Religion and Sex Quiz
Faith is a huge force in American life, and it’s common to hear the Bible cited to bolster political and moral positions, especially against same-sex marriage and abortion. So here’s my 2011 religion quiz. Choose the best responses (some questions may have more than one correct answer):
1. The Bible’s position on abortion is:
a. Never mentioned.
b. To forbid it along with all forms of artificial birth control.
c. Condemnatory, except to save the life of the mother.
2. The Bible suggests “marriage” is:
a. The lifelong union of one man and one woman.
b. The union of one man and up to 700 wives.
c. Often undesirable, because it distracts from service to the Lord.
3. The Bible says of homosexuality:
a. Leviticus describes male sexual pairing as an abomination.
b. A lesbian should be stoned at her father’s doorstep.
c. There’s plenty of ambiguity and no indication of physical intimacy, but some readers point to Ruth and Naomi’s love as suspiciously close, or to King David declaring to Jonathan: “Your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” (II Samuel 1:23-26)
4. In the Bible, erotic writing is:
a. Forbidden by Deuteronomy as “adultery of the heart.”
b. Exemplified by “Song of Songs,” which celebrates sex for its own sake.
5. Jesus says that divorce is permitted:
a. Only after counseling and trial separation.
c. Only to men whose wives have been unfaithful.
6. Among sexual behavior that is forbidden is:
c. Sex with angels.
7. The people of Sodom were condemned principally for:
c. Lack of compassion for the poor and needy.
This quiz, and the answers below, draw from a new book, “Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire.” It’s by Jennifer Wright Knust, a Bible scholar at Boston University who is also an ordained American Baptist pastor.
Professor Knust’s point is that the Bible’s teachings about sexuality are murky and inconsistent and prone to being hijacked by ideologues (this quiz involves some cherry-picking of my own). There’s also lots we just don’t understand: What exactly is the offense of “arsenokoitai” or “man beds” that St. Paul proscribes? It is often translated as a reference to homosexuality, but it more plausibly relates to male prostitution or pimping. Ambiguity is everywhere, which is why some of you will surely harrumph at my quiz answers:
1. A. Abortion is never mentioned as such.
2. A, B and C. The Bible limits women to one husband, but other than that is all over the map. Mark 10 envisions a lifelong marriage of one man and one woman. But King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (I Kings 11:3). And Matthew (Matthew 19:10-12) and St. Paul (I Corinthians 7) both seem to suggest that the ideal approach is to remain celibate and avoid marriage if possible, while focusing on serving God. Jesus (Matthew 19:12) even seems to suggest that men make themselves eunuchs, leading the early church to ban enthusiasts from self-castration.
3. A and C. As for stoning on a father’s doorstep, that is the fate not of lesbians but of non-virgin brides (Deuteronomy 22:13).
4. B. Read the “Song of Songs” and blush. It also serves as a metaphor for divine relations with Israel or with humans.
5. B and C. Jesus in Mark 10:11-12 condemns divorce generally, but in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 suggests that a man can divorce his wife if she is guilty of sexual immorality.
6. A, B and C. We forget that early commentators were very concerned about sex with angels (Genesis 6, interpreted in the Letter of Jude and other places) as an incorrect mixing of two kinds.
7. C. “Sodomy” as a term for gay male sex began to be commonly used only in the 11th century and would have surprised early religious commentators. They attributed Sodom’s problems with God to many different causes, including idolatry, threats toward strangers and general lack of compassion for the downtrodden. Ezekiel 16:49 suggests that Sodomites “had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”
Hmm. “Did not aid the poor and needy.” Who knew that that’s what the Bible condemns as sodomy? At a time of budget cuts that devastate the poor, isn’t that precisely the kind of disgusting immorality that we should all join together in the spirit of the Bible to repudiate?