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Striking down a bad argument

Adam Newman | Tuesday, September 10, 2013

There are many Americans today who use a literal interpretation of the Bible to justify their beliefs on social issues, such as pre-marital sex, abortion and, most relevant to today’s politics, gay marriage. The most relevant Bible passage is Leviticus 18:22: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”
Passages such as the above has become the basis for why anti-gay marriage advocates believe it is immoral for two men or women to have sex or marry. However, a closer examination of their argument shows why it cannot even hold (holy) water.
The issue with a literal interpretation of the Bible is that the Bible endorses many other practices that we as a society have come to abhor.
For example, the Bible endorses slavery: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ” (Ephesians 6:5), and, “Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property” (Leviticus 25:44-5).
The Bible endorses the idea of a man’s superiority over women: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord,” (Ephesians 5:22-33). The Bible also endorses how people should work: “On six days work may be done, but the seventh day shall be sacred to you as the Sabbath of complete rest to the Lord. Anyone who does work on that day shall be put to death” (Exodus 35:2).
As one can see, a literal interpretation of the Bible produces countless other lifestyles and procedures that as a society today we would find weird, immoral and evil.
The reason for opposition to certain social issues based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, however, is largely political. After the Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973, members of the modern conservative movement saw an opportunity to define themselves based on social issues, such as opposing abortion and gay rights. Social issues not only electrified the conservative base, but also stole away a large segment of conservative Democrats.
This strategy has proved effective, as the Republican party controlled the presidency the majority of terms since 1980 and was able to become more competitive in Congressional elections.
But if we are not to interpret the Bible literally, then how should we interpret it? One must realize that the Bible is a series of stories passed down from generation to generation over the course of centuries.
The writers of the Bible lived in very different times than we do today, when slavery, polygamy, etc., were acceptable practices. This is reflected in the Bible’s content. One must look past the small details and dig deeper into the Bible by understanding the context it was written in and then examining the symbolism and main message the story works to convey.
Anyone who simply interprets the Bible literally will end up with a contradictory set of beliefs and not have as full an understanding of the main message the Bible conveys: God’s unending and unquestionable love for his creation (including gay people).
This leads me back to the idea of literally interpreting the Bible and those who endorse it: Why don’t you also vigorously advocate for other policies based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, like slavery and polygamy? Why don’t you advocate to ban pre-marital sex? (“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” Hebrews 13:4.) Why don’t you advocate for laws against people to get divorced, or remarried? (“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery” Luke 16:18.)
The other question is that if people believe Leviticus 18:22 should be interpreted literally, then why shouldn’t you also interpret Leviticus 20:13 literally? (“If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”)
Those who justify their opposition to gay marriage and other gay rights based on a literal interpretation of the Bible simply use the Bible as a shield to protect their misguided views against gay people.
Rather, the Bible should be interpreted using context for a greater understanding of God’s love for his people.
But most importantly, we should realize that cherry-picking a specific verse out of the Bible to justify a policy position is wrong, especially when it is used to denigrate God’s creation.

Adam Newman is a senior studying political science. He can be reached at anewman3@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.