Gay-hatin’ Gospel (pt. 4)

According to research by the Barna Group:

The most common perception is that present-day Christianity is “anti-homosexual.” Overall, 91 percent of young non-Christians and 80 percent of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a “bigger sin” than anything else.

How did such a strange thing come to pass?

Theory No. 4: The Exegetical Panic Defense

In American popular culture, the most accurate and affectionate portrayal of an evangelical Christian is Ned Flanders. Seriously. He’s overly earnest and myopically naive, but overall he is, like the majority of our evangelical Christian neighbors and relatives, a Very Nice Person. Barna’s survey results above thus present us with an odd conundrum: What is it about homosexuals in particular that turns these otherwise Very Nice People into viciously negative people characterized by their “excessive contempt”?

Part of the answer, I think, has little to do with homosexuals or homosexuality per se. It has to do, rather, with epistemology — with the need for certainty and the panicked hostility that surfaces when that certainty is threatened.

“We see through a glass, darkly,” St. Paul said, warning against the temptation to chase the will-o’-the-wisp of certainty. But American evangelicalism is largely based on the idea that certainty is not only possible, but necessary. Mandatory, even. This certainty can be achieved thanks to the one-legged stool of the Evangelical Unilateral.

That’s a made-up term, but it describes something real. It’s a play on the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” — an approach to theological thinking that relies on the four foundations of scripture, tradition/community, reason and experience.

The evangelical approach to theological thinking is exactly like this Wesleyan method, except it doesn’t include tradition or community. Or reason. Or experience. All of those things are viewed, instead, as potentially corrosive threats to the pure certainty offered by scripture alone — by the unambiguous and self-evident, prima facie “literal” meaning of scripture. Such an approach requires not only that the text itself be pure,* accessible, infallible, inerrant and impervious to misinterpretation but also that the reader of the text be pure, insightful, infallible, inerrant and incapable of misinterpretation. It requires that the reader be some kind of Platonic ideal, a blank slate uninfluenced by culture, language, intellect or life experience. That is, of course, impossible. The point here, however, is not to evaluate or criticize this evangelical epistemology, or to point out all the ways in which it does not and cannot work, but rather to acknowledge descriptively that this is how American evangelical Christians attempt to view the world.

When faced with apparent contradictions amongst scripture, tradition, reason and experience, a Christian applying something like the Wesleyan Quadrilateral will attempt to reconcile them. A Christian applying the Evangelical Unilateral will, instead, determine that they don’t need to be reconciled and that any apparent contradictions between scripture and reason, or between scripture and tradition (i.e., how others have interpreted that same text), or even between scripture and their own life experience must be settled by embracing the apparent meaning of the former and rejecting the apparent meaning of the latter.

A rather vivid example of this is provided by our old friend Marshall Hall, proprietor of the Web site FixedEarth.com. Hall believes the Bible tells us that the earth is “fixed” — that it does not rotate or revolve, but sits unmoving at the center of the universe. Reason and experience explicitly contradict this belief, and tradition suggests that Hall is misinterpreting the passages he cites as proof of his fixed-earth theory, but he doesn’t care about any of those things. Sola scriptura! The Bible says it, he believes it, that settles it.**

Young Earth Creationism is another infamous example of this Unilateralist epistemology at work. The starting point for adherents of this belief is that the Bible teaches that the world is only 6,000 or so years old. If science claims otherwise, then science must be rejected.

That’s actually relatively easy to manage if you’re not yourself a scientist. Those of us who are non-scientists rely on the conclusions of expert others, supported by the assurances of their peers. This is all very authoritative and seemingly trustworthy, and rejecting it is no small feat, but it is still somewhat abstract, somewhat removed from our own direct experience. Rejecting science due to its apparent contradiction with scripture is still far easier than rejecting one’s own experience. That hits much closer to home and involves grappling with a far more difficult level of cognitive dissonance.

And that — the dissonance that comes from questioning one’s own conscience and experience — is what underlies what I’m calling here the Exegetical Panic Defense. This is what happens when an evangelical who has been taught to believe in the Big Gay Evil finally gets to know a flesh-and-blood homosexual human being and starts to think that, actually, this person doesn’t really seem like they are evil or a threat or righteously miserable due to their sordid “alternative lifestyle.”

For some other Christian, someone relying on something like the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, this can be an instructive experience. Those kinds of Christians are allowed, and even required, to learn from their experience, from their reason and conscience.*** For such people, this new friend (or old friend coming out with new information) will serve as a tonic against the idea that Christians ought to be characterized by an “excessive contempt” for homosexuals. (For a real-world example of just such a case, see this agonized and agonizing e-mail recently received by Andrew Sullivan.)

But for an evangelical relying on the Unilateral, weighing your own experience against the purportedly crystal clear teachings of scripture is verboten. Something’s gotta give and that something, in this case, is their own experience, conscience and instincts. That’s when the panic-inducing cognitive dissonance kicks in and fight-or-flight takes over. And then anything could happen.

The stakes here are higher than you may appreciate — their faith, and thus also their sense of identity, is on the line. The Unilateral requires a faith that is so inflexible it becomes brittle — it can never bend, only break. The crisis occurring for them is much like the one that happened to my college friend in Jericho — the young-earth creationist who was confronted with the ruins of a neolithic wall thousands of years older than his God. But in addition to the disturbing sense that the certainty they’d been promised is slipping through their fingers, these evangelicals are also forced to cope with the deeply unsettling thought that their own mercy may exceed that of God.

That kind of crisis can result in someone chucking their faith entirely. Or they may try to reassert that certainty even more forcefully. That effort — fearful, desperate, defensive, hostile, a bit too white-knuckled and wide-eyed, and vindictively proclaiming the rightness of withholding mercy from the undeserving — manifests itself as something that looks very much like “excessive contempt.” These Christians may not like the idea of lashing out against their new friend, but it’s less terrifying than the slippery, bewildering landscape of a world in which they can no longer say, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”

This dynamic doesn’t account for the larger causes of the phenomenon described by the Barna survey above. It doesn’t explain how it came to be that an excessive contempt for homosexuals is the “most common perception” of American Christianity, for Christians and non-Christians alike. But while it doesn’t explain where this perception and this emphatically anti-homosexual teaching comes from, I think it does help to explain why it resonates and persists among evangelical Christians in particular. So I don’t see this theory as a broader explanation, but as yet another contributing factor.

We looked earlier at the case of other Christians who seem to begin with a visceral antipathy toward homosexuals and then seek a theological justification for it. This is almost the opposite of that — Christians who seem, against their own inclinations and their own better judgment — to adopt this antipathy on the basis of theological teaching they don’t seem wholly comfortable with. I’m really not sure which is worse, but this latter case seems almost poignantly tragic for all involved.

OK, next up, Theory No. 5: It’s the Politics, Stupid.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* “Pure” here meaning not only reliable and untainted, but also unitary and wholly without internal conflict, tension, contradiction or paradox. This approach requires that revelation must never contradict or seem to contradict itself. Any such contradictions, real or apparent, would have to be resolved arbitrarily, since this approach provides for — and allows for — no principle or mechanism that would enable us to reconcile or decide between competing revelatory trump cards.

** It bears repeating here that Marshall Hall’s claim of the pre-eminence of scripture is bogus. He claims, as all Unilateralists do, that he is treating the Bible with great respect as the final arbiter of all things. But this is not what he is really doing. What he is really doing is making his interpretation of the Bible the final arbiter of all things. Therefore what he is ultimately arguing is that he, Marshall Hall, is the final arbiter of all things. His assertion, in other words, is not really that the Bible is inerrant and infallible, but that he is. The ability to make such a claim about oneself without bursting out laughing requires about six different kinds of denial plus a heavy dose of duplicity.

*** It occurs to me here that this discussion inevitably leads us to the story of “Highway 61 Revisited” and to Abraham’s sacrifice on Mt. Moriah. Here we have the ultimate example of revelation in conflict with reason, experience and tradition (not to mention in conflict with conscience, sanity and every other example of revelation). I can’t find the Kierkegaard just now, so we’ll have to save that topic for a future post.

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  • Spalanzani

    I guess it pretty much goes without saying that Scott’s comments are once again completely irrelevent. Does anyone remember the last time Fred even made a post about interpreting laws? He’s made a few recently about how certain specific laws are bad for various reasons (the whole manufactured homes thing, for instance), but I don’t recall him ever opining on how they should be interpreted or carried out. He certainly didn’t say that they were unconstitutional simply because he didn’t like them.
    I suppose that if Fred ever shut this blog down and opened up “The Ultimate Buffy Information Site” or something like that, Scott would still hang around in the comments and rave about Fred’s liberal COMPASSION (TM) .

  • G-Do

    Scottbot has toiled enough in the garden of ambiguity, and will let someone else demonstrate how only a liberal could infallibly interpret that ‘eighteen years of age’ actually means eighteen years of age.
    My scouter is reading a Strauss level of OVER NINE THOUSAND

  • Spalanzani

    burritoboy: “And, of course, it’s hardly like the presence of homosexuals was unknown before, say, 1970. But the evangelical community paid little more than perfunctory attention to homosexuality until after a certain point in very recent history (at some point after 1970, that is).”
    Well, wasn’t the 1970s when the Gay Rights movement really got under way?
    On Mythbusters : having never seen this show, am I wrong in thinking that it’s basically “Snopes, the Televison Series”?

  • Spalanzani

    G-Do: “My scouter is reading a Strauss level of OVER NINE THOUSAND”
    I think I am now morally obligated to kill you.

  • Posted by: Spalanzani | Oct 26, 2007 at 01:06 AM :: On Mythbusters : having never seen this show, am I wrong in thinking that it’s basically “Snopes, the Televison Series”?
    Well, it’s more like “Snopes, the Television Series – WITH LOTS OF EXPLOSIONS!!!!!!”

  • G-Do

    I think I am now morally obligated to kill you.
    LOL typical liberal, using “morals” to make “judgements!” Know what that gets you? A pot full of Billary and Al Gore on your cereal box! Doesn’t make sense? Doesn’t have to!
    OK, serious posting time:
    What he is really doing is making his interpretation of the Bible the final arbiter of all things. Therefore what he is ultimately arguing is that he, Marshall Hall, is the final arbiter of all things. His assertion, in other words, is not really that the Bible is inerrant and infallible, but that he is. The ability to make such a claim about oneself without bursting out laughing requires about six different kinds of denial plus a heavy dose of duplicity.
    That subject deserves its own thread. I have often heard the term “bibliolatry” used in criticism of fundamentalists, but I think this misses the point. This kind of Bible-centric attitude is not idolatrous worship of scripture, but something else, entirely. Ultimately, no matter how coercive or persuasive an authority is, the choice to obey it must be made by an independent human agency. But fundamentalists don’t seem to want to recognize that.
    Instead, they would rather believe that God manipulates them from afar, pulling their strings in the dark like a shadow-puppet-master. They are the instruments of his redeeming grace, and walking in the faith, or so it goes. In this context, evangelism becomes not a communication between autonomous agents with the intent of persuading one to adopt the beliefs of the other. Rather, it is an arcane ritual by which one puppet – under the full control of his master – notifies the other puppet of the strings attached to her own body. The other puppet, of course, was never in control; she was merely playing the role of “unbeliever” in the cosmic drama. In short, free will is non-existent, evangelism is a meaningless act, and God is an adolescent boy playing with his action figures, alone.
    The consequences for holding such an absurd world-view are dire. Your “interpretation” of the Bible is no longer your “interpretation,” as that would involve rational choice. Rather, it is what God wants you to think. You become caught up in the eternal game, in which you have no real choice – and thus, you have no real existential stakes in it, either. But the premises of the whole thing are flawed. Human beings do have a choice. The puppet-master’s world is a fiction. It is a comforting fiction because it absolves all its adherents of real responsibility for themselves and their actions. It is a safe fiction because everything that happens in this world was meant to happen, and thus nothing is ever unpredictable (in retrospect, anyway). It is a lukewarm fiction because the moral worth of every predetermined human act is essentially zero.
    The fundamentalist would object that he does view himself as being morally unworthy, and that his actions do have moral meaning. He might also argue that people do have choice – the choice to turn away from the light. This is revealed to be a non-choice, a choice with a single degree of freedom, as the fundamentalist will readily acknowledge humanity’s capacity to turn away from God but not its capacity to come closer to God, or even to remain standing in place. And without that choice, that first necessary capacity, the statement is meaningless, and the fundamentalist’s worldview is rendered hopelessly incoherent.
    PS this is sparta pedobear imma chargin mah laser saving private brandon caturday tay zonday

  • G-Do

    I guess I should also say that:
    Rather, it is what God wants you to think.
    I think this is the step in the process where you start to elevate yourself to the position of God. If God really is pulling all the strings, and you are completely removed from the equation, you can do no wrong. Because God’s in charge, right? You’ve surrendered the reins of your life to Christ Jesus, yeah? And God wouldn’t fuck with you, cuz he’s God. So you’re set, insofar as tricky moral questions and hermeneutics go. Everyone else who disagrees with you must be just jerking you around.
    (See Job and Abraham for examples of times when God actually did fuck with someone who worshipped him).

  • Jesurgisilac – I think you might need to check whether the Scottish laws mean that only one of the people in an unmarried relationship can become the legal foster parent or whether it really does mean that only a person who is not in a partnership can be a foster parent. The English law on adoption used to be that only a single person or married could adopt: in practice, gay couples were allowed to adopt, but only one of them was the legal parent (which means gets to make decisions for the child etc), just like with a straight cohabiting couple. This caused problems for the ‘parent’ without legal rights if the couple split up, but was otherwise pretty much irrelevant.

  • trevor

    Fred, do please post your thoughts on the Mt. Moriah story at some point – I’d be fascinated to hear them. It’s long been one of those ‘what am I supposed to do with this?’ stories for me. What on earth am I supposed to take from a story about the all powerful, loving God of the universe telling someone to perform child sacrifice? And then being pleased that Abraham was willing to go along with it? I’d love to be able to get my head around this, especially because I think that the promise made a bit earlier in the story, “I will bless you and all nations will be blessed through you” is maybe the most important line in the Bible. I think we’d all be doing a lot better if Christians remembered that God’s people are supposed to be in the business of blessing.

  • @trevor:
    As much as I dislike his later descent into having his head so far up his own technobabble he was breathing containment fields, not to mention his online rhapsodies on the theme of “OH MY GOD THE BROWN PEOPLE WILL KILL US ALL”, I think one of Dan Simmons’ characters in Hyperion reached a brilliant conclusion about the meaning of the mock sacrifice of Isaac:
    Abraham was testing God.

  • Ian

    My favorite Mythbusters episode is the escape from Alcatraz. Historically, three prisoners disappeared and were presumed drowned. Apparently, it was possible for them to have successfully escaped. The Mythbusters team built a raft out of materials that were available to the prisoners (mostly raincoats) and sailed it to San Francisco.

    Trevor,
    I like line Jack Miles takes in “God: a biography” on Mt. Moriah — God is also being tested by Abraham. Abraham insists that “God will see to the sheep” that will substitute for Isaac. If God does not so provide, God is no god worth following. Note that we do not know what Abraham would have done if God had not intervened.
    Miles’ take on Job is similar. Job never repents of demanding an explanation from God; Miles claims that (and provides evidence that) the language of repentance was inserted by translators who wanted to get God off the hook. If this is correct, Job is rewarded by God precisely because he never stopped demanding justice from God, even when faced (apparently?) with the hostility of God. That’s what you have to do to be a “blameless and upright man.”
    So, when God’s demands seem to us to be immoral, we should demand an explanation from God. (this seems to be the message of Habakkuk as well)
    That’s something that Abraham and Job mean to me, though nobody gets the last word on those two.

  • Ian

    Dahne may be faster than I am, but at least my comment didn’t have any multi-armed metal spike monsters in it.

  • Actually, Joe/Jane Smoe can’t *prove* that the Earth is moving on an amateur basis. All the Smoes can do is validate the handed-down accepted truth as it now stands based on revelations from better-equipped scientists. Looking at the raw celestial data from your back yard and doing the math *simply* at best gives you (with a lot of theorizing) a *possible* earth-orbiting-the-sun against all common sense and empirical evidence (see the first part of the Almagest, where Ptolemy explains that it’s mathematically possible that the globe of the earth is spinning, it could account for the data of moving sun, moon and stars equally well as epicycles, but considering what happens when you spin a muddy wheel, how likely is it that it’s really going circa 1000 mph given the incontrovertible evidence that we’re all still standing on it and not flying off into space?
    That’s what you can get from just watching the stars in your lifetime. It takes a lot of lifetimes for the epicycle math to stop matching up, and even being matchable – which is what forced the scientific establishment to start considering that maybe the whacky alternate hypothesis that Ptolemy advanced and rejected in *the* foundation text on astronomy from Roman times, just *maybe* it was right after all, *somehow*, no matter how implausible and contrary to what we see every day with the naked eye, and all possible experiments with spinning globes and model figures, or personal tests with capstans and carousels.

  • >The idea that scientists are separate to and different from ordinary people is a poisonous mistake.
    I don’t think that Fred is making the point that scientists and ordinary people are different so much as ordinary people think they are different from scientists. And polls have show this over and over – many people who don’t have science as a profession think that scientists have some special knowledge over them. Which in some sense they do, but no more so than an accountant knows how to do accounting, but other people don’t. This idea that scientists are these all-knowing beings is only reinforced by the media, which tends to report scientific findings as The Last Word on a subject, rather than the ongoing investigation that they are.

  • sophia8

    Magistra – Scottish law is different from English law in many respects. Jeru is quite correct; according to the BAAF website: Gay men and lesbians can become foster carers, although in Scotland they can only do so as single individuals living on their own. People in households with 2 or more unrelated adults of the same sex can’t foster in Scotland.
    However, I believe there are moves to change this.

  • It didn’t actually start until the latter 70s in any intense way – speaking as someone who was raised a theocon and used to get their magazines and newspapers to our house while I was a kid in the early and mid ’70s, and remember seeing many of the memes that have only lately come to the awareness of the wider society (like “Dred Scott Decision” being code for “will overturn Roe v. Wade”, or how the allowing of immigrants to build their own places of worship in Europe meant that the Crusades had been in vain, or how The Pill was going to destroy Social Security, and labor unions were going to Destroy America leaving world rule to the Godless Commies) in those publications; and while I can’t put a precise date on it, I don’t remember seeing it before 1977, and only sporadically until the early 1980s, which not coincidentally coincided with a couple of things: the recognition of HIV and the AIDS panic, and the mainstream acceptance of a lot of things that had been held up as ZOMG!TEOTWAWKI before then, which meant that it was getting harder and harder to keep the drumbeat that – to name *the* major issue in conservative Catholic punditry in the mid-’70s – Women’s Lib was going to Destroy America by the unsexing of humanity via the ERA, trousers-wearing, miniskirt-wearing, mothers working outside the home, contraception and the honorific “Ms.”
    They *needed* a new Public Enemy #1 to demonize, after the ERA was defeated yet the visible manifestations of Ebol Feminism that they had ranted against became accepted (pants! shorts! female knees! contraception! women in the workplace!)and AIDS gave them a “hook” to hang their “gays will destroy civilization!” rants on. Additionally, as other old archvillains began to fade away for various reasons (!Drugs! didn’t cause us to turn into a technobarbaric post-civilization after all, the collapse of the Soviet Union took away a huge rhetorical basis for the call to theocracy and/or Traditional Moral Values lifestyles (we are DOOMED if you don’t give up this Radical Individualism!!!) and all the other boogeymen (Dirty Hippies under your bed!) faded away or failed to materialize in the 80s) they *needed* it more than ever.
    It proved to be fairly hard to demonize Neopagans™ and Witches successfully, although there was more than enough Satanic Panic to go around in that decade, even harder to get Middle America to stop going to the movies, and the historic Societal Villains (Jews, Asians) being off-limits (in public, at least) although granted this hasn’t actually *stopped* the conservative punditry from ranting still about Immodest Women, Rock Music, Reefer Madness, Those Young People and their Hair! Godless Commies, and Degenerate Art, but this results in comedy when the ones who aren’t savvy enough to realize what it sounds like to people outside their circle now post these online, for all the world to boggle at (and point, and jeer) like Fluoride-in-the-water rants.
    So in terms of something they could use to keep the rank-and-file in a state of constant panic and anger (aka “tharn”) before they got their naphtha-huntin’ leadership all ready to support their New Crusades rhetoric even before 9/11 (I at least remember the saber-rattling at Iraq that spring, along with the willful disengagement from Korean detente) the Gays Will Destroy Civilization meme was pretty much all the conservative punditry had for their agitprop, with AIDS being, excuse me, a godsend to their fear’n’hatemongering campaign, and Bill Buckley infamously calling for HIV+ men to be tatooed on their buttocks for public safety.
    (Increased visibility and activism *by* GLBT citizens, blamed as we have seen so often for the “backlash” was in fact largely a response to the demonization, and a belated one: I only ever heard the idea of SSM being raised as a spectre by Christian conservative pundits for years and years and years, while most actual gay rights activists were saying “No that’s too much too fast” until quite recently.)

  • Nenya

    Wow. Of all Fred’s theories so far, this one rings the truest for me. I distinctly remember going through the process of finding out my brother (and later another friend) was gay, and having the thought go through my head that I had to choose between what I believed to be right based on scripture and what I believed to be kind. Finally I decided that (to quote Fred the other week) we Christians were supposed to be known by our love–wasn’t this what I had been taught all my life in Sunday School?
    The final thing that clicked into place was when I realized that most of the people loudly decrying Teh Gay Agenda To Steal Our Children and Make Us Wear Leather were not actually listening to real, live gay people at all. Jane the lesbian would say, “I’m in love with Sally; we’d like to be able to get married to each other, please.” Reverend Homophobe would reply, “OMG! See! She wants to fornicate madly in the streets and have satanic rituals in churches!!” As if, by mere virtue of being gay, everything gay people said was a lie, and their opponents’ ideas of what went on inside their heads were manifestly more true than those same gay people’s personal accounts of their own lives. How freaking disrespectful is that?
    But when you believe that it’s very, very important that you remain mentally pure, and that the scriptures are the main way you obtain knowledge about the universe, it’s very difficult to hammer out for yourself something like the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. I was in fact quite shocked the first time I found out there were churches that believed that tradition and experience were as valuable as the Bible–I figured they must be rather heretical and evil!liberal. But given that there is a long, long tradition of arguing over what the Bible means, going back to the times when it was being written, using reason, community, and experience to figure out truth seems rather deeply orthodox.

  • Frank

    Hmm. So, I’m sat in my back garden with my diagram of the spheres based on Ptolemy, and I wait for Venus to pass in front of the Sun… But it doesn’t*
    The workaround presented 1500 years ago or so was to have the inner planets orbit the Sun. Hmm, that’s nice, but er, why just the inner planets ?
    * Sometimes it does, but not this time. The sphere model cannot explain this. Of course a heliocentric model explains it nicely.

  • Zyzzyva

    Bellatrys: Joe/Jane Smoe can’t *prove* that the Earth is moving on an amateur basis.
    That’s not strictly speaking true: Foucault’s Pendulum is a perfectly legitimate, simple, and reasonably easy to set up experiment that demonstrates, if not heliocentricism, at least the rotation of the earth. Even if Joe/Jane doesn’t want to build one herself, (s)he can go to the Chicago museum of science and industry of the british musem or some similar place that’s got one and see it for his/herself. (The downside, of course, is that it requires a bit of thought to understand why the rotation of this pendulum indicates that the earth is moving.)
    Frank: The sphere model cannot explain this. Of course a heliocentric model explains it nicely.
    If you tilt the spheres -which Ptolemy, and pretty much every Geocentricist of any intelligence did- it’s just as explainable as in heliocentricism, and a heliocentric model *without* tilted orbits doesn’t explain it at all, of course. The problem with Geocentricism isn’t that it’s inherently unworkable (thanks to relativity, you can make a perfect model of the universe with the earth mounted immovably in the center) as it is that Ockham’s razor vastly favours heliocentricism (such a model would be ungodly complicated, have no added predictive power over heliocentricism, and make a mockery of the laws of physics, since they would act in entirely predictable but different fashions around the earth and the rest of the universe).

  • LL

    Mythbusters rocks.
    RE topic: It’s been my suspicion that a lot of religious people deliberately choose things to be uncompromising about, just so they will have someone to feel superior to. ie, they make a big deal out of someone being gay or female or something else that a person doesn’t really have any control over so that there can be no answer (because the inferior person in question can’t really stop being gay or female), so no ability to compromise, therefore, that person is, in the eyes of god, inferior, always and forever. Gay is inferior to “straight”, female is inferior to male. That’s it. Simple. No thinking required. People are really pretty lazy. If you give them an opportunity to make up their mind about something and it doesn’t really cost THEM anything, they will grab onto it and not let go, if they’re the kind of person who cares more about being right than anything else. Because they get to feel superior to people and righteous at the same time. Judge not lest ye be judged, except for this and this and this… You get to look down on people and join in on punishing them, so you get that little sadistic thrill that comes from putting the big group smackdown on a helpless creature of god, but you don’t have to feel it makes you a bad person. Plus, you get a scapegoat to blame everything on. You can blame feminazis or homos for everything that goes wrong, and that makes you feel even more justified in ruthlessly punishing them.
    Religion really is quite a racket. I can think of few other things that allow you to indulge the basest of human instincts and feel good about it at the same time. No wonder it’s so popular (and I speak not only of Christianity, but all the world’s religions, which are all equally guilty of this; if there are exceptions to this that I’m unaware of, feel free to chastise me on that point).

  • Cowboy Diva

    a couple things:
    Fishbone, the complementary joke has to do with what gay men bring to a second date, and the punchline is “what second date?”
    to return to the original topic:
    the writer to Andrew Sullivan as linked states he “strongly believes Revelation when it says that those who practice homosexual behavior will not be allowed into heaven.”
    uh, where is this sourced? I missed that entirely. If Christianity is all about getting onself into heaven and everyone else to the pit of fire (as per most evangelical pulpits) then this would be an important point.

  • hapax

    LL: Religion really is quite a racket. I can think of few other things that allow you to indulge the basest of human instincts and feel good about it at the same time.
    How about posting arrogant condemnatory blog comments that sweepingly characterize and dismiss the deepest and most ultimate concerns of the vast majority of the human race?

  • Majromax

    That’s no different than how any liberal interprets any law (statute or constitution) – they are “living documents” to be infallibly interpreted by the liberal. Besides, Marshall Hall isn’t necessarily demanding the power to toss people in jail by calling something a sin. The left reading the law or the constitution in a similar manner pretty much is demanding the power to toss the disobedient into jail.
    Actually, the “inerrant and infallible” version ties much more closely to strict constructionism. The idea of a living document means that the correct interpretation changes with time; your “correct” interpretation today may very well be the wrong one tomorrow.
    At this point, you’d argue that this inevitably results in chaos and rampant despotism. This is not true, for precisely the same reason that atheism doesn’t result in rampant immorality and fornication in the streets. The living document view holds that the original intent of the constitution is persuasive, but not singularly and unambiguously authoritative. It must be tempered with experience, reason, and tradition– parallel with the Weslyan Quadrilateral of Fred’s post.
    Indeed, the idea that the Constitution plus amendments is the ideal of government today is almost laughable. The Constitution was devised in a rural (backwater!) colonial America with essentially local dependence and slow communication. The government set up then (no standing army, strong state and local governments, weak domain of Federal powers) is not appropriate for the modern era of fast communication and national (and even international) dependence. By way of example, no other (functioning, industrialized) nation that I know of has such an extreme frontiersman-local government set up by its founding laws.
    With that in mind, the question is how to form a functioning, modern government out of that framework. There are two possibilities:
    1) Treat the literal reading of the Constitution (or its “original intent” — not necessarily the same thing, and not always unambiguous) as sacrosanct. Then, any significant governmental change (such as the Social Security program) would require a constitutional amendment to permit it.
    2) Temper the reading of the constitution with existing cultural mores and reason — the Living Document theory.
    Given the modern US democracy, we can nearly reject (1) out of hand. Amending the Constitution is a slow, laborious process; the extreme supermajorities required require that the constitutional change be widely demanded. To use the example of a hypothetical Social Security amendment, the change would require that the program be uncontroversial even before its implementation.
    Instead, we can look to the traditions of English Common Law; there, jurisprudence provides the grounding for interpretation of at-times ambiguous laws. In a sense, this is already “Living Document” theory, only applied to the statutes rather than the Constitution. Extending jurisprudence to the Constitution at large makes a degree of sense. It also allows the largely-static document to remain relevant through vast cultural changes.
    There is, of course, a limit — common laws cannot interpret a law as the opposite of its litearl meaning. Likewise, the living document theory cannot interpret the Constitution to have meaning opposite its literal text. This is largely true in American democracy The federal powers that libertarians are scared of stem from the commerce and “necessary and proper” clauses, especially the latter of which is open to vast interpretation.
    For the “living document” theory in other nations, look at England and Canada. The former does not even have a single, written Constitution (please, correct me if I’m wrong); English Constitutional Law is then based strongly on interpretations of past traditions.
    In Canada, a famous and illustrative case of the “Living Document” (although not so named) theory is the “Persons case”. The Supreme Court of Canada (1928) was asked to consider whether women counted as “qualifed persons” regarding appointment to the Senate, as specified in the British North America act (1867). The Supreme Court of Canada applied the original, historical intent literally and found: (quoth Wikipedia)

    The Court interpreted the definition of ‘qualified person’ as intended by the drafters of the BNA Act 1867, despite acknowledging that the role of women in society had changed since that date. The Court held that the common law incapacity of women to exercise public functions excluded women from the class of “qualified persons” under s. 24 of the B.N.A. Act.
    In 1867 women could not sit in Parliament and thus if there were to be an exception to the practice from that period it would have to be explicitly legislated.

    The case was appealed, as then the British Privy Council was the highest judicial authority. That decision explicitly endorsed a living document (“Living Tree”) theory, saying: (also quoth Wikipedia)

    The British North America Act planted in Canada a living tree capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits. The object of the Act was to grant a Constitution to Canada. Like all written constitutions it has been subject to development through usage and convention.
    Their Lordships do not conceive it to be the duty of this Board — it is certainly not their desire — to cut down the provisions of the Act by a narrow and technical construction, but rather to give it a large and liberal interpretation so that the Dominion to a great extent, but within certain fixed limits, may be mistress in her own house, as the provinces to a great extent, but within certain fixed limits, are mistresses in theirs.

    With regard to the women-as-persons question, the Privy Council said (in summary) “of course they are, duh.”
    Thus, at least from a Canadian perspective, a strict constructionist theory (essentially identical to the “scripture as ultimate arbiter of all thruths” theory, as I pointed out), is quaint nonsense.
    (Being a Yankee expat [U. Waterloo, yes it is there that the Campus Crusade for Cheese exists] is certainly very interesting sometimes.)

  • Jeff

    Human beings do have a choice.
    You were destined to believe that.
    ===============================
    The downside, of course, is that it requires a bit of thought to understand why the rotation of this pendulum indicates that the earth is moving.
    Then it’s worthless as “proof” to the Shmoes. Besides, if they don’t believe in ANY of the NASA missions, why would they not believe there’s a motor driving the pendulum.
    ===============================
    if there are exceptions to this that I’m unaware of, feel free to chastise me on that point
    At the First Church of the Masochist, we believe we’re inferior to EVERYONE. Once you are chastized, please send the Blessed Punisher over — we’re behind [ow!] in our services.

  • Salamanda

    Nenya: Of all Fred’s theories so far, this one rings the truest for me. I distinctly remember going through the process of finding out my brother (and later another friend) was gay, and having the thought go through my head that I had to choose between what I believed to be right based on scripture and what I believed to be kind. Finally I decided that (to quote Fred the other week) we Christians were supposed to be known by our love
    Dude, me too. It took me a longer time to come around to that, though. When it finally dawned on me that my aunt’s “friend” was more than just a friend, I wondered why nobody in her (Catholic) family had told her it was wrong, and if maybe that was my duty? Fortunately, I’m a bit of a shy gal, so I ended up keeping my righteousness to myself. ;) I went to a Christian school in from 7th to 12th grade, and a lot of the things I was taught there were things my parents, though also Christians, did not believe—and this whole bit was one of them. I will say, however, that during my senior year at said school, it became known that one of my classmates was gay: something that would have easily gotten him expelled, had it become official knowledge. But nobody there outed him. I don’t know everyone’s motives, but I like to think that there were a lot of students (perhaps even a few teachers) who came to the same decision you did—to protect him, to love…to be kind rather than right.
    Reverend Homophobe would reply, “OMG! See! She wants to fornicate madly in the streets and have satanic rituals in churches!!”
    Hey! What about us straight folk who want to fornicate madly in the streets and have satanic rituals in churches? I feel so marginalized.

  • Spalanzani

    Wouldn’t fornicating in the streets be really bad for your back? Clearly, the logical thing to do is fornicate madly in church and hold satanic rituals in the streets.

  • Jeff

    I just saw this on another forum. Masterful capture of picture and caption. Not really “breaking news”, though — I’ve known it for almost 6 years.

  • hapax

    Dunno, Spalanzani; those pews are hard and narrow.
    We’ve got these nice kneeler cushions by the altar, though.
    (What happens if you hold your Satanic ritual in the street, summon the Archfiend Himself, and He gets run over by the crosstown bus?)

  • Jeff

    Wouldn’t fornicating in the streets be really bad for your back?
    No more so than “doin’ it” on those hard wooden pews. That’s what the matresses are for.

  • Jeff

    (What happens if you hold your Satanic ritual in the street, summon the Archfiend Himself, and He gets run over by the crosstown bus?)
    He turns into Jimi Hendrex? (It’s better than being hit by a crosspost bus, though.)

  • Tonio

    Excellent entry. I’ve been saying that the growth of fundamentalism in both Christianity and Islam is a reaction to social turbulence.
    I suspect it’s natural for people to desire certainty to some degree. What leads to some people having a seemingly desperate need for it? How much of the need is natural or psychological and how much is created by the doctrine?
    My revision of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral would be placing scripture and tradition as seconar to reason and experience, with the latter being used to judge the former.
    Apropos quote: “There is no security this side of the grave” – Harlan Ellison

  • Tonio

    Excellent entry. I’ve been saying that the growth of fundamentalism in both Christianity and Islam is a reaction to social turbulence.
    I suspect it’s natural for people to desire certainty to some degree. What leads to some people having a seemingly desperate need for it? How much of the need is natural or psychological and how much is created by the doctrine?
    My revision of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral would be placing scripture and tradition as secondary to reason and experience, with the latter being used to evaluate the former.
    Apropos quote: “There is no security this side of the grave” – Harlan Ellison

  • Rob

    (aka “tharn”)
    I now agree with you but it has nothing to do with your facts and everything to do with us reading the same books.

  • Salamanda

    Dunno, Spalanzani; those pews are hard and narrow.
    We’ve got these nice kneeler cushions by the altar, though.

    Or, you can find yourself a nice megachurch. The main sanctuary may not be ideal, but you’re sure to find plush accomodations in the pastor’s office. ^_^

  • Bugmaster

    You amateur fornicators, so naive. Wooden pews and pastor’s office, indeed ! Me ? I carry an airbed with me. Everywhere.

  • ako

    I suspect it’s natural for people to desire certainty to some degree. What leads to some people having a seemingly desperate need for it? How much of the need is natural or psychological and how much is created by the doctrine?
    I know I was brought up not to expect certainty, encouraged to try to figure things out instead of wait for answers or pester people into figuring things out for me, and to test and question my own answers (if I ever wanted to be able to have a sensible conversation with my family). Answers handed down from on high were far more of an exception than a rule; and even those could be wrong if left untested. It took me ages to realize this wasn’t how everyone was raised. And I’m relatively comfortable with philosophical uncertainty, partly because I don’t see much choice. So how people are raised is an influence, both on where people seek certainty, and how strongly they look for it.

  • LL

    RE “How about posting arrogant condemnatory blog comments that sweepingly characterize and dismiss the deepest and most ultimate concerns of the vast majority of the human race?”
    Done and done.
    You know, since religion feels free to arrogantly condemn people all the time, I feel like someone has to kick some back. I’m not trying to give my beliefs the force of law. And as for the vast majority of the human race, that’s not a compelling enough reason to believe in the truth of anything. In fact, more and more, it seems like a good reason NOT to believe it.

  • Tonio

    The arrogant condemnation that LL mentioned is really about using other people to satisfy one’s need for certainty.

  • hapax

    religion feels free to arrogantly condemn people all the time
    An abstract characterization of billions of independent life-philosophies does not nor cannot be arrogant, condemn, nor feel anything.
    How about holding the specific doctrines–or better yet, people–responsible for their errors and bigotry, rather than kicking about blindly and foolishly?

  • hapax

    oops. Bold begone!

  • LL

    RE “billions of independent life-philosophies does not nor cannot be arrogant, condemn, nor feel anything.” – I disagree
    RE “How about holding the specific doctrines–or better yet, people–responsible” – Believe me, I’m holding the people responsible.

  • LL

    And thanks for the boldface; I guess it’s better than italics.

  • twig

    I’m not trying to give my beliefs the force of law.
    But you will. You always do.
    Mmmmm overgeneralization tastes good.

  • Zyzzyva

    Jeff: if they don’t believe in ANY of the NASA missions, why would they not believe there’s a motor driving the pendulum.
    If the y don’t beleive any of the Apollo missions, I don’t think we have enough in common to have a meaningful discussion. Besides, the original point was that anybody can prove that the earth is rotating using only some bsaic science -not that I, personally, can prove to every naysayer and flat earther beyond a shadow of a doubt that yes, the earth is indubitably moving.
    @ Majromax: You’re at UWaterloo too? Cool. So am I.

  • jackd

    The evangelical approach to theological thinking is exactly like this Wesleyan method, except it doesn’t include tradition or community. Or reason. Or experience.
    I think I would argue that community is involved, in that there is certainly a fundamentalist/evangelical community that reinforces at every turn the particular interpretation of scripture while doing the ball-and-cup trick of denying that interpretation is involved.
    Tradition is a trickier matter. The classic fundagelical claim – which I saw reasserted just last week – is that fundy-style churches are authentic modern versions of the churches of the New Testament, and that such churches have existed ‘in the shadows’ continuously since that time. They disdain tradition because they have been taught that what other churches call “tradition” is Man’s Distortion of God’s Word.
    Reason and experience are definitely subordinate to the fundamentalist interpretation of Scripture. Watch carefully and you’ll see an all-too-common human practice of rationalization: “Well, my cousin/neighbor/aunt/uncle/old college friend who is gay is a really nice person, but The Gays are wicked and evil.” Once the idea that Gay=Evil is sufficiently embedded, it’s easier to compartmentalize personal experience to the contrary as exceptions than to question the underlying belief.

  • Tonio

    JackD,
    Great point. Sounds a lot like John Cleese’s defense of “Life of Brian,” which he says was about “closed systems of thought, whether they are political or theological or religious or whatever. Systems by which whatever evidence is given to a person, he merely adapts it, fits it into his ideology.”

  • Question:
    In the Andrew Sullivan post, the letter-writer said:
    We are passionate about Biblical inerrancy and strongly believe Revelation when it says that those who practice homosexual behavior will not be allowed into heaven.
    Where, exactly, does it say this in Revelation?

  • Jeff

    I carry an airbed with me.
    I frickin’ LOVE airbeds. We use a queen for our bed, and carry a twin for visits to my mom. Sooooooooo comfy!
    +++++++++++++++++++++
    If the y don’t beleive any of the Apollo missions, I don’t think we have enough in common to have a meaningful discussion.
    If you do believe the NASA missions, I can present a far more forceful and persuasive proof of the earth turning: you can see it! NASA missions wouldn’t work if the Earth didn’t turn. (Hall’s argument on geosynchronous satellites is absurd on its face.)
    ::::::::::::::::::::::
    Majromax: You’re at UWaterloo too? Cool. So am I.
    I’m smellin’ a HOOK-UP!

  • mcc

    I remember right after Katrina, Jon Stewart pointed out that the French Quarter was fine, but the three parishes surrounding it had been swamped. His conclusion was that the problem isn’t being a in the middle of sin, it was being sin adjacent.
    A somewhat terrifying variant on this comes from “ex-gay” activist James Hartline, who blamed the Southern California wildfires on an obscure California law passed over the last few weeks concerning nondiscrimination in public schools. As quoted on Pandagon:

    They shook their fists at God and said, “We don’t care what the Bible says, We want the California school children indoctrinated into homosexuality!” And then Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law the heinous SB777 which bans the use of “mom” and “dad” in the text books and promotes homosexuality to all school children in California.
    And then the wildfires of Southern California engulfed the land like a raging judgment against the radicalized anti-christian California rebels.
    How low will we go?
    Why won’t they listen?
    Why won’t they stop their madness? The Bible says that in the last days, the nations will rebel against God until He can’t take it anymore. Was it all worth it? Were the few years of sexual immorality worth the eternal destruction and earthly chaos it brought? How low will we go?

    Bad as this is, it’s pretty standard boilerplate when something bad has just happened in America, with [CURRENT ISSUE] and [RECENT DISASTER] entered like madlibs. Hartline’s innovation however comes when someone thinks to ask why this divine retribution would wind up taking the form of a disaster which would naturally tend to hardest hit the mostly-conservative southern rural areas of California rather than the northern or coastal areas. From a commenter at pandagon:

    At Hartline’s blog, my favorite passage came when some posters asked the perfectly logical question (also raised by several posters here) about why a gay-bashing God would burn mostly Republican areas while leaving gay districts alone, and he responded:

    God will begin disciplining first, those areas where they present a pretense of following God. And then He will move out to the more rebellious places.

    What can one even say?

  • I like this from a commenter at the above-linked Pandagon:

    Convenient how God’s agenda lines up so neatly with the wingnuts, eh?
    Seems to me at least as valid an interpretation that God is punishing people for not treating their neighbors as themselves, despite all the progress He has arranged for gay equality. He’s punishing California because Schwarznegger vetoed the gay marriage bill that God worked so hard on, softening people’s hearts and all.
    Nah.

    (testing to make sure I turned my tags off)