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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.” 

  • 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.

  • 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?”

  • 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

    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. 

  • 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!”

  • 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.

  • 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%. ;)

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.)

  • 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.

  • 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.”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

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

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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://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.

  • 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.

  • Dashdown84

    I will bring desert with me!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • The_L1985

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

  • 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.

  • 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

     

    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?

  • AnonaMiss

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

  • 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.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X