This Just In: Christian Takes Right Side Of Argument For All The Wrong Reasons.

Posted on February 28, 2011. Filed under: Apologetics, Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Politics, Religion, Social Justice |

More than one blog that I have visited in the last few weeks has responded to this article from the HuffPo by a Presbyterian Minister in which she claims to want to attack “the feeble lie claiming that same gender love is a sin.”

I would normally have let this stand, as any of my friends know, I am an ardent proponent of gay marriage and LGBT equity.  I applaud Rev. Edwards stand in support of extending the institution of marriage to all loving and consensual couples.  Yet there is something profoundly wrong, in my mind, with trying to claim that same gender love is not a sin from a biblical standpoint.

The problem with taking this stand will show us one of the few places where Christians and atheists should agree.

As an atheist, I really do not want Christians to be able to whimsically pick and chose which doctrines they agree or disagree with.  The bible comes out firmly against homosexuality, and I consider this to be a fundamental liability to the faith.  Just as I want to be able to keep Christians scrambling to explain away God’s apathy toward slavery, I want to continue to question how you can argue against homosexuality from any place other than scripture.  I also want to be able to expose the logical flaw of affirming the Bible and being progressive.

As a Christian, you should stand against this too.  If homosexual love is not a sin, then several passages in scripture are called into question.  We all, by now, know which ones.  I suppose that you might take the stand that this falls under OT law, which was fulfilled by Jesus and therefor does not apply.  Then, though, you also have to affirm that the gospels authored by Paul are also not applicable to modern Christianity.  Paul affirms the law as it applies to homosexuals in Corinthians 6.   For all the “judge not”  and “love thy neighbor” rhetoric in the gospel, homosexuality is still a sin.

Christians can, I think, take the tack that their job is not a legislative one, that Christians have no inherent right to force their values on a pluralistic society.  They can argue that the bible does not impel them to stand in defiance of society’s right to have logically consistent laws.  I do not believe that Christians can say that the bible is ambivalent or supportive of homosexuality.  My issue is not with the stand Rev. Edwards takes, but the reasons she claims to take that stand.  Here is how I see it:

1.  IF there is a God,

2. IF He inspired the Bible, it is the Word of God

3. THEN homosexuality is a sin, and,

4. You cannot SUPPORT gay marriage, or the gay lifestyle.

It really is that simple.  You can take the position that you don’t wish to force your religious position on others.  You can take the position that you will reserve that judgement to a higher power.  You cannot take the position that it is not a sin.  You cannot take the position that the bible does not unambiguously condemn homosexuals.

My preference will always be that Christians take the position that they have no right to project their values on others or legislate their doctrines.  This is an enlightened and reasonable opinion.  I think it is also a biblical one.  I don’t think that we should argue that homosexuality is not a biblical sin.

I think, as well, that this issue will unintentionally hurt progressive Christians.  If you make arguments that are fallacious, as I believe this one is, you make mainstream Christians less likely to listen to those arguments that are constructive.  You risk having them write off all progressive thought and critique as being a perversion of scripture, you rob your faith of possibility.

I would love nothing more than to live in a world where the rights of LGBT people are not just respected, but unequivocally equal.  I just don’t think that comments like those of Rev. Edwards take the debate in the right direction.

Other reactions to the HuffPo article:

From a fellow Atheist-Somemusician has a post (and a number of comments)

From a Christian- John Barron Jr., of Truth in Religion & Politics

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25 Responses to “This Just In: Christian Takes Right Side Of Argument For All The Wrong Reasons.”

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Great post.

I’m frequently reminded that Christians need to own up to all the things that paint Christianity in a bad light. Once Christians stop dancing around all their semantical Bee Ess, they should stand behind their evil little worldview.

It’s my “Own-up Philosophy.”

I’m not afraid to own up and say Pol Pot and I share the same label. It sucks, but it’s true. Should the afterlife exist, I’ll looking forward to the reunion, because I’m going to kick his ass if I ever see him. Followed by Stalin and Marx. And should I get a stab at Hitler, even though he was a believer, I’m going to pummel his face too.

Those guys created “hell” for a lot of people, and that’s unjustifiable in every sense of the word.

These days, all I want to do is bust a few chops about archaic ways of thought and then go for a drink.

Hey Christians, just be honest. You hate same-gendered people who love each other. Big whoop.

Admit it and move on. Let’s go get a drink or bend a taco.

Hey, we share one thing in common with fundamentalist evangelicals: both of us have ugly people doing ugly things in history. And only one of us has a doctrine that disbelief will result in eternal torture. It might not be even, but it wouldn’t prevent me from buying you a pint.

Cheers,

Jeremy

I couldn’t really care less what the Bible (or the Quran, Bhagavad Gita, Tao-te-ching, or the works of R.L. Stein) says about homosexuality (or slavery, alcohol, poly-cotton blends, copyright law, Kirk vs. Picard, etc). The only thing I care about is that the followers of those mythological texts realize that we live in a secular society whereby the government should not be expected to legislate their versions of morality.

By all means, vote with your conscience and values, but don’t expect the government to force the rest of the populace to obey every petty command of your deity.

Unfortunately, many religious people (and some nonbelievers) forget one very important point: secularism, like respect, is a two-way street. Sure, secularism might annoy you because it prevents your church from forcing all those heathens out there to behave the way you think your God wants them to, but it also prevents those heathens from telling you how to run your church. Granted, some restrictions apply, but those restrictions is what the debate should be about, instead of having to constantly remind idiots (like those at Christian Governance) that there is no reason why our government should be educating the populace on which invisible fairy is the best.

The use of the Bible to back up or shut down Spinoza’s God can be tricky; I’ve come across Christians that just don’t hold themselves to the Bible at all, except terms that just happen to come from the old goat. That doesn’t seem to be the case in this instance (they used the Bible as a source in their “trial”) but they still danced around the entirety of the book, fancifully picking and choosing. God in Edwards’ eyes is full of love, after all.

Ignoring the contradictions or ignoring the majority of the scriptures altogether, you can make up your own theology, which is pretty much the history of Christianity, going all the way back to Paul.

Kilre,
First let me thank you for the links you offered on the last post. They were really good reading, yet I still have yet to see a comparable theist authored “tips for atheists”. I suppose that this has to do with the motivations on both sides of the discussion.

As usual, agreed. I sometimes wonder though if the more “plain reading” Christians miss themes, ideas, and concepts for black and white facts. Don’t let a good idea get in the way of facts, I guess.
What I argue here is that they should aim to put the “fact” ( the bible is decidedly anti-homosexual) into the “idea” (gays have a right to marry) instead of changing the fact to suit the idea.

I had to think about this for a little bit. I mean, I really had to walk away after reading this, and then come back.

Bizarrely enough, i found myself agreeing with the sentiment. I’m a pretty contrary person, so I was surprised, and a little uncomfortable with that.

This is an attempt to make christianity good for all time zones – it’s the same reason why they adopted Pagan holidays into their “christian” calendar. It’s incredibly annoying, and iwll possibly convert more people to their religion and since it IS a religion which, by definition, requires followers, it works for their situation.

It always astounds me how good believers are at twisting, molding, rationalizing, justifying, and as hoc excusing passages from the Bible which they find distasteful. I recent got in a debate with a minister where he defended the Bible saying, “it is a product of it’s time and you must take it in context.”. He did not understand my objection to him both stating that God is perfect, and then submitting God’s law to his own interpretation in this way. He did not see the conflict and I couldn’t get him too.

The really great thing is that any passage a Christian finds distasteful is subject to whatever explanation they have come up with, but the passage they agree with are always the ones which are above interpretation or excuse. Those passages are the ones where God meant what he said.

As they say, isnt it amazing that God thinks just like you?

I have said it before in different words:
People find the God they are looking for.

Thanks for the comment.

[...] conclusions based on false premises are also less valid. Misplaced Grace wrote a post about a Presbyterian Minister standing up for gay rights. The full context is convoluted, and I suggest that you head to his blog and read it yourself, but [...]

Thanks for the invitation.

George, you said elsewhere…

I’m all for gay rights, I just think that we have no right to put words in God’s mouth.

And I agree. God has not said that God is opposed to gay marriage. OR in favor of gay marriage. God has not offered us an opinion on gay marriage. I’m opposed to saying “God says he supports gay marriage” OR “God says he opposes gay marriage.”

So far,so good?

George…

You can take the tack that Christians ought not to enforce their more unreasonable doctrines on a pluralistic society, or that human rights stand independent of religious dogma. You cannot say that the bible is wishy-washy on homosexuality.

I can and do. But before I continue, let me just acknowledge that I’m not an expert on ancient cultures or biblical interpretation. I just know what makes sense to me. I AM, however, quite familiar with the Bible, having read it all of my 48 years (well, my parents and teachers read it to me those first few years). With that caveat…

Actually, what I argue is that the Bible is just about entirely silent on the topic of homosexuality with the exception of a very few verses – and ENTIRELY silent on the notion of gay marriage. Literally, a handful or less that touch on some form of gay behavior.

In the OT, the two Leviticus passages begin with “don’t do as they do in Canaan…” and then lists a group of complaints about Canaan’s sexual acting out. Clearly, in that passage, the author is expressing disagreement/disapproval of some of Canaan’s sexual behaviors, including “men laying with men.”

But, if we look to what we know about Canaan, we can see that it was in their pagan worship practices that they engaged in all these various sexual behaviors – men laying with men, families sexing it up together, bestiality.

So, in looking at that passage, what seems reasonable to me is that those TWO OT verses appear to be talking about pagan ritualistic sex, rather than a condemnation of all homosexuality.

Which is not to say that I think ancient peoples were okay with homosexuality, just that it does not appear that they were familiar with the concept of people being born homosexual or with the notion of committed same sex marriages.

That is ONE point on these two (out of the ENTIRE OT) passages. I’ll deal with the two-three NT passages in a minute. But first…

Another issue is that, while the Bible is a book of Truth and Truths, it is not an instruction manual on deciding the right way to construct healthy sexual policies in the 21st century. The same texts that decry “men laying with men” those two times, also explain how fathers can sell their daughters, offer rules that say women who have been raped must marry the rapist and states that victorious armies can wipe out men, women and children, but spare the virgin girls to be made their wives.

We no longer accept such treatment of women as moral in our culture – indeed, we would call such behavior horrifyingly immoral – so clearly, we need not accept line by line rules from the OT as a guide on how to live modern life.

cont’d…

To that end, you say…

It is disingenuous. Those who disagree are picking and choosing scripture to suit their own feelings.

Yes, we ARE picking and choosing scripture. ALL of us who look to the Bible for moral instruction are picking and choosing what rules apply to us and what rules don’t.

You don’t see many conservatives coming out in support of Sabbath rules or Jubilee rules (rules that require freeing debt slaves and returning land to its original owners and the setting aside of a portion of your land to feed the hungry). They have read the Bible and decided, “You know, that doesn’t apply today.” They do the same for rules to kill “men who lay with men,” disrespectful children and adulterers. As do I.

“Picking and choosing” is the process of critical biblical interpretation. While most of us Christians revere the Bible as God’s Word, and as a revelation of God to humanity, and as being reliable to educate and inform. But NONE of us take it 100% literally, as a point-by-point rule book for how to live. Anyone who suggests they are is almost certainly fooling themselves.

One Christian (or Jew or Muslim) looks at the creation story and says, “Wow. God created the universe about 6000 years ago in seven days. Who knew?” Another believer looks at the creation story and says, “Wow. God created the universe,” and recognizes the text as a form of mythology common to storytellers of that time period. And that they recognize the story as myth does not mean that they reject the story’s truth or that they are being disengenuous. It’s just that they are critically studying the text for what it likely means and searching for the Truth in the stories.

You might call that “picking and choosing,” I call it good biblical exegesis.

Do you agree that all Bible believers pick and choose what stories/commands/rules/values are applicable today or are “true?”

George…

You cannot claim that the bible supports gay lifestyles.

I don’t. I claim that the Bible is largely silent about “gay lifestyles,” (whatever that means).

What I DO claim is that fidelity and family and commitment and love and respect, that these are all universally good and noble values, and that it is good for straight folk to hold to these values in their relationships AND it is good for gay folk to hold to these values in relationships.

And I think this is a biblical truth. Do you disagree that these values would be good for all people to embrace?

Sorry so long…

Following up with a thread of thought that deals with this line of thinking…

The really great thing is that any passage a Christian finds distasteful is subject to whatever explanation they have come up with, but the passage they agree with are always the ones which are above interpretation or excuse. Those passages are the ones where God meant what he said.

As they say, isnt it amazing that God thinks just like you?

And what of those of us who have changed our values/hunches/opinions AWAY from what “we think” in an effort to move towards what we believe is Right (or, if you prefer, “What God wants”)?

I was raised a traditional conservative Southern Baptist. Hated homosexuality. Thoguht the Bible was clearly opposed to homosexuality.

But as I meditated (thought, prayed, considered) on the topic – again FROM a conservative point of view – and what the Bible did and DIDN’T actually say about the topic, I changed my position AWAY from what I was comfortable with, what I believed, in an effort to move to the Right position (at least, as best as I understood it).

I found homosexuality distasteful. I was probably ignorantly awful to gay folk who were around me (unbeknownst to me) by my attitudes and biases. I was COMFORTABLE with that position.

But sometimes, we move towards what we consider to be God’s will, to a more righteous point of view – again, at least as best as we understand it.

And so, the bigot learns to embrace those of different races – sometimes despite themselves.

The warrior rejects war-making in an effort to become more peaceable, as they change from thinking that God would support war-making to a view of a God that supports peace-making instead.

Are those who change AWAY from what they are comfortable with and “what they think” also “twisting, molding, rationalizing,” etc to become, what? What they thought was wrong?

Certainly, all of us are pretty good at justifying our pre-conceived notions. You don’t have to be religious to do that, agreed?

But all of us are capable of growing past where we were to a higher plane of thinking and being. And some of us even in the world of faith can do so and do so BECAUSE of our faith – a faith which calls for us to grow in our understanding of the world and the mysterious.

This seems to me to be a good thing. Would you agree?

Dan,
Thank you for accepting the invitation to move the conversation here. I will attempt to address everything you said in all three comments in a single response, though you have certainly said quite a bit. Also, feel free to leave exhaustively long comments, if they become long and full enough I may even promote them to their own post where I can respond better.
I am unsure how to begin to respond. I’ll start by putting my Christian hat on, many years of church groups, youth ministry and faith had to be good for something, I guess.
When you argue from the position that Christians pick and choose all the time, as when you say:

Another issue is that, while the Bible is a book of Truth and Truths, it is not an instruction manual on deciding the right way to construct healthy sexual policies in the 21st century. The same texts that decry “men laying with men” those two times, also explain how fathers can sell their daughters, offer rules that say women who have been raped must marry the rapist and states that victorious armies can wipe out men, women and children, but spare the virgin girls to be made their wives.

We no longer accept such treatment of women as moral in our culture – indeed, we would call such behavior horrifyingly immoral – so clearly, we need not accept line by line rules from the OT as a guide on how to live modern life.

What you fail to mention is that many Christians have a perfectly sensible (?) explanation for not following OT law in toto. I’m sure you are versed in the argument (I think it was a fundamental understanding in my church) that Jesus fulfilled through his sacrifice the old covenant and that the new covenant began with Jesus. This is why I can eat shellfish, wear dissimilar fabrics, and have sex with my wife when she is menstruating. As well, many of those things you mentioned were previously permitted but not endorsed; slaves, for example, were allowed but not required-rape was permitted but not required. There is a really big difference between amoral behavior and immoral behavior. I will concede though that God demanded that His people kill every man, woman, and child (and in fact punished them for failing) at at least one juncture in the OT, so I cannot argue that point exclusively. How would you respond to people who make this argument? Homosexuality is condemned by Paul in the NT on two (?, or more) occasions, so it appears to remain a valid prohibition into the New Covenant. How many times does something need to be prohibited before we can say that it is an explicit rule? The bible is clearly against homosexuality in both the NT and OT, so I think you have some explaining to do if you wish to claim otherwise.

Now for my real answer. (I admit to throwing up in my mouth while typing the sentence “rape was permitted but not required”)
I think you are right to say that Christians do not follow every biblical teaching. That is because the bible is frighteningly immoral and disgusting, at least in the whole of the OT and some (if not most) of the Pauline gospels. I also agree that one more ridiculously stupid moral transgression is not going to break the camels back in regards to earthly salvation. I just wish that more Christians would just fess up and admit that they pick and choose what they want to follow in the Bible. I wish you would admit that the bible clearly objects to homosexuality, but that is because the bible is WRONG. That makes perfect sense to me, and I wish it did to you. I will even give you an out: I am privy to information that suggests that parts of the Pauline gospels were not actually written by Paul, and many of the chauvinistic, hate-mongering, homophobic, tyrannical and unjust insinuations he made were almost certainly inserted hundreds of years after his death to serve a religious and social agenda. So in all likelihood, you are correct that God holds no disfavor toward homosexuals. He also (If He is real) likely ultimately forgives all transgressions, even if He were miffed by something. So in a way, if you are willing to abandon most of the theology, 1500 years of tradition, dogma, dictates, sermons, and arguments; if you are prepared to assert that the bible is a mysterious document that has to be interpreted in light of horrific translation errors-both accidental and malicious-and some underhanded additions to the works of Paul, and selective choice of which gospels make the canon, then you are wholly correct in your assertion that God is uniformly silent on homosexuality. I then wonder if you lose all your Christ-cred. I would consider you to be a better approximation to the kind of Man Jesus would be if He were alive today. But being a Christian is not about being Christ-like. It is about affirming the beliefs of the in-group. I have at least one regular commenter here who will likely assert that you are a) not a Christian and b) never were one.

I think you are being delusional to assert that the God of the bible is ambivalent regarding homosexuality, unless you first assert that the bible is not a good reflection of the will of God. Then, I guess I wonder if you will be able to overcome the bigger issue: At what point is someone no longer a Christian in any meaningful sense. Please don’t consider that an insult. Maybe you are a Christafarian, or a Christist, or a Jesusarian. But if virtually every Christian refuses to call you “brother”, how meaningful is the title? What should we consider the “threshold” for that self-identity?
Food for thought…..

A few comments, starting with the last…

if virtually every Christian refuses to call you “brother”, how meaningful is the title? What should we consider the “threshold” for that self-identity?

Many Christians do not, in fact, consider me a Christian. I just an hour ago had it happen again. And all because (largely because) I disagree with their hunches on gay marriage and God’s position on it.

But then, many Christians DO consider me a brother. What should the threshold be? Well, that’s not a problem I’m especially concerned with, but I’d say if we want to try to establish a threshold, there are at least two ways of setting one:

1. Those who follow the teachings of Christ are, by definition, “Christian.” The problem is, who can agree what those teachings are and what they mean? Some evangelicals would not think that Catholics or anabaptists, such as myself, have a good understanding on the teachings of Jesus.

Still, if one holds fast to Jesus’ fairly straightforward teachings (love your neighbor, love your enemy, turn the other cheek, seek first God’s ways and God’s kingdom, don’t worry about anything, forgive, live lives of mercy and justice, etc), then one IS Christian, at least in the sense of following the one we call Christ.

2. Traditional orthodox considerations of essential Christianity, which tend to boil down to:

We are sinners in need of salvation.
We are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, the son of God who came as a man, was executed on the cross and rose again.
We are BEING saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, leading us to walk in his steps/follow his teachings and example.

On both counts, I am a Christian. As a general rule, my detractors are also Christian, by these measures (although some tend to sound a bit more like they’re trusting in works – in holding the RIGHT BELIEF on certain key subjects, homosexuality being one of those – for salvation rather than grace).

So, if I’m being asked “by what measure or threshold do we consider folk Christian?” those seem like reasonable answers to me.

By the way, thanks for the polite conversation. I’m sorry if I write a lot, but sometimes, these are complex questions without bumper sticker answers. I hope that’s okay. I do try to keep it as short as possible.

Moving on. you said…

What you fail to mention is that many Christians have a perfectly sensible (?) explanation for not following OT law in toto.

Well, this is what I was getting at by saying that we all have to pick and choose. These Christians you reference are doing what I’m doing: Reading the whole of the Bible and trying to make sense of it, as best they/I can. They see NT passages saying we are not under the law, anymore, and thus think it’s okay to eat shellfish, to get tattoos, to cut the hair on the side of their heads, to have menstrual sex, etc, etc. BUT, then, they hold on to Lev 18 and 20 and say, but homosexuality – any and all forms of it – is wrong.

I just don’t buy that this is what the text is saying in these four or five places. You appear to agree with the majority of Christians throughout history, but that doesn’t make it right.

You said…

How many times does something need to be prohibited before we can say that it is an explicit rule? The bible is clearly against homosexuality in both the NT and OT, so I think you have some explaining to do if you wish to claim otherwise.

Well, I’d say at least once. Gay marriage is not once prohibited. As I noted on the TWO times homosexual behavior even appears to be referenced in the OT, it appears to me to be speaking of something other than any and all gay behavior. It does not seem to me to be speaking AT ALL about anything like a committed, healthy marriage. It seems to me to be clearly speaking about pagan sex practices.

Likewise, over in Romans 1, Paul also appears to be talking about pagan practices. Look at the introduction:

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Pagan worship? Sounds like it to me. And we know that this was an issue in Paul’s times.

As to any other Pauline references to “homosexuality,” I’m not buying them. There are two or three places that are translated, “homosexual” or “homosexual offender” or “effeminate.” Paul does not use the Greek word for “homosexual” in those cases – a word existed for it – but instead, makes up words. This appears to me to be referencing something other than ALL HOMOSEXUALITY.

One word that Paul uses is translated literally “soft,” as I recall. It’s been suggested that perhaps this is a reference to the Greek practice of men “keeping” boys as sexual toys, dressing them effeminately, suggesting women, but without the “evil” that women represented. Well, if THAT is what Paul is referring to, then I agree, that is wrong.

But that is not the same thing as a healthy gay marriage.

I just don’t buy the argument from the text. I don’t think the text supports the notion that any and all gay behavior is wrong, it appears to me to be speaking to something specific, and something that is not as healthy as gay marriage.

And keep in mind, I reached this conclusion back while I was still pretty conservative. The thing was, I was committed to taking the Bible fairly literally and I eventually just disagreed with the hunch (not spoken of in the Bible) that these 4-5 passages are referencing all gay behavior.

You asked…

I will concede though that God demanded that His people kill every man, woman, and child (and in fact punished them for failing) at at least one juncture in the OT, so I cannot argue that point exclusively. How would you respond to people who make this argument?

That people are trying to fit a modern reading and context onto an ancient culture and text. When we write histories today, we write fairly factual, fairly linear histories – facts are all-important! (even if we fail oftentimes).

These stories where you see God commanding the slaughter of innocent children, or the kidnapping of and mating with virgin orphan girls, they were all passed on back in the days of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Epic and mythic storytelling was the norm back then. “Modern” history telling does not begin even in its infancy until ~500 BC – 500 AD (or BCE/ACE, if you prefer).

In epic storytelling, you have “real” facts mixed in with gods and dragons and monsters. Histories aren’t told as linearly. The dates and facts aren’t so critical, it’s the story that is important.

Jewish storytellers, we can safely assume, also told stories in the style common to the day. The Bible does not suggest this is not the case. God hasn’t told us that “no, I wrote those stories myself, in a more modern, factual way – how you like it?” We have no sound logical or biblical reason that I have heard not to assume that these stories are not written in the manner common to the day.

And that is not to demean these stories AT ALL, or to suggest they are “lies,” as is often suggested by the religious right. It’s just, that’s the way stories were told back then. If you believe in a God that can create a universe, then surely you can believe in a God that can relate truths in a style common to the day.

So, if that’s the case – and I obviously think it is – then we need to read these stories with an eye to the truths being passed on, not all worried about the facts, which are irrelevant.

In the story of Jonah and the great fish, the Truths being passed on include that God loves everyone, that you can’t run from God, that no one is beyond God’s redemption, etc. Now, you can get the point of that story regardless of whether you believe it literally happened or not, right? In fact, if you get in big arguments over how it happened or whether it happened and trying to “prove” that Jonah was actually swallowed by a great fish, then you’re sort of missing the point of the story.

With me so far?

Same with the “wipe ‘em all out” stories. The Israelis were a small and oft-oppressed people. Hearing heroic stories of God intervening and even killing their enemies was bound to be comforting. Hearing that God was looking out for you was bound to be comforting. Hearing the importance of keeping separate from these other nations in these terms really drove the point.

We don’t need to assume that God literally told people to kill babies or kidnap virgin orphan girls and bed them down to get those points.

In fact, in THOSE stories, we can be all the more assured that they don’t represent real stories because they clash with basic biblical truths. “Don’t shed innocent blood” is an oft-repeated and clear biblical guideline. So, should we set aside the clear and self-evident moral truth (“don’t shed innocent blood”) in favor of trying to hold to literally factual stories told in a day not known for doing so? No. Why would we?

And again, I’m sorry so long, but I don’t know how to respond to those sorts of questions in a paragraph or two.

My point here is that, especially with OT stories and mores, but sometimes even with NT stories and mores, too many folk make the mistake of taking stories and rules too literally and truths and grace not literally enough.

May I ask a few questions, George? Who do you think gets to decide is and isn’t a Christian?

Would you agree with me that there’s not an entity, not a pope, not a person, not a denomination or even a coalition of denominations who “gets” to decide who is and isn’t a Christian?

I’m guessing you’d agree.

Would you further agree that what we have here is a case of a disagreement about a single behavior? For simplicity’s sake, I’ll reduce the argument to gay marriage.

Most Christians throughout history have agreed that gay marriage was not a legitimate option. It would be sinful, according to the majority.

But some Christians – folk who are orthodox in their Christian beliefs in salvation by grace, etc, and who don’t disagree with Jesus’ teachings in any way – have reached a different opinion on that one behavior.

Now to say that we have to be “right” on this one behavior – or on multiple behaviors – and they’re behaviors not even talked about by Jesus, wouldn’t that be changing Christianity to a faith where one must be “right” in order to be saved? And so, salvation would not be by grace but by our ability to be right on certain behaviors?

My point is that just because Christians disagree on some behaviors (gay marriage, war-making, smoking, drinking, drugs, divorce, etc, etc) does not mean that they’re not a Christian, because Christianity is not a faith tradition where one’s brilliance is critical for salvation or “membership,” does that seem reasonable?

Dan,
I appreciate your long commentary, it serves to turn what can be just a war of rhetorical posturing into a real discussion. No need to apologize.
I enjoy this discussion with you, and it has been an eye opening journey for me to encounter so many Christians in the last few months who have taken the third path. What I mean by that is that I was (though a certain atheist debunker will disagree) a very active Christian until only a few years ago. I ended up becoming an apostate, then slowly came to become an atheist. Many of my justifications for apostasy were grounded more in the church and its culture then in Scripture. I will likely never go back to the Christian faith, my apostasy gave me the opportunity to look at the bible and faith in general free of the fog that clouds so many theists. So my apostasy may have been influenced by “Orthodox Christianity” but my atheism is based on a much more solid foundation. I am delighted to find so many people out there who spurned tradition but kept Christ. I like Jesus. If Christianity was just the first of your two point definition, then I might be an atheist Christian.

I am currently editing a book for a friend that sets out to exorcize the doctrine of Hell from Christianity and lay bare a Biblical case for Universalism, and this has introduced me to a kind of Christianity that seemed intuitive to me when I was a Christian but was stolen from me by my Church. I respect your views, as I do those of universalists, I just need to play Devil’s Advocate to see how complete and well thought out your ideas are. Take no offense when I do so.
My personal opinion is that God, should He exist, would not be bothered with trivialities like the consensual love of two adults. He would likely be more in line with the teachings of Jesus, and His interest would be in the eventual inclusion of all of humanity into His Kingdom. My opinion is that if you remove parts of Genesis, all of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, the odd verse from Proverbs, and a few parts from the Pauline gospels; you end up with a relatively good representation of how I imagine God to be. This would also depend on a more figurative reading of much of what remained, but it is a good start. I have received much comfort from Job, the Song of Solomon, Proverbs, Corinthians, and the Apostolic Gospels through the years. I just don’t see how this translates into any real form of Christianity. It is selectively finding meaning in the underlying philosophy of the Book. I can find similar inspiration in Nietzsche, Gibran, the Qur’an, &c.
What I cannot do is believe that Christ was anything more than a great teacher, or that God exists in any conception that conforms to modern day Christianity.

I wonder if we can be quite as choosey about what parts of the Bible are figurative, prescriptive, or literal. Your arguments for a Biblical grounding of tolerance are well formed and noble, but I think we need to be careful how far we go down the road of exegesis and into territory that is possibly un-Biblical. I empathize with mainstream Christians who feel that a too liberal interpretation of Scripture begins to take away any sense of meaning, and in order to accept that traditional doctrines are wrong, we must have more than a flippant writing off of certain themes and passages.
Your interpretation of the NT prohibitions of homosexuality seem correct to me, especially since Paul specifically lumps homosexuality with the ingestion of blood and the worship of idols in Romans.

Your interpretations interest me, though I can feel the unease that many Christians feel when you explain them. I hope you stay around here and add your unique voice to theological discussions.

FYI- My definition of a Christian is someone who follows the teachings of Jesus as revealed in Scripture, believes in the death and resurrection of Jesus, believes that this act established a covenant between man and God that affords salvation to men, and believes that God has an active interest in the lives of man. Nothing more. That definition would not suffice to many Christians though, and I listened to the veiled hatred in my church toward Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, and similar sects. I am completely unaware of what makes one an “anabaptist”, though I bet my Pastor would have hated them too. I still don’t know why we seemed to love Jews so much, especially Messianic Jews. They were farther away philosophically than Catholics or JWs.
Anything you might like to add?

I enjoy this discussion with you…

And I, you. I generally enjoy conversations with folk with whom I have differences, although the ones who then go on and presume to tell me not only what they think, but that they know best what I think, too, can be off-putting.

George…

and it has been an eye opening journey for me to encounter so many Christians in the last few months who have taken the third path…

I am completely unaware of what makes one an “anabaptist”, though I bet my Pastor would have hated them too

I’m sorry, by “anabaptist,” I am referring to the Amish, Mennonites and others in that vein, who are collectively referred to as “anabaptists” so called for their rejection – or “anti-baptism” of the infant baptism of the Catholic church in the 1500s. Some say the baptists descended or at least were influenced by them (and of course, some disagree). They began at the time of the Reformation and were reformationists, but are often not included with them and were, in fact, persecuted/killed by both the Catholics and the Reformers. This might be one reason we might lean more towards peace-making and away from the demonization of our enemies.

Interestingly, the Mennonites tend to think of themselves as “Third Way” sort of thinkers/believers, mainly in reference to their just peacemaking approach to things, but more broadly, too. One of their websites…

thirdway.com/menno/

George…

I am currently editing a book for a friend that sets out to exorcize the doctrine of Hell from Christianity and lay bare a Biblical case for Universalism, and this has introduced me to a kind of Christianity that seemed intuitive to me when I was a Christian but was stolen from me by my Church.

Interesting. Are you an editor/writer in real life?

I would not consider myself a universalist. As a theist who believes in free will, I believe God created us in such a way that we can choose to reject God’s community if we are so inclined. It seems to me that folk like Adolph Hitler or other sane serial killers have chosen to reject God’s ways and I can’t imagine God forcing “salvation” upon them.

On the other hand, I DO believe that Jesus came, as he said, inviting us all to the Big Party. I believe we find salvation and are being saved to the extent that we embrace grace. To the extent that we reject grace and choose oppression, hatred, rape, etc, to that extent, we are creating our own little hell and spreading it about.

As to what happens Beyond this world, I don’t pretend to know. I have my faith that there is More out there, beyond our understanding and that life is big and marvelous enough to have enough mystery that I don’t hope to be able to understand it all.

But a cloud-shrouded heaven peopled by angels and harps floating around on literal streets of literal gold (and why do angels need streets, if they can fly? I’m just saying…)? I don’t know.

Or, a literal fiery furnace where people who simply misunderstood God’s ways or didn’t say the right words are agonizing forever for their failures? Well, I don’t know about that, either.

And when I say, “I don’t know,” I mean, God hasn’t told me anything like that and I don’t think a serious study of the Bible makes you reach those conclusions.

So, all of that to say, I don’t know much. I know grace and love and forgiveness are great. Hatred and bitterness and slander are sad. I like what Jesus taught and believe in the grace which the Church affirms in her best moments.

Everything else is muddling through, seems to me.

George…

I respect your views, as I do those of universalists, I just need to play Devil’s Advocate to see how complete and well thought out your ideas are. Take no offense when I do so.

None taken. I enjoy thinking these things through and these conversations help me. Even when the people I’m disagreeing with aren’t as gracious as you are being.

I am no author. I am no editor.
I, like just about every hopeful and creative soul who stumbles around the internet, have written books and articles- though none have come to fruition yet. I was asked by a close friend to edit her book, and I obliged. I was honored to be asked.
I am a writer, I guess. I am a thinker, for sure. I hope I reflect that on this blog.

I had a funny thought today. I’m an atheist who is about to defend universalism with an Anabaptist who defends a biblical tolerance of homosexuality. Perhaps I should move this to a new post. I could call it “A Circus Of Blasphemy”. I bet we stand to offend all but about 100 professing Christians!
I’d also alienate many of my atheist readers, though some would enjoy the conversation.

You certainly hold many opinions that lean toward universalism, and I can make a pretty solid (albeit borrowed) biblical case for it. I’d be happy to discuss it with you if you wish.

Circus of Blasphemy. I like that.

I certainly have enjoyed reading your conversation whith Dan Trabue and others under this topic.

Dan has a point about how the biblical stories are representations of their era. I also think there is the mythological part and historical part that are separte. How do we know what parts are myths and which ones are historical? Well, like with any other historical document, they are considered true if they do not contradict natural history and if they are not contradicted by other historical sources. The great flood is both in the Bible and in the Gilgamesh epic, from which in the sumeric cultural tradition the story was propably borrowed to the bible. Yet, we have no scientific proof that the entire world would have been under a flood during the existance of humanity. All the evidence points to the contradict the whole idea. The story might hold some truth as to a catastrophic flood somewhere close around the Levant area. The supernatural parts are fable just as in any other religion.

The laws banning homosexuality, eating pork, worshipping cows etc. are made to reject influence of other often major religions and cultures in the area where jewish tribes roamed. These laws are simply there to separate the little nation from other major cultures that would have enveloped and absorbed the small tribes of goatherders otherwise. That is the sole function of those laws, and has nothing to do whith anything supernatural. They are responses to the major cultures, not indefinitive commands from the supreme creator. The birth of “monotheism” was a result of a small band of tribes leaders to protect their position of power. If people had turned to worship the many common gods of the area like the Molocs, Bels and Astartes, the religious leadership of the jewish people would have been lost, but also the nation would have dispersed among other people. And this almost happened several times like we learn from the Bible. It is all in the Bible and it is in chronological order. This should tell us much about the plausibility of the god of the israelites and gods in general. Think about the fact how they are under cultural influence and how they evolve during centuries along the cultural shifts of human society.

This has also been the strength of christianity for centuries. That the ultimate authority of “the word of god” is so easily bend on what ever you wish the god to say. All christian sects are eclectic in a sense. There are good people who do good things despite they are christians, since they draw their morals not from parts of the book that are wile, but from what actual harm might be caused by our actions or inaction. There are also good people who are religious and have good intentions, but allow evil happen, because they are influenced by what it says about a certain subject -like homosexuality- in the book. Or how that part is presented to them by political and religious demagogues and pharisees. I think Jesus said something about those guys…

I’ve really come to appreciate the atmosphere you perpetuate in your blogs comment section. As a Christian (and a forward thinker, two things that have constantly come to clash, but not without the usual result of seeing truth somewhere in the conflict). I think I might begin to frequent more often and share my opinions. I like Dan’s points, as well as your own, and in more cases than not, we’re in accordance to each other. There are some points I’d make in response to Dan (and more about the whole nature of the OT in general, not necessarily as the topic of homosexuality – but also, I guess in the respect, the nature of sin and how people perceive it). But I’ll stop here for now. Hopefully you’ll have another post that will illicit positive conversations.

Josh,
Thanks for stopping by. I really appreciate when I get feedback- and obviously more so when it is positive. I don’t want to give you the impression that I’m always this calm and reasoned, so I’d appreciate it if you read my posts debating a presuppositionalist so that you can see me when I’m a bit more flustered and angry. A different Dan- from Debunking Atheists- has been on the receiving end of the worst of my ire.
Let me know if you have trouble finding them, but most of the posts will be tagged under TAG- Presuppositional theology.
Thanks for stopping by……

I’ll be sure to check them out right now.


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