The Left Hand of God
The following letter, shared with me by a friend, was originally written to his daughter. It is a private letter filled with love and understanding as only a loving, educated parent could write. I have his permission to share the letter with you. You are privileged to have the opportunity. I hope you will take the time to read and ponder it. My friend Richard has just won his first battle with throat cancer having endured months of radiation and chemo therapy, and much suffering. He still takes nutrition through a feeding tube, dreams of eating a steak and baked potato with lots butter and sour cream. His body has been dealt a severe blow but his mind continues to be as inquisitive, skeptical, receptive, and eager to learn as it ever was. I plan to follow my friend and learn from him, in all humility and admiration. From time to time I will share his “wisdom letters” with you. Richard is a freethinker, a non believer in superstition, a revered member of the Center For Inquiry Indiana located in Indianapolis. His letter is informative, but his love of his daughter shines through the information and makes clear his strong support for the LGBT community who also have parents who are hopefully as supportive as Richard.
This is a message I sent to my daughter Toni who is in a long-term lesbian relationship with a partner in the largest law firm in Houston. Both are openly gay and doing very well but Texas is not one of our more”gay friendly” states. The analogy of being gay to being left-handed has always seemed to me to be glaringly obvious and this is my message to her in regard to that dynamic.
If we exclude China, the bias and prejudice against left-handedness pre-dates Christianity especially among Eastern and Pagan religions. However, it did not have a serious influence on Western culture until the Middle Ages and really picked up speed in the 16th Century with the impact of the invention of the printing press which enabled the wide distribution of the Bible to millions who previously had no ability to read it for themselves.
The ancient Greeks and Romans regarded the left side generally and the left hand specifically as inferior and profane and in medieval times use of the left hand was associated with witchcraft. Throughout recorded history, in virtuallyall parts of the world, the right has been associated with all things good and pure while the left has been shunned as unholy, evil and relegated to inferiority. This bias has historically pervaded virtually all cultures except the Chinese. This includes cultures as diverse as virtually all of Africa, North American Indians, the Maoris in New Zealand, the Aborigines in Australia, virtually all of South America, the Dutch East Indies, and all of Medieval Europe in addition to the whole of Christianity and Islam.
In the Koran and the Bible, the elect and God’s favorite sit on his right hand side and the damned on his left. In Matthew 25:33, the author has Jesus place God’s followers (the sheep) on its right and the non-followers (the goats)on its left hand side. The Catholic Church held for over a thousand years that being left-handed made one a servant of the Devil and that anything left-handed was Evil. Muslims forbid the touching of any holy scripture with the left hand.
Jesus takes his place on the right hand of God. In pictures of the Last Judgment, the Christian God shows his disciples their new heavenly abode with his right hand and points with his left to Hell. The three monotheistic religions which trace their roots to Abraham all treat the left as demonic, diabolical and the earthly path to Hell.
There are over 100 references in the Bible to right-handedness in a positive context; see e.g. Psalms 118:15-16 “15 The voice of rejoicing and salvation isin the tabernacles of the righteous; the RIGHT hand of the LORD doeth valiantly. 16 The RIGHT hand of the LORD is exalted; the RIGHT hand of the LORD doeth valiantly.”
The word “left” in many languages is associated with evil, trouble or the devil. In Latin which is the root of all the romance languages, “left” comes from “sinister/sinistre”. The Greek root “dexter” gives us the word “dextrous” (skillful) and means “on the right”. On the contrary, the standard words for left always have a negative connotation: e.g. Left itself (from Old English’) means weak, worthless and womanish. The Italian mancino and sinistre mean dubious, dishonest and sinister; the French ‘gauche’ means ‘awkward, clumsy and/or unsophisticated. The Latin ‘sinister’ is the English ‘sinister’. In many parts of Africa, left means ‘hated’ and in Japan it means ‘crazy’. Is it any wonder that schools in Western culture until recent decades used to “correct” (meaning ‘with the right’) left-handed students often with methods ranging from humiliating to brutal. Is it any wonder that parents were convinced of the potential damage in allowing their left-handed children to continue in their “evil” practice throughout the 19th Century and well into the mid-20th Century.
In primitive parts of the United States, the left-handed bias persists especially among religious but marginally educated families even to this day. As a general rule, however, we have overcome our ignorance toward left-handedness and do not officially accept the Bible driven correlation of left with Satan. Now, at least, when a parent is seen to be “correcting” their child because of his or her preference for using the left hand, we understand that the “preference” is natural and normal. That it is a “variation” and not a “deviation”. That the “preference” should not be beaten out of the child for fear of demonic possession as was common in 19th Century America and in Western culture generally. In short, we as a people are much smarter than we used to be and less superstitious and less gullible…at least in terms of left-handed bias and prejudice. How much longer are we going to allow the continued ignorance of much of our population about gays?
Thanks Richard – What kind of world would this be if it had more Richard’s in it? Richard is proof, “You don’t need God to be a loving person and live purposeful and brave life.” Richard’s point is, of course, that being gay is A natural occurrence on the planet earth. Ignorant humans make horrible mistakes when they condemn other humans for being different. If being different were a crime, we would all be guilty. Those who claim to be followers of Christ, if he ever existed, have been misled by their leaders and should not tolerate the preaching of hate. Stand up Christians, I can’t hear you criticizing intolerance in your ranks.