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James Martin, S.J.August 18, 2010
Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

Dr. Laura Schlessinger's announcement yesterday that she is quitting her radio show called to mind this clever response to her occasional fundamentalist readings of the Old Testament, particularly when it came to homosexuality.  This letter, which has been widely circulated on the web since it first appeared in 2000 (despite difficulties in ascertaining its origin) is a healthy antidote to Scriptural literalism of any sort

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination…End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death.  Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I’m confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan,


(It would be a damn shame if we couldn’t own a Canadian.) 



More: Scripture
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Seth C
13 years 10 months ago
FYI, the Hebrew text pictured is not from Leviticus. It is Psalm 64.

I also want to make a couple of points from my perspective as an Orthodox Jew, though I know I am an outsider here on a Catholic blog. I just want to point out (as John Flaherty mentioned in an earlier comment) that traditional Jews still believe 100% of Leviticus is God's law, and always will be. We DO abstain from shellfish, and from wearing clothes that mix wool and linen, and observant Jewish married couples do refrain from sex during the wife's menstruation. We take these laws seriously, and although people may want to treat that as a ridiculous punchline, it isn't a punchline to us... it is a mystery, a transcendent mystery which the Church and the Jewish people both agree was given to us on Mount Sinai. I would think that Catholics, with all your beautiful and audacious rituals (the transformation of bread and wine into the body of God incarnate, for example) would have some understanding of the fact that rituals which make no sense to outsiders have potential to be enormously meaningful to insiders in the context of a larger religious framework.

Now, we don't go around owning slaves (God forbid) or executing people (God forbid). The fact is, the Bible contains the headlines - the basic principles of commandments - and we believe an oral rabbinic tradition, the Oral Law, dating back to Mount Sinai contains the fine print. So, for example, the Bible says a boy who hits his parents should be executed. That teaches us a deep and meaningful principle about how essential our parents are in our lives, and how serious it is to hit them, God forbid. Meanwhile, the Oral Law stipulates all the conditions and "fine print" that so limits the law that in practice the sentence could never, in fact, be carried out. Similarly, "slavery" in terms of Jewish Oral Law is nothing like slavery as it has been known in other human societies, thanks to an enormous amount of fine print, recorded in rabbinic literature. We believe this is how God wants it.

Christians should think twice before disbelieving in the Oral Law if they consider Matthew 23, in which Jesus says, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do." It sounds to me as if Jesus was saying that Jewish Law is correct, but the rabbis of his time were not living up to their own correct interpretation of what Jewish law is! Sounds like an admirable message, and I wish more rabbis of today would do better at living up to the demands of Jewish law - both in  the ethical law and in the ritual law.

But even if you believe we Jews are mistaken in the Oral Law, I only ask simply that the non-Jewish world simply not treat our observances as a punchline, as this letter does. Don't mock us to attack Dr. Laura.

My point here is not to defend Dr. Laura. Her surface reading of Leviticus is indeed quite over-simplified and extremely problematic, ignoring both much serious Christian exegetical readings of the text and much serious Jewish exegetical readings of the text. (The issue of homosexuality has lots of Talmudic fine print as well.) My point is that this satirical letter is no better, for it too is glib and oversimplified. This letter is quite disrespectful to those of us who do take every word of Leviticus (and the rest of the Torah) seriously, as a binding contract we have with God Himself.
Gabriel McAuliffe
13 years 10 months ago
Seth C may not have observed America Magazine's directives for names but I greatly appreciate his thoughts on this often quoted retorts to Dr. Laura, most notoriously in the West Wing tv series.  I have never thought it a thoughtful response.

James Lindsay
13 years 10 months ago
For those who want to go "hog wild" at gay wedding ceremonies, the preferred canape is scallops wrapped in bacon.
John Wren
13 years 10 months ago
Moses: I've got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I got Him down to 10. The bad news is that adultery is still in.
Randy Schultz
13 years 10 months ago
It seems to me we need a law outlawing Red Lobsters, they are an abomination and a moral wrong does not make a civil right.
13 years 10 months ago
This even showed up on an episode of The West Wing, with President Bartlet saying something similar to what's in the letter to a conservative radio talk show host visiting the white house .....  

"I'm interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She's a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleaned the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be?  My chief of staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police?  Here's one that's really important cause we've got a lot of sports fans in this town: touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean. Leviticus 11:7 If they promise to wear gloves can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point?  Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother, John, for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads?"
Robert Killoren
13 years 10 months ago
This is the first blog that didn't make me cringe while reading the comments section. It was actually entertaining. I especially liked Crystal's comment - I remember the episode even though it was just one of the very few I've watched. I haven't had a chance to read blogs and comments before, but while I am recovering from hip-replacement surgery (which pretty much confirms that I am in the over 60 age category which one commenter wrote off as being mostly hippy heretics) I have had time to explore the blog world. What a shock, and eye opener. I certainly never saw letters to the editor that were anything like those things I read in the comments. I think there are those who would be prepared to answer all those questions above very seriously, I imagine some citing sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to back up how to do the executions (I am speaking hyperbole here). After reading all the hateful messages from individuals who consider themselves Catholics, I am ready to despair of ever finding peace in the Church. Please assure me that what I read in the blogosphere is a warped distortion of where the Church is truly at in 2010.
Kari Raiha
13 years 10 months ago

As a Canadian, I don't want to be owned by you! Lighten up eh!
Carolyn Disco
13 years 10 months ago
I've had this letter to Dr. Laura on my refrigerator since it first appeared. What fun. Now to liberate so much else in Catholicism from the literal.

For example, Eugene Kennedy on the Assumption: ''The Assumption invites us to tap into the vein of rich spiritual ore that runs just beneath the surface of a teaching that is radically diminished when it is presented literally as if by a reporter breathlessly describing the launch of a space vehicle from Cape Canaveral, “We have lift-off.” 
Jeffrey Miller
13 years 10 months ago
So what part of her belief would you consider fundamentalist?  Wouldn't seeing homosexual acts as not part of God's plan consistent with what the Catholic Church teaches?  That homosexual acts are intrinsically evil.

The letter in reply is just as stupid as some literal interpretations of scripture.  It makes no mention of the difference between the Levitical law and natural law.  The truth that homosexual acts are disordered can be known from the Natural law and of course this truth has always been taught by the Church.

Though I guess this is just one more of your posts of dissenting from Church teaching in a way where you don't actually say you are dissenting from Church teaching.   

Also why is it that there was no commentary here on Judge Walker's decisions overturning Prop 8 and in his decision misrepresenting Catholic teaching.  Or is it you will only ever have negative commentary if it involves a conservative.  There are plenty of liberal Catholics just as hypocritical as Newt Gingrich and yet he gets your ire.  Funny that.
John Flaherty
13 years 10 months ago
(Considering how I've been bugged about using my FULL name on another blog in America, I'm a little shocked that Mr. Reidy hasn't shut down this discussion already. Perhaps that rule only truly applies if Mr. Reidy feels a desire to join the conversation....)

However, to the point:
In a way, I guess I should be glad that whomever started this letter at least has enough skill to read a book in the first place.  On the other hand, this letter strikes me as being willfully contemptuous, bordering on outright hate.

So far as I'm aware, the Jewish people do not ONLY refer to Leviticus, but have almost all of our "Old Testament" at their disposal.  That's lots of places to chase down contradictions....Even if I believed Leviticus were the complete rule book for the Jewish faith (I don't), I'd still point out that rabbis and others exist for a reason.

If we're willing to bash Dr. Laura over these, will be defend our Christian faith against being willfully misinterpreted?  I think that unlikely.
Bain Wellington
13 years 10 months ago
And is or is it not the sub-text of the blog post (and the laudatory comments) that the Church's teaching on homosexual acts is fundamentalist and deserving of "clever" satire?
David Nickol
13 years 10 months ago

Although I do not agree with the Catholic Church's teachings on homosexuality, the point to me is that those who quote only Leviticus in condemnation of homosexuality have a lot of explaining to do to justify their position. The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not cite Leviticus in its discussion of homosexuality. 

By the way, according to the Bible, including the New Testament, Christians who eat meat must eat only kosher meat (Acts 15:28-29). How do you get around that one? 
Leonard Villa
13 years 10 months ago
Neat trick: lump the Levitical teaching against homosexuality with various provisions of Leviticus which were provisional and call it fundamentalist.  But the Church has never regarded the verse proscribing homosexuality as provisional.  It has been the constant teaching of the Church that homosexual activity is not a good thing for the human person because the nature of sexuality has a definite order as constitutive of the human person hence the notion of a fundamentalist reading of Leviticus or the notion that it was provisional really doesn't work.
Charlie Cahill
13 years 10 months ago
As a Canadian I am quite willing to be a slave but only if you live 'by the sea' on the west coast of middle Florida. I prefer Arizona actually especially the area around  their capital.
My willingness extends to  all 6 months from December through to  end of May.
Our motto up here is : He shall have dominion from sea to sea.
I assume  it speaks of America.
El McClintic
13 years 10 months ago
God forgives always
man forgives sometimes
nature never forgives

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