At the video store yesterday my wife suggested we pick up For the Bible Tells Me So, a documentary about Christian families whose children come out as gay. Despite a slightly silly and jarring animated interlude, it's a good film.
It would be especially worthwhile for people in similar situations: those parents, relatives, and friends who have been brought up to think of gays and lesbians as "abominations" (in the words of an oft-cited Bible passage) but who want to maintain their religion and also accept a loved one's homosexuality. Or for those raised conservatively Christian who are gay themselves, and struggle with it.
But I'm neither gay nor religious. I'm an atheist, and my many friends who are gay, lesbian, or transgendered don't offend my sensibilities in any way. For me, the movie is more of an anthropological study, and a fascinating one because a religious life is so far from my own experience.
It makes sense to me that those who work to reconcile the Bible (or the Qu'ran, or other religious books) with many aspects of modern life often have tough work to do. Those books were written centuries or millennia ago, by people who knew nothing of gravitational theory, fossils, deep time, microbiology and germs, Big Bang cosmology, evolution, quantum mechanics and relativity, plate tectonics, organic and inorganic chemistry, absolute zero, the concept of a vacuum, and DNA—or even of the existence of the Americas, Australia, Antarctica, and the Pacific Ocean.
So if authorities at the time thought that homosexuality was unclean or improper or abominable, of course they wrote that into their religious texts. Accordingly, that same passage of the Bible also condemns wearing clothes of mixed fibres, cutting your hair a certain way, and eating shellfish and pork as equally wrong. Plus, other passages of those same books condone or accept slavery, physical abuse of women, pillaging and murder during wartime, and other things many of us now consider abominable.
And indeed, still other parts say you should sell all you have and give the proceeds to the poor, not squander your wealth wastefully, go forth and multiply, not be arrogant and boastful, forgive debts, and love your neighbour. Oh, and you shall not work on the Sabbath, shall honour your parents, shall not kill or commit adultery or bear false witness, etc.
You can consider those proclamations the words of men now long dead—words sometimes wise and transcendent, sometimes narrow-minded and obsolete. Or you can consider them the word of God. Then you might have to interpret what those words could mean in a time where we have stood on the Moon, created antibiotics, invented the Internet, changed the climate, developed sexual reassignment surgery, measured the age of the Universe, and reached a population exceeding six billion.
I find those interpretations interesting. But unlike the subjects of the film, including well-known gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, for me they are unnecessary. I have no personal need to reconcile modern ethics and morals with the Bible or the Qu'ran or the Vedas; with the teachings of Buddha or Lao Tzu or Confucius; or for that matter with the myths of the Spartans, Aztecs, Bantu, Haida, or Maori. Any or all of those things can inform my sense of right and wrong, but they don't define it.
All of us struggle to be good people. For the Bible Tells Me So can help some of us in that struggle. It's worth watching, whether its struggle is yours or not.