A few days ago, I was on Fred Clark’s blog, Slacktivist, and we were discussing the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and how a literal, plain-text reading of that story isn’t anywhere near as strong a condemnation of homosexuality as people seem to think. If nothing else, the story doesn’t actually even discuss consensual gay relationships, instead portraying an attempted gang rape, which one hopes God would condemn regardless of who was involved.
Most of us involved in the discussion that day were either practicing Christians, lapsed Christians or former Christians. Of those who were none of those things, most were still Americans, and so had soaked up the background radiation of life in this country, which is Christian by default (it’s not Yule or Hanukkah that we take as a national holiday in December, after all).
However, it so happens that one of Fred’s regulars is not only Jewish but well-educated in his tradition, and he gave us a perspective that, while far from new, was unfamiliar to people who’d only been exposed to one Christian narrative or another (most sex-obsessed to one degree or another) before:
The traditional rabbinic perspective – this is from my Chumash:
Hearing about the audacious visitors who had the temerity to spend a night in their city, hordes of Sodomites converged on Lot’s home — without even a single voice of protest — demanding that the guests be turned over to them. When the Sodomites said that they wanted to know them, they meant that they wanted to sodomize them (Rashi, Ibn Ezra). Their reason for so mistreating strangers was to keep impoverished fortune-seekers away. The Sodomites were notorious for every kind of wickedness, but their fate was sealed because of their selfishness in not helping the poor and needy. (Ramban).
Sodom was a rich and fertile region and as such, it was a magnet for people seeking to make their fortune, as it was for Lot. But the Sodomites wanted to maintain their own prosperity and not be encumbered by a flood of poor immigrants. The wealthy and well-connected Lots of the world were welcome in Sodom, because they would give more to the economy than they would take. To discourage undesirable newcomers, however, the Sodomites instituted state cruelty, so that it became a crime to feed a starving person or offer alms to a beggar. Even the sexual perversion for which Sodom is notorious was employed to keep visitors away. According to the Sages, this cruelty stemmed from an attitude of, “What is mine is mine and what is yours is yours (Avos 5:10),” or, in the popular idiom, “Neither a lendor nor a borrower be.” Such selfishness descends to cruelty and perversion — and a metropolis that elevates such behavior to a legitimate way of life forfeits its right to exist.
Wow. Oh, wow. That is uncanny.
Am I the only one to whom that all sounds incredibly familiar? The U.S.A. may not have legally-approved rape gangs wandering around, and it may not be illegal to give alms to a beggar, but we certainly do everything we can to make the poor and the stranger unwelcome. Well, maybe not yet…there are whole political movements devoted to thinking up ways to make things even harder on poor people and immigrants, in the hopes that they’ll go away.
Makes me a bit nervous, honestly. It seems that the preachers who preach anti-gay bigotry may be right, even in their wrongness: the United States is guilty of the Sin of Sodom, and we just may be due for a smiting. It’s just that the real Sin of Sodom has nothing to do with sex, and those preachers are more guilty of it than anyone.