Jul 21, 2000

The Outrage of Dr. Laura

It should come as no surprise that there is a war between radio personality Dr. Laura and the gay community, or "biological errors." Every day brings another outrage from this self-appointed moral guardian and an equal and opposite reaction from a stunned public. The ins and outs of these skirmishes can be found at StopDrLaura.com

It is a source of horrified fascination for me that homosexuality is such a rallying point for religious conservatives (be they Christian or, as in this unusual for-instance, Jewish) when the subject gets so little ink in the very text on which they base their lives. The only place in the Bible where homosexuality is referred to directly is in the old testament book of Leviticus, where it is referred to as an abomination. Sounds like strong stuff until you consider that a strict translation of the original text means "ritually unclean," much like eating pork. (Has Dr. Laura weighed in on the other white meat? If so, the National Pork Board has shown remarkable restraint.)

There are exactly two verses in Leviticus that address male/male love and nothing at all about lesbianism. Slavery, however, is absolutely fine in this text. It is a lesser sin, for example, to screw your neighbor's slave than his wife or daughter.

Leviticus does have its value. It explains food preparation in a time before refrigeration. It explains how to recognize and prevent the spread of infectious diseases like leprosy. It also has an inordinate amount of information on animal sacrifice. I don't know if Dr. Laura sacrifices lambs and goats, but she did recently call for the ritual sacrifice of a 14 year old girl. This because the child had the temerity to write an award winning essay on the first amendment and the internet. No really! I'm not making this up. Details can be found here. The evident irony of an embattled radio personality speaking out against freedom of speech is a subject for another discussion.

Views on homosexuality have run the gamut throughout history and have always been about cultural context, not divine revelation. Gay bashers who stand on Judeo-Christian scripture do so with very little foundation and invariable hypocrisy.

Addendum: I'd like to reprint the text of legendary "Letter to Dr. Laura," because it makes the case better than anything I have to say on this issue. This letter circulated heavily in email at the height of Dr. Laura's popularity. Details can be found here.

Dear Dr. Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

e) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination (Lev 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

g) Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev 19:27. How should they die?

i) I know from Lev 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

j) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev 24:10-16) Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted disciple and adoring fan.

Jun 21, 2000

Papal Sin

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  • Between 1983 and 1987 reports of Catholic priests sexually abusing children were calculated at a rate of one per week. No diocese in the United States has been without a pedophilia case.
  • Other casualties of the misdirected sexuality of Catholic priests are great numbers of women who "tempted" the priests only to be disgarded and in many cases pressured into terminating the resulting pregnancies.
  • The Vatican's stance on birth control is so unrelenting it will not even permit the use of condoms by married heterosexual couples in which one partner has AIDS.
Gary Wills portrait of the contemporary Catholic church conveys a top heavy institution whose leaders are embarassingly out of touch with the modern world and their own laity. They remain smug in their self-righteousness and continue to uphold a system rife with corruption and hypocricy. For this Wills does not blame the Catholic faith or the entirety of the church, of which he is a part.

At first glance Papal Sin may look like the angry polemic of a disgruntled lapsed Catholic, but it proves to be something completely different. It is Wills's love for the Catholic church, its core beliefs and rich history, that inspire his plea to the Vatican to admit its own errors, both present and historical, and respond to the majority of its members changing world views.

He takes the church authority to task on its torture of scripture and convoluted theories on "natural law" to justify its positions on birth control, abortion, celibate priesthood, refusal to ordain women, and homosexuality. These and other issues, he contends have increased the divide between the Vatican and lay Catholics, radically reduced the number of ordained priests, and led to inevitable hypocricy on the part of clergy all the way to the top.

His logic is sometimes muddled, as when he attempts to demonstrate the failure of the recently released papal document We Remember to adequately address the Holocaust. He opens this section by stating:

The debilitating effect of intellectual dishonesty can be touching. Even when papal authority sincerely wants to perform a virtuous act, when it spends years screwing up the nerve to do it, when it actually thinks it has done it, when it releases notice of having done it, when it expects to be congratulated on doing it -- it has not done it. Not because it did not want to do it, or did not believe it did it. It was simply unable to do it, because that would have involved coming clean about the record of the papal institution. And that is all but unthinkable.

Granted, it would be a vast undertaking to demonstrate just how cowardly a document this was, but Wills loses his best points by dwelling on some of the smallest and most ill-defined. In We Rembember the Vatican equivocates that it could not be held responsible for any Nazi complicity because such Catholic sympathizers were not part of the church hierarchy and were acting outside its authority. Wills argues that "all" Catholics are the church, not just the magisterium. This would seem to me to be an entirely separate argument. The more germaine point would be the blatant falseness of that position. Not only were there highly placed church dignitaries, such as Archbishop Cesare Orsenigo, who were Nazi sympathizers but it could easily be argued that it is the church's long history of documentable, institutionalized anti-semitism that led many Catholics among both clergy and laity to varying degrees of Nazi complicity. When the author does get around to making such points, the facts speak for themselves and they are disturbing.

A chapter on Mary worship is fascinating if only for what it does not say. Wills goes to great lengths to demonstrate how off the mark the deification of the Virgin is from a Biblical perspective. All true. Mary was not, in fact, a major player in the early church, and yet, she has since become the voice of compassion and a figure equal to Christ in modern Catholicism. Here Wills is missing the broader context responsible for this actuality. The Virgin Mary is one of the most noticable vestiges of the Pagan cultures overtaken by the expansion of Christendom. She is what is left of the Mother Goddess and one of the most likable aspects of modern-day Catholicism.

For all its tangential logic and emotional reactiveness Papal Sin is a compelling read. Wills shakes all the skeletons out of the papal closet and fixes an unflinching eye on its moral transgressions. He is a knowledgable historian and an aggressive reporter, but his devotion to Christian principals make this book more a call conscience than an attack on an anachronistic institution. It would seem his only agenda is to see his church saved from its own self-destruction.