[Turing 2013] Christian Entry #10

[Turing 2013] Christian Entry #10 July 24, 2013

This is the tenth entry in the Christian round of the 2013 Ideological Turing Test.  This year, atheists and Christians responded to questions about sex, death, and literature.  



Well, first of all, I’m a Protestant, and Protestants generally only consider baptism and communion to be sacraments. That said, I have a lot to say about the ethics of polyamory from a Christian perspective, way more than I could ever fit in here, but I’ll try to give a summary.

One reason I find this issue interesting is that it shows the limitations of the approach to Biblical interpretation that focuses on looking for prooftexts to show that one particular view is True. I suspect a lot of conservative Christians assume there must be a pro-monogamy prooftext somewhere in the Bible, when such prooftexts are actually very hard to find. Some of the Bible’s most famous stories, like the story of Isaac and Ishmael, or the story of Rachel and Leah, assume a cultural background where polygamy is considered totally acceptable. (Or more accurately, there’s a cultural backdrop of polygyny, where a man can have multiple wives but not the other way around.)

To be clear, I do NOT think that the specific practices recorded in the Old Testament would be appropriate for us today. That’s because I see the Bible as a record of people’s experiences with the Divine, filtered through their own understanding of the world and cultural assumptions, rather than a word-for-word dictation by God.

A more helpful approach here would be to look at the issues in light of the core message of the Bible. According to Jesus, the whole of the law could be summed up in two commandments: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. When talking about romantic relationships it’s tempting to assume love means eros, but in most of the the New Testament the word being translated as “love” is agape. Love, in this sense, requires among other things that we not put ourselves above other people (equality), or coerce other people into do what we want regardless of whether it’s what they want (consent).

Now whenever I talk about polyamory with people who don’t live in San Francisco, they tend to hear “polygamy” and think of Mormon fundamentalists. Mormon polygamy (or polygyny), though, is rather obviously not based on male-female equality. On that model, an already-married man is allowed to take additional wives (sometimes without even consulting existing wives), but it would be totally unthinkable for a woman to have multiple husbands. Often, marriages are arranged by a woman’s (or young girl’s) male relatives, with her getting little say in the process. That model isn’t something I support or condone.

Polyamory as I understand it is based on equality, openness, honesty, consent, and mutual respect. That doesn’t mean people just doing whatever they feel like. People need to communicate with their partners to build relationships that work for everyone involved, and respect the boundaries they lay down. It also doesn’t necessarily mean having exactly the same rules for everybody involved in a relationship. “Do to others as you would have them do to you” doesn’t mean you ignore the way other people’s preferences differ from your preferences, instead it should mean recognizing that you wouldn’t like it if someone else went around acting like everyone should share their preferences, and then adjusting your own behavior in a way that recognizes that fact. The key thing is that people communicate their preferences, and that the relationship is built on a foundation of equality and mutual respect.

(And now I really want to talk about some of the things Leah has written on marriage, but I guess I should move on to the next question.)



Leah worded this question really broadly, and it’s tempting to go off in all sorts of directions with it. There’s the issue of forgiveness and how Christians should respond to violence, and how that interacts with Christianity’s unfortunate history of militarism, from Constantine down to certain “Christians” in the US today. And, um, this may be a weird reaction, but when I hear “is there a difference between killing and not administering medical treatment?” my first thought is to feel guilty about the things I spend money on for myself when so many people in the world don’t have access to basic health care (not to mention food and clean water). But since the question is supposed to be about euthanasia, I’ll try to focus on that.

So some people assume that everything is God’s will, even things like teenagers dying in a car crash or something equally tragic. But the God I believe in is not a God who would will anyone to die when they have a full life ahead of them. On the other hand, nor are they a God who would will anyone to die a slow, agonizing death. So it would be wrong to withhold life-saving medical care for fear of interfering with God’s will, but by the same token, it would be simplistic to try to settle the issue of euthanasia by saying that euthanasia is, necessarily, interfering with God’s will.

The key issue for me is how we can best follow the principle of love. I don’t think I can definitely say that there are cases where providing active euthanasia would be the most loving thing to do, especially if the pain of a terminal illness can be managed through pain killers. But I don’t think I can definitely say there aren’t such cases, either. In fact, it would be pretty arrogant of me to do so. As for whether we might ever have an ethical obligation to provide active euthanasia, that’s an even more difficult question. That would be a very hard thing for most people to do, but as Christians, we should always strive to do the most loving, compassionate thing we can, even when it’s difficult.



You can vote on whether you think these answers were written by a Christian or an Atheist here.  Comments are open to discuss the substance of the post and for speculation about the true beliefs of the author, so please vote before looking at the comments.

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