Cardinal Behaviour

Someone who’s been in the news over the last few days is Cardinal Keith O’Brien with his comments about gay marriage, claiming that it’s an “aberration” and playing the “what about the children?” card. I suppose I don’t need to mention that if a gay couple decide to have children then they have to make a conscious decision and plan it carefully. By contrast a straight couple can become parents by accident, no matter how careful they are.

Anyway, whatever the arguments for and against gay marriage, I don’t think saying “the Bible forbids homosexuality” is really a valid reason for saying it (or indeed anything else) shouldn’t be allowed. It’s worth remembering what the Bible is and where it came from. It is a collection of religious texts from the early days of Judaism and Christianity. There are arguments about which books are canon and which order they should appear in. Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the Gospels in the New Testament include different versions of the same events.

Without going into lots of detail, it’s safe to say that the Bible as it’s known now was thrashed out over hundreds of years and went through many different versions. Even for an atheist like myself the story of how tribal stories from thousands of years ago formed the basis of society as it is now is a fascinating one. It’s probably also safe to say that mistakes and interpretations were made over time, and the people involved in writing it down probably couldn’t resist for urge for editorializing and adding their own spin on things. Some of the stories in it were clearly of their time: Leviticus and Deuteronomy form the main basis of a lot of Christian “laws”, but Leviticus includes a handy “what not to eat” guide, and Deuteronomy includes various tips on public hygiene.

If Exodus is a story about how a tribe went searching for a country of their own, Deuteronomy and Leviticus are the rules that were laid down to ensure the tribe didn’t lose its identity or got killed off. Nothing like the threat of a death sentence and shame on generations to come to make sure people don’t question authority. Not all of these rules are relevant today: I don’t think ritual sacrifices (Lev 19:5-9) or wearing clothes made from different fabrics (Lev 19:19) are on most people’s “not to do” lists.

The point of this is that if you’re going to use the Bible as a moral guide then I think you should either go the whole hog and accept everything in it, even the anomalies and contradictions, or understand that some bits are irrelevant for today’s society. Have opinions by all means, but make it clear that they are your own opinions. The rules laid down for a tribe travelling from Egypt to Israel thousands of years ago are certainly interesting but I don’t entirely follow why picking and choosing certain bits to support personal prejudices is particularly helpful.