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Office of Same-Sex Union
May 10, 2012 7:05 AM   Subscribe

When same-sex marriage was a Christian rite. Contrary to myth, Christianity's concept of marriage has not been set in stone since the days of Christ, but has constantly evolved as a concept and ritual.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon (44 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh you! You with your cute little 'book learning' and your happy little 'research' and your warm fuzzy belief that people care about 'facts'. So cute. Bless your heart.
posted by spicynuts at 7:09 AM on May 10, 2012 [22 favorites]


Very interesting. Never heard of this before. Thank you so much for sharing this.

I don't understand how some cultures grew to fear and despise two people whose only crime is loving each other.
posted by 2manyusernames at 7:11 AM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is interesting, but I wish the LJ article had included more in the way of links to the documents. The 'original article' link throws up a 404, too. :(
posted by jquinby at 7:11 AM on May 10, 2012


Yes. I too would like more than somebody's livejournal before I start making claims about this.

However, the article contains enough specifics to be a springboard for research, so thank you for that at least.
posted by gauche at 7:14 AM on May 10, 2012


I found some sources at GayChristian101. It looks like much of the research comes from John Boswell - Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe (New York: Villard, 1994). Two Versions of the Adelphopoiia Rite.
posted by muddgirl at 7:15 AM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I was hoping I'd see a nice write-up of these facts in light of the "traditional marriage" bullshit that's so often totally unchallenged. Thanks for posting.
posted by clockzero at 7:18 AM on May 10, 2012


The LJ article seems to be a transcription of what was originally at the link. Try here or here for more info.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:19 AM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


yeah, for all the snark about [citation needed] over in meta, this is a better case for using such a label. Yeah, I'll go look up Baswell on my own, but, sheesh, lite weight.
posted by k5.user at 7:19 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone interested in this should read Boswell's book, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. It is a very well documented study, showing that Same Sex Unions was acceptable in early Christian communities, and it documents the slow process over a thousand years of how homosexuality became a religious taboo among Christians by Medieval Period. For such detailed and researched study, it is very readable.
posted by Flood at 7:20 AM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


John Boswell was a solid writer (although, unsurprisingly, his work is often challenged); he may be the best lecturer I have ever seen -- entertaining, engaging, and informative.

Anyone who imagines that Christianity has somehow been "unchanged" since its inception obviously pays little attention to history (which is probably a tautology, but...).
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:22 AM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Muddgirl's last link indicates some evidence that this ceremony was "[ab]used," i.e., it was not intended to wed same-sex people.
posted by resurrexit at 7:23 AM on May 10, 2012


FWIW, Boswell's views are not without controversy (check out his Wikipedia entry and that of adelphopoiesis), and even he said it was not marriage in the usual sense.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:23 AM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


See Criticism of Boswell here.
posted by resurrexit at 7:24 AM on May 10, 2012


I owe you a Coke, stupid sexy, Wiki-speed zombieflanders.
posted by resurrexit at 7:24 AM on May 10, 2012


Hah! I'm merely the undead version, the stupid sexy one is a separate entity.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:27 AM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


HAD article dealing with this at my site yesterday

Eric Berkowitz's new book Sex And Punishment, out today from Counterpoint, is a fascinating survey of how legal systems over the millenia have attempted to regulate and police sex. In this excerpt, a discussion of the once-wide acceptance of same-sex unions between men in Europe of the Middle Ages.Despite the risks, devotional relationships between men were common in Europe at the time, at least among the literate, and many of these affairs must have included sex at some point. Knights, aristocrats, and especially clerics left expansive evidence of their intense passions for male lovers, relationships that often ended in side-by-side burials. A letter from a respected monk–scholar in Charlemagne’s court named Alcuin (circa 735–804) to a beloved bishop shows how thick those relations sometimes became: I think of your love and friendship with such sweet memories, reverend bishop, that I long for that lovely time when I may be able to clutch the neck of your sweetness with the fingers of my desires. Alas, if only it were granted to me, as it was to Habakkuk, to be transported to you, how would I sink into your embraces . . . how would I cover, with tightly pressed lips, not only your eyes, ears, and mouth but also your every finger and your toes, not once but many a time. While this epistle is unusually erotic, it reflects the intimacies that existed among men everywhere. Assuming, as we must, that at least some of these men’s sexual longings were fulfilled, the next question is the extent to which intimate homosexual relationships were tolerated. Love was one thing, sodomy another.MORE.
posted by Postroad at 7:34 AM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


FWIW, Boswell's views are not without controversy

Well, no, but who are you going to believe: a sexy lecturer or an Archimandrite?

I am pretty sure the Doctor forced the Archimandrites to stop their hijinx....
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:47 AM on May 10, 2012


Is the sexy lecturer also the Doctor?
posted by zombieflanders at 7:50 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, uh, unlikely.

First of all, there's no link to the actual paper. So all we've got is a summary, no insight into the texts or arguments actually being made.

Second, even allowing that what's being discussed here did, in fact, happen, there's no actual evidence--not on display anyway--that what was going on was considered to be the equivalent of marriage. The medieval and ancient world recognized, honored, and even apparently consecrated a wide variety of relationships that we either don't recognize at all or regard as unimportant. We're talking about a society in which one's entire life's course was determined, explicitly, by the identity of one's parents. The idea that they should have viewed other relationships as being a big enough deal to warrant a church ceremony isn't hard to believe. So calling this "same-sex marriage" may not actually be accurate.

Third, "kissing" doesn't really indicate that the persons in question were involved in a sexual relationship. The kiss of peace has been a part of Christian culture and liturgy just about forever, and it isn't supposed to have sexual overtones. Indeed, many cultures still use the kiss as a sign of social greeting, regardless of gender, in persons for whom a sexual relationship would be highly problematic if not downright forbidden. It's entirely possible that the people who participated in these rights not having sex with each other. Indeed, there's nothing to suggest they couldn't have been married--heterosexually of course--to other people.

So what we've got here is a classic example of someone reading a desired conclusion into the text. The only thing that one must take away from this history is that the societies of the ancient and medieval world took formal relationships a lot more seriously than we do. But moving from there to the idea that the church has, at some point, dignified homosexual relationships with a rite equivalent to marriage is simply not supported by the record in any way that I've seen here.
posted by valkyryn at 7:58 AM on May 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


It should also be borne in mind that the church's monopoly over wedlock was long opposed in some Christian societies. In old England, traditional conceptions of wedlock went on without much interference, and it was maybe 500 years after conversion that the bulk of society accepted that the church could and should regulate it. That's not to say same–sex wedlock was approved in England before the impositions of the Christian church, but rather that the supremacy of the religious sanction was not always so. Any development in law which puts Christian practice in wedlock at odds with civil practice is only a return to the original position in English law, albeit after nearly a thousand years. We long ago settled that the church need not perform weddings, and it is time to agree that they need not define them either.
posted by Jehan at 8:03 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is the sexy lecturer also the Doctor?

He had a PhD....
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:19 AM on May 10, 2012


Yeah, as much as I also wish this was the case, it isn't.

While it is absolutely true that the idea that an opposition to gay marriage is somehow at the heart of Christianity is absolutely novel, the opposition itself is not. Adelphopoiesis is not a gay marriage.

If you read what Paul actually had to say about sex and relationships, it becomes clear that he had his reasons. Almost everything that he has to say on the subject is an attack on porneia (πορνείᾳ) which has always been translated into Latin as fornication, and traditionally translated into English as 'sexual immorality.' Porneia in post-classical Corinthian Greek did not mean all sex outside of marriage and neither did fornication in actual Latin.

The word porneia was related to the verb to sell, and was only ever used in one context. A porneon was a house of forced prostitution, the pornei were specifically those prostitutes who were 'owned' by a sex trafficker, and those sex traffickers were called pornoboskos, a singularly unpleasant combination with the verb that described the keeping of livestock such as cattle. Paul used the word while making two primary assertions, that the ubiquitous system of porneia was fundamentally not OK, and that a laundry list of examples were pretty much the same thing. I hope we can all agree with Paul's, profoundly radical and novel for the time, strong position against the sexual trafficking of women in chattel slavery, but a lot of the Pauline model for marriage is about avoiding those examples he gives.

Where Paul has traditionally been understood to be attacking homosexuality, we actually have very little idea of what he is talking about. He never once uses the word paiderasste, which would have meant men who have sex with men (MSM), but instead uses the word arsenokoitēs (ἀρσενοκοίτης), of which we have no context for the meaning but it is a portmanteau of the words for 'men' and 'bed' and malakos (μαλακός), which has been translated as effeminate but in the contexts that he is uses it doesn't have strong inherent meaning. In church history, arsenokoitēs has been variously translated as MSM, men who masturbate, men who are somehow similar to pornoboskos, men who are trafficked by pornoboskei, men who are trafficked in temple prostitution, men who take an active position in gay sex, and most anciently, men who have anal sex with folks regardless of gender.

Really the strongest case is for men who are trafficked in temple prostitution as the Septuagint (an ancient, pre-Christian translation of the Old Testament into Greek made between the 3rd and 1st century BCE) translated the Hebrew "quadesh" in I Kings 14:24, 15:12 and 22:46 into a Greek word somewhat similar to arsenokoitēs. The idea that it means men who take an active position in gay sex is kind of a non-sequitor to what little we know about the word, and comes from an awfully aggressive translation of malakos, which appears next to it. Malakos has a lot of meanings, when referring to clothing it means thin or fine, and when referring to people it has variously meant pliable, weak willed, or without conviction and is usually used in reference to women. The KJV took this to mean all gay fuckers and all gay fuckees, but lets look at the actual passage in which it is used,

"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither pornei, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor malakoi, nor arsenokoitēs, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God."

There is a pattern in Paul's writing of lists using words that we understand that is worth paying attention to, he places synonyms together for emphasis,

The lawless & disobedient: two near synonyms
The ungodly & sinners: also two near synonyms
The unholy & profane: two synonyms
The murderers of fathers & murderers of mothers & manslayers: three kinds of murderers
Liars & perjurers etc.: again, two near synonyms.

He probably is using malakoi and arsenokoitēs, to refer to something sexual, but is using them in the context of porneia, forced prostitution.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:24 AM on May 10, 2012 [46 favorites]


TRY THIS
posted by Postroad at 8:46 AM on May 10, 2012


He probably is using malakoi and arsenokoitēs, to refer to something sexual, but is using them in the context of porneia, forced prostitution.

Well... maybe. Notice that he also includes idolaters in that first list, and seems to equate them with thieves, drunkards, and the covetous. So limiting the reading to "forced prostitution" seems to be asking the text to prove too much.

That being said, the idea that it's referring to gay sex in general may also be too specific. I think the best reading is probably that he's making a laundry list of things that are bad, the affect of which is "Look, sexual immorality, generally speaking, is the same as idolatry, theft, etc.." But it really is a laundry list, so getting a dissertation out of every word seems inappropriate. It's more like he's incorporating other concepts by reference.

So we look to other places where Scripture talks about sex and sexual ethics in clearer, more deliberate terms, and hey, it seems that heterosexual sex between spouses is pretty much all you got. The sense is there's heterosexual sex between spouses and then everything else. Again, reading that to refer to specific acts puts too much on the text, but the overall pattern is pretty unmistakable.

Which is really the problem with all of the arguments that try to make Scripture ambiguous or conflicted on the point. They take passages which sort of, tangentially, maybe touch on the subject and make tenuous readings of them dogma, while ignoring clearer passages which say the opposite. The orthodox view is to take the clearer passages and use them to inform our understanding of the more obscure passages, not the other way around. Wringing detailed meaning out of this passage of Romans is just inadvisable.

Regardless, I agree with the idea that there's no reason to think that adelphopoiesis was anything remotely like what moderns would call "gay marriage."
posted by valkyryn at 8:54 AM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


valkyryn: "So we look to other places where Scripture talks about sex and sexual ethics in clearer, more deliberate terms, and hey, it seems that heterosexual sex between spouses is pretty much all you got. The sense is there's heterosexual sex between spouses and then everything else. Again, reading that to refer to specific acts puts too much on the text, but the overall pattern is pretty unmistakable."

There are indeed other passages of Paul's where he expresses is disgust over things which are (and sometimes only may be) gay, and that is a reasonably strong pattern, but not nearly as strong as his pattern of expressing disgust over things which are exploitative. He never talks about things which are (and sometimes only may be gay) without saying that those specific things are or are like porneia, which is often diplomatically translated as 'sexual immorality' but is really an awfully specific variety of sexual trafficking.

There is also a solid pattern where he consistently describes sex outside of marriage as being like 'porneia' and, in the context of his time, that actually makes a lot of sense. Examples of economically independent women who did not rely on sex work in the Roman world were very few and far between, and almost exclusively widows or only daughters. In the world that Paul was trying to change, the magnitude of male privilege was such that women were fundamentally unable to exist economically independent of men. Without Pauline marriage there was no protection from being used by a partner until old and discarded to the elements; Paul stipulated headship but also repeatedly and inescapably mandates that men place their wives before themselves, that apostasy and misconduct are the only appropriate reasons for divorce, and that women are no less than men before God. The early church was flooded with women attracted by this radically feminist message that women were actually people with dignity that was inherent to them.

To say that Paul's purpose was exclusively to forbid all sex outside of heterosexual marriage is to mistake the forest for the sum of some of its trees, and advice for dogma. Paul's purpose was to move humanity away from the ubiquitous sexual trafficking of people as chattel and move humanity towards relationships that would foster economic security, mutual respect and devotion, and his Earth shattering view of the nature and importance of love. That is dogma. None of those things were possible in the examples of homosexual and heterosexual relationships that he attacks.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:29 AM on May 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


To say that Paul's purpose was exclusively to forbid all sex outside of heterosexual marriage is to mistake the forest for the sum of some of its trees, and advice for dogma.

Not limiting myself to Paul here. As you've said, he doesn't actually attack sexual ethics directly. I'm not disputing most what you say in that post, particularly in your second paragraph. Pretty much on board, actually. Just looking at the way Scripture as a whole talks about sex.
posted by valkyryn at 9:36 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure that we actually disagree all that substantially, but I do chafe at the idea that we should concede Pauline sexual ethics to what medieval translators turned understood it as and conservative Christians have warped into an instrument of hatred and false piety.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:36 AM on May 10, 2012


Ha, Jinx!
posted by Blasdelb at 9:36 AM on May 10, 2012


I appreciate the idea of wanting same sex marriage to be a biblically sanctioned idea. I'm not convinced that it can be. Notice that when your average person says "the bible says gay marriage is bad", they never actually quote anything. I suspect this is because they aren't necessarily interested in some form of strict adherence to all biblical teaching. More likely it's simply a convenient way to support a prejudice. Basically just the same old hatred justification two-step we've been doing since forever.

Of course there are many ways to refute the idea that "The Bible" prohibits same sex marriage. Getting a fervent believer to accept your explanation is another thing entirely. For reasons stated above, but also because of how I think the "The Bible" is viewed by many Christians in the first place.

I'm using obnoxious scare quotes to refer to the Christian bible because I think it's really, really important to remember the fundamental premise upon which many Christian claims against same sex marriage (and other topics) stand: that "The Bible" is beyond reproach. Empirically it isn't a monolothic text -it couldn't possibly be- but for many of the faithful that is exactly what it is.

For them, it was effectively written by God so it must be that the bible is of one voice on all matters forever. Even though it's obvious that it was written by many humans throughout many different eras, cultures and political regimes. Never mind that Paul never personally knew Moses, or even Jesus (in the flesh, that is) for that matter. Never mind that every single author was separated by distance, and time, and just plain old difference of opinion. These considerations don't even enter into the mind of most of the bible-faithful.

Consider this discussion I once had with a very devout Evangelical Christian. Ironically this conversation occurred when I was a Mormon missionary in Canada:

"Why do you believe in the bible?"
"Because the bible tells me to believe all things from God."
"How do you know the bible is from God?"
"Because it says it is."
"Ok, but how do you know that's true?"
"Because the bible says so"

...and on and on


I'm sure not every Christian thinks this way, but it's certainly true of a lot of believers, that the bible is only accountable to itself. Also, what valkryn said.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:54 AM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I derive my moral compass from Game of Thrones, which mostly just means a lot of people end up without heads.
posted by LordSludge at 10:39 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let's all remember that it's a good thing we base public policy on an ancient text that experts themselves cannot agree on interpretations of.
posted by rtha at 10:55 AM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Basically just the same old hatred justification two-step we've been doing since forever.

You do realize, of course, that the church has had really thoughtful discussions about this stuff, yes?

These considerations don't even enter into the mind of most of the bible-faithful.

Wrong. A lot of the people most interested in the Bible are keenly interested in the context of the writings. Most "study bibles" have several pages devoted to the historical background, probable author, probable date of authorship, etc. It's just that there's also a belief that even if Scripture was written by many people over a long time--all Christians I'm aware of believe this--that 1) God was still influencing it (though there's some discussion as to how that works, and, more importantly, 2) that even with allowance for contextual differences the Bible speaks a uniform message. Indeed, it's frequently only by examining these contextual differences that the uniform message becomes apparent.

That being said, there's a wide difference between what most laypeople think about the Bible and the traditions to which they belong teach about the Bible. Some traditions do a better job at educating their followers than others. The confessional traditions tend to do better than the evangelical traditions, and the non-denominational tradition tends to fail completely. But I think it's important to recognize that just because your average, evangelical church-goer doesn't think about these things carefully doesn't mean that it's impossible to think about these things carefully.
posted by valkyryn at 10:59 AM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ha, Jinx!

Yeah, pretty much.

Actually, I think it's highly ironic that so many evangelicals latch on to one or two passages in Paul in their thinking about homosexuality when there's far, far more useful passages in the Prophets when we're talking about sexual ethics. Paul just sort of assumes a full-fledged sexual ethics rather than spelling it out in any kind of detail. His whole approach is more like "...and sexual immorality, which you all know about, is bad." Well thanks, dude. That's helpful. So we get nit-picky arguments about whether Paul was referring to this act or that one, all the while missing the point that hey, sexual immorality is just as bad as idolatry. Which is the consistent message throughout all of Scripture, Old and New Testaments. With that as a basic assumption, the whole tenor of the discussion ought to change.

Then again, given that most evangelicals know approximately jack squat about the Old Testament, this isn't terribly surprising.
posted by valkyryn at 11:05 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


rtha: "Let's all remember that it's a good thing we base public policy on an ancient text that experts themselves cannot agree on interpretations of."

Wait, do you mean the Bill of Rights, the rest of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina(*), The Metaphysics of Morals by Kant, the Magna Carta, the Declaration of the Rights of Man, or maybe the Declaration of Human Rights?

Because I'm not sure that allowing documents, which are so important and central to the consensus of mankind that people disagree on just about everything about them, to at least inform public policy is really so bad. There are commas in the Bill of Rights that have inspired millions of pages of informed opinion, should we throw that out too? Its even pretty old.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:18 AM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, yes, that's exactly what I mean.

Perhaps I was too flippant. Let me be clearer: I think it is bad to base public policy on sectarian texts whose interpretations are in such dispute that they have inspired numerous schisms over the centuries.

The Constitution is a document we can actually participate in rewriting. It does not require people to believe in one particular kind of god in order to argue about it. Maybe it's just me, but when arguing about public policy, any kind of "But God says...." position should have no place.
posted by rtha at 11:27 AM on May 10, 2012


It does not require people to believe in one particular kind of god in order to argue about it.

No, but it's increasingly looking as if it requires people to believe in one particular kind of good in order to argue about it, which amounts to the same thing.
posted by valkyryn at 11:52 AM on May 10, 2012


You do realize, of course, that the church has had really thoughtful discussions about this stuff, yes?

Maybe I'm missing something, then? Which church are we talking about? The Catholic church? Lutheran? Church of England? Or are you referring to the church as in the general body of Christian believers, regardless of faith tradition? I realize these discussions may be happening on some level, but it doesn't seem to me that they represent the average, garden-variety perspective of whole swaths of people of Christian faith, say in North Carolina as a recent example. I heard on the news that there was 'overwhelming support' for the ban on gay marriage...so...I guess I'm just not seeing the thoughtful discussion bear fruit in US?

That being said, there's a wide difference between what most laypeople think about the Bible and the traditions to which they belong teach about the Bible.

I think we agree in principle a lot, but perhaps my comment was poorly worded. My apologies, I improperly characterized my comment and made an unfair judgment by saying "most Christians". I assumed that most Christians are also the same as "most laypeople" but that's a dumb thing to assume. My mistake.

2) that even with allowance for contextual differences the Bible speaks a uniform message. Indeed, it's frequently only by examining these contextual differences that the uniform message becomes apparent.

This sounds like a very nice brand of biblical study. I'm curious, how widespread is this approach? Again, speaking only from my own limited experience it seems this perspective is only held by a minority of Christians, and your average Christian (i.e. the ones who are heading to the polling stations) don't really take such a nuanced approach to bible study.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:12 PM on May 10, 2012


Christianity: So what we've got here is a classic example of someone reading a desired conclusion into the text.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:20 PM on May 10, 2012


rtha: "Perhaps I was too flippant. Let me be clearer: I think it is bad to base public policy on sectarian texts whose interpretations are in such dispute that they have inspired numerous schisms over the centuries."

The US Constitution completely left out the loyalist sect that was a third of our population, while last major schism over it managed to wipe out 2% of the entire American population, and that is only counting the deaths in uniform.

rtha: "The Constitution is a document we can actually participate in rewriting. It does not require people to believe in one particular kind of god in order to argue about it. Maybe it's just me, but when arguing about public policy, any kind of "But God says...." position should have no place."

This is just me, but I'd be totally down for adding the Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, the Letter From a Birmingham Jail, and maybe a few more to cannon. Taking the warnings in Paul's letters or John's Apocalypse against doctoring their text as a prohibition against adding to the anthology that is the Bible is pretty anachronistic thinking.

I take it that you don't identify as Christian, but you do seem to be holding your own arguing about Christianity. I think Christianity benefits from outside perspectives, and I do still think that this country has benefited enormously from Christian perspectives. Christians, and Christian doctrine, were at the heart of creating the concept of civil rights, and have been at the heart of every single expansion of civil rights we've had so far. Certainly we've been less well represented in the current one, but I think many would be shocked at how Christian the folks running Gay Rights movement still are.

There is a lot more to Christianity than "But God says...."
posted by Blasdelb at 12:35 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


There is a lot more to Christianity than "But God says...."

Tell that to them what are happy to use it against me and would keep me in second-class-ness. I know lots and lots of religious people of all stripes who seem to find that shit as corrosive to the democratic process as I do. We're not the ones need to learn that lesson.

I'm a cultural christian, for lack of a better term. I was raised in the Congregational church.

The US Constitution completely left out the loyalist sect that was a third of our population, while last major schism over it managed to wipe out 2% of the entire American population, and that is only counting the deaths in uniform.


We've only been at this a couple hundred years. We have much to aspire to, I guess, if we're competing with Christianity in terms of sect-making and blood-spilling.

But that's just it. We're not in competition, or we shouldn't be. There's lots of good, useful stuff in religious texts (don't murder each other, don't steal, help people less fortunate than you, etc.), but "Because it's in the Bible" is not a reason to include them as laws governing a heterogeneous, secular society.
posted by rtha at 1:34 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry that was worded kind of fightishly earlier, I'd like to think that Christians in the back end of a thread disagreeing would be end up in something more like a group hug than a dog pile if we were doing it right. I'm also sorry about making assumptions about how you feel about faith, that was unwarranted.
Blasdelb: "There is a lot more to Christianity than "But God says....""

rtha: "Tell that to them what are happy to use it against me and would keep me in second-class-ness. I know lots and lots of religious people of all stripes who seem to find that shit as corrosive to the democratic process as I do. We're not the ones need to learn that lesson."
I hang out with conservative Christians a lot, and I try to do my best to argue against bibliolatry as well as set an example of inclusiveness and genuine respect for religious differences, while also slipping in subversive good stuff like evolution and modern cosmology. It does still kind of upset me that metafilter, especially at the shallow tops of threads, seems to have a default opinion on anything christian, and that it is often even less informed than the most deep-end cultish evangelical ones I run into.
rtha: ""Because it's in the Bible" is not a reason to include them as laws governing a heterogeneous, secular society."
I absolutely agree with you. If someone isn't able to explain to a non-christian how they feel about something without making an argument from authority from the bible, they clearly don't respect the non-christian enough to understand how fucking stupid that is, or respect the bible enough to try to understand why it might want them to feel a certain way. However I am a little uncomfortable with the blanketness of that statement, if only because part of what makes a healthy heterogeneous society is people being able to hold and vote according to the ideas and feeling they have, rather than the ones we might want them to have, regardless of how religious, silly, unsound, or just wrong they might be.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:04 PM on May 10, 2012


I guess I'm just not seeing the thoughtful discussion bear fruit in US?

That or the thoughtful discussion still comes out opposed to gay marriage, it just has a coherent reason for such opposition rather than knee jerk homophobia.

This sounds like a very nice brand of biblical study. I'm curious, how widespread is this approach? Again, speaking only from my own limited experience it seems this perspective is only held by a minority of Christians, and your average Christian (i.e. the ones who are heading to the polling stations) don't really take such a nuanced approach to bible study.

It's hard to give a concrete answer to that. At its broadest, this sort of biblical study is what all of the clergy in the confessional traditions, i.e., Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, and the Reformed Tradition, study in seminary. You can't graduate from one of their seminaries without learning at least Greek if not both Greek and Hebrew, and there's a lot of time and effort spent on rigorous, historically-informed interpretation. These are coherent theological traditions which can trace their lineage back through two thousand years of tradition.

But most laypeople in these traditions don't actually get much in the way of formal instruction, and religious education is a gigantic crap shoot in terms of both breadth and quality. Catholics in particular tend to have a pretty weak grasp of Scripture as such, focused as the tradition is on the Magisterium. And both Anglicanism and Lutheranism encompass a pretty large liberal wing--the rest of the confessional traditions less so--which tends to be lousy at religious education. But even in the Reformed and conservative Lutheran traditions, which do tend to place a pretty high premium on religious education, the fact that they're doing something doesn't mean they're any good at it. So there's that.

But when you get outside the confessional traditions, i.e., evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, and the non-denominational traditions, it all goes downhill, fast. These are traditions which have pretty consciously abandoned continuity with historic Christianity. To the point that there are a lot of people looking around and realizing that this is what's happened. The ones that have that sort of awakening tend to either leave the church entirely or join confessional traditions. Both moves are recognize phenomena in the modern church. But the ones that don't are the ones that the people in this thread have been complaining about, your stereotypical, unthoughtful, unreflective, reflexive evangelical. And they, together with nominal Catholics, probably form a plurality if not a majority of Christians in the country. And since people who self-identify as Christian form a majority of people in the country... that's a lot of people.

But if you're asking only about people who do serious, academic-quality Biblical study, it's almost universal. It's just that most lay people of all stripes don't do that at all, and most evangelical clergy don't either. The people that are doing it tend not to make the news very often, partly because they're obscure, but also because reasoned, carefully-argued theological argument doesn't make for good sound bites. It also tends to discourage self-righteousness, which accounts for it being somewhat unpopular.
posted by valkyryn at 7:04 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Thanks for that, valkryn, I appreciate the background a lot.

It also tends to discourage self-righteousness, which accounts for it being somewhat unpopular.

That made me smile a sad little smile. It's terribly true, isn't it? Human nature is a funny thing.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:52 AM on May 11, 2012


Blasdelb: "This is just me, but I'd be totally down for adding the Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, the Letter From a Birmingham Jail, and maybe a few more to cannon. Taking the warnings in Paul's letters or John's Apocalypse against doctoring their text as a prohibition against adding to the anthology that is the Bible is pretty anachronistic thinking."

It also occurred to me, and again this is the very definition of heterodox, there should also be a New Testament Psalms with Amazing Grace, a couple good Wesleyan hymns, and some songs by Mr. Rogers. That would also be awesome.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:22 PM on May 16, 2012


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