Strange

I’ve heard of the kindness of strangers. Yesterday was not one of those days.

I was minding my own business, walking along a road in the city near where I live when two guys in a white van decided that it would be a jolly jape to yell at me. The passenger shouted something about my skirt; the driver told me, in no uncertain terms, that I “should be ashamed” of myself.

They were in the van and I was walking, so I was not able to engage them in any sort of interaction; I utterly ignored them and carried on with my day, but the whole thing has left me upset and angry. As a bloke, most days do not feature yelled insults from vehicles, but I am certain that I just got a glimpse of what many women face on a daily basis.

Whilst I’m certain that the van people went about their day and haven’t thought much about me since, I find myself dwelling on it, trying to find an explanation for such rude behaviour. The brevity of the interaction prevented me from gathering any hard evidence, and I’m left with speculation: lots of speculation. I’ll try to summarise my analysis here.

First off, there was a huge imbalance of power. They were in a van, wrapped in a big metal box. They could drive off at their leisure, having dropped their insults, without any consequence. I, on the other hand, was walking in a public space. I had no metal box, I had no speed, I had no way to avoid the conversation, however little I wanted to be involved in it. I didn’t ask to enter a conversation with them: they simply started shouting at me as I walked. I wonder how it might have been different if they had been walking too and whether or not they realised that I have ten years of karate training under my variously-coloured belts: if it had got physical, I’m fairly confident that I could have acted, decisively, in self-defence. As it was, though, I had no options at all. They could choose whether or not to engage with a passing stranger; that stranger was not allowed any choice at all.

Under that initial (and frustrated) fight-or-fight reaction, I am left analysing what the guy actually said. “You should be ashamed of yourself.” The problem I face is that there are simply too many possibilities here:

  1. Men shouldn’t wear skirts
  2. Men in skirts shouldn’t be walking in public
  3. Men in skirts shouldn’t be walking near schools
  4. A man in a skirt is a challenge to my masculinity
  5. Men in skirts are gay and gay is a) a choice and b) wrong
  6. A person in a skirt is a woman, that person is tall, hairy and bloke-looking: must be a tranny and trannies are a) trans by choice, b) wrong and c) a further affront to my masculinity

For 1, I’m yet to hear an argument for this that doesn’t, ultimately, fall back to “they don’t, therefore they can’t”, an argument refuted in the time it takes to say “have you ever seen a woman in trousers?”

2 is much the same as 1, with a side-order of gender policing. In the UK, it is legal for me to go about my business wearing whatever I want. In England, I can even go about my business completely naked if I want, as long as I keep on the right side of the law on indecent exposure. It is simple tribalism for random individuals to decide to police others according to their own beliefs. We have laws and we have police officers charged with upholding that law: we do not need people to make up their own rules and enforce them on others.

3 is as 2, but is laced with a weird sexualising view that a man wearing a skirt is performing a sexual act. I agree that it is inappropriate to impose sexual acts on others and, particularly, to display them to children coming out of a school, but that assumes that a person wearing clothes is inherently sexual. Which it isn’t.

I think 4 is the beating heart of the issue. The van people found that my unwillingness to be contained by the rules of public masculinity was a challenge to their own masculinity. They have chosen to bind themselves within those rules and resent any external challenge to those rules. It stirs something visceral within them, like “I follow these rules, so I am a man; he is not following the rules; maybe the rules are made-up; if the rules I follow are made up, my masculinity is made up.” Or at least astonishingly fragile.

If the reason is 5, we are embracing a stack of wrongness. Firstly, that me wearing a skirt is any kind of announcement of my sexuality, secondly, that gayness is wrong, thirdly that gayness is something to be ashamed of, so ashamed that I need to be told, by a stranger, that I should be ashamed.

And for 6, “tranny” is used as a (usually) pejorative term for a transgender individual or for a cross-dresser. In both cases, I fail to see any reason at all why either is a cause for shame. Some people are transgender; some people cross-dress; some people shout rude comments at strangers from the windows of moving vans. I know which I’d rather be.

I can draw several conclusions from this. Receiving abuse on the street is rare for me. I am a white man living in a rich, Western nation. I have white cis apparently-straight male privilege, so having people shout at me on the street is rare. In 40-something years, it has happened twice, and both times, I’ve been wearing a skirt. I know that it happens hugely more often for people who don’t have all of those privileges. For some people, street-harassment is just part of life.

And that sucks.

On a dozen levels.

Now what?

We returned a hung parliament. Theresa May ran the worst election campaign I have ever seen and lost a heap of seats. Her party’s place secured only by an exceptional campaign by Scottish Conservatives’ Ruth Davidson taking a dozen seats from the SNP. Damnit.

Mrs May seems determined to hang on at all costs, however. One of those costs is entering into a coalition of chaos with the DUP. Another cost is that we are now an international laughing-stock (more so than usual). I wonder how that is going to go down whenever we deign to send a delegation to the leaving-the-EU talks, which were supposed to be starting on Monday.

Apparently, both France and Germany have indicated that we can stay if we want to, even though we have invoked Article 50 and have issued a formal notice that we’re on the way out. Of course, I don’t expect our politicians to embrace this option, even as it becomes obvious that we’re going to end up with a shitty deal and people realise that they voted for a promise that was made of lies.

In other news, however, the Catholic Church in the US surprised everyone by not being fundamentalist pricks for once and inviting some gay people to a Mass presided over by Cardinal Joseph Tobin. Baby steps. By the heat-death of the universe, I may just about to be able to have a conversation with my gay friends about religion that doesn’t consist, mostly, of me telling them to forget the institutional church and focus on the person of Jesus Christ. I would love to say “come to Mass with me and feel the embrace not just of Jesus, but of his church too.” That day has not come yet, but it might.

And there I go, hoping again.

I’m such a sucker.

I try not to hope

Our electoral system is weird, at best. It is, ostensibly, simple: the candidate with the most votes in their constituency wins the seat. Easy. Except that there is no easy correlation between the number of votes that a given party gets, nationally, with the number of seats they get in the Commons.

Just ask UKIP.

In the 2015 election, they got 3,881,099 votes (12.6% nationally), and secured exactly zero MPs. The SNP, meanwhile, got 1,454,136 votes (4.7% nationally) and, basically, swept up the whole of Scotland, returning 56 MPs to Parliament. The LibDems, meanwhile, got nearly twice as many votes as the SNP but only 8 MPs.

It’s a completely broken system.

On the other hand, it does massively favour the two main parties, so neither of them has any motivation whatsoever to change the rules.

Most opinion polls in this fair land aim to give an approximate idea of the voting intention, nationally and, as such, are a very very poor predictor of the shape of the resulting parliament. YouGov do attempt to predict the parliament, however, by trying to model their polling data on a constituency-by-constituency basis, and their latest poll shows the Blue Party in some difficulty. I do not dare to get my hopes up, though, lest I find myself dining on Paddy Ashdown’s hat.

I do, however, continue to despair. After 7 years of Conservative-led governments that have cut the pay of public sector workers (most notably nurses), killed off the nursing bursary that helps student nurses with living costs whilst they train, slashed police numbers, outsourced healthcare, screwed over disabled peoplehanded schools over to private companies, insulted doctors, spied on our online lives and, in many other ways, slashed and burned much of the infrastructure we need to be a decent, civilised society, whilst laying the blame on immigrants, refugees and Jeremy Corbyn, the Tories are still ahead in the polls.

They behave like narcissistic, abusive parents, taking what we have, tweaking taxation to favour the richest and actively harm the poorest yet, like abused children willing to take anything in exchange for the tiniest hope that, maybe this time, the abusive parent will give a hug, a smile or even the simplest acknowledgement that we exist.

I hold scant hope that the Tories will get the bloody nose that they so richly desire and, in our turn, we will get the society we deserve: one where only the richest thrive, receive healthcare, live in secure communities and expect  dignity in infirmity.

Please, UK, surprise me on Thursday.

Down time

Or, maybe, “down” time, for down-time is was not.

It’s been a three-day weekend in this country and I’m just about to go back to work. It’s also the kids’ school half-term holiday, so they’re not going back until next week. This means, of course, that we can spend the whole day on Sunday at the National Space Centre, with a late night; the whole day on Monday doing the quintessentially English activity that is going to the seaside in the rain and another late night, and still have all of the children running around the house making noise before 7am. If they were going to school today, they’d be asleep until two minutes before it was time to leave, but no. Not today. Today is a holiday day, and there is chaos to create.

In the meantime, Child 2 has discovered that actually doing practise helps him to play things on the piano that he couldn’t play before, so we’ve been serenaded by Ed Sheeran every morning and every evening for the last fortnight. That said, he’s now much better at playing Photograph than he was, and it’s getting him to do his practise, so we’re looking upon it as a good thing.

Child 1 is counting down the days until he can leave Scouts, which I am finding quite difficult — not least because I became a Scout leader so that he could join the movement — but that’s the way it goes sometimes. You can lead a child to fun adventures and things they wouldn’t get the opportunity to do elsewhere, but you can’t make them enjoy it. I didn’t have any time for Scouting when I was his age and I have grown to regret not staying on board when I had the chance. Oh, youth. Of course, it may be that he’s just not interested in the stuff we get up to and  I have to be man enough to admit that.

The youngest is as energetic as ever, and seems to be enthusiastic about more-or-less everything. This is a good thing, I suppose, but it is exhausting. He’s going fishing with the Beavers next week: another new thing. Maybe one day, he’ll settle down a bit, but there’s plenty of time as yet, and he seems to be making the most of every second.

For myself, I took advantage of Mental Health Awareness Week to let my employer know that my brain does funny things from time to time and that, when it looks like I’m sitting at my desk trying not to cry, that’s probably because that is exactly what is happening. I shouldn’t be surprised, but they were very good about it and have offered all the help they can, including taking a day or two off sick if I need it from time to time. I think I landed on my feet with these people, after the last lot pushed me out (which was a blessing in disguise on many levels).

But on the subject of work, I’d best get into the office and earn today’s crust.

See you next week.

Staying with the bizarre concept of Christians who vote Conservative

I’ve been on a theme for a few weeks, and I’m staying for at least another week, only this week, I’m going more in-depth on the subject of healthcare provision.

I’ll start with the Beatitudes, the sermon on the mount, Matt 5:1-12.

This sets the tone for Jesus’ teaching, and marks a radical departure from what had previously been considered good, prudent and Godly. Jesus’ followers are told that God looks kindly on those who get the short end of the stick, on those who make peace and spread harmony, who show mercy, who yearn for what is right. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have “Blessed are the merciful” in foot-high letters in the Old Bailey. How about “blessed are the peacemakers” at the MoD?

More directly applicable to today’s subject, we find Jesus teaching in a small house, which is rammed full of people. Those who can’t get inside are crowded around the doors and windows, just to get an ear to this prophet. Mark 2:1-12 describes the situation and the determination of a man’s friends to get him close to the healer. In today’s terms, the ambulance can’t get through the traffic, so the paramedics cut a different path through to the doctor. This involves a certain degree of property damage. Sorry about that: people are more important than things, and this man needs Jesus. For his part, Jesus appears delighted to see the man, cures him and sends him on his way (and expounds a theological point while he does so). Jesus takes no payment, neither does he demand that the cured man go to his church, spread the word or even tell a gay person they’re going to Hell. Just “get up, pick up your mat and go home.”

Working weekends, Jesus stopped by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. John 5:1-15 outlines the scene. The story went that an angel passed by the waters of the pool from time to time and stirred them up. If you were first into the pool after this event, you were cured. The man concerned had been unable to make his own way to the pool fast enough and had been stuck there, begging, for nearly 40 years (in Bible-speak, this means “a very long time”, not literally 38 years but I digress). Jesus asks him if he wants to be well and cures him, again with “pick up your mat and walk.” No payment, no demand of any particular action, although, when Jesus and the man encounter each other later, Jesus does tell the man to live a good life.

In addition to curing people directly, Jesus also told stories to help people understand how to follow God’s way. In the hugely famous parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), we begin with a legal expert bending Jesus’ ear about what it means to follow God’s way. I can almost see Jesus rolling his eyes at the questioner here – not even Jesus likes to spend much time with lawyers – and Jesus challenges the man to think for a moment. The lawyer’s final question is, more-or-less “whom can I ignore and still make it into God’s kingdom?” Jesus turns it around and says that it is by our actions that we show our neighbourliness. “Love your neighbour” is not an invitation to love only those nearest to you: it is an invitation to show how widely you love, by collecting as many neighbours as you can. Points not to be missed in this story are: the ambulance does not charge for its services; the man in need of care receives the care he needs; that care is funded by others; follow-up care is also funded by others; the man who receives the greatest praise in this story is an outsider, one whom the Jewish people would normally cross the street to avoid.

So, what do we do about all this generous giving that Jesus is showing us? Matthew 10 shows Jesus sending out his disciples with the instruction to heal the sick. They are not to ask payment for performing healing: they are to be supported by the community in which the healing takes place. That sounds like a very modern concept to me. In today’s money, that would be a bit like a town/region/country realising that everyone is better off if there are healers amongst the people, so everyone clubs together and chips in a few quid to support the healer in her ministry. That could look like funding healthcare from general taxation.

But what about follow-up? What about making sure that the cured person is grateful for being cured? What about people who really don’t deserve our help? What about freeloaders and scroungers? What about the idle or the lazy? Didn’t Paul say that those who didn’t work should not eat?

Jesus doesn’t seem to have too many concerns on that score. He seemed to think that love is enough. Luke 19:1-10 sees Jesus on tour in Jericho, where his fame had preceded him. Many people had gathered to get a glimpse of the rock-star prophet as he made his way through the town. I’m sure that many of the people would been thrilled to have the honour of making Jesus welcome in their home and sharing dinner with him. The great and the noble had come out, and would gladly have opened their homes to him; the ordinary people were there too. As was a much-hated tax man. It was widely assumed that all the tax collectors were on the take, and demanded rather more in tax than was legally required. They sent the legal tax to Rome and pocketed the difference. Zacchaeus had been drawn by the prophet too. He was up a tree, trying to get a glimpse of the great man as he went by, but Jesus stopped and told Zacchaeus to get the dinner on.

That was all that Jesus did. He saw that Zacchaeus was acceptable as a person, that Zacchaeus’ house was an acceptable venue for dinner, that he, Jesus, was willing to sit at table with a widely-hated figure, a sinner, a collaborator with the Romans, and just eat with him. Jesus did not demand that Zacchaeus repent before he took dinner; Jesus did not tell Zacchaeus that he’d been a very naughty boy; Jesus didn’t say anything at all beyond you are acceptable to God. It was this experience of being loved that transformed Zacchaeus. Jesus showed us the way to care for our neighbours here. He showed us that God’s love, spread by us, is enough. We are not to judge worthiness, we are to love, and to allow that love to do its work. Before we ration our compassion and help only those we think will appreciate our gifts and not waste them, we are to love, and love generously.

What is our reward, then, for all our generosity? For the times when we welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, cure the sick, visit the lonely, feed the hungry? Matthew 25:31-46 lays it out in pretty clear terms. We are to help those around us who need help, and if we ignore them, at our peril, we ignore Christ himself.

Still unsure? I’ll conclude with Luke 16:19-31. The rich man goes about his business, feasting and enjoying his wealth. Every time he leaves his house, he steps over Lazarus, the poor beggar who has been taking advantage of the fact that anti-homeless spikes have not been invented yet. Eventually, both men die, and the rich man finds himself in firey torment, where he can see Lazarus being comforted at Abraham’s breast. I challenge you to read this and continue to defend a party whose actions take away assistance from those who most need it and channel wealth into the hands of those who are already wealthy.

Just a quickie

It seems I managed to sleep a bit last night, so I only have a few minutes to get a post in this morning, so I will use that time telling you that I don’t have much time to write a post…

I had a moment of hope this morning when I saw an article that suggested that Labour had drawn level with the tories, but it dates back 12 months, so it’s not really a cause for celebration. They’re still ready to be thumped next month. I live in hope.

I engaged in a lively debate on Facebook yesterday about how Christians should vote. It was fun to speak to people on the other side who genuinely believe that it is possible to be a follower of a man who said “heal the sick, welcome the stranger and take care of the widow and orphan” and still vote for a party who is dismantling the healthcare system, fighting on a ticket to boot the stranger out of our country and defund the welfare system that is supposed to give the widow and the orphan food, shelter and a path out of poverty.

Their entire theology seems to be based around 2 Thessalonians 3 with a very specific, laser-sharp focus on a single sentence from verse 10:

The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.

Now, it’s nice that they have some kind of biblical basis for their argument, but to take a single sentence, on its own, from a letter from one of the early church’s leaders to a specific single church, talking about a specific problem that specific church had in the 1st century is stretching things a bit, particularly when you throw that sentence onto the context of the entire teaching of Jesus Christ.

I also heard the argument that some recipients of welfare don’t deserve it. Nicely played, asshole. You’ve just set yourself up as judge and arbiter of every welfare claim. I wonder if you have the time to get inside the lives of over a million people and really get to know their problems and to decide if they deserve our sympathy or are just taking us for a ride. Of course, no system is free of those who will play the system. I feel that we should acknowledge this and move on: the consequence of turning false-positives into false-negatives is that people die. It’s that simple. I’d much rather have some freeloaders on my conscience than some dead bodies. In addition, there are freeloaders at both ends of the spectrum. If you are getting uppity about benefit fraud, you should be getting eight times as uppity about tax fraud (source: Scottish CAB). Funnily enough, most people wailing about poor people getting more than they’re entitled to are very quiet about rich people paying less than they should.

In St Paul’s time, then, I wonder what he would have said if it had turned out that someone was taking £1 per week from the church’s shared purse that they used to fund an idle life, and then it turned out that someone else was withholding £8 per week from their contributions to the shared purse. I wonder which of these would have received sharper words from the Apostle.

I wonder.

It’s been a while, and now there’s a General Election

I was hoping to post something in-depth this morning, with dazzling wit and brilliance to lighten your Tuesday and to vent my spleen a little about the upcoming general election that our glorious leader called on a whim a couple of weeks ago. I was hoping to break my silence with a post that would be seen by fifty million people and convince them all to vote at all and, preferably, to vote for a party that isn’t going to turn our green and pleasant land into a toxic hate-filled wasteland built on the bones of nostalgia for a time where we could trade with the whole world, mostly because we owned most of it.

But the time I carve out of my week for blogging is currently filled with the delightful sounds of children and I find myself obliged to prevent them from killing each other. Such are the pleasures of parenthood.

So, Theresa May took a look at the polling data whilst she was out walking and decided that she was going to take the opportunity to utterly destroy Labour and cement herself a crushing majority in the House and claim a mandate to drive our country over the Brexit cliff unopposed. The polls at the time showed that she could be expected to walk away from the election with a majority of 100 or more, even making some gains in Scotland. The most recent polling suggests that Mrs May’s lead has tumbled dramatically. Of course, she is still set to win a crushing majority.

This depresses me.

It depresses me mostly because I am a Christian and I can see that most Conservative candidates also are, and a great many Conservative voters are also Christians. This is something I have never been able to comprehend. Jesus spent his life helping people with nothing, getting down into the dirt with them and giving them a hand up. He didn’t means-test his healing, he cured the sick without demanding payment. He demanded that his followers do the same. He told everyone who would listen that a true follower of God clothes the naked, feeds the hungry, cures the sick and takes care of the powerless (in his day, that was the widow and the orphan: today, we have many more categories of people who fit that description). Conservative governments have a long and gory history of doing exactly the opposite of all of those things. In recent years, we’ve had people dying of starvation in the wake of their benefits being sanctioned (the causative link has not been definitively established, of course, so I can’t say that the gentleman concerned died because his benefits had been cut off); we’ve had private companies taking over healthcare from the NHS (because the profit motive has been long-proven to improve service to those with no money to pay); we’ve had tax cuts to companies paid for by cuts to the most vulnerable (admittedly, the government were forced to back out of that one: it was more flagrant than usual); and we’ve had a constant stream of lies about how leaving the EU will be wonderful to us all because it will allow us to drop rules about how curvy a banana is supposed to be.

Over the last few years, I have been forced into the realisation that the English tend, as a majority, to be hateful people to whom nuance is viewed with suspicion. We prefer to be fed simple lies and outrage than given actual truths, projections and plans and asked to use our brains to select the best option. We hate brown people; we distrust gay people; we think that refuge should not be granted to those fleeing war; we think that desperate people must look a specific way in order to qualify for our sympathy and they’d better not be seen with a smartphone; we think that gathering in our diversity and talking peace and prosperity is overrated; we think that Britain should be Great because we used to be: after all, we invented cricket and turned slavery into a vastly profitable global industry.

I’ll be voting in the general election, and I urge you to do so as well. I will be voting for whichever candidate looks most likely to unseat the local tory and I urge you to do so as well.

My country depresses me. All I have left is hope. And an expectation that it will be dashed on the rocks of lies, propaganda and tribal fear.

I’m not deaf, I’m a politician

What’s the difference between a hearing politician and a deaf person? The deaf person will actually listen to you.

Theresa May continues to astonish me. I suppose that there is precedent. Margaret Thatcher famously used Scotland as a testing ground for the least popular local tax in living memory. I guess that she thought that she had so few MPs in Scotland that imposing a policy on them that actually caused riots couldn’t make her any less popular.

Our current PM met with Scotland’s First Minister yesterday. I have no idea what she’s been smoking, but she later told the press that leaving the EU will make the UK “more united.”

She actually said that.

You ask me if I want to leave the club. I say that I absolutely do not want to lave the club: being in the club is a good thing and really. we should stay in the club. If we do not stay in the club, I will seriously consider telling you to go **** yourself so that I can rejoin the club. You are unwavering in your commitment to leave the club no matter what the cost. After all, the people have spoken. I remind you that I never wanted to leave the club and that I really don’t want to leave the club. You tell me that you are forcing me to leave the club. You then tell me that this will make us better friends.

You are completely deluded.

Sadly, the delusion doesn’t stop there. The text of May’s remarks beggars belief:

…when this great union of nations, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, sets its mind on something and works together with determination, we are an unstoppable force.

That is why the plan for Britain I have set out… has as its heart one over-arching goal: To build a more united nation.

Because I believe when we work together, there is no limit to what we can do.

I think, at best, this is a choice of words that is desperately naïve; at worst, it is downright threatening. We are a nation that built an empire based on our determination to go to the ends of the earth, strip-mining autonomous communities of their people and physical resources, bringing disease, oppression and slavery to an entire planet. This is what we do when we work together with determination; this is the unstoppable force of Britain united. With Scottish ships and English arrogance, we conquered the world.

I think our prime minister should think very carefully before she drags Scotland into this sordid quagmire of imperial nostalgia.

Those [filthy] gays are going straight to Hell

https://www.flickr.com/photos/91035846@N05/9437702766/in/photolist-cs1Bgo-o32pGQ-uMajws-fnYGed-47f6dJ-tJo7NN-nQjDWb-cEeecy-f4iYGm-o3YrSY-4UmCs7-sq54oP-21z3Gi-cNE6fu-2xXsrc-6KiUNK-uUMyzJ-6NZ8Qt-341ju-fCXT9K-eDVhTt-ik1XV-2EGMN4-6HQi3y-2xXsoi-orb18V-krZdST-9YfCHT-g5Gd2s-fB6e8j-ik1XX-fkjR29-6JsRyN-nWTKN3-cjKq9N-f1ftDr-83yMnH-fsmq8p-JtRzNh-5ckRMg-4jQUjB-feRWkC-f48chf-9ZeuE2-2EGN7M-fP4Mnm-2EGMFc-csBrdu-5oaay1-5efUJ6

Some barley

A few years ago, I was a school governor of my local Catholic school. At one point, there was a vacancy on the board and we called for candidates and held an election. During this process, one of the other governors overheard one of the candidates saying that all the gays are going to Hell. They didn’t actually say filthy, but you could hear it loud and clear nonetheless.

I have to say that I was delighted when the other candidate was elected: they were much more accepting of all people.

So, why do so many self-identified Christians get quite so upset about whom we love? This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged on this subject, but it remains important, particularly with Mike Pence in the US White House rattling his sabre and trying to take away everyone’s rights.

Whether we like to admit it or not, the bible is an important document, even in the 21st century because many, many people read it, learn about it and use it as a moral compass when trying to navigate the modern world’s  many complexities. Contrary to what many people say, the bible has very few lists of commandments (there are only two really famous lists and most people forget about the second one because it is really inconvenient and somewhat socialist): what the bible is packed full of is stories.

This is part of its persistent staying-power. A list of commandments dates fast, where we can relate to a story, even if it is 3000 years old. Take Lot’s experience in Sodom and Gomorrah as an example. This is often cited by people suggesting that what we call homosexuality in this century is clearly and unambiguously prohibited in the bible.

Lot is living with his family in the city of Sodom. Two travellers arrive on his doorstep and he welcomes them into his home. At this time in their history, Jews were essentially nomads living in a hostile environment. Care for the traveller was built right into the core of their teaching and practice. If someone arrived at your camp in the evening, it was your divine duty to shelter them: after all, the next time someone needs food, water and shelter, it might be you. So, Lot invites them in. A few minutes later, a mob has gathered outside his house: men demanding that Lot turn out his guests in order that the mob might gang-rape them. Nice. Fine, upstanding man that he is, Lot offers his own daughters to the mob that they might gang-rape the girls instead of his house guests (as an aside, people citing this story rarely think that Lot’s example here is one they are religion-bound to follow). No, the mob howls: they want the men, thank you very much.

And so, from this violent scene, we infer that the loving relationship between two people of the same sex is prohibited by God himself and that any such couple sharing their love in a sexual manner will bring down divine retribution upon the whole town (specifically, a rain of burning sulphur to wipe the town off the map forever). Again, I don’t usually hear these people offering their daughters to they gay couple in an attempt to stave off God’s wrath.

Understanding and interpreting the bible is difficult, particularly given the huge temporal and cultural separation between us and the many people who wrote it. Interpretation can be helped immensely if there are explanations within the bible itself that can guide us. Of course, for most passages, there are no interpretive passages but, for Sodom and Gomorrah, we are lucky. The prophet Ezekiel speaks directly of the cities and lays out exactly what, in God’s eyes, were their sins and the reason for their firey destruction:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

What about the loving gay sex between two consenting adults?

No. The thing that fired up God’s wrath was that the mob at Sodom ignored God’s commands to welcome the stranger and to feed and protect the traveller and wanted, instead, to harm them for their own pleasure. I wonder what the Republican administration would make of that as they seek to withdraw healthcare cover, legal aid and many other compassionate-aid schemes from millions of poor Americans.

I think the term Sodomy needs a new definition.

With thanks to Kristin Saylor and Jim O’Hanlon and their fine TEDx talk.