Frank Bruni, of New York Times, Hectors Christians: “Bow to the Enlightenments of Modernity!”

Frank Bruni, of New York Times, Hectors Christians: “Bow to the Enlightenments of Modernity!” April 9, 2015

Norman Rockwell, "Freedom of Worship" (1943, public domain)

Norman Rockwell, “Freedom of Worship” (1943, public domain)

 

So the New York Times ran a column by Frank Bruni—of all the days in the long calender of the year, on Easter Sunday—the point of which was to badger Christians into bowing their knee to the Sin Liberation Front, aka “gay rights.” (“Gay rights” meaning, roughly, “forget your deeply-held moral convictions, you will think and do as we say.”) Do you think that is fearmongering and exaggeration? Well, let’s watch Mr. Bruni himself tell it. Here is what he says:

Our debate about religious freedom should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.

See what I mean? Mr. Bruni starts off, as do most leftists who will have their own way, with a pompous and condescending sneer: I’m here to free you, you poor benighted silly little thing, from that needless little bitty blue blanket you cling to. There now, isn’t it better now that you don’t have to carry that foolish heavy burden around? No, you don’t have to thank me.

Then, after that haughty and oily display, the leftist comes out of the closet and screams his brownshirt demands: “Bow to the enlightenments of modernity!”

Kneel before Zod!

***

In a free republic, with a Constitution that guarantees liberty of religious practice, none may dictate to another on a point of moral conscience. That is sacrosanct. Without that, liberty and faith are of no meaning. If a same-sex couple want a business to cater to their “marriage,” they will have no problem finding one. In a nation that permits two men or two women to marry, there will be cake for them. The state need not force Christians to participate in what they find morally repugnant in order for Elton John to find cake. The real issue before us, then, in the debate over Indiana’s RFRA, is not whether Christians may discriminate against homosexuals; they can find cake. It is whether one may discriminate against Christians in a culture increasingly hostile to their deepest convictions about the moral law and what God requires of them. Or must they swallow or abandon their beliefs as the price of owning a business?

If I want to eat bacon, and I do, I can find bacon. I do not need to go to a grocery owned by a Muslim or an Orthodox Jew.

If I need a blood transfusion, and maybe some day I will, I can get a blood transfusion. I do not need to go to a doctor who’s a Jehovah’s Witness. I do not need to hector him, or write books explaining why he’s misinterpreting the biblical text and he must accept my view of it or give up his medical license.

But somehow it is different with Christians and cake for same-sex weddings. I don’t find Mr. Bruni writing articles demanding that Muslims “bow to the enlightenments of modernity.”

The question, then—insofar as Mr. Bruni’s column is concerned—is whether they state will force Christians out of their beliefs or, if they will not be so forced, their businesses. The issue is whether, for fear of Christians bulling homosexuals, the state will bully Christians.

***

When you come across rhetoric like Mr. Bruni’s—I won’t call it an argument, because he doesn’t make one—you must go through it with care, from start to end. Only in that way, when you clear all the numbing gas out of the air, can you see how propaganda and indoctrination work, and how little substance or merit remain. That is why, dear reader, I take my time to go through all of this trash, because people do pick it up and haul it around with them, and you need to know how to identify it and dispose of it, lest the rot make your own brain sick.

Note how carefully Mr. Bruni begins:

The drama in Indiana last week and the larger debate over so-called religious freedom laws in other states portray homosexuality and devout Christianity as forces in fierce collision.

Now, what is careful about this is the word choice: homosexuality. He means it to sound so modest and reasonable: Such people do exist; perhaps they are even born with same-sex attraction (a disputable claim, but I’ll concede it for argument’s sake); all of this is just a fact that need not trouble Christians. And understood in that way, Mr. Bruni is right. It needn’t. But the more salient point to make is that it doesn’t. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (I’ll limit myself to what my own church teaches) does indeed say that SSA is “intrinsicially disordered”; but so is every other inclination to every other sin. So the “collision,” as Mr. Bruni puts it, is not with homosexuality as such, but rather with (1) the demand to accept homosexuality as somehow not disordered; (2) the demand to have the gay social agenda forced upon Christians, even so far as to make them participate in it, no matter their moral convictions to the contrary. So from the start of his article, Mr. Bruni misconstrues what the nature of the conflict is. Read it from start to finish, and you will not find that he so much as mentions any of it.

Mr. Bruni continues:

They’re not [in conflict]—at least not in several prominent denominations, which have come to a new understanding of what the Bible does and doesn’t decree, of what people can and cannot divine in regard to God’s will.

And homosexuality and Christianity don’t have to be in conflict in any church anywhere.

A few things jump out at this point.

1. Mr. Bruni does not define how he is using the word “homosexuality,” and so one may very well wonder whether the definition shifts to suit his purpose from one moment to the next. By “homosexuality” does he mean the mere orientation, the mere attraction a man has to another man, or a woman to another woman? Or does he mean the act itself, and the whole range of political agendas that surround gay politics in the twenty-first century? Which of these is or is not supposed to be in conflict with Christianity? Mr. Bruni does not say. I suspect he does this by design; he wants us to supply the blank in the most narrow way at first, only to impose the broader meaning upon us before the end.

2. Mr. Bruni gives us no reason to assume that the “new understanding of what the Bible does and doesn’t decree” is somehow superior to the old understanding. Where does this “new understanding” come from? What does it have to recommend it other than the fact that it is “new” and that Mr. Bruni and his compeers happen to take pleasure in it? He does not tell us. Mr. Bruni does not try to make an argument here, or give us facts and logic, so much as he means to cast a spell on us with vague and soporific phrases like “new understanding.” He means to put our critical faculty to sleep with so much gas.

3. Mr. Bruni assumes, again without telling us the reason for it, that the “new understanding” of the Bible also implies that we can not really know what God does or does not will. The Almighty has left us stumbling blind. Who are we to say? This idea—that the Bible is a dark text that does not speak clearly about what is good and what is evil—is always used by those who have an agenda to promote social acceptance of their own sin. But in fact, the Bible is very clear on this question, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. (Mr. Bruni will fail if he tries to tell us that the New Covenant superseded the Levitical law. Here is Lev. 20:13:

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

The most that one can say is that the death penalty should no longer have force, but that does not mean that the underlying abomination of the act changed after Christ. For here is St. Paul in Rom. 1:27 (RSV-CE):

and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

And here he is in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 (RSV-CE):

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral,[a] nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Now, I am very familiar with every effort people make to strangle the Greek word ἀρσενοκοῖται (arsenokoitai) out of its plain sense. Later in his article, Mr. Bruni will cite Matthew Vines as one “gay Christian” who has argued the “new understanding” on Leviticus, Romans, and 1 Corinthians. I don’t have the space, at least in this post, to address Mr. Vine’s claims in full. (But stay tuned.) It is enough to say that in order to get around the plain meaning of the text one must engage in a smoke of sophistry. That will be more apparent in future posts, when I turn from Mr. Bruni to Mr. Vines. Mr. Bruni does not even mention arsenokoitai or explain why we must, as Mr. Vines does, interpret it in any other sense than the one Christians have accepted for the past 2000 years.

Mr. Bruni continues:

That many Christians regard [homosexuality] as incompatible is understandable, an example not so much of hatred’s pull as of tradition’s sway. Beliefs ossified over centuries aren’t easily shaken.

I suppose I may be glad that, though the title of his article ascribes Christian moral conviction to “bigotry,” Mr. Bruni says here that the real enemy is “tradition,” not “hatred.” But he does not tell us what is so bad about “tradition.” Again, the word alone is meant to convey a hazy sense of something backward and antiquated. Mr. Bruni is blowing smoke around again and trying to cast a spell. Tradition, he says, is “ossified”—as oppose to that haloed “new understanding” that everyone wants to claim so that they can pat themselves on the back for being modern and enlightened. When we think of tradition, we’re supposed to get a picture in our head of our 120-year-old, wrinkled, petrified great-great-great grandfather, who is uselessly hanging on when he should do us all a favor, get on with it, and die.

Mr. Bruni continues:

But in the end, the continued view of gays, lesbians[,] and bisexuals as sinners is a decision. It’s a choice. It prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since — as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing.

As elsewhere, we will need to pause over this, since several things are going on here.

1. Note how Mr. Bruni dismisses, with a blithe wave of the hand, the Bible’s strictures against sodomy as “scattered passages of ancient texts.” How many “passages” would Mr. Bruni require? If God says it ten times, would that be something to listen to; whereas, if he says it only nine times, it’s just “scattered” and we can safely ignore it?

And what does the fact that the texts are “ancient” have anything to do with it? If the moral law comes from God, does it not apply to all time? Mr. Bruni gives us no help here; he neither answers the question nor raises it. Once more he seems to be using the phrase “ancient texts” only for its spell-casting properties. We’re meant to choke, as though on shelf dust, at the mere thought of it.

2. Note how Mr. Bruni casts a strong moral conviction—that sodomy is a sin—as a mere “choice.” On what grounds does Mr. Bruni believe people are free to choose the moral law? He does not say, and so begs the question. If something is a sin, then by definition it is because God, who is Truth, defines it that way. We no more have a choice about it than we do about murder or theft; we can choose to reject the moral law, but we can’t just decide that sin is not sin. Not if the word “sin” has any meaning.

3. Note how Mr. Bruni portrays Christians who accept the existence of a moral law as though they oppose “the advances of science and knowledge,” without once discussing what those “advances” really tell us or why the science is settled. He asks us to believe that it is, without question, because—well, because Mr. Bruni tells us to! But he does not link to even one scientific study that would tell us that a man who has sex with a man, or a woman with a woman, does not sin. That’s the key question, is it not? Or is the question only whether or not gay people are born gay? Because if it’s the latter, Mr. Bruni does not tell us why it has any bearing on the former.

But none of that is Mr. Bruni’s real objective here. His real objective is to put forward once more the old stereotype that Christians are the enemies of science. (And homosexuals worry that we stereotype them!) Being anti-science is of a piece with Christians being ossified and reading “ancient texts.”

***

At this point, Mr. Bruni turns from casting vague spells of ad hominem—Christians are old, ossified, and anti-science—and turns to outright bullying. The view that sodomy is a sin, he says,

elevates unthinking obeisance above intelligent observance, above the evidence in front of you, because to look honestly at gay, lesbian and bisexual people is to see that we’re the same magnificent riddles as everyone else: no more or less flawed, no more or less dignified.

I will turn presently to who is really “elevating unthinking obeisance,” but first I must point out that Christianity does not, in any way, deny that those with SSA are “the same magnificent riddles as everyone else”; it does not, not in any way, claim that they are more flawed or “less dignified” than anyone else. To sin destroys your freedom and your dignity, but homosexual acts destroy it no more than any other mortal sin does. There is nothing uniquely wicked about sodomy as opposed to fornication or perjury.

But now Mr. Bruni arrives at his real point:

So our debate about religious freedom should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.

Well, if this is not a demand for “unthinking obeisance,” I don’t know what it is. Bow to modernity! Kneel before Zod! Do what we tell you! But it’s all couched, at the start of the paragraph, in a context of freedom from prejudice. Everyone wants to be free of prejudice, right? No one wants to stereotype others, like those backward Christians do.

[I pause here for the irony to set in.]

Okay, I’m back. So let me see if I understand Mr. Bruni. In order to be free, our freedom must be imposed by folks like Mr. Bruni. After all, he’s a New York Times columnist; he’s our better! We need to just bow and kneel—not before God, but before “modernity,” as that term is used in the philippics of Herr Bruni of New York City. It is not enough to cast off the sixth commandment; we must cast off the first too, if we really want to be enlightened folk. Christians must bow to another god!

Next, Mr. Bruni brings up slavery in an effort to say: See! Christians have been wrong before on moral points! And no one denies that this is true, so it is an argument worth addressing. The problem with it is, Mr. Bruni does not give us any consistent moral rationale which would show us that, if Christians were wrong about that, they are also wrong about this. If his argument is, “You’re wrong because you’ve been wrong before,” that does not follow. It’s a hasty generalization. To be wrong on one moral question does not imply that you are wrong on another. Each question must be treated on its own merits. Instead, Mr. Bruni tries to smuggle slavery into a discussion in which it has no place. He tries to argue that, if some Christians were wrong about a practice no one defends today, they must be wrong about the very practice that is now in dispute.

But I’ll take the bait. Can Mr. Bruni tell us why slavery is wrong? I don’t know if he can, but I will: It is wrong because it is an affront to the inherent dignity of the human person as created in the image of God. And sodomy is wrong too, and for the very same reason. It is wrong because a man was created for a woman, and a woman for a man. It is an affront to the created image of God. But Mr. Bruni does not provide us a consistent moral rationale that will tell us why slavery is wrong but sodomy okay.

Indeed, the rationale he does use—such as it is—backfires on him. In the 19th century, some Christians defended slavery, while others opposed it. In the 21st century, some Christians oppose sodomy, while others defend it. If the Christians who defended slavery were wrong, how does Mr. Bruni know that the Christians who defend sodomy are right? He does not tell us. But if Christians were wrong to defend slavery, maybe Christians are wrong to defend sodomy. Using the same rationale as Mr. Bruni, I can reach the opposite conclusion. So his argument is arbitrary; he defends only what he happens to like.

Next, Mr. Bruni casts Christians as the enemy of the inevitable—the last holdouts, who must be beaten into submission by their betters in the Sin Liberation Front.

Religion is going to be the final holdout and most stubborn refuge for homophobia. It will give license to discrimination. It will cause gay and lesbian teenagers in fundamentalist households to agonize needlessly: Am I broken? Am I damned?

So Christians are “stubborn” and “homophobic.” Their deeply-held moral convictions do not amount to anything more than that; Mr. Bruni does not even mention any argument that might be made in their favor, as though to suggest that such arguments are so devoid of merit that they are not worth mentioning. The only possible reason Christians could have to not “bow” to the gay agenda is stubbornness and homophobia; they could not possibly have any sincere moral conviction that is grounded in serious reflection upon the issues. Not only does Mr. Bruni fail to refute any actual Christian argument, he does not even acknowledge that they exist.

And I want to say a word here too about the claim that Christian morality will “cause” people with SSA to “agonize” over whether they are “broken” or “damned.” If a Christian has charity and compassion toward those who carry such a cross, that does not mean that they must also accept that sodomy is anything other than sin. For reasons known only to God, SSA is the cross they must carry. Christians should help such people to bear it, and to lead them toward salvation and the healing of their brokenness. Yes, they are broken. But it is important to point out that, in one way or another, we are all broken. It’s called original sin. Eugene O’Neill put it this way: “We are born broken. We live by mending. The grace of God is glue.” He was not talking about homosexuals in particular here. Heaven knows that I have my own cross, my own disordered affection; it may a different one, but I have it. I do not demand that the world affirm me in the false notion that my sin is not sin. I have it, I live with the struggle every day, and I go to confession. To lie about it, to engage in make believe, is only to leave my broken part broken. That helps no one.

Mr. Bruni quotes David Gushee, a professor of ethics at Mercer University: “[The] Conservative Christian religion is the last bulwark against full acceptance of L.G.B.T. people.” To tell you the truth, I don’t know why Mr. Gushee leaves out the Q’s and the I’s and the A’s. Such bigotry. Don’t the Z’s fit in? What about the M’s? That aside, it is not “L.G.B.T.” people whom orthodox Christians refuse to accept but L.G.B.T. actions. There is a difference, and the refusal to acknowledge the difference does not aid the discussion. I accept the full humanity of thieves and adulterers and murderers, but I still say that theft and adultery and murder are wrong. “Hate the sin, love the sinner” is not a meaningless distinction.

Mr. Bruni goeth on to ’plain that conservative Christians “wield considerable power” in Republican politics. Well, yes: People do generally support the party whose social values most closely match their own. By contrast, they tend to be cold toward those that are most hostile to their values. Big shock. I think I just fractured my spine when I fell out of my chair. I might have to cut this blog article short to get to the hospital, so let me hasten toward a conclusion.

***

In his last few paragraphs, Mr. Bruni mentions what in his view is an impressive body” of exegesis that attempts to show that the go-to biblical texts about sodomy could be interpreted in a different way. He cites in particular Jeff Chu, James Brownson, and Matthew Vines.

Well, which is it, Mr. Bruni? I’m confused at this point. Earlier you dismissed these texts as “scattered” and “ancient,” as though it did not matter what they said. Now you exalt the work of those who labor to squeeze a different sense out of them than the one that had been self-evident for 2000 years. Do those texts matter or not? If they don’t, if they are just “scattered” and “ancient,” why would Mr. Chu, Mr. Brownson, and Mr. Vines write books to get around them? And why would you promote their work?

And why would you cite Mr. Vines & Co. without also mentioning the other Christians who have sought to refute them, such as James White and Michael Brown? One would think that Mr. Vines had stunned the Christian community into silence by his learning, to judge by Mr. Bruni’s silence on this point. But no. And as I said, this is not the place for me to address the claims of Mr. Chu, Mr. Brownson, and Mr. Vines, but I fully intend to get there.

I will, however, address one point that Mr. Vines makes—and it is the one quoted by Mr. Bruni. In biblical times, says Mr. Vines, homosexuality

was understood as a kind of excess, like drunkenness, that a person might engage in if they lost all control, not as a unique identity. … [Paul’s rejection of same-sex relations in Romans 1] was “akin to his rejection of drunkenness or his rejection of gluttony.

No, I’m sorry, Mr. Vines. That’s only true if you interpret Romans 1 in isolation from other biblical texts that refer to sodomy as an abomintion of itself (cf. Lev. 20:13, 1 Cor. 6:9-10). The Bible does not say that one may engage in sodomy within limits the same way that you can drink or eat in moderation. That is not the sense of the text. Sodomy is an abomination by definition, not merely when one reaches certain limits.

I have more to come on Mr. Vines’ claims.

***

Mr. Bruni ends his article by wagging his finger and crying “Shame!”

All of us, no matter our religious traditions, should know better than to tell gay people that they’re an offense. And that’s precisely what the florists and bakers who want to turn them away are saying to them.

Oh, I see. We should “know better,” should we? But I am not persuaded, and I am certainly not cowed, for Mr. Bruni does not attempt to engage in persuasion. That’s not what the Sin Liberation Front does. They engage in propaganda, intimidation, and posturing.

It works the same way every time. The first tactic is isolation—portray the Other as somehow “ossified,” archaic, not with the enlightened times. No one is supposed to ask why the new and modern is somehow more valid than the old and and tried. We must just assume it only. These words, as Screwtape says, are only an “incantation.” People like Mr. Bruni use them only for their “selling-power.”

Next, they deepen the isolation by referring in a blithe way to “the results of modern science.” They do not bother to cite any of it, nor do they delve too deeply into the question of how valid these “studies” are. It is enough for them to convey a wise and learned familiarity with the latest research, even though their only discussion of it begins and ends with words like “the research shows”—another Screwtapian incantation.

Then, they bully and hector by demands to “bow” to enightened thinking. They assume a posture of moral superiority by wagging their finger and crying, “You should know better!”

By these means, they hope to win the propaganda war and get their way by force, without bothering to do such low things as engage an actual argument.

Christians: We need to be able to identify these techniques, expose them, and return the discussion to the facts, logic, and evidence. For it is on those grounds that the Sin Liberation Front will lose. They know it. That’s why they do not make arguments; they engage in propaganda, intimidation, bullying, and force. Mr. Bruni’s article is proof that that is so.

***

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