What if I’m wrong about the clobber verses?

Excellent question. “What if you’re wrong?” is always an excellent question and I’m grateful to my inquisitors and critics for making sure I never forget it.

Even if I don’t always enjoy the tone of their full expression of this question, I thank them for the helpful reminder that I always might be wrong.

That’s the constructive aspect of this challenge, which comes up every time I discuss this topic of LGBT people and the church or make an argument — despite those clobber verses — against the intrinsic immorality of sexual minorities.

In it’s full form, that challenge looks something like this (I’m paraphrasing here, using more lower case and standard spelling, but this is the gist of it):

Oh yeah, Mr. Smarty-pants Liberal, did it ever occur to you that you might be wrong? And if you’re wrong, then you’re also leading others astray. You might be preventing others from finding their way to repentance. You might be damning yourself to Hell and dragging others down with you. Didja ever consider that? Huh, did ya?

First, let me agree that, yes, it is always entirely possible that I am wrong.

I do not think I’m wrong, obviously. My study, reason, prayer, conversation, debate and conscience all lead me to believe I’m right.

And, like most people, whenever I begin to think I’m not likely right, I take the expedient step of changing my mind until I once again am more confident that I am. I’ve changed my mind many times on many different matters. That experience confirms something I knew to be true already — I am fallible and incapable of either perfect knowledge or perfect reasoning.

That is the human condition. We can have greater or lesser degrees of confidence, but never certainty. The problem of human fallibility is inescapable. That is grounds for humility and thus for vigilant caution.

We Christians have a principle for accommodating such humble uncertainty: When in doubt (i.e., always), err on the side of love. When love seems in conflict with some rule or precept — she’s hemorrhaging and unclean, he’s an uncircumcised centurion, she’s a Syro-Phoenician dog — love wins.

But fallibility isn’t really the issue behind this question, “What if you’re wrong?” That question isn’t meant to remind me of human fallibility or of the imperative for humility, it’s meant to warn me to consider consequences.

They are asking me to reconsider my argument not on the basis of evidence or reason, but by weighing the potential risks against the perceived rewards. And that’s a bit odd.

Risk-reward analysis is a prudent and useful tool for many things, but not for ethics. If you’re contemplating whether or not to accept an invitation to go skydiving, then by all means contemplate the consequences, weigh the potential risks against the potential rewards, and then make your decision. But if you’re contemplating whether or not to do the right thing — whether or not to love — then such considerations really ought not to be part of the equation.

When this sort of calculation takes over ethical decision-making, I’m not sure it even counts any longer as ethics. It’s more like profit-seeking. That’s the dismal effect of the reward-and-punishment framework that has supplanted love as the defining crux of ethics for many Christians. When seeking reward and avoiding punishment shapes our decisions, then love is always displaced and diminished.

This is yet one more reason that Huckleberry Finn ripping up his letter and turning around his raft is, for me, a canonical text. Unless and until one can say, with Huck, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell,” then one will remain incapable of love.

When my inquisitors seek to remind me of the consequences of “what if you’re wrong?” they have a very specific set of consequences in mind. What they really mean, in other words, is not so much “what if you’re wrong?” but “what if we are right?”

So it’s not really a question as much as a statement — another reiteration of their claims in the hope that they might somehow become more persuasive by brute repetition. And along with that statement comes a kind of a threat: “Woe unto them that call evil good.” (Isaiah wasn’t talking about homosexuality there, but was condemning those who “join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you.” But the prophet’s phrase and his denunciation in the same passage of “you who are wise in your own eyes, and shrewd in your own sight” are an apt summary of my inquisitors’ criticism of my argument here.)

I appreciate the severity and the gravity of what they’re suggesting, but I have a hard time following how this is supposed to play out. I’m trying to imagine the scenario of my standing before the throne of God on the day of judgment and hearing God say: “Depart from me, for thy mercy and love exceeded mine own, and thou has accorded too much dignity to these, my children.” Or would it just be, “Depart from me, for I was gay and you did not condemn me and demand I repent”?

I mean, I’ve read that scene, so I know what comes after “depart from me” in that story, but that doesn’t help me imagine the script here.

I’m also not frightfully concerned with the supposed spiritual danger to which I’m allegedly exposing LGBT people. I understand the argument — that I should be demanding repentance instead of offering affirmation, that my love must be more conditional. But let’s face it, if things work the way my anti-gay critics say they do, then those folks are already cosmically screwed and nothing I say or do will really change that. I suppose, if this crypto-Pelagian scheme is correct, that if we really crank up the misery in this world, then there’s a slight chance that a marginal few people might be coerced into the life of self-loathing celibacy that could save their eternal souls. I get the strategy there. But for the vast majority, that can’t and won’t change the unchangeable fact that they’re apparently predestined to God’s special Hell for Queers.

And, well, if that’s what inevitably awaits them in the next life, then the least I can do is try to reduce their misery a bit in this one. It seems kinder to extend to them here the grace that God will ultimately rescind and thus to allow them at least a measure of happiness in this world.

Well, not real happiness, of course. Real happiness is something gay people can never experience until they repent of being gay. So no matter how genuine they may claim their happiness to be and no matter how genuine such happiness may appear, we must defer to anti-gay Christians, who clearly have superior knowledge when it comes to evaluating the legitimacy of others’ happiness.

Sarcasm aside, I simply cannot accept that my critics are right because I cannot accept what their claims assert and assume about the character of God. My response is essentially that of Lloyd Bentsen: I know Jesus. I pray to Jesus. Jesus is a savior of mine. And this person you describe, sir, is no Jesus.

Ah, but what if I’m wrong? What if they’re right and I’m wrong and this is what Jesus is really like — fearsome, wrathful, strict, full of graceless truth?

Well, in that case, all I can do is quote again those sacred words: “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.”

As long as I’m in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.

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  • Becca Stareyes

    It’s sort of the answer to Pascal’s Wager.  Pascal, seeking a proof for why a rational person should be a theist*: when you compare the infinite pleasures of Heaven and the infinite pain of Hell to whatever finite hassle it is to be a theist in this world, surely that’s worth the hassle even if you aren’t sure if God exists.

    Huck is saying ‘why would I want to be rewarded with Heaven when I’m doing the cruel and unloving and wrong thing?’  For that matter, how can you have perfect bliss when you know your bliss comes from the misery of others (unless you don’t care about the misery of others, and generally most people aren’t comfortable with a sociopath-only Heaven)?  And would you really want the eternal company of a deity who would send anyone to infinite suffering, let alone people who aren’t hurting anyone? 

    * He didn’t seem to consider the sorts of theism that if you don’t do theism right, you get sent to the same place as the people who don’t do theism at all. 

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

     Also, you know, Pascal, your logic works for Hinduism, Islam, Pastafarianism, if the 2001 Monolith is real, etc.  Which means it doesn’t work at all.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Also, you know, Pascal, your logic works for Hinduism, Islam,
    Pastafarianism, if the 2001 Monolith is real, etc.  Which means it
    doesn’t work at all.

    One exception to it not working — the Church of the Subgenius … Eternal Salvation for $35.00 or triple your money back. Now there’s a wager Pascal would’ve been hard-pressed to pass!

  • AnonymousSam

    Which is one of the arguments for it. There are a theoretically infinite number of faiths and a theoretically infinite number of Hells and a theoretically infinite number of Sparkly Rainbow Pony religions. And even better, there are also a theoretically infinite number of gods who are enraged that you would worship the wrong one and who will destroy Heaven to personally smite you for worshiping Yahweh, so what exactly is the wager supposed to prove?

    A strange game. The only way to win is not to play.

  • aunursa

    In my new religion, my all-powerful deity will torment you for your failure to quote that line perfectly.

    EDIT: Or … just see the post above mine.

  • VMink


    A strange game. The only way to win is not to play.

    Worse, actually.  If there is a finite but extremely large set of all possible human belief systems — including but not limited to everything from atheism to omnitheism and all possible variants — you not only have no way to tell how to win (you can’t be certain which is the One True Faith) you are also vanishingly unlikely to be able to win (your particular interpretation of the One True Faith is likely to develop, I don’t know, compiling errors or divide-by-munificence errors or something) and you are also unable to say “Sod this!” because atheism is part of the continuum and you can’t be certain that’s the One True… er, Thing, either.

    So you go with what you know, live your life to the fullest, and be the best person you can be to other human beings because it’s the right thing to do and not just because someone told you or scared you into doing it.

  • Tricksterson

    My problem with Pascal’s wager is that in order for it to mean anything the Supreme Being has to be a malicious psychotic willing to subject people to an eternity of torment over a difference of opinion.

  • Carstonio

    That scene from the Finn novel should be placed as an insert into every new Bible printed.

    if things work the way my anti-gay critics say they do, then those
    folks are already cosmically screwed and nothing I say or do will really
    change that.

    What we don’t hear from those critics is their opinion that matter. It’s obvious that Fred would see that as not only unloving, not only contrary to the character of his god, but also unjust from a secular standpoint. His critics give the very strong impression that they would approve of conditional love for LGBT folks, that “fearsome, wrathful, strict, full of graceless truth” are good qualities for Jesus to have. 

  • http://profiles.google.com/marciepooh Marcella McIntyre

    “Risk-reward analysis is a prudent and useful tool for many things, but not for ethics…But if you’re contemplating whether or not to do the right thing — whether or not to love — then such considerations really ought not to be part of the equation.When this sort of calculation takes over ethical decision-making, I’m not sure it even counts any longer as ethics. It’s more like profit-seeking.”This is why I read your blog Fred. Thank you.

  • AnonaMiss

    I feel special/like a proper Slacktivite now!

    /dance

  • Marc Tompkins

    Let me preface by saying:
    –  I do NOT think Fred is wrong – quite the reverse!
    –  I think Oliver Cromwell was a disgusting, vile waste of carbon.

    With that out of the way, I would like to say that Oliver Cromwell said one of my favorite lines EVAR:
    “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.” 

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    That is a good line; it’s a pity the vicious old bastard didn’t say it to himself more often.  A bit of spiritual humility on his part could have prevented an awful lot of murder.

  • Marc Tompkins

    Inorite?  

  • Jurgan

    I think, worse than calling evil good is calling good evil.   A memorable sermon I once saw interpreted Jesus’s claim that blaspheming the Holy Spirit is an unforgivable sin thusly.  All good comes from the Holy Spirit, so to denounce someone doing good as doing evil is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit itself.  My question, then, would be what if you’re wrong?  What if living their lives as who they are is a good thing because it makes them better people, and my defending them is also the will of God?  God can forgive someone mistakenly doing wrong, but to denounce good as evil is a far greater sin.  And this is consistent with Jesus’s teachings, since he was constantly criticizing the Pharisees who claimed normal people trying to do their best were evil for not following the law.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    You could put that even more simply: if good = love = the Holy Spirit, then denouncing love is blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

  • Lunch Meat

    You could put that even more simply: if good = love = the Holy Spirit, then denouncing love is blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

    “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

    I like this verse because it comes right after another one of those lists of horrible sins like jealousy, fits of rage and selfish ambitions (this list isn’t as famous because it doesn’t include words-that-might-or-might-not-be-correctly-translated-as-homosexuality). In effect, Paul is saying, “Yeah, there’s a lot of terrible things out there that people do. But why are you worrying about that? You were saved so that you could be free, not so that you could follow another law. The law is for the people that want to do bad things. But you have the Spirit, and as long as you’re following the Spirit, you’re not going to get in trouble–and here’s what someone who’s following the Spirit looks like. So just…quit worrying so much, okay?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1012812100 Cynthia Brown Christ

    WOW!

  • Termudgeon

    The best response in my book is “And what if *you’re* wrong? What if I’m right about God being a god of love who wants us to embrace our neighbors in love the way that He made them, and you are continuing to not only to treat them as outcast sinners, but to  teach others that they should be treated as outcast sinners? Aren’t you risking hell for yourself and for those you teach to treat others so poorly?

    And what if we’re BOTH wrong, and there is no God? During my time on this earth, I will have treated my neighbors with love and compassion, and you will have treated them abysmally.  Could you be wrong? Are you SURE?”

  • jedgeco

    “what if we are right?”

    Then the Good News isn’t such good news after all.

  • Eric B

    I’m a college minister, and I usually flip the “risk-reward” thing on them.  I tell them that someday, when I meet Jesus, if he were to ask me why I wasn’t more hospitable and loving towards people, I don’t know what I would tell him.  On the other hand, if he told me that I was too compassionate and too flippant with scripture, I could at least say, “Weren’t you accused of the same thing when you were on earth?”

  • Kubricks_Rube

    On the other hand, if he told me that I was too compassionate and too flippant with scripture, I could at least say, “Weren’t you accused of the same thing when you were on earth?”

    “You, all right?! I learned it by watching you!”

  • http://twitter.com/MarySueTwiteth Mary Sue

    If you’re going to Hell, I’ll pick you up at the bus station when  you get there. 

    Seriously. If God is a petty enough being that any and all of my struggle to follow Christ and work to bring the kingdom about on earth is instantly negated by the fact I put the B in LGBT, then I don’t want to worship that God any more.

    Fortunately, my study and prayer and discussions and a formative experience meeting Fred Phelps face to face have shown me that God is not the stingy loveless jerk some of his followers want to make me believe he is.

  • Delcoro77

    If I’m wrong, nothing happens! We go to jail! Peacefully, quietly, we’ll enjoy it!

  • DCFem

    I admire your ability to keep speaking your truth to people who aren’t the least bit interested in hearing it. You have a lot of patience.

    And since the group of people going to hell for supporting LGBT rights grows by the minute, why don’t we start a facebook page or something where we can decide who is going to bring what? I can bring a few cases of soda, some chips, pretzels and things. If we plan now, we can make it a really great party. See you there!

  • Lori

    Don’t worry about the chips and stuff. Everyone knows that it’s the company that makes a great party and if RTC hell exists I would, on the whole, far rather spend eternity with the people who are going to end up in it than the ones in RTC heaven.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    Mark Twain said it best, I think: “Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.”

  • Dashdown84

    I will bring desert with me!

  • The_L1985

     Why would you want to bring a desert?  Wouldn’t dessert be more palatable? :P

  • Marc Tompkins

    “My favorite people are the people of the dessert” said Lawrence, as he put down his fork.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    I will bring desert with me!

    That sounds kind of ominous, like Genghis Khan salting the land after laying it to waste.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I will bring desert with me!

    “Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

  • arcseconds

     There was a great story i read when i was a kid about a boy who encountered all these elemental beings on his way to school,  who would give him gifts that during the school day would suddenly instantiate the element, so the classroom would suddenly be overrun by jungle, complete with ruined temples.  The teacher took it all in her stride and continued the lesson (“well, this is an excellent opportunity, children, to see first-hand”). 

    One of the creatures was a dust-devil/whirlwind thing who gave him a bottle of sand, which when the teacher mentioned ‘desert’ popped open and spilled out tonnes of sand, until they were essentially in the Sahara.

  • Tricksterson

    Sounds like the teacher was related to Miss Frizzle.

  • The_L1985

     I think I need a copy of this story.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Count me in. 

  • Lori

    The thing I hate most about this nasty cost/benefit way of looking at
    ethics is that these horrible people actually believe that such an
    analysis favors their side. They think the risk of loving too much is
    actually greater than the risk of hating too much.

    They seem to believe that if they’re wrong God will deem”We meant well”
    as an acceptable excuse for the lives their homophobia has cost. The
    wielders of clobber verse think that their passionate sincerity will be
    enough to get them a pass for their error if it turns out that the
    people murdered by gay bashers and who died as the result of “therapy”
    designed to cure them of their lack of heterosexuality and those whose despair lead them to suicide were lost for nothing. At the same time
    they clearly believe that somehow the exact same response will not be
    acceptable if it turns out that Fred is wrong.

    “What if you’re wrong” is not another way of saying “What if we’re
    right?” It’s just another way of saying “We are right, obviously, and
    boy are you gonna be sorry if you don’t get with the program.” When they
    then turn around and complain about being called haters I just want to
    give them a smack.

    Seriously people, as Bill Mahr would say, new rule. New rule: if you’re
    going to argue that there’s more upside to hating than loving then
    you don’t freaking get to complain about being called a hater. If you’re
    going to do it then cowboy up and own that shit or shut it. 

  • AnonymousSam

    Seems odd that a sociopath like myself could have examined the cost/benefit ratio of “love over all” and come to a very different conclusion than they did. I wonder how that works in their minds? Is there a point at which you have to devote yourself, utterly and selflessly, to the spirit of all-loathing, and that’s where it starts to make sense?

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Is there a point at which you have to devote yourself, utterly and selflessly, to the spirit of all-loathing, and that’s where it starts to make sense?

    I believe it starts with loathing themselves utterly. This is something that might be impossible for you to understand. But they hate — hate — their own bodies. There are incredibly important parts of their bodies and minds that they believe is totally sinful and depraved. Anything sexual is unclean.

    They’ve created rules within which these incredibly important parts of their bodies and minds are not so sinful, depraved, and unclean, but how does that work? How do you go through life being told “you must not must not must not, bad bad bad”, and then flip a switch and now it’s okay? Especially because even when it’s okay (heterosexual marriage), there are STILL lots of rules. Paul said “it is better to marry than to burn” — he did not say “it is good to marry”. A particular kind of sex within heterosexual marriage is simply seen as the least-bad option, but it’s still not seen as righteous. 

    Frankly, a lot of it looks like they’re jealous that other people do not hate themselves.

  • Jun

    I agree with a lot of this post but I am going to have to disagree, quite strongly, with one point in particular.  I would argue that cost-benefit analyses are critical to ethics, not in the least because humans are so consistently terrible at estimating them intuitively.  We can’t do all the good things all the time for practical reasons, so somewhere there has to be a tradeoff calculation — how can I do the most good with the resources at hand?  Ignoring the potential costs (or benefits) of a given course of action isn’t ethics, it’s refusing to face reality.

    Now, if on the other hand the phrase was “inconsistent and self-serving risk/reward analysis”, I would agree with that 100%. ;)

  • Jim Roberts

    Jun, I agree that his summation of risk/reward was less clear than it could be. I think, in context, he’s talking about the kind of risk/reward assessment that focuses on, “What risk does this put me at? How does this directly benefit me?”

    Obviously, the first question is one well worth asking in a variety of situations, but the second one . . . it’s trickier.

  • DavidCheatham

    Ignoring the potential costs (or benefits) of a given course of action isn’t ethics, it’s refusing to face reality.

    There are such things as ethical costs, and there’s even such things as deciding your own luxuries are better than helping out someone else. The problem is, it does not actually cost anything to let gay people get married. (Not even taxes. Marriages actually make money for the government.)

    That is where this falls apart as a risk-reward. There is no actual reward for the anti-gay side.(Except the reward of feeling ‘morally superier’.) In fact, running around condeming people for anything, even actual sins, appears to be barred by the Bible, so there are really two risks: The anti-gay people might be wrong and God might think those people are ‘judging’, or they might be wrong about it being a sin to start with. Or, worse, wrong about _both_.

    Meanwhile, on the ‘pro-gay’ side, the reward is…people have better lives. (Compare this to the other reward.) The risk, OTOH, appears to be that…God will judge you for leading others into a life of sin? Except, as we all know, gayness doesn’t appear to work that way, gay people will still be gay, and still in homosexual relationships, even without gay mariage, and I rather suspect God knows that.

    To recap: Anti-gay side: Two risks you might be sinning, outcome causes misery. Pro-gay side: A risk you might in some way be enabling sin, outcome causes joy.

    Frankly, if I honestly felt very strongly that God didn’t approve of gay marriage, I wouldn’t be running around trying to fight gay marriage…I’d just sit this one out. I’d say ‘That’s a decision for the secular world to make. My church will not be participating in gay marriages, if you want one, you will have to go down the street to that other church.’.

    What’s going on there is because of something _besides_ ‘God doesn’t want this’. And it’s amazing how ‘God doesn’t want this’ only turns into a political issue when it’s about certain things, and almost none of the people using that justification _here_ use it against _war_. (Which Jesus is _incredibly_ clear about.)

  • Carstonio

    Probably most of us here agree that a stingy loveless jerk of a god would be unworthy of anyone’s worship, even those of us who don’t believe in gods or who don’t know if gods exist or not. That’s different from the simpler question of obedience to that god, which is what the Huck Finn scenario involves. If Fred’s critics do indeed believe that such a god is worthy of their worship, that suggests the mentality of abused people.

  • christopher_young

    [Usual disclaimer about not actually being a Christian and so on…]

    If I had a dog in this fight, I’d pay a lot less attention to the clobber verses, and a lot more to Acts 15:19-21. Why? 

    The first half of Acts 15, for those who aren’t familiar with it, is the minutes of a meeting. The background was that some Christian converts from the Pharisaic tradition had been arguing with Gentile converts that they had to obey the whole of the Mosaic law to be saved. So Paul and Barnabas, who thought otherwise, went to headquarters in Jerusalem to file a report on this and get a ruling. The meeting which considered the issue was extremely heavyweight; Jesus’ kid brother (probably) was in the chair, and Peter intervened powerfully, referring back to his vision of the unclean meats.

    Why this strikes me as so important is precisely that this was not the word of God being handed down. This was people discussing and deciding a doctrinal position because they’d been put on the spot and there was no Jesus around to ask any more. And that is what the church has done ever since. It’s what Fred does and it’s also what Joseph Ratzinger does, and everybody in between, because there’s no option, and anybody who thinks otherwise thinks they know better than James the Just and Peter and Paul.

    So anyway, the guys in that meeting in Jerusalem didn’t quote scripture to support their views, because a lot of the people in attendance had known Jesus well for many years and had a fair idea what his line might be (and besides, the New Testament hadn’t been written yet). What they did, they applied reason and experience, and James came up with a resolution, which was passed: 

    “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

    His judgment, you notice, not a string of verses from Leviticus.

    Three things about this outcome. Firstly, a number of the points made have ceased to be part of the deal since then. I’ve never heard of any Christian minister preaching against black pudding – it would cause riots in Germany and Poland. Other people have used their common sense too. And if they continue to do so, they’ll be acting in the tradition of the apostles.

    Secondly, the prohibition on sexual shenanigans (porneia) is in there right from the get go, there’s no getting around it. So we can all have fun parsing what the apostles actually had in mind when they said to avoid it. (My guess is that they meant any kind of casual, as opposed to committed sex, regardless of the gender or orientation of the people involved.)

    But thirdly, there’s the question of the come back on people who don’t obey the injunction. That’s at Acts 15:29, where the text of the letter that was sent out is recorded. It doesn’t say that people who don’t measure up will burn in hell. It doesn’t even say that they’ll be expelled from the movement, or asked to undertake some kind of penance. It says, “You will do well to avoid these things.” That’s all. They didn’t call him James the Just for nothing.

    Sorry, that’s much too long.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     Why this strikes me as so important is precisely that this was not the
    word of God being handed down. This was people discussing and deciding a
    doctrinal position because they’d been put on the spot and there was no
    Jesus around to ask any more.

    The problem that comes from this argument, while it’s correct, is that the crowd in question doesn’t see it as not the word of god.  It’s in the Bible, after all, which is the word of god.  Paul, who never once met Jesus, gets the same weight as Peter and James and the Gospels (leave aside the genuine history problems for the moment and pretend that the RTC interpretation of who wrote the Bible and when and its veracity is correct).

    As such, someone like Fred doesn’t have the same authority as a Peter, because Fred isn’t in the Bible.  That’s the problem that comes from the clobber verses and why they continue to be used as a form of argumentation.

    It’s pretty much exactly like Founding Father worship, which, interestingly, is most often done by the same people who use the clobber verses.  America can’t do anything because, dammit, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams didn’t say anything about it.  It doesn’t matter if you argue until you’re blue in the face that Thomas Jefferson didn’t know what the internet was, and, oh, by the way, he owned slaves and we kinda did away with that whole thing a few years after he shed this mortal coil.  They just make Abraham Lincoln an honorary Founding Father and point out that he didn’t say much of anything about the Internet or ownership of RPG-7s, either.

  • Jurgan

    “Sorry, that’s much too long.”

    Not at all.  Very interesting reading- thank you for that.

  • WallofIllusion

    “Sarcasm aside, I simply cannot accept that my critics are right because I
    cannot accept what their claims assert and assume about the character
    of God.”

    This is what keeps me from going to pieces sometimes. Whenever I get caught up in “but what if I am wrong, what if the people who interpret the clobber passages in the opposite direction are right,” I just remind myself that I *don’t believe those things about God.* I don’t BELIEVE that God sets up arbitrary rules, I don’t believe that God has as limited a view of gender as most anti-gay sentiment requires, I just don’t believe in the God they portray. None of it fits with being all-knowing or all-loving.

    Which helps me when I get hung up on how to interpret this or that individual word.

  • Carstonio

    Since I don’t know if gods exist, I don’t possess the ability to use belief to refute the clobberers. I usually say instead that they bear the burden of proving that a god exists who wants people to be cruel to others based on orientation.

    By contrast, Christians like Fred don’t bear the burden of proving that a god exists who wants people to love one another. That’s because treating others with kindness is a good idea no matter what one believes or doesn’t believe about gods.

    The clobberers in both fundamentalist Christianity and fundamentalist
    Islam are almost identical in claiming that people who disagree with
    them about Jesus are doomed to hell. But their positions on the divinity of Jesus
    couldn’t be more different, and both sides can’t be right.

  • Kiba

    Yes, that’s something I do as well and I’m a Pagan. Normally I don’t give two hoots and a holler what your beliefs are, or lack there of, but if you are going to start trying to make everyone else live their life according to them? Yeah, that’s when I start saying, “prove it.” 

  • AnonaMiss


    I just remind myself that I *don’t believe those things about God.* I don’t BELIEVE that God sets up arbitrary rules, I don’t believe that God has as limited a view of gender as most anti-gay sentiment requires, I just don’t believe in the God they portray. None of it fits with being all-knowing or all-loving.

    I suppose it’s comforting as a believer; but as a person infinitely more concerned with this life than a possible next life, this is troubling. If the loving Christian appeals to hir conception of god to justify the reading of the text, instead of appealing to the reading of the text to justify a conception of god, then there’s no hope of reforming the un-loving Christian: hir god is just as un-loving as hir reading is.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Supposedly we humans are made “in God’s image”, in the Christian faith, anyway.

    If so, then the majority of us, when confronted with another person’s actions which seem wrong, would likely say, “Why did you do that, you (insert oppobrious term here)?”

    And the person in questionm if they are any kind of mature person, will feel bad.

    Well, in that case, if God questions people about their actions, then any decent person would, when confronted with all their numerous bad acts, great and small, feel bad about it rather than bluster away in arrogant self-justification.

    And that, I think, is what motivates ignoring the “clobber verses” if you believe in that sort of God.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    There’s a quote I love from Sarah Vowell, while talking about her book The Wordy Shipmates, about “sort of the ideal religious fanatic” (Rodger Williams):

    “He just believed that everyone who disagreed with his own Puritan religious views were going to burn eternally in hell, and he thought that was punishment enough, and so on earth we we could all live together.”

    Interview for hardcover.

    Interview for softcover (from which quote comes.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=687121933 Carrie Looney

    Chris, that is exactly what I was thinking when I first read this post, and I was scrolling down the comments to see if anyone beat me to it. :) If you truly believed gays were going to hell, wouldn’t the Christian thing to do be to be as kind as possible to them in the meantime? :p

    For me, I go by the athiest version of Pascal’s Wager.  There is an infinitesimal, yet nonzero, chance of their being some kind of Infinite Being who judges.  My answer to that chance is to live what I consider to be as good a life as I can, and act in a way that generally helps people to be happy and doesn’t get in the way of them doing so (with all the caveats on people being happy not being dependent on harming others).  If this Inifinte Being is good and just, I’ve lived in a way that should pass muster.  If not – if, say, this Infinite Being required a certain set of arbitrary rituals or required us to be assholes to a certain subset of the population – I would be pleased to be in opposition to it.

  • Ross Thompson

    For me, I go by the athiest version of Pascal’s Wager.

    I prefer to use one that less athier.

    … I’ll get my coat.

  • aunursa

    Once on an interfaith forum, a Christian asked me what would be the response of the Jews if God Himself confirmed that Jesus was really the Messiah and all Evangelical Christian doctrines were true.*

    I responded that if God threatened to punish the Jews for rejecting Jesus as the Messiah, then the Jewish people would sue Him for breach of contract.  And we would demand that the judge and jury be neutral third parties.

    * This question was in response to my initial question asking them what would be the response of Christians if, the real Messiah appears in exactly the same manner as Jewish theologians expect, and even if Jesus himself were to appear and confirm that he was not the real Messiah.

  • Carstonio

    Dumb hypothetical question – why wouldn’t the Jewish people be too afraid of their god to sue for breach of contract? I would think that fear of a being that powerful would be natural.

  • aunursa

    Dumb hypothetical question – why wouldn’t the Jewish people be too afraid of their god to sue for breach of contract? I would think that fear of a being that powerful would be natural.

    In the case of a lawsuit for the threatened unjust punishment of eternal damnation, I am not aware of a downside.

    In either case, the Jews have a different view of our relationship with God than Christians have of their relationship with God.  Both Abraham and Moses argued with God regarding threatened punishments.  The Jewish view can best be explained by this story from the Talmud in which the rabbis rejected an interpretation of Torah that was confirmed by the Almighty Himself.  (Scroll down to the paragraph beginning with Aggadata.

  • Carstonio

     

    In the case of a lawsuit for the threatened unjust punishment of eternal damnation, I am not aware of a downside.

    You mean that the humans in that situation would have nothing to lose?

    My question wasn’t intended to contrast the Jewish view with the Christian view specifically, but instead with the view that the most prudent course with any being of that power might be to walk on eggshells. The Jewish view seems to imply either a great deal of courage, or else a great deal of trust that the god won’t lash out in anger at the merest trace of defiance.

  • aunursa

    the most prudent course with any being of that power might be to walk on eggshells.

    In the case of God planning to punish the Jewish people for rejecting Jesus, there would be no point in walking on eggshells, since the alleged crime for which we are to be punished has already been committed. 

    The Jewish view seems to imply …  a great deal of trust that the god won’t lash out in anger at the merest trace of defiance.

    Of course! 

    First, the Jewish view of our relationship with God is not one of master and slave.  Second, given the examples of Abraham and Moses, why should we assume that God would automatically lash out in rage over a disagreement?

  • Carstonio

     

    Second, given the examples of Abraham and Moses, why should we assume that God would automatically lash out in rage over a contract dispute?

    Not automatically. From the Sacrifice of Isaac story,  it may be reasonable to fear that the being would be capable of anything no matter how capricious or irrational this may seem to humans. Theoretically, anyone is capable of lashing out in rage given enough provocation.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Belief in a Higher Power that acts capriciously can’t sensibly motivate behavior. As you say, It is capable of anything. Maybe It will lash out if I argue with It. Maybe It will lash out if I fail to argue with It. How could I ever tell?

    Faced with such a Higher Power, all I can really do is go on about my business as if it didn’t exist.

  • Carstonio

    Again speaking hypothetically, why would one be able to do that with a higher power and not with a human, such as an abusive spouse? I have a possible answer, but I’m interested in yours.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Faced with a human whose behavior I cannot predict and who will capriciously choose to approve of some things and not others, I cannot sensibly seek their approval. Faced with one who will lash out at me in unpredictable ways and who is powerful enough to preclude any attempt at overpowering or avoiding them,  all I can really do is go on about my business as though they didn’t exist. Faced with such a capricious human who is not that powerful, I can attempt to overpower or avoid them.

  • Carstonio

    Capricious and unpredictable may not be the right word for what I had in mind. Perhaps simply a fear that one might do something to set the person or being off.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Um… OK?
    I think at this point I’ve lost track of your question, so let me back up and try again.

    If some entity E will try to hurt me for engaging in some behavior B, I can either avoid B, or avoid E finding out about B, or I can prevent E from hurting me when it tries, or I can be hurt.

    If I don’t know which behaviors will cause E to hurt me, I can’t avoid B.
    If E is sufficiently perceptive, I can’t avoid E finding out about B.
    If E is sufficiently powerful, I can’t prevent E from hurting me if it tries.

    None of this depends on whether E is a deity or not.

    Does that help?

  • Carstonio

    My original point was that I didn’t understand how the Jewish theological tradition could hold that humans should be unafraid to challenge a god. That’s because fear seems to me like a natural feeling in the face of someone with a certain level of power, human or divine. That’s because how the intelligence responds to you, whether for good or ill, is based on your behavior toward it. That’s not an endorsement of the belief that natural calamities are divine punishments – my argument is about situations where there’s no question about the powerful being’s involvement, such as if one were a character in an Old Testament story.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     The Jewish theological tradition I was raised in doesn’t hold that one has any particular ethical obligation to be unafraid of challenging God. It does, however, hold that challenging God can under some circumstances be a righteous act.

  • Carstonio

     I can understand that. My argument was about a natural impulse to be afraid of such a being, with the conclusion that challenging the being would involve fighting that fear. Whether a specific instance of challenging is righteous is somewhat of a separate issue.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     Fair enough. I’d gotten the impression that you also believed there was an expectation otherwise; that the impulse towards fearing God was generally denied by others. Which is what I was pushing back on. But if you’re simply asserting that the impulse exists, I agree with you completely.

  • Adrienne

    But Jews call themselves the people of Israel, and Israel means ‘who struggles with G-d’, or ‘who argues with G-d’. The entire Jewish tradition is based on that — that they don’t just do what they are told, they ask “why”, and “how”, and “what the fuck” to G-d. I don’t think that necessarily speaks to a lack of fear, exactly, but to an entirely different conception of how you’re supposed to relate to G-d. Even if you’re afraid (you think Jacob wasn’t terrified, wrestling with an angel in the first place?) you’re supposed to do it ANYWAY.

    (Note: I am not Jewish, nor am i Christian. However, when speaking of Judaism, i prefer to use their convention for the name of the supreme being, never writing Its name or epithets in their entirety.)

  • Carstonio

    I wasn’t accusing Jews of doing what they’re told. I guess I’m suggesting instead that power itself is fearful and absolute power is absolutely so. Anyone is theoretically capable of flying into a rage at any time for any reason. With a being of that power, I might expect the natural relationship to be a desperate desire to placate the being, even if one is supposed to have a different relationship with it. Hard for me to imagine someone asking Why of such a being without stammering and becoming drenched with sweat, waiting for the almighty wrath to descend upon the person. 

  • aunursa

    Actually, Isaac was not sacrificed.  And that was at God’s command.

    it may be reasonable to fear that the being would be capable of anything no matter how capricious or irrational this may seem to humans.

    On the other hand, faith in God is reasonable if He has justified the faith of our ancestors. 

    That faith is something that Jews and Christians have in common.

  • AnonaMiss

    That was a wonderful story aunursa! Thank you for sharing it.

  • http://scyllacat.livejournal.com Scylla Kat

    “In the case of a lawsuit for the threatened unjust punishment of eternal damnation, I am not aware of a downside.”

    That’s the funniest thing I’ve read today.

  • vsm

    I rather admire the Jewish tradition of arguing with God, especially the time when Rabbi Eliezer got God to intervene on his behalf in a debate and still lost.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gus-Hinrich/100000151807749 Gus Hinrich

    OK, 3 things:

     Naive question: What, exactly is a “clobber verse”? I grew up Mainline Presbyterian & don’t recall ever hearing that term.

    Good use of the Lloyd Bentsen paraphrase.

    All the talk about certainty vs. doubt reminds me of the recent commercial with the dialogue: “I’m 99.9% sure.”  “So you don’t KNOW.”

  • RickRS

    Gus,

    I didn’t see an answer to your question as to “What, exactly is a “clobber verse”?” so here a link that might help:
    http://www.gaychurch.org/gay_and_christian_yes/calling_the_rainbow_nation_home/7_gac_the_clobber_passages.htm

  • Trixie_Belden

    Well, as I understand it ( I didn’t grow up with the term myself), “clobber verses” as used by fundamentalist Christians refers to certain verses of the Bible which, in their opinion, are so clear and unequivocal that they “clobber” any attempt to argue for a different interpretation.  As in the saying, “God said it.  I believe it.  That settles it”. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but even after years of reading Fred’s blog I can’t name the particular verses, but with regards to LGBT people, there are certain verses in Leviticus and The Acts(?) or the Epistles(?) which fundamentalists regard as such clear condemnations of homosexuality that they regard liberal Christian talk of love and acceptance as muzzy-headed wishful thinking at best and outright wickedness at worst.

  • Ursula L

    One caveat I can see to the “Fine, I’ll go to Hell” decision is that Huck Finn actually believed that he would be going to Hell.  He also actually believed that what he was doing was wrong, but chose to do it anyways, because he cared about his friend that much.  The people I see using “fine, I’ll go to Hell” as an argument in real life don’t actually believe that they will suffer eternal punishment for their decision, but are merely using it as a hypothetical.  

    It’s an important distinction.  “I will do this, knowing that it is the wrong thing and doing it will lead me to suffer forever” takes much more courage than “I will do this, thinking that I’m doing the right thing and face no punishment, but I hope I’d do it anyways if I knew for certain it was religiously wrong and would suffer forever for it.”  

    In real, contemporary life, there is only one example I can think of when we see people making a genuine Huck Finn choice.  It’s the (fortunately rare) parents who believe that their children will be assured heaven if they die innocent, but may/will face hell if they grow to the age of discernment.   So the parent kills the child, while still young and innocent and sure of heaven, knowing that this murder assures the parent a place in hell – but their child is assured a place in heaven.  

    We, quite rightly, see this type of belief as a profound mental illness, a break in reason.  

    But many of the people in the culture Huck Finn was living in would have seen his choices as being as profoundly wrong and antisocial as a parent murdering their child to ensure it died innocent.  

    It weakens the story of Huck Finn to equate his decision to embrace actual Hell as the same as one’s hope that one might make the same choice, while believing that the actual choice you’re making doesn’t and shouldn’t have the consequence of Hell. 

  • Carstonio

    “I will do this, knowing that it is the wrong thing and doing it will lead me to suffer forever” takes much more courage than “I will do this, thinking that I’m doing the right thing and face no punishment, but I hope I’d do it anyways if I knew for certain it was religiously wrong and would suffer forever for it.” 

    While I agree in principle, that doesn’t seem to be Fred’s point, at least from my reading. The clobberers appear to actually believe they would end up in hell if they don’t conform to what they see as their god’s teachings on sexuality. Specifically, they appear to believe it’s wrong to show kindness to people regardless of orientation, instead of clobbering them with threats of eternal damnation. It’s reasonable to question whether they actually believe these, but I’ll take these at face value for the moment. These beliefs mean that the clobberers are the ones in the Huck Finn situation, except they’re making the opposite choice. They’re treating the preservation of their own souls as the highest good. They’re choosing fear over love.

  • Ursula L

    While I agree in principle, that doesn’t seem to be Fred’s point, at least from my reading.  

    I agree with you, that isn’t the point that Fred was making.  Which [i]is[/i] my point.

    For Huck Finn to say “fine, I’ll go to Hell” was not merely an act of love and kindness and morality.  It was also an also an act of courage in the face of certain destruction and  self-sacrifice to the point of being self-destructive.  

    And Huck Finn acted in a time and place where many other peoplewere sending such letters.  And part of the reason for sending such a letter was the genuine persecution you’d face from not sending such a letter, but instead helped an escaping slave.  There was fear of going to Hell, certainly, for committing an damnable act.  

    But there was also punishment in this world.  Prison sentences, and long ones.  Fines, incredible high, so that for most people they’d loose their home and everything they owned, not only bankrupting themselves but leaving their families and any dependents destitute and helpless. 

    Huck Finn can say “fine, I’ll go to Hell”, because all he faces is hell.  He’s incredibly poor, with nothing of value to loose in fines.  He has no family, who would be left unsupported if he is imprisoned or destitute if he looses the family property to fines.  If he faces punishment on Earth for his actions, he’s the only one to suffer, and most of the punishments worked into the laws designed to stop people from helping escaped fines don’t really affect him.  He faces the Hell-on-Earth of prison, and Hell in the afterlife.  He doesn’t face seeing his wife and kids and elderly parents starving on the street because he’s in prison and everything the family owned (which was all “his” because of the fact that women’s property belonged to their husband) has been taken as fines, since he has no family.

    It’s easy to come across as claiming Huck Finn’s courage as your own, when you’re sitting comfortable and safe at home, doing nothing courageous or self-sacrificing.  And that, in turn, can come across a bit like those conservative Christians in the US who claim they’re being persecuted, or that they’re bravely standing up to persecution, because they can’t keep someone else from getting proper medical care.  

    A decent person always hopes that, if the situation should arise, they would bravely stand up to persecution, of themselves and particularly persecution of others.  

    Armchair courage is easy.  It’s tempting to take pride in armchair courage, as proof of your own courage in the face of certain harm to yourself.  

    ***

    I’m not saying that Fred is doing the same thing as conservative Christians in the US whining about persecution.

    I’m saying that he, interestingly, touches on the same concept, the difference between imagining what you would do in a situation where you faced great personal danger standing up to persecution, versus actually standing up to persecution when you’re actually facing the certainty of being harmed for doing so.  

    ***

    I’m also saying that Mark Twain made Huck’s choice artificially easy.  By writing Huck as a person so poor and alone that the financial punishments for helping an escaped slave didn’t apply.  

    And by not having Huck think about what it would mean to be imprisoned for helping Jim.   Not thinking about the Hell-on-Earth of prison and what imprisonment would mean for a free spirit like Huck.  Only thinking about the more distant and abstract concept of Hell-after-life.  

    The people who owned slaves and who were powerful and behind the various laws to stop slaves from escaping and stopping people from helping escaped slaves were deadly serious about what they were doing.  Think of the current mess created by the “war on drugs” or the current focus in the US on punishing “illegals” and put it on steroids.  

  • vsm

    It was also an also an act of courage in the face of certain destruction
    and  self-sacrifice to the point of being self-destructive

    Huck Finn is not that kind of a story, though, or freeing Jim could not have been played as a farce. It’s a picaresque adventure story that does deal with some very serious subjects, but reading it like a psychologically realistic novel seems like a mistake to me. The moment Huck decides to go to Hell is not portrayed as him taking on a horrifying existential burden, but the ironic triumph of his inherent decency over society’s tyranny. In that spirit, I think it’s okay for us less brave people to quote Huck as well.

    As for sitting in the comfort of one’s home, our host’s critics are implying his posts are enough to send him to Hell, along with all the innocents he’s corrupting.

  • Dan Audy

    That isn’t at all how I’ve ever read that section.  Certainly Huck knew he was going to be punished by God for it but that he chose to act anyway because he couldn’t live with himself for failing to.  While the Higher Power might consider it wrong the Lesser acts in contravention to satisfy their conscience knowing full well that they will receive a punishment for it.  That isn’t a belief that their act is wrong but rather an acknowledgement that they will be punished consequent to their act regardless of the merits it holds.

    I see it a lot like protestors who go outside the bounds of what the law allows to make their point.  They know that they are going to get arrested but consider their message to be more important to spread than abiding the laws.

  • ReverendRef

    But fallibility isn’t really the issue behind this question, “What if you’re wrong?”

    What they really mean, in other words, is not so much “what if you’re wrong?” but “what if we are right?”

    I think fallibility is exactly the issue here.  Asking the question, “What if you are wrong?” sort of has the meaning of, “What if we are right?” but not really.

    It has been my experience that RTC’s are seriously short of humbleness and the ability to actually consider if they are wrong.  But they have more than enough chutzpah to believe that they are not only right, but that they are infallibly right.  Because if they are wrong on one single thing — whether that’s six days of creation, or the Flood, or their utilization of the clobber verses, or that sentence in 1 Thessalonians that rapture theology is based on — then their whole faith structure falls like a house of cards.  They must be infallible to be right, and they must be right to go to heaven.

    And imo, that is a sad and fearful way to live.

  • http://www.storyrestoration.com/ Chuck

    Reading through this thread – especially this post – brings up another question that I’d really like to see you address: What does love look like when we are faced with something/someone who is clearly _un_loving?

    Clobber verses aside, there does seem to be a pretty strong thread of Justice in God’s character as well.  Yes, it is tempered with mercy and grace (Thank GOD!) but there are still times when He says “enough already”.  And since He’s God, and I’m supposed to try to reflect His image as best I can, what am I called to do when I see something happening that isn’t right (like oppression or abuse of other humans, whatever their sexual orientation may be)?

    I’m not at all advocating taking up arms (literally or metaphorically), but I also must not be passive and accepting, if I am to be faithful to the call to love my neighbor…because Love Does!

  • EllieMurasaki

    What does love look like when we are faced with something/someone who is clearly _un_loving?

    Telling them “you’re hurting [whoever’s getting hurt], knock it off” and/or stopping them from hurting whoever’s getting hurt. There are various degrees to both, and the latter can be anywhere from telling the kids to go to separate rooms to killing the assailant (note however that it being permissible to kill someone who’s an immediate and clear threat to you or another does not make it permissible to kill someone convicted of anything no matter how grave, because locking that someone up forever is just as effective and easier to fix if there was a miscarriage of justice), but that’s basically the only things to do. Convince them to stop the hurtfulness, or make them stop. This isn’t particularly loving towards the person being hurtful, but it’s also not hurtful towards them (usually, and any scenario where doing X hurts Y but doing not-X hurts Z has to be dealt with case-by-case, though the general rule is whoever gets hurt less has to put up with it, unless the same person is consistently getting shit on in which case the other person has to take a turn), and letting them go on being hurtful is not at all loving to whoever they’re hurting.

  • Baby_Raptor

    (Please don’t take this as an attack on you personally, or on your beliefs. This is just me voicing my beliefs, and maybe getting some responses.)

    One of the reasons I left Christianity was that your god shows no real sense of justice.

    If the anti-gay ponies are right, then he’s sending ponies to eternal torture for how he made them. If they’re wrong, then he’s sitting back doing nothing as these supposed followers of his cause immeasurable damage to countless lives in his name, using his word. And then sending people to eternal torture for not believing in him due to being turned off by those people and their actions, while those people get forgiven and welcomed to paradise. (And homosexuality isn’t the only “sin” one can use in this example, just the one pertinent to the discussion at hand.)

    He does nothing to stop things like rape, starvation, disease, etc. 

    And then there’s the problem of the entire concept of sin. The Christian god is, according to the bible, all knowing. Meaning he knew that man would fall, given the opportunity, and that if man DID fall, he would have to punish us. And yet, he gave us free will anyway, essentially tying our hands. He created us to Fuck up, and then punishes us when we do so.

    I see no justice here. I don’t see bad actions getting punished, and good people being rewarded. To me, it seems to all hinge on whether or not you can muster the stomache to worship a being that is, at best, questionable. If you can’t, you suffer for eternity. If you can, welcome to paradise. What you actually DO with your life, how you treat others, your karma or whatever…None of that seems to actually matter.

  • aunursa

    Yes.  As Rabbi Tovia Singer of Outreach Judaism put it: According to Christian theologians, God created humanity as sinful beings incapable of keeping His commandments.  Then he gave (the Jewish people) a set of commandments that He knew we couldn’t keep.  Yet He told us that we could keep them.  He punished us over centuries for failing to keep the commandments.  And then 1400 years later, He said, “Ha! Ha!  The only reason I gave you the commandments was to show you that you couldn’t keep them.”  And on Judgment Day He will punish us with eternal damnation for failing to keep the commandments that He knew we couldn’t keep.

  • aunursa

    An analogy that Rabbi Singer offers involves parents of a child with severe disabilities.  The parents take their child to the Boston Marathon, they take him to the starting line.  Then they tell him that they expect that he will finish the race and win the race.  If he doesn’t win the race he will severely punished.  When the race begins the child tries to go forward, but he only manages a few steps before collapsing.  At this point the parents begin to beat him mercilessly.  Rabbi Singer notes that the parents would be hauled off to prison for extreme child abuse.  Yet this is what Evangelical Christians expect us to believe about God.

  • The_L1985

    Just wanted to let you know, you’re calling people ponies.

    Not that it isn’t nice to encounter fellow MLP fans on the Internet, just…we’re not actually ponies.

  • Tricksterson

    And if we could be I’d prefer to be a cat anyway.

  • Baby_Raptor

    *makes note to self to turn off Ponify when typing long rants*

  • vsm

    That’s a thing? Oh dear.

  • The Guest That Posts

    Fred, I don’t post a lot, but I’ve greatly enjoyed nearly all of your posts.

    This one, though? I think I can safely say this is my favourite of all your posts so far. Beautiful message, excellent writing.

  • http://profiles.google.com/lisa.mamula Lisa Mamula

    “Ah, but what if I’m wrong? What if they’re right and I’m wrong and this is what Jesus is really like — fearsome, wrathful, strict, full of graceless truth?”
    This is why I read your blog.  Because I’m from a very conservative background, and sometimes I wonder this very thing: What if they are right after all?  What if I’m wrong, and Love doesn’t really win in the end, what if nearly everyone who has ever lived is destined for hell?

    Well, I guess we’ll all be together, anyway. I’m glad I found your blog, Fred.

  • LL

    You guys, it’s not about right vs. wrong. It’s about righteous vs. wrong. I’ve noticed that fundies love the word (and the concept of) righteousness. One of the least attractive things about them, this fixation on righteousness. But still, if it makes Fred feel better, even after years of hearing from RTCs about righteousness, I don’t get the impression that righteousness was more important to Jesus than love. So either I paid attention in the various Sunday school classes (and Vacation Bible School) when they didn’t, or they are just determined to take the wrong thing away from all those Jesusy parables. I guess it could be both.

  • Robyrt

     Thanks for the thoughtful and clear analysis.

    I am reminded of some previous posts, however, saying that loving someone doesn’t always mean accepting whatever they’re doing. Sometimes it means convincing them to stop, and in rare cases forcing them to stop. Quite often it means explaining in a considerate fashion why a particular attitude or behavior is wrong, even if it would cause that person considerable harm to give it up.

    As far as imagining-God-on-the-day-of-judgment goes, I’m inclined to believe that God will be charitable and merciful towards those whose hearts are in the right place but wouldn’t get high marks on a theology test. It would be very much in character.

    I had a bit here about the character of God, but that’s really suited to some other post, and I can’t imagine this subject never coming up again :P

  • Xian-x

    In De Doctrina Christiana, Augustine argues that “no interpretation [of scripture] can be true which does not promote the love of God and the love of man.” That, in fact, is the ultimate rule of biblical interpretation.

    How Augustine understands this can be understood in part through his sermon on the apostle Paul’s use of the passage, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated,” which Augustine preached at the request of people who found the passage troubling. Augustine considers interpreting in the passage first in one manner, then in another. Each time insurmountable moral objections lead Augustine to reject the interpretation. Augustine continues with one possible interpretation after another, but every way that Augustine can think of to interpret the passage is plagued with monstrous moral implications. In the end, Augustine can find no acceptable interpretation. (Yes, there are biblical passages for which even one of the so-called “fathers of the church” can find no acceptable interpretation.) He ends up concluding that scripture can confound our ability to interpret it, but there is one matter on which scripture is perfectly clear: the god revealed in Jesus is a god of love–and that should always be where Christians make their final stand.

  • Aurora

    Unfortunately, I do not have the sheer balls to say I am willing to go to Hell, and this is why I have such trouble with the “but what if you’re wrong” problem. I am in no way courageous enough to face eternal pain and suffering because I bet wrong on a Pascal’s Wager.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I am in no way courageous enough to face eternal pain and suffering because I bet wrong on a Pascal’s Wager.

    Yeah… I sometimes feel this way.
    I find it helps to remember that there are multiple overlapping Wagers in play at once.

    That is, sure, there’s some nonzero chance that a god exists who so hates homosexual acts that He will send me to Hell if I commit one. I don’t think it’s true, but I might be wrong, and I can’t be sure.
    But there’s also some nonzero chance that a god exists who so hates abstaining from homosexual acts that He will send me to Hell unless I commit one. I don’t think it’s true, but I might be wrong, and I can’t be sure.

    No matter what I do, I face the (negligible) chance of eternal pain and suffering because I bet wrong on such a Wager. And I have always faced that chance. I faced it a year ago, and ten years ago, and when I was five years old.

    I know I am strong enough to face that chance, because I have been facing it all my life. And so has everyone else.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ mistformsquirrel

    Before I lost my religion, I genuinely struggled with this line of thought to.  Eventually I came across the idea of the Atheist’s wager, and it honestly made me feel infinitely better about the whole thing (as well as helping to finish my shift away from faith altogether.)

    “You should live your life and try to make the world
    a better place for your being in it, whether or not you believe in god.
    If there is no god, you have lost nothing and will be remembered fondly
    by those you left behind. If there is a benevolent god, he will judge
    you on your merits and not just on whether or not you believed in him.”

    The idea being that if you just do your best to be a good person, period, then regardless of the existence of a benevolent deity, you’ll be fine.  Now if there is a god, and that god is *not* benevolent, it’s fair to say we’re all fucked regardless, in which case the wager still holds up simply because there’s nothing you can do against a malevolent deity.

    None of which is to say “And thus you should be an atheist”.

    It’s more a way of saying that if you strive to be a good, kind, loving person, then regardless of the existence of a good deity, you ought to be just fine.

    That’s my thought anyway.

  • Albanaeon

    “because there’s nothing you can do against a malevolent deity.”

    Sure there is.  You go ahead and become a loyal minion and rub your hands gleefully in anticipation of the upcoming smack-down.  Left Behind seems to be a manual for how to go about it.  Particularly if the deity in question seems completely off hir rocker and doesn’t mind you taking advantage of the enemies rewards while said smack down is going down.

    That it makes people like Herb “Cameron “Call me Buck” Williams” Katz who are heroes only in their own minds and assholes in everyone else’s is beside the point.  There’s some serious gloating coming, after all.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ mistformsquirrel

     Alright maaaybe I should have prefaced that with “If you don’t want to be an asshole” >_>

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I felt that way for a very long time. It’s why I remained a catholic for so long.

    But there are other ways than be willing to say “I’ll go to hell.”  For example, you could refuse to accept that “But what if you’re wrong?” is the same  question as “But what if we’re right?”

    I might be wrong. But I can’t imagine the odds of me being right are worse than the odds that God is cool with child molestation but not with two dudes exchanging rings.

    When someone asks “What if you’re wrong?”, you say “Then I just hope Cthulu eats me first.”

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    You basically can’t bet anything but wrong on Pascal’s Wager! Any position you take has equal chance of a good or a bad outcome!

  • Beleester

    Utilitarian, risk-reward ethics works fine, if you’re trying to maximize *everyone’s* happiness and not just your personal tribe’s. You’re doing it yourself, when you point out that if they’re all damned either way, you may as well make them as happy as possible in this world, and when you say that you won’t be happy if it comes at the expense of others.

    Of course, this is an immensely complicated way of saying “You can’t decide what makes me happy” so actually calculating it out is kind of pointless, like using Newton’s laws just to verify that things fall down when you drop them.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    I think my answer would be, “If I’m wrong, then I’m wrong.  If God condemns people to eternal torment for not being infallible, then God is a :bleep:.  And if God is a :bleep:, then we’re all pretty much screwed no matter what.”

    In my mind the idea that God is loving, merciful, or even just (IMO there’s nothing we can do in a finite lifespan that would make eternal torment a fair and reasonable punishment) is incompatible with Hell.  And if God is hateful, cruel, and unjust, then all bets are off for anything and everyone.

    But I believe that God is loving, merciful, and just.

  • AnonymousSam

    These are the posts I look forward to reading, and they often come from you, Lliira. :D

    I don’t think it’s jealousy, but it certainly has the feel of astonishment, bewilderedness, etc. “What? How can you not hate your crotch? It’s so… so gross!

    Nevermind that the Bible, between the lines, still has plenty of penis-worship. Touching your father’s penis was supposed to confer his blessing upon you, or compel you to speak truths, or bind you to oaths… hence that “put your hand beneath my thigh” thing.

  • The_L1985

    A lot of Bible translations appear to censor the word for “penis,” so this can be confused.  For example, I vaguely remember a passage where someone (Melchizedek?) circumcises himself (ouch!) and touches the foreskin to Abraham’s feet.  The footnote in my Bible (Today’s English Version, if you’re curious) says “This may be a euphemism for the genitals.”

    But yeah, it’s called a testament because you originally swore on your own genitals.

  • AnonymousSam

    Yeah, they euphemize it to “thigh” most of the time, but the Bible isn’t the only place where scholars are starting to agree that “thigh” was not the body part they were referring to… Dionysus, anyone?

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Something or other I once read pointed out that for a lot of men, when they were very small children, one of the first formaive experiences they can remember was some form of discovering that there was this one bit of their body that seemed AWESOME, and then having the first important female figure in their life slap their hand and tell them that that they must NEVER EVER pull it out, show it off, or play with it. Often in the form of “Put that thing away and don’t touch it, it’s filthy,”

  • The_L1985

    This, so much.  It’s one thing to say “We don’t show people that body part in public; it’s rude,” and another to actually say or imply that parts of your body are nasty.

    I got the former from my mother, and hints of the latter from CCD.  You can imagine how confusing that is.

  • Daughter

     Many RTC’s also think that God is going to punish the U.S. as a nation because of “sin,” based on the fact that the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament describes God punishing nations for their sin.* That’s why you get all the proclamations by Pat Robertson and other to that effect when there is a natural disaster. And why they talk about things like the Roman Empire falling apart because of the decline of morality (read: sexual sin). (They don’t seem to address the fact that by the time the Roman Empire fell, Christianity was firmly entrenched).

    So they think that marriage equality hurts them because they’ll end up as the innocent collateral victims of God’s wrath, and thus they need to fight like hell (pun intended) to prevent it.

    * IIRC, God generally punished nations for the following sins: 1) idolatry; 2) violent aggression toward other nations; and 3) oppression of the poor. So if God indeed operates this way, God might be in the mood to punish the U.S., but not for the reasons RTC’s imagine.

  • Tricksterson

    Yes, their God does seem to go around actively looking for reasons to torture people, doesn’t he?

  • Daughter

     Eh. Whenever some new imperial power arise and took over other nations, the prophets interpreted that as God’s divine judgment (over the losers–of course, the winners would usually later get theirs). And since most nations had something of worship of gods other than Yahweh, aggression or oppression in their history, that was viewed as the justification for the punishment.

  • Tricksterson

    If Fred’s critics want him to seriously consider that they might be right and he might be wrong then they should be willing to return the favor.  Otherwise I see no reason to pay attention to them.

  • Gotchaye

    There’s definitely a place for “what if you’re wrong” questions and cost-benefit analyses in ethics.  And I’m not talking about factual uncertainty but ethical uncertainty.

     Take animal rights.  Some people think that killing and eating animals is unproblematic.  If they’re right, people are allowed to eat tasty meat.  Some people think that killing animals is very, very wrong.  If they’re right then meat is something like murder.  The ethical stakes (steaks?) here are not balanced, and so people who eat meat have to wrestle with “but what if you’re wrong”, and they need to be very sure that they’re not wrong in order to justify eating meat.  Vegetarians don’t really have to wrestle with that, since if they’re wrong it’s no great loss, and so people who are unsure whether or not it’s ok to eat meat probably shouldn’t.

    And people actually do apply this.  Lots of people don’t eat meat, or only eat meat rarely, not because they’re absolutely opposed to meat-eating but because they’re ambivalent about it and are playing it safe.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    And I’m not talking about factual uncertainty but ethical uncertainty.

    Er?

    That is, it’s not “contributing to the deaths of intelligent creatures is wrong, but I’m not sure how intelligent cows are, so I don’t know whether contributing to the deaths of cows is wrong”… that would be factual uncertainty.

    It’s “even if I knew everything about cows, I wouldn’t know whether it was wrong to contribute to their deaths”?

    That’s… huh. It seems like what I’m uncertain about in this scenario has nothing to do with cows. It seems that what I’m uncertain about is my own values.

  • Gotchaye

     I guess you could put it that way.  It doesn’t strike me as senseless to be worried that one’s values aren’t what they ought to be.  Certainly we believe that /other people/ can have bad values, so it’d seem weird to treat our own as being unquestionable.  For eating animals in particular, anyone who thinks meat is tasty has to recognize that they’ve got an interest in finding that meat is also morally acceptable, so from the beginning there’s got to be at least some worry that one’s moral judgment is clouded by self-interest.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    Certainly we believe that /other people/ can have bad values, so it’d seem weird to treat our own as being unquestionable.

    It seems to me that when I believe others have bad values, I’m mostly observing that their values conflict with mine.

    And, sure, I sometimes observe that my values conflict with one another, which is similar, but not quite the same thing.

    But I suppose, thinking about it, that I can treat this notion of ethical doubt as a way of thinking about the state where my values conflict with one another.

  • aunursa

    If you’re only tempted by the pro- death penalty side, you should probably adopt a policy of opposition to the death penalty out of concern for just how great a moral wrong it would be to have the death penalty if the death penalty is not actually ethical.

    That assumes that you cannot determine whether or not the death penalty is ethical.

  • Gotchaye

     Sure.  Like any cost-benefit or risk analysis, if you assign a 0% chance to some outcome, then that outcome gets a weight of 0.  If the answer to “what if you’re wrong?” is “there’s no way I’m wrong”, then you’re already done.

  • aunursa

    I’m not talking about assigning a chance that an option is ethical (or unethical) as if the analysis involves an imprecise measurement.  I’m talking about determining whether an option is ethical (or unethical.)  You’re assuming that such a determination cannot be made.

    The answer is not “there’s no way I’m wrong,” but rather, “this option satisfies an ethical standard.”

  • aunursa

    Content: CANNIBALISM

    I tried to substitute abortion for animals, but somehow, it doesn’t quite work the way I expected.  This is what I was left with…

    There’s definitely a place for “what if you’re wrong” questions and cost-benefit analyses in ethics. And I’m not talking about factual uncertainty but ethical uncertainty.

    Take abortion rights. Some people think that killing and eating unborn babies is unproblematic. If they’re right, people are allowed to eat tasty fetuses. Some people think that killing unborn babies is very, very wrong. If they’re right then fetal cannibalism is something like murder. The ethical stakes (steaks?) here are not balanced, and so people who eat baby food have to wrestle with “but what if you’re wrong”, and they need to be very sure that they’re not wrong in order to justify eating the unborn. Vegetarians don’t really have to wrestle with that, since if they’re wrong it’s no great loss, and so people who are unsure whether or not it’s ok to eat unborn babies probably shouldn’t.

    And people actually do apply this. Lots of people don’t eat fetuses, or only eat baby back ribs rarely, not because they’re absolutely opposed to fetus-eating but because they’re ambivalent about it and are playing it safe.

  • Gotchaye

    I have absolutely no idea what you’re getting at.

    The reason this sort of ethical cost-benefit analysis isn’t useful for abortion is that the ethical scales are much more nearly balanced.  If pro-lifers are right, terminating a fetus is like killing an infant, and is a very bad thing.  But “enduring pregnancy and childbirth against one’s will” is also a very bad thing, and much more bad than “not able to eat meat”.  “Forcing other people to endure pregnancy and childbirth against their will” is even worse.  So it’s quite possible to support legal abortion, or even choose to have an abortion, while under meaningful uncertainty as to whether or not abortion is morally permissible.

  • aunursa

    I have absolutely no idea what you’re getting at.

    Sorry I wasn’t clear. It was a macabre joke.

  • The_L1985

     And that’s before you factor in ectopic pregnancies, or the additional issues that arise if a woman develops a cancer (uterine or otherwise) while she’s pregnant.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I tried to substitute abortion for animals, but somehow, it doesn’t quite work the way I expected.
     
    Of course it doesn’t. Your substitution makes no allowance for the needs of the most, perhaps only, relevant person in any discussion of pregnancy (which any discussion of abortion necessarily is): the woman.
     
    Not that the original formulation was all that good to begin with. There are people who are allergic to so many different plant-based foods that basically the only way they can live is to be mostly carnivorous, at which point the ethics of eating animals kind of have to take a back seat to the ethics of human survival.

  • The_L1985

    This made me literally LOL.  I think that may make me a horrible person.

  • Carstonio

     I don’t see Fred or anyone else here claiming Huck’s courage as their own, so while you’re on the mark with your criticism of armchair courage, I’m not sure how it’s relevant. Are you suggesting that Fred should have acknowledged the phenomenon?

    Also, I wouldn’t discount hell as distant and abstract for people in Huck’s culture. For people with little to lose or gain financially, the state of their souls may have mattered more to them because that’s all they had, as treasure in heaven. Similar to how poor whites in that region have longed valued the status that wrongly comes with skin color. 

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    On the subject of clobber verses, I like to say this: Never try to use the bible as a cudgel, because there is always someone with a heavier holy book.
     

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    If God is an unloving deity, or one who’s love is conditional on me making others suffer, then I feel no obligation to venerate it.  To quote a certain man of great integrity and wisdom:

    If we’re going to be damned, let’s be damned for what we really are.
    Jean-Luc Picard, “The Encounter at Farpoint”

  • http://twitter.com/bliumchik MK

    The ironic thing is, the assertion you’re combating here with a paradigm shift isn;t even functional on its own terms.

    “What if you’re wrong and you go to hell?”

    Okay, what if *you’re* wrong and you end up being reincarnated as a tapeworm? These two questions have equal value, and in fact have equal value to the question “What if you’re wrong about God wanting you to pray to him, and in fact you’re like an alarm clock he can’t snooze, and when you get to meet him he is going to be *super cranky*?”

    What if you’re wrong about pacifism, and as a result the Norse gods condemn you to an eternity of being some viking’s drinking mug?

    These questions are endless. These people think Pascal’s wager was between two options, one of which had little consequence and one of which had the largest consequence. But in fact he left out the millions of other options with unknown consequences that had as much basis in evidence as the one he bet on.

    The point is, you *can* do risk/benefit analysis on morality, but like any other risk/benefit analysis it has to be grounded in reality. You don’t make your decision solely on the *magnitude* of the risks and benefits, but also on their *likelihood.* This is why flood insurance exists.

  • Hawker40

    “Live a good life.  If the Gods are just, they will see that you lived a good life and reward you.  If the Gods are unjust, you shouldn’t want to worship them.  And if there are no Gods, then you will have lived a good life and live on in the memories of your family and countrymen.” – attributed to Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=807845190 Cheryl Hopper

    The Jesus I know counted prostitutes, Gentiles, and loan sharks among his friends and made no secret of the fact.  He sought out those who were shunned and looked down upon, and he showed them love and respect.  If that’s what Jesus would do, then that’s what I should do.  Anyone who has a problem with the fact I count members of the LGBT community among my friends can go take it up with Jesus.  Anyone who has a problem with the fact I choose to show love and grace unconditionally can take it up with God, whose own love is unconditional.

    One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received is being told by a gay friend that I’m the only conservative Christian he’s willing to listen to.   Another time, I was told by an atheist that they wished more Christians were like me.  How sad the way people seem to know Christians these days is by our *lack* of love. xp


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