14 August 2012

Liberal Christians and the gay conundrum

One of the sites I regularly read, as part of my effort to keep up with "the opposition" in its various forms, is Red Letter Christians.  The title refers to the red print used in some versions of the Bible to highlight the words attributed directly to Jesus, as opposed to the regular black lettering used for everything else.  As best I can tell (the mission statement is here), it seeks to emphasize the universal-love-and-peace brand of Christianity as opposed to the scolding-and-condemning variety now in the ascendant with the Christian Right.  An example of this benign stance at its best would be this post on a visit to a Sikh temple after the recent massacre in Wisconsin.

More conflicted attitudes emerge when the subject of homosexuality is raised, as it frequently is.  The usual pattern is a main post asserting a gay-positive stance as being consistent with Christianity, followed by a furious debate in the comments.  Recent examples have included a visit to a gay pride parade, changes at Exodus International, the Chik-fil-A controversy, a rather belabored challenge to heteronormativity, the conflict within American Christianity, and a re-imagining of that conflict as accusers vs. advocates.

In these various comment-thread wars, all the usual Biblical arguments get hauled out.  The story of the adulteress whom Jesus saved from being stoned is popular with both sides -- yes, he saved her, but he also said "Go and sin no more".  Liberals accuse the anti-gay commenters of being like the religious authorities who condemned Jesus, while the anti-gay commenters point out that Jesus condemned people too.  The hoary and loathsome "love the sinner but hate the sin" meme gets plenty of airing.  Occasionally actual gay people show up to point out the emptiness implicit in a life of abstinence, which seems to be the best the anti-gay side has to offer them, only to be airily brushed aside with "lots of people have to make tough sacrifices to avoid sin".  The newest scam of all -- that if you attack bigots you're somehow a bigot yourself -- is frequently used (I keep waiting for "bigotophobe" to take its place alongside "Islamophobe" as a serious and un-ironic epithet).

Liberal efforts to re-assert the universal-love meme are parried by pointing out that it is not "loving" to let people continue sinning and end up in Hell for eternity (this raises the question of why a "loving" God would let basically-harmless people end up in Hell, but anyone who's ever tried to debate such matters knows the endless sophistry Christians have developed to dodge that one).  Attempts to minimize homosexuality as no more of a sin than gluttony, adultery, etc. meet the response that no one is holding gluttony-pride parades or asserting adultery as a right; the special problem with the gays is that they deny they're being sinful at all (the nerve of them!).  Those who find the harshness of Leviticus horrific are accused of elevating secular standards above Biblical ones.  Occasionally someone gets called a heretic, or even cautiously embraces the concept.

(The point that Leviticus also condemns silly things like shellfish and clothes made of different fabrics also comes up now and then; the response involves some subtle distinction among different types of Levitical law which I don't have the knowledge to evaluate.)

The horrible cruelty and inhumanity of the conservative Christian stance comes through very clearly from these debates.  Yet it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the conservatives end up getting the better of the argument, given the premises everyone is forced to accept.  The liberals' view is rooted in intuition and gut feeling -- Christianity is good, and acceptance of gays is good, therefore those things must be compatible with each other! -- and the theological / Biblical argumentation is a rickety after-the-fact construct designed to support a conclusion already decided.  Such ventures don't fare well when they run up against the steely clarity of those who just follow scripture where it leads.  There's a good reason why the Abrahamic religions have condemned homosexuality for most of their history -- the sacred texts are pretty straightforward on the subject, when they're not being desperately twisted to fit modern morality.

So we see a cold, cruel, ugly, scolding mentality solidly supported by the Bible, against a more humane and modern position which has to struggle to find a Biblical basis for itself.

How long can this continue?  I can't help but think that eventually, more and more liberal Christians will realize that their humane stance simply can't be reconciled with the religion they claim, and that they need to choose, need to jump one way or the other.  It would probably be happening on a larger scale already, except that most liberal Christians don't participate in sites like Red Letter Christians where they're regularly forced to confront the contradictions in their thinking.

Taking a broader view, of course, all these arguments would be silly if the real-world effects weren't so serious.  Debates about what "is" or "is not" a sin, parsing this or that phrase in an ancient collection of random befuddled folk tales to settle modern moral questions -- one could just as well (and just as absurdly) found a moral system on deep analysis of the text of Harry Potter or of the lyrics of Puff the Magic Dragon.  Liberal Christians living in the modern world, with its ever-growing understanding of the real evolutionary roots of human behavior and morality, must at least occasionally have quiet nagging doubts about how ridiculous it all is.  If regular encounters with the repulsive face of real full-bore Biblical morality eventually push them off the fence into full liberation from such nonsense, so much the better.


Blogger Robert the Skeptic said...

It is interesting how often Christians invoke the story of the adulteress in the Bible (John 7:53 - 8:12) as if the Biblial is an unerring testament of god's law. Yet in his book "Misquoting Jesus", Bart Ehrman points out that this verse is COMPLETELY ABSENT from the earliest copies of the bible still in existence. Ehrman and most biblical scholars accept that this passage was inserted centuries after the original testament of John was written.

For me the question of the acceptance or rejection of homosexuality, and the rights of individuals to make their own choices regarding these matters, lie wholly and entirely within the realm of religion. For Christians to pursue civil penalties or prohibitions with respect to individual freedom of choice in these matters make them no different than the Islamists they so fervently condemn. In essence the "Christian Taliban" of this country want a Christian Sharia Law to be rule. Such a position couldn't be more Un-American if one tried.

14 August, 2012 11:39  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you missed the vast majority of Christian history that was not confused on these issues. Fundamentalism and literal interpretation are VERY recent constructs.

14 August, 2012 14:37  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

RtS: Well, if they start admitting facts about the Bible's real historical origins, the whole house of cards collapses. But, yes, those who seek to impose their taboos through civil law are no better than the Islamists.

PJ: Actually, no, I didn't miss the fact that Christianity historically has been uncomplicatedly bigoted and worse. See fourth-to-last paragraph: "There's a good reason why the Abrahamic religions have condemned homosexuality for most of their history -- the sacred texts are pretty straightforward on the subject, when they're not being desperately twisted to fit modern morality."

14 August, 2012 14:54  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

"The hoary and loathsome 'love the sinner but hate the sin.'"

Well my answer to that is "love the believer, but hate the belief."

14 August, 2012 16:50  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

SK: I'm no Christian and I'm not hypocrite enough to claim to love my enemies. Loving one's enemies is a ridiculous idea, and one of the worst absurdities of Christianity. Some believers are harmless, some are merely deluded and persuadable, but as for the haters and bigots who go out of their way to attack and hurt other people, I hate their beliefs, and I hate them as persons too, and I wish them a great deal of ill. No love for hate-filled filth unworthy of love.

14 August, 2012 18:03  
Blogger Tommykey said...

Loving one's enemies is a ridiculous idea

The other one I hate is "I may disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Right, so I'll die defending a hateful, bigoted piece of shit, while said bigot remains alive with one less person left to challenge him.

14 August, 2012 20:09  
Blogger ReasonBeing said...

Good post. I agree that Liberal Christians will continue to find themselves in a tough spot. They cannot compete with the Conservative view or apologetics. Something is going to have to give. It is my hope that they will come over the fence to the side of atheism. We will have to wait to see how this all shakes out.

The other interesting thing to note is that it is the liberal Christians who provide the foundation that allows the Conservative/fundamental groups to preach. If all of the liberals up and decided they were atheists tomorrow, what would be left of Christianity? A fringe group of radical Christians that few would take seriously. It is the liberals who, consciously or not, empower the Conservatives.

15 August, 2012 16:34  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

RB: Thanks for visiting. The sad part is that so many liberal Christians (not the ones who post on RLC, who obviously do take religion seriously, but more in the US population at large) are already hardly Christian any more in any meaningful sense. Tens of millions of self-identified Christians know very little about the Bible or Christian doctrine; many claim to believe in things like ghosts or reincarnation which are irreconcilable with actual Christian belief. They cling to the Christian label out of cultural inertia, desire to fit in socially, and a need for reassurance about life after death. They're reachable, especially if the hatreds and horrors the Bible really holds could be brought to their attention.

15 August, 2012 17:31  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

TK: Through gritted teeth I acknowledge their right to express their opinions; it's certainly not among the very few things I'd be willing to die for.

15 August, 2012 17:33  
Anonymous NickM said...

Excellent post Infidel. You cn see that here in England with the deranged twists the CofE takes. There is a lot of "hate the sin, love the sinner" nonsense over here in such "debates".

I always come back to this: If you don't want to be buggered by another geezer then Just Don't Do It. If you do then so what. My city, Manchester has a huge, well-established, gay community and we haven't had fire from the skies yet.

It is utterly bizarre.

But what raises this to utter oddity is that certain religious groups here (Quakers, some Methodists and reformed Judaism) are amongst the biggest pushers for gay marriage. I am the warden of a Quaker Ent Moot (if you know the Quakers you'd know exactly what I mean). Drop me an email for the full deranged details if you want but basically (the very short version) the Quakers (and the others mentioned) are one of the relatively few religious groups for whom a marriage ceremony is legally reckonised. They then decide that according to their theology they see no difference between same or other sex unions. But aren't allowed - yet.

Of course all things shall pass. And the sky shall apart from upon the heads of the religious loons.

And as you say the obfuscators.

The CofE is going to split. If that goes along with disestablishment then fine by me.

16 August, 2012 12:42  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

NM: Thanks. Surely not many people in England still pay attention to what the Church of England thinks? I have read about their pontifications, though. Curious that a church would be so conservative about marriage when it originally came into existence due to Henry VIII's desire to change the rules of marriage.

I am the warden of a Quaker Ent Moot

That has rather a Lord of the Rings sound to it.

The C of E does, of course, perform one valuable function -- providing material for Monty Python and Rowan Atkinson to work with.

17 August, 2012 14:47  
Blogger Tommykey said...

That has rather a Lord of the Rings sound to it

The previous warden was Treebeard!

18 August, 2012 06:47  
Blogger Tommykey said...

Tens of millions of self-identified Christians know very little about the Bible or Christian doctrine; many claim to believe in things like ghosts or reincarnation which are irreconcilable with actual Christian belief.

I did a post about that a few months ago. Some of my FB friends identify as Catholic and yet they are big fans of the Long Island Medium.

I see a lot of cognitive dissonance with these people. Some of them post pro marriage equality posts on Facebook and then a week later post in favor of Romney and Ryan, who are dead set against marriage equality. I find myself biting my tongue a lot on Facebook when I see stuff like that and often end up just hiding the posts that annoy me.

18 August, 2012 06:52  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

TK: That's what I think the majority of American Christianity is like. It survives by cultural inertia among people who don't know much about it or think much about it. When they encounter the fundies who really do know about it and believe all the weird stuff, they're shocked.

18 August, 2012 17:50  

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