Sunday, June 9, 2013

The most precious gift you can give your future spouse

(Throughout this post I will be discussing "purity" without comprehensively challenging the underlying assumptions of the purity culture, mostly because other people have already done it better. I'm using the language of "purity" for convenience, but that doesn't mean I believe it.)

This is a cute picture and a sweet story about beginning a marriage with prayer and planning ahead to deal with the challenge of loving each other throughout your life in good times and bad. Unfortunately, in the midst of that sweet story it smacks you right in the face with a perfect summation of purity culture: "He is my Prince Charming because he helped me protect the most precious gift that I owned, my purity."

I'm finding it hard to describe just how completely I disagree with this statement. Your "purity" is not the most precious gift that you own. For one thing, it's a "gift" that can by definition can only be given once. No matter how "pure" you are when you are married, if you decide to have sex with your spouse, you are no longer "pure."* Now--assuming your view of sex is that it's something very special that should be reserved for committed and emotionally intimate relationships between mature people, and therefore should be done with as few people as possible--the number of people your partner has had sex with in the past certainly can have an effect on your relationship, so it's a more permanent "gift" than, say, a $15,000 honeymoon. However, as someone whose husband did have sex with someone else before we started dating, whether your spouse had sex with someone else before you honestly doesn't matter as much as whether they're willing to work hard to help the family succeed (if by getting a job or raising the kids or keeping the home), whether they are committed to communicating with you and maintaining the relationship, whether they are good stewards of the family's resources.

My husband was not "pure" when we married. Although I was "pure," and we remained "pure," he was not able to give me that "gift".** And I am just fine with that, because there are plenty of gifts he gave me--and gives me--that are much, much more precious. Like the gift of his boundless, unbridled enthusiasm for cooking, for trying new foods and getting me to try new foods, and enjoying the things that I make for him. There is no way I would trade that for him having been "pure" when we married. I wouldn't trade his deep commitment to making our family work. I wouldn't trade the way he's willing to work any job he can get as hard as he can to help pay off my student loans. I wouldn't trade the way he pushes me to be a better person and not give up when I'm trying something new, or the way he gets excited about things I think are stupid and tries to get me to be excited too, or the way he gets along with anyone he meets, or the way he encourages me to see the best in people and deal with my emotions in positive ways. I wouldn't trade the way he rolls his eyes and argues with me when I tell him he's perfect (even though he is). I especially wouldn't trade the way he gives himself totally to me when we're making love.

What does it matter to me now what he did years ago with someone else? He gives his life and his love to me every single day, and that's the most precious gift you can give someone. I refuse to let anyone tell me he is less or our marriage or love is less because he was "impure."

*One could argue that one remains "pure" by remaining faithful to one's spouse, but that's less a "most precious gift" and more the "bare minimum standard of behavior for being in a monogamous relationship." If my husband came home and excitedly told me that he succeeded in not having sex with someone else because he prayed, despite how difficult it was, I would not think it was a very romantic gesture. I would be concerned.

**Which is a weird way of saying that I didn't get to be the one who destroyed his "purity" (after helping to "protect" it). While I understand how it can be a romantic gesture to wait and only have sex with one person, because it implies that person is special--assuming your view of sex, as above, is that it's very special, etc, etc--it's not about the status of "pure" or "impure."

Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday Facebook Falsehoods and Fallacies Part 5 - Marriage Equality Round-Up!

1. Polygamy and incest are arguably more "biblical" than "traditional" marriage, so I'm surprised you don't support them.
2. You've never asked me (and probably not many of your other friends) whether or not I support these things, so how would you know? Oh right...this is just a "gotcha."
3. There is not currently a big push for marriage equality for polygamous and incestuous relationships. When there is, then I'll discuss whether or not I support it. Unless you want me to bring nuclear weapons, chemical warfare and lightsabers into the gun control debate? It's just as easy to say "If we allow assault weapons, we'll have to allow phasers!" or "If we allow religious groups to meet freely, we'll have to allow human sacrifice!" as it is to say "If we allow gay marriage, we'll have to allow polygamy!" If same-sex marriage will inexorably lead to person-dog marriage, then letting people drive 65 mph will inevitably lead to people driving 300 mph! Speed limits are logically impossible!
4. Again, not going to get into whether I support it, but polygamy is much more complicated legally than same-sex marriage is. If a big push to legalize it comes--and it may--it will not be nearly as easy to implement  as same-sex marriage, which is as simple as changing the "husband" and "wife" fields to "spouse1" and "spouse2". We'll have to discuss inheritance, divorce, power-of-attorney, and child custody, just to name a few. This is not to say that because it is complicated, it's wrong, but it's hard to use the slippery slope argument when there's a giant roadblock in the way.
5. If we do allow polygamous and incestuous marriages, precisely how will that hurt you?

1. Great! We're not trying to. Seriously, those who believe in the same God you do know that it's impossible to change God's laws, and those who don't don't care.
2. When discussing morality or hermeneutics, "biblical" is an almost useless principle. Let's talk about what the "biblical definition of marriage" includes:
a. Polygamy--as early as Genesis 4:19, in the seventh generation of human history!
b. Men can be legally married to their wives' slaves, and the slaves' children count as the wives' children (Genesis 16:2). The consent of the slave is unnecessary. Abraham also had other wives and concubines (Genesis 25:1-6).
c. Half siblings (Genesis 20:12).
d. Cousins (Genesis 24:15).
e. Woman's consent unnecessary (Genesis 24:51).
f. Two sisters and their slaves married to the same man (Genesis 29-30).
g. Wives "belong to" their husbands, in the same way as houses, slaves, oxen, and donkeys (Exodus 20:17). However, if two slaves are married, the wife belongs to the master and not to her husband (Exodus 21:4).
h. No sex during your period (Exodus 18:19).
i. Adulterers should be put to death (Exodus 20:10-16).
j. Non-virgins are unclean (Exodus 21:7).
k. A man can accuse his wife of adultery with no proof, and experience no consequences if she is innocent. A woman cannot accuse her husband of adultery with no proof (Numbers 5).
l. Even Moses had more than one wife (Numbers 12:1).
m. A woman can't make a vow if her husband doesn't like it (Numbers 30:8).
n. Women captured in battle can be married, without their consent (Numbers 31:18, Deuteronomy 21:10-14).
o. Victims of rape are forced to marry their rapists (Deuteronomy 22:28).

Basically, a man can have whoever he wants, as long as he can pay for her, she's female and not already taken by another man, her father/master agrees, and she's not bleeding. Note that not only are polygamy and incest "biblical", but there are no rules against pedophilia or spousal rape.

Let's see if the New Testament's any better.
a. Jesus' disciples say it's better not to marry, because you'll be stuck with the same woman forever. Jesus doesn't directly disagree, but says that "teaching" isn't for everyone (Matthew 19:10-11).
b. Leaving your wife for the kingdom of God will be rewarded (Luke 18:29).
c. Get married only if you can't stand not having sex, and don't deprive each other except to devote yourselves to prayer (1 Corinthians 7:1-9). This is the only reason given to Christians to get married--It's not about children. The NT hardly even discusses parenting (Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21 are the only places I could find).
d. Wives should be subject to their husbands in everything (Ephesians 5:22-24). Women should not have authority over their husbands (1 Timothy 2:12) and should accept their husbands' authority (1 Peter 3:1).

All of that is "biblical." I'm not making a judgment or qualification about which stories or commands are more important than others; that's a question of interpretation. But you didn't qualify either. You said you support "the biblical definition of marriage." Do you support everything in the above list?

Please explain how man-woman marriage needs protecting. Do you think that if same-sex marriage is legalized, men and women will stop marrying each other? Those of us who are married, straight and support marriage equality beg to differ. Does the mere existence of other religions mean that Christianity is going to go away? Does the existence of other careers mean you're incapable of choosing a job for yourself?
I accidentally posted a link this morning that I support marriage equality. I was in bed and apparently not in the right mind because that is definitely not what I believe. I believe homosexuality is a sin and that we should not desecrate Gods gift of marriage with sin. That is all. I just felt compelled to make that correction. :)
This post almost made me cry, because I had been so happy to see her post that she supported equality. And how can other people's actions desecrate your beliefs? People probably "sin" in marriage all the time, because they don't believe in your definition of sin. Are you going to outlaw marriage for non-Christians to make sure they're not sinning and desecrating something that's "yours"? Are you going to police the marriages of Christians to make sure they're not doing something you don't like? By your standards, I've probably "desecrated" marriage. That's none of your business!

Just because you think something is God's gift doesn't mean you own it or can control it. Do you have a right to decide who gets communion or who gets baptized? Do you get to decide who can wear a cross or call themselves a Christian? I believe that calling people "desecrators" is a sin (Acts 10:28) and that we should not desecrate God's gift of Christianity--so by your argument I should be able to kick you out of my religion. 
This square supports SHAPE EQUALITY! I demand equal rights that squares have to be round! Ever tried to roll a square uphill. Unfair!!!! Squares are round if enough people say so!!!
"Square" is a totally different type of term than "marriage." "Square" is a mathematical term that describes an abstract form. You can't change what an abstract form looks like by changing the definition of a mathematical term, but why would you want to? Mathematical terms help us to understand and interact with the world as it is. Mathematical terms are morally neutral--circles are not better than squares, they are just useful in different situations.

"Marriage" is:

a) a legal term, like "citizen," "appeal," or "guardian." The definitions of these words are set by the government, and instead of describing an abstract form, they describe something that the government creates or regulates. The government can change their definitions whenever it feels like it. Legal terms help ensure that the government applies laws consistently and treats people and situations equally. Legal terms that describe rights, freedoms, responsibilities, benefits, or criminal punishments ought to be defined so that they are fair to everyone.

b) a religious term, like "baptism," "communion," or "trinity." The definitions of these words are roughly set by the consensus of translators and theologians, but they are never set in stone, because new interpretations come around all the time. In addition, they have different definitions among various groups. Baptism means something different to Catholics, Mennonites, Presbyterians, Baptists, and the church of Christ.

With either understanding of the word "marriage," the definition can indeed be changed if the right people say so. And we have already changed the definition of marriage. Under English common law, a married woman effectively had no legal rights, because her husband could be assumed to take responsibility for her. We changed that definition because it was stupid.

This is true, but irrelevant. You can disagree with someone's lifestyle without limiting their rights. This falls into the typical trap of assuming that by giving same-sex marriage relationships the same legal status as opposite-sex marriage relationships, you are somehow "approving" or "accepting" of those relationships. Not true. Islam has the same legal status as Christianity, but not everyone approves of Islam (or Christianity). The Democratic party has the same legal status as the Republican party, but not everyone accepts either. It's legal to eat meat, but that doesn't mean vegans agree with it.

Get this through your heads: It's not about you. It's not about your approval. No one cares whether you think same-sex relationships are okay. All we want is equality under the law. This isn't about condescending, paternalistic compassion; it's about what's right. It's about realizing that people are people, and they're going to do what they want, and in this case they don't need your agreement to do it because they should have the legal right to do it. The fact that someone, somewhere is sinning and not getting punished for it should not bother you. Just let it go.

1. I'm not entirely sure what this one is saying--it's just countering a symbol with another symbol--but the text makes me think it's something along the lines of "Relationships between two people who are the same are bad because they can't 'perfectly fuse' together in the way that two people who are different can." Which is irrelevant to the question of marriage equality, because one's ability to perform the legal contract of marriage has nothing to do with their ability to "perfectly fuse into one single shape" with another person. However, as an argument against same-sex relationships, I have two objections.
a. If it's good to be in a relationship with people who are different from you, why is sex the important difference and not religion, race, height, class, personality, education, or musical preference?
b. Women aren't "exactly indistinguishable" from other women. Are you really saying that men are interchangeable with other men and women are interchangeable with other women, so the important thing about your spouse isn't whether you like each other or are compatible but the simple fact that they are of the opposite sex? That's...stupid. If it's better to be in a relationship with people who are different from me because spiritual growth or better representing the harmony of the church/Trinity or whatever, I can think of dozens of women from whom I'm more different than my husband. It's actually fairly easy for me to get along with my husband.
2. The fact that they used the word "orientation" just makes things so much more confusing.
3. The fact that people who are not currently married want to get married means that marriage is doing quite well and doesn't need defending.
4. Oh, you meant "traditional" marriage? Yeah, see above.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Silence of the Scriptures Part Two: Freedom in Christ

This is a continuation of my previous post, in which I introduced the problem of "the silence of the scriptures" and how we determine God's will when the Bible doesn't seem to have anything relevant to say on a particular topic. As I stated, I think the idea of freedom in Christ has a lot to do with it, and I'll be exploring that in this post. (Our text today will be Romans 8 and Galatians 5.)

As someone who's been around this great big Internet of ours a few times, I'm familiar with a lot of the arguments back and forth about gender/sexual minorities and Christianity. Whenever it's brought up that the clearest prohibition against same-sex relationships is found in Leviticus, someone points out that Jesus explicitly said he did not abolish the law. This is correct. But did you know that the law does not apply to Christians? It's true! Paul says so clearly: "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law." (Gal. 5:18, see also Rom. 7:6) So what does it mean that the law has not been abolished? The law is still in effect; moral absolutes still exist; right and wrong still have meaning and the law is there to evaluate that (Rom. 7:13). But we are explicitly told not to try to live according to the law.

The fact is that the law is incapable of saving us. The law can only condemn, because none of us are capable of following it (Gal. 3:11,21, 5:2-3, Rom. 3:20). It is the Spirit who redeems us and gives us life. Paul fiercely criticizes those who would force Christians to live under the law, and he warns the Galatians not to try to follow it. "For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse," he says (Gal. 3:10). Instead, we live with our minds set on the Spirit, and the Spirit naturally works in us to produce the Spirit's fruit. We don't focus on trying to avoid sin (Rom. 8:5). The law is negative; the Spirit is positive. The law is concerned with ritual purity, sacrifices, and legalism; the Spirit is only concerned with freedom and love. There is no law against what the Spirit produces in us (Gal. 5:22-23).

If you think I'm overstating my case, consider this: If Paul thought the law still applied to us, why didn't he say "You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, continue to follow the law" (Gal. 5:13)? Or why didn't he institute a new law, setting aside cultural rules and adding new ones applicable to the current time?

Let's take it even further: If God wanted us to follow a rigid legalistic code, if God didn't want us to trust the Spirit to guide our consciences, then why do we have a Bible that was written in several languages over hundreds of years to dozens of writers, containing, yes, some commandments--many of which are difficult to interpret or seem to be culturally bound--but also letters, poetry, proverbs, prayers, prophecy, history, and a dozen other genres? If the Bible is supposed to be our law, complete, necessary and sufficient with all the rules we need to live moral lives, what did people do before the Bible was finished or compiled--did they not need the same law we did? Let's just face it: the Bible is just not a very good code of law. In addition to the difficulties I cited in the previous post--not addressing certain topics, addressing them vaguely, or being just plain incomprehensible--the Bible is silent on some things that we seem to know, very clearly, are wrong, such as pedophilia, domestic violence, and torture in war. It even seems to condone such things as slavery and genocide (whether or not it does condone those things I'm not interested in right now--the undeniable fact is that it seems to, which is problematic in a moral code). Take your Bible some time and compare it to the US tax code. I submit that the tax code is more coherent, consistent and practical--and that's saying something!

(Please note that I am certainly not deprecating the Bible. The Bible is perfect as what God intended it to be. It is not what God did not intend it to be. It is not a history, math, science or sex ed textbook, and it is not a law code. I do not believe it is wrong of me to believe that the Bible is not good at being something it was clearly not meant to be.)

I can see a potential objection here, that Paul in particular, and other NT writers in general, did provide instructions or rules, and clearly the goal was that the readers would follow them. This is true; however, I don't think you can characterize these instructions as a law. A law is systematic, methodical, and absolute. The instructions written by the NT church leaders are spontaneous, relative and non-standardized. They are in response to specific questions and situations, and in some cases, they seem to disagree with instructions given to other churches (compare the list of qualifications for elders given to Titus and the one given to Timothy--why are they not the same?). The church leaders worked them out through prayer, discussion and reasoning (Acts 15). In a few cases they are actually stated to not be from God (1 Cor 7:12,25). In some cases they allow for disagreement (1 Cor 7-8). Yes, they are given with the expectation they will be followed, but they are more like pastoral guidance than decrees to be enforced.

Okay, so what does this have to do with the silence of the scriptures? Well, if God did want us to follow a rigid legalistic code, it follows that knowing exactly what that code is is very important. It also follows that we cannot trust our consciences--or at least the written law should be placed higher than our consciences. It follows that obeying the instructions we have as rigidly as possible will be more effective, more helpful at leading us to righteousness than would doing what we feel or reason to be right. We can avoid uncertainty by doing only what is exactly allowed and staying as far to one side of the line as possible.

There's nothing inherently wrong with staying as far to one side of the line as possible, if that is what you think is best. The problem as I see it is this: If the silence or vagueness of the scriptures is restrictive, freedom in Christ is meaningless. If we don't have the ability to trust the Spirit and trust our consciences when we can't be sure of what is right, there is no freedom, because we can only do what we are told. This leaves us vulnerable to those who would burden us with another yoke of slavery and fear (Gal. 5:1). Jesus came to free us from all that, but we put ourselves in bondage again when we let others tell us what the scripture means.

And legalism inevitably does lead to others telling us what scripture means. We can't trust ourselves; we can only trust the text, but the text is hard to understand. So we appoint experts and leaders--we have to. If we can't trust ourselves where scripture is vague, there's no way around it. The experts develop complicated hermeneutical systems to divide up commands, examples, and necessary inferences, and tell us which examples are binding and which are not. And there's nothing wrong with that either, as long as those systems are just resources to help us. The problem starts when someone else's interpretation is raised to the status of law and enforced on me.

Isn't this exactly what the Pharisees did and what we rightly criticize them for? They saw the law as inadequate, that it didn't give guidance for every possible situation, and so, with the best of intentions, they sought to add clarity through more specific rules. This doesn't work. This has never worked. It sets the experts above us, between us and God, and defeats the very purpose of the Christian religion--a close relationship with a loving and merciful God. Adding rules to clarify scripture inevitably prioritizes appearance over substance, inevitably prioritizes minor rules over conscience and principle (because the minor rules are clearer and easier to enforce), inevitably burdens people without any consideration of whether they will need help to carry those burdens.

This is not hypothetical and it's not just something that happened in the Bible. It happens right now, today. Scot McKnight explains how it can work: "Zealotry is to construct rules beyond the Bible and, in so doing, to consider oneself immune from criticism because of radical commitment. What we have learned is that such a radical commitment is actually a fearful commitment rather than a life of freedom." Here is just a quick, top-of-my-head list of some of the many non-biblical rules I was taught, implicitly or explicitly, while growing up:

  • Christians vote Republican (or Democrat)
  • Christians are patriotic
  • Christians don't date
  • Christian women are ladylike and attractive (and men are masculine and strong)
  • Christians don't listen to rap
  • Christians don't dance
  • Christians are healthy and successful
  • Christians don't get depressed or doubt
  • Christians don't use birth control
  • Christian girls don't wear bikinis or short skirts
These statements are an attempt to clarify vagueness--not a bad thing--but when we make them hard-and-fast rules happens we place ourselves under the control of other people and refuse to take responsibility for our own moral development. "Dress modestly," for instance, is a fine principle (as long as it's applied evenly to men and women) but it's not a very good rule. So at Bible camp we have counselors measuring the skirts (fingertip-length) and sleeves (three fingers' width) of teenage girls instead of teaching them to choose for themselves what to wear, how to think morally and ethically, how to use their consciences. We can say we're teaching them moral reasoning by teaching right from wrong, but that's not true. We're teaching that their moral reasoning is only accurate and adequate if it agrees with ours. That is damaging and unhealthy and it makes them unable to trust themselves.

The rules become tools to shame and control. We don't stone people anymore, but we bully and shun, and we prevent people from becoming the wonderful unique people God created them to me. It broke my heart when I read an article about reparative therapy in which gay men were told to "fix" themselves by acting tough and liking sports, and lesbian women were told they had to wear makeup. They were told than any inclination, hobby or feeling they had that did not fit our culture's restrictive gender paradigm was a temptation from Satan. I think our culture's restrictive gender paradigm is a tool of Satan! It damages us and keeps us from being free.

Under the guise of clarifying what "love one another" means, we simply create another law. And this law just gets more and more restrictive. Because we can't trust ourselves, we have to fear getting it wrong, and so we think "better be safe then sorry." So if sex outside of marriage is wrong then dating is wrong, and if dating is wrong than crushes are wrong. Children are a blessing so not wanting children is wrong, and if that's wrong then birth control must be wrong. Satan is only too happy to keep us living in this fear, keep our spirits crushed and our freedom crushed because he knows if he can keep us under law he can keep us condemning ourselves, and Christ died for nothing! Who can live under the law we've made for ourselves? Who can keep from all lustful thoughts? Who can keep from ever feeling depressed or doubting?

It is my conviction that this legalism and lawmaking is inevitable whenever we treat the Bible like a rule book, whenever we act as if God's purpose in the Bible was just to tell us what to do so we don't have to think for ourselves. And this is really what we're saying when we say the silence/vagueness of the scriptures is restrictive--that if God wanted us to be allowed to do something, the Bible would say something clearly allowing it.

Next post: Clearly I'm just trying to come up with excuses for sinning...or am I?

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Silence of the Scriptures Part One

The silence of the scriptures--the question of what to do if the Bible doesn't say anything about a particular subject--is a big, big idea in church of Christ thinking. "Speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent" has been a saying of ours since the beginning, as has "Describing Bible things in Bible terms."

Real quick (and simplified) history lesson: The main founders of our movement (which includes Christian Churches, Disciples of Christ, and churches of Christ) were Barton Stone, Thomas Campbell, and Alexander Campbell. Stone and T. Campbell were Presbyterians, and A. Campbell was a Baptist. All three wanted to preach and evangelize. Yet they all found themselves frustrated because it seemed the churches they wanted to work for required their preachers to affirm and obey things they felt were not in the Bible. Stone, for instance, had doubts about the trinity and about Calvinistic elements present in the Westminster Confession of Faith. After preaching and writing for several years and experiencing opposition, they either withdrew or were suspended from their respective churches. They and others like them continued to preach, and the churches they formed had as their goal that they would not require their members to believe or do anything that wasn't taught in the Bible, either explicitly or by example. They did not intend to form a denomination--they wanted the universal church to come together and end divisions. The churches were called what they are instead of being named after a particular doctrine or the founder because they wanted to refer to them as churches are referred to in the Bible.

So the original idea of "Speak where the Bible speaks" was that, as Christians, we could not force anyone to believe or do anything that was not from the Bible. We rejected--or tried to reject--doctrines or traditions that were a product of human reasoning and not actually from the Bible. This is why we have no creeds or liturgy and very few rituals--though traditions are very hard to get away from, and we probably have more than we'd like to admit.

But since nothing is ever as simple as we would like to make it, a question soon arose. Is the silence of the scriptures restrictive or permissive? That is, the Stone-Campbell movement was agreed that we could not force anyone else to do or believe things that did not come directly from the NT. But did that mean that we, ourselves, could not do or believe those things? Take the question of instrumental music: there is no statement or rule in the NT suggesting that it is wrong for Christians to worship with instruments. However, there is also no evidence that the early Christians did so. The movement eventually split with this as the most prominent disagreement. The church of Christ decided (and this is a very simplified argument) that because we are only ever told one way to worship (singing alone) and no other way is mentioned, this means that when we use instruments, we are rejecting the proper way to worship and disobeying the command to sing. This general rule is applied in other areas to. For instance, some churches pass around only one cup for Communion (our word for the Eucharist) because only one cup is mentioned in the gospels.

Some subjects are even harder because nothing is mentioned one way or the other regarding them. Should a Christian go to war? We don't have any examples of either soldiers or conscientious objectors among the NT Christians, so it's impossible to answer through an appeal to a direct command or example from scripture. Should a Christian vote or participate in civic affairs? We have a few examples of secular leaders among the NT Christians, but no explorations of how this works or to what extent our faith should inform our actions. And voting is never mentioned one way or the other. There are myriads of other examples of concepts or technology that, if they were known at all at that time, are never mentioned: recycling or conservation of resources, birth control, nuclear weapons.

Another idea is what we might call the "vagueness" of the scriptures. Some scriptures have clear moral instructions, but it's difficult to determine how far they go or how to apply them. Drunkenness is wrong, but what about drinking in general? We should dress modestly, but how much skin should be covered, and how do we apply it equally to men and women? Certain doctrines can also be difficult to understand. There is no scripture that comes right out and says directly, "Jesus is God"--so do we have to believe Jesus is God? Do we have to believe in the trinity, even though the word "trinity" never appears in the Bible? And how about the scriptures that just seem weird? "Don't cast your pearls before swine"?

I have made the argument in the past that the scriptures seeming to apply to gender/sexual minorities are "vague" because we don't fully understand the words used and because the behaviors described by those words don't seem to match up with what modern same-sex relationships look like. I don't want to make that argument again now; suffice it to say that it's been made by others as well and you can accept it or not. If this is true, though, if the same-sex relationships in the Bible are not like those today, then modern same-sex relationships fall under "silence," because they simply are not mentioned. So what to think?

(I realize that an important question from those in other faith or no-faith traditions is "Why does it matter? Shouldn't we do the right thing regardless of what the Bible says?" That's a valid question, but it's a bigger one than I have time for right now. All I can say is that as a product of my tradition, I can't help caring deeply about how the first Christians acted and believed and wanting to keep as consistent with that as possible.)

This dilemma has been on my mind lately because of a comment I read on a recent post by Rachel Held Evans. Unfortunately I can't find the comment to quote it directly (there are a lot of comments). However, I have heard the idea enough that I think I can try to state it as fairly and sympathetically as the author of the comment did:
The interpretation of the verses referring to homosexuality may be disputed, but there are no positive examples of same-sex relationships anywhere in the Bible. Couldn't the same argument [that when a command is vague or disputed, we should defer to the hermeneutic of love and allow people to do what they believe is loving, as long as it's consensual and not hurting anyone] be used to defend practices that are clearly unbiblical, such as a married couple mutually consenting to adultery if they both agree that it will make their marriage healthier? If the same-sex relationships in the Bible are not like loving, consensual same-sex relationships today, couldn't we postulate a loving, consensual adultery to which the NT injunctions against adultery do not apply (because it did not exist yet)?
(Incidentally, I am hard-pressed to restate this argument with any sin that is not sexual in nature. It would not make sense for most other sins that I can think of--for instance, "consensual stealing" is just borrowing.)

This is a fair question. Now personally, I do think that I'm not allowed to have any say or judgment on what non-Christians do with their sex lives, as long as they're not hurting people. I don't want anyone to think that I'm talking about people outside the church here. However, I also think that the Bible offers guidance that a) Christians can make use of in determining a sexual ethic and b) churches can use pastorally to teach and lead their members. I also think that churches should be allowed to insist that their members follow their standards, as long as those standards are not enforced selectively, abusively, or intrusively and that "discipline" is reasonable. (Just as an example, you can decide someone is not a member anymore but you can't publicly humiliate them or order other members to shun them.) That's why I think this question is important--because we do live in community, and the way we act and the things we believe affect each other. I think it's therefore essential that we use consistent reasoning when determining standards for community behavior, so that everyone is on the same page and treated fairly.

We may restate this question as a reductio ad absurdum: The idea that you can defend practices commanded against in the bible by disagreeing with the interpretation and saying that it doesn't hurt anyone leads to the untenable conclusion that adultery is defensible--we know that adultery is definitely wrong, so the idea must be false. At the end of this series (probably about 3 or 4 posts), I'll give my answer to this question, but first I'd like to explore the idea of freedom in Christ and how it relates to the silence of the scriptures. Look for that post in the next couple of days, and please comment if you have any thoughts to add here.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Friday Facebook Falsehoods and Fallacies (4) - Acting Confused When Your Strawman Doesn't Make Sense

Content Note: Rape, child molestation, slavery, spousal abuse, the Holocaust, abortion (yes, it's the jackpot of ridiculous analogies! Yay!)

One of my friends* posted this article today: "I'm Against Abortion, But: A Pro-Life Response to the Frequent Pro-Abortion Claim". The most succinct response is that the writer simply doesn't understand the perspective or reasoning of the people he is complaining about. He's setting up a strawman and then acting confused ("amazed", "boggled", "can't fathom") that the strawman doesn't make sense.

Let's break it down point by point:
I think the statement that bugs me most when talking to people about abortion is, "I’m against abortion, but…" I can actually respect someone’s total pro-abortion position more than someone who tells me, "I’m against abortion, but…" It just makes no sense to me at all; how can they be against something as vile and deadly as abortion and have a "but"?
See, here's the problem, right here in the opening paragraph: You're assuming that everyone shares the same presuppositions you do. Pro-choice people** don't necessarily think abortion is vile and deadly. (Or, they may think something else is viler and deadlier.) Assuming they believe the same things that you do but are pretending to believe something else or are too afraid to say it does them a disservice and discourages dialogue, which means that you are never going to understand what you're complaining about not understanding.

I can do this too. Watch: "It just makes no sense to me at all; how can they be against something as vile and deadly as eating meat and have a 'but'?"

See what I did there? By implying that everyone agrees with my value judgments but chooses not to enforce them, I make them all seem unreasonable--even though I never had to prove that eating meat is "vile."
My first response to them is always to ask them first why they are against abortion. What is it about abortion that would make you start your statement with "I’m against abortion"?

It amazes me when they start telling me how killing a baby is so wrong, life is so precious and we should respect it, and babies are innocent and don’t deserve to die. It would seem they have a firm grasp on the pro-life perspective, but. There it is, that little three-letter word that destroys the very foundation of what they just explained to me.

I am boggled at how in one breath you can call killing a baby murder and in the next breath you can justify this murder because you don’t want to tell others what to do. I cannot fathom how someone can say that life is precious and should be protected then turn around and support "the choice" to destroy that very life.
This is actually a neat little bit of sleight of hand (which the writer will repeat throughout the article). The writer hears his opponent saying (although with no citations, we can't be sure he's quoting accurately) that killing a [fetus] is wrong, life is precious and should be respected, and [fetuses] are innocent and don't deserve to die, and then pretends that what his opponent has actually been saying is that killing a [fetus] is equivalent to murder. This is not necessarily true, and does not at all logically follow from those statements he cited.

Because something is wrong does not mean it is murder. (I can believe lying is wrong without believing it is equivalent to murder.)

Because life is precious does not mean that ending life is necessarily murder. (I can believe the concept of life is precious without believing that stepping on ants is equivalent to murder.)

Because something is precious and should be protected does not mean that destroying it is always and unambiguously wrong. (Forests are precious and should be protected, but fires are important to preserving natural growth.)

Because something is innocent does not mean that killing it is murder. (I can believe kittens are innocent without believing that killing them is equivalent to murder.)

By imagining his opponents are saying something different from what they said, the writer can pretend to be boggled and confused that they therefore don't do something different from what they are doing.
I have said this in past commentaries and I will say it again; this is why people can add the word "but" into a sentence about being against abortion. The problem is we are allowing abortion to fall into a different category than every other act of homicide. But abortion is not a different act; it is a different method of the act of homicide. It is still one person killing another person. Therefore, if we would feel compelled to take action to stop acts of homicide such as those in Darfur, the Congo or anywhere else, shouldn’t we also take action to stop the acts of homicide that take place in abortion clinics?
Here, again, he is assuming everyone agrees with him that abortion is homicide, when that's exactly the question under dispute.
So many are refusing to take action because they have been able to infuse the word "but" in order to free themselves of the responsibility of standing against evil. As long as that they can insert that word, they can deflect or hide from the truth that is staring them in the face: innocent little babies are being destroyed.
Now he is pretending those who disagree are not motivated by actual disagreement or a belief that the situation is more complicated than it is, or even because they are concerned about the human rights of people with uteruses, but because they are cowardly, lazy, irresponsible, unwilling to face the truth. These are the words of someone who wants to shame, not persuade.
Let’s play a game I like to call "ridiculous analogies". In this game, I switch the word abortion for some other grave evil and see if you can justify a way to insert the word "but" into the sentence.
1. I am against child molestation, but…
2. I am against what happened to the Jews during the Nazi Holocaust, but…
3. I am against men beating their wives, but….
4. I am against slavery, but…
5. I am against rape, but…
Can you think of any situations where you can use the word "but" to justify any of these evil, deplorable actions? How about this:
A. I am against slavery, but who am I to tell someone else they can’t own slaves?
B. I am against rape but who am I to take away a man’s right to choose?
I hope you find these last two sentences make you cringe with disgust. That is the same way I feel when I hear someone say, "I am against abortion, but…"
Here's where we notice something interesting. Not once in this entire article does the writer mention women, mothers, or even the words "she" or "her." The person in whose womb and with whose nutrients these "innocent little babies" are being fed and nurtured is invisible. This clearly shows that he has not considered why a person might want an abortion. He pigeon-holes them all in the same category as murderers so he can judge them as murderers, without trying to understand the motivations for their actions. This is also shown by the ridiculous (he admits it) analogies he has chosen:

1. A pedophile has no compelling reason to molest children. If zie really, really needs an orgasm or zie's going to die (which I'm quite sure has never been true in the case of anyone ever), zie can masturbate.

2. (I can't believe I'm even saying this) The Nazis had no compelling reason to commit genocide. The Jews were not even a threat. Military advantage is not a good reason to do something that we would otherwise consider wrong. (If any historians understand more reasons behind the Holocaust, feel free to chime in, because I don't know much about why it actually happened.)

3. A husband has no compelling reason to beat his wife. The non-beatenness of his wife does not disadvantage him in any way.

4. A slaveowner has no compelling reason to own slaves. Anything slaves can do, employees can also do.

5. See #1.

In contrast, a pregnant person has many, many compelling reasons to not want to be pregnant or to not want to give birth.
  • Zie may be disabled and unable to safely give birth or care for the child.
  • Zie may have a medical condition such that pregnancy will seriously endanger zir health or life.
  • Zie may be emotionally or mentally unable to care for the child, due to age, maturity, or mental health condition.
  • Zie may be financially unable to care for the child.
  • Zie may be socially unable to care for the child due to a lack of a partner, family or support system. (Adoption is not a suitable alternative for this reason or the two above it. Childbirth is physically and emotionally taxing, which will damage the person's health even if the baby is then given up. Childbirth also takes time and requires recovery, which will damage the person's financial condition even if the baby is then given up. Also, a lot of people who have abortions already have children--pregnancy and childbirth may damage their ability to care for those children or cause the children to be confused.)
  • The fetus may already be nonviable.
  • Any pregnancy, even one that seems to be going well, contains a nonzero chance of complications that will seriously endanger zir health or life, and zie may simply not be willing to take that risk.
For the other examples the writer gave, there is always some other way, that doesn't hurt other people, for the perpetrator to accomplish what they want, unless the thing they want is evil anyway (Nazis seeking military domination, spousal abusers seeking emotional or physical domination). The thing that abortion-seeking people want is to end the pregnancy (not to kill a cute little baby). They have a right to want control over their own uteruses and to expect that control. There is (currently) no way to safely end a first-trimester pregnancy without killing the fetus. (The vast majority of all abortions occur during the first trimester, and those that occur later are nearly always because the person did not have access to an abortion beforehand, or because of the health of the fetus or the pregnant person. No one endures seven months of pregnancy and then flippantly decides to have an abortion out of selfishness.)
Abortion is the act of destroying the life of an innocent human being and there is just no justification for committing this act of homicide. Just as justifying exceptions for these other horrifying acts is unthinkable, so should justifying the act of killing babies.
"Surgery is the act of cutting into healthy skin and there is no justification for committing this act of mutilation."

Which is just a way of saying that no matter how much you try to pretend that everyone agrees with you, things are different in different contexts. Even if fetuses were people, abortion would not be murder--it would be self-defense. Because no person has a right to demand the use of someone else's body, under any circumstances, for any reason, even if going without that use will kill the person. If I need a kidney or I'll die and there is only one person who is a match and can give it to me, there is no circumstance under which I can take that person's kidney without their consent. If I need a uterus or I'll die and there is only one person who can give it to me, there is similarly no circumstance under which I can use that person's uterus without their consent--and they have a right to remove me if I'm there anyway. Doesn't matter if I'm innocent or know what I'm doing or not.

However, it is not obvious that a fetus is the same thing as a baby--especially not a first-trimester fetus. Incomplete, potential things are not the same thing as complete, actual things.
I truly believe that if the majority of people who claim to be against abortion (with a "but" or not) would start acting the same way we would if something like slavery was suddenly made legal again, we would see an end to the slaughter of the innocents.
I suppose I should explain exactly why I am "against abortion", even though I am pro-choice: it's because I think life has value, and potential human life has value, even though I don't believe it's as valuable as a person's autonomy over their own body and what is inside it. I also wish abortion wasn't necessary, because I wish everyone was able to have access to contraception and control their own reproductive health, and I wish all fetuses were healthy and viable, and I wish no one had to make the difficult choice to end a pregnancy. But unfortunately, it is necessary, and I can't change that. As valuable as I think life is, I think it's more important that people have an unchallengeable right to control their own uteruses than that all potential humans become human. It's really that simple. I wish more people would try to understand, instead of pretending it's because I'm too afraid to stand up for the truth or something.
I want you to all imagine what it would be like to have a house right next to a concentration camp in Poland during the Nazi Holocaust; would you have used the word "but"? Even more important, knowing that you do have a holocaust happening in your own back yard right now, how will you respond? Will you stand up, or will you find a way to say "but…?"
And he finishes off by again pretending that everyone already agrees with him and "knows" the truth. This is so clearly an example of someone not wanting to understand another point of view, not wanting to be compassionate, and not wanting to persuade but to shame and control. He doesn't want people to face the difficulty of admitting that it's more complicated than that; he wants them to shut up their doubts and confusion and do what he says because he said so and he's right.

*Between the time I started writing this and the time I posted it, she unfriended me because I'm a "lukewarm Christian" who has "crossed the line from compassion to tolerance" and is "leading others astray". This is after she posted the link with a note saying she expected to "get flack from some" but "didn't care". Yes, she is totally the one being silenced and persecuted for her beliefs.

**Which accurately describes those who think people with uteruses have the legal right to choose abortion, even if they are "against abortion" and self-identify as pro-life, therefore describes the people the writer is complaining about.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Years' Goals

Instead of making resolutions that I intend to follow every day for the entire year (which I think invites failure), I prefer to set goals that, by the end of the year, I will be capable of doing consistently. I think of personal growth as a process and not something that's accomplished through vows and willpower on January 1 alone.

1. Increase our family giving to charitable and religious causes 2%.

2. Learn to listen to my body. Learn to tell the difference between destructive self-talk (I shouldn't eat this because it will make me a pig) and constructive self-talk (I shouldn't eat this because I know it will give me heartburn/make me feel uncomfortably full).

Related to this, I'll be attempting an experiment just for a month or so, leaving fast food pizza and burgers--and anything I know gives me heartburn--out of my diet just to see if it makes me feel better enough to make up for the loss of deliciousness.

3. Track spending better.

4. Complete one organizational goal every month.

5. Keep the apartment clean enough that we can get a pet.

6. Get a pet!

7. (successfully completed in 2010, 2011, and 2012) Don't get pregnant.

8. Move into a (probably rented) house.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday Facebook Falsehoods and Fallacies (3) - Pro-gun Posts

"After the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School one Tennessee father and retired Marine is standing guard at his children's school and parents say he's a welcome addition to the school. Jordan Pritchard, a former Staff Sergeant in the US Marine Corps, pulled down his old Marine Corps uniform from the attic Sunday night and decided to make a difference in his community. When he was in the military his job was to keep our country safe and for the next week he planned bring that safety home by standing guard outside the front door of Gower Elementary School."

(I've heard reports that the first picture's story is false or heavily edited, but I haven't fact-checked and it's irrelevant to the point I'm making anyway.)

All of these pictures have been posted in my Facebook feed in the past week. Other than "trying to prove how much we need guns in our lives," what do all of these pictures have in common?

"Off-duty Sheriff." "retired Marine." "trained staff." Police officers/emergency responders. None of these individuals are random people off the street who just happen to have a shotgun with them. None of them are people spontaneously wanting to be a hero. They are all people who have undergone extensive training in order to do what they are doing--not just in how to aim at a target, but in threat recognition, neutralizing targets, defusing situations, first aid, dealing with fear, panic and anger, handling emergencies calmly and efficiently. The fourth one makes it seem like the operative variable is "someone with a gun," but that's not it at all. If I knew that my neighbor had a gun, that is no guarantee that they would be the first person I'd call, even if I knew they were home and would be there in time. They might be drunk. They might be people I would never invite into my home anyway. They might be easily panicked and overpowered. They almost certainly would not know how to handle a hostage situation, or how to enter quietly without startling the breaker-enterer into harming me. The fact that police officers have guns is important, but it's not the most important thing I'm thinking about when someone's breaking into my house. Police have sirens. Police have tasers. Police have handcuffs. Police usually outnumber suspects. And police are trained.
Note that none of this is an argument for gun control; it's just an argument against "guns are the best thing ever and we can't live or protect ourselves without them." However, I personally feel that training is a really important tool and a simple regulation that could be implemented without anyone arguing that we're "trying to take their guns away." And I don't mean just training in gun safety and target practice, although that first one is really important. I'm thinking of some kind of emergency responder course, with training in the things listed above--how to recognize and neutralize threats without necessarily killing them, how to defuse situations, how to give first aid, and how to handle emergencies without panicking. I'd even be in favor of requiring gun owners to join an official community emergency response team, where they can be called upon if something happens that's not necessarily a police matter.

One added benefit that I'm not sure of is that learning how to deal with your emotions in a high-stress situation may make people less likely to go off and shoot people they're angry at or go on spree killings. I have no idea, but it makes sense to me.

Any thoughts?