Over the past week or so, we’ve had more than our normal collection of fundamentalist, anti-gay commenters, who seem to think that they have something to add to the discussion. They quote their same six Bible verses, say the same words every Fundamentalist before them has said, and then, if they choose to stick around and argue, they become chew toys for our normal commenters. I’m fine with all of this. It’s part of having an open commenting system and stating your opinion on the internet. If you hold positions with holes big enough to drive several Mack trucks through, you open yourself up for that.

But I always notice that one of the primary reasons our Fundamentalist visitors become broken records so quickly is that their belief system, i.e., that homosexuality is a sin (in whatever meaningless words they use to say so), is one of the quickest dead-end arguments around, as the commenters revert to the aforementioned clobber passages again and again, while different pro-equality commenters use one of several different strategies to take them to that quick dead-end. Those of us who are believers tend to try to explain that, when you look at said passages from a more educated point of view, taking into context culture, original languages, science and reality, that it’s hard to actually make the case that the Bible condemns loving same-sex relationships. Those of us who are atheists don’t tend to get into all of that, simply leading the commenters quickly to the dead-end of their arguments from authority, saying “prove that the authority in your book exists, and furthermore that your interpretation of that authority exists, and we’ll talk.”

Those who fight against the existence of LGBT people tend to have very little exposure to actual gay people. If they do, it’s often through their church, which might be affiliated with an “ex-gay” business, and as such, their exposure is to people who are broken (not that we all aren’t), and who have been swindled by “ex-gay” leaders into blaming their own poor choices or circumstances on their sexuality, rather than actually taking responsibility for their own lives. Rarely, if ever, do you hear a fundamentalist Christian testifying on gay people as we are. Rarely do you hear them railing against the lesbian couple who lives next door, who has been together for 30 years, or the gay guys down the street, together, for 15 years, raising children, driving Suburbans. These Fundamentalists do not understand or are unwilling to acknowledge that these LGBT people exist, and not only that, but that we’re common.

I understand why it’s important for their handlers (clergy, anti-gay Religious Right leaders, etc.) to shield them from the reality of the fabric of LGBT existence. I often quote the statistic that when someone knows a gay person, they tend to vote 3 to 1 in our favor when the opportunity comes up. If what Religious Right leaders said about gay people held even a shred of truth, you wouldn’t expect this to be the case. One of the favorite clobber passages of Christian Fundamentalists is, of course, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, which says:

9 Know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortionists, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you: but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

Because these verses are often poorly translated to include the word “homosexual,” our Fundamentalist chew toys feel that this verse is “proof” that gays can change our sexual orientation. (Again: Poor translation. Argument from authority, prove it, prove it, prove it.) What often goes overlooked, though, is that one of the gaping holes in the Fundamentalist argument is contained in this very passage, staring them in the face. Let’s pretend for a second that “homosexual” was a decent translation for the Greek words arsenokoitai and malakoi. (As with all games of “make-believe,” it’s important that only those with a firm grasp on reality play. Sorry, Fundamentalists.) Remember what I was saying about how knowing a gay person makes a person much more likely to support us? Tell me which other sins in that vice list above work the same way. Do you support thieves more by understanding thieves? Are you more likely to support an alcoholic’s drunkenness by getting to know them better? Do you tend to feel better about extortionists once you bond with the couple down the street that, you know, happens to be a little bit Mafia?

But yet, people tend to like LGBT people a lot more when they know us personally. When the nice couple with three kids, or the couple with no kids but who throw fantastic dinner parties for the neighbors (because come on, some stereotypes are true) moves in, people become more likely to love and support us.

That implies that there is something seriously off with the Fundamentalist interpretation of that passage, now doesn’t it?

No, the reason it’s important for Religious Right leaders and ex-gay entrepreneurs to shield their minions followers from the reality of LGBT people is because to be honest with them, to encourage them to actually know us, brings them into a head-on collision with another passage in their Bible, and it’s a fairly popular, well-known passage. Matthew 7:17-20:

17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

This passage, of course, bears the heavier weight of having been spoken by Jesus, after whom Christianity was named. It’s a very, very simple parable. Good people, good relationships, and good practices bear good fruit. Bad people, bad relationships, and bad practices, bear bad fruit. Indeed, Jesus here is engaging in one of his famous smackdowns of fundamentalist religious leaders, using the concept of the law of nature, that every tree bears fruit of its own kind, to illustrate the idea that religious leaders who leave a wake of pain and misery are, you know, probably not good. The stories and interactions shared by Fundamentalist Christians and ex-gay entrepreneurs, about gay people, tend to follow a similar outline:

1. I hated myself.

2. I “entered the homosexual lifestyle,” and became addicted to drugs/tried to kill myself/acquired HIV, etc.

3. I was rescued from “the homosexual lifestyle” by Jesus.

4. All of this was the fault of “the homosexual lifestyle.” Now if you’ll just sign here, and recruit five more people to be ex-gays, you’re done, and you’ll make residual income on everybody they recruit too!*

Standing as the negation to this narrative are millions of happy, well-adjusted gay people, who make things better for society, many of whom are in beautiful, quite normal marriages, some raising children, etc. They are bearing good fruit, just like good heterosexual relationships bear good fruit. Likewise, there are straight people and relationships which bear extremely bad fruit. Those which are abusive (whether physically or emotionally), those in which the husband treats his wife like property, those which are full of deceit and malice, etc. But we would never think to condemn heterosexuals as a whole for the worst examples of heterosexual relationships, because that would be insane. But yet our Fundamentalist chew toys don’t see the intellectual incoherence of doing that very thing as regards LGBT people.

The simple point is this: If you believe in the Bible, then you have to be willing to embrace the spirit of the text, and the words and stories of Jesus are kind of a trump card. If you analyze them in light of reality, in light of what we understand about people, then you have to deal with Matthew 7 as regards gay people. Because just as in the straight world, the best of gay relationships indeed bear much good fruit, bringing happiness, emotional fulfillment, stable family structures, and community support (and a million other things) to those in the relationships and the people around them.

And bad trees cannot bear good fruit.

Thus concludes your latest installment of “Bible Lessons with an Atheist.”

*Oh, you know one ex-gay business or another will discover network marketing before too long.