"As the days dwindle down to a precious few..."

Sex, Money and Sin

What is sin? Who says? And what are the consequences? These may appear to be esoteric questions best left to squabbling theologians, but the answers touch every one of us, regardless of our religious beliefs or non-beliefs, in profound ways.

The Christian answer to these questions is that sin is violating the commands of God which are given in the Holy Book, as are the consequences. The reality, however, is much different. The history of the West is marked by the entanglements of secular government and Christian clerical authority that has undergone dramatic changes. So, too, has what is considered a sin and its consequences. Blasphemy, for example, was once a capital offense. No more. It is a personal matter not a civil one. Thankfully.

Despite living in a secular culture, the almost two millennial history of Christianity in the West still grips our daily lives. The question of what is sin, who says, and what are the consequences are woven into our national political discourse and our legal codes. Sex and money expose the very different ways this grip is felt, or not.

Sexual Transgressions

I am still surprised and disturbed by the visceral anger, threats, even violence directed at gay, lesbian, transgendered, and other individuals who do not fit the “standard” model of sexuality. What is the offense that prompts such animus? And why does so much of this arise from religious circles, especially among Christians.  

The common justification is that these acts violate Biblical scripture. I am not a Biblical scholar, but I ask those who do make this argument (most of whom are also not Biblical scholars) to read John Boswell’s masterful book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. His main points are these: 1. Homosexuality was common in the early Church and was not considered, Biblically, a sin; 2. Attitudes dramatically changed in the 13th century, led by Aquinas, condemning homosexuality, and these medieval perspectives were imported in the new translations of the Bible; 3. These translations influenced subsequent translations and are the basis of contemporary attitudes toward homosexuality.

Boswell’s analysis is but one of many in an ongoing debate about the sin of homosexuality, but what is striking is the persecution, sometimes violent, of homosexuality is out of proportion to the level of biblical condemnation (and certainty) on this matter. The oft cited passages in Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) damning homosexuality, for example, fails to acknowledge that the injunction against homosexuality is but one of a laundry list of Jewish laws in Leviticus. Here are a few other prohibitions: tattoos (19:28); eating fat (3:17); (men) cutting the hair on the sides of your head or trimming your beard (19:27); going to church within 33 days of giving birth to a boy (12:4); going to church within 66 days of giving birth to a girl (12:5); not standing in the presence of the grey-haired elderly (19:32)(this one makes sense to me. . .); and, well, there are many others like this, but you get the idea.1

Very credible alternative interpretations of the relevant passages should, at least, give pause. Of course, they don’t. And wont. This form of “Christian charity” also extends to transgendered individuals, drag queens and kings, and others who do not adhere to the “missionary position”, all justified, when there is even attempt to do so, by very shaky scriptural pretext.2

Usury

Contrast the vituperative attacks on these sexual “transgressors” with another activity, much more unambiguously deemed sinful: usury. Usury is the lending of money with interest, and scriptural references on it are quite clear: “He lends at interest and takes a profit. Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head (Ezekiel 18:13).” “Those who lend money without charging interest, and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent. Such people will stand firm forever (Psalm 15:5).” “If you lend money to one of My people among you who is poor, you must not act as a creditor to him; you are not to charge him interest (Exodus 22:25).” “Love your enemies, do good to them and lend without hoping to get anything back (Luke 6:35).”

The objection to usury in Christianity has a long history of official condemnation starting at the very beginning of the Christian Church in the fourth century. The argument is that, unlike exchanges involving money where each person in the transaction gains something, the money lender gains something from nothing; gains from interest, which is not a tangible entity. It is theft. Lending at interest is stealing time, which belongs only to God.

Economic life in Europe underwent dramatic changes in the 12th and 13th centuries. Debt became essential to both the Church and the Christian nation states for funding the Crusades and large scale wars. Trade and commerce exploded, banks and new accounting practices emerged, and Black Death destabilized everything. The fetters of the land-based medieval economy and social order became unmoored.

Another impetus was the Reformation, which introduced an entirely new theology that was accompanied by the beginning of capitalistic economies that hinge on debt, credit, and interest.3 The Church adapted. The condemnation of usury has never been lifted, but “adjustments” (i.e., loopholes) to the interpretation of what constitutes usury have been introduced that can accommodate a Brink’s truck.

Usury Today

Now, the most profoundly important single number in our culture, attended to with obsessive concern, is the prime interest rate. Small changes in the “prime” can trigger economic and cultural consequences that ripple across the globe.

Where is the outrage against the sin of usury? Why are sins of sexuality so viscerally opposed while usury escapes condemnation. Why aren’t banks and financial institutions picketed? Why are bankers and wealthy businessmen lauded, even elected to high office solely on the strength of their wealth, while those whose private sexual activities believed to violate scriptural injunctions are harassed, beaten, and sometimes murdered?

Historically, Christians have been a moral force in the abolitionist movement to end slavery, in the front lines of the civil rights marches, and strong advocates on behalf of the poor, the marginalized, the destitute. Now, the Religious Wrong persecutes those who are not “Real Americans” (i.e., not Christian, White, straight, persons of means) and asserts that Christian piety includes gun ownership, tax exemptions for the wealthy, and xenophobia.

What would the son of refugee parents of a minority, persecuted religion who was born in a barn, consorts with prostitutes and street people, a political radical who leads protests and insurrections against the wealthy and privileged do?

Most Deadly Sin?

So, what is the most grievous of the seven deadly sins? Not lust. Not avarice. Pride. Religious pride, which engenders a self-righteous sense of holy superiority.4 This sin exalts the sinners, empowers them, sanctifies their hatred and their harm to others. It is the incubus for pogroms, inquisitions, and Holy Wars, which have killed more people than many viruses. Unfortunately, there is no vaccination, no cure, for this deadly affliction.

.

.

  1. Here is a brief overview of some of the issues under debate within contemporary theological circles: https://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/2015/08/the_7_bible_verses_on_homosexu.html
  2. For example, see: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/08/26/where-in-the-bible-does-it-say-you-cant-be-transgender-nowhere/
  3. The history of the Jews in Europe, money lenders when this was prohibited for Christians, is a bloody and tragic story of hatred and persecution that continues to this day.
  4. See, for example, St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul.

4 Comments

  1. Linda Biegen

    The irony of religious beliefs being the weapon of greatest impact to rain terror and misery on humankind. Conversely,seeds of pure generosity of spirit towards others, arise out of deep wellsprings from within other’s hearts. Always appreciate the moments of contemplation you offer, Brian.

    • Brian Vandenberg

      Thank you, Linda. And, as always, I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

  2. Edward Smith

    Fabulous post! I forwarded it to my buddies. Brian, thank you for sharing your wisdom.

    • Brian Vandenberg

      Thank you, Ed. I appreciate your comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

© 2024 December Songs

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑