Wednesday, July 04, 2012

That Would Be an Ecumenical Matter (4)

When Christians talk about marriage, they should make it clear whether they are talking about what is good for society, or about what I am calling, for want of a better word, "magic". 

Are you saying "I believe what Jesus believed about marriage because I think it's what's best for society, always assuming society agrees with Jesus and me about what 'best' means" or "I believe what Jesus believed about marriage, because Jesus believed it, regardless of the effect believing it has on society."

Mr Tolkien correctly called Mr Lewis out for being inconsistent on this point.

Some Americans have been putting stickers on their cars saying that "the Bible" says that marriage is between one man and one woman and that God made Adam and Eve, not Samantha and Eve. The extremely nasty Coalition for Marriage in this country have been using similar logos.

Someone who is wrong on the internet suggested ways in which the bumper sticker could be amended to cover the other kinds of marriage mentioned in the Bible – polygamy, forced marriage between slaves, serial divorce, etc.

But if I am right, this entirely misses the point. The other forms of marriage are talked about in Leviticus and Deuteronomy and (as we have seen) Jesus thinks that the two stories of creation in Genesis override what Moses taught in the Torah.

Christians can't have it both ways: they can't make a big song and dance about what Leviticus says about homosexuality if they think that Jesus told us to set the Torah aside. If they don't think we can set the Torah aside they have to explain why they aren't in favour of polygamy and divorce.

"What Jesus said" is the beginning, not the end, of a discussion about Christian ethics: we also have to take into account "what St Paul said about what Jesus said" "what the Church fathers said about what St Paul said about what Jesus said" "what the church has historically said about what the fathers said about what Paul said about what Jesus said" and "what contemporary thinkers think about what the church says about what the fathers said about what Paul said about what the Gospels say that Jesus said." 

If Christianity is a movement rather than a rule book, then tradition counts for something. Only Jehovah's Witnesses and Giles Fraser think that you can invent new forms of Christianity in complete isolation from what Christians have historically believed.


It is hard to see how theories which say gender is irrelevant or non-existent could be made consistent with anything which one would recognise as historical Christianity. (Would one have to say "It would make no difference if the Church were 'the Bridegroom of Christ' " or if the "It would make no difference if the Trinity were 'Mother, Daughter and Holy Spiritrix'"?) 

But it isn't clear that "gender does not exist" or "gender does not matter" is an essential part of the proposition that "a relationship between two men or two women can reasonably be given the name 'marriage'" -- although the discussion has sometimes been co-opted by people with an anti-gender agenda.


All sides ought to take care to understand what all other sides are saying, and why, instead of merely identifying the general tendency of an argument, giving it a label, and then condemning the label. There is just no point in saying "This is liberal and therefore wrong" or "This is homophobic and therefore wrong". 

In particular, we should beware of leaping on unfortunate analogies and comparisons and using them as the basis for ad hominen attacks that rule entire arguments out of court.

Let us suppose someone says "Granted that homosexual acts are tabu: well, if we know anything at all about Jesus, we know that he was welcoming and compassionate to people who broke tabus – prostitutes, women with issues of blood, people who took money from the Romans, lepers, and so on. So before evangelical Christians can even start talking about human sexuality, they need to adopt a Christ-like attitude to homosexuals." It would be most unhelpful to translate this as "Christian says homosexuals are like lepers" or make up a fictitious character called "Gay-leper-priest."

Let us suppose someone says "We take Jesus at his word and say that marriage is something hard-coded into the universe which can't be changed. The government can no more make a law that says that two men can get married than they can make a law saying that Pi =5. But the proposed law presupposes that marriage is whatever the government of the day says that it is. If we accept that the government can, in principle, define marriage as being 'between two men' it is hard to see why they couldn't, in principle, at some future date re-define it as being 'between three men' or 'between a hedgehog and a sofa'." 
It would be most unhelpful to say "Christian says that gay marriage will lead to polygamy and marriage between animate objects."

Let us suppose someone says "If the government proposes to legalise a wrongthing, then it is no justification to say that the wrongthing will not be compulsory. If wife beating is wrong in principle then it is no defence to say that your law will not require anyone to beat his wife who doesn't want to. If fox hunting is wrong in principle then it is no defence to say that your new law will not require anyone to join the hunt who doesn't want to. If gay marriages are wrong in principle, it is no defence to say that your law will not require any priest to conduct a marriage if he doesn't want to it." It would be most unhelpful to say "Christians say that gay marriage just as bad as wife beating and fox hunting."

It would also help a great deal if people on all sides thought a bit harder before they started to use inflammatory analogies. In particular, it would be a good idea not to pick an analogy which is obviously going to anger someone who hasn't been following the argument very closely and then act all surprised when someone who hasn't been following the argument very closely gets angry.


Analogies with Hitler are hardly ever a good idea.


All sides must be extremely careful of who they form alliances with. Christians who take Jesus teachings about divorce literally must be extremely careful of drifting into the language of, or sharing platforms with, believers in the Daily Mail Apocalypse Cult. (Using the word "marriage"to describe relationships between two men will not bring about the end of western civilisation. It just won't.) 

Christians who take Jesus teachings about divorce literally must be especially careful of forming alliances with headbangers who haven't read the book of Leviticus but understand it gives them a great excuse to bash queers.

People who think that gay people's relationships should be called "marriages" out of simple fairness and goodwill should be careful of forming alliances with people who wish to use the issue as a stick with which to beat the churches; or as tactic in their campaign to separate church and state; or as part of an extremist sexual radicalism which claims that gender does not exist.

This will be best achieved by people saying what they actually think and the reasons they actually think it and not marshalling "arguments" which they don't believe but which may bolster their cause. Remember that thing about facts and lampposts?

This applies to arguments in general. People who think that we ought to organize society in such a way that people who believe different things can all live harmoniously together should be careful of forming alliances with people who think that religion is a social evil which needs to be suppressed who should in turn be careful of forming alliances with people who pretend to dislike the religion of brown-skinned people because they have a visceral dislike of anyone with brown skin – even though it might happen that all three groups (secularists, atheists, and Daily Express readers) would rather there were fewer displays of religion in the public sphere. Equally, normal people should be careful of assuming that everyone who doesn't think that Muslim people should be allowed to wear Muslim hats in public is necessarily a Daily Mail reader. He must just be small minded, mean spirited and parochial.

 Christians have, in my opinion, been most seriously guilty of putting forward arguments that they don't believe because they bolster their position: talking in terms of "building blocks of society" "social institutions" and "the imminent end of civilisation as we know it" because if they talked about Jesus' magical thinking they know they wouldn't be taken seriously.

Many of them, of course, don't really have any kind of argument at all: just a general sense that they aren't meant to agree with gays getting married in churches but can't quite remember why. This may be what they mean by "tradition".


My enemy's enemy is not necessarily my friend. My enemy's enemy may very well be a twat.


If there is a good argument to made against the proposed change to the law from a simple, rational, social point of view, then you should make it from a simple, rational, social point of view and not bring God into it. You should also make it clear that you are speaking as an individual, not as a churchman. The Archbishop of Canterbury claims to have special inside knowledge about what God thinks, which means that his opinion is of some importance to the people who claim to believe in the same God he does (about four million, at the last count). This is why he gets to talk in the House of Lords and on the Today programme. If he's just talking in simple, rational, social terms then there is no reason to pay any more attention to him than to anyone else.

This also applies to everything Giles Fraser has ever said about anything.

But so far as I can see, it is not possible to argue against the proposed change to law from a simple, rational, social point of view: if you are going to make the argument, it has to be on what I have called "magical" grounds. The Church has been singularly reluctant to do this, presumably because it doesn't actually believe in magic. (Which of course, raises the question of what it's there for.) 

The closest anyone got was that Irish fellow, but he wrapped it up in college buzzwords like "ontological impossibility" and an inflammatory analogy about slavery, so no-one paid any attention to him.


So: the question turns out to be different from the one we thought it was. The question turns out to be "How much attention should a secular government pay to the magical beliefs of its citizens?"

The Dawkinsbots would obviously reply "None whatsoever". But most of us probably think that it is more complicated than that. If a group of aborigines went to the Australian government and requested that a supermarket not be erected on a particular piece of land because it is the home to a great many spirits, then I think that some of us would have at least some sympathy to with the natives.

James Cameron made a film based on this kind of conundrum. It wasn't very good. 

The secular state would not need to commit itself to whether there really are spirits living on the land that Tescos wants to put a car-park on: but the fact that four million of its citizens believe that there are, and will be made unhappy by the land's desecration, would have some relevance to their decision

This is not the same as saying "Anyone can demand anything if he claims that it will upset his magical friend" although some of you are already typing a comment to that effect.

In any case, Britain is not a secular state. Some people, including some members of the Church of England, think it ought to be, but you shouldn't get "is" mixed up with "ought". England is ceremonially and constitutionally protestant. The Queen formally appoints the Prime Minister; the Prime Minister has a say in who she chooses as Archbishop of Canterbury and changes to the church's prayer book require an act of parliament. The national anthem is a prayer to set to a music. The teachings of the Church of England do, in fact, have some baring on British law-making.

David Cameron is woefully inconsistent about this. It does not seem to me that the Prime Minister can logically wave around deluxe souvenir anniversary editions of the Authorized Version of the Bible and talk about how England is fundamentally and essentially Christian (although the brown people are quite welcome to follow their own quaint customs, of course, provided they don't frighten the horses) and at the same time say that he is free to make laws which, according to the Bishops appointed by the Queen, contradict the Church of England’s beliefs.

This is not the same as saying "I want to live in a theocracy where the Church of England has an absolute veto on everything the governments does" although some of of you are presumably already typing a comment to that effect.


I myself do not know whether the Church should marry homosexuals or not. I wouldn't mind one bit if it did. 

I think that the Jesus of Matthew's Gospel draws a distinction between "how things will be in the Kingdom of Heaven" and "how things may have to be until then in this complicated world." Otherwise, we would have to say that he frequently commands the impossible or that the only way of practising Christianity is desert fathers monasticism. The Sermon on the Mount presents a picture of a world no-one feels anger, no-one feels lust, everyone lives in the present moment, a world divided into the majority whose vocation is celibacy and the minority who chose the more arduous path of marriage. This isn't a basis for lawmaking in society, and the rest of the New Testament represents a stepping back into a world in which Christians get married, have children who are sometimes naughty, own slaves who sometimes run away, go out to dinner with pagans, serve in the army, have legal disputes and generally live in the real world.

In that same real world in which some people are gay. Get over it.

I am also quite sure that no denomination should be forced to marry two homosexuals if their understanding of the Bible says that the relationship between two homosexuals cannot be called "marriage".

I am also quite sure that homosexuals and heterosexuals should be treated exactly the same by the secular law: whether Archbishop Senmatu thinks that we can use the word "marriage" to describe two "friends" shouldn't make any difference at all about whether those two friends can use each others bus pass or visit each other in hospital or share each other's hotel room.

I am quite sure that Cameron's proposals are a complete mess: he appears to propose that instead of two categories ("Civil Partnership" and "Marriage") there should now be three: "Civil Marriage"(two men, two women, or a woman and man) "Civil Partnership"(two men or two women only) "Religious Marriage" (a man and a woman only).

The only virtue of these proposals seems to be that they annoy everybody just about equally: the radicals and liberal Christians who can't see why gays shouldn't have religions weddings and the conservative Christians who can't see how two men can be married.

The "civil partnership" set up has been in force for barely ten years, and we are already talking about changing it: it is most unlikely that this dogs dinner of an arrangement will survive even that long.


Tolkien was correct to call out C.S Lewis for inconsistency. But he didn't seem to have taken on board the social question which Lewis raised. Is it the duty of the civil state to legislate to make people good? Are there some sins which are not the states business? What happens if not everybody (not even everybody of the same religion) can agree about what counts as a sin? Does anyone think that divorce should be legally prohibited and adultery punishable by law? (Anyone apart from Christian Voice, I mean: anyone sane.)

The simple and obvious solution is to create a single legal category called "Civil Partnership" which is open to anyone, gay or straight; and for the concept of "Marriage" to be placed outside of the law, governed by social convention or religious tradition. 

Some people would have a big ceremony at the Registry office where their Civil Partnership is celebrated, as at present. Some people would just sign the legal papers in front of a Registrar and then have a big party with their friends when they get home, as at present. Some people would get legal but not bother about the party, as at present. Some people would go and have a ceremony in a church, synagogue, mosque and temple, and it would be purely up to the church, synagogue, mosque or temple who they would and would not perform that ceremony for, as at present. Some people would regard these as very serious religious ceremonies, as at present; some would regard them as important only because they represent the traditional rites of the tribe, as at present; some would regard them merely as an excuse for some nice photographs, as it present. 

The only difference would be that the church, temple, mosque or synagogue ceremony would have no legal standing unless the couple had first become Civil Partners. There is no reason why some clergymen could not be inducted as Registrars (as at present) and perform both the marriage and the civil partnership at the same time. At present, the couple generally leave the church to "sign the register"; presumably under my scheme they would leave the church to conduct a quick "civil partnership" ceremony in the vicar's pantry. But it might be that, before a Church Wedding, you had to go and get civil partnered in front of a secular registrar, like "getting a marriage licence" in one of those cowboy movies.

This seems to be a sensible, secular compromise, since it recognises that there are genuine differences in belief and proposes a way for people with different beliefs to co-exist. 

But it is hard to see how it could come about while Britain remains formally and ceremonially a protestant nation.

Most non-religious people would presumably be happy for Britain to cease to be a formally and ceremonially protestant nation; indeed the majority of them would presumably be unable to tell the difference one way or the other. A substantial proportion of the Church of England would support the change. 

However, such a change would be politically impossible. The Daily Mail Apocalypse Cult, which owns the government, would undoubtedly portray any attempt to disestablish the church as anti-monarchist and therefore unpatriotic or even treasonous.

Which gets us back where we started: Church and State see marriage in different ways; and Church and State are hopelessly tangled up.

To be honest, we might just as well get back to yelling at parodies of each others positions.


NickPheas said...

The "Marriage is a thing that happens in a registery office, but you can go do something religious if you want to afterwards" is how the French do it, and I think several other Code-Napoleon influenced somewhat catholic european countries.

NickPheas said...

But it is quite specifcally "Marriage". I have some sympathy for the idea of removing the concept of "Marriage" and replacing it with some form of "Lifelong Commitment", but I can't see it happening.

If we discount the special magic that only happens when two virgins have their first sexual encounter, which I think the vast bulk of people do, the words mean what the majority of people think they do. My gay friends talk about themselves as married and increasingly only weirdo only object to them doing so.

Except for "enormity" of course. The bulk of the world, including the President of the USA seem to think that this means "big". Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Tim Ellis said...

It would seem to make sense to say that in the same way those forbidden from marrying in church because they are divorced can be married in a civil ceremony, followed by a church blessing, that people of the same sex should be able to marry in a civil service even if (some) churches won't perform the ceremony.

However, I do recall seeing the suggestion that one reason for (some parts) the church wanting to be legally prohibited from performing marriage being that if it were left to the conscience of the individual church/priest/druid to decide whether or not to conduct a ceremony, they would be open to prosecution for discriminating against someomne on the basis of their sexuality - Which means we are now being forced to discriminate against them in order to avoid having to discriminate against them...

Julia said...

It's a contract, a very special sort of contract, but a contract nonetheless. As such, however you want to label it, if any 2 adults who are capable of entering into a contract wish to combine their lives legally in this manner, they ought to be able to.

Of course, this discounts all the cultural baggage associated with 'marriage', which can't be done without a number of people getting upset about it.

Mike Taylor said...

"The closest anyone got was that Irish fellow, but he wrapped it up in college buzzwords like "ontological impossibility" and an inflammatory analogy about slavery, so no-one paid any attention to him."

Who was this? What did he say, exactly? Got a link?

Andrew Rilstone said...

Cardinal Keith O Brian draws an analogy (as opposed to a comparison) between gay marriage and slavery.

He actually argues in a rather confused way, using arguments about "this is what the word means", "this is the way its always been" and arguing, so far as I can tell, that once gay marriage has been legalised, pairs of human males will spontaneously start to produce babies. He also says that marriage wasn't "invented" by governments, which was what I had in mind. He didn't use the phrase "ontologically impossible" but it seems to crop up quite a lot in discussions by Catholics. Sorry for any confusion.

Andrew Rilstone said...

If we discount the special magic that only happens when two virgins have their first sexual encounter, which I think the vast bulk of people do, the words mean what the majority of people think they do

1: Not sure it is fair or helpful to smuggle a possible objection to my major argument in as a parenthesis. I haven't mentioned "special magic which only happens when two virgins have their first sexual encounter". What you mean, I take it, is that the fact that Jesus apparently regarded sexual sin as forgiveable (the woman taken in adultery; the Samaritan woman) militates against my theory that he regarded true marriage is indissoluble; and that if fornication is not forgiveable then everyone is married to the person they first had sex with. This is a valid objection. But what I am looking for is a plausible way of reading the Gospels so that isn't what Jesus said (please make your hermeneutic explicit) OR a plausible theology in which it doesn't matter to the Church of England that this is what Jesus said OR an account of Church and Government in which the Church continues to believe this, the government continues to believe that we are are "christian" (formally and ceremonially) nation but sets aside the church's view. I don't want to know how you feel about it; I want to hear a theory which makes sense and is consistent. "It must be the right legal definition because its the definition that the majority of ordinary people use" isn't something we can take for granted, but something which you need to prove. If we believed that it was necessarily right for the government to do what the vast bulk of people wanted them to do (why are bulks and majorities only ever vast in political discussions) then homosexuality would still be against the law and we wouldn't be having this discussion.

guy.jackson said...

"you mean, I take it, is that the fact that Jesus apparently regarded sexual sin as forgiveable (the woman taken in adultery; the Samaritan woman) militates against my theory that he regarded true marriage is indissoluble; and that if fornication is not forgiveable then everyone is married to the person they first had sex with."

The obvious way of resolving that would be to say that true marriage is indissoluble, but simply having sex with someone doesn't make you (truly) married to them. Or am I missing something here?

Sam Dodsworth said...

There doubtless are people who think gender doesn't exist... but I don't think I've ever come across one. On the other hand, plenty of feminists think gender, like race and class, is socially constructed. As do I - it's not a very difficult or startling idea once you start looking at how ideas of gender differ across cultures.

(Sex exists too, but even that's rather more complicated than you might think. You can be intersex; you can be born with genes that don't match your bits; you can even be a genetic patchwork... but I digress.)

(See my comments on the previous post for what I think marriage is, should you care.)

NickPheas said...

I certainly wasn't meaning to subvert your argument, though I might of course have failed to understand what it was.
You did mention at length the special magical sex in part 2 of your thesis, including I thought the suggestion that the church doesn't really seem to believe in it (or at least didn't want to talk about it) and if they don't then the secular public wouldn't stand a chance.
I don't think you specifically mentioned that it worked best between virgins, not in those words, but that was surely the obvious implication.

NickPheas said...

P.S. What you mean, I take it, is that the fact that Jesus apparently regarded sexual sin as forgiveable

I am pretty sure I didn't mean that because I've never been fond of the suggestion that there are any sins beyond Jesus' forgiveness.
What I might have meant is that if the Church is going to conform to social norms it needs to accept current social norms. Or if it prefers it can go down a more exclusive, spiritual, theological path that hardly anyone understands these days, but if it does, it should be too surprised if people stop listening to it.
I might have meant something else though. I don't tend to think in depth about each individual comment on a blog ensuring that every spur of the moment opinion is consistent with every other spur of the moment utterance.
And sometimes I'm just trolling in an attempt to force you to develop a point.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Okay. Sorry I over analyzed you. Too much textual criticism.

Do you think I have read the New Testament passage about marriages correctly, or is there a better way of understanding them?

James Holloway said...

The idea that marriage is a civil ceremony which is then solemnized by a religious ceremony is also how it's done in the United States.

It works pretty well.

I think associating religion and marriage is fine, but identifying them is probably flawed -- I mean, since marriage as an institution predates Christianity, and since the marriages of non-Christians are no different legally speaking than the marriages of Christians, then it's hard to see that Christian belief can properly play a role in the definition of marriage for everyone.

In other news, state religions are a bad idea, both for states and for religions. Who knew?

I think that a lot of the inflammatory language that you deplore comes from the fact that for the most part the church has not seen fit to make a big deal out of other, arguably equally important, points of theology in the past. Many homosexuals, friends and family members of homosexuals, and whoever, seeing this behaviour, can't help but wonder if maybe this isn't so much motivated by a sincere attachment to the idea of doing just what Christianity teaches as by maybe not liking gay people very much.

I think that viewing the question of homophobia as a distraction from the main point is kind of ... not accurate. I think the "magical" question, while interesting, is not likely to be uppermost in the minds of most opponents of same-sex marriage. That being the case, I think it's not hard to see why proponents of same-sex marriage get pissed off.

Does that make sense?

naath said...

The only thing I can think of that you have entirely omitted from your line of thinking is that there are various and sundry international treaties, agreements, &c concerning the mutual recognition of (specifically) marriages conducted in any one country by everyone else.

This affects my ability to get married on a beach in Tahiti, my ability to sponsor my non-British spouse to move to the UK on a spousal visa, my ability to be sponsored by said spouse to move to their country, my ability to bring my spouse along (or be brought alone) as a spouse should I (or they) emigrate...

International recognition for civil partnerships is much more patchy. Of course some states are anti-same-sex-marriage and thus refuse to recognise any same-sex union (marriage or partnership) but (for instance) different-sex Dutch couples may be Civilly Partnered but this partnership may not be recognised in other states.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I think I made too much of the "that's not what the WORD means" thang. I think I made it clear elsewhere what I meant (things being really really real, hardwired into the universe, etc) but it would have been better if I'd said "that's not what marriage IS."

Both sides seems to find it hard to imagine that anyone could see things differently, don't they. "The people who say that marriage is more than a civil contract are wrong, because marriage is a civil contract"; "The people who say that marriage is just a civil contract are wrong because marriage is not just a civil contract." Maybe it was frivolous of me to introduce the word "magic" -- maybe I should have said "sacramental" or "ontological" or "Platonic" or "transcendental" or "metaphysical" "having to do with the soul as well as the body." But I was trying to put across the idea that (some) Christians perceive marriage differently from (some) materialists.

After literally minutes of painstaking research, it seems that a lot of Catholic thinkers who talk about "ontological impossibility" aren't talking about "one flesh" in a supernatural sense, but about a supposed reciprocation between the male and the female body: it's not sex if two men do it because willies are obviously designed to into fannies but not into mouths or botties.

@guy I mistakenly interpreted Nicks slightly frivolous language to mean that he was sceptical about my interpretation of Jesus' "one flesh" teaching. But yes, the fact that Jesus can forgive the woman taken in adultery, the polygamous Samaritan and the woman with flask of ointment does tend to support my "two-marriage" theory. Unless you want to do one of those clever readings: Jesus said "Go and do not sin again"; but we have established that all sexual relationships after the first are adultery; adultery is a sin; therefore what he meant was "Go, and live a life of total abstinence hereafter." Not convinced....

NickPheas said...

If I were going to be sceptical about the "one flesh" teaching then it might be to bring in the "he who looks on a woman..." teaching as well.
Does that mean that we're all doomed to almost certainly never knowing the magical marriage, since we have all surely committed that kind of adultery?
Or is to to suggest that Jesus is deliberately setting a spiritual bar so impossibly high so as to point out that men are all flawed and shouldn't be getting hung up on these things. Another variation on the mote and beam?

Salisbury said...

I think I made too much of the "that's not what the WORD means" thang. I think I made it clear elsewhere what I meant (things being really really real, hardwired into the universe, etc) but it would have been better if I'd said "that's not what marriage IS."

I think your meaning was clear enough, and in this case the two expressions amount to the same thing. Elsewhere I've seen arguments that slip carefully from 'that's not what the dictionary says' to 'that's not in my holy book of choice' and back. The dictionary definition is used to deflect accusations of transcendentalism, while the 'biblical' one gives the mundane semantic pedantry greater force. It's quite a trick, really.

Lirazel said...

Coming to this a bit late... but it may interest you to know that here in New England, marriage among the Puritans was ALL civil. Because "church" marriages were Popery. One was married before a magistrate.

And for many years thereafter, the Very Best People were not married in churches, but at the bride's home. Even if a minister performed the service, having it in the sacred edifice was not required. That bit still holds true unless you are a Roman Catholic -- even us Piskies can get married in private houses, on the side of a cliff, etc.

But your clergyperson still is acting as an officer of the State as well as a sacramentalist; many of us are still convinced these two offices should be separated.

Rankersbo said...

I think that a lot of the inflammatory language that you deplore comes from the fact that for the most part the church has not seen fit to make a big deal out of other, arguably equally important, points of theology in the past.

I'm not sure how true this is. I mean it's certainly been my own perception. It certainly seems to me that some Christians have a disproportionately big problem with gays.

But then I often hear "Why aren't politicians talking about XYZ". And it's not always because the person moaning is a nutter, sometimes they are talking about it and it's not covered in the media, or worse it is covered and the moaner isn't paying attention.

So I too have my nagging doubts about why homosexuality seems to be such a big problem, but I also wonder if it's me.

Andrew Rilstone said...

@Nick - That seems like a possible way of reading it to me. Following on from that: what should the Church teach its own followers about marriage?

guy.jackson said...

@ Andrew: Oh, I was thinking more of there being one type of marriage, but to become married to someone you have to do more than just have sex with them. So if two unmarried people sleep together, they've committed the sin of fornication, but they'd still be single at the end of it. Is there anythink Jesus said which would contradict this idea?

NickPheas said...

Warning: I am probably going to be too extreme liberal for everyone's taste.

"what should the Church teach its own followers about marriage? "

If we hold that Christ was talking about an unobtainable ideal then we should recognise this. If that's the case then let's focus on the obtainable aspects of relationships and build an institution that cherishes and supports them.

Commitment, fidelity, mutual support. These things are the important ones IMHO. And none of them seem limited to hetrosexuals.

Aside: Is it telling that the only things still regarded as sinful by mainstream Christians all either have victims or are minority sexual practices? I'd be happy enough to group gay sex along with getting one's ears pierced - fobidden in Leviticus, not something we worry about these days.

SK said...

Doesn't the Church generally consider lying a sin, even if there's no victim?

Also, envy.

NickPheas said...

Lying to oneself is perhaps a sin, but the more common expression, in which one is deceiving another person has a victim.

Thinks. Actually yes, the classic "seven deadly sins" are pretty much all personal failings (up to the point wrath leads one to smack the other guy) but the only one that really seems to worry most people is lust, which rather comes back to my question.

Andrew Rilstone said...

@Nick I am sorry to bang on about this, but the ear-piercing thing is no good if I am right about Jesus exegesis of Genesis. (There is NATURAL law, how God set up the Universe; and there is HUMAN law however venerable.) Presumably, ear piercing had a particular meaning in the ancient world which isn't apparent to us now e.g maybe it was part of the ritual practice of some specific cult. The popular press and biologists subject us to such a lot of whatabouting in this area ("Christians say their Bible forbids them from going to war, but whatabout where it forbids them from eating prawns! Betcha never knew that, har-har Christians are silly etc etc etc") that the point does need to get jumped on pretty regularly. Also, every single word St Paul wrote, obviously.

It seems to me that Jesus must meant something; and Matthew, Mark and Luke must have thought he meant something when they included it in their books. Matthew, at any rate, implies that his disciples found it a shocking teaching. Certainly, the Church should teach commitment, fidelity, mutual support. But so does everyone else. Based on what Jesus said, does, or should, the Church have an understanding of marriage which differs from The World? If not, what is the point of it?

NickPheas said...

True, and I recognise that I've gone off on a tangent, but ear piercing remains a good example of:
* Something quite explictly forbidden in Leviticus, in the same chapter as the most quoted prohibition against gayness.
* Something neither Jesus nor Paul had anything to say about.
* Something that nine out of ten Christians probably don't realise was ever a question.

I'm not meaning to mention it as an example of hipocracy, except in the case of poorly read people castigating liberals for only paying attention to their chosen passages. They're fair game.

Tim Ellis said...

Certainly, the Church should teach commitment, fidelity, mutual support. But so does everyone else. Based on what Jesus said, does, or should, the Church have an understanding of marriage which differs from The World? If not, what is the point of it?

Does the church have to have a different view from the rest of the world in order to have a point?

Andrew Rilstone said...

No. I imagine, for example, that you treat a cut knee much the same whether you are a Mormon or Russian Orthodox. But I question the validity of saying "It is the TEACHING OF THE CHURCH based on the HOLY AND INFALLIBLE WORD OF GOD that you should CLEAN THE CUT dab on a little bit of THUS SAYETH THE LORD disinfectant and then CAREFULLY APPLY sticking plaster -- here I stand in this belief; I can do no other." Where the Church agrees with everyone else, it should keep its ecclesiastical mouth shut. "We don't have any opinions on omelette making or how to set the video" they should say.

If it always turns out that passages in the Bible which are presented as shocking and controversial -- the disciples apparently thought Jesus teaching on divorce too hard -- actually are, properly interpreted, restatements of platitudes which no-one has ever disagreed with; if it turns out that the Bible spends 66 very obscure books telling us that we should support goodness, be against wickedness, keep calm and carry on, then I'm not quite sure what the point of it is. (Unless you are -- as I suspect Rowan Williams is -- a sort of non-theistic Quaker who says "It doesn't matter what you believe, but going to big imposing church and sitting there quietly for a bit will put you in touch with Something, we aren't sure what it is, but you can call it God if you want to, and getting in touch with that Something will help you live your life." But again, if that's what the Church is for, why can't it keep its mouth shut about moral questions.