Musings Of A Spiritual Atheist

Very few people would deny that religious freedom includes the Right to express opinions on morality, including expressions of what sexual practices are permitted for members of particular religions. By the same token, it includes the right to make expressions about a wide variety of other practices including what dietary practices may be followed by members of particular religions. Looking at some of these enables us to draw clear parallells as to what it would be reasonable for legislators to do. The point can be illustrated with a simple example, but there are many others.

It is certainly their right for orthodox Jews and Muslims to avoid eating pig meat in any form. That does not give them the right to ban the production and sale of bacon throughout Canada. Yet what is the difference between banning intimate behaviour between consenting adults because some groups does not approve and banning the eating of pork because some groups do not approve? There is no substantive difference and there has never been any consideration given to banning pork products in Canada just because Jews and Muslims prohibit eating them.

The point is relevant because what the Old Testament says about homosexual behaviour is very often used to justify laws against it. The same scriptures roundly condemn using various items, including pig meat and blood, as foods. With reference to using blood as a food, the bible says in Leviticus 7:26, 27: “Moreover ye shall eat no manner of blood, whether it be of fowl or of beast, in any of your dwellings. Whatsoever soul it be that eateth any manner of blood, even that soul shall be cut off from his people.”

Note the penalty applied, any person who ate blood was to be "cut off" from among the people. What does that mean? It means they were removed from society, likely by being killed. Clearly, the Hebrew scriptures considered eating blood to be a major offence.

Likewise, there is a restriction on the kinds of meat that could be eaten. Although there were many animals whose flesh was not permitted as food, the most well known is pork, or swine meat: Leviticus 11:7-12 restricts pork as a food, but also forbids eating any kind of sea animal which doesn't have scales, like lobster, calling it an abomination. It says:–

“And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you. Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcass shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you. These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat. And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you: They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcasses in abomination. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.”

The point of referring to this quotation from the Bible is to pose the following question, "Should the Parliament of Canada ban the eating of lobster because the Bible calls it an abomination?" Any person who seriously made such a suggestion would surely be greeted with derision, as I am sure you would agree. Such nonsense would be unacceptable in Canada and would probably be laughed out of Parliament, and rightly so. Yet Christians opposed to homosexuality want Parliament to pass restrictive legislation for that very reason. defines the English word “abomination” as: “a thing or action that is vile, vicious or terrible”. Due to its English meaning, it is always assumed that where Bible translators have used it for the Hebrew words that it must have the same meaning. See the article “Bible Translation” for some cautionary comments. This is one of the occasions where the English word does not convey the same meaning as the words used in Hebrew, which have the meaning of “religiously unclean” to different degrees and not primarily the meaning of vileness inherent to the English term. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the Hebrew word “toebah”, which is the most common Hebrew word translated as “abomination”, means: “that which offends the religious sense of a people”.

In the list below are many of the things that the Bible says are abominations. Should Parliament ban them all? Should we have publicity campaigns by Christian churches attacking them all? Included in the abominations is worshipping gods other than the Bible god, Yahweh. Interestingly, Churches no longer stress this abomination in our free and democratic society and accept the principle of freedom of religion for faiths which are not based on the Bible. Yet, if their contention that homosexuality and same sex marriages should not be permitted because the Bible terms it an abomination, then surely following any religion other than one which worships the Bible god should also not be permitted for exactly the same reason.

Please do not misunderstand this comment. I am not saying that religions other than Christianity are abominations. I am just using what the Bible says to make a point about the double standard displayed by many Christian church leaders. My personal view is that all religions, Bible based or not, are equally as valid as each other and their adherants have the same rights to practice them as any other Canadian has to practice their own.

What I am saying, and very emphatically, is that the basic contention that some practice or other should be banned because it is designated an abomination in the Bible is not a valid reason to forbid it in our society, and very clearly violates the most fundamental aspects of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Biblical Abominations
This list is from a search for “abomination” using a computer and a bible text search program.

In the list of abominations above are those relationships forbidden for sexual intercourse. People engaging in sexual intercourse within these relationships are an abomination to god, it says. I would draw your attention to one of them, that a man may not have sex with his half sister, a common relationship in a polygamous society. It is found at Leviticus 20:17, “And if a man shall take his sister, his father's daughter, or his mother's daughter, and see her nakedness, and she see his nakedness; it is a wicked thing;”

Abraham married his half sister and the Bible is very specific that god told him to have sex with her and he would give them a son, Isaac. The statement from Abraham about his blood relationship with Sarah is recorded at Genesis 20:10:–

“And Abraham said, Because I thought, Surely the fear of god is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife’s sake. And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.”

What is the point of raising this? The point is that Abraham and Sarah were in the kind of relationship that is later called an abomination, that is, brother and sister having sexual intercourse. Despite this, god blesses the couple and gave them Isaac as a son miraculously, because Sarah was post menopausal by many years. The relationship was not only approved by god, they were rewarded by him, the man involved being promised that his descendants from Sarah would become uncountable and responsible for blessing all of mankind, since the Messiah, the Christ, the earthly manifestation of the Lord god himself would come from that marriage. This promise is recorded at Genesis 12:1–

“Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”

This promise to Abraham was made after he married Sarah and had already had sexual relations with her. God knows the future, so was fully aware that their relationship would later be identified as something that was an abomination to him. It must surely be obvious that Abraham and Sarah's marriage could not possibly have been an abomination if god chose to bless them in this fashion. So what are we to make of it?

There is only one possible explanation:–

What constitutes an abomination under one set of circumstances and at one period in time is not necessarily an abomination under another set of circumstances and at a different period in time.

This is an extremely important principle, so why is it always ignored? We now live in a different time and under a different law than that in the Old Testament. Christians are required to follow a new law, one based on love and consideration for each other. Why, then, do so many not follow that?

A closer look at the social practices of those times may help put this into perspective. At the time those sexual relationships were designated as abominations the Israelites were a bronze age culture embarking on a conquest of Canaan. The residents of Canaan already had a religion that was firmly established. That was the worship of Moloch and Ashtoreth, among others. One of its practices was sacred prostitution, with the price paid for sexual intercourse being donated to a temple.

The practice of sacred prostitution was firmly rejected by those who worshipped Yahweh, so any one practising it would have been those worshipping a god other than Yahweh, and that was specifically forbidden as one of the first of the commandments. This is the basis for pointedly refusing to accept money obtained by paying a prostitute when given as a gift to god. In those times it would have been obtained as the proceeds of a religious service to Moloch and Ashtoreth. That was the basis of such actions being an abomination, that it was done as a sacrifice to opposing gods. This point is made in Leviticus 20:1 which comes immediately before the list of things forbidden:–

“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, ‘Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones. And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he hath given of his seed unto Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name. And if the people of the land do any ways hide their eyes from the man, when he giveth of his seed unto Molech, and kill him not: Then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people.’”

From verse 10 onwards it gives the same list as in Leviticus 18, where they are designated abominations,

Note the words at the end of the quotation:

“Ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things”.

That puts it clearly in context. These practices were forbidden because they were what the Canaanites did when worshipping Moloch and Ashtoreth. It was the involvement of other gods that made them abominations, not just the actions themselves.

That last point is emphasised in the restriction in verse 21 on the list, the prohibition against a man having sexual intercourse with his brother's wife. One of the provisions of the Mosaic law was that when a man died without a son, the widow was to marry the closest male relative, usually a brother, and the first son from the union was attributed to the dead man to carry on his lineage. It was called Levirate marriage. Deuteronomy 25:5 says:–

“If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her. And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel. And if the man like not to take his brother’s wife, then let his brother’s wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuseth to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husband’s brother.’”

This makes it clear that the act of sexual intercourse between a man and his brother’s wife was not itself the abomination, but it became an abomination because of the circumstances surrounding it. It was required if the brother was dead, it was an abomination if the brother was alive. In fact, in the case of Judah’s daughter in law, Tamar, the brother who misused this obligation was killed by god showing very clearly that under some circumstances having sexual relationships with a brother’s wife was approved and required by god and under other circumstances condemned by him as an abomination.

What is clear from this is that an abomination may not always be an abomination. It is the religious component that makes it such, and when the religious component is removed, it ceases to be an abomination. The comments about a man who lies down with another man are of the same kind. Religious male prostitution with the proceeds being donated to temples was also practiced by those ancient people, and the inclusion of it as one of many abominations in the list makes it no better nor worse than any of the the others.

There is also one abomination specified in the New Testament. I find this one particularly interesting in that an undercurrent in some denominations is a belief that if god approves of you then he will reward you with financial, social, or some other beneficial success which men hold in high esteem. In fact, according to Jesus the opposite is true, and these benefits, if such they are, should be considered an abomination before god and avoided by Christians.

It is noteworthy that nearly all the things considered to be abominations are identified in the Hebrew part of the Bible, the Old Testament, mostly as a component of the Mosaic law governing a bronze age nation. The Christian scriptures do not dwell on that aspect of rule keeping very much, the important point being that salvation comes from accepting Christ and his sacrifice and having faith. It does not come from following rules of diet or behaviour but by the grace of god. With god all things are possible, even to the extent of saving those unsaveable.

Paul, in Romans chapter 14, verse 14 said:–

“I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.”

Paul was here talking about eating meat, particularly if it had been sacrificed in a temple, but the principle underlying what he said is worth keeping in mind at all times: that god made all things and nothing is inherently unclean (an abomination). It is only an abomination if we make it so.

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