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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality and Gay Marriage?

In the battle over gay marriage (which I’m pleased to say is going very well, and, as I’ve predicted in Related Posts below, is highly likely to be over by the end of June 2015 when the Supreme Court next addresses the issue), there have been a spate of recent letters to The Columbus Dispatch explaining that the bible condemns homosexuality and calls for marriage to be celebrated solely between one man and one woman.  This post addresses those assertions.

1.  Is Homosexuality Condemned by the Bible?

Alas, yes it is.  There have been valiant attempts through the years to take each of the biblical passages doing this and explain them away, but in my opinion they fail to convince any objective reader, even one who has read these explanations carefully.  The most famous text-by-text discussion of how the biblical passages can be supposedly read not to make homosexuality sinful is the well-known book by John Boswell “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality” (1980).  It’s a scholarly work, much praised, and the copy I bought when it came out and heavily marked up just as my own adventures in gay activism began still sits on my shelves in an honored position. 

            a.  Sodom and Sin.  God’s destruction of the city of Sodom is often referenced by today’s Christians as demonstrating the sinfulness of homosexuality, but Boswell points out that homosexual acts are never specifically mentioned in the story except as possible threats to the visiting angels.  His major thesis and that of many scholars is that Sodom was destroyed for its inhospitality to visitors, a major sin in early days.  It’s certainly used that way by Jesus when he said to his disciples:

Whosever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.  Verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.

[Matt. 10:14-15].  Even if Boswell’s reading of the story is right, centuries of misreading have equated Sodom’s fate with homosexuality and an attempt to persuade devout Christians of the wrongness of their interpretation will be dismissed without investigation.

            b.  Other Old Testament Passages.  Leviticus states “Thou shall not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination” [18:22] and “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them” [20:13].  Those look difficult to refute, but Boswell is up to the task, explaining that they only forbid ritual impurities and not moral wrongs (comparing it to the prohibition of eating non-Kosher foods).  Since St. Paul later freed Christians from the necessity of observing Jewish ritual prohibitions, Boswell contends that these precepts fell by the wayside as well.  To bolster his views Boswell points out that the Old Testament praises “intense love relations between persons of the same gender . . . e.g., Saul and David, David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi.”  Once again this will be a hard sell to devout Christians.

            c.  Dumping the Old Testament.  Another common way of getting around Old Testament prohibitions against homosexuality is to point out that there are many, many prohibitions of things in the Old Testament that we no longer think of as sinful: eating certain foods, wearing certain colors or garments [Leviticus 19:19 “Neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.”], or bizarre notions of fairness like cutting off a woman’s hand because it touched the genitals of a man fighting with her husband:

When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets: Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her.

[Deuteronomy 25:11, 12]  If these proscriptions no longer apply in the modern world, the thought goes, neither should supposed condemnations of homosexualty.

         d.  The New Testament.  As is often pointed out, Jesus said nothing about homosexuality (as he wandered about with male companions).  But Paul supposedly condemns homosexuality in three passages.  Boswell disposes of two them [1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10] as mistranslations of “licentious” that have nothing to do with gay sex, but Boswell has a more difficult task with this famous passage from Romans 1:

26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:  27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

Here’s what Boswell has to say about this:

[T]he persons Paul condemns are manifestly not homosexual: what he derogates are homosexual acts committed by apparently heterosexual persons.  The whole point of Romans 1, in fact, is to stigmatize persons who have rejected their calling, gotten off the true path they were once on.  It would completely undermine the thrust of the argument if the persons in question were not “naturally” inclined to the opposite sex in the same way they were “naturally” inclined to monotheism.  What caused the Romans to sin was not that they lacked what Paul considered proper inclinations but that they had them: they held the truth, but “in unrighteousness” (v. 18), because “they did not see fit to retain Him in their knowledge” (v. 28).

He finishes by stating that “Paul did not discuss gay persons but only homosexual acts committed by heterosexual persons.”

Out to the side of this last passage in the margin, the 1980 version of myself had written “GAK!”—the same gasp I always write on essay exams when the student has said something outrageously stupid.  What?  Boswell thinks it’s okay for the bible to condemn bisexuals?  Or maybe just those who are zeros on the Kinsey scale (completely heterosexual) who somehow go crazy one night and have a wild encounter with someone of the same sex?  Since I was fighting for the right of all people to express their sexual orientation in any responsible way, this was an unacceptable conclusion.  We now know that there are not distinct categories of “heterosexuals” and “homosexuals,” and Boswell should have known that in 1980 since Kinsey had made it perfectly clear back in 1948 [see Related Posts below].

Other writers have offered up different explanations to wish away what Romans 1 very clearly says [see, for example, the heartfelt exposition by a young gay preacher on Huffington Post at], but they all ring hollow to me.  If Paul (or for that matter the writers of the Old Testament) had thought his meaning was unclear—that there was any wiggle room so that homosexuality was all right in some circumstances—I’d bet a large amount of money that he’d have written much more on the topic to make it damned certain that he believed homosexuality was a major sin.

2.  Does the Bible Condemn Gay Marriage?

Well, the bible doesn’t actually say a word about gay marriage, though one suspects that its authors would have been appalled at the idea of Adam and Steve exchanging rings.  But the best response to the retort that it does condemn such unions comes from this letter to the editor printed in the Dispatch on June 25, 2014:

I must respond to the Friday letter “Gay marriage runs counter to God’s word” from Tom Duncan.  I am not sure what Bible he is reading, but “God’s word” defines marriage in additional ways. For instance, there are several stories of major characters in the Bible who engaged in polygamy (apparently sanctioned by God). There are several instances of such polygamous male figures also including any number of concubines. Deuteronomy 22:28-29 prescribes that a rapist must marry his victim and pay her father to compensate him for his loss. Genesis 38:6-10 spelled out a requirement that a widow who had not borne a son must marry her brother-in-law. These relics of the Old Testament are just as much a part of God’s word as the verses describing what is now being referred to as “traditional marriage.”

Can we stop taking our moral cues from an ancient, politically assembled collection of myths written by and for people far removed from the modern population?

Blacklick, Ohio

[Click To Enlarge]

 3.  Conclusion.  When I say that the bible does condemn homosexuality and certainly has no support for gay marriage in it, I don’t worry a bit about that conclusion.  I’m an atheist, and what ancient writings have to say about a homosexuality that its authors didn’t understand it of no moment to me.  The bible was written by heterosexuals (90 percent of people on the planet are predominantly heterosexual), so of course it’s not going to treat gay people well.  At the time it was written it was “them against us” and procreation (which increased the size of our tribe versus their tribe) was important.  The earth has now been overpopulated so that concern is moot, and indeed a wise policy would promote homosexuality to keep births under control.

Many and perhaps even a majority of homosexuals have religious beliefs, and they very much want their religions and its holy books to support their lifestyle.  If those books don’t do that, they’ll either have to accept that unpleasant fact and move on, or try and torture the meaning of the books so that they say something other than what is plainly meant.  I understand that urge, but I’m a lawyer and I’m interested in facts over yearnings.  What is is. 

The answer is simple.  I say let’s stop constructing modern policy from ancient mistakes and get on with doing what’s right and fair based on what we know to be true.

Related Posts:
“The Aging Gay Rights Activist,” March 24, 2010
“Catholicism and Me (Part One),” March 13, 2010
“Catholicism and Me (Part Two),” April 18, 2010

“How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010;
"How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World?" November 8, 2010;

“An Atheist Interviews God," May 20, 2011
“Creating the Bible: Water Into Wine,” April 7, 2013

“Disowning Your Gay Children,” October 9, 2013; 

"How To Cure Homophobia," July 30, 2015;  

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;

Friday, June 13, 2014

How To Get Rid of Your Student Loans


The answer is to elect more Democrats to Congress.  The Republicans have made it all but impossible to ever get rid of your student loans, particularly not in bankruptcy proceedings.  If you file for bankruptcy protection from your creditors, no matter how disastrous your financial situation is, you will emerge from the bankruptcy still owing every penny of student debt you incurred, and that debt will follow you to your grave.

It wasn’t always so.  I’m a law professor at The Ohio State University, and I’ll be teaching the course on bankruptcy there this coming fall semester.  Prior versions of the federal Bankruptcy Code allowed student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy where it was clear that there was no way the former student was going to be able to pay them off.  But in 2005 the Republican-controlled Congress pushed through major changes in the Bankruptcy Code, most of which were designed to screw consumers and reward banks.  Deceptively named “The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act” (BAPCPA), the statute made it difficult for many debtors to enter the usual bankruptcy proceeding in which the debtor surrenders all his/her nonexempt property and then is forgiven most outstanding debts, thus getting a fresh financial start.  Instead if the debtor shows any ability to repay those debts BAPCPA denies entry into that sort of bankruptcy and instead forces the debtor into a Chapter 13 plan, which consists of five years of debt repayment before there is a reduced discharge of some debts. 

Whichever version of bankruptcy consumer debtors enter, BAPCPA forbids the discharge of student loan debts unless paying those debts would “impose an undue hardship” on the debtor or his/her dependants [Bankruptcy Code §523(a)(8)].  The courts have construed “undue hardship” very strictly so that mere current inability to pay the debts is not enough to qualify.  Instead it must be obvious that the debtor will never be able to repay.  For example, in one case, Barrett v. Educational Credit Management Corp., 487 F.3d 353 (2007), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Mr. Barrett to use “undue hardship” to discharge his student loans because he had Hodgkin’s disease, with lymph nodes in his neck, abdomen, lungs, and liver, and was in pain so great he couldn’t hold up a coffee cup.  This made him unemployable, and there was no hope of recovery.  But it is a rare bankrupt-seeking debtor who is “fortunate” enough to be struck so low as to meet this standard and thus discharge student loans.

Senator Elizabeth Warren
The Federal Reserve reports that unpaid student debt has doubled since 2007 to around $1.3 trillion, with 40 million Americans having student loan debt averaging almost $30,000.  The Democrats keep trying to change things, only to be met with a filibuster in the Senate that kills any hope of relief.  Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), herself a former teacher of bankruptcy law (and a friend of mine) for years now has decried the fact that the federal government bailed out the banks with TARP billions of dollars loaned at ALMOST NO INTEREST RATE while projected to make over $127 billion dollars in profit from student loans over the next ten years.  Just two days ago her bill to allow Americans with student debt to refinance at a lower rate was given a favorable vote in the Senate of 58-38 (with some minimum Republican support while all of the negative votes were Republican), but the bill nonetheless failed. Why?  Because 60 votes is needed to cut off a filibuster, and 58 votes won’t do it.  I’ve thundered before against the stupidity of having to have a “supermajority vote” that filibuster rules require (see “Related Posts” below), and here again that stupidity prevented badly needed progress on this issue.  As her recent (and terrific) autobiography, “A Fighting Chance,” demonstrates—the audio book, which she reads herself is particularly fascinating—Senator Warren worked for years to prevent Republicans from pushing through anti-consumer changes in the Bankruptcy Code, only to be overwhelmed finally in 2005 when BAPCPA was enacted.

Congress is now so deadlocked that legislative relief for student loan debt is not coming soon.  The Republicans have control of the House of Representatives and are hoping this fall’s election will give them a majority in the Senate (they need a gain of six seats).  If that happens then Congress will be able to pass legislation (though the filibuster in the Senate will now switch and aid Democrats in creating a roadblock), but that legislation will certainly not be pro-consumer.  It will be pro-banking lobby.

If you’ve not yet taken out any student loans, don’t do so unless you are certain you will be able to repay them.  Instead work part time during college and pay for your degree as you go.  If you must take out loans, get them from your parents, or take out loans that are not earmarked for student educational purposes (i.e., general loans), which would be dischargeable in bankruptcy.

And, if this is an issue you care deeply about, stop voting for Republicans for Congress.

Related Posts:
Killing the Filibuster and Letting the Majority Rule in the Senate,” December 31, 2013
“Elena Kagan and Me,” March 23, 2010 (about Elizabeth Warren)
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013