Monday, March 31, 2014

Sodom and Gomorrah: Learning the Right Lesson

(Detail from John Martin's "The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.")

Thanks to movies like "Sodom and Gomorrah" (1962) and "Sodom and Gomorrah: The Last Seven Days" (1975), most Americans might recognize events described in Genesis 18:20-19:30.

Not that accuracy has ever been a high priority for screenwriters, and that's another topic.

The last I heard, archeologists still aren't sure where the cities of the plain were: or if they existed. I'm not surprised, since the Bible isn't a "history text, a science book, or a political manifesto." (USCCB)

In any case, the post-strike assessment suggests that there isn't much left to find:
"Early the next morning Abraham went to the place where he had stood in the LORD'S presence.

"7 As he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and the whole region of the Plain, he saw dense smoke over the land rising like fumes from a furnace."
(Genesis 19:27-28)
The narrative in Genesis 19:13-30 has a curiously contemporary feel to it, at least for me. It's fast-paced action: Lot's visitors yank him inside and blind the mob with something reminiscent of a flashbang; give him an evacuation order; and Lot's wife doesn't make it to the designated safe area.

I could claim that the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah teaches us that God doesn't like cities, or hates people, or that space aliens helped Lot escape. I'm much more inclined to agree with Pope Francis, and see the account as a reminder that unethical behavior doesn't pay off in the long run.
" 'Lent is a time for us to draw closer to the Lord,' the Pope said. It is a time for 'conversion'. In the day's first Reading, he said, 'the Lord invites us to conversion; and interestingly he calls two cities harlots': Sodom and Gomorrah. And he issues them this invitation: 'Be converted, change your lives, draw near to the Lord'. This, he explained, 'is the Lenten invitation: they are 40 days to draw near to the Lord, to be closer to him. For we all need to change our lives'.

"The Pontiff noted how meaningless it is to excuse ourselves by saying: 'But Father, I am not such a great sinner....', for 'we all have something inside of us and if we look into our soul we will find something that is not good, all of us'. Lent therefore 'invites us to amend our lives, to put them in order', he said, adding that this is precisely what allows us to draw near to the Lord, who is always ready to forgive."
("Christians without masks," Pope Francis (March 18, 2014), via L'Osservatore Romano, Weekly edition in English, n. 12 (March 21, 2014))

Cities of the Plain: Innocent Victims, or Multiple Offenders

At the risk of offending just about everybody, the Bible has several explanations for Sodom and Gomorrah's destruction.

The Genesis account cites deviant sexual practices. Isaiah 1:9-17 and 16:46-51 says social injustice and disregard for the poor was the issue, and Jeremiah 23:14 gives a short list of sins, including "...siding with the wicked, so that no one turns from evil...."

I could decide that the multiple explanations imply Sodom and Gomorrah's complete innocence: or that folks in those cities hadn't specialized in a single breach of ethics. I'm inclined to pick the latter.

Sex and Sin: Not the Same Thing

I've run into folks who seem to see sin and sex as synonyms: and apparently feel that God made a horrible mistake by making us male and female. That's crazy, on several levels, and almost another topic.

It's possible to misuse human sexuality, or food, or books: but that doesn't make sex, eating, or reading sinful.

Having a physical body isn't our problem. We're designed to have a body and a soul. Angels are creatures of pure spirit, with no physical form: and Satan rejected God anyway. (Catechism, 328, 362-368, 391-395)

Sin is an offense against reason and truth, a "failure in genuine love for God and neighbor." It's also a very bad idea. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1849-1851)

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.