Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve Sermon

Exotic pie. Ad art by Psyho Studio, Ukraine, via CK's Weblog.
The Christianists are saying that Piers Morgan was "smacked down" on the sodomy subject by Dr. Michael Brown, the former "LSD-using Jewish rock drummer" whose mission nowadays is to "proclaim salvation to the Jewish people". Actually, as you'd expect, the argument is quite familiar and easily dismissed (though only if you've either [a] memorized the Bible or [b] have easy and quick access to Dr. Google, as Morgan presumably didn't during the interview). But it also has a really funny twist that I'm sure I've never noticed before.
When Morgan asked Brown to cite just one instance of Jesus condemning homosexuality, he probably thought that he had already won the debate. But alas, he was hoisted on his own petard.
Brown cited not one, but three instances of Jesus condemning homosexuality.
First, Jesus said that He came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. In other words, the Old Testament law, even in Jesus’ day, was still in force and Jesus accepted it. That is the same law that condemns homosexuality in the Book of Leviticus.
Next, Brown cited Matthew 15 in which Jesus states that all sexual acts committed outside of marriage defile a human being.
Finally, Brown cited Matthew 19 in which Jesus said that marriage, as God intended it, is the union of one man and one woman.
Game, set, and match. Brown.
Well, as everybody knows, Matthew 5:17-20 really does seem to suggest that Jesus expected his followers to obey the Mosaic law in every particular:
Stargazey pie, Cornwall, via 1010global.

But most Christians don't interpret it that way, which is why we see them freely indulging in shrimp, veal alla parmigiana, tattoos, earning money on Saturday, allowing menstruating women to leave the house, and letting people with pimples perform church services (Leviticus 21:18-22):
(Actually this would apply to the whole congregation, since in the New Dispensation of Jesus the Levitical priesthood is replaced by the "priesthood of all believers", I Peter 2:9 etc.)

They don't interpret it that way because Romans 14:13-23 tells them they don't have to; keeping kosher is for people whose faith is "weak". Dr. Brown might deny this (his recent book is entitled The Real Kosher Jesus). But non-Jewish Christians note: if the passage from Matthew 5 condemns male-male sodomy, it also condemns the wearing of linsey-woolsey fabric. And no doubt keeping your chin shaven as you leer at people from behind that 70s 'stache, Dr. Brown. Jesus definitely did not say "one of these least commandments, except for the really unimportant ones."
Heck of a soup-strainer, Brownie!
Anyhow, the funny part is something else: That Dr. Brown's other two Matthew citations involve cases in which Jesus specifically rejects the strict interpretation of Mosaic law. Chapter 15 is about his response to the complaints of the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus's disciples fail to wash their hands before eating bread (a Talmudic interpretation of Leviticus 15:11):
And Chapter 19 throws out Jewish divorce law: if you get married, that's the end:
Note that in this passage Jesus is not in any sense "legislating" marriage as an opposite-sex arrangement, or as limited to two persons either, merely describing what he knows; otherwise you'd have to read it as requiring all men to marry even if they'd prefer to stay celibate, which is plainly not what's meant. He can't be ruling out polygyny, which is not forbidden by the Jewish law he quotes but rather by Roman law; and same-sex marriage is clearly something he really hasn't thought of. I rather think he'd approve of it, as a happy alternative to those evil thoughts of adultery and fornication to which we are all, straight or gay, subject.

In both cases Jesus is adumbrating the contrast between the letter of the law and its spirit, central to Pauline Christianity, that will be fully developed in Romans 2:
Sin is not disobedience with respect to this or that prescribed ritual, but attitude—cruelty, infidelity, falsehood, disrespect—and by the same token not about where you happen to stick your dick but the love vs. selfishness with which you do it. Brown's argument is thus a three-legged stool in which two of the legs are actively conspiring to kick down the third, and fails.
Uncredited, via Houston Press.
As a matter of fact, Matthew's Jesus is constantly subverting Jewish law, trolling those scribes and Pharisees with his defiance and debating skills that make a good Jew look like a bad one and conversely. The very bit of Matthew 5 we started with, which my NRSV Study Bible headlines "Fulfilling the Law and the Prophets", is followed by a long section (Matthew 5:21-48) headlined "Jesus' Teaching Alters the Law", because that's what it does, aiming particularly at the Ten Commandments: it eliminates the prohibition against murder in favor of one against anger; insists that adultery is something one commits in one's heart (all you gay-haters with your minds continuously occupied with hot steamy man-on-man action take note); condemns the Levitical freedom of men to divorce; eliminates the prohibition against false swearing in favor of one against taking an oath at all; denounces the taking of revenge; and orders you to love your enemy (anybody, he snarks, can love his friends—even a tax collector).

So that pious disclaimer—"I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill"—isn't in itself an answer to the scribes and Pharisees, but rather a preface: a setup, in fact, for a pie in the face.

Merry Christmas, Christians, and everybody have some pie.

No comments:

Post a Comment