Is There Any Theological Basis For Making Opposition To Homosexuality and Abortion Tests of Christian Orthodoxy?

In this post, I am not interested in discussing what the “true” teachings of Christianity are. Partially this is because I don’t think there is any such thing as “true Christianity”. I do not think there is any reason to call “true Christianity” only those fundamentalist interpretations of the faith which claim (dubiously) to just obediently defer to the Bible in all matters. I do think that there is a possible way to talk about “true religion”, and it somewhat favors morally progressive believers, but even there I am still quite opposed to progressive believers’ attempts to whitewash their religions’ histories or to pretend that their more enlightened values are sufficiently rationally consistent with the texts and institutions that they treat as sacred and divinely guided. (For a full summary of my views on these and related issues, with copious links for further reading, go here.)

All that is important for purposes of this thread is that there are arguments that fundamentalists make against the morality of homosexuality and abortion and there are arguments that progressives make for the moral acceptability of homosexuality and abortion. I do not want this thread to be a debate about which side of either issue has either the Bible or other alleged sources of Christian truth more on their side. Those are potentially interesting questions, but I think they would be a distraction from the distinct issue I want to raise and which I would like readers, especially Christians (if my atheist readers would be so kind as to pass this on to them), to focus on.

The distinct issue I want to raise is the following, let’s assume for argument’s sake that there is such a thing as True Christianity (even though I think in fact there is not). Let’s also assume that Christianity should be interpreted as condemning homosexual sex and abortion (even though I rather adamantly would prefer for moral reasons and for the safety and dignity of gay people and women that it not).

What I want to know from conservative Christians, who hold these two beliefs, which we will be assuming are true only for argument’s sake, is the following:

On what theologically consistent basis are you making opposition to homosexuality and abortion the de facto (and sometimes even the explicit) tests of true Christian belief and of minimal Christian orthodoxy when assessing others’ professions of Christian faith?

Christians have disagreed with each other over a great multitude of issues, including important moral ones, while nonetheless acknowledging each other to be legitimately Christians in some minimally sufficient sense. Typically the tests of true Christianity have been beliefs like those expressed in the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. These beliefs were centered around questions of belief in God and the salvific work of Jesus. Schisms that fundamentally divided Christians tended to be over very specifically religious questions like whether the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Son in the Trinity and not just the Father, or whether humans are saved by faith alone or by faith combined with works performed by grace, or whether infants or adults were the proper subjects of baptism, etc.

These sorts of issues tended to cut to the very essence of the nature of God, of Jesus, and of salvation. They were to their core very distinctively theological issues, which many central, controversial biblical texts address. Some of these issues were of paramount importance and debate in the Christian churches since the earliest centuries of the faith’s very existence.

In contemporary times, a wide range of different conservative Protestant denominations and Catholics seem, at least publicly, to acknowledge each other as uncontroversially Christians. Many theological debates are still matters of bitter contention and abstract debate. But they seem far less frequently to be matters for fundamental schisms. Many evangelicals who explicitly base their votes on religious grounds are more willing to vote for the (wildly heterodox by traditional standards) Mormon Mitt Romney than the progressively Christian Barack Obama. American Catholic bishops offer the Eucharist to conservative politicians who explicitly defy Church moral teachings on the poor, on torture, on just war, and on divorce.

Yet those same bishops try to bully politicians who support abortion rights into submission by calling for priests to withhold the Eucharist from them. And evangelicals and Catholics alike condemn Barack Obama, liberal politicians in general, and even their morally progressive brethren as non-Christians seemingly primarily due to their positions on abortion and homosexuality.

To me, this looks like right wing political policy driving right wing theology, rather than the other way around. It looks like the Christian churches bullying the vulnerable–women demonized as “loose” and irresponsible, and a long mistreated and mistrusted sexual minority like gays–while other “sinners” whose “religious crimes” are more unambiguously denounced by Jesus (like divorcés) go with slaps on the wrist because they tend to belong to numerous and powerful demographics (e.g., heterosexual, middle aged men).

It looks to me, like these are centralized issues because of their roles in a politically constructed conservative identity. For their faith to have meaning and weight and not feel like a matter of convenience or uncontroversial moral common sense, it has to involve some costly beliefs. It has to involve some beliefs which separate believers from non-believers. There have to be some beliefs that only believers have and that only they could have because few (or no one) outside the faith would bother to have them. They have to have some beliefs which are not rationally grounded so they can be clear tests of faith, i.e., clear tests of a believer’s willingness to subordinate his intellect to the religion against his normal judgment. I think most religious people need to think of themselves as willing to believe even harsh truths lest they start to understand themselves as only engaged in self-indulgent wish-fulfillment. Being willing to think that the millions of people around them who have had abortions or gay sex are murderers and sexual deviants worthy of hell is a badge of unblinking intellectual honesty to them–rather than a sign of appallingly callous and miscalibrated moral judgment, as it is to most other modern people.

And yet in this age of utterly selfish and self-serving religiosity, the costs born that must be born by the litmus test beliefs cannot actually be expected to be ones that the powerful among the religious have to bear. So the beliefs that wind up being selected are ones that oh so conveniently  disproportionally burden those at the mercy of the powerful instead. The devout middle aged, middle class, monogamously married believer is comfortably able to have sex with his spouse whenever he likes so his austere and self-righteous demand for “sexual purity” only effectively burdens the young and the unmarried.

He also can afford contraception for his wife and so they can afford to ignore Catholic teachings against it with impunity while condemning public services that provide funding for abortions for those poor people who have less access to family planning education and resources and who get pregnant more often and at the risk greater poverty for their children, who will be raised in worse funded school districts and be more likely to wind up impoverished and/or incarcerated as adults.

The average, middle class, heterosexual believer’s marriage is not threatened by the condemnation of homosexuality. The sexual indiscretions of promiscuity or adultery are simply “sins” to be sincerely repented and forgiven by Jesus. They are not proof that one is not a Christian. The gay person’s entire homosexual sex life is taken to be sinful. The gay couple’s very marriage itself is morally invalid and an indiscretion in itself. Belief in the validity of the gay person’s sexuality effectively reveals that one is not even a Christian.

So, for all the vacuous talk about “all sins being equal–adultery and homosexuality alike”, the actual costs for this belief are in practice wildly disproportionately born by the vulnerable sexual minority and not by the believers who have demographic and financial power to determine the emphases of their religion and its de facto tests of orthodoxy.

So, think this dynamic of needing both costly, identity-marking beliefs and of needing them to be not actually very costly to those most powerful, is what is driving the contemporary conservative Christian’s obsession with making opposition to homosexuality and abortion the de facto tests of true and orthodox Christian belief.

Without getting into an argument about whether the Bible or the some supposed “theologically most consistent” interpretation of Christianity requires condemnation of homosexuality and/or abortion, what I really want to see you answer, conservative Christians, are these much narrower questions:

On what theological grounds do you conservative Christians feel justified in setting up opposition to homosexuality and abortion as the most decisive beliefs in determining the authenticity of your fellow Christians’ claims to be true believers? Why, besides the crass and self-serving political reasons I just speculated, should you be treating these two points of differences as as central to whether one is a Christian as you formerly treated only matters like belief in the divinity of Christ or the proper means of accepting God’s grace? Even if your interpretation of the Bible on these issues is correct, why should you be making issues that the Bible is virtually silent about (abortion) or only discusses peripherally and ambiguoulsy (homosexuality) into tests of sincere commitment to God and of proper understanding of the essence of your faith?

Atheist readers, if you would be kind enough to pass this challenge question on to your anti-gay, anti-abortion Christian friends and acquaintances, I would really appreciate it.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • ‘Tis Himself

    Since there are eleventy bazillion competing and contradictory flavors of Christianity, there have to be theological excuses for homophobia and forced birthing.

    Ever since I listened to two Christians arguing about infant baptism, both of them citing the same Biblical references, I knew that Christians could justify anything they were in favor of or against. The reason why there are eleventy bazillion Christian sects is a couple of Christians will have an argument about some point and each will go their separate way, preaching The True Word™ and damning the opposition as heretics.

    • Daniel Fincke

      Indeed. But I am interested in whether they are willing to explicitly own up to the fact that they are making abortion and homosexuality the standards of orthodoxy or disown the proposition that this is what they are doing. And then I am interested in seeing whether they grasp how novel and arbitrary and likely more political than theological it is that they are doing so.

  • eric

    It looks to me, like these are centralized issues because of their roles in a politically constructed conservative identity.

    Bing! I’d say you got it in one. In Engel v. Vitale, Justice Hugo Black famously said this: “[The Establishment Clause's] first and most immediate purpose rested on the belief that a union of government and religion tends to destroy government and to degrade religion.”

    While a political party is not strictly ‘government,’ I think the same lesson applies. By forming a union with the GOP, certain religious sects have become degraded. They have been tempted/corrupted to adopt platforms they would not otherwise, theologically, adopt, in order to get a piece of the political power pie.

    Although these two particular examples (abortion and homosexuality) may not be the best examples. Pro-business, pro-capitalism stances, and opposition poverty-reducing social support may better examples of the ‘union’ of Christianity and right wing politics degrading Christianity.

    • Kyle S

      I notice a lot of evangelicals make the non sequitor argument that because state-funded social safety nets didn’t take place in Biblical times, the Bible thus stand in opposition to them and supports free-market capitalism instead.

      I would ask Christians to show me where in either the Old or New Testaments is any prohibition against things like food stamps, unemployment insurance, social security, school lunch programs, etc. Sometimes I’ve heard them give the canard that these make people deify government and less reliant on God (I think Sharon Angle actually said as much), and that these programs promote “covetousness”.

  • Eamon Knight

    FWIW, Fred Clark of slacktivist has been making exactly this point for a while: conservative evangelicalism has become a tribal identity only loosely connected to religious faith per se, with “correct” positions on abortion and sexuality (and maybe evolution and one or two other issues) being the tribal markers. It’s certainly no longer the religion I was practicing back in the 70s (the election of Reagan being a turning point in my personal alienation).

    • RickR

      Yes I’ve read that too. “The Big Four™” – opposition to abortion, homosexuality, evolution and (more recently) climate science. Opposition to these four are considered critical to being accepted in the conservative evangelical community.

    • Daniel Fincke

      and (more recently) climate science


    • carlie

      It’s certainly no longer the religion I was practicing back in the 70s (the election of Reagan being a turning point in my personal alienation).

      This is a MAJOR issue in many denominations – the erasure of the history of their own movement. I grew up Southern Baptist, and didn’t know until I was in college that the whole reason that denomination exists was because they wanted to support slavery. The only reason I knew that conservatives were overtaking moderates in the SBC was because I knew a few people in seminary who talked about how new faculty seemed to be much more conservative than their retiring brethren, and how it seemed to be orchestrated. Most of the congregation in SBC churches don’t even realize there’s a centralized political group who set the tone for all of the pastoral training that goes on. And even from the viewpoint of someone in the pew, having one moderate pastor retire and the new one be more firey and fundamentalist seems like a single issue of personality rather than an overall trend in the entire denomination. And after a few years, they don’t even quite remember that things used to be interpreted differently as a whole,and new people attending don’t know that it was ever any different. And that’s only the example of one denomination. It’s like there is no such thing as history; everything that is now is what has always been. We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

  • Tomas

    Catholics tend to argue that if you hold to a teleological view of nature, then you should condemn homosexuality and abortion as a form of.. “dysteleology” I guess you would say.

    Dan, this reminds me that I’ve been reading the arguments of Edward Feser (a paleo-Thomist who makes arguments of this type. He says that Aquinas’ teleological argument is not of the Paley’s Watchmaker variety, so natural selection doesn’t work as a rebuttal to it. He’s criticized your “atheistic teleological” view of ethics on his blog by citing the Aristotelian distinction between artificial and natural teleology. I’m curious about what you make of arguments like these.

    • Daniel Fincke

      Hi Thomas. I hope to get to Feser’s article at some point but would rather do it in a post than here in the comments.

      A short answer in the meantime is that I think the distinction between “artificial and natural” teleology is simply outdated. Here is my argument for how marriage is, for example, a socially constructed (read: “artificial”) good and yet can have “intrinsic goodness”. And here is a post I wrote defending the morality of homosexuality within my perfectionist/consequentialist/teleological framework.

      The long and the short of it is that the total flourishing of a human being prioritizes maximal actualization of all our constituent powers (including and highly prioritizing capabilities for autonomy and capabilities for love). Fulfillment in these areas is vitally greater for gays than fulfillment in their non-rational powers of procreation through mere conjugal sex. To fulfill the full telos of the human being, i.e., maximal flourishing according to human powers, means to maximally fulfill our higher, rational, social, emotional, volitional, sexual, and aesthetic powers to their maximum. Gay sex and gay love do this for gay people way more than heterosexual sex does for them. The only tradeoff is that their penises and their vaginas do not participate in making babies through the conjugal act. And there is an increased likelihood they are are not coequal biological parents with their romantic partners. Fulfilling those powers seems like a meager priority compared to sexual fulfillment and sexual expression of true romantic love with all the attendant benefits to autonomy, aesthetics, and emotional and social health that come with that.

      No serious teleology taking human nature and biological nature seriously can look at gays and think they will thrive as people more fully if shamed and otherwise forced into celibacy or loveless/sexless marriages with people of the sex they are not attracted to.

  • malcolmkeating

    I already sent this to you via FB, but I’ll put it here for folks to comment on, if they’d like. Here’s one version of an argument explicitly put forward by Reformed (Calvinist) Christians:

    1. God is our creator.
    2. As creator, God has organized the world’s structure.
    3. This structure is given to us in the Bible, both explicitly (in rules like the Decalogue) and implicitly (in models like David, Jesus, and metaphors like the marriage of the Church/God).
    4. Someone who is an orthodox Christian is committed to the truth of the Bible (3) and to the role of God as creator (1 and 2).
    5. If an orthodox Christian rejects biblical gender roles or sexual norms, he is rejecting the authority of the Bible.
    6. If an orthodox Christian rejects biblical gender roles or sexual norms, he is rejecting God’s role as creator of these structures.
    7. Either of these rejections means heresy.

    Not all fundamentalists are of this variety, or reason this way, but I think Doug Wilson and his camp are some of the clearest about their assumptions and where they lead them. Feminism = heresy, etc. has lectures of “Sexual by Design” embedded as videos on it, lectures given at Indian University. They would see themselves as doing something absolutely NOT novel, but original to creation (and since sin has messed up nature, we can’t look to science or observation as a guide for ethics) and they do not divorce politics from religion, but subsume it all under the “dominion” that God has over the world.

    • Daniel Fincke

      Thanks Malcolm for sharing this publicly!

      I find it so arbitrary (and so clearly politically initiated) that this very modern nuclear family obsession is being read as the fundamental paradigm with which to view the entire faith. The early Christian church was so ambivalent about family (Jesus talked about “hating your mother and father”, Paul advised celibacy to all who could handle it, the Bible never spells out specific and unambiguous injunctions against abortion or promiscuity or polygamy, and the Church didn’t even come up with a sacrament for marriage for over a millenium). It’s such an anachronistic blindness for these Christians to read their modern reactionary views into the origins and core of their faith itself.

    • eric

      3. This structure is given to us in the Bible, both explicitly (in rules like the Decalogue) and implicitly (in models like David, Jesus, and metaphors like the marriage of the Church/God)….
      …5. If an orthodox Christian rejects biblical gender roles or sexual norms, he is rejecting the authority of the Bible.

      The problem (for them; I know you’re only explaining it) is that these two present a bit of a Catch-22. The implicit models – David, Jesus, etc. – rejected the gender roles and sexual norms today’s Christians defend. David had multiple wives. Jesus was ascetic who preached celibacy first, marriage only if you can’t handle that.

      So, here as in other areas, it appears to outsiders as if “I follow the bible” folk are just cherry picking the bits they want to follow anyway. When the rules support anti-gay behavior but the implicit models don’t, they choose the rules. When the models support anti-gay behavior but the rules don’t, they choose the models. It becomes pretty clear after a while which belief is the tail and which is the dog.

  • Gregory in Seattle

    Much of Christianity’s anti-sex and anti-birth control dogma can be traced back directly to Manichaeism, which between the third and seventh centuries was the chief rival to Christianity.

    Manichaeism was a gnostic religion that combined elements of Zoroasterism, Christianity, Buddhism and Mesopotamian paganism. In its heyday, it was the most widely dispersed religion on the planet: it was a common relgion among Roman soldiers (surpassing even Mithraism in many areas) and spred from England across southern Asia into India and even western China.

    It held that the universe was a battleground between the spiritual forces of good and the material forces of evil. The world was inherently wicked, so an elite group of adherents, the Elect, vowed to interact with it as little as possible. Those who chose to seek salvation — to shed the imprisoning cycle of death and rebirth for a final rebirth into the spirit world — would be baptized into the top level of the Manichaeist mysteries and thereafter abstain from material comforts, sex, even food.

    The rank-and-file non-elect were permitted to enjoy the material world; however, having children was not acceptable, as each child represented a spark of the divine light trapped in wickedness. Thus, the non-elect could engage in sex as long as it was non-reproductive. Masturbation, frottage, anal intercourse, contraception, abortion, homosexuality, even (according to Christian detractors) bestiality were permitted, even encouraged.

    Augustine of Hippo had been raised a Manichee and converted to Christianity in 387 — not coincidentally, just before Emperor Theodosius I declared Christianity the sole religion of the Roman Empire and issued an immediate death sentence on the Manichaeans. He became one of the chief shapers of Christian theology, and much of his work was aimed directly at refuting Manichaean doctrines. And thus Christianity came to accept only reproductive sex while rejecting every other type of sex act.

    So yes, there is a theological basis, but not a Biblical basis, for making opposition to homosexuality and abortion tests for Christian orthodoxy.

    Between the third and seventh centuries, approval of homosexuality, abortion or non-reproductive sex was seen as proof that you were yourself a Manichee. Under the laws of Christian Rome, that alone could merit a death sentence (as much as the pagans persecuted Christians, the Christians did far, far worse to anyone who was not the right sort of Christian.)

    Even after the Manichaeist hierarchy fell apart and the religion effectively ceased to exist, groups frequently appeared that were associated with Manichaeism: the Cathars, the Albigensians and the Bogomils had beliefs and practices similar to those of the Manichaeism, and elements of Manichaean iconography can still be found in the folk art of the Carpathian basin, northern India and western China. As far as the Roman Catholic Church (and to a lesser extent, the Orthodox and many Protestant churches) are concerned, Manichaeist “heresies” have never fully died out, which has helped to preserve the theology against non-reproductive sex as a test of orthodox doctrine.

    [Moderator's note: I combined two comments the commenter indicated he meant to be read as one]

  • malcolmkeating

    I don’t disagree with you that there’s an element of arbitrariness in many Christian political movements. And I’m certainly not here to defend the Dominionist movement or Wilson et al. However, if you’re asking for the most cogent arguments that gender roles and sexual norms are central to Christian orthodoxy, I think we need to be careful about the context of statements.

    Jesus’ ambivalence about the family was not absolute, but relative to his claim to be the primary focal point for his followers. He had some of the harshest words to say about divorce–and the people I mention do think divorce is right up there with feminism and homosexuality.

    The requirement that church leaders be the “husband of one wife” has been understood as a reforming movement against polygamy, and the gendered metaphors about the Church and Christ are a crucial hermeneutic for all of this talk about norms embedded in creation.

    (This is not to say that the Bible is self-interpreting, but that presenting the strongest version of an opponent’s argument first is a good practice, as you know & practice)

    Rosemary Radford Ruether has written a book documenting some of the actual shifts in Christian teaching ( but the problem, of course, is that Christians can always claim that their way is orthodox and the history of the church is full of deviations from orthodoxy. Just as they’ll reject appeals to nature (because of sin marring our epistemic faculties and messing with creation itself) they’ll reject appeals to the history of the so-called “visible” church.

    How much the average political activist Christian has thought about all of these arguments is unclear to me. But the Doug Wilsons of the world are very busy educating a new generation (both through classical Christian schools and home-schooling) which will be taking them seriously.

    • Daniel Fincke

      (This is not to say that the Bible is self-interpreting, but that presenting the strongest version of an opponent’s argument first is a good practice, as you know & practice)

      By all means, that’s what I want you to do.

  • CJ

    Daniel, you might find the writings of liberal Christian philosopher Eric Reitan interesting on this subject. He has a number of posts on the relationship between his view of what Christianity should be and homosexuality.

    Here is a link to his blog.

    He is one of the authors that wrote a response to the New Atheists a few years back. I don’t agree with him about the existence of a god, but he is definitely worth reading.

  • Anne C. Hanna

    If you really want to hate your life, you can try slogging through John Paul II’s book, The Theology of the Body Human Love in the Divine Plan (Parish Resources). It attempts to demonstrate from a Catholic perspective why these issues of sexual “morality” really are centrally important and are not just like any other moral questions.

    It’s been a while since I’ve read it, and I’ve tried to blot the whole experience from my mind because it was unbearably tedious, but basically it’s a lot of nonsense about male-female romantic partnerships (with very firm but incredibly vaguely specified gender roles) being the most fundamental and important part of our lives, the greatest gift their deity gave us, and the central focus through which the divine enters most people’s lives (unless they’re called to religious vocations, in which case the deity effectively becomes their spouse, which metaphor is frequently extended creepily far beyond where anybody who’s ever been a snickering teenager would take it). It is, after all, the subject of the very first story in the Christian scriptures, the one that supposedly explains how sin came into the world and all, so it must be important, y’know?

    The argument then is that homosexuality and contraception/abortion are violations of the natural ordering of this most fundamental relationship, and thus are the gravest crimes. Also, abortion is extra-bad because it’s the slaughter of the most innocent possible humans, and thus is even worse than murdering an adult or supporting the death penalty. Divorce is bad because it’s a human attempt at severing this deity-ordained relationship, implying a failure to take it seriously, but at least it’s not a disgusting mockery of that relationship, like gay or contraception-enhanced straight relationships are. Masturbation is up there as pretty damn bad too, for similar reasons, but it doesn’t have a lot of political relevance right now so it’s not talked about so much.

    The lens this is all viewed through is that the most important thing isn’t whether or not people are hurt in the real world, because all that hurt will be made up in heaven. Instead, the most important thing is that one remain religiously pure in order to be able to get to that heaven. If maintaining that purity means that your or someone else’s real life gets totally fucked up, then you let that shit get fucked up, because it’s totally worth it in the end.

    And that’s (one of the many reasons) why I hate religion.

    • Daniel Fincke

      I have to admit I am heartened to see that even the Pope can’t keep his books in print.

    • Anne C. Hanna

      Oh, huh, I didn’t even notice that. I just clicked on that one because I recognized the cover from the edition I read (newly purchased by my mother) maybe about six or seven years ago. Anyway, it’s a compilation of a series of talks he gave, and it looks like it was superseded by a newer translation shortly after I read it, said newer translation being still in print, so, sorry to give you false hope.

      There were some “useful” supplementary materials in the original version. I dunno if they’re included in the newer one, and the Amazon excerpt doesn’t include the table of contents, but it *does* have an lengthy introductory essay in which the translator gushes fanboyishly about how he received access to the deceased Pope’s own handwritten notes on the book, and then used these notes to ensure that this translation was even more faithful to said Pope’s intentions than the translation that was published while JPII was actually alive. So if you’re into that kind of thing, go for the new version, I guess. The newer one is also available for the Kindle, so you don’t have to be embarrassed by anybody seeing the cover if you read it in public. Of course, if you buy a new rather than a used copy, your money probably goes to support a rather shockingly evil organization, so there’s that too.

    • John Morales


      I have to admit I am heartened to see that even the Pope can’t keep his books in print.

      Maybe something to do with the fact that John Paul II has been dead since 2005?


  • Quine

    I’m with ‘Tis Himself in comment #1. Theology is based on non-falsifiable premises, so it can be made to logically support any conclusion. That is why no religion can ‘prove’ to any other religion that it has the ‘true’ dogma, and why they all splinter into warring sects. Someone may very well come up with a Christian justification based on universal love, while another comes up with rejection based on divine revelation through Saul of Tarsus (Paul), adding some ancillary crap like homosexuals being sent a special challenge from on high to live a life of sacrifice through chastity.

    My advice is, don’t go there; let them fight it out among themselves and stay clear of the nonsense that will be flung in both direction. (Always reminds me of monkeys flinging a more physical substance.)

  • Pen

    A South African/Australian Anglican friend was talking to me about schisms in his church, not over homosexuality or abortion, but over the ordination of women. And my feeling was, well, participation in these specific churches or sects is voluntary, and perhaps also legitimately subject to rules. If the rules don’t suit, you have a schism, you form a new church, which was what was happening around him – yes, it’s very painful for him and others, but it seems the only way to go.

    But who owns Christianity? In my opinion, nobody can do that. Not even the actual current believers can own it. It’s a cultural phenomenon that has no official borders and no fixed membership. I have had people ask me, if I’m an atheist, why do I party at Christmas? Why do I go to concerts in churches, and leave extra money to keep the places standing? It’s because, although I’m at least a third generation atheist, Christianity is still a part of my heritage and as such, it belongs to me also. It’s integrated into the institutions and fabric of my countr(ies). I recognise some of my values as having roots and origins in European Christianity, especially those that have to do with material possessions and wealth. Many (most?) American Christians are ‘no true Christian’, according to that particular set of values. But it was only ever one of many.

    Actually, apart from disagreements over the existence of God and the harm done by specific bigotries, I don’t object to other people’s versions of Christianity, but I do resent their attempt to seize control of Christianity (TM?), which is an aspect of my ancestral culture, on any pretext whatsoever. If they had their way, Christianity was invented a couple of millenia after the death of Christ, because most of what happened in Europe in the intervening period doesn’t count.

  • Kyle S

    Dan would you consider also challenging some liberal Christians who state that evangelicals who obsess over abortion and homosexuality but neglect Jesus’ teachings about marginalized people aren’t Real Christians (TM)?

    I see that quite a bit on Daily Kos – the assertion that the only parts of the Bible that matter are the passages written in red ink.

  • qbsmd

    “On what theologically consistent basis are you making opposition to homosexuality and abortion the de facto tests of true Christian belief?…Typically the tests of true Christianity have been beliefs like those expressed in the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed… They were to their core very distinctively theological issues, which many central, controversial biblical texts address.”

    I have difficulty accepting that schisms in the past have been purely over theological doctrines, rather than theological doctrines that were convenient proxies for the contemporary culture war. I’d hypothesize that sects had already divided into groups that the members identified with, and the schism was a formalization of that division based on whatever excuse was convenient. Does anyone more familiar with religious history have any supporting or falsifying information relevant to that hypothesis?

    • smrnda

      I’m thinking that the split that formed the Southern Baptist Convention – the dispute about slavery – was probably something that people were either for or against and then just went cruising for a theological justification.

      There’s been a lot of Protestant and particularly Evangelical and Pentecostal missionary work in Latin America. I doubt that the real motivation is converting people to a ‘more theologically correct’ belief system but it’s probably more an export of US culture and political ideology. Plus, it opens up vast new markets for the American Christian Media Empire.

      Disputes over liberation theology might fit his as well.

  • Verbose Stoic

    I’m not up on the latest rhetoric on all of this, but part of this makes me think that there’s something you’re msising here:

    Yet those same bishops try to bully politicians who support abortion rights into submission by calling for priests to withhold the Eucharist from them.

    This is specific to a specific denomination of Christianity (and looks like a reference to Catholicism specifically). But there’s a strong difference between arguing that someone is not really Catholic for their views and arguing that they are not Christian, and so the comparisions with the theological splits don’t work all that well since one can concede that those disagreements mean that they aren’t Catholic while not denying that they are still broadly Christian.

    The contraceptives example works best, but there’s also a distinction there between doing something that the Church thinks is wrong and basically arguing and taking the stance that the Church is wrong about that thing being wrong. Just citing that Catholics use contraceptives doesn’t mean that they think it right in any way; they may simply be choosing to do the wrong thing. Sinning, in and of itself, isn’t a rejection of the Church’s teachings, but would simply be giving in to practicality or other concerns and choosing to do the thing that you at least accept might well be wrong. But if one argues and takes the position that the Church is wrong, that can be seen as a rejection of it, and rejecting the Church is, in fact, covered in the Apostle’s Creed.

    Now, I disagree that simply disagreeing with specific Church doctrine means that you reject the Church, but I can see why some people might argue that it is. This, then, would come down to the details of what the theology is and what really counts.

    Note also that while you might not hear about it as often, there are a number of people who will argue, for example, that thinking that contraception is right is also rejecting the Church’s teachings and would mean that they aren’t, for example, Catholic. I think I’ve heard Michael Coren, for example, be fairly vocal about such things. Again, I disagree, but the reason you hear more about abortion and homosexuality is that right now they are in the news, and so people want to talk about them and when they do the media covers it. That doesn’t mean that the people calling for it are actually inconsistent, although certainly some of them are.

  • SayNoMore

    Well I tried it, here are her answers:

    “On what theological grounds do you conservative Christians feel justified in setting up opposition to homosexuality and abortion as the most decisive beliefs in determining the authenticity of your fellow Christians’ claims to be true believers?”

    A: I don’t, we don’t. Who does? Does he have any links.

    “Why, besides the crass and self-serving political reasons I just speculated, should you be treating these two points of differences as as central to whether one is a Christian as you formerly treated only matters like belief in the divinity of Christ or the proper means of accepting God’s grace?”

    A: Did I? Why besides your crass lack of guns are you now arguing with Christians when you formerly murdered them in the USSR?… What’s that? People in the past are in fact different people even though they’re part of the same group? Quelle shock.

    A: Does he evidence the claim that people are treating these beliefs as equivalent in importance to the divinity of Jesus, and Central to whether one is Christian? Because we [she's some sort of Baptist I think] just think that people who are wrong about gay marriage and abortion are bad Christians – but those who deny the divinity of Jesus? Not Christian.

    “Even if your interpretation of the Bible on these issues is correct, why should you be making issues that the Bible is virtually silent about (abortion) or only discusses peripherally and ambiguoulsy (homosexuality) into tests of sincere commitment to God and of proper understanding of the essence of your faith?”

    A: I don’t know. For the same reason you used to beat your wife. You have stopped beating your wife right?

    A: As for ‘why is it so important’? Which I guess is the real angle you’re dancing around – wasting a real point to attempt to exaggerate what’s really a valid question about Conservative religious choices into a damning condemnation of an illegitimate membership test that doesn’t really exist.
    Well, it’s important because there are so many people opposing it. No Christians are out there pushing back against the divinity of Jesus (excluding possibly the Mormons – and they get a lot of pushback, and genuine questions about whether they’re Christian). Tons of people are supporting abortions and homosexuality, Christians included. So we need to oppose that pragmatically, if we are to support our beliefs. Get back to us when Christians start denying Jesus they way they support gay marriage.

    Nothing I can do about the sarcasm, I think you offended her with your assertions about her behavior, and she is no longer interested in ‘arguing with [my] internet misinformation’, so I guess I haven’t reached her with the other links we’ve been exchanging.

  • williamsnedden

    SayNoMore@15: “I don’t, we don’t. Who does?” Your friend is either being deliberately disingenuous or simply isn’t paying attention. Here are some names for her: Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, Fred Phelps, Rick Warren, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, & Just About Every Right Wing Conservative Christian Preacher With A Microphone And A Big Mouth. What rock has she been hiding under for chrissakes?

    And just what is the distinction between “bad Christian” and “good Christian”? Isn’t that pretty much what we’re talking about? If you’re a “bad Christian”, then by definition you’re not doing Christianity “correctly”. What is the difference between this and someone who’s not a Christian? Is a chess player who insists on playing chess using the rules of checkers still a chess player?

    Daniel: It would be nice to see you formulate a rigorous response to Feser. It seems to me that his reliance on the Aristotelian distinction between “natural” and “artificial” teleology only supports his point if one reads Aristotle with Thomistically-colored glasses. Aristotle qua Aristotle doesn’t really get him where he wants to go.

  • deborahbell

    I was raised as a fundamentalist and in my home a politician’s stance on the abortion issue was the litmus test for whether my parents felt they could morally vote for that person. I am a very different person now, but I remember those days, and I want to try to answer from what I remember.

    It has always been clear in the circles I was in that what makes one a Christian is a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Now that is some religious fundie speak to a lot of people, obviously; the point is that in order to qualify, one must have accepted that one is a sinner in need of salvation and that Jesus is the way of salvation and have an ongoing ‘relationship’ with god on this level. Usually the first part is accomplished by a sinner’s prayer but that wasn’t a requirement. Usually it’s necessary to accompany it by baptism but we saw that as obedience not salvific. The point is, one was not a Christian because one claimed one was, or because one attended church, or because one was baptized. Roman Catholics especially were viewed with suspicion because it was thought that Catholic doctrine overemphasized works over faith and grace and that it was therefore hard to achieve the reliance on grace that was necessary for true salvation within the Catholic church. It was once pointed out to me that a caller on a Protestant radio call in show could say “my cousin is not a Christian. He’s a Catholic” and the host would simply agree because to them and the listeners that would make sense. I once brought a friend over to my mother’s house for dinner – a girl who was Catholic but whom I had met at Campus Crusade and who was as religious as I was, and before we even went inside the house, as soon as I introduced them, my mother asked her questions to determine if she was saved according to my mother’s standards. She did not, however, question her about her positions on abortion or homosexuality.

    My mother especially felt that abortion was this huge evil monstrousity that every American was morally guilty of because the country allowed it. She used terms like holocaust, homicide, murder, etc. She didn’t seem to be angry at the individual women who chose abortion so much as horrified at the fact of abortion being legal. I remember once or twice hearing her discuss how there was a political figure she would like to vote for, who she felt was a better candidate overall than their opponent, but she always decided that she could not vote for someone who actively or passively supported abortion rights.

    That being said, I never heard her say that a person could not be a Christian and be pro-choice. I don’t know if she thought it went without saying or if it was that it wasn’t about whether you were a Christian but about whether you were willing to allow this huge moral sin to continue.

    I heard similar rhetoric from leaders we listened to both local and national; I grew up listening to Focus on the Family and Prime Time America (a fundamentalist political call in AM radio show, think Beck crossed with that overnight guy who talks about chupacabras and UFOs).

    As to homosexuality, the overall feeling I get from my mother to this day is disgust. At one point she refused to speak to me for over a year because she had decided to believe that I was “turning lesbian” (based on my having a male gay friend and not having a boyfriend, apparently). As recently as last week, we were discussing my aunt staying with my cousin, who is gay and living with his partner, and my mother stated that it had been hard for my aunt to go through this hardship (staying with her own son and his partner whom he loves) and she said it with disgust and obviously expected me to understand the problem. Overwhelmingly, fundamentalists I know, even ones who are not living according to their own rules, even their own sexual rules (living in heterosexual relationships out of wedlock) seem to use their religion to justify a feeling of disgust for homosexuality.

    I found that my co-religionists loved a repentant sinner. They loved a celibate homosexual who was in clear pain struggling with his “sinful” desires. They loved an addict who kept coming back after binging on her favorite drugs. They loved a woman who had had an abortion and was broken up about it. They loved a woman who had had a pregnancy out of wedlock and kept the baby and was sufficiently shamed by it. What they didn’t love was a happy homosexual living peacefully with a partner, an activist fighting for marijuana legalization, a woman coming out with an abortion story and saying it was the best thing for her, even though I have found that the latter are often happier, more well-adjusted and more productive members of society than the former.

    So while if I asked, my mother would probably say that you can actually be a Christian and do many things she disapproves of, including support abortion and rights for gay people, in practice, often those who do these things are viewed with suspicion because they don’t fit the mold we have set up as what a Christian looks like. I suppose it’s No True Scotsman, but they really believe it – they call it “And you shall know them by their fruit”, a bible quotation which they use to mean that what a person really is will show through, and so if someone supports what is really evil, probably they are really evil (and they’ve already decided what really evil is).

  • Pierce R. Butler

    … issues that the Bible … only discusses peripherally and ambiguoulsy (homosexuality) …

    Huh? What’s peripheral or ambiguoul about

    STONE ‘EM TO DEATH!!!1!”


  • Kevin Aldrich

    Okay, I’ll add this here and on FB.

    First off, the only solid basis I can see for homosexual behavior being sinful is it is sex outside of matrimony, and abortion being sinful is if you consider it murder. So, that fits into your rules.

    That said, I believe these two items are the current “more than mortal sins” simply because of their visibility. There’s no real basis for arguing these as a bigger deal than other things. And I also believe there is quite a bit of non-Christian condemnation by people who proport to be “good Christians” because, well, for a long time these things were easy targets. The idea of homosexual behavior makes a LOT of people uncomfortable and abortion just seems bad when you think of it just as stopping a life that could have been a full one.

    So – because they were relatively easy targets (as opposed to respected members of the clergy who happen to be molesting children on the side – no signs there!) THEY get the focus from people who don’t understand, first, they are being bullies, and second, they need to reread Matthew 7 about their role in passing judgement on others. Makes me glad to be a lousy Christian – I f’ it up in different ways that aren’t quite as visible or apparently as obnoxious to others.

  • plutosdad

    From my past, when I was against abortion (except to save the mother’s life) and a christian:
    My parents taught me (and I mostly accepted) that if a politician didn’t want to protect the most vulnerable then how could we trust him to protect anyone else? (I felt the same way about adultery: if a politician lied to his spouse why should I not think he’s lying to me? but that was not a litmus test)

    For the argument “but they do all these other things that are worse”, we’d dismiss it and argue “the ends don’t justify the means”, meaning: accepting a politician that allowed abortion because he is right on everything else is doing evil in order to have a good result. It was better to never compromise.

    For the argument “but you are compromising on everything else” we’d say “if we are wrong about abortion then life is the one thing we can’t ever take back. We can make reparations for any other injustice, but cannot give someone back their life”

    I was never really against gay people. I might have been against gay marriage, but it was not a big issue for me, having always had gay friends.

  • John Morales

    Your references contain insufficient information to motivate me to click on them.

    Can you summarise to what the links point and how it’s relevant to the OP?

    [Moderator's note, this comment was replying to a spam comment from David Mabus which has now been removed]

  • Anne C. Hanna

    5000 whining atheists

    And I want to know where this number you keep flinging around comes from. [citation massively needed]

    [Moderator's note, this comment was replying to a spam comment from David Mabus which has now been removed]

  • Eamon Knight

    Is this guy already known around these parts? ‘Cuz his tone sounds suspiciously like someone we all know and love….and who is, IIRC, under court order to stay the hell away.

    [Moderator's note, this comment was replying to a spam comment from David Mabus which has now been removed]

  • Daniel Fincke

    Is this guy already known around these parts? ‘Cuz his tone sounds suspiciously like someone we all know and love

    Yes, it’s our old friend.