This morning on Twitter:
I recently found on Tumblr a more-or-less comprehensive list of things banned in the Leviticus book of the bible, entitled 76 Things Banned in Leviticus. I’ve seen this sort of list before, as has another Tumblr user, nonplussedbyreligion who breaks it down like this:
Like all things in the Bible, exegesis is key. These laws were supposedly penned by Moses between 1445-1444 B.C.E. They were meant to be used as a handbook for priests and Levites to lead worship, and a guide for the Hebrews on how to live holy lives. Holiness is such an important part of this text that the word is mentioned over 150 times, more than in any other book of the Bible. There is no misunderstanding what the book is about and for what purpose. What the Bible fails to do however is explain which of these laws have universal applications to all men, throughout time and eternity, and which only apply to the people of Israel.
Before I actually started studying the Bible, I had read it many times. There is a vast difference between reading scripture and studying it, especially for purposes of application. The decision to select some passages from Leviticus and uphold them, while ignoring others was something I never really questioned when I was being fed the word. When I actually started examining the who, what, when, where, why, and how of it I realized that there needed to be all or nothing. Picking and choosing made no sense.
There is a grey area that many theologians inhabit, that often differs from denomination to denomination, but they live there nonetheless. This space allows them to build the foundational doctrine of their church on parts of scripture that they believe to be the best. Some forbid women to wear pants and jewelry, while some have a come as you attitude. Some allow women to preach, while some do not. Churches that are inclusive and don’t view God as homophobic use the same Bible as the Westboro Baptist Church.
The same book, or even chapter of Leviticus used to support X as a sin, consists of myriads of sins Christians no longer hold to. So who gets to choose? Who decides which banned thing can be overlooked, deemed only relevant to the Hebrews, and which others are still applicable to all men? I’ve received some pretty detailed answers to this question over the years from Apologists and other brilliant Christians. Regardless of the length or brevity of the answer I received, the one constant was the idea that we are all God’s children and under the government of his laws. I’ve heard some pretty good arguments, but the selection process, the who gets to choose has yet to be answered. I’m doubtful it ever will.
I’ve spoken to a lot of Christians on the topic myself, and each has their own interpretation of Leviticus. Anything from “Jesus is the mediator of a New Covenant which renders the old laws irrelevant” (the topic of my next post) to “These laws hold true, and we are all sinners.” Many of those laws are punishable by death, however, which the latter respondent conveniently forgets.
Therein lies one of the biggest problems that faces Christianity – if we accept the premise that the Bible is 100% accurate, why the wide spectrum of belief?
The simple answer is this: vast swathes of the Bible is irrelevant to modern society.
Remember, many Christians find it more comfortable to believe in a god who doesn’t condone, command or commit murder, slavery, rape, child abuse, animal abuse, arson, torture, ritual mutilation, fratricide, patricide, matricide, infanticide, genocide, and so on, than to believe in one who does. Unfortunately, since the Bible (the Old Testament, and the New) is pretty clear about God’s position on these things, holding a belief in a loving, hippie Jesus requires ignoring huge portions of it. Or just never reading it in the first place, which seems to be the most popular option.
The most infamous verse in Leviticus is, of course, 18:22 which appears to condemn homosexuality as an abomination. Well, next time you hear someone quoting that verse from the Bible, remind them that trimming your beard or cutting your hair at the sides is also equality frowned upon (19:27); cotton-polyester shirts (mixing fabrics in clothing) and Labradoodles (cross-breeding animals) are also abominations (both in verse 19:19); eating fruit from a tree within four years of planting it is a sin (wtf? 19:23); not standing in the presence of the elderly (19:32); mistreating foreigners (19:33-34)… the list goes on.
So unless you’ve never done any of those things, perhaps it’s time to lay off quoting 18:22 for a while?