This is the first post in a back-and-forth between me and Robert Fuller at A Particular Atheist. I am a firm believer in subjecting ideas to criticism. Atheists are particularly good critics for Christians if they are sufficiently knowledgeable simply because they have no religious obligations to support our ideas. You might even gain a friend out of the ordeal (here’s to my friend Dan in the UK!).
Robert’s first question for me is important: how do I reconcile my beliefs about homosexuality with the Bible? If you haven’t read my stance on the subject just yet, please read A Christian Defense of Homosexuality.
I have seen many attempt to maintain that scripture is infallible while also supporting homosexuality. This line of reasoning goes as such: scripture says <insert some Greek term such as “arsenokoitai”>, which we translate to homosexual, but it really means <insert other term such as “someone who exploits boy prostitutes”>. At the time that I changed my view on homosexuals, this is what I believed. It got me past the theological wall I had to jump in order to start seeing gays and lesbians as they are. There is a varying degree of merit to such a view, so let me cover it for a moment before I get to my objections.
Consider a few excerpts from Romans 1:21-27.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened…. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones…. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
The line of reasoning in the pro-LGBT/Biblical-infallibility mindset is that the passage deals with people who trade their natural sexuality for the opposite sort. As it is clear that gay and lesbian men and women are not making any such trade (here is an APA pamphlet to anyone reading who is unclear on this), this passage in Romans didn’t apply. This advice would apply instead to gay men trying out women, straight men trying out men, etc.
But as I considered that passage in Romans more carefully, I realized that Paul is writing his thoughts on how homosexual behaviors come to be. Certainly, the passage is not specifically about the origin of homosexuality, but I have little doubt that, if Paul were to give a more focused explanation of homosexual behavior, it would bear resemblance to what he describes in Romans. I don’t think it makes much sense to try to modernize Paul’s writings.
We must realize that Paul — and all the other Biblical authors — carried with them the prejudices and opinions of their respective time periods and cultures. To pretend otherwise is to make gods of the authors, as though they were not flesh and blood humans subject to all the imperfections of everyone else. To quote the article linked earlier, the authors’ perception of gay sex was “conditioned by cultural perceptions and behavioral patterns too alien to those of modern times to provide an adequate basis for a contemporary ethic of homosexuality as homosexuality is currently understood.”
That’s another way of saying that the Bible just can’t talk about this issue adequately, and whatever it does say is likely wrong, because it has made its judgment based on insufficient evidence.
Many people are uncomfortable saying this. I regularly receive accusations of heresy or something of the sort. Only a few years ago, I would have been uncomfortable, as well. But if we keep in mind that there were several hundred years of Christianity without the Bible as we know it, then it seems no problem to consider Christianity as something other than an entity which derives its existence from correct interpretation of a specific collection of ancient texts.
There are a number of more specific historical details I could cover, such as the formation of the modern literal interpretation of scripture, but I will leave it to the reader to seek out further information. I want to discuss a number of specific details from Robert’s post.
“Your post is an admirable defense of homosexuality, something that shouldn’t even need defending.”
I disagree with the bolded portion: homosexuality would need defending no matter what. It is the natural tendency of humans in general to categorize strange things as “other.” If it hadn’t been Christianity, it would have been another aspect of culture which likely would have stigmatized the LGBT community. Even in increasingly-secular Europe, homosexuals still face significant discrimination, though one might argue that it is fallout from religious influence. Yet even ancient Greece and Rome stigmatized effeminacy to a significant degree and looked down upon adult homosexuality, particularly the passive partner in the relationship. It would seem that minorities in all societies need some defending, and we should not presume to pin this entirely on religiosity.
“My hope for homosexual Christians is for them to leave the religion that follows a book which says they should be put to death.”
Honestly, there are many shameful things in the Bible, especially were we to consider them as having come from the mouth of God. I discussed them to some degree in a previous post. People who take an infallible stance on scripture have far worse problems than merely their stance on gays and lesbians.
Do you think you being a Christian, who I presume quotes & reveres the same Bible as Westboro Baptist Church and the countless hate groups whose names contain the word “family”, lends credibility to them and others who use the Bible to justify their anti-gay stances?
Quite the opposite, actually. If there were no Christians preaching a different message, then Westboro and others would have a monopoly on the Christian message, thereby bolstering their legitimacy. There need to be voices saying that we should not use the Bible in such a manner, and it will mean a lot more coming from a Christian than from an atheist.
Yet this leaves the question of how we should use the Bible if it is not the literal, inspired word of God. How do we use other books? Does their non-infallibility preclude their use? There are many interesting ideas to consider out of the Bible, and I look to them as guidance in my life. Even Romans, which contains some of the questionable comments about homosexual behavior, is an admirable book about the unity of the church. The driving argument — that people of all nations are united as one in the church — is something healthy for us to consider as Christians even today.
It was my understanding of Christian virtue and redemption which led me to write my defense of homosexuality. It is that same understanding which urges me to be a force for restoring good order to the world, even if it is only in a very small way. Rather than set up a series of theological barriers which prevent us from seeing the world, I would propose that the purpose of Christianity is to break down all artificial barriers between us and truth. That requires constant self-analysis and evaluation.
I hope this clears up my position on the subject to some degree, though I am sure there is more to say. With my wedding coming up very soon (!!!), it will be difficult to write further for just a few more weeks, but I look forward to this ongoing dialog!