Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Layperson’s Bible: In Which God Prohibits Spandex

“Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woolen and linen together.” (Deuteronomy 22:11)

That’s right. Blended fabrics are prohibited. God must have foreseen the invention of polyester, and tried to head it off, but thou art a stiff-necked people. Don’t feel too bad, though, because apparently only some Native American Indian tribes (and perhaps some cowboys) were getting it right, anyhow:

“Thou shalt make thee fringes upon the four quarters of thy vesture, wherewith thou coverest thyself.” (Deuteronomy 22:12)

On Popular Music: Katy Perry’s E.T.

Normally I am not a fan of Katy Perry; in fact, every time I hear “Wide Awake” come on the radio, I wish I was fast asleep. But this one I actually like. Not only do I not turn it off the second I hear it playing, I crank up my stereo to its maximum, no matter how old or large the crowd waiting at the stoplight with me. It’s fortunate that it’s got a funky backbeat, though, because lyrically, it’s conceptually strange. The singer appears to be describing her desire to have a sexual encounter with an alien life form. We have a term in English to describe the unusual kink of performing sex acts with members of another species. It’s called bestiality. Personally, I think it’s nice that the general public gets to hear about a perversion so taboo that all but the most hardcore pornographers shy away from it.  

Anyway, in addition to the standard version, I’ve also heard an alternate version of the song, featuring an introduction and later a vocal interlude by Kanye West, the latter part of which goes like this:

First, I’ma disrobe you,
Then I’ma probe you,
See, I abducted you,
So I tell you what to do, I tell you what to do, what to do. . .

An odd interjection, harshly delivered, and what is most intriguing about it is how it completely alters the character of the song. Without the interlude, the piece arguably centers on feminine desire; the singer perceives the extraterrestrial as a being who is “hypnotizing” and “magnetizing” and whose “kiss is cosmic.” The refrain further reflects her desire: “Kiss me” and “Take me” are its main features. However, the additional verse switches the focus of desire from the female to the male; the alien is not only now in charge, but has proclaimed his right as the kidnapper to subject his victim to his will. In short, we now have a rape story. 

But perhaps this was the underlying nature of the “kink” under discussion, after all. Consider the lines “Want to be a victim; ready for abduction,” and “Inject me with your love then fill me with your poison.” Although these words indicate submission rather than aggression, they are nonetheless suggestive of a submission which the performer finds desirable. In other words, it is being subject to the will of the alien that arouses sexual desire in the female; her sexual empowerment is derived from willingly submitting herself to it.

Of course, the bizarre concept of being “probed” by aliens, often with an implied (or even overt) sexual component, has been around as long as there have been abduction stories. This is perhaps a mark of human arrogance, for the notion that creatures from another planet would find us sexually desirable makes roughly as much sense as the idea that humans might be attracted to chimps or orangutans. All I can say is, if the aliens ever do come to call, we had better hope that they have Star Trek-quality devices at their disposal for their probing needs, for, if not, they are likely to attempt to unlock the secrets of our bodies in much the same way that we investigate the inner workings of the animals on our own planet. Not through penetration, but through dissection.

The Layperson’s Bible: Crime and Punishment Part I – Capital Punishment

Is The Bible a religious text or a codebook of law? Read the following, and judge for yourself.

We all know about The Ten Commandments, of course, but a rather large portion of the first several books of the Old Testament goes further than merely “Thou shalt not.” In fact, it not only differentiates right from wrong, but also prescribes sentences for wrongdoers, and it is difficult not to admire the simplicity with which it addresses the issue of crime and punishment, particularly when one calculates the legal expenses which might be saved if our courts abided by a more Biblically-styled system. Unfortunately, it appears that the writers of The Bible lacked the foresight to divine that in two thousand years few human legal disputes would revolve around oxen, sheep, and the treatment of slaves. And so we have been left to derive our own applicable punishments for modern crimes which are entirely absent from the code of Moses’ time, perhaps the most conspicuous of which is fraud, that bane of contemporary society which is either incredibly profitable or incredibly expensive, depending upon whether you are its perpetrator or its victim, and what degree of success you enjoy as either.  

But, concerning the major crimes, Biblical law, which, no doubt, itself carries forward from more ancient traditions, resonates remarkably with our own, in conceptual theory if not always in practical application. Except, perhaps, that the ancients appeared to believe much more strongly in capital punishment. According to the King James Bible, the following offenses are punishable by death:

Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made he man. (Genesis 9:6)
The land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it. (Numbers 35:33)

Well, death to murderers fits within our own system, at least in some states. Certainly everyone would agree that if we have to have capital punishment, that murder would be an offense to be punished with it. But the reasoning here is interesting. A murderer should be killed for two reasons: one, because if he kills a man, he kills an image of God, and that’s a big no-no, and two, because it is necessary to avenge the dead in order to cleanse the land of the crime. In other words, murder is an offense against both God and the land on which it occurs. Modern people, I think, see it more as an offense against the person murdered. Of course, we get our whole “eye for an eye” thing from the Bible, too, but very few of our crimes are punished in that manner. Although, come to think of it, personally I feel it would be very entertaining if I got to egg the kids who keep egging my car, and might even discourage others from following suit, especially if the eggs were rotten.

Interestingly, The Bible also provides a number of caveats even in the case of murderers, exceptions which are still very much present in the American law of today, but that is a subject for another post.

On to capital crimes numbers two and three:
Smiting one’s mother or father. (Exodus 21:15)
Cursing one’s mother or father. (Exodus 21:17)
You can be put to death for either smiting or cursing your parents. That’d get teenagers to honor their folks, eh? Or would we simply run out of teenagers?
Stealing a man:
If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him, then that thief shall die (Deuteronomy 24:7)

Interesting. The Lord seems to frown upon slavery. Or at least, of making slaves of your own people.

Working on the Sabbath:
Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the Lord: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death. (Exodus 35:2)

God is really serious about this one. In Numbers 15:35, he even orders a stranger, a non-Jew, stoned to death for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Of course, much to the chagrin of the Pharisees, Jesus went a little soft on the whole Sabbath thing himself, arguing that it was okay to heal the lame or pick corn if your men were hungry, but as Lord of the Sabbath, he couldn’t really be faulted anyway. Which is really fortunate for us – I’m sure you can imagine the carnage which would ensue at the mall on Sundays if we still adhered to this no-working thing. Of course, the real fundamentalists stay home and watch football and thus avoid trouble either way.

Worshipping other gods:
He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed. (Exodus 22:20)

The Lord spends a lot of the Old Testament trying to make this point. The Jews seem to have some trouble getting it.

Being mean to those who have lost husbands and fathers:
Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. (Exodus 22:22)
I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless. (Exodus 22:24)
This really surprised me. I’d be really curious to know why that was so important. I’m inclined to suspect that it had to do with war. You want your soldiers to be reassured insofar as possible that their loved ones won’t be mistreated in the event of their death.

Numerous sexual offenses also require capital punishment, including committing adultery, lying with one’s father’s wife, one’s daughter-in-law, or a woman and her mother (Leviticus 20:10-14; Sorry, fans of Stacy’s mom; that fantasy is strictly forbidden). For a man to lie with another man is an offense punishable by death, and also for a man to lay with a beast, although I’m not sure why the beast is called onto the carpet for it:

And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast. (Leviticus 20:15)
But these are only the capital offenses: fear not, there’s lots and lots more crime and punishment to come.

The Layperson’s Bible: Sexual Behavior Part I – Homosexuality

Apart from the Gospels, Genesis is arguably the best known book in The Bible. It’s got the creation, the fall, the flood, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his coat of many colors, and so on, all tied nicely together with the occasional so-and-so begat so-and-so. Now, until last month, I had not read Genesis since I was about twelve, at which time, not having formal religious guidance, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah went completely over my head. Later in life, it seemed obvious that the derivation of the word sodomy could be traced to the biblical story, and I assumed that this must have had something to do with the “wickedness” of the towns in question, but I admit that I was shocked when I recently read the actual account.

Now, bear in mind that God has already been planning to destroy the city, but Abraham talks him into sparing it if ten righteous men can be found within its walls. That evening, his nephew Lot accepts two angels disguised as men into his house. And here is how the King James Bible describes what happens next:

“But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter:
And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them.
And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him,
And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.
Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes; only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.” (Genesis 19:4-8)

If one were unfamiliar with the Biblical sense of the verb “to know,” one might believe merely that the men of the town were being friendly, and wished to become acquainted with the strangers. In fact, in a Gideon’s Bible, which I found in a hotel room, to my neverending surprise, the word “carnally” had been added to the passage in order to clarify its meaning. So how are we to interpret this particular story? Since the angels whisk Lot away from the city before it is destroyed with brimstone and fire, it must be presumed that his acts are righteous. Speaking to the very strict code of hospitality to which the ancients generally adhered, he protects the strangers under his roof, if necessary, even at the expense of sacrificing the virginity of his own daughters, which leads one to suspect that perhaps chastity was of less value in biblical times than previously believed. (Of course, afterwards, he goes on to impregnate his two daughters himself, but that is a subject for another post.) By contrast, in their “unrighteousness,” every single man of Sodom turns out to barge in Lot’s door in order “know” the men within, an orgy of homosexual indulgence which even the gayest of men could hardly be expected to endure. 

If we wonder at the veracity or import of this account, we must acknowledge that nearly the same story is told again in a different setting in the Book of Judges. A certain Levite and his concubine are taken in by an old man, when “certain sons of Belial beset the house round about, and beat at the door . . . saying ‘Bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know him,’ ” (Judges 19:22) to which the master of the house replies,

“. . .Seeing that this man is come into mine house, do not this folly. Behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you: but unto this man do not so vile a thing.” (Judges 19:24)
Well, the Levite brings forth his concubine, and after the men have “abused her all the night until the morning,” (Judges 19:25) she dies on the doorstep, after which her man divides her corpse into twelve pieces and sends them to all of the coasts of Israel. What lesson are we to learn from this? That it is better to rape a woman than a man seems obvious; for a man to lie with another man is an “abomination” which leads the Lord to destroy entire cities, whereas to rape a woman is a crime which, in the Biblical context, may or may not be punished. And the intense fear of male homosexuals revealed in such stories may have been a reaction to the homosexuality openly practiced by the ancient Greeks and Romans, who often focused their attentions upon young and relatively helpless boys.

But what is particularly fascinating about the Biblical depiction of homosexuality is the manner in which it seems to have carried over into modern-day homophobia. The gay men of today are more often stereotyped as effeminate or weak; their masculinity is questionable and therefore, not intimidating. Yet the Biblical homosexual is not only uncontrollably promiscuous, but aggressive in the extreme, and it is perhaps this attitude which has led to the widespread yet unfounded perception of the predatory nature of the homosexual community, even in the current day, and even in spite of the characterization of homosexual men as fairies, queens, and other feminine creatures. Granted, I do not have statistical information at my fingertips to support this assertion, but to my knowledge, outside of prison and other all-male environments, which contain many more opportunistic than natural homosexuals, it is rare for a man to find himself with a penis in his posterior merely because he bent over in the presence of a gay man. In fact, isn’t it straight men who typically gang up on homosexuals and not the other way around? If heterosexual men are supposed to be tough and manly, it certainly makes little sense for them to fear a gay man, much less to require the assistance of a crowd to take one down. Then why the attitude?

Current wisdom in the non-homophobic community contends that homophobes fear homosexuals and homosexuality because it speaks to their own hidden inner tendencies. In some cases, yes, this is probably true, but in most, I would disagree. I now believe that it is far more likely to derive from The Bible and the issues of its own time which it has carried forth through the centuries. If your first impression of homosexuals is that they will cluster about your house en masse and then beat down the door in order to defile you, of course you will fear them; it’s natural to go on believing what you’re taught when you’re young – that’s how most of us get religion in the first place. It would also tend to explain why female homosexuals are so much more readily accepted than males; again, except in certain special contexts, women are generally perceived as non-threatening, and even people who are disgusted by lesbians in principle are much less likely to be afraid of them. And, interestingly enough, although The Bible laments male homosexuality on countless occasions, the sole oblique reference to lesbianism that I have located is in the epistle of Paul to the Romans:

“For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature.” (Romans 1:26)
Of course, if you read Paul’s epistles, you get the distinct and sometimes overt impression that he’s supplementing a good portion of his given faith with his own  beliefs (also a subject for another post), and perhaps that is why his remark seems so particularly out of place given that female homosexuality is mentioned nowhere else in two massive testaments. In any case, although the homosexuality of today encompasses members of both sexes, it appears that, in biblical times, this was apparently not so, and one wonders whether it was because lesbianism was so uncommon, so clandestine, or so unoffensive in a way that male homosexuality never could be. Indeed, it makes one wonder whether it is the concept of homosexuality that the Biblical God finds so abhorrent or merely some of the forms in which it is practiced.