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My Take: What the Bible really says about homosexuality
The author argues that the meaning of the Bible's passages on homosexuality have been lost in translation.
May 15th, 2012
05:39 PM ET

My Take: What the Bible really says about homosexuality

Editor's note: Daniel A. Helminiak, who was ordained a priest in Rome, is a theologian, psychotherapist and author of “What the Bible Really Says about homosexuality" and books on contemporary spirituality. He is a professor of psychology at the University of West Georgia.

By Daniel A. Helminiak, Special to CNN

President Barack Obama’s support of same-sex marriage, like blood in the water, has conservative sharks circling for a kill. In a nation that touts separation of religion and government, religious-based arguments command this battle. Lurking beneath anti-gay forays, you inevitably find religion and, above all, the Bible.

We now face religious jingoism, the imposition of personal beliefs on the whole pluralistic society. Worse still, these beliefs are irrational, just a fiction of blind conviction. Nowhere does the Bible actually oppose homosexuality.

In the past 60 years, we have learned more about sex, by far, than in preceding millennia. Is it likely that an ancient people, who thought the male was the basic biological model and the world flat, understood homosexuality as we do today? Could they have even addressed the questions about homosexuality that we grapple with today? Of course not.

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Hard evidence supports this commonsensical expectation. Taken on its own terms, read in the original languages, placed back into its historical context, the Bible is ho-hum on homosexuality, unless – as with heterosexuality – injustice and abuse are involved.

That, in fact, was the case among the Sodomites (Genesis 19), whose experience is frequently cited by modern anti-gay critics. The Sodomites wanted to rape the visitors whom Lot, the one just man in the city, welcomed in hospitality for the night.

The Bible itself is lucid on the sin of Sodom: pride, lack of concern for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:48-49); hatred of strangers and cruelty to guests (Wisdom 19:13); arrogance (Sirach/Ecclesiaticus 16:8); evildoing, injustice, oppression of the widow and orphan (Isaiah 1:17); adultery (in those days, the use of another man’s property), and lying (Jeremiah 23:12).

But nowhere are same-sex acts named as the sin of Sodom. That intended gang rape only expressed the greater sin, condemned in the Bible from cover to cover: hatred, injustice, cruelty, lack of concern for others. Hence, Jesus says “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31); and “By this will they know you are my disciples” (John 13:35).

How inverted these values have become! In the name of Jesus, evangelicals and Catholic bishops make sex the Christian litmus test and are willing to sacrifice the social safety net in return.

The longest biblical passage on male-male sex is Romans 1:26-27: "Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another."

The Greek term para physin has been translated unnatural; it should read atypical or unusual. In the technical sense, yes, the Stoic philosophers did use para physin to mean unnatural, but this term also had a widespread popular meaning. It is this latter meaning that informs Paul's writing. It carries no ethical condemnation.

Compare the passage on male-male sex to Romans 11:24. There, Paul applies the term para physin to God. God grafted the Gentiles into the Jewish people, a wild branch into a cultivated vine. Not your standard practice! An unusual thing to do — atypical, nothing more. The anti-gay "unnatural" hullabaloo rests on a mistranslation.

Besides, Paul used two other words to describe male-male sex: dishonorable (1:24, 26) and unseemly (1:27). But for Paul, neither carried ethical weight. In 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul says that even he was held in dishonor — for preaching Christ. Clearly, these words merely indicate social disrepute, not truly unethical behavior.

In this passage Paul is referring to the ancient Jewish Law: Leviticus 18:22, the “abomination” of a man’s lying with another man. Paul sees male-male sex as an impurity, a taboo, uncleanness — in other words, “abomination.” Introducing this discussion in 1:24, he says so outright: "God gave them up … to impurity."

But Jesus taught lucidly that Jewish requirements for purity — varied cultural traditions — do not matter before God. What matters is purity of heart.

“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles,” reads Matthew 15. “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

Or again, Jesus taught, “Everyone who looks at a women with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus rejected the purity requirements of the Jewish Law.

In calling it unclean, Paul was not condemning male-male sex. He had terms to express condemnation. Before and after his section on sex, he used truly condemnatory terms: godless, evil, wicked or unjust, not to be done. But he never used ethical terms around that issue of sex.

As for marriage, again, the Bible is more liberal than we hear today. The Jewish patriarchs had many wives and concubines. David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel and the palace master were probably lovers.

The Bible’s Song of Songs is a paean to romantic love with no mention of children or a married couple. Jesus never mentioned same-sex behaviors, although he did heal the “servant” — pais, a Greek term for male lover — of the Roman Centurion.

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Paul discouraged marriage because he believed the world would soon end. Still, he encouraged people with sexual needs to marry, and he never linked sex and procreation.

Were God-given reason to prevail, rather than knee-jerk religion, we would not be having a heated debate over gay marriage. “Liberty and justice for all,” marvel at the diversity of creation, welcome for one another: these, alas, are true biblical values.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Daniel A. Helminiak.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Gay marriage • Opinion

soundoff (8,831 Responses)
  1. Tim

    Wow. That was some of the worse exegetical work I have read in my entire life. Mr. Helminiak, may I suggest that you read "Exigetical Falicies" by D.A. Carson 1 Corinthians 2:14 comes to mind.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  2. Matt Parks

    Love everyone, gay or straight.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Juggler

      Truer words have never been spoken. If you really think God is against hom-ose-xuality, then let God sort it out. It's not your place to judge and condemn.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • Russ

      Lying to people is not loving them.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • birch please

      Are you jesus?

      May 16, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • Russ

      @ birch: if you actually want to engage those who believe the Bible, it'd help to understand what Christians have believed for 2000 years:

      8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:8-10)

      May 16, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  3. Twinelms

    The author cherry picks from Romans1. He chose not to quote the first part of Romans 1:26, "God gave them up to dishonorable passions." He also fails to quote the rest of verse 27, "men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error." Note also verse 32, "Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them."

    The author would do well to heed verse 18 which opens this section, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth."

    May 16, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • jayh

      But it's still a 2000 year fairy tale...

      May 16, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • CODreamin

      True, but at the same time this whole issue centers around what the government does or will not do. It is possible to be personally and morally against a thing while not prohibiting other citizens from engaging in it. The best example is freedom of religion- any Christian will probably tell you that worshipping anyone or anything other than the Christian God is a sin, be it Buddha, Hindu gods, Satan, etc. However any Christian will also probably tell you that they support America extending to its citizens the right to worship whomever or whatever they so choose (freedom of religion). The moral position is in opposition to worship of other non-Christian gods, and in Christian churches, worship of any other god is not allowed/supported. But the civic position is in favor of America allowing its citizens to choose to do so if they wish. It really should be the same with gay marriage in my opinion.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Juggler

      Wait I thought you guys were followers of Jesus not followers of Paul? Paul was just as bad as the Pharisees that Jesus denounced.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  4. Stephanie

    I think an opinion is one thing, but to lie and to attempt to use Scripture to do it is wrong. The statement "David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel and the palace master were probably lovers" is a sad attempt to steer people away from what the Bible says. The saddest part to me is that most Americans don't read Scripture; therefore, they wouldn't know they truth anyway.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Juggler

      I've read it several times through. So tell me, why do you think being gay is an abomination and eating shellfish isn't? Why do you cherry pick scriptures that suit your view?

      May 16, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • mandarax

      If more Americans actually read the scriptures, I'm convinced that there would be significantly fewer Christians in America.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • Graham

      There weren't any lies in his article. The author wrote his interpretation of the scriptures, and interpretation formed after considerable study. I realize that his study lead to a different interpretation than your's, but that doesn't make it a lie. It's just his understanding of the Bible, one that is less hateful than your's. Isn't that a good thing?

      May 16, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • Russ

      @ Jacques: if you read the Bible through, did you not read Mk.7:18-19 or Acts 10:9-15? The shellfish argument fails basic reading comprehension for a Christian. Jesus made those foods clean at the cross. Rom.1:26-27 makes it clear the same cannot be said in this debate.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • Russ

      @ Graham: is that like when Bill Clinton argued for his interpretation of the word "is"?

      May 16, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • Anne

      Ruth and Naomi? The daughther-in-law and mother-in-law? Can't two people care for each other and not be lovers? This story reminds me of myself and my now deceased mother-in-law. She was very dear to me and I to her. Don't forget, Ruth later married Boaz and bore a son, Obed. And the book of Ruth indicates that Naomi cared for this babe , Obed, and Naomi was cared for into her old age. Yes, I believe that Ruth loved Naomi and Naomi loved Ruth, but not as a lovers.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  5. Barney

    Luke 6:37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven

    Matthew 7:1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged"

    guess unless you are christian then you can judge others all you want. also i love it when "real christians" think they know what the bible says. Ignarance...

    May 16, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • Matt Parks

      Amen brother. Love everyone, gay or straight. I'm pretty sure that's what Jesus wanted.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Russ

      @ Barney: read the rest of the passage. You're taking those verses out of context. Jesus goes on to say that we should take the log out of our own eye – and then help our brother take the splinter out of his.

      point being: Jesus is not saying "never judge." He's saying be consistent! Judge with the same manner that you would want to be judged. The way you're reading it, we'd never even take the log out of our own eye.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  6. Satan

    Christians always cherry picking passages from their out dated book of fairy tales to justify bigotry. I bet all you who continue to quote Leviticus also abstaine from shellfish, clothing that is made of more than one material and you never work on the Sabbath. No? Didn't think so you hypocrites.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • Matt Parks

      Exactly.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • lolol

      good job on reposting what hundreds already said, sheep.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • Russ

      @ Satan:
      Funny you should choose that handle, seeing as how Satan misused Scripture in the wilderness w/ Jesus...

      Read Acts 10:9-15. The shellfish argument is a good soundbite for those who have never read the Bible, but doesn't pass the basic reading comprehension test for Christians.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  7. Can

    If you truly believe in the Bible, you will see that being gay is not condoned by God. However, slavery and polygamy are. So, in the end, me and my five wives are going to watch as I make my slaves burn gays at the stake.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  8. ctw

    Before the black civils rights, some "Christians" claimed that interracial marriage was wrong and in the Bible and now POOF! its suddenly okay. People USE the Bible to justify their own discrimination to hold down people they simply don't like.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • Matt Parks

      A very fundamental teaching of Jesus was "love thy neighbour." A lot of Christians don't seem to understand this concept. Instead of love, they've filled themselves with hate.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • sweebach

      this is just what Jesus admonished the Pharisees about . . . using scripture as a power ploy to repress people . . . hmmmmm

      May 16, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  9. McCave

    This guy is a moron. It seems that, being able to read the Bible in the original language has done nothing for his understanding. Again, CNN will go to any length to champion that gay cause.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • Matt Parks

      He's an ordained Priest who's studied the Bible extensively in an acedemic setting. He's obviously more qualified than you to discuss these issues.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • ctw

      As I assume you've read the Hebrew version

      May 16, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • Satan

      McCave is McPwnd

      May 16, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • jayh

      Go back to your McCave.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • Jerseyknight

      Any fool who listens to and bases their live on a mis-translated, two thousand year old text should go live in a McCave.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • Madtown

      McCave
      This guy is a moron.
      -----
      Uh huh. And, internet dufus is so much more qualified to speak on these matters.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • birch please

      He was ordained. . . . . .

      May 16, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  10. The Jackdaw

    Because religion is created by man, it reflects the opinions of men. Weather those opinions were intentionally written down in scripture or the nebulous nature of scripture can be interpreted to reflect modern opinions, it does not matter. The intention of religion is good; to be a catalyst of brotherhood and piece. But it is a tool, and like any tool it can be used to either build or destroy. Using religion to spread hate is wrong. No matter what you hate or how you justify it.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  11. Matt Parks

    I'm a Christian and I support gay rights. My faith comes from the New Testement. Jesus teaches to "love thy neighbour" and I intend to do that..... Now for the comments telling me that I'm a terrible person....

    May 16, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • lauch

      you're a terrible person (?) ok....you're not.....I just felt like you wanted me to say that.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Matt Parks

      I'm a horrible, horrible person for loving everyone and wanting everyone to have the same rights. I need to be stoned to death or something....

      May 16, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • Graham

      You are a very good person, the kind that the world needs more of.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  12. Jay

    Joe is on the money. I am a ordain Minister and there are others CNN could have picked to give what the bible says. They pick a man who is baseless on interpretaion and translation. GET A STRONG'S CONCORDANCE and examine the greek translation for yourselves. CNN was looking for an atypyical ,controversal person not the truth.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • McCave

      So right! Who do they pick? Some crackpot that will tow the gay line.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • jayh

      You mad?

      May 16, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • Jay

      Fired up jayh for un truth. And defending it.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  13. n8263

    It is immoral to impose your religious superstition on others.

    You do not believe in religion because you honestly think it is true, you believe in it because you fear mortality or are seeking meaning in your life. It does not take a genius to figure out all religion is man made, so for humanity's sake, please stop lying to yourself.

    Deluding yourself in religion does not change reality. Lying to yourself is probably the worst possible way to try to find meaning.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Jay

      Where do we get our laws of the land, from delusion. Guess killing for nothing is not muder just imagination. Every man has built in them the natural law of God while animals act on instict and raw emotion. God's law has been the back bone of our civilization. Rocket science is not needed to know that we and all matter didn't come from nothing when the Law of conservation of mass (A proven law by the way) says we couldn't have. Unless a Miracle happen (From God)

      May 16, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • n8263

      @Jay, everything you just wrote could be used to rationalize Islam. Religions are all the same basic bullshit.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • Jay

      You still can't explain where it all starts. In love God created everything. Not science A miracle

      May 16, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • HT Miser

      Not knowing where the universe came from is no more proof of god than not knowing what's in a hot dog is proof that it's made from unicorn meat.

      If you want to believe in your various interpretations of 2000 year old nonsense then feel free to do so. The rest of us will be over here quietly moving civilization forward.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • Madtown

      God's law
      ---
      How do we know what this is? Where is it written?

      May 16, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • HT Miser

      Also, we don't get out laws from the Bible. The only Commandments which are actual laws are those prohibiting murder and stealing. I'm pretty sure we could have come up with those laws on our own. It's not like prior to the Bible, people didn't realize that murder was wrong.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • a reasonable atheist

      @Jay – Special relativity is one glaring exception to your argument about conservation of mass. While the big bang is a working theory based upon observations of the current state of our universe and how it is changing, it is indeed not accepted as hard fact. Why does this trouble you? What is so scary about acknowledging that we simply do not yet know?

      Attributing the "creation" of the known universe to a "miracle" has no rational basis whatsoever. The proponents of the big bang put forth evidence and speculation based on what we understand about the physics of this universe. The theory fits pretty well with the data we currently have.

      If you want to attribute it to a "miracle," I suggest you put forth evidence. Otherwise, a competing theory that it was the result of a giant space hamster's fart gone awry is equally valid.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • Robert Brown

      n8263,

      It is wrong and pretty much impossible to force anyone to believe, do, or not do, most anything. The government makes laws and people break them.

      A lot of religious practices are man-made. However, it appears that you do not believe in God because you have never had a personal spiritual experience with him. God is a spirit and the only way you can make contact with him is through his Holy Spirit. This is a common mistake that you are making because you are denying God with your human or carnal understanding. I don’t doubt that people seek God for immortality, providing a meaning in their lives, and many other reasons.

      Denying the existence of God does that change the fact that he is. Attempting to find meaning in anything or anyone, other than God, will only lead to disappointment. God will never let you down.

      The first step to discovering what you are missing is faith. If you are interested in obtaining some let me know. If not, have a great day.

      May 16, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  14. BIll

    Making shades of gray of the black and white.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  15. birch please

    What makes an atheist.........................objectively reading the bible.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • ctw

      No an atheist is not believing in the Bible at all – modern day Christians objectively read the Bible. Ive never read the damn thing and have no intent to and I was raised southern Baptist.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Juggler

      He never said anything about believing it. He just said to read it with an objective mind. I have to say it's true. I was a diehard theist. That was until i read the Bible through several times. I decided to bolster my faith and read the Bible front to back. I did and it did not strengthen my faith, it started to deteriorate it. I did a good bit of research on what I was reading and the flaws in it and realized, it wasn't just me seeing the flaws. Then I read it a couple more times. By the time I reached the end of my last read-through, I was convinced if there was a God, it wasn't the Biblical God.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • Talking Snake

      //No an atheist is not believing in the Bible at all //

      Usually because they've read it and realized how bat $#it it is.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • Solus5

      I would have to disagree.. What makes an atheist is the denial of God for a belief in something, they know, is impossible. An athiest, be definition, is one that knows there is no God... But in order to do that, one must implore trait of deity to know that in reference to the entire universe..

      Everyone believes in something.. I believe in God.. If not God, then existence for those that do not, boils down to nothing but a combination of chemical reactions that makes man's existence meaningless and void. These chemical reactions do nothing to explain mans ability to invision something or someone greater than themselves, or the existence of logic, or compassion or morality. In essence, some men chose to believe what they know cannot be true, because they refuse to acknowledge the existence of One that demands a turning from sin..

      May 16, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  16. Don

    Is this guy blind Leviticus 18:22 thou shall not lie with mankind as with womankind THIS IS ABOMINATION.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • birch please

      So ARE YOU A JEW? do you follow all the jewish laws, or do you just pick the ones that work for your bigoted opinions?

      May 16, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • sweebach

      Leviticus 19:19 "Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material." -- does not disprove gay abomination, but you have to look further than Leviticus for credibility - or either ask forgiveness for wearing that cotton blend . . .

      May 16, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Scott

      Leviticus is full of Jewish Laws...not God's laws...the question you should be asking yourself is why the Jewish system referred to it as an abomination. Maybe it was because they were constantly at war with each other and everyone around them, and they needed men and women to procreate to keep up their population.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • Steve

      Leviticus 11:12
      Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.

      God hates shrimp.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Juggler

      Wearing clothes of two different fabrics is a choice. Being gay, isn't. So, why do you wear polyester/cotton blends? If you are going to say that one of the Mosaic Laws is law because it's in the Bible, then you have to adhere to all of them. Why do you get to pick and choose you hypocrite?

      May 16, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • jayh

      Some people just haven't evolved as much as others.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • believer in Chrisst

      Amen! There are commandments carried over from the old testament to the new and this is one of them. Does not even a child
      know when it has done wrong? God did not make Adam & Steve, But Adam & Eve!!! Lot offered his daughter instead of the angels in the Bible, in Genesis chapter 19 and in verse 7 he said it was wicked. God said in his word it is an abomination and stinks . One day you will stand before the almighty God and He will judge you by the Holy Word!! You will be a believer of the truth then. I do love and pray for all. But that doesn't make it right in the sight of God.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  17. Derek

    Thank you for providing clarity & facts to this heated debate. Jesus would have been ashamed how some Christians use His name to hurt others or discriminate against them. Historically the Catholic Church frequently engaged in violent acts against innocent people and many Catholic priests engaged in intercourse w/ each other & now we see also young boys. While Christianity is a great religion, we see not all of its followers or churches actually practice what is preached. Many Christians have committed adultery & or gotten a divorce, something that is clearly a sin.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  18. elizabethclements

    I read this article on the toilet. Fitting.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • chefdugan

      To believe the bible is the word of God is to commit to total self-delusion. The bible has a lot of good in it but it also has a lot of BS in it that is the product of thousands of "experts" putting their personal opinions into the text. Take out the good and leave the rest!

      May 16, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • Steve

      Funny, that's where I used to read the bible.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • MS

      Fitting because it helped you rid yourself of something that you seem to be full of?

      May 16, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  19. Bible Clown©

    As usual, the Bible is being used to justify prejudice. Slavery is fine, but not men holding hands? It's enough to make a cat laugh.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  20. ctw

    You can all quote Bible verses until you're blue in the face (which some of you will do) but if I dont believe in the Bible, why should I care what it says?? Basic EQUAL, civil rights dont involve religion.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Bible Clown©

      "if I dont believe in the Bible, why should I care what it says??" Right. Since it isn't really true anyway, who cares what magic chant or avoidance ritual it prescribes? We don't toss virgins into volcanoes anymore either.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:33 am |
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