I have been thinking about Leviticus for two reasons. The first is the ongoing debate about same sex marriage. The second is that my Dad sent me some Maine lobsters for Christmas.
Why the link between lobster and same sex marriage?
Interestingly, male homosexuality and shellfish (technically all aquatic creatures lacking fins and scales) are both abominations.
In regards to the lobsters: “Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.” In regards to male homosexuality: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” And, just to be complete, in regards to sex with lobsters: “Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion.”
I have no inclination to have sex with other men or with lobsters. But, I am rather fond of eating lobsters and would prefer not to think of myself as being involved in an abomination as I dip that claw meat into the butter (no, that is not a euphemism-I am talking about lobsters and lobsters alone).
When the rules in Leviticus were written it would make sense to regard shellfish as unclean. After all, there are many health concerns with them. For example, red tide can transform shell fish from a tasty treat to a toxic feast. Given the rather limited understanding of biology back then, such a sweeping injunction could be quite sensible. Now, if that is the reason behind the rule, then the rule would not really apply today. After all, with our better understanding of biology and health issues, we can consume shellfish safely.
Of course, some people believe that the rule is a direct command from God to never eat such things ever. As such, the argument that the rule was reasonable then but is no longer needed does not carry any weight. The question then arises as to what grounds the claim that such aquatic creatures are unclean abominations.
One possibility is the obvious one: they can be unclean in a very literal sense-they can be contaminated with toxins or other nastiness (bacteria, etc.). Of course, if they are not so contaminated (like the lobster I cooked and ate), then they would not be unclean. This, obviously enough, takes us back to the argument I presented above.
A second possibility is that such aquatic lifeforms are intrinsically unclean abominations. However, if being unclean or an abomination are real qualities, they should be detectable in the biology or the genetics of such creatures. However, there seems to be no biological or genetic standards for what would be an abomination. As far as being unclean goes, that would seem to only mean that the creature is contaminated with substances harmful or unpleasant to humans. That could apply, but would take us back to the matter just considered.
A third possibility is that such aquatic lifeforms are metaphysically unclean or metaphysical abominations. That is, of course, to say that God made some nasty things. Of course, such metaphysical qualities seem to be undetectable. I’m a professional meta physician and I’ve eaten hundreds of lobsters. Yet, I have never discerned any metaphysical qualities relating to their being unclean or abominations. Then again, maybe that green stuff in them is the abomination or uncleanness. Naturally enough, if someone can show me the metaphysical uncleanness of a lobster, I’ll stop eating them. But, I’ve never even had a stomach ache from eating lobster-so,if they are unclean, most people seem immune to their uncleanness.
A fourth possibility is that they are unclean abominations just because someone says they are. In this case, being unclean or an abomination merely means being called that by whoever gets to label things in this manner. It is not that the creatures have any objective qualities that make them unclean or abominations. They are just those things because someone says so. This would be analogous to something being illegal because people in charge say it is so. For example, if I were to park in a reserved space at my university, I would be ticketed and my truck might be towed. This is not because the space has special qualities. Rather, this is because the people who tell the folks with the tickets and tow trucks say that is how it will be. Perhaps this is the same situation for lobster-everyone who has eaten such creatures will eventually get a ticket or something for breaking the rules.
What about same sex marriage? Well, I have no desire to be involved with that myself. But, some of what I said about lobster would probably apply to that as well.