First century beliefs for a twenty-first century world

Speaking to a meeting of Hasidic Jewish leaders on Sunday, New York GOP gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino said, “I don’t … Continued

Speaking to a meeting of Hasidic Jewish leaders on Sunday, New York GOP gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino said, “I don’t want [children] to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option” to heterosexuality.

Religious organizations and people frequently lead opposition to gay rights in the United States.

In the August ruling which overturned California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage, a witness asserted, “Religion is the chief obstacle for gay and lesbian political progress.”

Why does religion play such a central role in debates about homosexuality?

Some politicians just make it too easy for “Saturday Night Live” writers. Cut to a scene of Hasidic Jews with traditional long beards, black-brimmed hats, and black garb similar to what was worn by 19th century Eastern-European Jews. A stern Catholic politician, New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, stands before the group and says to them, “I don’t want children to be brainwashed.”

Well, I couldn’t disagree with anyone who asks Hasidic Jews to stop brainwashing their children (though that’s not quite what Paladino meant). After all, Hasidic Jews teach their children that the Torah (Hebrew Bible) is inerrant, with a universe created by God 5771 years ago. Adam and Eve were the first humans, and all were destroyed in a worldwide flood except for the family of 600-year old Noah, who built an ark to save pairs of all species in the world.

But the scene I described above was not of a Christian criticizing Jews. On the contrary, Paladino was handed a script by the Hasidic Jews and asked to read it back to them in front of television cameras (Cut to similar scene of hostage situation). The brain washing of mutual concern to these strange bedfellows was the fear of children being taught that homosexuals should be treated with dignity and respect, rather than as the abomination referred to in the Bible.

So Paladino has indelibly presented himself as the religious values candidate, and has enthusiastic support among his Hasidic constituency because of his vow to veto any gay marriage bill if elected governor. Paladino’s Hasidic supporters were not asked what they thought of Paladino sending emails to friends depicting women having sex with animals. While the Bible also has something to say about bestiality, at least the horse involved was a male.

Though both Paladino and his Hasidic friends can quote Leviticus 18 to show that homosexuality is an abomination, I expect Paladino might differ from Orthodox Jews who accept from Leviticus 12 that a mother is unclean for seven days after giving birth to a son, and unclean for fourteen days after giving birth to a daughter. But even Hasidic Jews are willing to interpret some biblical passages “liberally.” Most do not call for homosexuals to be put to death, as prescribed in Leviticus 20:13.

It’s no surprise that religion plays a central role in debates about homosexuality. Religion has always played a central role in every form of sexuality, beginning with the view that children are born in sin and that the first couple were ashamed of their bodies and covered them after eating the forbidden fruit. To believe that homosexuality, masturbation, and contraception are always wrong, one has to ignore scientific and social evidence gathered over the last two millennia. That’s not a problem for religions tied to an ancient text, with adherents who believe they have the truth with a capital “T.”

Will conservative religionists someday accept gay marriage? I predict the day will come, just like all major religions now accept that the earth revolves around the sun, but probably not in my lifetime.

About

Herb Silverman Herb Silverman is founder and President Emeritus of the Secular Coalition for America, author of “Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt,” and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Charleston.
  • dangeroustalk

    Over the weekend, I crossed state lines into New Jersey to attend the Civil Union of two of my friends. This was the second Civil Union. For me, there were no differences between the two Civil Unions and any of the weddings that I attended and yet society sees a difference. Here in Pennsylvania, gay and lesbian couples can’t even get a Civil Union let alone get married. The timing for this week’s Washington Post’s, “On Faith” topic is perfect.Let’s face facts here, the main reason why there is so much opposition to gay rights and gay marriage is because of the Bible. Sure we can argue about people being afraid of those who are different and talk about cultural biases, but without a doubt it all comes down to religion and religion’s influence on our culture. If the Bible didn’t say that a man lying with another man was an abomination and they should both be put to death, we would now be having this discussion right now about gay marriage. You can read the rest of my response to this topic:I will be responding to every issue posted in the ‘On Faith’ section. If you would like to be notified when my new response is up, please subscribe.

  • globalone

    “If the Bible didn’t say that a man lying with another man was an abomination and they should both be put to death, we would now be having this discussion right now about gay marriage”Uh, yes we would. Unless, of course, you’re going to throw away the entire creation story as well.

  • volkmare

    One problem comes to mind: Children are NOT born in sin.Read your scriptures and you will understand this.Mark

  • rcvinson64

    Let’s all live according to the bible. Then we can truly see what misery is. Although, the institution of slavery would ease some of our burdens. Unemployment would disappear, after women are forced out of the workplace. All the unruly children would be stoned to death. What a grand society we would have.

  • shadow27

    Diseases are diseases. They don’t change thru time. Homosexuality was a disease since the beginning of humanity and it will continue to be so now and in the future.Cure is the only answer.Seriously though the many MANY levels you are just wrong are staggering. From a scientific viewpoint diseases DO change over time. I suppose you’ve never noticed that flu vaccines are updated every year to match changes in the strain.That aside, how is homosexuality a disease? It’s not communicable or deleterious. You can’t get it through a transfusion or a sneeze. Being homosexual doesn’t affect your health in any way.And if sexual orientation is a disease, doesn’t that mean heterosexuality is a disease as well? A far more virulent one, but disease none the less.Thoughts?

  • fhay18

    Why is it that conservative religious people are AGAINST something as opposed to being FOR something, e.g., compassion, forgiveness, love, and peace, which are a part of their holy writings. Also, I am appalled that gay rights have to be legislated.

  • LorettaHaskell

    When I watched the video of Carl Paladino speaking to Hasidic Jews in which he justified his attack on homosexuality on the basis of religion, my heart went out to all of my friends in the GLBT community and for all of the progress that our society is so slow in making.That Mr. Paladino has the fortune of having the power of money behind him and thus, a voice and platform to solicit support for his ill-formed, hateful ideas made me sad. How long does it take for society to evolve and how much do men like Mr. Paladino cost us in the long run? I shudder to think and bear the cost.

  • eal1

    How convenient to take what’s in the Bible and bend to one’s belief system. Didn’t the Bible speak often of multiple wives of the men of that day, a practice now not allowed by the very same religions that followed that practice? Well, the Bible is merely a set of guidelines for those who have no other means of figuring out how to live in this larger world and take responsibility for their own actions. Unfortunately, too many people believe that the Bible is the ONLY way, and even then, that’s up to multiple and constant interpretations – all quite confusing.

  • spidermean2

    Diseases are diseases. They don’t change thru time. Homosexuality was a disease since the beginning of humanity and it will continue to be so now and in the future.Cure is the only answer.

  • gladerunner

    “Homosexuality was a disease since the beginning of humanity”

  • garoth

    All the things that Mr. Silverman talks about have been debated in the church over many milennia – which means that there are a number of ways of answering these questions, all found in scripture; and there are differing opinins as well. the Biblical view of sexuality was not tied to sin – that was Augustine, and a Greek idea that came into Christianity through him and through Gnosticism – a philosophy declared heretical by the church, but which has had a heavy influence on the church’s theology nevertheless.Mr. Silverman is very right about one thing – theology tends to reflect cultural norms, and the church tends to support those norms, whatever they may be – even if they are not supported strongly by scripture. For example, conservative churches in our culture largely ignore the hundreds of calls by scripture to “do righteousness and justice.” We ignore the warnings against worship of the state, and the identification of national desires with the desires of God. We routinely ignore the hospitality laws of both the Old and New Testament, and their call to welcome and protect the stranger. The list goes on and on. Religion, for many if not most, serves to affirm their own biases and prejudices, rather than to challenge them.

  • pelicanwatchcb1

    In tribal Bronze Age cultures such as the ones which created these ancient proscriptions against homosexuality, there was at least a rationale behind the ban. These tribes needed as many babies as possible, because strength was measured in numbers. Six thousand years later, that rationale has not just vanished, but has become a serious impediment to good public policy, civil and political comity.

  • eezmamata

    God is a homo. Instead of having sex with Mary, he “knew” her. It seems like jebus was one too … you know how those things work.

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