Twig-Picking and Other Sins
They've done it again. Religious zealots have struck yet another blow against equal rights for all Americans. Hawaii's constitution now guarantees the state legislature's right to treat gays and lesbians as second class citizens. For the most part, we may thank the Christian fundamentalists and the Mormons for the newly-ratified amendment.
Of the estimated $2.2 million spent in the Religious Right's noble crusade, $500,000 came from James Dobson's Focus on the Family. In an ironic twist, the Mormons have become defenders of the "traditional family unit"; $600,000 of the $2.2 million came from the Church of Latter-Day Saints. The Christian Coalition distributed 200,000 voter guides about it the Sunday before the election.
Can one really criticize these religious groups for being true to their faith? Perhaps the most common objection to equal rights for gays and lesbians is the religious one: "God disapproves of homosexuality," or "my religion won't allow me to support gay rights." What it comes down to is this: because the Bible says homosexuality is wrong, many people feel incapable of supporting or even allowing for gay rights. For example, when asked about his stance on the issue, House Majority Leader Dick Armey replied simply: "The Bible is very clear on this."
Armey has a point. But he isn't being very clear about the Bible. The Book of Leviticus commands us to murder homosexuals when we find them sleeping together. Some people would call this extreme. The Bible is also very clear about a number of other things. For example, when God catches a man picking up twigs on the Sabbath and thereby violating His law against working, He demands the man's death. Apparently, when He said you're not supposed to work on that day, He meant it.
Most of the religious people I know have the good sense to ignore large parts of the scriptures on which their faith rests. But there are some who take them seriously. These constitute a second group that would use biblical law to build a Bridge to the 11th Century and force every man, woman and child across it. As Matthew Shepard learned, some people not only support the death penalty for gays and lesbians, but they personally carry it out.
There exists a sizable third group of religious people, however, who think they can have it both ways: strict biblical authority about the sinfulness of homosexuality, minus the excessive punishments and the wackiness about twigs. My concerns are addressed to this third group.
It strikes me as odd that this group has been silent about the terrible sin of twig-picking, for which the Bible mandates exactly the same punishment as that for homosexuality. Never have I heard a word from them about this great affront to God.
This year, the Republicans had a field day trying to pass anti-gay legislation through Congress. Yet they failed to introduce one anti-twig-picking bill. They did not try to deny San Francisco all of its federal funding for refusing to discriminate against twig-pickers. There was no anti-twig rider legislation on the D.C. Appropriations Bill. They exerted no pressure on the president to rescind employment non-discrimination for twig-picking federal workers. Trent Lott did not compare twig-picking to kleptomania. There were no "ex-twig-pickers" advertisements in The New York Times or The Washington Post. In fact, to my knowledge, no "ex-twig" ministries exist in America.
What can we learn from the curious silence of our third group of religionists on this issue? Don't they respect the Bible? Evidently, God thought twig-picking to be just as abominable as homosexuality, as well as cursing your parents or not being a virgin on your wedding night. He did mandate the same punishment for each of these sins.
These religionists' inconsistency suggests that they are selectively reading the scriptures to justify their own prejudice. Religion is not the source of their objection to gay rights; rather, their objection is plain, simple bigotry hidden under the cloak of piety. Alternatively, these religionists might not be aware of large parts of the scriptures. This piece should save them the trouble of having to read those parts.
The fact remains that the scriptures have a lot to say about sin. The anti-gay religionists are guilty of either ignorance about their own faith, or they are guilty of that worst of intellectual sins: hypocrisy.
Derek C. Araujo '99 is a physics concentrator in Winthrop House. He is the president and founder of the Harvard Secular Society.