Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality A Different Approach to Understanding the Bible, Especially its “Gay” Content”
It’s easy to be critical of something in which you are not invested. When it comes to religion in general and Christianity specifically, people who are critical are often dismissed as being an enemy and therefore have their ideas discounted. For example, Reza Aslan, a scholar who happens to be Muslim, had his book about the life of Jesus criticized due to his apparent inability to investigate without a (negative) religious bias. To wrap up this blog project, then, I felt I chose wisely in selecting a book—Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality—written by a straight Roman Catholic author.
Although I can’t attest to how devout Helminiak is, I can state that his interesting and well-developed book has much to say. Most crucially: he believes what I have learned throughout this project: mistakes are routinely made in how the Bible is read, and as a result in how it is used (27).
To support his point, he provides several examples that focus on how readers interpret meaning (29). An interesting example is Jesus’ teaching about simplicity.
Three of the Gospels (Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, and Luke 18:25) contain Jesus’ famous lesson about living a simple (i.e. non-rich, non-bogged down by material possessions) life: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Since passing through the literal eye of a needle would be impossible for even the smallest camel, this sends a strong message about eschewing the trappings of material wealth.
This example, however, is easy to mis-read. Helminiak mentions scholars who say that Jerusalem possessed “a very low and narrow gate through” its city wall, called the eye of the needle (31). When loaded camels approached the gate, they had to be unloaded and then the animal, crouching down, had to be led through the gate. Once on the other side, it was reloaded.
This information casts a different light on Jesus’ point: he wasn’t saying rich people can’t get into heaven; rather, he was suggesting their entrance would be difficult, and that they might first have to unload their “material concerns” (31). So aside from being good news for the wealthy, this supports one of Helminiak’s main points: there are different ways to read the Bible. You can take what you read literally, perhaps ignoring any context, or use an historical-critical approach, one that places content in appropriate context in order to unlock the spirit of the ideas (33).
Why not take everything literally? Why would a reader need to “unlock” or “decode” the Bible’s pages? Helminiak points out that the Bible authors knew quite well what they were writing. They were also culture-bound human beings (35). He believes that if you want to understand what God means, you have to first understand what the human authors intended to say (35), and as authors today, their approach was not always straight forward (which means you can’t always take the content at face value; rather, you have to think about it).
For example, he discusses the Book of Genesis. According to the Bible’s first book, the world was created in a week. However, Helminiak suggests that we consider what the authors of Genesis (and God) intended with this first Bible book: they were imparting a religion not a science lesson. Therefore, the seven-day creation story is making a point, not stating a fact. The point? God created the universe with “wisdom, care, and order” (35). Science, however, has uncovered that the universe has evolved over millions of years. Rather than discounting what the Bible says, this understanding leads us closer to an understanding of God’s work, not as a way to refute that he created it. Basically: God created the universe with wisdom, care, and order over a long stretch of time. Although Helminiak doesn’t develop why, it appears that the lesson was developed in a way that would make sense to the audience—perhaps they could not fathom time stretching back millions of years?
The idea also suggests that our world is ever-changing, and so should our understanding of the Bible. From this as well as other examples, Helminiak stresses: God is guiding us through change in our world; therefore, his guidelines (part of which we read in the Bible) bend with shifts in our society (38).
How is one to know the difference, that a statement in the Bible is meant to be changed, reevaluated? Easy: when a thing is deemed wrong in the Bible, a reason is provided (40). He doesn’t go into details here, but one could easily see some of the prohibitions in Leviticus, where certain foods (like shellfish) are deemed bad because they are unclean—i.e. literally unhealthy, not morally bad. Understanding this reason then allows for an individual to understand if the law still applies in a different context. Today, since we now know how to clean, store, and cook seafood, the prohibition no longer need stand.
As Helminiak points out, the purported anti-gay content lacks this reasoning. The Bible authors lacked an understanding of modern homosexuality; therefore, they provided no guidance on the topic. Therefore, the “gay” content is often misunderstood or taken out of context, and as such, should not be taken to mean that our society—or our churches—should be advocating against the LGBT community on the basis of scripture. Times have evolved, and so too should be our understanding about what the Bible supposedly says about the love between two human beings, regardless of gender. It’s nice to have a straight Catholic point this out as well as Helminiak has in his book.