Within a few days of each other last week, on opposite sides of the world, on opposite ends of the wealth and privilege spectrums, the faithful filled two stadiums. In one, in Kismayo, Somalia, 1000 Muslim believers watched the stoning of a 13 year old girl--Aisha was her name--condemned for adultery because she dared to complain about being gang raped. In the other, in San Diego, California, thousands of Evangelicals sang and swayed and pledged their bodies and souls to the purpose of stripping gay men and women of equality under the law and specifically the right to marry. Like Aisha, those men and women have names. One of them is named David. Another Will. I know because I love them, as Aisha's broken parents loved their daughter.
The horror of imagining a thirteen-year-old raped and stoned is so enormous that it is hard emotionally to put the two events in the same bucket. And yet we must, if we are to understand what is happening to our country and to our world. We must, because they belong there. Both events can be understood only in terms of a single human phenomenon: the worship of specific brutal words that were written in a brutal time and place. Those 1000 Muslims and thousands of Evangelicals are "People of the Book," the ideological Sons and Daughters of Abraham, bound by a lineage of clay tablet and papyrus and vellum and paper to moral priorities of our Bronze Age ancestors.
These ancestors were sworn enemies of sex outside of the relationship in which a man controlled and jealously guarded his females: wives, slaves, and daughters. He owned them all, and to violate one of them was to violate his property ("You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." Exodus 20.) He owned their offspring, and if he was vigilant enough he could be reasonably confident about whose DNA his females carried in their bellies. When he went to war, he raped or kept the women of his enemies, as a part of the plunder. ("Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves." Numbers 13.)
The stoning, like the urgent need to bar gays from acceptance as full members of society comes straight out of the Books, chapter and verse. And though one seems more vile than the other, both reflect the widespread human willingness to deny to others the rights we want for ourselves: liberty, the pursuit of happiness, or even life. How quickly we turn brutish when we idolize the fears and angers of our ancestors or our own fear and anger, and thus give divine sanction to our darkest impulses. In the end, in California, over 30 million dollars were spent in an attempt to deny one of the world's most basic human rights to young couples, and old lovers, and pairs of moms and dads with kids in school or highchairs. An equal amount was spent in defense of fairness. How many thirteen year-old girls might have been saved--from malaria or starvation or even stoning -- if the American People of the Book could let Books be books and could turn their moral energy toward alleviating suffering instead of causing it.