8/18 Flashback: Legislating Genesis

8/18 Flashback: Legislating Genesis August 18, 2022

From August 18, 2013, “Gary Bauer’s Big Book of Genesis Legislation


“America is on the verge of criminalizing the book of Genesis,” says culture warrior Gary Bauer — who founded the Family Research Council and once ran for president.

For the record, no legislation has been introduced to do this. At least not as far as I can tell — since I’m not sure what “criminalizing the book of Genesis” is supposed to mean. Would it force us all to buy replacement Bibles with only 65 books? Would synagogues have to get new Torah scrolls that were 20 percent shorter?

Bauer said this while he was going on about what he sees as the calamitous perils of marriage equality, railing against recent Supreme Court decisions striking down key parts of DOMA and California’s Proposition 8. But this context doesn’t really help us to make sense of that bit about criminalizing Genesis:

Five liberal justices on our Supreme Court committed an act of judicial terrorism that struck at the very foundation of our constitutional republic. The court’s liberal majority accepted a radical redefinition of marriage and imposed its morality on the rest of society.

In doing so, five unelected judges rejected thousands of years of Judeo-Christian understanding, as well as congressional statutes, and set the stage for invalidating the will of the people in more than two-dozen states that have voted to maintain the traditional definition of marriage. Does the consent of the governed matter at all anymore?

It seems as though America is on the verge of criminalizing the book of Genesis. And with Obamacare’s assault on conscience, the danger to religious liberty cannot be overstated.

That’s pretty baffling. For Bauer, it seems, marriage equality and contraception without copays somehow is the same thing as “criminalizing the book of Genesis.”

I guess maybe Bauer is basing his anti-contraception views on a discredited reading of the weird little story of Onan in Genesis 38, but that still doesn’t explain why his anti-marriage-equality rant should have him bemoaning the “criminalizing of the book of Genesis” rather than, say, “criminalizing the book of Leviticus.” Leviticus, after all, is where the key clobber texts shaping Bauer’s anti-gay dogma are found.

To anchor his anti-gay views in Genesis, Gary Bauer has to be doing one of two very dubious maneuvers with the text.

He could be talking about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah — but that doesn’t provide any textual basis for what he’s claiming here. Those two wicked cities were destroyed in the book of Genesis due to their contemptuous neglect of the poor and their attempted gang-rape of visitors. Gang-raping strangers isn’t really analogous to marriage — and if Bauer thinks it is, then I’m extremely worried for Mrs. Bauer. Plus Bauer has never been at all concerned with those who have “excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy,” so it’s not possible he’s worried about the sin of Sodom.

The other possibility is that Bauer is claiming the origin stories of the book of Genesis are normative. Thus the story of Adam and Eve — one man and one woman — is normative for “biblical” marriage. Any legal definition of marriage that does not correspond with the specific normative model of Adam and Eve, therefore, is the equivalent of “criminalizing the book of Genesis.”

The problem there is that Bauer would be, himself, contradicting most of the book of Genesis. Abraham and Jacob were polygamists, with multiple wives as well as concubines, sex slaves, etc. They don’t fit into Bauer’s normative model of one man and one woman. And the book of Genesis itself tells us that Abraham and Jacob were blessed by God and not regarded as unrighteous for these non-normative marriages. Their multiplicity of wives, in fact, is presented as evidence of divine blessing.

That’s why the whole “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” thing just plain falls apart for anyone who reads a few pages further than Adam and Eve. For the rest of the book of Genesis it’s not Adam and Eve, it’s Adam and Eve and Hagar and Leah and Bilhah and Zilpah.

I also wonder what Gary Bauer’s notion of the book of Genesis as specifically normative for American law means beyond just his current obsessive opposition to marriage equality.

Treating Genesis this way would mean we’d have to get rid of the death penalty for individuals, for one thing. Murderers could no longer be sentenced to death or even sentenced to prison. Instead, they would be branded as murderers and set free to roam the world.

Without the threat of execution or incarceration, how would we prevent violent crime? Just do what the book of Genesis teaches us to do: Negotiate with violent criminals by offering them our virgin daughters as victims. If that doesn’t sound just or appealing to you, well then you’re probably “on the verge of criminalizing the book of Genesis.”

While we’d need to get rid of the death penalty for individual murderers, execution would still be possible for entire cities, which could be destroyed with fire and brimstone. Or for entire nations, which could be destroyed with a massive flood. So I suppose if we’re going to avoid criminalizing the book of Genesis, we’ll have to get over our liberal modern notion that collective guilt and collective punishment is an atrocity.

Gary Bauer would probably like one other legislative idea derived from those normative stories of Genesis: the abolition of all taxes. That’s what Joseph manages to bring about in the final chapters of Genesis, where he serves as Pharaoh’s right-hand man. No taxes definitely sounds like an idea Gary Bauer could get behind.

Unfortunately, Bauer probably wouldn’t be too keen on how Joseph gets rid of taxes — which is by centralizing all property and all ownership, establishing Pharaoh as the owner of all land, all commerce, all capital, all labor, everyone and everything.

That’s a pretty extreme form of communist totalitarianism, and I certainly wouldn’t want to see American law rewritten to require what God blesses Joseph for requiring in the book of Genesis. Does that mean I’m on the verge of criminalizing the book of Genesis?

We haven’t even gotten to Judah and Tamar yet, or to Lot and his daughters. But let’s avoid contemplating what horrors would be required if we were to treat those parts of Genesis as normative for contemporary legislation. Some things in some parts of the book of Genesis have long been criminalized, and they ought to be.


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