09 March 2008


What does a film about gays and religion mean to me?

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.

Labels: , , , , ,


Hi, just out of curiousity... what do you believe will happen to us after we die?
Simple: we decompose.
I haven't seen this movie but I've seen another that seems to touch on the issue of religion and gay boys simultaneously (but with a Hollywood twist). It's called "Latter Days" with Wes Ramsey and I forget the other actor's name.
I like that you mentioned that the same passage in the bible prohibits such other behaviors as pork and shellfish eating. I don't remember the other stuff except ritual cleansing and such for women, although I did look it up recently. I get angry when I hear people preach against homosexuality, citing the bible, all the while scarfing down BBQ or a shrimp cocktail (Ok, I've never actually seen this done simultaneously.)But the point is using the bible to condemn some behaviors, yet deciding that other prohibitions are just outdated.
I'm a Christian, but I believe in gay rights (and evolution too since I'm a bit of an armchair scientist). I'm definitly not a supporter of the religeous right.
Oh, and I personally don't want to decompose so I'd like to be cremated, but only after I'm dead, please.
There are many sins mentioned in the bible and God sees all sins as equal, man is born into sin and a life without sin is next to impossible. Homosexuality is not a greater sin than any other. God also speaks of mercy and looking at your own life before the sins of others. I do not believe homosexuality to be the life that God has chosen for anyone, nor do I believe a person should just merely accept they are homosexual and not ask God for help in this area. Many people fight with unnatural sexual attractions to children, these feelings are real, but it does not make it right, the fact is that this is socially unacceptable so it is looked down on and for good reason. God does not care about social acceptability. Homosexuality has become more mainstream and so more socially acceptable, this does not hold any merit with God, it is still a sin in his eyes.
All that, of course, assumes that you believe the Christian God exists. If not, it becomes a different kind of question.