LGBT Lessons for Straight People: Without Love, You Have Nothing

LGBT Lessons for Straight People: Without Love, You Have Nothing

November 24, 2009 Featured LGBT Lessons for Straight People 7

Gay EducationAs we approach this holiday season, I can’t recall a year, in my adult life time, where religion has been used so much as a tool for discrimination and lies.

The Bible can be used to support or dismiss almost any point of view.  Lately, its main purpose seems to be a tool to deny LGBT people not only rights, but also to degrade and dehumanize them.  The Bible is a collection of writings, mostly found through archaeological means, written in ancient languages such as Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, over centuries. It has undergone translation and censorship. It has been studied by many people intensely for years at academic institutions.  Common sense tells me that God did not put pen to paper. People put pen to paper to write about their spiritual experiences and beliefs. It was written within the cultural context of the times.

If one reads the writings of St. Paul in Corinthians, it’s almost as if he is bipolar. There are passages regarding slavery, women shaving their heads, not speaking in church, and the list goes on.

Yet, we have a passage that has remarkable insight. If I were to choose just one lesson from the Bible, it would be this.

1 Corinthians 13: 1-13 Written by St. Paul.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

What do I find so remarkable about St. Paul’s words?

If one does not have love, one has nothing. Look at the last sentence. Without love, one does not have faith or hope.

Paul defines love and its purpose. It is not self-seeking and does not delight in evil. It protects. It is kind.

Paul acknowledges that all else can change. Prophecies, tongues, all will pass away.  Notice he uses the word knowledge. Not truth. Knowledge is something that is changeable. Knowledge is actually all we have. And we all know that knowledge changes each day. We use it to define truth. But truth can never be completely certain. In Biblical times people thought that the sun went around the earth, the earth was flat and it was only 6,000 years old. Science – knowledge – have proven all of these to be wrong. This is a perfect example of Paul’s wisdom when he says that knowledge will pass away.

Paul also acknowledges that our reasoning will change.  It matures as we grow older. Does it not also mature with each generation? With each revelation about ourselves, our society, our understanding of others? Would we permit slavery today? Do we enforce all the other rules that Paul presents as required to worship God? No. We do not. This is ‘knowledge’ that has faded away as our culture continually experiences enlightenment.

Last, but perhaps first, Paul makes the point that love is greater than faith. Why? Because it is love that creates all of our values. Everything comes from love. Faith comes from writings fixed in stone. Love comes from who we are today, in our life right now, not 2000 years ago.

Each of us is capable of that “on the road to Damascus” moment that changed Saul into St. Paul. Each of us can cast aside our prejudices and ignorance. Each of us can open our heart and mind.  Let love and hope lead you to your understanding of faith. Not the other way around. contributor geekgirlgeekgirl: Jude is a straight woman, a mom and has been married for 32 years to the same wonderful man. She believes in Buddhism and attends the United Church of Christ. She is a molecular biologist, her best friend is a lesbian, and she believes that every human deserves equal rights, respect and a life free from hate, fear and discrimination. The only thing she hates is pickles. Her science blog can be found at LGBT Latest Science.

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7 Responses

  1. Rebecca says:

    Jude, I picked up a book a few months ago and am now kicking myself I didn't buy it cause I can't remember the name, Paul looks bi-polar because they used that science stuff you like, LOL and that software stuff I like, to show that his books were authored by several different people. The radical, pro women, pro "love" stuff is from Paul they believe, and at least 4 others were written sometime after his death. Possibly by a disciple of his. I guess I need to get off my rear and find it. For a couple of hundred years Bible scholars have known there was more than one author, but as always, they fear disclosing it because they FEAR that some will lose their faith. My question is and always will be, what is there to fear if their faith is based on lies? What is there to fear if perfect love casteth out all fear? What is there to fear if "it is the work of God that you believe"

  2. Jude says:

    I just received that feedback from a minister, interestingly enough. "Bart Ehrman and John Shelby Spong tell us in their critical analysis — scribes edited, mistranslated or miscopied NT writings. Some scholars doubt that Paul wrote Ephesians and also Timothy… maybe a pseudonymous Pauline follower did and who injected a sexist viewpoint. So yes! Wise to never take the Bible literally! If you wish to delve deeper into the wisdom of not taking the Bible literally via textual criticism, I recommend reading Bart Ehrman’s books, Misquoting Jesus and also Jesus Interrupted, as well as Spong’s Sins Of The Scriptures."
    Ah, more reading to do.

  3. Duncan says:

    "The Bible is a collection of writings, mostly found through archaeological means …" Um, no. While archaeology has found some early copies of parts of the Bible, which can be useful for studying the history of its text, the Bible has been in continuous use by Jews and Christians for a long time. There's no need to rely on archaeology to get access to it.

    "If one reads the writings of St. Paul in Corinthians, it’s almost as if he is bipolar. There are passages regarding slavery, women shaving their heads, not speaking in church, and the list goes on." What does this have to do with bipolarity? Most people are capable of holding contradictory ideas in their heads. As a longtime queer educator and curmudgeon, I've often been disturbed when my fellows misuse science to bash our opponents. "Homophobia" for example, seems to have been invented out of whole cloth, it's as valid a clinical entity as "inversion" or "drapetomania." (Which are more or less contemporary constructions; funny, I hadn't thought of that before.) I've often said that gay people and our allies shouldn't spread misinformation — that's what bigots are paid to do. But gay people and their allies are a very fertile source of misinformation. (See my blog post in the website link.)

    And about this: "maybe a pseudonymous Pauline follower did [wrote Timothy and Titus and Ephesians] and who injected a sexist viewpoint." Since Paul was most likely sexist, there was no need for anyone else to do this. And picking out stray passages that you like, such as 1 Cor 13, and assigning them authority, is just what fundamentalists do. I don't find Paul's hymn to love inspiring — for one thing, I don't think that love does or should "believe all things" — but to each his or her own.

    John Shelby Spong is an ignoramus, his work is full of errors and special pleading. Bart Ehrman does know what he's talking about, but I think you need to read him more carefully. He doesn't really support what you're doing with the Bible either. "Common sense tells me that God did not put pen to paper," you write; well, no Christian I know of thinks that She did; this is called a straw man argument. "People put pen to paper to write about their spiritual experiences and beliefs." Right, and you (and I) are also products of our own times and culture no less than Paul and Jesus were. People should subject their own spiritual beliefs to the same jaded cynicism they apply to those of others — but that's harder to do.

  4. Geekgirl says:

    Hi Duncan
    I didn't assign any authority to this passage. I simply like what it says. I do get to pick and choose from the Bible. Why? Because I do not believe that one single word came from God. It is simply a collection of writings to me. If you believe differently, that is your right. If I pick up a book of poems, can I like some and not the others?
    No Christian you know believes God wrote the Bible? Many right wing fundamentalists take the Bible literally and claim that it is the word of God. You must not read much of what they have to say. Religion is the main force making it difficult for LGBT people to gain rights.

    I stand corrected. Parts of the Bible may have a continuous origin. But many parts have been found through archaeological means. None of that changes that all of it was written by people.

    It seems to me that this comes down to your statement that you don't find this passage inspiring. If it doesn't speak to you, great. It speaks to me.

  5. Duncan says:

    Sorry to harp on this, but I still have to complain about your claim that the Biblical writings are "mostly found through archaeological means". All of the Bible as we have it has been transmitted continuously by manuscript (and more recently, by printing). No part of it was found by archaeology. So which parts do you have in mind? I'd really, seriously, like to know.

    No Christian I know or have ever encountered believes that Yahweh "put pen to paper"; even the 'dictation theory' is disavowed by almost all fundamentalists I know of. As I wrote before, they believe that the Bible was in some murky way inspired by him, preserving the human writers from error. "Inspired" is not the same as "wrote."

    I have read a lot of fundamentalist (and non-fundamentalist) Christian writing. No one, not the most extreme fundamentalist, takes the entire Bible literally. Fundamentalists (like the Roman Catholic Church) believe that the Bible is without error, which is another kettle of fish entirely. They take some parts literally (like the creation myths of Genesis 1 and 2) that more liberal Christians take figuratively, but that's a disagreement over details of interpretation. Jesus' parables and much of his teaching, for example, they know was not meant literally. (For example, "If your eye leads you to sin, pluck it out" — there can't be many fundamentalists who take that literally.) In order to protect the inerrancy of the Bible, fundamentalists must use extremely non-literal interpretations.

    While I take the American Christian right very seriously, I don't agree that "Religion is the main force making it difficult for LGBT people to gain rights." That's because I agree that no part of the Bible, or of any religion, comes from God, since there is no God. Therefore, religion and biblical passages can only be an excuse for the opposition. Fundamentalists, like any other Christians, are quite capable of ignoring or explaining away parts of the Bible they don't want to obey. For example, like me you must be old enough to remember the election of Ronald Reagan. Fundamentalists simply ignored the fact that as a divorced and remarried man, Reagan was living in adultery according to the teachings of Jesus. They laughed away what was, from their point of view, his very serious immorality. If they didn't have other reasons for rejecting homosexuality, they would ignore the biblical passages about it with as much freedom.

    Sure, you are free to pick and choose the parts of the Bible you like; that's tangential. My complaint about your posting really comes down more to your evident ignorance of and about the Bible generally, and your attempt to blame what you don't like in Paul's writings on his brain chemistry. On slavery and women's status and homosexuality, Paul was just a person of his time and culture — as are you and I. Medicalizing moral and ethical questions is a very 'modern' thing to do. Ever heard of 'drapetomania'? I'm also a product of my time and culture; specifically, much of my politics was influenced by the gay liberation movement and its distrust of medical experts who said that homosexuality was a sickness. I remained skeptical when other medical experts invented a sickness called 'homophobia.' I'm still skeptical of the resurrection of 19th-century medical concepts like the 'invert' under the guise of the 'biology of sexual orientation.' There are Bibles and Bibles, I guess.

    • Geekgirl says:

      1I would never use the term bipolar in everyday writing as a medical diagnosis.2) Please send me a reputable reference that decribes who wrote the books, how the continuity was maintained and the management of translation? 3) Please see the Pew Forums for data on which groups are mostly against equal rights for gays. It correlates to religion and age. I believe the date of their last report was October 9th of this year.4)The post is not about the Bible as a religious text but rather as literature. I appreciate your concerns about taking words too literally.

      • Duncan says:

        1) I'm relieved; so why did you invoke bipolarity with regard to Paul? 2) Nobody knows "who wrote the books", but that has nothing to do with archaeology — if you want to know how the continuity was maintained, read Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus. Yes, maintaining continuity of a handcopied text is difficult, but the same difficulties apply to (say) Plato and Homer, both of whom wrote in an ancient language, neither of whose work is "found through archaeological means." 3) This is not exactly news to me, but it doesn't have much to do with the price of tea in China. 4) This post contains quite a bit about the Bible as a religious text, but textual problems are often involved with literary material — Shakespeare, for example.

        In fairness, I should mention that geekgirl conceded to me in e-mail that the Bible is probably not found through archaeological means.

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