our aptitudes: to contribute as much as we can with what we’ve got. That’s how the world keeps turning.

I can write. I have a good ear for tone, for a smart turn of phrase, and even though my memory is not what it was (helas!) I have a reasonably good vocabulary.

I cannot walk through this life alone.

I am interested in other people. I am connected. Whether those people are in Russia, America, Thailand, China, Britain, or my own country. I am interested in what makes them tick, why they think as they do, and what the results of their thinking are. “No man is an island”, and I am not. To be interested in other people, and to care about what happens to them, is in my DNA. It’s partly a spiritual commitment, and partly an observation that this is simply how I wish to be. It is an innate part of my humanity to be interested in others.

I know what I think. Well, I think I do.

Last but not least, I am opinionated. I have that type of mind that cannot look at a situation, or a problem, or an opportunity, and not create an opinion. It’s partly because, as a business consultant, it is my training. It is also because I have, for a “creative” person, a very logical and analytical frame of mind. I simply enjoy examining things from all directions, listening to all points of view, and then forming an opinion.

Once having formed an opinion, I then feel obliged to share it. Otherwise why bother holding it?

Are my opinions always right? No. Do I change them? Yes. Do I change them very often? Possibly not. My mother once said to me “If an opinion is worth holding, it’s worth fighting for”. I never forgot that.

What provoked this introspection, Dear Reader?

Howard Goldenberg

Howard Goldenberg

Well, I was privileged today to take a phone call from my friend and business colleague, Gideon Kline. Last evening, he was pleased to have been in the audience for some humanitarian awards the Jewish Aid community were handing out, and especially to have heard an inspirational speech from doctor, runner, activist, charity fundraiser and author Howard Goldenberg.

Goldenberg was speaking about the need for generosity of spirit, especially as regards our relationships with Australia’s first peoples and with the refugees who wish to live here. And his speech was, indeed, inspirational. Witty, apposite, empathetic, warm-hearted, and meaningful. You can read it here.

The speech is wholly wonderful: but what really hit home was his very Jewish insistence on how we are all beholden to continue to fight for a better world. A world in which the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you wish they would do unto you” is the one that holds sway. (The famous rule appears in all the Middle Eastern monotheistic religions in some form, of course.)

I reflected that it is so easy to become discouraged by the intractability of the problems our world faces. And as I reflected, this comment from Goldenberg really caught my eye, and sent me off to Wikipedia to lean more about the Pirke Avoth.

“Our sages taught, in Pirke Avoth – “The day is short, the work is great…

Lo aleicha ham’lacha ligmor, ve’lo atta ben-horin le’hibatel
mimenna …

It is not upon you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it …”

Along with others that were listed, I found this phrase extremely moving. And I realised it ultimately describes why I, and so many others, (many much more effectively than me), “keep on keeping on”.

I have also heard the exhortion described in a more contemporary way as “Be sure to be a planter of oak trees”. One never sees the fully grown tree oneself, because one simply cannot live that long, but one day someone will, and marvel at its beauty, and rest under it’s shade, and be glad of it.

“It is not for me to complete the work. but neither am I free to desist from it.”

That’s why.

That, and as many have said “When you cast a pebble into a pond, you never know where the ripples end.”

I have no idea whether my words ever change lives.

I know it would change mine if they were silent.

And yes: having grown one in my own back yard, which every autumn gives me a good crop of acorns, I also plant oak trees, occasionally, surreptitiously, around the immaculately native-strewn and over-politically-correct parks of Melbourne, too. In fifty years, they will be the wonder of all who survey them. As famous, one day, as the elms, alders and other wonderful Victorian imports that still lend such a gracious air to our City today.

So sue me, already.

Adam and Eve debate the finer points of theology. By Rubens. Except they never did. No, the serpent never beguiled Eve, nor was Adam ashamed of his nakedness. Whatever next?

I have decided to republish this post for a couple of reasons.

  • It was very popular last time.
  • A Catholic Bishop in America says voting for Barack Obama will imperil your immortal soul. (But he isn’t telling his parishoners how to vote, mind you, despite the fact that this presumably only leaves them the option of supporting a billionaire cult member who thinks when he dies he gets a whole planet to himself plus forty wives to play with. Plus Anne Romney, who I can see liking that idea. Not.)
  • And just the other day the Pope also expressed the opinion that gay people were not whole human beings. (They are therefore sub human, presumably. And we know where that led us with Cardinal Ratzinger’s countrymen last time around …)

So, my question is simply this: What are the people on?

The original article begins here:

In a comment that will rock the confidence of many traditionalist or literalist Christians of all denominations, Australia’s Roman Catholic Cardinal George Pell – one of the most conservative Roman Catholics in a senior position worldwide, and a possible future Pope – has publicly described the biblical story of Adam and Eve as a sophisticated myth used to explain evil and suffering rather than a scientific truth.

Cardinal Pell appeared on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Q&A” TV chat show, where he was debating British evolutionary biologist and celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins.

Cardinal Pell said humans “probably” evolved from Neanderthals (this is not strictly true*, but at least it concedes that mankind has a long history) but it was impossible to say exactly when there was a first human. “But we have to say if there are humans, there must have been a first one,” he said.

(By the way, this is widely considered, in the case of homo sapiens, to have been a female from Africa, if the DNA sampling of the world is understood. Originally, we were all Africans.)

According to Genesis, God created Adam and Eve as the first man and woman.

Asked by journalist Tony Jones if he believed in the existence of an actual Garden of Eden with an Adam and Eve, Cardinal Pell said it was not a matter of science but rather a beautiful mythological account.

“It’s a very sophisticated mythology to try to explain the evil and the suffering in the world,” he said.

“It’s certainly not a scientific truth. And it’s a religious story told for religious purposes.”

The interesting issue is that when a senior Churchman concedes one story in the Bible is mythology – meaningful, but mythology, nevertheless – then we must ask, what else is?

Noah and the Flood is one biblical story which is clearly ludicrous, unless you think he also collected two by two of every grub, bacteria and virus on the planet.

Critical theologians have long demonstrated that some of the chronology of the Old Testament – especially concerning Moses and Joshua, is not literally true. Once you remove one brick from the wall, the edifice of the literal 100% truth of the Bible collapses – correctly, in my view – and we can start to apply a modern mind to the writings of the past.

This, of course, is why so many Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants are hysterical about not reducing the verisimilitude of the Bible by a single word. What, for example, of the argument that the Bible says nothing at all about homosexuality when it is read in the original languages, even Pauline comments in the New Testament which appear irrefutable.

Will we next see Pell refute his implacable opposition to homosexual communicants and priests?

Will we see him weaken his opposition to female celebrants? (The Catholic Church long ago quietly forgot that women were supposed to stay silent in Church, and wear hats, of course.)

Pell directly contradicts the Catholic Catechism

As others have pointed out, this commentary on Adam and Eve also violates the Catholic Church’s official attitude toward the Primal Couple.  The Catholic Catechism, for example, states:

390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.

397 Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.

398 In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Created in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully “divinized” by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God”, but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God”.

399 Scripture portrays the tragic consequences of this first disobedience. Adam and Eve immediately lose the grace of original holiness. They become afraid of the God of whom they have conceived a distorted image – that of a God jealous of his prerogatives.

402 All men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as St. Paul affirms: “By one man’s disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinners”: “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” The Apostle contrasts the universality of sin and death with the universality of salvation in Christ. “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.”

403 Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam’s sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the “death of the soul”. Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin.

As one commentator remarked: “I wonder if the good Cardinal will now be excommunicated? Don’t count on it – the Vatican tends to turn a blind eye toward these local violations of dogma.”

PS Some Days Later and more than 4,500 hits later:

This article has been criticised on some (predominantly atheist) forums because it ignores the logical argument that if Adam and Eve was bunkum then “Original Sin”  is bunkum too, and therefore the redemptive power of Christ’s sacrifice is a nonsense, so, logically the whole of Christian religion is nonsense.  (The point made in 402 and 403 above.)

To my mind this interpretation sheets home to some atheists as much obsession with literal interpretation as I criticise in some Christians. Indeed, sometimes when I see leading atheists and leading believers go at it hammer and tongs, they remind me more of each other than anything else. Anyhow: “Original Sin” – being a description of humanity’s essentially imperfect state – does not, in my opinion, need to be established by the literal truth of the Genesis story. I am quite content to assert that humanity is flawed, (just look around you), and that Christ was not (read the stories).

When, how, and why humanity became flawed and why God chose the unique nature of Jesus to correct the matter can, for me, wait until I no longer see as through a glass darkly, which I do not expect to be anytime soon, and certainly not in this life.

Meanwhile, the facts on evolution as far as our God-given brains can discern them …

*While human evolution begins with the last common ancestor of all life, it generally refers to the evolutionary history of primates and in particular the genus Homo, including the emergence of Homo sapiens as a distinct species of hominids (“great apes”). The study of human evolution involves many scientific disciplines, including physical anthropology, primatology, archaeology, linguistics, embryology and genetics.[1]
Primate evolution likely began in the late Cretaceous, 85 Ma (million years ago) by genetic studies and no later than the Paleocene by the fossil record 55 Ma.[2][3] The family Hominidae, or Great Apes, diverged from the Hylobatidae family 15-20 Ma. Around 14 Ma the Ponginae or orangutans diverged from the Hominidae family.[4] Later the gorilla and chimpanzee would diverge from the lineage leading to the genus Homo, the latter around 5-6 Ma. Modern humans evolved from the last common ancestor of the Hominini and the species Australopithecines some 2.3-2.4 million years ago in Africa.[5][6]In the Hominini tribe, several species and subspecies of Homo evolved and are now extinct or introgressed, and only one species remains. Examples include Homo erectus (which inhabited Asia, Africa, and Europe) and Neanderthals (either Homo neanderthalensis or Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) (which inhabited Europe and Asia). Archaic Homo sapiens, the forerunner of anatomically modern humans, evolved between 400,000 and 250,000 years ago. Examples of archaic humans generally include Homo heidelbergensis, Homo rhodesiensis, Homo neanderthalensis and sometimes Homo antecessor and Homo ergaster.[7] Anatomically modern humans evolved from archaic Homo sapiens in the Middle Paleolithic, about 200,000 years ago.[8] Behaviorally modern humans developed around 50,000 years ago according to many although some view modern behavior as beginning with the emergence of anatomically modern humans.[9]

Time magazine has a go at explaining, er … time. Lots and lots of time.

One view among scientists concerning the origin of anatomically modern humans is the recent African origin of modern humans hypothesis (the “recent single-origin hypothesis” or “recent out-of-Africa” model),[10][11][12] which posits that Homo sapiens arose in Africa and migrated out of the continent some 50,000-100,000 years ago, replacing populations of Homo erectus in Asia and Neanderthals in Europe. An alternative multiregional hypothesis posits that Homo sapiens evolved as geographically separate but interbreeding populations stemming from the worldwide migration of Homo erectus out of Africa nearly 2.5 million years ago. Evidence suggests that several haplotypes of Neanderthal origin are present among all non-African populations, and Neanderthals and other hominids, such as Denisova hominin may have contributed up to 6% of their genome to present-day humans.[13][14][15]

Jim Wallace ACL

Look closely, children. Can you say B-I-G-O-T?
— noun
a person who is intolerant of any ideas other than his or her own, esp on religion, politics, or race
[16th century, from Old French: name applied contemptuously to the Normans by the French, of obscure origin]


As a Christian, I am embarrassed by the likes of Jim Wallace.

As a Christian, I think he’s going to hell for the crap he says and for the damage he does Christianity with his intemperate nonsense. Yesterday, debating Greens leader Christine Milne, he again quoted out of date statistics to defend his bizarre views.

The excellent website Crikey.com has systematically demolished his views. I repeat their story here because I cannot do as good a job as they have, and I probably cannot control myself from the defamatory things I want to say about Jim Wallace. I will say this: in my opinion, the biggest problems gays face – and the largest cause of depression and suicide in their community – is the evil mouthed nonsense spewed against gay people by straight people.

Before his views take root in the Christian community, read this:

Get Fact: do gays have more health problems than smokers?

by Andrew Crook


Yesterday, Australian Christian Lobby boss Jim Wallace told an audience debating gay marriage at the University of Tasmania that taking up smoking was a comparatively better lifestyle choice than engaging in the salacious activity associated with same-sex marriage.

“I think we’re going to owe smokers a big apology when the homosexual community’s own statistics for its health — which it presents when it wants more money for health — are that is has higher rates of drug-taking, of suicide, it has the life of a male reduced by up to 20 years,” he said. Smoking, by contrast, led to a reduced life expectancy of between seven and 10 years.

This morning, Prime Minister Julia Gillard pulled out of next month’s ACL conference in Canberra, condemning Wallace’s comments as “heartless and wrong”. How wrong? In another instalment of Crikey’s Get Fact series, we put Wallace’s claims to the truth test.

There are a mountain of studies reporting poorer health outcomes among the gay community — gays are more likely to be smokers, to use and abuse drugs and to attempt suicide. In a follow-up ACL press release this morning, Wallace pointed to Canadian data sent to that country’s human rights commission showing troubling rates of alcohol use, depression, a lack of access to care, higher cancer risk and violence.

But what about life expectancy? Smokers may go to the grave a decade earlier but is a same-sex attracted person really likely to have their lives cut short simply because of their sexual preference?

Wallace’s claim about mortality  — which he previously trotted out in The Australian last year — is repeatedly used by American anti-gay groups to ratchet up political support for the sanctity of marriage. But the foundation for the statement is dubious and contested.

Much of the “data” supporting that claim relates to gay men in an urban HIV subset (as opposed to say, lesbians in a civil union), and is at least 20 years old.

Wallace’s life expectancy claims could stem from a 1997 study in the International Journal of Epidemiology which concluded that “in a major Canadian centre (Vancouver), life expectancy at age 20 years for gay and bisexual men is eight to 20 years less than for all men. If the same pattern of mortality were to continue, we estimate that nearly half of gay and bisexual men currently aged 20 years will not reach their 65th birthday.

“Under even the most liberal assumptions, gay and bisexual men in this urban centre are now experiencing a life expectancy similar to that experienced by all men in Canada in the year 1871,” the study said.

But the data in that study was collected between 1987 and 1992, well before advanced treatments for HIV were developed. In 2001, its authors published a follow-up study blasting “select groups in US and Finland” for exploiting the research to “suggest that gay and bisexual men live an unhealthy lifestyle that is destructive to themselves and to others”. They wrote:

“If we were to repeat this analysis today the life expectancy of gay and bisexual men would be greatly improved. Deaths from HIV infection have declined dramatically in this population since 1996 …

“It is essential to note that the life expectancy of any population is a descriptive and not a prescriptive measure. Death is a product of the way a person lives and what physical and environmental hazards he or she faces every day. It cannot be attributed solely to their s-xual orientation or any other ethnic or social factor.”

A 2009 Danish study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that while death rates among same-sex married couples was a third higher than the general population from 1989 to 2004, after 1996 the mortality rate among gay men in same-sex marriages was similar to heterosexuals.

Another source favoured by gay marriage opponents is Cameron, Playfair and Wellum’s widely debunkedgay obituary” study published in 1994 in the Omega Journal of Death and Dying. It concluded gay men have an average lifespan of 43 years. The study involved researchers consulting the death notices — mostly AIDS-related — in the urban gay community press.

The problem was the study suffered from what statisticians call a “non response bias” — that is, the sample was corrupted by the non-inclusion of gay men who were still alive. According to statisticians from Columbia University, the average age of AIDS victims is about 40. But even before new treatments became widely available, only about 20% of gay men were likely to die of AIDS.

Cameron, the founder of recognised hate group Family Research Institute, followed that up with this pseudo 1998 study, “Does Homosexual Activity Shorten Life”. That was again based on dubious surveys of gay obituaries and other “random surveys” and found the “medium age of death” for homosexuals was less than 50 years. The evidence was “consistent with previous findings suggesting that homosexual activity may be associated with a lifespan shortened by 20 to 30 years”.

Even excusing its dodgy methodology, treatment advances have rendered the conclusions defunct. As Andrew Carr, director of the HIV, immunology and infectious diseases unit at St Vincent’s Hospital, told The Sydney Morning Herald in July: ”Once upon a time the average person who got HIV had a life expectancy of about 10 years. Now, if you get HIV and go on treatment your life is still probably shorter than if you had never had the virus, but maybe only five to 10 years less.”

Carr said that when groups prone to HIV are stripped out, notably injecting drug users, then the difference becomes even smaller. And in the US, the death rate from HIV was nine times higher in 1990 than two years ago.

One of the other studies cited by Wallace in the past — a 2003 Dutch study  — found on average gay relationships only last 18 months. Those findings, published in the journal AIDS, were based on a cohort of young Dutch gays aged 18-21 residing in the middle of Amsterdam.

In fact, other research, including a study in the US state of Vermont  — the first state to legalise same-sex civil unions — showed civil union households seemed to mirror that of the general population. Crucially, the data did not require “participants” or volunteers that skewed the result — it was a simple reading of the information collected by state bureaucrats.

In fact, it is likely that dubious media interventions like Wallace’s may in fact perpetuate many of the health problems he is himself referring to. A recent study from the University of Queensland, The Psychology of Same-Sex Marriage Opposition, showed that individuals exposed to media articles bagging same-sex marriage were more likely to report feeling negative and depressed and more likely to feel distressed, upset, guilty, scared, afraid, ashamed and nervous. They wer more likely to report loneliness, more likely to report they felt weak and powerless — and less likely to report feeling happy or positive.

A recent Psychologists for Marriage Equality submission to the Senate inquiry into the gay marriage bill cited a 2007 study showing the phenomenon of “minority stress” means “social prejudice, discrimination, and violence against lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals play a significant role in the mental health outcomes” of these groups.

So, while the gay population does appear to experience a disproportionate prevalence of negative health effects brought on by others, the evidence that gays die earlier than straights is dubious at best. Accordingly, we rate Wallace’s claims as mostly rubbish.

The Warren Cup, from the British Museum. Roman man anally penetrating a youth, possibly a slave. Circa 1st century AD.

Many ordinary Christians are deeply conflicted by their desire to embrace homosexual brethren in the fellowship of the church, when some of their leaders are telling them that these people are sinners.

Numbers of people feel very discomfited by the current debate.

So what is the “Biblical” teaching on gays?

Opponents of homosexuality almost always treat scripture as being “literally true” in a historical sense. Certainly, that is the case currently.

It follows, therefore, that any rebuttal of their claims should also adhere to this assumption, if it is to convince them that they are wrong.

I personally believe the early stories in the Bible are no more “literally” true than ancient Norse myths. But I am prepared to put that aside for one moment, and consider this issue under the rules that the “literalists” would apply, because many argue that the oft-trotted-out “Biblical” case against homosexuality simply doesn’t appear to “stack up”.

Genesis 19: 1-28

The ancient story of Sodom and Gomorrah has been used throughout the centuries as a condemnation of homosexuality, to the point where anal sex is referred to as “Sodomy”.

And that’s the problem. It’s become a cliché. We assume it’s true, because it’s been around so long.

The verses in this story most commonly referred to as proof that the Sodomites were homosexual are verses 4 and 5: “Before they could lie down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house,from boy to old man, all the people in one mob. And they kept calling out to Lot and saying to him: ‘Where are the men who came in to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have intercourse with them.”

Examining this scripture, the first thing we see is that all the people, in one mob, demanded that Lot bring out the visitors to them. If we are to believe that the account of Sodom & Gomorrah is a condemnation of homosexuality, then we must also accept the conclusion that the entire city consisted of homosexuals.

But if we look in the previous chapter, Genesis 18: 16-33, we see an account of Abraham negotiating with God to spare the people of Sodom, with the final outcome of God promising “I shall not bring it to ruin on account of the ten” (verse 33).

God promised Abraham that Sodom would not be destroyed if only ten “righteous men” could be found I the city.

If we are to accept the previous logic, this would mean that the “righteous men” referred to were, per se, heterosexuals.

Now it is a matter of Biblical “fact” that God (or rather, his angels) didn’t find anyone at all worth saving. But at this point, we then need to ask ourselves: what would be the odds of less than ten people in the entire region of Sodom & Gomorrah being heterosexual?

The obvious answer is “impossible”, of course.

If for no other reason than to ask, “where did all the population come from?” They were all gay immigrants, presumably, begat by parents left behind in other places that were heteroesexual? I think not.

So if homosexuality was not being referred to in this passage, then what was? Looking at the scriptures in Hebrew, we find an interesting usage of a couple of different words.

When the mob cries out “Where are the men who came in to you tonight?”, the Hebrew word that is customarily translated men is actually ‘enowsh which, literally translated, means “mortal” or “human”.

This indicates that the mob knew that Lot had visitors, but were unsure of what sex they were.

We can divine this because the Hebrew word for “man” (utilized in this same passage in Genesis 19:8) is entirely different. And one really has to ask: why would homosexuals want to have sex with two strangers if they were unsure of what sex they were?

The passage translated as “Bring them out so that we may have intercourse with them” needs further examination as well.

Other Bible translations read “so that we may know them”. The Hebrew word that is commonly translated as “have intercourse”, or “know” is yada.

But this word, yada, appears in the Hebrew Scriptures a total of 943 times. And in all but ten of these usages, the word is used in the context of getting acquainted with someone.

Had the writer intended for his reading audience to believe that the mob wanted to have sexual intercourse with the strangers, he could simply have used the Hebrew word shakab, which vividly denotes sexual activity.

Many people argue, therefore, that the correct translation, should be rendered something to the effect of: “Where are the people who came in to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may get acquainted with them.”

So then, if the story of Sodom & Gomorrah was not a condemnation of homosexuality, what was it trying to convey?

Two verses in Exekiel sum up the story this way: “Look! This is what proved to be the error of Sodom your sister: Pride, sufficiency of bread and the carefreeness of keeping undisturbed were what happened to belong to her and her dependent towns, and the hand of the afflicted one and the poor one she did not strengthen. And they continued to be haughty and to carry on a detestable thing before me, and I finally removed them, just as I saw [fit]“. (Ezekiel 16: 49, 50.)

It is commonly assumed, because we’re referring to Sodom, that the “detestable thing” referred to in this passage is homosexuality.

But in fact, the Hebrew word utilized here is tow’ebah, which translated literally means “to commit idol worship”.

This can be seen in the original Genesis passage, chapter 19, verse 8: “Please, here I have two daughters who have never had intercourse with a man. Please let me bring them out to you. Then do to them as is good in your eyes.”

One has to ask: If Lot’s house was surrounded by homosexuals, which presumably he’d know as everyone in the entire region was gay apart from him and his family, why would he offer the mob women?

Note also that these women were virgins. And that the Sodomites were pagans.

Virgin sacrifices to idols were a common practice in this era. Therefore, it can easily be concluded that Lot was offering his daughters as a virgin sacrifice to appease the mob in an effort to protect the visitors.

In the Greek scriptures, the story of Sodom is summed up this way: “and by reducing the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them, setting a pattern for ungodly persons of things to come”.

This corroborates Ezekiel’s summation, once again showing that these were “ungodly persons”; in other words, idolaters, not worshippers of the true God.

If we have difficulty with the logic of 100% of any population being gay, can we rather believe in 100% of a population being adherents of a particular pagan cult? Yes, we certainly can. If for no other reason that there was no tolerance of those who didn’t share pagan beliefs in many early societies. Not to agree was to invite exclusion or execution. You were in, or you were out. The Jews themselves exercise this attitude continually throughout the Old Testament.

So the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, therefore, is almost certainly intended as a condemnation of idol worshippers, and of a greedy and inhospitable society that sought to treat visitors in a threatening manner – which was also a sin, to the early Jews, by the way.

Many people argue, therefore, that it is perfectly reasonable to propose that this key text on the judgement of this region had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality!

Leviticus 18:22 & Leviticus 20:13

The message was clear to the ancient Israelites: semen was to be used for one purpose alone – procreation.

Spilled semen, whether by masturbation, anal penetration, or homosexuality, was not to be tolerated.

We have to place these edicts in some sort of historical context in order to understand them, if not to agree or disagree with them.

Life in those days was a “numbers game”. One of the Bible’s earliest edicts, a theme repeated through the Old Testament, was to “be fruitful and multiply”. If your tribe was numerically stronger than those around it, then good things would flow from that dominance.

(The same argument is currently used by the British National Party to argue for white Anglo-Saxon women having more children, but that’s another story.)

It’s an undeniable fact that many strict regulations were imposed on the ancient Israelites. The “chosen ones of God” understood each of these regulations to be equally important.

In the Greek scriptures, James points this fact out by stating: “For whoever observes all the law but makes a false step in one point, he has become an offender against them all.”

Fundamentalist Christians, however, selectively cite the two scriptures in Leviticus as a condemnation of homosexuality, overlooking James’ words which state, in essence, that if you’ve broken just one of the laws, you’ve broken them all.

So why do we focus so frequently on homosexuality?

Leviticus 19:27, for example, condemns haircuts and shaving. How many long-haired, bearded males attend your local Church? Or to put it another way, do we have agonised debates about Ministers who might have short hair?

Leviticus 19:19 also condemns wearing clothing made of more than one type of thread. Anybody reading this wear clothing made of 50% cotton and 50% polyester?

Taking the Bible literally, such individuals are equally guilty as homosexuals.

This leaves aside, of course, any concerns about whether or not it is still OK for us to grab our neighbours and use them as slaves, or to go around killing anyone who works on the Sabbath.

When questioned by the Pharisees regarding these ancient laws, Jesus’ reply was “I came, not to destroy, but to fulfill”. In other words, Christianity and love of God and fellow man was a replacement for the strict ancient codes, many of which were no longer practical or relevant.

But let us forget, for a moment, putting things in an historical context, or the fundamentalists will simply argue that we’re “messing with the truth”.

Let us look at the arguments of those who believe these two passages don’t really condemn homosexuality at all.

Looking at the scriptures in Hebrew, one sees a different condemnation. Leviticus 20:13 states, in part, “When a man lies down with a male the same as one lies down with a woman”.

Had the writer intended to convey homosexuality being condemned here, he would have probably used the Hebrew word ‘iysh, which means “man”, or “male person”.

Instead, the author utilizes a much more complicated Hebrew word, zakar, which literally translated means “a person worthy of recognition”.

Zakar was used to refer to high priests of the surrounding idolatrous religions.

In ancient societies, surrounding the early Jews, it was believed that by granting sexual favours to the high priest (a fertility rite), one would be guaranteed an abundance of children and crops.

Taking Leviticus 18: 22 into proper context, then, one should also look at the preceding verse 21: “And you must not allow the devoting of any of your offspring to Molech”.

So what we almost certainly see here are warnings to the Israelites not to engage in the fertility rituals of the worshippers of Molech, which often required the granting of sexual favours to the priest.

Many believe that if this been a mere condemnation of homosexuals, the writer would undoubtedly have used clearer language.

Romans 1: 26-27, 1 Cor. 6: 9-11, 1 Tim. 1: 9-11

Greek, like Hebrew, is a much more descriptive language than English. As an example, while we have the word “love”, Greek has agape, storge, philia, and eros – each describing a different form of love.

Further, just as with English, the meanings of words can change over generations.

Ironically, “gay” is a classic example.

Some say that it is easy to understand why words in ancient Greek could be misinterpreted, as are the terms “men who lie with men”, “abusers of mankind”, “homosexual”, and “pervert” in the above referenced scriptures.

The two words in Greek used in the above scriptures that are commonly mistranslated as such are arsenokoites and malakoi.

Bible scholars now believe arsenokoites to mean “male temple prostitute”, as mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures at Deut. 23: 17-18.

The actual meaning of this word, however, has been lost in history, as it was a slang term which, literally translated, means “lift bed”.

The Greek malakoi, literally translated, means “spineless” (some linguistics scholars translate it as “limp”, or “coward”).

What is important to note here is that both of these words are nouns. In ancient Greek, there is no known noun to define homosexuality. It was always expressed as a verb.

So just as in the Hebrew scriptures examined earlier, it appears that the Greek scriptures actually make reference to those who engaged in idolatrous practices, much of which, as we know, centred around sex in return for favours.

Neither the homosexual nor the direct idea of homosexuality appears anywhere in these passages. Had the writer intended to make a clear point about condemnation of gays, surely the Greek verb for homosexual behaviour would have been utilised rather than these nouns which are directly related to cowardice and idolatry?

But last – and by no means least – what of Paul’s apparently incontrovertible statement at Romans 1 where “females changed the natural use of themselves into one contrary to nature and likewise even the males left the natural use of the female and became violently inflamed in their lust towards one another”?

This would appear to be a simple, trenchant condemnation of homosexuality.

But perhaps, yet again. the truth is more subtle than that.

A clue lies in Paul’s words in the earlier verses 22 & 23: “Although asserting they were wise, they became foolish and turned the glory of the incorruptible God into something like the image of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed creatures and creeping things.”

So obviously, again, Paul’s reference here is to worshippers drawn into the ever-present danger of idolatry, one danger of which is unbridled sexual licentiousness of the kind that a conservative Jew like Paul would have found abhorrent. Especially when seen against his mission to the Roman Empire, with its endless parade of cults and religions, and very lax sexual behaviour generally.

As mentioned above in examining the Hebrew scriptures, many pagan idol-worshipping religions of Paul’s day also taught that by granting sexual favours to priests, the one giving the favour would be rewarded with fertility of crops and offspring.

Many such cults were, in reality, little more than brothels with quasi-religious overtones.

Unfortunately, of course, we have to read Paul’s words without the benefit of knowing all the background to his letters, but it certainly seems reasonable to suppose that his attack here is on a complex set of behaviours to do with people who reject the message of Christianity and continue to adhere to older religions. It seems clear that Paul’s reference was not a dedicated attack on loving same-sex relationships, but his condemnation focused on people who were normally heterosexuals who had been prevailed upon to rebel against their own sexual nature, in the granting of sexual favours to the leaders of pagan religions, in expectation of reward by the pagan gods.

So whilst his apparent rejection of homosexual behaviour seems unambiguous, the context of the comments is much more complex.

In conclusion, nowhere in the Bible, according to many Biblical scholars, is any unambiguously negative reference made to stable, loving same-sex relationships. And after all, it is now widely agreed that anything up to 5-10% of the population identify themselves as predominantly “gay” as regards their sexual preferences. Are 5-10% of those sections of the Bible discussing relationships dedicated to condemning their choice? Undoubtedly not.

In fact, many gays argue that two positive references appear in the Hebrew scriptures of love between two people of the same sex:

2 Samuel 1:26 states: “I am distressed over you, my brother Jonathan, very pleasant you were to me. More wonderful was your love to me than the love from women.”

Ruth 1: 16, 17 states: “And Ruth proceeded to say: ‘Do not plead with me to abandon you, to turn back from accompanying you; for where you go I shall go, and where you spend the night I shall spend the night. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I shall die, and there is where I shall be buried. May Jehovah do so to me and add to it if anything but death should make a separation between me and you’.”

And while it must immediately be conceded that no mention is made of actual sexual activity between these people, it must also be pointed out that these couples had therefore made covenants with each other. And to the ancient Israelites, a covenant was viewed as a holy bond; a powerful uniting of two people.

We all have to wrestle with the truth of this matter in our hearts. Personally, I find it much more helpful to see what the Bible is arguing for, rather than what it is arguing against. Those who are currently affected by some Christians’ negative stance towards gays and lesbians should perhaps also seek comfort in the much greater preponderance in the Bible of messages of inclusion, acceptance, tolerance and understanding.

And the injunction, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

Post Scriptum

A correspondent kindly reminded me of this hilarious spearing of the literal truth of the Old Testament, from 2002. The introductory quotation is from that era:

The power of logic and quiet humour - "Dr Laura's" anti-gay viewpoints - for which she later apologised - sparked a worldwide internet phenomenon which did more to mock anti-gay beliefs based on the OT than anyone could have imagined.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a radio personality who dispenses advice to people who call in to her radio show.

Recently, she said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22 and cannot be condoned under any circumstance.

The following is an open letter to Dr. Laura penned by a east coast resident, which was posted on the Internet. It’s funny, as well as informative:

Dear Dr. Laura

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can.

When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them:

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15:19- 24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?

Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? – Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted fan,
Jim

As a Christian on Easter Day, I saw this on a website, and I fell to thinking. Especially because the final line on the poster I saw, underneath the hands, said, forcefully and somewhat cynically, “So don’t tell me about the power of prayer.”

I was confronted. Made to think. So good on whoever devised the poster, rather agressive though it was. We all need to be made to think, at Easter-time more than ever. An aside to my religious friends: atheists have their messages for us, too.

But, of course, its core proposition is unfair.

When religious people pray, we frequently ask for other things other than peace, an end to violence, an end to sadness and despair, and end to hunger, a fair sharing of the world’s resources, and so on.

In fact, generally, being only human, we are usually asking for messes that we have created in our own personal lives to get cleaned up, or for health and happiness, or even for wealth.

And sometimes, because we ask for things we don’t really need, and as God knows this, then sometimes his answer is therefore silence, or, simply, “No”.

So I cut the bottom line of the poster off. And this Easter Day, when Christians celebrate the simple but astounding belief that death is not the end of life, but rather the beginning, I would like us all to consider that, if we are to spend 10 minutes praying, then we need to spend them praying for others, other than ourselves.

And we then need to spend an equal amount of time, or more, campaigning against the evils of this world. In Jesus’s name, and in the name of our common humanity.

Because if Jesus of Nazareth was anything, he was an agitator. Knowing more than any man before or since how the world could be, he refused to accept the world as it was. He refused to accept violence, and hatred, and selfishness, and pomp and ceremony, and misrule and exploitation of the poor, the weak, the persecuted.

So spend time on your knees, by all means. But spend an equal time or more arguing with our fellows for what Jesus taught us.

Yes, Christians need to get into Church more often, but also to get out of Church more often, into the community. That might be as simple as speaking to friends or work colleagues. Not about how much we’d like to see them in Church, but how much we’d like to see more of Jesus in ourselves, and in them.

That way, we may repair some of the damage done to Jesus’s Church by scandal, selfishness, greed, and pomposity.

And on the need to heal the world, all Christians can agree. The religious and the secular can agree. Christians and Muslims and Jews and Janes and Buddhists can agree. That would be a good start. It might even lead us to heaven on earth.

I believe in the power of prayer. I have seen it wreak incredible, mystifying, astounding and inexplicable things. Not once, but often.

But I believe in the power of people modelling Christ much more.