The Cherry-Pickers of Leviticus

May 12, 2012

Bristol Palin is her mother’s daughter. Like her mom, Sarah, Bristol makes news saying things un-tethered  to reality, short on knowledge, and made of misunderstandings. In family tradition Bristol has come down on president Obama for his remarks on same sex marriage.

“While it’s great to listen to your kids’ ideas,” she says, “there’s also a time when dads simply need to be dads … it would’ve been helpful for him to explain to Malia and Sasha that while her friends parents are no doubt lovely people, that’s not a reason to change thousands of years of thinking about marriage…”

But these are political and religious talking points. My guess is Bristol has not put in much effort to find out how or why they may  be so. She suggests that in his talks with his daughters President Obama should have explained that there are certain things that are to be done in certain ways, and certain ways to think that have been worked out to a certainty many years ago by folks much smarter and more tuned to the thoughts of God than we are —which means, in a nutshell, that there are things religious folks don’t have to think about.

Fortunately, not everyone thinks like Bristol and her mom; if we did we’d still be hunting supper with spears. And we’d be castigating Wal-Mart for selling Chinese goods on the Sabbath. Not only that, but pre-marriage sex partners, Bristol and Levi Johnston, would have been stoned to death in a public square if tradition regarding marriage and sex outside it meant anything. But cherry-picking scripture has a long religious tradition too.

The Bible source most used to justify the oppression of gays is Leviticus. Leviticus is a wonderful book for folks who think like Bristol and Sarah. It’s chock full of rules. Ironically, it’s the go-to book for members of the nation’ theocratic party, the GOP, which hates regulation in business. To be a member of the GOP one must hate regulation in money matters, but demand it in personal affairs —especially those having to do with sex and procreation, and particularly when it comes to women.

Besides the verses loved by homophobes, Leviticus offers a cure for leprosy: take two birds, kill one and dip the other in the blood of the dead bird along with some cedar and hyssop, then, dip the live bird in and drizzle the leper seven times, pronounce him clean and let the live bird go. If Bristol ever has to deal with leprosy, she now knows what to do.

Leviticus also advises that we kill children who curse their parents. In fact Leviticus pretty much lumps parent cursing in with adultery and homosexuality and calls for death for all. If cursing parents were still subject to the death penalty it would probably solve our global population problem.

But the point is not to ridicule Leviticus or the Bible, but to suggest that what’s written there was written in fear, wonder and ignorance by ancient people. To cherry-pick from such books to establish authority to dump on your personally favorite dumpee is to show yourself to be as ignorant.

But Bristol also has another justification for depriving gays of the right to marry: tradition; or, as she puts it “…thousands of years of thinking about marriage.” Which begs the question: How have we thought about marriage?

The idea that marriage as we know it goes back to antiquity is just wrong.

In fact “… through most human history and in most cultures the most widely accepted tradition of marriage has been polygamy.” Stephanie Coontz, Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

But we’re not talking about just primitive cultures. Mormonism, the religion of Mitt Romney, until relatively recently had a tradition of polygamy. And if Bristol would open and read the first five books of her Bible she’d find that polygamy was once the prevalent biblical basis of family.

The definitions of marriage are as varied as any other human construction: in some societies “traditional marriage” meant one woman married to several men; in some a woman could take another woman as a “female husband”; in China and the Sudan, in order to forge closer family ties, a child of one family was sometimes married off to the “ghost” of a dead son or daughter of another.

But what about Christian marital tradition —the only kind that counts for many?

Taken literally, Jesus himself did not seem all that enthusiastic about marriage and family. In one place he said, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”

And Paul, the person to which  most Christian doctrine owes its foundation, thought that marriage was just a little better than burning in hell —a sentiment shared by many married heterosexual couples to this day.

In the early Catholic Church virgins were held in highest esteem, widows second, with wives bringing up the rear —an idea institutionalized in the dictum that wives be subject to husbands; although,  for smart, 21st century Christian women married to lazy idiots I’m not convinced the idea of voluntary subjugation carries much weight. God knows it wouldn’t in my family.

The fact is that our “traditional” ideas of marriage are relatively new. Just two centuries ago people married for “…mercenary or practical considerations,” not for love. And up until 130 years ago, men could legally beat their wives (again according to Stephanie Coontz); although many modern men have apparently still not heard that news.

But, look, everything changes (if you can show me something that doesn’t —other than the fact that everything changes—I’ll join your religion).

Marriage changes too. Religion has been instituted, in part, to stifle change, or at least slow it down. In this a certain political party is like a religion —and may have become one. It wants to bring social progress to a grinding halt and is, in fact,  presently working to do so.

But there has been no religion, party, or person who has ever halted change because change is the way the world works; the way the universe works.

If you want to give that a religious spin, Bristol: change is the way God works.

Jim Culleny
For The Shelburne Falls Independent


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