As an atheist, I find it extremely refreshing to encounter religious people, namely religious leaders, who have common sense when it comes to human rights. Religion has been used to justify hate and discrimination based on the interpretation of an ancient text. In our society, it seems to be acceptable for religious people to use their interpretation of this book to fight for policies that take away the rights of others. The other day I met a group of Jewish people, including a Rabbi, that demonstrated compassion for all human beings and common sense in the interpretation of their holy book.
The LGBT resource center on my campus hosted an event this week that focused on Judaism, the Hebrew Bible and the LGBT community. The discussion was led by a female Rabbi that considers herself to be part of the reform Judaism camp. To be honest, I can’t say I’m very knowledgeable in the Jewish faith. I didn’t know Jewish law prior to the discussion and I certainly wasn’t aware that this religion is not a biblical religion that interprets the bible literally, but based on a Rabbi’s interpretation of the Bible.
Our discussion started with the two verses I’m sure we’ve all heard: Leviticus 18:22 Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence and Leviticus 20:13 If a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death – their blood guilt is upon them. These verses have often been used to justify the classification of homosexuals as second class citizens. Not that I follow any sort of religious text, but let us just take a second to review the text written in between these two chapters of Leviticus. In Judaism, Leviticus 19 is known as “The Holiness Code.” In includes the following verses:
- You must not seek vengeance, nor bear a grudge against the children of your people. (18)
- Revere your mother and your father, each one of you. (3)
- You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old. (32)
- You must not oppress the stranger. You shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (33-34)
- You must not go about slandering your kin. (16)
- You shall not hate your brother or sister in your heart. (17)
- You may not stand by idly when your neighbor’s blood is being shed. (16)
- You must not oppress your neighbor. (13)
- You must judge your neighbor justly. (15)
- You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself. (18)
Which of these sets of verses does it make more sense to follow? For me, it is a no-brainer. The verses that talk about not judging others and loving others seem to align more closely with your “loving God” than do those that call natural behaviors abhorrent and classify them as punishable by death.
Speaking of punishable by death, let’s turn to some additional behaviors that are classified as such in this holy book. We don’t have to search for long to find them. Take Deuteronomy 21 for example. It reads, “If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. he will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.” Somehow, this verse is ignored. I know plenty of parents with rebellious sons and daughters. These kids are still alive despite the fact that the holy book requires us to rid the world of their evil. Not long after this in Deuteronomy, we learn that if a woman is not a virgin when she marries, the men of her town should also stone her to death. None of the brides I know would be alive at this point if we still carried out this practice.
The point is that holy books are cherry-picked to fit an agenda. In my experiences, religious people pick out the pieces that create an other that they both fear and condemn. If you are going to literally interpret parts of the Bible, you should literally interpret the entire thing. However, it won’t take you long to realize you’re guilty of breaking some of the laws put forth in this book. Maybe you should even be stoned to death.
I’m not claiming that ALL religious people are stupid. I know a few smart people that believe in a higher power. The point here is that I have never been in a room surrounded by religious people who have come to these conclusions about their holy book on their own. It is refreshing to learn that there are religious leaders out there that do not preach dispassion or injustice based on the holy word. Instead, their beliefs center on human rights for all of “God’s children.” If you’re going to preach, perhaps you should follow in their footsteps.