Friday, February 22, 2013

A6.  Homosexual conduct is inherently sinful.

A.  The Charge.  Many Christian denominations and a number of  Evangelical ministers (such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell) have aptly cited Biblical texts demonstrating that same-sex behavior is sinful.

These religious authorities hold that such carnal acts as anal and oral sex (along with fornication of any kind) are forms of sexual immorality that must be severely discouraged.  Still, this precept does not signal any disrespect to human persons, for we should should "love the sinner and not the sin."

That said, we must all be ever mindful of sin; its snares lurk everywhere.  If we fall into sinful homosexual behavior, we must repent and try our level best not to repeat it.

B.  Historical Background.  In Abrahamic contexts - those of Judaism, Christianity and Islam - sin is the act of violating God’s will. More generally, sin can also be viewed as anything within individuals that violates the ideal relationship between them and God.

Some crimes rank as sins, and some sins stand out as greater than others. In this nuanced concept, sins fall in a spectrum from minor errors to deadly misdeeds.  Catholicism regards the least corrupt sins as venial sins —which are part of  the hazards of human life, and carry little divine consequence, especially if the sinner sincerely repents. Conversely, sins of great evil are mortal mortal sins —which bring the dire consequence of going to Hell if unrepented for.  The branch of theology that studies sin is called hamartiology.

The unforgivable sin (or eternal sin) is a grave infraction that can never be expunged, Some moralists believe that same-sex behavior falls in this category.

For centuries the view that homosexual conduct (sometimes termed sodomy) was sin was thought to have assumed primal form in the archetypal destruction of Sodom as described in the book of Genesis  While some recent scholars have questioned this interpretation, in part by emphasizing the primary role of male rape in the offense, the episode gave rise to the expressions “sodomy” and “sodomite,” still widely used in that sense.

The classification of homosexuality as a sin was concretized in the early medieval penitentials, which assigned appropriate penalties for various forms of same-sex behavior.  It is important to acknowledge, however, that only forbidden acts were punished.  Homosexual thoughts or sentiments were not.

Still the act of sodomy itself was regarded as a very serious matter.  Traditionally, Catholicism has singled out for special condemnation a group of sins that “cry to heaven” or peccata clamantia: murder, sodomy, oppression of the weak, and defrauding the laborer.  The expression goes back to Cain’s murder of Abel, whose “blood cries to Heaven (Genesis 4:10).

In many medieval and early modern jurisdictions, same-sex conduct was judged worthy of death. The practice was commonly termed the peccatum nefandum, the unspeakable sin; and the peccatum contra naturam, the sin against nature.

These terms passed into legal terminology.  In his Commentaries on the English Law, William Blackstone stated: “What has been here observed, . . . [the fact that the punishment fit the crime] ought to be the more clear in proportion as the crime is the more detestable, may be applied to another offence of a still deeper malignity; the infamous crime against nature committed either with man or beast. A crime which ought to be strictly and impartially proved and then as strictly and impartially punished . . .  I will not act so disagreeabl[y] to my readers as well as myself as to dwell any longer upon a subject the very mention of which is a disgrace to human nature. It will be more eligible to imitate in this respect the delicacy of our English law which treats it in its very indictments as a crime not fit to be named; 'peccatum illud horribile, inter christianos non nominandum’ [the horrible crime that must not be mentioned among Christians].” 

In a number of US states, sodomy was commonly characterized as “the crime against nature.”

C.  Response. All these ideas are religious in origin.  While they may have significance for individuals and the religious organizations to which they belong, they have no binding force in a society that honors the separation of church and state.


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