Huffington Post article, Murray Lipp, social activist and administrator of “Gay Marriage USA“, puts it very clearly: “Any discussion about homophobia in society must absolutely reference religion.”
In the Torah, the Bible, and the Quran, the city of Sodom – which gave its name to the word “sodomy” – is referred to as a sinful and depraved location. References to the Sodomites usually include the weirdest, kinkiest and most obscene visuals. And in all three Books it is the Lord who utterly destroys the city with fire and brimstone to cleanse it from the unfaithful…
There is therefore no doubt that this biblical narrative has set a precedent and established jurisprudence among the faithful. It is literally giving faith followers an unrestricted license to insult, hate and condemn homosexuality shamelessly. And although most Western churches, synagogues and mosques are not as openly anti-gay as they used to be, the more fundamentalists ones remain vehemently opposed to same-sex relationships. And one does not need to travel to Nigeria, Uganda or Iran to face such hatred. It happens right here, in our very own backyards.
For instance, the Westboro Baptist Church runs the website GodHatesFags.com to openly protest and oppose what they refer to as “the fag lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth“. And when Jewish rabbi Joseph Dweck gave a lecture affirming that sexual intercourse between men was forbidden, but that “there should not be witch-hunts”, his comments were swiftly and openly criticized by the ultra-Orthodox. Islam is definitely not at rest, as its Sharia law explicitly condemns sodomy and many Hadiths call for nothing less than the death penalty.
But thankfully there is hope. I argue in The Covenant that all this hatred originates from a terrible misunderstanding. It is therefore our duty to bring the world to realize that the people of Sodom were not sexual perverts, but freedom fighters. Hard to believe? Not at all as you are about to find out…
The text of Genesis 12-25 is actually very clear to anyone who reads it in its secular, historical and geopolitical context. The problem is that this text has always been read from a religious perspective. And when approached this way, it is just not possible to see the connection that exists between the uprise in Sodom and the need for the Lord to make a covenant with Abraham in order to keep it under control.
The key to understanding this story lies in Genesis 14. This chapter is almost systematically ignored in religious studies as it is considered irrelevant. Indeed, it speaks of despots, not of God! Many scholars, such as Thomas Römer, an authority at Collège de France, even go so far as referring to this chapter as “erratic”.
But everything changes the minute one opens up to the perspective of a secular covenant as Genesis 14 then acts as a preamble. It informs us that the inhabitants of the valley of Sodom, vassals to a king of Mesopotamia, had engaged in a revolt after twelve years of servitude. Unfortunately, the despots aren’t long in bringing a punitive campaign to clamp down on the rebellious Sodomites. As Lot, Abraham’s nephew, is taken prisoner during the round-up, Abraham launches on the heels of the oppressors whom he attacks at night with his men, recovering captives and booty. Abraham’s victory is celebrated and the inhabitants of Sodom are indebted to their new hero.
Trade between Egypt and Mesopotamia was already important during the Bronze Age, and Canaan was an obligatory passage between these two states. Given they were just defeated by Abraham, one would naturally expect that these Eastern kings would seek retaliation in order to take their revenge and secure control over the region. However, the “lord” is fully aware that the distance between Canaan and Mesopotamia makes any counterattack not only expensive, but also difficult and risky. We should therefore not be surprised to see that a diplomatic solution was reached in Gn 15, when an everlasting covenant is concluded between the “lord” and Abraham.
As the story goes on, we eventually learn that the inhabitants of Sodom, who had fought to regain their freedom, still refuse to submit and continue to show hostility towards this distant authority. When the “lord” threatens to destroy Sodom in Gn 18, Abraham stands up to negotiate in their favor. The “lord” agrees to be lenient if these people choose to bend. But the Sodomites refuse to surrender and adopt a defiant attitude. They sodomize the “lord’s” representatives, not for lust and carnal pleasure as we have always been told, but simply to make them feel the pain of submission that they had themselves endured as vassals.
Understanding that there is nothing to do with these people, the “lord” reduces the city to ashes in Gn 19 and makes an example of it.
It is blatantly obvious that this “lord” operates under the very same impetus than the four eastern kings of Mesopotamia. Their sole goal has always been to secure control over the valley of Sodom for facilitating trade. Together they subdued, attacked and destroyed the city of Sodom because its people stood up to their authority. And if the sodomites were seen as “sinners” and “wicked” in the eyes of this “lord” it is only because they dared oppose him.
It is through this secular covenant, and in exchange for their absolute loyalty and respect for the laws, that Abraham and his descendants earned the rights to the land of Canaan. And boy, did they respect and cherish this covenant! For hundreds of years, the text of this alliance was carried around in the Ark of Covenant as the deed to the land that had originally been promised to them. And to this day, Israel continues to displace and oppress the Palestinians who occupied this land by calling upon the same promise.
Why nobody ever realized there was something terribly wrong with the interpretation of this story is beyond me. I guess it really goes to show the extent to which faith makes us blind.
The time has come to put an end to homophobia and to rehabilitate the people of Sodom. Shame religious authorities and challenge them now. Show them that this repugnant attitude derives from a gross misinterpretation of their own texts. It is everyone’s moral duty to do so.
Note: The case presented in The Covenant is far more detailed and complete. It shows, in a multitude of ways, that this secular interpretation is far more efficient than the religious one.