Think conservative objections to birth control are enshrined in the Bible? Think again.
January 5, 2014 |
When the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases about the conflict between new healthcare mandates and religion, it sparked a heated conversation on the religious rights of for-profit corporations.
In Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, the Court will decide whether these corporations can refuse to cover as part of their employee health care plans certain types of contraception, which they allege prevent fertilized eggs from implanting and therefore object to on religious grounds.
As many have already argued, we should not have to live our lives according to certain groups’ interpretations of religious laws. But as a student of ancient religious texts – I run a secular Jewish house of study for culture-makers in New York – I take real issue with these groups’ reading of the Bible, too.
The Old Testament, despite some believers’ insistence to the contrary, does not take a hard line against contraception or abortion. The Bible and the 24 other books that make up the Jewish canon make both direct references and thinly veiled allusions to women using contraception.
These books include references to women using contraception to have, and enjoy, premarital sex, to use their sexuality as a political weapon without risking pregnancy and prove their fidelity to their husbands. More on that later. (There are far more references to contraception in rabbinical commentaries on the Bible, but I won’t get into them here since they are not considered authoritative texts by those from other religious traditions.)
Let’s start with the hot sex! The Song of Songs is a long, sexy, romantic poem that many are surprised to find in the Bible. It is an unusual text in that it makes no mention of God or law, just a young, unmarried couple chasing, and lusting, after one another and eventually, as I and others believe, consummating their relationship. Over the centuries, religious scholars have argued that the poem is a metaphor for divine love. Still, it is pretty hard to ignore the poem’s graphic descriptions of the longings of the flesh.