Please bear in mind that, should you choose to read on, my comments in this blog don't relate to the beliefs of individuals, but rather the way those beliefs are arrived at and taught by the Christian churches.
One of the things I can’t accept is the pick-and-mix approach to spirituality and belief that has grown up over the centuries. It is part of the reason why I find it difficult to believe in Christianity as it is taught. This obviously requires some explanation, so I will elaborate, but for those who want the shorter version it is the way that Christianity has stuck like glue to certain biblical teachings while it has discarded others, but totally without consistency.
If this was a matter of deciding that Prophet A was obviously in close communication with The Almighty but Prophet B was clearly a charlatan this would be fine. It is consistent. But in many cases Prophet A is accepted as being the Voice Of God on this subject but not on that. That is not consistent and it means that men (it was mainly men) have decided which bits of the Prophet’s teachings they will adhere to and which they won’t.
The first real laws of the Christian religion are taken from the Jewish religion: The Big Ten, the Ten Commandments brought down from the mountain by Moses. So far so good. However, these laws didn’t stay at just ten. They multiplied and their multiplication is based on further conversations that Moses had with God. Ladies, gentlemen and those as yet undecided, I give you the Book Of Leviticus.
For those of you who don’t know, Leviticus is the third book of the Old Testament of the Bible, one of the five books of the Pentateuch on which the whole Jewish religion is based. The majority of the laws of the Jewish religion are to be found in this book. They are also the basis for many of the laws and beliefs of Christianity. While many other prophets may have issued laws and commandments, including Jesus, they never contradict those found in the Pentateuch. That is a very important point, because if any other prophet, including Jesus, says pretty much anything, it is just a repeat of these laws and this continues into the New Testament. It is known as Mosaic Law (the law of Moses). I'll return to that point later.
The book of Leviticus starts with the words “The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting. He said…” This, or a similar form of words, starts every chapter within the book, so the reader is left in absolutely no doubt as to who is laying down these laws. It isn't Moses, it's God.
What is contained in the next 27 chapters of the book is what The Lord told Moses, so he is the authority on what is said and if Moses is wrong about one thing then he is wrong about everything and, conversely, if he is right about one thing then it follows that he is right about everything. Which is where we get to my assertion that Christianity is a pick-and-mix of spiritual belief. I’ll take you through a few examples.
A lot of Leviticus lays down the format for various religious ceremonies of worship and atonement for different types of sin. I won’t bore you with those as Christianity decided long ago that they didn’t have to adhere to these ceremonies, many of which contained the ritual sacrifice of animals. So there was the first “pick” of the pick-and-mix (from here on referred to as the P&M). No animal sacrifices. Christianity substituted the sacrifice of animals with a sacrifice of money, which is the spiritual basis for the collection or offering during the Sunday service. There is a certain pragmatism in such a decision. Animal sacrifices are cumbersome and messy to perform and a waste of good food. They are particularly onerous on the poor who generally have to purchase the animal they need to sacrifice. But then again, sacrifices of money are also more onerous on the poor than they are on the wealthy!
The next prohibition is an interesting one, because it prohibits the eating of blood or of fat. There goes black pudding and the kebab; I’ll get to pork in a minute. But these two are specific prohibitions laid out in Ch 7 of Leviticus which Christianity decided didn’t need to apply, despite coming directly from God via Moses. Another pick from the P&M.
In Chapter 11 we get to the rest of what we may and may not eat. Again the chapter starts with “The Lord said”, though now he is saying it to Aaron as well as to Moses, as by this stage of the book Aaron has been appointed as the principal Priest. So, if you follow the Word Of The Lord what can you eat and what can’t you eat?
You can eat any animal that has a split (cloven) hoof and chews the cud, but it has to be both or the animal can’t be eaten. Basically you can eat cattle, sheep and goats and also most types of deer and antelope. Camels may not be eaten because, although they chew the cud, they don’t have a split hoof. This seems a bit arbitrary, but God knows what he’s doing. Rabbits are also off the menu for the same reason. Pigs have a split hoof but don’t chew the cud, which is why they are excluded as are many other types of animal; All excluded animals are classed as “unclean”, though goodness knows why. No one said it had to make sense.
Moving on from four legged animals, many types of bird, especially carrion eaters, are excluded as are many types of insect. However, this is an odd one, “All flying insects that walk on all fours are to be detestable to you”. This either shows a woeful lack of knowledge of insect anatomy or it’s a mistranslation of some sort. I could find no exemption for bees, which is interesting in itself as they produce honey. But bees fall into the unclean category because they fly and they crawl around on all fours (sixes actually). If bees are unclean then honey is also unclean because, according to Leviticus, anything that comes into contact with something unclean becomes unclean itself. So what about the Israeli Manuka Honey industry? I wonder how they get round that one?
There is no mention at all of arachnids, in a land that is known to have had scorpions (it may still have for all I know) and will also have had spiders because they're everywhere. I assume they are lumped in with insects even though that would be even more mathematically inaccurate given the number of legs they have. However, all is not lost. You can eat insects that fly if they also have jointed legs so they can hop, such as grasshoppers and locusts. Anyone fancy a locist sandwich? It's OK, it's permitted. There are further exclusions among animals, such as weasels, rats and basically anything that has paws rather than hooves, plus lizards etc and anything that crawls along the ground, which presumably means snakes and worms. Maybe that's also where the arachnids fit in. Verses 11 and 12 prohibit the eating of anything that lives in water that doesn't have fins and scales, so oysters, prawns, lobsters and crab are off the menu.
But back to the P&M, because Christians do eat pork and many other animals that are on the banned list. So who set themselves up as a greater authority than God? Because the chapter clearly starts “The Lord said…” I'll answer that later.
Chapter 15 deals with bodily discharges. I won’t go into detail, but let’s say that if Christians adhered to some of what is described here as unclean there would be more grumpy men and women walking the streets and probably fewer children would be born.
Now we get to the bit you have all been waiting for, the bit about sex. Chapter 18 deals with lawful and unlawful sexual relations. This starts off with the laws of incest. Not surprisingly parents aren’t allowed to have sex with their children and vice versa, and brothers can’t have sex with their sisters and vice versa. But that only covers verses 1 to 10 out of 30 verses. So who else did The Lord tell Moses we can’t have sex with?
Here’s the full list: Grandchildren (not really a surprise): step sisters: aunts and presumably uncles though this isn’t stated: wives of uncles and presumably also husbands of aunts: daughter-in-law and… well, you get the drift: the daughter of any woman you have already had sex with or any daughters by her sons and daughters; wife’s sister while the wife is still alive; neighbours' wives. Most of these are clearly about adultery, which is already taboo under the Ten Commandments, but that isn’t made explicit and the marital state of the man isn’t always apparent, especially when it comes to relations with aunts and the daughters of other women that you have had sex with. Surprisingly not on the list is cousins, though our modern understanding of genetics has shown this to be a bad idea anyway.
We know that some of these taboos have been ignored as it was quite common amongst monarchs and the aristocracy to marry their relations providing they fell outside the direct line. It kept power and money within the family.
Then we get to Verse 22. “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable” (some versions use the term “abomination”). There it is folks, the one that says you can’t be homosexual. But I’m getting ahead of myself, because we haven’t yet finished with the spiritual P&M.
Chapter 19 lays down lots of miscellaneous laws. You can’t eat leftovers the third day after they were left; don’t harvest land right up to the edges of the field; women can’t wear clothes made of different types of material (doesn’t seem to apply to men); if you plant a tree you can’t eat its fruit for three years; don’t mistreat aliens living in your land (that's aliens as in foreigners, not people from outer space). Finally verse 27 says you can’t cut the hair on the sides of your head or shave your beard.
That’s just a selection of some of the more obscure laws. Many of the ones I left out are those that we respect to this day and form the basis of our criminal law, theft and fraud are quite heavily represented, but the others have been discarded by Christianity from the spiritual P&M.
Chapter 20 deals with the punishment for sins, many of which involve death in various horrendous forms. I’m not against that being left out of the P&M, but it does point up the selectivity of Christianity and it is no surprise that in some countries (not naming any names) the Bible is still quoted as the justification for retaining capital punishment. Slavery, by the way, is clearly OK. Leviticus refers frequently to the ownership of slaves and their treatment.
So, why has Christianity discarded some rules, clearly setting itself up as a greater authority than God Himself (or Herself), but adheres rigidly to others. You can cut your hair and shave your beard off, but you can’t be gay. Women can wear clothes made of two different materials but they can’t be lesbians. You can eat pork, or rabbit or even rat and prawns, but you can’t commit judicial murder. You can’t keep slaves, even though Leviticus say you can, but you also can’t be gay.
At this point someone normally says that Jesus forbade homosexuality. Well, please show me the reference from any of the Gospels that shows that, because I’ve searched high and low and I just can’t find a single one. All the biblical references either draw on Leviticus or they aren’t included in the Gospels. Paul was particularly against homosexuality, but he wasn’t even an Apostle. That sounds more like bigotry than following the teachings of Christ.
As I said earlier, Jesus didn’t contradict the teachings of the Old Testament, but that isn’t the same as condoning them. That is what we call politics because Jesus had a tough enough time dealing with the Jewish priests without picking a fight with Moses as well. Instead Jesus gives his Disciples two new commandments.
In John Ch 13 v 34 Jesus says: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." Of course he is talking about spiritual love, not physical love, but there are no exclusions or caveats to that. It doesn't go on to say "unless they are gay". The second is in Luke Ch 6 v 31: "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Again there are no caveats and no exclusions. That pretty much rules out any form of bigotry. But of course Christians don't see their attitude towards homosexuals as being bigoted.
It is often said that if Jesus was alive today he would be a socialist. Maybe, maybe not. But socialism has no problem with homosexuality because socialism supports equality in all people. So if Jesus would be a socialist then it follows that he wouldn't have a problem with homosexuality. Conversely, if he did have a problem with homosexuality then he wouldn't really be a socialist.
Many Christians will say "Well, that's all Old Testament. Our religion is based on the New Testament." There is a school of non-catholic religious belief called the New Covenant (adherence to Old Testament law is the Old Covenant) that specifies this. It holds that the coming of Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament and wiped the slate clean, starting afresh with Jesus's teachings. However, with respect to Mosaic Law Jesus said "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil" (Matthew 5:17). More convenient P&M. You have to look at the intention of the phrase. Other versions say "....to make them come true." The only way to make a law come true is to adhere to it; to live it.
There have been many weasel words written about the translation, with the same word possibly meaning "destroy", "abolish" or "fulfill". Which means that the phrase could mean "I haven't come to abolish the law .... but to abolish it." which makes no sense. So the P&M seems to apply even to the New Testament, especially in relation to Matthew 5:17.
Catholicism, and by default Anglicism, adheres to the Old Covenant with regard to moral law. It is referred to as "natural law" because it is claimed to predate Mosaic law, despite a total lack of biblical or other evidence. But the Church doesn't adhere to its ceremonial or judicial elements. This is based on the teachings of Thomas Aquinas (1225 - 1274), so he, it appears, is the one responsible for the P&M approach. However, the food taboos are neither ceremonial nor judicial, as they are simply "unclean". As I have said previously, they were given as The Word Of The Lord, but it appears that our Thomas knew better. Perhaps he had his own direct line to God. Is it judicial or ceremonial not to harvest up to the edge of the field or not to eat fruit from a tree less than three years old? I can't quite see how those got left out, but there you go. You can do either of those now if you want and still be a good Catholic or Anglican.
So, there we have it; the spiritual pick-and-mix that, over the centuries, has become modern Christianity. If you don’t like the rules then you can change them, it appears. It has clearly already happened. But if Christians can change the rules to allow them to shave their beards or to eat pork, why can’t they change the rules to accommodate homosexuality? Answers on a postcard to His Holiness Pope Frances I, Apostolic Palace, 00120 Vatican City. Yes, that’s genuinely his address. Unfortunately the Pope doesn’t have a public e-mail address, but the Vatican website has a contact section here.
We hear a lot from the Christian churches about Lv 18:22, but we hear nothing about Lv 18:17, which is just as much a part of 'moral law'. I'll leave you to look that one up, but I wonder why the Church is so vociferous about one breach of the law but not of another. Unfortunately I think the Christian churches have painted themselves so far into the corner on this issue that they dare not change their minds. If they now say that being homosexual isn't a sin then the danger is that their congregation might ask what else they are wrong about and they dare not risk that. So, members of the LGBT communities, I'm afraid as far as the Church is concerned the status quo must be maintained.
Now I'm off to have a nice bacon sandwich followed by a prawn cocktail and then I'm going to eat an apple from a tree that's less than three years old before I shave my beard. None of that, by the way, is a euphemism.