Monday, 12 January 2009

Homo-Christianity

Over at the blog “Apologia” I’ve been debating self-described Christian apologist Eric. The discussion has ranged over a wide spectrum, which was surprising given that Eric’s original post said he was sick of debating atheists.

Still, a few issues were passed over for lack of time, so I though I might pick them up here.

At one point in the discussion Eric made the comment

“It’s obvious to anyone who reads the Gospels that Jesus considered homosexuality to be a sin.”

This stopped me in my in my tracks for a moment, because it should be obvious to anyone who reads the Gospels that Jesus had precisely nothing to say about homosexuality.

Zero. Zip. Nada. Not a word.

And yet strangely, Eric’s view is very common. For so many Christians in the world today homosexuality is Public Enemy No. 1 when it comes to the nebulous field of “sexual immorality”.

And this is despite the fact that Jesus himself, the man supposedly at the centre of their religion, didn’t think it was important enough to mention.

Further damaging the Christian position is that the most common biblical quote thrown around (you know . . . “homosexuality is an abomination”) is from the Old Testament; that bit of the Bible that Christians mostly ignore.

Supposedly Christians are all about the New Testament. Or they’re supposed to be. That’s where Jesus came along and did away with all the old laws. This is, for example, why Christians don’t eat kosher.

But back to the Old Testament.

In the same section in which homosexuality is denounced we also have prohibitions against wearing clothes made from two different types of material (Lev 19:19), cutting the hair at the sides of your head (Lev 19:27) and sleeping with a menstruating woman (Lev 18:19 and 20:18).

These other things are obviously no longer important. But for some reason, homosexuality is an exception.

So what about the New Testament?

There are four references in the New Testament which could be regarded as relating to homosexuality. These were all made by Paul, the guy who took control of the nascent church after Christ’s death (and alleged resurrection) and in my mind, royally screwed up the humanist message Jesus was trying to deliver.

Each of these references is no more than a throw-away remark put in as a sideline to a different point he was making. None of them are decisive condemnations, and there’s a nice summary here (from a Christian website) of why they shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Modern Christianity’s obsession with and bigotry against homosexuals is one of the main causes of continued discrimination in our culture. The passing of the noxious Proposition 8 in California (largely because the Christian community mobilised to support it) is just the most recent example.

The sooner this attitude is seen as the irrelevant cultural relic that it is, and the sooner it’s recognised that even those who propound it have no reason to do so, even within their own doctrine, then the better off we’ll all be.

21 comments:

intelligentscience said...

Matt

Hey man, it's Eric. I don't know what name we'll show up over here at blogger until I hit "send".

I just want to clarify what your main point is. Your point is this: The Old Testament laws should be irrelevant to modern Christianity. And the teachings of Jesus were taking and distorted by the Apostle Paul. Do I have that correct?

paul said...

Hi Matt and Eric,

Eric, I don't think Matt is saying OT should be irrelevant. I think he is saying that many Christians ignore much of the OT, saying it's "old", but for homophobic reasons like to refer constantly to one very small section of it.

Regarding Paul, we should remember that most of Paul's writings are older than the Gospels. I don't think the books are distortions of the letters, or vice versa, but that they are to be read differently.

intelligentscience said...

Hey Paul

"I think he is saying that many Christians ignore much of the OT, saying it's "old", but for homophobic reasons like to refer constantly to one very small section of it."

I would agree that most Christians ignore the OT. But that's not what we're discussing. We're not discussing what Christians believe, we're discussing what the Bible teaches. Jesus Christ said that He came to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it. I will explain this fully once I get confirmation from Matt that I have his position correctly.

"Regarding Paul, we should remember that most of Paul's writings are older than the Gospels. I don't think the books are distortions of the letters, or vice versa, but that they are to be read differently."

Well, Paul's writings were letters too, that's what the word "epistle" means. He was writing to individual churches or people. In order to claim that Paul's writings should be "read differently" you're going to have to give me a reason supported in the text for why his authority or goals were different.

Rob said...

Hi Eric, and welcome to "arguing with Matt". It's fun.
One thing that you'll find is that Matt makes many excellent points but likes to cloud them in soapbox rhetoric (I think, as he does so much arguing with Christians, it's a form of fighting fire with fire). I, on the other hand, find myself agreeing with what Matt has to say, while violently disagreeing with a lot of how he says it. It's all part of, as Peter Sellers and REM said, Life's Rich Pageant.

But I think the main thing that we should take out of this post is that Jesus himself - as quoted in the gospels, at least - had nothing to say about homosexuality, and that the Old Testament, while it does specifically mention it, mentions it in passages that many, if not most, Christians choose to ignore. Here's an amusing video with Jack Black and Neil Patrick Harris, to illustrate the point.

Paul mentions it, but again mentions it in passages that do not necessarily reflect how Christians live their life. (I should add that I love that site. It takes passages of the Bible and portrays them lego, as well as a perfectly balanced mixture of sincerity and irreverence. Click the arrows at the top to navigate through the passage.)

If you believe in Jesus, then it seems a great disrespect to bend his words and his book to fit your own personal beliefs.
If you want to say "I'm a Christian, and also I think gays are bad" then that's one thing. (It somewhat belies the love thy neighbour stuff, but nonetheless everyone should be free to believe what they want.) However if you want to say "I am a Christian and therefore I think that gays are bad" then that's another thing altogether, and I really don't think there's any evidence in the books that Christians believe in to support that. Perhaps what is needed is a another book...

intelligentscience said...

Fellas

Alright guys, you've baited me into it. I'm going to make a post about what Jesus and Paul have to say about homosexuality. I will directly respond to your claims too.

I'll link it here once I post it. This should be fun! I wonder how much hate mail I'll get!

paul said...

Hey Eric,

I am really looking forward to reading what you write about Jesus' opinion on homosexuality...

And in regard to:

"In order to claim that Paul's writings should be "read differently" you're going to have to give me a reason supported in the text for why his authority or goals were different."

Can you show me in the text how the authority of Paul and Jesus, and his goals, are the same?

Matt said...

Wow, talk about turning up late to your own party!

Hi Eric.

Paul and Rob covered most of the points I wanted to make (thanks guys!) and I mostly agree with what they've said.

For the record I wasn't saying that the OT should be irrelevant. It's obviously one of the foundations of Christian faith. I'm pointing out that Christians are very selective about which bits of the ancient law they adhere to, and which bits they think can be discarded as no longer relevant.

You said: "We're not discussing what Christians believe, we're discussing what the Bible teaches."
But actually we are discussing what Christians believe, but more to the point: we're discussing why they believe it.

On the New Testament, I possibly deviate from Paul (the commenter) in that I do think Paul (the apostle) introduced a lot of ideas that had he still been around, Jesus would not have considered important. But that's my personal view and not really the point. The point is that (as the very amusing Lego pictures show, thanks Rob) even these teachings are only selectively adhered to by Christians.

It really does seem that that in this case, the bible is being used as a post-hoc justification for a certain way of thinking, rather than as a guide.

I'm looking forward to your blog response!

intelligentscience said...

Rob

You said regarding the difference between the Gospels and Paul's writings, "I don't think the books are distortions of the letters, or vice versa, but that they are to be read differently."

Then I asked you, "In order to claim that Paul's writings should be "read differently" you're going to have to give me a reason supported in the text for why his authority or goals were different."

Instead of responding to my question, you said, "Can you show me in the text how the authority of Paul and Jesus, and his goals, are the same?"

I don't have to answer this question because, 1: You made the claim first, and I asked you first and 2: Christian tradition, right or wrong, is that Paul's words are just as much God's words as Jesus' were. This is just how it's been for two thousand years. You are the one making a claim contrary to two millenia of Christian thought. Your claim is the one that has to be defended. Now, I'm not saying there isn't a Scriptural basis for Paul's authority, there is and I'll definetly get into that in my article, but you made the claim first.

Matt

"For the record I wasn't saying that the OT should be irrelevant. It's obviously one of the foundations of Christian faith. I'm pointing out that Christians are very selective . . ."

While I agree with you, you are misinformed in lumping homosexuality in with those "old laws".

"But actually we are discussing what Christians believe, but more to the point: we're discussing why they believe it."

If we are talking about what Christians believe, I have no interest in such a conversation because you could find a "Christian" that believes in almost anything. However, I think what we're really talking about is what Christians should believe, and why. But I think we're just using different words to describe it.

"The point is that (as the very amusing Lego pictures show, thanks Rob) even these teachings are only selectively adhered to by Christians."

I completely agree with you. And believe me, many Christians won't like what I have to say anymore than you will. But I don't want to give the fun away, so I'll get cracking on that blog post right away!

Rob said...

Just to clarify, it was Paul (the commenter) that you are responding to in regards to the authorities of Paul and the Gospels.

As far as "lumping old laws" together goes, though... Leviticus is the OT book (the book of Laws, in fact) which is usually quoted to show the bible's take on homosexuality. This same book, as Matt pointed out in his original post, has laws about other things that modern Christianity no longer regards as important.

I think the point that I get out of that is not that Christians do believe this, and not even that they should, but more simply, if you are going to quote a book of law as God's word, and say "This book says that homosexuality is an abomination" then if you don't follow (or at least recognise) all the other laws in that same book (let alone that same chapter) then that particular case doesn't have a leg to stand on.
But perhaps we should move on from the OT anyways. This discussion seems to be more heading to the NT, and I think where we are at now is:
- Eric claims that "It’s obvious to anyone who reads the Gospels that Jesus considered homosexuality to be a sin."
- Matt says "Jesus didn't have anything to say about homosexuality"
- Paul (the writer of various letters) did have stuff to say.

There has been discussion over the authority of Paul, and while I don't know much about that, I think it's a little off topic. This blog post started with a claim about what Jesus said about homosexuality. Now even if Paul and Jesus were on exactly the same page, it doesn't mean that Jesus said something just because Paul did.
If I was a cultural icon, who said stuff, and then my followers, in their very best intentions, put words into my mouth, it would irritate me. But then again, I'm not the son of God, so he might react differently.

paul said...

Hey everyone,

I think one thing that should be clarified around the whole Paul's words vs Jesus' words is that they weren't technically Jesus' words. They were Mark's, Matthew's, Luke's, and John's.

And I believe Paul (the one who is not me) and the evangelists all had different goals. Paul even had different goals for each letter. He was strict and dogmatic to the Galatians and Corinthians in order to instil some community cohesion, but was tangential and personal to the Romans in order to offer a rounded Christian identity. Mark's goal was to reflect the hopes and fears of a community in perceived exile, while Matthew wrote to a group of Christians needing to hold to their Jewish roots. And all the words are different.

And I think when Paul was talking about homosexuals, I don't think he was talking about the gays and lezzers that we know and love so much. I think he was talking about pederasts. As gay as I come out to be at times, I'd like to think I am not that.

You know what annoys me? There are about 20-30 references about man-on-man action in the bible, and about 300 references to what God wants to do to people who ignore the poor. And we tend to have no problem with our clergy being wealthy, so why should we have a problem with a Xn being a fudgepacker?

Rob said...

and about 300 references to what God wants to do to people who ignore the poor

Does it involve packing fudge?

But yes, right on, sister.

intelligentscience said...

Hey guys

My post is up. http://intelligentscience.wordpress.com/

Des said...

It's such a silly argument, and people seem so caught up in political correctness (or arrogance, narrow-mindedness, self-importance) that they refuse to acknowledge this: homosexuality is pretty much by definition sexually incorrect, and, taken in certain contexts, this is immoral. "Sexual" doesn't necessarily refer to the act of sexual intercourse, but rather it refers to sexual reproduction. Sexual reproduction is creation, pure and simple. Sex between a man and a woman is a sacred act, or at least it has traditionally been considered thus. It symbolises the act of creation (which really is God's thing, and he made it a gift to humans) and therefore it is good, it is "right" and hence, if you like, it is morally correct. Men having sex with other men (or women with women)serves no purpose beyond whatever nice feelings it might conjure up between them. It's not creative, regardless of how much latex is involved.
In a modern context people tend to say "piffle!" and dismiss the very notion of the sacred as irrelevant, because now everyone can pretty much screw everyone else and that's assumed to be a good thing.
The act of homosexual sex is anathema to the very fundamental act of creation which is what most religions are most sincere about. In Jesus' time, as it would have been for a very long time beforehand, thumbing your nose at the sacred is considered blasphemous, and hence sinful.
In this traditional religious context, then, one can assume, without requiring a direct quote from Christ or anybody else, that homosexuality is at the very least immoral, and at worst a blasphemy.
To think that Jesus was a humanist is just wishful thinking. He was a devout Jew - how else could he have been considered the messiah? He followed the letter of the law, and the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah would have been relevant to him. God had a history of smiting men who lay with other men. Any deviance in the sexual act was sinful because sex is meant to be sacred.

Matt said...

So any sexual act that doesn't lead to reproduction is immoral?
That means blowjobs, handjobs, and anal sex between a man and a woman, are all immoral?

Des said...

Well, let's see... Are you using the term "immoral" here (which I had been a bit careful to avoid, due to its obvious connotations) so that if I say "yes" you can attempt to ridicule me, or because you understand the context in which I used the term? I suspect (and I'm by no means an expert here) that the forms of sexual gratification you list above would probably fall outside of the rather strict Hebrew rules for cleanliness, and in that sense they probably would be considered immoral, yes.
Consider this, though: If you are prepared to accept that reproduction is symbolic of the greater "creation" attributed to God (purely symbolic) and that orgasms serve a very useful purpose in making the act of reproduction desirable (what a nice gift from God, some might say), then things like masturbation, oral sex and anal sex are sort of analogous to leaving a restaurant without paying for your meal, don't you think? That would be considered immoral even by today's standards.
But of course, you won't accept that the symbolic act of creation should be attributed to God (or the divine) because you're an atheist and the divine doesn't figure into your world view.

I've just deleted a bunch of ranty text because I have a more pertinent question to ask of you (collectively). Why shouldn't oral sex, anal sex, homosexual sex and so on be immoral? Is the answer anything more than "it feels nice, and nobody gets hurt"? If not, is that really sufficient?

Shannon said...

Yes it is.

Matt said...

Yes it is, indeed.

As a great man once said: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is the whole of the law."

Anyway from my point of view, nothing should be considered immoral unless you have a pretty strong argument to justify why it should be.

And "the ancient Hebrews considered it immoral for hygiene reasons" doesn't really cut it.

Des said...

Oh dear. That was terribly cynical. Disappointing.
Firstly, invoking the "golden rule" doesn't really cut it either, as, to give a crude example, an individual may request of me to penetrate them anally, but I really wouldn't like them to reciprocate, thanks all the same. If I was to do unto them as I would have done to me, they'd be all disappointed. See? Embarrassingly poor form, Matt, trying to pull that nonsense.
You rather blase approach to morality is a little disturbing as well. Do you just wander blithely into every situation with an open mind and hope that a suitably powerful argument presents itself to guide your moral compass? In essence, you're saying everything is moral unless you believe otherwise, correct? Perhaps this reveals the ultimate aim of the atheistic: obtain god-like wisdom and clarity of vision. How absurd (I like absurd) yet how dismally short-sighted (not big on that so much). Interesting that you used the term "should" in that sentence too. It implies a value judgment, and clearly the only values by which you can judge such things are your own. Is this one of those "when I come to power" things? Megalomania?
And finally, and indeed I think this might just be the last time, the ancient Hebrews did consider a careless attitude towards bodily fluids to be unhygenic, and hence Jesus (a good Jewish chap) would have concurred, therefore the kinds of things people get up to in the bedroom when they think God isn't watching would probably be considered immoral, in the context of Christ-from-history. So Christian objections to homosexuality and other sexual deviations (which is to say deviations from the traditional "norm" of reproductive sex) aren't wholly without a strong historical basis. I tried to make it clear from the outset that my argument required context in lieu of direct quotation to be properly understood.
Good luck with the blog, Matt

Matt said...

Thanks, Des.

I agree with you that Christian views on homosexuality are not without a historical basis.
I just think they're completely devoid of any modern relevance.

And aren't you misinterpreting your own Golden Rule? It's not "do unto others exactly as they do unto you".

Even in your (yes, rather crude) example, yes, it's perfectly okay for you to penetrate this hypothetical gentleman anally, as long as he is a person of sufficient age to be making such a decision, you have no reason to believe his decision-making faculties have been compromised, and you have no reason to believe he's lying.

To take a less crude example: my wife likes pineapple, so it's perfectly okay for me to give her pineapple to eat, even though I don't like it at all. Wouldn't you agree?

Anyway, thanks again for the wishes, and please feel free to drop in again.

I have genuinely enjoyed discussing this with you.

Ralph said...

Once again we see the diffusion between what is moral which seems to be "shit that I approve of, or is approved of by my adherence to some dogma" and that is ethical.

You, Des, of all people should know the difference. What you are propounding is sheer bunkum. Atheism claims not God-like knowledge of Truth, indeed its worst crime it to point and laugh at others who claim such nonsense. There is no Truth, no Meaning, no higher Spiritualism, and I defy you to even attempt to prove otherwise.

Not that I imagine you will, the very best you will muster is bluster.

Oh, and <obhack>As long as all involved are cool with it, who cares who does what with whose genitals/orifaces (assuming the owners of said body parts are old enough to decide for themselves)?</obhack>

Not some non-existant SkyGod, that's for mother-fucking sure.

Matt said...

Well said, Ralph.