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"Yours Is a Literalism of Convenience"

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. writes an open letter to a Miami-area high school teacher, Donna Reddick, who participated in a student-produced television segment broadcast within the school. The segment was part of a series featuring pro- and anti-gay opinions. In Reddick's segment, after anti-gay students had made their comments, she made hers:

The coup de grace... was you, invoking Sodom and Gomorrah and telling students homosexuality was "wrong according to the Bible" because God ordered humanity to multiply, which gay couples cannot do...

Put simply, I've had it up to here with the moral hypocrisy and intellectual constipation of Bible literalists.

By which I mean people like you, who dress their homophobia up in Scripture, insisting with sanctimonious sincerity that it's not homophobia at all, but just a pious determination to live according to what the Bible says. And never mind that the Bible also says it is "disgraceful" for a woman to speak out in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-36) and that if she has any questions, she should wait till she gets home and ask her husband. Never mind that the Bible says the penalty for going to work on Sunday (Exodus 35:1-3) is death. Never mind that the Bible says the man who rapes a virgin should buy her from her father (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) and marry her.

I'm going to speculate that you don't observe or support those commands. Which says to me that yours is a literalism of convenience, a literalism that is literal only so long as it allows you to condemn what you'd be condemning anyway and takes no skin off your personal backside. As such, your claim that God sanctions your homophobia is the moral equivalent of Flip Wilson's old claim that the devil made him do it.

You resemble many of your and my co-religionists, whose faith so often expresses itself in an obsessive focus on one or two hot-button issues -- and seemingly nowhere else. They're so panicked at the thought that somebody might accidentally treat gay people like people. They run around Chicken Little-like, screaming, "Th' homosex'shals is comin'! Th' homosex'shals is comin'!" Meantime, people are ignorant in Appalachia, strung out in Miami, starving in Niger, sex slaves in India, mass murdered in Darfur. Where is the Christian outrage about that?

"[Y]ours is a literalism of convenience, a literalism that is literal only so long as it allows you to condemn what you'd be condemning anyway and takes no skin off your personal backside." Brilliant.

Pitts could have added the following instructions from the Bible:

  • Women must not wear gold or pearls (1 Timothy 2:9).
  • A woman must not "teach or... have authority over a man" (1 Timothy 2:12).
  • People must not "not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material" (Leviticus 19:19).
  • Men must not shave (Leviticus 19:27).
  • People must not eat rabbit (Leviticus 11:6), pork (Leviticus 11:7), or shellfish (Leviticus 11:9-12).
(A tip of the hat to this page for source material.)

I suppose I'll take more seriously someone protesting homosexuality on Biblical grounds when they can show me they never work on Sunday; don't eat rabbit, pork, or shellfish; don't shave; don't wear knit fabric; and don't allow their wives to speak out in church, teach men, or wear gold or pearls. I'll think they're incredibly silly, but at least I won't think they're quite as hypocritical as most of their anti-gay brethren.


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Having grown up ignorant in Appalachia as a Southern Baptist, I have many thoughts on this. I love her response and agree wholeheartedly.

As a matter of perspective I will offer the opinion of the people who taught me when I was growing up. I was taught that while we read the Old Testament as history, the laws according to the OT were no longer necessary when Jesus Christ died on the cross. The laws of Leviticus were then only followed by Jews because Gentiles who believed that Jesus was the Son of God were set free from the bounds of those OT laws.

This always struck me badly, though, and as I began to break free of the religion I wondered why do we follow the Ten Commandments? Those are in the OT, not the NT. There are many other examples, but that was one of the main instances of hypocrisy, of people claiming believe one thing and practicing another. They picked and chose the parts that patted themselves on the back and let go of the parts that were inconvenient.

Reddick was right. I just hope she didn't get crucified for it.

Oops, I was mistaken about who said what. I agree with the columnist who called Reddick out. I'm sure he was lambasted for his article.

I'm glad for the correction -- I was worried there for a moment!

Thanks for the insight into how (at least some) religious people see this issue. You're right, though: if Jesus made the Old Testament obsolete as an instruction manual (as opposed to as a history text), then it's obsolete. It can't be partly obsolete. Christians can't pick and choose which parts of it are obsolete. And if it's obsolete, then why follow or even refer to the Ten Commandments? Or if it's not obsolete, then none of it is obsolete, and all the rules have to be followed. All those who worked last Sabbath are to be executed.

I agree, Frank. That kind of literalism is like a disease upon the Conservative Christian population in this country.

Such cognitive dissonance as this is hard to believe.

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