Leviticus, The Onion, and Homosexual Conduct
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The Onion has a column in its current issue entitled, “I’m Not One Of Those ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ Christians.” Like many Onion articles it is funny and takes conventional rhetoric and twists it to reveal a truth. It lacks some of the subtler shades of nuance of many other Onion pieces, which is often the case for their pieces which focus on Christianity (no doubt because they are too unfamiliar with the subject matter to properly mimic the tell-tale details necessary for really good satire).
The premise of the column, as can likely be gleaned by the title, is that a Christian is defending herself from unfair stereotypes people have of Christians. The joke is that all the stereotypes she lists are things that are more or less universally admired about the Christian message (but which we often, it is assumed, do not regularly practice): love the neighbor, turn the other cheek, serve the poor, etc. The writer is clearly supposed to be a typical member of the Religious Right.
We’re not all “Jesus Freaks” who run around screaming about how everyone should “Judge not lest ye be judged,” whine “Blessed are the meek” all the time, or drone on and on about how we’re all equal in the eyes of God! Some of us are just trying to be good, honest folks who believe the unbaptized will roam the Earth for ages without the comfort of God’s love when Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior returns on Judgment Day to whisk the righteous off to heaven.
One line in particular is particularly revealing of how the Left views traditional Christians (and it gets to the main point of this post):
And although we believe that the moral precepts in the Book of Leviticus are the infallible word of God, it doesn’t mean we’re all obsessed with extremist notions like “righteousness” and “justice.”
What is it with the Left and the book of Leviticus? Time, and time again I hear defenders of homosexual activity make arguments premised on the idea that Christian opposition to sodomy is based on Levitical prohibitions. Usually such a person thinks they’ve really ended all discussion when they make some sort of snarky comment along the lines of, You must support the death penalty for people who wear polyester and cotton. This argument became especially popular after President Bartlett made it in the TV show the West Wing when he confronted a Laura Schlessinger clone.
Two things baffle me about this line of thought: First, where the heck did they get the idea that Leviticus is the basis upon which Christians oppose homosexual acts? Second, the basic understanding among almost all Christians that many of the rules of the Old Testament are no longer operative in Christianity is not an obscure or difficult to understand Christian doctrine – in fact it plays a pretty central role in the New Testament.
Regarding the first. I was raised in a fairly fundamentalist/evangelical Christian environment. I heard little about the natural law, the procreative ends of the conjugal union, or even the traditional family as the basic cell of society. I did hear plenty of Biblical proof texts for what kind of behavior is right and what is wrong. I recall very little reference to the Old Testament when it came to homosexuality. There was some I guess, but for the most part we heard about the New Testament passages (there were several). I recognize that there is controversy surrounding the interpretation of these texts. And I recognize the perils of doing moral theology by means of proof texting. My point is only that the idea that Christian opposition to homosexual activity is rooted in a single Old Testament verse is absurd.
More baffling to me, is the seemingly complete ignorance those on the Left have of Christianity and its relationship to Old Testament law. I say this because to understand that Christians believe that certain obligations under Old Testament law were jettisoned with the life, death and resurrection of Christ does not require a high level of scholarship. It’s pretty much right there in any English translation of the New Testament. One need not know Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic to understand that Christians were no longer obligated to follow Jewish dietary restrictions. Extensive studies of biblical exegesis are not necessary to see that circumcision was no longer required. New Covenant/Old Covenant distinctions are pretty common among most practicing Christians.
Once again, my point is not to say that the relationship between the Mosaic law and Christianity is a simple subject. (Indeed I would commend Taylor’s own excellent work on the Jewish roots of our faith as an example of why ordinary Christians need and can greatly benefit from the solid and difficult scholarship of scholars.) What I am saying is that no Christian with halfway decent formation is going to find his whole world view shattered upon hearing some passages from Leviticus prohibiting conduct considered acceptable today.
I suppose what I really wonder is whether or not the Left is sincerely misguided as to Christian belief on the topic or if they are being entirely disingenuous when they make these arguments.