Can the Bible be used to support anti-gay arguments?

In this essay I want to illustrate how some interpretations of the Bible deemed to be condemning homosexuality are misguided and that, as a consequence, religious communities can affect and seriously put in danger the liberties of their members (who are deemed to be wrongful in their way of being and living their own lives). In fact, it is not impossible, for Christians who embrace these views to push forward policies and laws that support the restriction of rights for gay people.

Some of the most famous passages thought to concern the prohibition of homosexuality are in the Old Testament. For example, the story of God’s destruction of the city of Sodom is used in support of the condemnation of homosexual acts. Two angels were sent by God to visit this ‘sinful’ city. While hosted by Lot (a citizen), a crowd of men came to his door saying: “Where are the men that came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them” (Genesis 19:5). The verb “know” has been interpreted as “having sex with”, therefore reinforcing the crowd wanted to rape the two guests. Some other passages often cited are:  “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22) and also “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them” (Leviticus 20:13).

However, studies on the Bible show that these elements may have been misinterpreted. For example, the Genesis passage on the destruction of Sodom might have been misunderstood, as the verb “know” used in this story might not refer to a homosexual intercourse. In fact, it is only in 1% of the whole Bible that this verb is used with this connotation (Rogers, 2006) and instead is used, in this case, to refer to making acquaintance with the guests.  Therefore, the destruction of the city of Sodom may have been due to its citizens having lost the custom of hospitality (as like in other ancient civilizations, such as Greece and Rome, hospitality was of singular importance and strangers were under the protection of the gods). This version of the story is supported in other parts of the Bible (Matthew 10:1-15Luke 10:1-12).

Also, as Galileo Galilei famously argued, not all the passages of the Bible should be interpreted literally. If this was the case, many modern customs would be sinful (e.g. eating shellfish and other animals (Leviticus 11:9-12), the use of mixed seed or fabrics (Leviticus 19:19) and the harvesting of the corners of fields (Leviticus 19:9)).

Furthermore, the misguided interpretation of the Bible can be harmful for Christian people who are homosexual. Discrimination and bullying often take place. This social pressure can lead to the non-acceptance of one’s own sexuality and, in various cases, has led people to suicide. When religion is assumed as the basis for decisions related to laws and social regulations, homosexual people can be harshly penalised:  in African countries such as Uganda and Burundi (where more than 75% of the population is Christian) has led to the criminalisation of homosexuality – with sentences up to life. Other parts of the world – including ‘Western’ societies – refuse to recognise the liberty of people to fall in love and marry someone of the same sex.

I strongly believe that the consequences of the misguided interpretation of the Bible are far too serious to be neglected: they are detrimental to the human dignity of a large proportion of the human population. As outlined before, there are various underlying causes and they ought to be analysed critically in order for the Christian society to wholly appreciate the word of God and embrace the main message of the Bible.  As Jesus indicated, the most important commandments of God are: to recognise the existence of one solely God and, most important, to “Love your neighbor as yourself. [As t]here is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31). The true meaning of liberty for Christianity cannot be unleashed until we are able to love and care for each other as human beings created at the image of God and loved unconditionally by Him. Society as a whole can benefit from this message and that it is only with empathy and compassion that we can we actually appreciate the human dignity of all peoples and defend the true meaning of liberty.

Ethnographers’ well-being: is it worth protecting it?

One of today’s last panels at the symposium “Resisting the Eclipse” (Link) was aimed at highlighting and sharing the pains of prison ethnographers. The only problem when doing ethnography is not only linked to epistemology but concerns also the researchers’ mental, physical and emotional well-being. Alison Liebling, Deborah Drake & Jennifer Sloan, with the question/metaphor whether the process of research is rather sinking or swimming shared they own experiences of prison ethnography. What emerged (and what I perceive emerging) is the launch of a new conscience, a new way of academically sharing the research process more in depth. When it usually comes to fetching information on how to conduct ethnographic research in prison, the researcher-to-be is struck by questions related to the epistemology of the research, on the best way to avoid becoming native, on how to be reflexive, triangulate etc.

What emerges is that the process of research is not just a mental challenge or, at last, the outcome of the struggle between inner “tendencies” (theories, ideosincrasies etc) and the “scientific” rigor. In a more “understanding”  way, some remind us about the importance of how we react to the “thing” when it is alive and bites. Very few, if none, highlight the stories behind the research process, of how one actually survives this experience of facing a stressful situation without having and not being totally allowed to use their own coping skills.

The ethnographic research in prison is one of a kind. In ethnography the person’s sensitivity is required to discover the obvious, to narrate what goes on in the everyday; let the  smells, the awe-inspiring architecture of the prison struck you; the words and actions of those who we are researching. – every day.

Prison officers and those who live the everyday of the prison develop coping skills that are vital in stopping this awful environment slip into your fibers and affect your brain, your psyche, your own self. What a prison officers can do is to make the extreme environment become part of the everyday, get used to it, becoming native and learn how to use certain “skills” to survive.

It is quite unimpressive to see how some officers develop a tough skin and distance themselves from this environment, its intrinsic nastiness and – most lethal than all – its unpredictability.

The researcher cannot make use of these skills and has to expose themselves to the inputs coming from this environment and that, with the passing of the time, become sharp knives in the already tired and devastated psyche of the researcher.

What emerged yesterday is that there is a gap in the academic context  (perhaps result of the masculinity still intrinsic to the academic environment) of proper training and sharing of skills that make the difference between an awful and isolated experience and a series of researches carried out without all the pain that today is involved in the process.

Yesterday was a moment when I felt we should celebrate more these “heroes” of the field, hear their stories as “war” veterans and learn more from them. What is needed is a change in the mentality of the research process and further fairness towards those who will came after us. It is not fair to not depict the pains and struggles of the everyday life as researchers and it is a moral imperative to put every possible effort towards creating a shared knowledge of how to survive this extreme environment.

Once again, the researchers have neglected the most important tool of the job: ourselves. If we allow the next researchers to forget this important lesson, it will be affecting the quality of the research and the process of knowledge that we are trying to put in place with the ethnographic research.

But, from the other point, if we share the knowledge and expertise on how to survive the prison will we be living the research experience at its fullness? Is it there there risk of making the exotic familiar before actually starting our research?


Background sound loops

This could be something you could add to your next presentation or whatever you prefer (your own voicemail?).

Adding some music to powerpoint presentations where one has to record their own voice might make quite a difference. I personally dislike silences and, instead of humming of coughing, I think a good soundtrack could help keeping the rhythm going and make it sound like it’s a little bit more “professional” than it actually is.

Here are some websites for loops:

And here the instructions on how to put a sound/file into a powerpoint presentation and to set things up so that i plays in loops:

Time management: why should I care?

There are times in life when one feels that everybody around is trying to tell you something. There are courses spreading like mushrooms on any of the areas you struggle the most: fitness courses, self-development etc. Although it might be a hunch for myself I find it quite repulsive and interesting at the same time: one of those things that scare you but for some reasons you feel attracted to – typical of any horror movie where instead of running away the unlucky of the minute goes towards their last seconds of life, trying to find out what that weird chainsaw and screams noise was about.
Without getting further into the discussion I’ll get to the subject of this post: why should I care about Time Management?

If you never ever tried to find out more about TM I’m sure you’re cheating or you’re just impressively lucky! Time management is (simply put) a collection of advice, rules, Continue reading

Powerpoint presentation: how to make a self running Power-Point presentation

Few times I have received a file where a whole Powerpoint presentation was started almost automatically without following the usual route (open the file, press F5 – or click on start presentation).

Looking further I’ve found that this Ms Office feature extends even further and gives plenty of opportunities, included the possibility to add voice-over, set the time automatically etc.

Would be worth giving it a try or keep it in mind for the future!

If you want to see how this works, have a look at my recent presentation for the British Society of Criminology : “BSC 2012 Presentation

If you find yourself using it, please do comment and let’s share some thoughts!



Desistance and the structure vs agency conundrum: fiction or reality?

In desistance research the work of the “usual suspect” desistance scholars (Maruna, Farrall, Laub and Sampson etc..) has lead to the following conundrum: what does come first between structure and agency? What is the one that starts the whole process? Does personal change lead to a re-definition of the structure or the other way round? (see Giddens in relation to structure and habitus).

The question has been posed in an interesting article by LeBel, T., Burnett, R., Maruna, S., & Bushway, S. (2007) and has a suggestive title: “The Chicken or the Egg of Subjective and Social Factors in Desistance”.

While the questions is interestingly stimulating, and yet there is more an agreement on the fact that there is need for research on this topic than on the exact order, the question that follows is: why is knowing the exact order of the two important?

Assuming that either the structure or the agency have a specific role in desistance, how does this translate in policy and further intervention?

Agency without structure will soon jeopardise the persons’ change while the other way round won’t be having much effects. What might be more important is rather knowing whether there is a structure ready to welcome an ex-service users’ agentic change.

Are there in place structures to help the process? That is: are we paving the road to desistance?

Private sector involvement in the CJS

After a day at the conference “Private Sector Involvement in Criminal Justice” (check the link for upcoming materials) my mind is still rumbling and pondering: what does happen when a private organisation, used to provide services, enters the criminal justice context?

Listening to the presentation of Richard Morris (Managing Director of G4S – one of the major firms currently involved in the provision of services in the criminal justice sector) I couldn’t stop thinking about how the language of private organisations is still far and yet to be integrated to the challenge these companies are trying to face.

The word “performance” does not fit into any of the (limited) knowledge I have of the process of desistance or, as Alison Liebling calls it: human flourishing. In a contract agreement where performances are defined by numbers, there is little space to evaluate the true improvements (AKA “rehabilitation”) of the service users (AKA offender).

In order to receive the 10% of the value of their contract, contractors have to produce a result: reduce re-offending by 5%. The scholars researching on desistance are quite aware of the fact that 12 months are no indicators of true change: until death an ex-offender can still re-offend.

So, how to make sure service providers are actually able to serve one of the key objectives of the MoJ? How can private companies reduce re-offending and, at the same time, make human beings flourish?

When private organisations will be able to move away from the corporate culture to embrace a more human enterprise?