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March 21, 2007

Emphasis

Harold pulls no punches:

Consider the dilemma of the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and a leading figure in the Southern Baptist firmament.

Writing in his blog this month, Mohler acknowledged that " the direction of the research" increasingly points to the possibility that a "biological basis for sexual orientation exists."...how to reconcile a God who creates homosexuals with a God who condemns practicing homosexuals to hell? A mysterious God may be well and good, but a capricious or contradictory God can inspire so much doubt that He threatens the credibility of the entire religious enterprise.

After all, there are few American believers who don't profess at least some faith as well in the verities of proven science and the rightness of our national credo's commitment to human equality. By effectively insisting that God is a spiteful homo-hater, his followers saddle him with ancient phobias and condemn him to the backwaters of American moral life.

Snap! Though, frankly, this stuff doesn't seem particularly troublesome for religion. So much as there's an ongoing -- and loud! -- effort to remain culturally conservative, the nation's various churches and sects have proven nothing if not responsive to market pressures. Rock and roll, for instance, used to be devil music. Now there's Christian rock, rock and roll services, and pastors leading their flocks in loud renditions of "Let It Be." If the bulk of the nation's believers ever appear turned off by the church's discomfort with homosexuals, we'll find, rapidly, that that particular biblical admonition about as relevant as those surrounding it. Here, for those who forget, is Leviticus 18:22, the Bible's clearest statement on homosexuality:

20: Moreover thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour's wife, to defile thyself with her.
21: And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.
22: Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.
23: Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion.

Somehow, the churches get along without putting much emphasis on carnality with thy neighbor's wife. In a generation or two, they'll get along without making an overly big deal of homosexuality. And it will sound very, very weird when us old fogies recall the days when it was a dominant cultural concern.

March 21, 2007 in Religion | Permalink

Comments

neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto:

Sorry, what on earth does that mean?

it is confusion.

It sure is.

Posted by: ajay | Mar 21, 2007 11:46:24 AM

If I read that passage correctly, it seems that God likes hot girl-on-girl action as much as the next guy.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Mar 21, 2007 11:53:33 AM

BLOGWHORE ALERT

I wrote about this several days ago. I think Mohler's wrong in his continued condemnation of homosexual behavior, but I also think he's sincere in his desire to have the Church actually discuss these issues, and on that score he succeeded. So it's a mixed bag.

There's two main streams of Protestant Christianity. The dominant stream is Calvinism - and of course that has several variations - and the lesser is Wesleyanism, of which I am a part. Calvinism allows people to believe that human beings are born as homosexual or heterosexual (or whatever) while still calling certain behaviors sinful. So a gay man's desire for other men is, in a sense, God-given, but that man is still required by God to refrain from sexual contact with other men.

Wesleyanism allow us to call that type of thinking bullshit. If Christians are experiencing things that seem to contradict the Bible, the answer is not to just condemn the experiences and the people who have them, but to wonder if perhaps there is a different level or type of understanding that we have which was unavailable to the people who compiled the Bible.

Ezra is, of course, quite right about where the Church is heading. Unfortunately, he is also right that for a large part of the Church it will be nothing more than market forces that take them there.

Sorry, what on earth does that mean?

Ladies can't have sex with animals.

Posted by: Stephen | Mar 21, 2007 11:54:52 AM

Rock and roll, for instance, used to be devil music. Now there's Christian rock

My mom still can't get over this change. She remembers all too well how when she was a kid, Christians were up in arms about Rock-and-Roll music. Although, in reality, the issue was never Rock-and-Roll anyway: it was a cover for fears about miscegenation ... speaking of which, ain't it odd how all the anti-gay marriage rhetoric seems lifted straight from anti-interracial marriage rhetoric from an earlier generation?

*

Also, maybe it's 'cause I'm Jewish and we Jews actually view the Torah as a book of laws and hence think in a lawyer-like manner about our Bible (hence, e.g., the Talmud): but hasn't it ever occured to those (largely Christians) so hung up on homosexuality to ask what the frickin' hell the Bible is talking about? How does a man lie with another man as with a woman? You'd think those who are so obsessed with "the parts don't fit" would begin to wonder: if the parts don't fit anyway, so a man physically can't lie with another man as with a woman, what's God talkin' 'bout here?

In general I always find it odd when people get all obsessed about needing to square our secular laws (what about the 1st Ammendment, folks?) with Biblical law but then don't even think about the very mechanics of actually implementing any law, e.g. Biblical law. And it ain't as if you'd have to start from scratch: we Jews have been workin' out legal precidents based on Biblical law for thousands of years (see, for example, the Talmud!). I could go further and make my "the Dominionists are worse than the sternest of Taliban" point regarding wanting to implement a system law you believe nobody can actually follow, but that would be OT, so I'll just get back to work ...

Posted by: DAS | Mar 21, 2007 12:07:48 PM

Although, in reality, the issue was never Rock-and-Roll anyway: it was a cover for fears about miscegenation ... speaking of which, ain't it odd how all the anti-gay marriage rhetoric seems lifted straight from anti-interracial marriage rhetoric from an earlier generation?

Not odd at all...sadly.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Mar 21, 2007 12:09:48 PM

In conversation with some folks over at Mere Comments, I've found that they use The Fall to pretty much explain any "flaws" in human genetics, like a biological basis for homosexuality. Apparently, they feel that it's not that God creates something and then denies us to use it (though that is in fact precisely my theory on The Fall), but that The Fall damaged us genetically as well.

Convenient, that.

Posted by: James F. Elliott | Mar 21, 2007 12:12:57 PM

Stephen, is there any well-defined difference between 'abomination' and 'confusion'? Is one worse than the other? Abomination certainly sounds worse, but describing bestiality as 'confusion' is so bizarre that it has to be some sort of mistranslation.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Mar 21, 2007 12:16:38 PM

If I recall correctly, Molher's solution to this connundrum was that, if it ever becomes possible thanks to science to alter homosexual orientation of the fetus in the womb, then that's what a good Christian ought to do. This scenario actually seems quite concievable, though less probable than the counter-scenario where people will simply abort their homosexual fetuses.

I agree that demographically the battle for acceptance of homosexuality is over. Advances in genetics and more specifically eugenics takes us into quite different territory though.

Posted by: Korha | Mar 21, 2007 12:29:26 PM

Abomination certainly sounds worse, but describing bestiality as 'confusion' is so bizarre that it has to be some sort of mistranslation.

Actually, "confusion" is correct. Ancient peoples were fairly obsessed with Chaos. Most mythologies contain stories about the gods fighting the forces of Chaos, which may or may not be anthropomorphized. In the case of the Hebrew Scriptures, the places where they borrowed Canaanite or Babylonian mythology and ascribed to YHWH always demonstrate the power that YHWH has over Chaos - storms, the sea, 'leviathan' (either mythical creatures or things such as crocodiles).

So the gods and the rituals surrounding them are there to try and make order out of the world, even to force order upon the world. That's why it was wrong to sow two kinds of seed in one field, or to wear clothes of two kinds of cloth. The entire creation narrative of Genesis is devoted to the idea that YHWH was able to create order out of chaos, or confusion. His people, then, were not to create confusion out of his order.

Having sex with an animal, then, is not just gross, but strikes at the heart of YHWH's character. This thinking is also at the heart of the various places where the Hebrews are instructed to not marry outside of their own people; they believed that each group had their own heritage and gods, and they shouldn't be mixed. However, it's unlikely that there was any actual enforcement of this; it really referred to taking on the beliefs of other peoples.

Posted by: Stephen | Mar 21, 2007 12:36:11 PM

Interesting! Thanks.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Mar 21, 2007 12:43:58 PM

Stephen- that's a very interesting comment: I've never considered things in that light.

Posted by: TJ | Mar 21, 2007 12:46:16 PM

Neil,

The words used in the original Hebrew presumably are fairly technical in their meaning, since the Torah is, after all, a book of Laws.

I don't know about the word used for confusion in this context (nor do I know which is worse), but the word translated as "abomination" (note: the word used in this passage is different than the "abomination" used in describing shrimp eating. A better translation of the word used in that prohibition, which is usually translated as "abomination" is "like totally gross" ... and, when you think about it, eating those "insects of the sea" like shrimp is, like, totally gross!) has a very specific meaning relating to cultural chauvinism.

Consider for example, the Baptists whose pastors have graduated from the Seminary led by Dr. Mohler. Many of them would be aghast if one of those pastors went into his church wearing full vestiments and proceeded to celebrate a Latin mass. Why? Because "it's something those Catholics do, not something we do". They would view the Latin mass as a "toevah", an "abomination".

Similarly the Bible reports that the ancient Egyptians, famous at the time for their cultural chauvinism, would view eating with foreigners as a "toevah". "Eating with foreigners is something one of those Hebrews would do -- a Hebrew would have no problems eating with a Syrian nor a Babylonian with a Phoenecian, but we Egyptians just don't do that sort of thing".

So when the Torah describes a certain kind of homosexual act as a toevah, it means "the Greeks and Canaanites might do that sort of thing, but we Hebrews are above that". But what is it that all those goyim were doing? Certainly not, c.f. how defensive the homosexual couple in Plato's Symposium is made to feel, what we today would consider homosexuality. No, what is being condemned is the practice of otherwise heterosexual men being enoouraged to cultivate homosexual urges by a culture that viewed obtaining sexual pleasure from women as inferior as they not only viewed women as inferior but also viewed "natural" pleasures inferior to artificial (remember, up until very recently "artificial" was good and "natural" was bad), cultivated pleasures. In fact, one can argue that, for a person whose natural tendancies are toward homosexuality, this commandment forbids heterosexuality! The ex-gay movement sure does seem like an "abomination" to me ("it's something 'those people', those fundies do") ;)

Interestingly (and OT) the word used to condemn incest is very similar to the Hebrew word for "generosity of spirit". The basic meaning of the word is "an overflowing". The idea is that incest is "too much": it's too much to have both sibling love and romantic love for the same person, for example.

Posted by: DAS | Mar 21, 2007 1:02:41 PM

My mom still can't get over this change. She remembers all too well how when she was a kid, Christians were up in arms about Rock-and-Roll music. Although, in reality, the issue was never Rock-and-Roll anyway: it was a cover for fears about miscegenation ... speaking of which, ain't it odd how all the anti-gay marriage rhetoric seems lifted straight from anti-interracial marriage rhetoric from an earlier generation?

Argh, don't start. This was one of the bigger dramas while I was an editor of my college newspaper. A copy editor — a bit of a "quirky" guy, he sometimes seemed to be weird for its own sake, but not creepy or anything — wrote an editorial apparently about interracial marriage and a long list of problems with it, but really, obviously, about gay marriage. I mean, obviously. It refers to the "Supreme Court's undisputed ruling in Plessy vs. Ferguson", closes with the joke "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and some black woman", and leads off with the blatant, "This immorality is even promoted on TV shows, such as "Six Feet Under," which features a blatantly mixed-race couple, Keith and David." One editor objected to it, saying we should put a disclaimer under it or something, but the rest of us just laughed at him.

Unfortunately, he was right. Nobody got the joke. Well, I'm sure some people did, but a whole lot didn't. We got a bunch of letters to the editor complaining about it, and I heard at least one group of people talking about it the day it came out in scandalized tones. (Three different groups, I think, but I can only point to one instance in my head.) They barely believed me when I corrected them.

Moral of the story: not only are the anti-gay marriage arguments extremely similar to the anti-miscegenation arguments, but nobody thinks about either of them enough to notice. It's sad.

Posted by: Cyrus | Mar 21, 2007 1:03:13 PM

So I guess Stephen's the expert on "confusion" and I'm the expert on "abomination" ;)

Posted by: DAS | Mar 21, 2007 1:04:02 PM

not only are the anti-gay marriage arguments extremely similar to the anti-miscegenation arguments, but nobody thinks about either of them enough to notice. - Cyrus

I'm not sure if it's just a matter of people not noticing. You can point out the similarities to people, and they'll be very quick to respond "but gay marriage is different!". It's a matter of active denial rather than passive not noticing.

And it is, indeed, sad.

Posted by: DAS | Mar 21, 2007 1:06:32 PM

Your word is cooler, DAS.

Posted by: Stephen | Mar 21, 2007 1:09:55 PM

Meyerson doesn't know what he's talking about. There is no contradiction in the view that God has allowed all kinds of natural and moral evil into the world, and judges people by how they respond to it. Homosexual orientation is already regarded by many Christians who oppose it as very probably not something chosen by homosexuals. It's regarded in much the same way as the tendency to alcoholism, as something that isn't chosen but can be controlled by choice. That not everyone has the same set of spiritual challenges isn't a new idea in Christianity, and doesn't imply that God has a double standard. Those who think that science is going to change religious views on homosexuality just don't understand the religious views in question.

That doesn't mean those views won't change, but the reasons will have (and have had) more to do with cultural change than science.

I disagree with Stephen that this has anything to do with Calvinism. The Catholic Church, to take a rather large example, isn't Calvinist, has long acknowledged that homosexuality may not be chosen, and still holds that it's wrong to commit homosexual acts. There's just no logical problem there, no need to get into different views of freedom, predestination, or anything of the kind.

The biblical reference that is more central for Christians, by the way, is probably Romans 1, from Paul the Apostle. That appears to give a New Testament stamp to the Old Testament teaching.

The secular issues regarding same-sex marriage and miscegenation are very similar. That's not true of the religious issues.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 21, 2007 1:19:41 PM

The secular issues regarding same-sex marriage and miscegenation are very similar. That's not true of the religious issues. - Sanpete

Indeed, it is not true of the religious issues: indeed (e.g. the story of Moses marrying the Cushite woman) there is explicit support for miscegenation in the same Bible that prohibits at least some forms of homosexual activities as "abominations". However, muddying the waters on this is the fact that, like the opponants of secular gay marriage today, the opponants of inter-racial marriage also wrapped themselves in religion, and could reference some of the concepts of "confusion" so eloquently explicated to us by Stephen to provide a "Biblical" backing for their claims.

Posted by: DAS | Mar 21, 2007 1:32:04 PM

DAS, what you say is very true, but it's also true that the difference in quality of the scriptural bases for prohibition of miscegenation and homosexual acts does make a difference to those relying on the scriptures. Prejudice is obviously a key in both cases, but the seemingly stronger biblical basis against homosexuality makes it a more difficult problem for Christians even after the prejudice is removed (it happens).

I think this kind of difference will eventually come to matter more in regard to abortion as well. One of the most peculiar things about conservative Christian views of abortion is that there's no solid prohibition of abortion or anything that implies it in the Bible, and some day that fact will make it easier for conservative Christians be more liberal in regard to it. (The Catholic view, while extremely well considered and based in legitimate concerns, is more philosophical than scriptural, and so can be more easily altered as well.)

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 21, 2007 1:52:25 PM

It's all hot air and politickin' until, when and if, the evidence is there.

Bottom line is you're all discussing a 'what-if".

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 21, 2007 2:01:56 PM

Fred, even without the science, you don't have to be a genius to see that people don't choose to be homosexual any more than you chose to be heterosexual. Just think about it.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 21, 2007 2:08:46 PM

Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary and a prominent Evangelical Christian, just illustrated on Talk of the Nation some of the points I was making above. He acknowledges that homosexuality may be innate, but still finds the biblical teachings on it binding nonetheless. He says that if not for the Romans passage from Paul in the New Testament he would very probably not oppose homosexual acts, since the Old Testament passages can be understood as part of the Mosaic Law that has been superseded. (I think Paul's words, though very strong, can also be gotten around, if not without some problems.)

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 21, 2007 2:46:20 PM

...you don't have to be a genius to see that people don't choose to be homosexual any more than you chose to be heterosexual.

No.....but it helps.

So, Mr. Sanpete, are you saying that homosexuality is immutable?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 21, 2007 4:23:20 PM

No, I'm saying what I said, that it isn't chosen. It happens that it's also fairly intractable, just as your sexual orientation is. Try changing yours sometime and let us know how it turns out.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 21, 2007 4:37:56 PM

First of all, I don't buy into the 'orientation' frame. It was designed (yes designed) by the activists to change the notion that homosexuality is not what you do but "who you are". It also offers up the equivilancy comparison. In fact you even used this device in comparing 'orientations'. The great thing about using this frame is that there is no accountability.

I want you to have some sympathy for other sexual deviates as well. Those who are attracted to animals have an 'orientation', don't they? Why don't they deserve your misplaced sympathy as well?

How 'bout those who have an 'orientation' for little children. Isn't that "who they are" or would you still like to stay with the "what they do" frame?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 21, 2007 4:58:31 PM

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