As a matter of faith, people find comfort in knowing that God never lies. Unfortunately, they have never actually heard from God, they've only heard from people about God, and people lie about God all the time. By their nature, Leviticus and Deuteronomy are much more questionable than people think. People say that they're the word of God as revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai, but that's not really true, even by biblical account. You see, when it is said that Moses was given the Torah, that doesn't mean that it was the Torah as it is today. First of all, Moses was probably not given everything that had yet to happen. Do you think that he knew everything, and just pretended to be surprised when, for instance, his followers were worshipping a golden calf or when water came from a rock? Assuming that any of the Bible was given to the Jews at Mt. Sinai, what was given was probably only Genesis and Exodus, and even then not in the finished state that they are now. It would take an astounding leap of credulity to accept that the first parts of the Bible had never been added to nor changed by anyone in the past few thousand years. You may wonder what these books are, if not the word of God received by Moses. Well, Deuteronomy was supposedly collected from speeches that Moses gave towards the end of his life. Even this less divine origin is questionable, because there is no record of Deuteronomy existing during the time of Moses, so whether it was God speaking through Moses, Moses speaking for God, or an unnamed third party speaking for God through Moses could never be accurately determined. Even by biblical account, though, God himself did not claim that these were his own words. As for Leviticus, this book was a collection of mitzvot (commandments, for all of you goyim in the audience). It is interesting because it is the first book in the Bible that was more political than mythological. Rather than stories demonstrating the Jewish people's history and values, it was only laws and the appropriate enforcement of laws. It was included in the Bible because the Israelites claimed that it was the word of God. That makes it no different from any other political document ever. From the ancient Egyptians worshipping their Pharoah as a god to the divine right of kings to Americans putting "In God We Trust" on their money, almost every government in history has had the implied support of their god. What makes Leviticus worse is its priestly nature. Historically, priestly works have been touted as divine even though so many priests have been known to say and do things of which God would probably not approve. Even if it were just rules that priests came up with to help govern society, it would still have been considered divine, even if it really wasn't.
I do not bring this up to decry this section of the Bible, but to make the point that even among the most spiritual and the most educated, there should be some room for doubt. I find it so vexing when people justify political beliefs using the Bible, and defend them as if the Bible is established fact and that its truth is unquestionable and that there is one known, accepted interpretation of the Bible, and that it is consistent with everything we know. There is not nor has there ever been anyone so wise as to know what God thinks of every situation or to understand all of God's motivations. It takes quite a bit of hubris to claim that you do. I honestly do not understand why, when someone uses the Bible to justify a belief about something that the Bible does not mention, he does not immediately lose all credibility in the eyes of everyone around him.
A good example of such a case is abortion. The morality of abortion is a complex and divisive issue. What is peculiar about the issue is that nobody is actually in favour of abortion. There is nobody who thinks that abortions are pleasant and the best choice when dealing with pregnancy. However, there are those who consider that, in all practicality, people have to deal with unwanted pregnancies, and having abortion be legal and as safe as possible is much preferable to the alternative, and they often hold that the life of the prospective mother is much more important than her as-yet-unliving offspring. Others say that abortion is always wrong for various reasons, including the generally ickiness of it and that it is tantamount to mutilation. Some go as far to say that a foetus is a human being with its own soul who should be allowed all the rights to which humans are entitled. This is a point that can neither be proven nor disproven, but some fanatics claim to know that God considers abortion to be the same as murder. However, any non-Catholic who claims this probably does so only out of hubris, ignorance, madness, or some combination thereof, because the Bible does not actually say a single word about abortion, nor about the legal rights of foeti.
There is a passage in Exodus 21 that speaks of what happens if someone "hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow" (as the King James version so artfully puts it - it's hard to find an unbiased translation, but in the Hebrew it is made clear that "fruit" here refers to her foetus and that "mischief" refers to injury to the woman). Here, prosecution for said crime is at the option of the parents. Some claim that since this is commanded as being distinct from murder - so much so that it does not even qualify as attacking and injuring a person - this passage demonstrates that under Mosaic law, foeti are not entitled to human rights. However, others contend that this passage refers to inducing a premature birth, not a miscarriage. Actually, it is true that the Hebrew translated as the foetus "depart[ing] from her" carries the connotation of birth rather than miscarriage. Although I think it's very peculiar that they would think that violently inducing a premature birth would not injure the baby, I accept that this does not explicitly state a position on abortion per se, because God might look differently upon causing a birth prematurely than preventing a birth from happening at all.
To justify that the Bible condemns abortion, people point to the introduction to the book of Jeremiah, when God said to him, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and before you were born, I sanctified you." I cannot understand how anyone would think that this says that foeti have souls and not be immediately told how wrong that is. For those of you who are not very good at reading, God did not say, "You were a fully formed human being before you were born." What was meant by this passage is that God, in his wisdom and by his powers of prophecy, had known that Jeremiah was destined for greatness even before he was born. It speaks of God's great knowledge, not of the nature of life. In fact, if God's acquaintence with Jeremiah had constituted an acknowledgement of life, then it should be noted that God knew Jeremiah BEFORE HE WAS FORMED IN THE WOMB. That would mean that life actually begins before conception. By that logic, is menstruation murder? I mean, if you had taken care of that egg, it could have grown to be a baby, but instead it is dead. Sure, you may claim that you're smart enough to know the difference between an embryo and an unfertilized egg, but if you can't tell an undeveloped foetus from a baby, then how could I know that? If you subscribe to the common pro-life interpretation of the Bible, then I hope you know that every month that you are not having sex, you are murdering a baby. However, I think a slightly more sensible interpretation might be that God knows who is going to be great, just as he knows which foeti are not destined to be born at all, and he can live with that.
Although it should be clear that the Bible does not say a damned thing about abortion, if I was asked to divine an attitude towards abortion based on the Bible, I would have to say that while the Old Testament has no discernable attitude, under New Testament law it is allowable and even encouraged in some situations. You see, in Matthew 5, Josh says, "if your right hand offends you, cut it off, and throw it away; for it is better that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into hell." This is usually a very impractical commandment. Body parts usually sin in concert with one another, and separating them doesn't necessarily stop the sin. For instance, in the case of someone lusting after a woman, plucking out his eyes will only work if he only had sinned by sight. He could still lust in his mind, and would Josh want him to cut his brain out? On the other hand, in the case of an unwanted pregnancy, the woman has a foetus formed by cells in her body growing out of her. It is a part of her body, and if it offends her, then as a good Christian, she is obligated to pluck it out and dispose of it, so that she not be damned by it.
Another example would be homosexuality. When I first heard that some people thought that God was opposed to homosexuality, I thought it needlessly cruel. Here, they were practitioners of a religion that very specifically states that the most important commandment is to love each other, and they are telling people that their love doesn't count and that they have to hide their love. I am fascinated by the big deal made of homosexuality as a moral issue by Jews, considering the subject was only mentioned once in the Old Testament and might have been mentioned twice in the New Testament, depending on the translation. I will try to get this all out now and not dwell on it too much, considering it is not something that is made to seem dreadfully important in the Bible, though I cannot ignore it, as I keep hearing people arguing about it over and over.
To start off with, most verses that people ascribe an anti-homosexual message to don't actually talk about homosexuality. For instance, in Deuteronomy, there is a condemnation of a practice known as "temple prostitution." The trouble arises in the fact that it condemns prostitution for both male and female prostitutes, and in the King James version of the Bible, the term for "male prostitute" was inaccurately translated as "sodomite," which today is a term used to describe male homosexuals (which, at the time the King James version was translated, meant someone who performs any sort of non-vaginal intercourse, which also was not what the verse was referring to). So that one only seemed anti-homosexual through a bizarre fluke of translation. There's another problematic translation in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:9, which, in some translations, contain a condemnation of homosexuality. In various translations, the action being condemned comprise all sorts of sexual practices including prostitution, anal sex, pederasty, and masturbation. We may never be sure which is accurate, because Paul used a colloquialism (or, perhaps a made-up euphemism) to describe the sin they were guilty of, and we have no real record of what the word would have been understood to have meant. The word, "arsenokoitai," was not in fact the word used to describe homosexuality. If we pick it apart by its roots, we see "arseno" meaning "man" and "koitai" being sex, and may get the meaning of someone who has sex with men. However, "coitus" carries the specific connotation of vaginal intercourse, so the passages would actually be forbidding female heterosexuality, and if you remember from three paragraphs ago, every month a woman does not have sex with a man, she is murdering a baby. So, every month, every woman must choose between being damned for fornication or for murder. Presumably, if she uses contraception, she will be guilty of both and be double damned, meaning she will have to spend two eternities in Hell. If you expand the meaning to include any sort of sex, they're still not a condemnation of male and female homosexuals as some would claim, but rather of men or women who have sex with men. Really, the passage can only be against homosexuality if your idea of God is as the kind of deity who would announce that the Kingdom of Heaven will not be inherited by anyone who has sex with men, then, years later, would slap himself on the forehead and say, "Oh yeah! Women exist! Why do I keep forgetting that?"
I could understand that Paul might have meant to decry homosexuality if he were only speaking for himself - meaning as someone whose only credibility lies in the fact he was around at the time of Joshua of Nazareth and who is speaking on a subject that Josh never even mentioned - but not if, as many Christians claim, the passages came from God himself. I say that because it seems doubtful to me that God would have used a euphemism at all. For those of you who have read the Bible, there are some really awful things described in it. Assuming its divinity, you get the sense that God doesn't shy away from anything. So when dealing with a subject that could endanger your soul, God does not mince words. I'm not saying that the passages could not have been divine because it's possible that God used a curious word to convey a more precise meaning, but if that were the case, the meaning could not have been "homosexual." If God wanted to convey the idea that homosexuality was sinful, he could have very well said so.
The only commandment in the Bible against what might be considered homosexual is in Leviticus 18:22. There is no exact, unbiased translation of this passage into English. The one used in the King James version of the bible is, "Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind." Too many people have said that this is definitely condemning all homosexuality and any other way of looking at it is going pretty far from the original meaning of the passage. It didn't take much research to discover that this is complete bullshit. Just so I would not be labeled a hypocrite, I decided that before I tell you what I think this verse is referring to, I should tell you the exact literal translation. I turned to the original Hebrew: "V’et zachar lo tishkav mishk’vey eeshah toeyvah hee" (I'm sorry, but my keyboard does not contain Hebrew characters). For those of you who speak Hebrew, the first thing you'll notice is that the sentence starts with a conjunction - that's sloppy grammar - and if you translate it word-for-word into English, you get gibberish. So I looked at the connotations and senses of the words being used and how various sources had translated it (usually very clumsily), and found that most translations go pretty far from what the words actually mean. The closest literal translation I could find would be that you should not have sex with a man in a woman's place, literally meaning that the only place in which a man cannot engage in anal sex with other men is in a woman's bedroom. One explanation for this commandment is that doorknob and lock technology was not as advanced back then as it is today, and were the woman to come home unexpectedly, it would result in quite an embarassing situation. Another explanation is that God's motivations are mysterious and ineffable, and mortals were not meant to understand them. A third explanation is that there is something else that these words were intended to mean, but it may require straying a bit from an exact literal translation.
It's curious that this commandment applies only to men. Regardless of interpretation, you have to twist the words of the Bible to get anything that might be against lesbianism. I suppose, on some level, everyone loves lesbians, and that's why in Mosaic law, lesbian sex is always allowed. As for men having sex with men, the prohibition for that is conditional. You may notice that the commandment for men not having sex with man does not just say men should not have sex with men; it carries the clause "as with woman" or "in a woman's place." This is not simply a flourish of language. If you compare this verse to the verse immediately following, you see that the next commandment is that you should not have sex with beasts, and there is no conditional clause applied. If both were meant to apply to any sort of sex, then they would have been stated the same way.* Some translators say that the clause "as with women" refers to anal sex, but that really only makes sense if you believe that men are morally obligated to have anal sex with women, and if that is your understanding of morality, then you are a creepy person and I don't want to talk you.
*As a side note, Leviticus 18:23 specifies that neither women nor men should have sex with beasts, so it could be assumed that God was being careful to specify which commandments of sexual morality apply to men and which to women, and the absense of any mention of lesbianism in 18:22 was not merely an oversight.
The more astute among you may have noticed that the clause "as with women" couldn't possibly apply to homosexual men, because they don't have sex with women at all. Bisexuality is a grey area, but the way I see it, bisexuals either have sex with men as men or with women as women. So you may wonder how it's even possible for a man to have sex with a man in the place of a woman, and the answer is that it often happens in situations where no women are available that heterosexual men will have sex with other men. They use men for sex as they would use women, but they don't have any attraction or love for these men; they do it only for sexual gratification. This theme is repeated in Romans 1:26, where it is more clearly stated that the sin is not in the act, but in the turning against one's nature. A popular interpretation of that verse is that homosexuality is in itself a denial of one's nature, but that's not what the verse says, that's just applying your own prejudices to the verse. If the greatest mitzvah is to love one another, then it stands to reason that it is sinful to deny one's love. That is what the commandment is really about.
There's an attitude in Biblical interpretation that's not based on or supported by any verse in particular that sex is only allowed when it's for the purpose of procreation. I personally think that this notion is absolutely absurd. Our very biology contradicts this understanding of morality. Assuming that the one who wrote the Bible was also the one who designed our bodies, he knows what our genitals are and how we use them. It wasn't an accident that they fit together like that. God isn't shocked by it. Really, think about it for a second - if sex was meant only for procreation, why is it that sex usually does not result in conception? There are so many couples in the world right now trying to have babies who could tell you that conception isn't something that automatically happens. Isn't that a bit unusual that sex would usually not accomplish what is supposedly its only purpose? Also, what about orgasms? If sex was not meant to be enjoyed, then why do people have orgasms? Were there not orgasms, people would still have sex. People want to procreate, and people will go through many unenjoyable things for the sake of procreation, so why even have orgasms as an incentive? Additionally, if orgasms are only meant for couples involved in procreation, why are they so easily duplicable by other means? The simplification of sex into a means for reproduction does not account for the reality of sex.
Actually, the absolute revulsion for anything even remotely related to sex is a relatively new attitude. Even in Mosaic law as presented in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, many things that in our puritannical society would be considered fundamentally immoral - like masturbation and pornography and even premarital sex - were allowed. I checked the Bible several times, looking for the verses that Everybody knows about where masturbation or premarital sex are commanded against, or where Adam and Eve find a minister to marry them (perhaps a squirrel or something), but it turns out that these verses don't exist. In some translations, masturbation and homosexuality are mentioned, but these are what are commonly called "mistranslations" and are not based on the actual words used, but on the biases of the translator. Some people say that the very nature of marriage implies that people cannot have sex before they are married. This is what's known as a "bizarre rationalization." If God really wrote the commandments, he would be aware of masturbation and premarital sex, because they happen constantly. If he was really so upset about it, I think he would have found somewhere among the hundreds of specific things that he did and didn't want us to do to tell us about it. Some people point out vague New Testament pronouncements against "sexual immorality" and say that they obviously mean things like masturbation and premarital sex. Actually, that's not obvious at all. Maybe - just maybe - they're referring to things like incest, prostitution, adultery, rape, and bestiality - you know, things that are actually mentioned in the Bible. Of course, there are varying interpretations on what might be described as "sexual immorality," and, if you really want to be safe, there isn't anything in the Bible against vaginal heterosexual intercourse between a married couple through a hole in a sheet, but it's insane to assume that's the only way not to be damned. Don't trust any Jewish religious official who tells you that anything that is not commanded against in the Bible is sinful. They didn't talk to God. They don't know any better than you.
As for condemnations against lust, people take those a bit too far. It is true that it can be damaging in myriad ways to live one's life primarily for sexual gratification or to become obsessed with having sex, which seems to me to be what is actually immoral about lust. On the other hand, the need for companionship and for love and for physical pleasure are basic human drives, and there is nothing we can do to prevent them. People, particularly religious people, need to stop worrying that they might enjoy sex too much. As much as absolute self-indulgence can ruin your life, what people fail to take into account is that absolute self-denial can be just as bad. The solution is not to worry about absolutes. It's okay to enjoy yourself, so long as you do it responsibly. That's not the sort of black-and-white morality that most people preach, but it's reality and, regardless of its origins, the Bible was not meant to present an absolute and unattainable standard of perfection, but to help people cope with reality.