Leviticus 20

Sometimes, in arguing that Christianity or the Bible condemn all gay lovemaking as immoral, people cite Leviticus 20:13: If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. What?

Oh my God, they want us dead. We shall be killed. Americans usually explain that they do not mean this, that the punishments prescribed in the Law of Moses no longer apply for some reason, but the moral judgment still applies- so they have to accept God’s Holy Will that gay lovemaking is wrong, but do not want to take us out for a stoning. African Christians do not share these scruples, and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of Uganda proposes by clause 3 to execute those who are serial offenders, that is, make love more than once.

Pope blesses killer of gay people

The Pope obviously wants us all dead, as we can see from his blessing of Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of the Ugandan parliament and instigator of the Bill. If he does not, he should clarify immediately. I cannot imagine him allowing himself to be photographed similarly with an out gay man. Bizarrely, I read that the Ugandans were in Rome for the World Parliamentary Conference on Human Rights.

Among Americans, here is some evil nutcase who calls himself a “pastor”, endorsing the Bill. He is not alone.

What are we to say about this? One answer is that the Bible is a wicked and immoral book, which makes ridiculous statements. Another is that it records the old laws of a desert, nomadic people, and of a subsistence farming culture with a surprising degree of freedom and equality, which we may follow or not now as our own moral sense indicates. Just as the concept of ceremonial uncleanness has no particular moral value now, neither does the falsehood that gay lovemaking is always wrong.

Those who attempt to draw moral lessons from this may be criticised in all sorts of ways. They are picking and choosing in the Bible, probably wearing clothes of mixed fibres. But chiefly, they are taking as a moral principle something which is utterly foul, merely because it is written in the Bible. They have either abandoned their own moral sense, or corrupted it.

I find a great deal of value in the Bible, and I retain the responsibility to judge what it says as good or evil.

32 thoughts on “Leviticus 20

    • The Roman Catholic Church is pretty consistent in its condemnation, with its top bishop in the UK devoting his Christmas address to the end of civilisation as we know it coming with the Coalition’s plans for equal marriage. This leads to some in Africa taking the condemnation to death literally as well, in the name of Christianity. All I can say is, not all Christians feel this way.


  1. Claire,
    My thoughts on Leviticus 20 are very much that there is a picking and choosing in those that quote this passage. There are words in there that would have every person on the planet put to death for one reason or another. Rebellious children are to die, adulterous men and women are to die, slavery was ok, rape was given a tap on the wrist, and child molestation did not even rate an honorable mention in the lexicon of things that were an abomination to Almighty God. This pretty much says to me that this codex is not in sync with our beliefs, and therefore at the very least outdated. I have addressed this more than once on my own blog. http:\\www.thehedge.wordpress.com, so I suspect you know my views already. I personally believe that God’s Grace is all encompassiing, that compassion and forgiveness are the path we are to walk and that we must see that, in living our daily lives we must allow people to be who they are. Take care, and God Bless, my dear!!


    • Welcome. I love your thoughts on Christianity and Buddhism. With girls seen as marriageable aged 12, child molestation as we see it was enshrined in the culture- though the marriage would be to a boy of a similar age.

      I desire to learn more of moral argument. Generally, I argue from consequences: good consequence equals good act. I consider individual situations with moral principles, rather than set rules. I am inconsistent, because with something so complex and all-pervading, consistency is impossible. I am fascinated with the concept of idealism, which in philosophy means that one can be aware within ones own mind of moral rules, rather than seeing them outside.

      I understand that the Kingdom of Judah was remarkably egalitarian and peaceful, with these or similar rules.


    • Of course. I am dealing with this topic piecemeal, I have done lots of posts on the Bible and gay people. But the striking thing is that people still cite this particular verse against homosexuality. That horrifies me. I think it a sign of a damaged moral sense.


      • I think you are right. People seem to be all caught up in their righteousness that they don’t stop to think of today’s morality. I recently was exposed to a case of righteous prejudice. My youngest daughter is engaged to an African American man and my oldest daughter, in her righteousness, didn’t want her daughters exposed to it, because Lord Help if they thought mom & dad condoned this, and secondly because somewhere in the Bible it supposedly says that it is wrong? What happened to Loving Everyone because we are all precious in his sight?


        • Few Christians argue against intermarriage, and there are no real Biblical arguments against it. In Genesis 10, God assigns boundaries to the nations of the Earth, but in Genesis 11 he scatters people randomly. If the Babel myth is the origin of different languages, it shows we were all originally the same. The care after the Babylonian exile to remain “pure” from other nations comes from an attempt to avoid those other nation’s religions.

          Oh, hear your eldest daughter’s distress and love her, but do not give in to her.


  2. Clearly, our morality precedes religious belief or we couldn’t cherry pick which bits of scripture we support and which ones we don’t. This also shows that those who argue that morality comes from somewhere other than our biology’s interactions with our environments are not respectful of reality’s arbitration of such misplaced belief.

    Why anyone would continue to identify with the odious immoral catholic church is a sign of moral confusion, namely, confused about doing what is right if one is honestly concerned with the welfare of real people in real life. The RCC as an organization consistently acts against treating individuals with respect and dignity and places its own interests as paramount. Those who continue to support the church and identify themselves as a member of this dysfunctional community are the source of this ongoing problem of influence the church exercises that can be clearly demonstrated to harm real people in real life.

    The solution is for every catholic to vote with their feet and leave rather than pretending that by doing the same thing – remaining a catholic but wishing the organization will change – we will achieve different results. That’s the very definition of ‘crazy’.


      • I’m speaking of all people and our propensity to grocery shop our religious ‘truths’ regarding our currently held moral positions.

        I as much a recovering catholic as I am a recovering Keynesian, which is to say I am not. The label a religious tool of manipulation to try to create and then impose (often with our innocent compliance) a false identity. The truth is that the label resides outside of who and what we are and is applied to those people who mistakenly think it reflects them. But, in fact, self-reported religious labels simply reflect a successfully and specific religious indoctrination. Too few of us understand or appreciate why such indoctrination is a very Bad Thing… because we’ve been taught to see it (only in its religious context) as a virtue rather than the vice it is known to be in all other human endeavors.


      • No, your morality did not follow your religious belief; you had long before you underwent your religious indoctrination which you now allow to usurp (in some parts but not others, I presume) your ownership of your current morality. I, too, have read and studied these big brained people of great historical effect and have been swayed by some of their reasoned arguments without once every dipping my toe into the morass of faith-based beliefs. You cannot link religious belief with your current moral beliefs by pointing to these authors; the source of their influence comes to you straight up; religious belief simply and rudely shoves them to the side in your attribution, which is not just unfair but inaccurate. Your willingness to attribute to your religious belief what properly belongs to other people is a common mistake believers seems to enjoy making.

        So, no, I do not see any positive value attributable to religious belief alone (actions of good done its name can be done for better reasons than religious ones) and recognize much compelling evidence that shows its correlated negative effect on populations of real people in real life.

        I am particularly annoyed at the ongoing and historical negative influence of the RCC, a criminal organization led by celibate geriatrics telling the rest of us (and imposing their faith-based beliefs whenever and wherever possible) what we may and may not do, may and may not be, what is and is not moral, what is and is not god’s divine commands.

        I am offended to the core of my being that anybody of any integrity supports identifying him- or herself to be a part of this ongoing travesty because that act of taking on the identity as a catholic empowers in a small way its continuation as an immoral, anti-human, anti-reason, criminal organization that acts contrary to your best interests. It is your enemy to find love and acceptance in this world by real people. This shows the perniciousness and power of your indoctrination!

        The latest Christmas message from Pope Palpatine is an attack against gay marriage, a vitriolic and bigoted sustained attack against the establishment of equal legal rights for a significant portion of any population, and calling upon a consortium of religions to gather to fight against legal equality for all. This is dispicible. How dare he? Well, this is catholicism in action. This intolerance of fellow human beings in law (not for the seating arrangements in catholic churches, mind you, or pertaining only to internal church matters, let us carefully note, but in secular law throughout the world) is what is supported by tacit agreement when someone claims to identify as a catholic, often with the addendum that he or she may not personally agree with this faith-based intolerance, but seems to accept that the RCC has the right to reduce yours. It’s craziness, I know, but I see it all the time. The reality is that the organization, recognized by the UN to have equal diplomatic status as any other nation that represents real people in real life, exists only by the identification of representing all catholics, meaning its support comes from every person who claims to be catholic regardless of personal preferences different that the official position of the RCC. Every single person who identifies as a catholic is culpable for this ongoing intolerance against equal secular rights and freedoms in law. Catholics – and not some distant organization – are the problem… but it is a challenge to get catholics to see why this is true.


      • Religion understood to be a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe is a guaranteed way to fool ourselves. As Feynman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Religion is the best method to doing exactly this and we see this played out daily causing harm to everything to which it is applied by all who accept its role as somehow and magically positive.

        As I wrote, actions of good done its name can be done for better reasons than religious ones. Religion promoted as a cause for good in this sense is always a lie. Always. But for any honest student of historical theology, one cannot help but come to see this overwhelming evidence that religion’s main role is to steal whatever positive endeavors and attributes and abilities about humanity and makes a claim for causing it… without ever once establishing compelling evidence for this presumed link. This is why Hitchen’s challenge remains successfully unanswered: Name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer.” If you are going to claim religion causes good, then you have to really, really try to answer this challenge.

        If all you want is to find something good in a religion (rather than about why religion is force for harm in the world), then you can easily settle for something as mundane as some of the music or the pleasing smell of some incense.


      • Mmm. Hitchens’ challenge is a difficult one. Not having a particularly dark view of atheists, I find it hard, especially now scientific study of meditation shows its benefits and atheists may gain them. My challenge is much easier. People might believe or follow religion because they are idiots, infected by a meme which parasitises on and imitates valuelessly things we find valuable, and harms us. Or- it might have some value. What value might it just possibly have?


      • Meditation has nothing to do with religion, although many religions try to harness this technique for its own uses. I cannot find anything but negative values inherent in religious belief. What I do find, repeatedly, are positive values mistakenly attributed to being caused by religious belief. Upon examination, not a single positive value can be shown to be caused by religious belief.

        You keep asking me to find one. This is the task for those who presume they are there. So, please, do so. Failing this, as I’m predicting, shouldn’t you then drop the presumption?


        • That is not quite what I am asking. I am asking you to consider this ubiquitous human institution, which has great value for billions alive or dead, and try to imagine what value it could have. Not every single one of these people were fools, and I am a Christian despite Richard Dawkins being one of my heroes. I ask of you not an exercise in inductive reasoning, but in empathy.


            • Clearly. But it is not the right question. You were dismissive of incense and music. Now, the music includes most of Bach, large amounts of Beethoven and even Britten. You do not value, you dismiss. It is not a good way of seeing the world. And- meditation developed within religious practice, even if atheists may do it.


            • Religion did not cause Bach’s or Beethoven’s music any more than it caused meditation. You attribute to religion that which it does not own, and by doing so misunderstand religion’s pernicious effects by claiming that which it does not own. It is a thief, and you allow a transfer of ownership to it which it has not neither earned honestly nor have any right to grant.


      • No, I don’t hate religion. I hate religion in the public domain. It has had its time and place and now it’s time to get over it and relegate it strictly to the private domain.

        I do think we need to criticize it for what it honestly is: a social organization that promotes woo that inevitably harms real people in real life… making allies from the most vulnerable through their credulity and gullibility, demanding authority and obedience to its dogma under the guise of showing love and caring and concern. Religious expression alone offers is none of these freely but makes them conditional. But you already know all of this (why do you feel guilty (for being less than) all of the time? Yet you try to blame my motivation for pointing it out rather than its accurate content you do care to deal with.

        As a method of inquiry, you know perfectly well that empowering faith-based beliefs with respect (in any way equivalent or complimentary to the respect we owe to the method of science) is a guaranteed way to fool ourselves while, at the same time, teaching the vulnerable to undervalue and mistrust not just themselves but the method of science. After all, there’s a reason why more people believe in angels and demons than evolution, and it ain’t ’cause they’re getting too much christian love; their brains are addled by the religious meme.

        There is a freedom and personal growth (not to mention the peace that accompanies full acceptance of all of one’s self) that comes from casting off tyrannical religious nonsense. For someone in your place in life, I cannot believe the loyalty you show to the very idea – the nature and wishes of a creator god – that empowers and fuels never-ending intolerance and bigotry aimed at the very core of your being. You undermine yourself and your self-esteem as an individual worthy of the same respect, the same rights and freedoms and social acceptance to live a gendered life you choose, yet I see you rallying to the defense of that which seeks to reduce you to a gender and harm you in the name of righteous piousness. I have no doubt you can rationalize all this harm to be misguided theology (turning your mind away from identifying the not-a-true-Scotsman fallacy), but isn’t that always the way of making compatible the incompatible?

        I know you feel you owe loyalty to religious belief because you have trained your neural network to do so. You can learn differently but it’s hard because it means giving up on your magical thinking, giving up thinking yourself aware of secret and hidden realms and energies and forces. It means becoming like all the rest of us struggling to come to terms with life as it really is. This is the hard task: acceptance.

        Acceptance precedes problem-solving. The difficulty is understanding ownership of problems: you own only those problems you have the power to change. All the rest belongs elsewhere and your job is to cope with this reality. But you will never, ever, cope in a healthy life-affirming way as long you remain so confused about the scope and power that comes from your own autonomy. And one the most difficult steps is to reject exterior calls for submission and obedience to some other-worldly authority and take on the personal responsibility that comes with personal autonomy.

        I just happen to think you’re worth it, but you have to open your eyes first to what is real and what is not. Religion in this sense is not just a dead -end to honest inquiry but an impediment to hearing Bach as his music really is for the first time. You’re in for a treat.


        • I can see that you think I am worth it. I am grateful. I see your effort and care, and the clarities in your thought, and I am impressed. I see the value in your position. Thank you.

          Two posts on religion, trying to find some value in it(!), tomorrow and the next day.


  3. Just a minor point (but one well worth pointing out to fundamentalist Christians) is that the books of Leviticus were never meant to be used as rules for the general populace. They were originally rules for the Levi, the priests.


    • Welcome. Lovely to have you here.


      It starts with rules on offerings and sacrifices (chs 1-7), rules on the Priesthood, including the story of Nadab and Abihu who made sacrifices not commanded by the Lord, and were struck down (8-10), but chapters 17-20 are addressed to the whole Israelite community. Chapters 21-22 are addressed to the priests, and 23 to the Israelites.

      I don’t want to use such an internal argument to challenge application of the book, because it gives the book more authority than I want to give it. Adultery was a capital offence (on the Scottish statute book until the Statute Law Revision Act 1906) but it was OK if it was with a slave woman, Lev. 19:20. Though I rather like 19:18: Never seek revenge or cherish a grudge towards your kinsfolk; you must love your neighbour as yourself.


      • I didn’t realise that. Thanks for the clarification. To be honest, I think it was a bit of half-remembered knowledge I picked up from QI!

        I didn’t intend to come across as attacking anyone’s belief system, but I am a (rather outspoken) atheist and religious fundamentalism is one of my ‘hot buttons’! I detest the hatred and dehumanisation of ‘outsiders’ that are promoted in the holy books, at least the Abrahamic religions.

        It is doubly sickening when you see these views promoted within our (supposedly) free and civilised society.

        Sorry. Rant over!


        • Rants welcome.

          I do want to come across as attacking a fundamentalist belief system, with particular reference to homosexuality, but I do it from a mystic perspective: I am a Christian, and I think the Bible and Christianity have answers to the wrong positions. For example, us and them thinking is rampant, particularly within the churches, but “Who is my neighbour?” is answered with the story of the Good Samaritan, that is, the member of the hated and despised neighbouring nation reaching across national boundaries.


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  5. Gay marriage and marijuana being legalized on the same day.
    Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man lays with another man he should be stoned.”
    We’ve just been interpreting it wrong all these years.


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