Cheri DiNovo and Biblical Views of Homosexuality (Updated Below)
Aug 27, 2011

Cheri DiNovo and Biblical Views of Homosexuality (Updated Below)

I don't want to detract from the tone set in my previous overview of the religious leanings of Parkdale-Highpark candidates, but I feel compelled to address a particular interview with NDP incumbent Cheri DiNovo on the bible. As great as her religious egalitarianism is, I simply don't believe she is giving a fair interpretation of what the bible is saying in the three main passages in which homosexuality is claimed to be condemned. She has the unenviable task of apologizing for these views - something that intellectual integrity demands if one is going to be a devout Christian and entirely accepting of homosexuals. Because her comments are worth reading regardless both in interpretation and in offering background context and information, and because my subsequent remarks won't make sense unless one skims it, please read the interview here.

The first of the three biblical passages is the Genesis story of Lot in which God destroys with fire and brimstone Sodom and Gomorrah after the townspeople try to gang rape two angles disguised as males who are given refuge by Lot. Cheri DiNovo defend this (not the genocidal part which isn't commented on but the homosexuality part) as saying it was just about their inhospitality and the outcome would be identical were it for female angles (a counter-factual I have no idea how she substantiates). Except she neglects to apologize for the key part which is that Lot offers up his own virgin daughter to be gang-raped to the crowd if only they will not gang-rape the male angles. It is that one of the bible's central characters and founding father of God's chosen people is putting this act (whether because they are angles or because it is homosexuals we can't say) as worse than arguably the most inhumane crimes of offering ones virgin daughter to be gang raped. Now she claims further that this isn't meant to be taken literally. Okay sure, but if this is a metaphor or a symbol, what part of Lot's decision is supposed to be a good metaphor or symbol to follow? - even if we accept the narrative that God's action are just about the "great Theology of hospitality". I do accept arguments stated by others that the chief crimes of Sodom, mentioned in other places, did focus on other adjectives than homosexuality so if someone believes that homosexuality deserves destruction of cities then this is ludicrous. But Lot's preferential treatment cannot be ignored. Just to round out the story, Lot's wife is subsequently turned into a pillar of salt for disobeying an angle and looking back as God annihilates the town and then his daughters trick him into getting drunk and take turns impregnating themselves with him - charming.

Moving on. The next passage discussed is the one from Leviticus claiming homosexuality is an abomination to which one would surely be put to death. Firstly, she notes this is just one of some 600 such strictures in early Rabbinical doctrine of how to live ones life and how most of them are entirely trivial things like spitting or eating shellfish and so the condemnation of homosexuality should be seen on this level. Since almost everybody throws out so many of the other trivial things from Leviticus, we should stop focusing on just that homosexuality one to justify our bigotry. Great. But this is really just a reminder of how so much of what is written ought to just be thrown out. Either we are supposed to accept wisdom and guidance from these kinds of passages or we ought not to treat the bible as a book that is meaningful in today's world to provide such guidance. Yet she doesn't quite get to the point of tossing Leviticus out entirely (and thus eliminating the bigoted claim) because she emphasizes how Leviticus's principle message is for us to be "mindful" of our acts, mindful of what and why we do things. In that case, if Leviticus is to be our guide, we are to be asymmetrically mindful of homosexual acts - something that in modern conceptions deserves zero special emphasis if equality is to be maintained - even if only mindful to the level that we are mindful of eating shellfish. Finally, she notes that Leviticus, and indeed the bible, is meant to be interpreted and debated by the community. However, "homosexuality is an abomination" is entirely black and white. There is nothing to interpret here and she doesn't attempt to offer up an alternate interpretation. One can either accept that claim or reject it. Now I certainly think we should reject it, and hope the community of interpreters also rejects it, but if we are just left to pick and choose passages from the bible to accept or reject as we see fit then it loses any meaning as a relevant guide.

Finally we have Paul's diatribe in Corinthians. Here Cheri DiNovo compares the passage to what would come out of our friends sending emails to each other to be read 2000 years in the future, we should expect some wacky stuff out of that. Well of course, but people in 2000 years will not (and certainly should not) be basing the world's largest religion on the wacky emails we send to each other in the context of our times. Besides, Paul is not just a random friend, he is one of the most prominent and important characters in the new testament. She gives a pretty strong case for why the bible should be disregarded as a relevant text, but not for apologizing for homosexuality if we assume it IS a relevant, literal text. She also agrees we toss out his sexist comments and comments about slavery, but if we are tossing out so much of what he says, what basis can be made for keeping some things he said in? If our only test is "accept what we like, reject what we don't" then we don't need guidance from the bible because we are providing the guidance ourselves in what to accept or reject int he bible.

Don't get me wrong, anybody who uses these quotes from the bible to justify homosexuality is being barbaric and should be condemned in the strongest of words. That they are focusing on these messages and not, say, the more tolerant messages of Jesus (or the irrelevancies of Leviticus), is arbitrary and cannot be accepted. Cheri DiNovo's general program of de-stigmatizing the bible so it is acceptable by homosexuals is a laudable one. There clearly are many Christian homosexuals and they deserve to have the same acceptance and tolerance that others enjoy and I think they can find some comfort in her explanations. However, one can't entirely explain away these passages - try as one might - if one is going to take a literal view of the bible.

Update: For lack of a better place, I wanted to share this link regarding a Facebook conversation Cheri DiNovo takes place in. It does two things; firstly, it is one of the more egregious displays of a politician publicly berating constituents and losing their temper. Entirely not appropriate. Secondly, it confirms that she is queer and grew up on the street (the former fact might seem obvious but I had heard conflicting second hand reports) - to me this lends a lot of credibility to her staunch beliefs of inclusiveness of these two groups.  

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Paul's writings can be and have been used to justify a whole bunch of horrible things. Some examples are slavery, inferiority of women, and obedience to the Nazi government.

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