Sodom and Gomorrah

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Sodom and Gomorrah were two Biblical cities which, according to many Christians, were destroyed for the sin of homosexuality. The story of their downfall occurs in the Bible in Genesis 19 Bible-icon.png.

Lot, the angels, and homosexuality

The reason that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed was, according to many Christians, the large numbers of gay people there. However, the details of the story seem to refute this.

The story states that two angels entered the city of Sodom, where Lot (not from Sodom) took them in. That night, men surrounded the house and demanded that Lot release the angels so that the men of Sodom could rape them. Lot refuses and offers up his virgin daughters, but that offer is turned down. As the men of Sodom are trying to break in, the angels blind them, and the following day Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. At face value, it would appear that the men of Sodom were homosexual rapists. This story has certainly reinforced certain prejudices against gay people, who in some quarters are still accused of being predisposed to rape, pedophilia, or even psychopathy. Even so, the story would seem to say nothing about gay people who are not rapists.

The meaning of this account is changed when one compares it to Judges 19 Bible-icon.png, which contains a similar story (containing even some of the same dialog as in the story of Lot). A man and his concubine entered the city of Gibeah, where an old man (who was not from Gibeah but had a home there) invited them in for the night. That night, the men of the city surrounded the house and demanded that the man be sent out so they could rape him. The old man offers up his virgin daughter and his guest's concubine, but the offer is refused. The man sends out his concubine anyway, out of desperation, and they rape her and beat her until morning, at which point she dies. The man chops up her body, sends the pieces along with his story throughout Israel, and in response Israel destroys Gibeah and its allies.

In this story it is clear that the purpose of the men of Gibeah was not to have sex with any random man that comes by, but rather to terrorize an outsider. At the time, rape was actually a common way to humiliate enemies and foreigners, and a way to send a terrible message to other nations. Any man who was not from one's own city might be considered suspicious, and if he took in further foreign guests, he would have been thought to have worn out his welcome. On the other hand, hospitality, and kindness towards the poor and strangers, were values that were commonly celebrated in Israel.

So the moral of the story is probably that one should be hospitable towards strangers, rather than hostile or even violent. If one draws a connection between Gibeah and Sodom (and it is extremely difficult not to, due to the similarity in formula between the two), it becomes clear that in both cases it is the violent rape of a stranger that is being condemned, and nothing about actual gay men (lesbians are mentioned nowhere in the Old Testament).

Whether or not the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is related to homosexuality may seem largely irrelevant to the atheist counter-apologist (although it may be critical to a "moderate" theist). Atheists obviously don't get their morality from the Bible and couldn't care less what it condemns and condones. However, it may be instructive to note that a story which has had an enormous influence on anti-gay prejudice actually is about a culturally-bound practice that has nothing to do with gays at all. It is a clear example of how the Bible, wrapped in layers of theological history and tradition, can be used to support nearly anything at all. It is also an example of how "religious conviction" is often used as a mask for baseless prejudice.

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