A Catholic reads the Bible, Week 3: Get me out of Genesis

Laura Bernardini finds the story of Sodom a Lot to take in. Literally.

Story highlights

  • This is week three of an ongoing series: A Catholic Reads the Bible. Read week one and week two.
  • This week's reading is a Lot to take in. Literally.

Laura Bernardini is director of coverage in CNN's Washington. bureau. The views expressed in this column belong to Bernardini.

Laura Bernardini

(CNN)This is week three of an ongoing series: A Catholic Reads the Bible. Read week one and week two.

When I started this project, my brother texted me, "Wait until you get to Lot."
By Sunday afternoon, I understood what he meant.
    I am horrified by the story of Lot in Genesis.
    Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was new to me. I actually hadn't put two and two together that Sodom is the origin of the word sodomy. (Feel free to call me dense as you read this).
    Lot is the central character in the grim story of Sodom and Gomorrah's demise in Chapter 19. You are introduced to the city by Abraham who tries to save the town. In the preceding chapter, Abraham asks God to agree that if he can find 10 good people in the town, God won't smite it. God agrees.
    Lot is visited by divine emissaries to investigate if there are indeed enough good people to save the town. The men of the town come to seek out the new visitors for "intimacies." Ahem. Yeah. Hospitable bunch, huh? Those "intimacies," we are meant to understand, account for Sodom's wickedness. And I guess meant that the town was doomed.
    ("Intimacies" is the term used in my 1991 edition of the New American Bible. The revised edition refers to "sexual relations.")
    To protect the emissaries from the mob, Lot offers up his virginal daughters. Which. Ugh. Anyway, it doesn't work. There apparently aren't enough good men to save Sodom, which leads to God destroying yet another population in Genesis.
    Oh, and while Lot's chosen family members flee the destruction, Lot's wife turns around and is turned to salt. She had been warned not to look back.
    After God destroys Sodom, Lot's daughters worry that there aren't any men left, so they get their father good and drunk and have sex with him. They need to have children to keep the human race going, the logic goes, I guess.
    After reading that section, I put my Bible down. I couldn't read anymore. Then I read it again.
    What was I reading? What are the morals, the meaning, I'm supposed to get from these ghastly stories?
    This is not the God that I have known for nearly 42 years. It's not the version of the God I pray to daily.
    I truly don't believe in a God that wipes out a town in general because of sexuality. Why are they wicked? I don't believe that my God that would go after one group -- any group. The God that I pray to doesn't punish the "wicked" like this. I can't comprehend this version of God. I can't believe in that kind of God.
    There were much easier things to write about this week in the pages that I read. But, I want to be truthful with you, my readers. The Lot story struck me -- hard.
    I wish that I had answers for you as to why this happened or how it was written many years ago. But I don't. It could be that it was a tale told to make sure that people only had sex to have children. Or it could be a morality tale for the times. The truth is: I don't really know. I just know that my faith doesn't include the idea of such a punitive God.
    I now fully understand how you could devote your life to reading and analyzing the Bible.
    And when I read this rough draft to my brother, he said to me, "You have just hit the tip of the iceberg."
    So, I will continue reading.