Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Michigan Laws and the Less-Discussed Sins of Sodom

by Nomad

Despite a host of serious problems in the state, the minds of the Republicans in the Michigan Senate were focused on passing a dubious anti-sodomy law. But what is the truth behind the Biblical story of Sodom? Who are the real Sodomites?

Michigan and SB219
With so many things going wrong in that state, you'd think Michigan legislators would have their hands full. You'd think they would have no problem finding serious issues to tackle. 
However, you'd be wildly incorrect.  

Last week, legislators decided that it was much more concerned with the sex practices of its citizens than with those boring issues. The state Senate passed SB 219 that, as one critic says, "effectively reaffirms the state's unconstitutional law making sodomy a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison."
If the person is already a sex offender, violations are punishable by life in prison. 
Michigan is one of more than a dozen states that still have sodomy bans on the books, despite the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas declaring them unconstitutional.
The Court's decision in the Texas case ruled that intimate consensual sexual conduct was part of the liberty protected by substantive due process under the 14th Amendment. As Wikipedia explains: 
Lawrence invalidated similar laws throughout the United States that criminalized sodomy between consenting adults acting in private, whatever the sex of the participants.
Nobody told the Michigan legislators, it seems.  
While most people see this as primarily directed at gay couples, the laws criminalizing oral and anal sex can apply to both same-sex or different-sex couples. 
This law was deceptively attached to laws protecting animals from abuse. It should be mentioned that one progressive blog, Eclectablog, claims that this isn't an anti-sodomy law at all but a law designed to "prohibit convicted animal abusers from adopting another animal for five years." In that case, it is merely a badly-written law. Here's the sentence that has raised objections:
A person who commits the abominable and detestable crime against nature either with mankind or with any animal IS guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment for. not more than 15 years
The rather old-fashioned phrase, "the abominable and detestable crime against nature" in this context would certainly be a sexual crime presumably with an animal. In short, the crime of bestiality.

However, lawmakers inexplicably added the phrase "either with mankind or animal" which then changes the meaning to unnatural sexual acts, the classic definition of sodomy. If the state had repealed its old sodomy laws, it would be much easier to dismiss this as just a poorly-written law.

Since 2014, the Republicans in Michigan have held a strong majority in the State House and Senate. They can do whatever they want without much opposition.
Pandering to the Christian Right has now, critics say, devolved into enforcing baby-making sexual practices at a state level. Strictly speaking, every other form of sex could be considered "unnatural." (Even sex using contraceptive is technically unnatural.)

But if sodomy is the thing that really captures the imagination of the Michigan Republicans, then perhaps they should delve a little deeper in the story of the Sodomites and why, according to the Bible, God decided to destroy them.  

The Real Sodom 
The ancient city of Sodom will always be associated with "unnatural" sex practices. Yet, there was, according to another Biblical account, another reason why God exercised his wrath upon the city.

As Werner Keller, writer of  The Bible as History observes:
The calamity which is the subject of this powerful Biblical story of divine punishment for incorrigible sin has, probably in all ages, made a deep impression on men's minds. Sodom and Gomorrah have become synonymous with vice and godlessness.
But the tale of the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah is more than just moral fairy tale. Some archeologists claim they have found the remains of the cities southeast of the Dead Sea in modern Jordan. Others diggers in 1975 found inscriptions on some of the 20,000 cuneiform tablets with  mentions Sodom and Gomorrah explicitly – the first such reference outside of the Bible.

The cities were presumably destroyed around 1,900 years before Christ. After analyzing pottery, walls, graves, and flint, archeologist concluded that the cities were destroyed by a natural disaster mostly likely an earthquake, possibly "igniting underground methane and the region’s abundant bitumen deposits, and possibly caused a catastrophic landslide."

The conflagration was likely to have been an impressive sight to behold. It would naturally have left a strong impression on the minds and provoked a divine causation. It was natural perhaps that such a cataclysm would be turned into a morality play. It's what superstitious minds tend to do.
As Evangelist Pat Robertson has demonstrated on many occasions.

The Genesis Reference
According to the Biblical narrative, the ancient town of Sodom, along with its sinning sister Gomorrah, were destroyed when God got fed up with the goings-on there.

All those who dwell therein perished in a great catastrophe. The only exceptions were a few devout escapees, (Lot and nearly his entire family. His wife disobeyed the prohibition of not looking back and she was magically transformed into a column of Morton's.) 

Lot is supposed to be  the hero of the story but let's take a look at Lot. As we shall soon see, he is not what we would call an ideal father by today's standards.
Here's a passage dealing with the night just before the city was destroyed.
Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house.  They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.
A shocking tale of vigilante gay gang rape.
The over-sexed crowds were hankering were Lot's sons and his sons-in-law. The disturbing behavior of the Sodomites just doesn't make much sense, as if some critical details have been left out.

(Earlier in Genesis, there's a warning about the wicked men of Sodom who were "great sinners against the Lord." So the blame should fall on Lot who, all things being equal, should have kept the men covered from head to toe, ala burkas.) 

If that part of the story is strange, then what happens next is even more bizarre.
Lot goes out to the crowds and anxiously pleads for them to pester some other family. He attempts an unseemly bargain by telling the Sodomites in Genesis 19: 
“No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”
Read that passage again. He is literally throwing his virgin daughters out to the crowd to save the cowering men-folk. How perverse is that?

And this was supposed to be a righteous man, with God on his side. Eventually, the "hero" and his extended family manage a narrow escape.
And Sodom is immediately destroyed by God the following morning.

In the Old Testament, most of the Sodom's bad press comes from that Book of Genesis but there are other references.

The link to homosexuality is much more pronounced in the much later New Testament.
The Epistle of Jude, one of the disputed books of the Canon, mentions Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, and the sexual immorality and unnatural desire the citizen pursued. The punishment for that was eternal fire. 
If by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;
Importantly, the exact nature of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah isn't clearly specified in the passage. "Being ungodly" is pretty vague.

Ezekiel's Metaphors
There's another mention of Sodom in the Book of Ezekiel of the Old Testament.
In this passage, the writer condemns the city of Jerusalem (which is, by the way, still standing) and for its idolatry and other "detestable practices."
"You took your sons and daughters.. and sacrificed them as food to the idols."
The city is poetically imagined as a beautiful woman who has prostituted herself to her contemptible neighbors: the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Egyptians, "with large genitals." Worse than a prostitute. 
When you built your mounds at every street corner and made your lofty shrines in every public square, you were unlike a prostitute, because you scorned payment.
The sins of Jerusalem were metaphorically stated but they could be summed up as absorbing too many of the customs of the neighboring cultures and thereby polluting the purity of the one true faith and God's chosen people.

The writer then describes how God would take vengeance on the city in a passage which amounts to a description of the usual punishment for women accused of adultery.  
"[The Lord will] gather all your lovers, with whom you found pleasure, those you loved as well as those you hated. I will gather them against you from all around and will strip you in front of them, and they will see you stark naked. They will bring a mob against you, who will stone you and hack you to pieces with their swords.
There's no shortage of violent misogyny in the Old Testament.
Finishing with Jerusalem, he turns to her sister cities of Samara and Sodom which had copied these detestable practices.
Sodom's sin was especially loathsome.
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.
The sin of Sodom, at least, the one less mentioned, was a lack of compassion for the poor, of being arrogant and unconcerned. Pride and a lack of empathy for the needy. 

And for that very reason, according to Ezekiel, the city had to be punished. 
*   *   *
Even though it's a part of Biblical history that evangelists have long been fascinated by, nearly without exception, they seize upon the passage which mentions rampant homosexuality and other naughtiness. 
That, as far as they are concerned, has always been the sin of sodomy. They choose to ignore the part about the other divine motives for Sodom's destruction.

By concentrating on the saucy bits, most people simply ignore Sodom's other sin: the sin of indifference to the poor, the sin of a lack of compassion for the needy.
And that's a sin commonly practiced by heterosexual televangelists, right-wing Republican presidential candidates, greedy Wall Street types and otherwise devout Christians. Yet, it is hardly ever referenced at all. 

Those people, it could be argued, are the real Sodomites and Michigan State Senate appears to be infested with them.