Where is the love?

by Maria on December 22, 2008

Ugh, I feel ill. I had been mellowing on Pope Benedict. It’s hard (not to mention wrong) to keep hating on someone you pray out loud for every Sunday. But now he comes out with this: ‘saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour is just as important as saving the rain forest from destruction’.

“(The Church) should also protect man from the destruction of himself. A sort of ecology of man is needed,” the pontiff said in a holiday address to the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration. “The tropical forests do deserve our protection. But man, as a creature, does not deserve any less.” The Catholic Church teaches that while homosexuality is not sinful, homosexual acts are. It opposes gay marriage and, in October, a leading Vatican official called homosexuality “a deviation, an irregularity, a wound”. The pope said humanity needed to “listen to the language of creation” to understand the intended roles of man and woman. He compared behaviour beyond traditional heterosexual relations as “a destruction of God’s work”.

No surprises here, I know. This is doctrine, at least for those as believe in papal infallibility. But what pierces me is the vehemence of the delivery. It tallies with the vindictive efforts of the Proposition 8 people to nullify marriages celebrated during the brief window of legality. Why would you do that except to inflict pain? Pope Benedict’s comparison of the natural instincts of people born to fancy and love each other with our bloody-minded destruction of the environment is just horrifying. It’s ugly and utterly unworthy. The violence of the rhetoric belies the strength of the reasoning. There can be no truly Christian argument against gay marriage. Even if you genuinely believe your own straight marriage is somehow lessened because gay people can marry too, why does it follow that you wouldn’t suffer it anyway in order to give other people that joy?

I think if the revolutionary Jesus of the New Testament ever thought his ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ message would be perverted and abused in this way, he’d have given us a few reminders like ‘judge not lest ye be judged’ or reminded his followers of the special power of religious hierarchy to corrupt. Oh, hang on, he did already!

I’ve sat with the Rick Warren inauguration thing for days, hoping to feel less angry and betrayed, hoping to see a chink of light in the reasoning behind it – anything beyond the tortuous over-thinking and callous calculation it betrays. I give up. Why couldn’t Obama give the people who voted for him one perfect day of happiness? God knows things are gloomy enough besides. And God knows too many people have spent the last 8 years excluded from the party. We live in a fully imperfect world the other 364 days, and reason says Obama can only disappoint us in the future, no matter how hard he tries. So why not share this one beautiful day of unadulterated happiness?

Here’s what it comes down to. The religious fundamentalists simply don’t want other people to be happy. The only joy they can conceive of is that which they allow. There’s no rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s for them. The law of their angry God is inadequate by itself, and needs to be enforced by the laws of men and the power of the state. Their joy is won only in a zero sum game. Sharing it destroys it. Why else do they fight so hard to exclude gay people from the ‘sanctity’ of marriage?

But we’re not two year-olds. We are grown-ups who know that sharing our precious toys doesn’t ruin them forever. If marriage is so great – and I think it is – then why hoard it? Why keep the light under a bushel? There is something so selfish and grasping about the religious right’s vendetta against gay marriage. It’s unworthy of anyone who professes to follow Christ.

I keep on keeping on in the Catholic Church, mostly because it’s what I was brought up in and where I most feel the pain and joy of just being alive. I’ve even been lucky enough to find a home from home in a Catholic community that not just welcomes but celebrates every person in it. But days like today force me to ask myself if it’s even the right thing to continue to associate myself with an institution whose leadership behaves so shamefully. If I believe Barack Obama should dissociate himself from Rick Warren’s Prop 8 hatefulness, what right do I have to keep going to a church I love but that doesn’t fully love all its members?

I can’t argue myself into it, or perhaps even justify politically and intellectually why I should go on enjoying my community of faith. But I do feel it comes down to the joy. The happiness for and amongst others I experience there, and the practical hope that I can keep on doing my bit (whenever I truly figure out what that is). Shutting down or shutting off that profound source of joy would make me feel the bad guys have won. The religious right don’t have a monopoly on happiness, and we shouldn’t let them think they can.

{ 83 comments }

1

goodepic 12.22.08 at 6:32 pm

I can’t help but comment that you just explicated a fine argument against basing any of one’s happiness on traditional organized religions. Find your community and joy elsewhere. The one power you possess to end the power of the Pope to oppress members of your community? Reduce the numbers who join a community of oppression and leave that anachronistic institution.

2

brooksfoe 12.22.08 at 6:56 pm

I’m happy to engage in the rhetoric of tolerance towards strange religious luminaries so long as they remain relatively humble in their pronouncements. And I know ramping up the vehemence isn’t a good strategy for addressing deep disagreements in values between adherents of different religions, or between modern seculars and religious adherents in general.

But when the Pope busts out with this kind of brute medieval crap, it’s really hard to restrain oneself from pointing out that he is an elderly man who dresses up in a white kimono and pointy wizard’s hat, waves about a golden shepherd’s crook and pretends to hear voices from a supernatural being who tells him what kinds of sexual acts are good and what kinds are filthy. Apologies to Catholic sensibilities, I love the rituals and respect the intellectual tradition, but, you know, come on.

3

lindsey 12.22.08 at 7:22 pm

This is a great post Maria. I’m not Catholic, but I do share your reluctance to participate in a denomination where the leaders make pronouncements I disagree with. Correct me if this wouldn’t fit with the whole papal infallibility thing, but my motto has been that it’s better to be a light in a denomination that needs dissenting voices, than to pull out and let the leaders continue to make a mess of things without being challenged. It’s good for you and good for your fellow Catholics to know that there are Catholics out there who disagree, who think that Jesus came to share a much different one than what’s being proclaimed by the Church. So long as you don’t go through the motions pretending to agree with the Pope (which you don’t seem to be), I think you can still remain true to your faith, and the Catholic denomination. Besides, they win if they can steal people’s joy, and we can’t have that.

The law of their angry God is inadequate by itself, and needs to be enforced by the laws of men and the power of the state. Their joy is won only in a zero sum game. Sharing it destroys it.

I’ve never quite understood this, the whole need to politicize faith and enforce it on others. I think what happens is that there’s a tendency to want to be a doer, that is, to show that you yourself can do God’s work here, etc. But, people tend to do it by showing how they can get stuff done w/o God, like by turning doctrine into law. It’s silly, of course, and God was never much for our acting without him, but there you have it. If people would only stick to what he actually commanded us to do: love God and love people. Love being the operative word, and certainly not a zero sum thing.

4

roy belmont 12.22.08 at 7:41 pm

“…to associate myself with an institution whose leadership behaves so shamefully…”
And welcome to the USA.
The seemingly inexplicable fear of and sadistic intolerance toward sexual outliers is Darwinian isn’t it? Has to be, doesn’t it?
People don’t do things that continuously and that vehemently that don’t make some kind of sense.
Same as the insistence on one man/one woman marriage. It’s promoted as the bedrock of social stability, the core of the family and the will of God, but it benefits a particular subset of humans, beta males, to the reproductive detriment of alphas.
Sexual taboos also have this ingenious feature that they reinforce the social bonds of the institution doing the tabooing, because they’re solidly in place before sexual maturation. Which means any rebellion against them has to be massively stronger and seriously more fundamentally rejecting than if they were being forced on people with already functioning sex drives.
Sexual guilt is established before consciously imperative sexual desire exists. As opposed to guilt around things like theft and harm to others.
Then it’s released, or supposed to be only released, by obedience and submission to approved sexual protocols, provided by the institution.
“Thank you, institution! I needed that!”
Given the exclusively male and ostensibly sexless nature of the Church hierarchy it’s not surprising that male homosexuals end up in positions of ecclesiastical authority. Then you get that weird self-loathing and projection stuff, like with J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI. The afflicted loyal to their sickness.
The sickness in this case being hypocrisy and sadistic intolerance.
Plus Ratzinger/Benedict is pretty much a Zionist tool.

5

MattiJ 12.22.08 at 7:53 pm

I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment and the message you want to convey, but you also say:

“There can be no truly Christian argument against gay marriage.”

This is nonsense, I think. If it turns out that some of those old scriptures that Christians consider being directly inspired by God really do condemn homosexuality, then too bad for gay marriage also. Truly Christian argument against gay marriage is this: Jahve says it’s an abomination.

I’ve always thought this is pretty conclusive, and therefore it’s better for liberals to be atheists too. There’s also the possibility of founding/converting into a more pleasing sect/religion.

You also claim that the so called fundamentalists don’t want others to be happy. But Christianity isn’t utilitarianism or hedonism. It’s not even sophisticated eudaimonism like Aristotle’s philosophy. These fundamentalists want that others too be saved. Consult books on theology on details. It’s our earthly, enlightenment philosophies that put human happiness first. Those philosophies most naturally mix with atheism or some very non-Catholic forms of worship.

6

geo 12.22.08 at 7:58 pm

religious fundamentalists simply don’t want other people to be happy

Unfair. They want us to sacrifice earthly happiness, but only so that we’ll be happy with them (and God) for all eternity.

7

Maria 12.22.08 at 8:06 pm

MattiJ, it’s true that I don’t much rate the Old Testament or the letters of St. Paul. Not sure what that makes me.

8

Gandalf The Pious 12.22.08 at 8:37 pm

But when the Pope busts out with this kind of brute medieval crap, it’s really hard to restrain oneself from pointing out that he is an elderly man who dresses up in a white kimono and pointy wizard’s hat, waves about a golden shepherd’s crook and pretends to hear voices from a supernatural being who tells him what kinds of sexual acts are good and what kinds are filthy.

And what, exactly, is the problem with this kind of behavior?

9

mds 12.22.08 at 8:39 pm

Unfair. They want us to sacrifice earthly happiness, but only so that we’ll be happy with them (and God) for all eternity.

Yes, that’s what comes through so strongly throughout the Left Behind series (aka “premillenial dispensationalist torture porn”), the sermons of Rod Parsley, the frothing screeds from Dobson, Perkins, etc, etc, etc. They just want to convert the rest of us for the sake of our immortal souls… and if a boot to the face is required, it’s for our own good. Well, that’s all right, then. Glad that they focused on moral suasion to convince California same-sex couples to abandon their wicked lifestyles, rather than use state coercion to strip them of their rights under (secular) law.

And shouldn’t an “ecology of man” encourage diversity, rather than forcibly pruning out and driving into extinction the parts one thinks are icky? Or is that reading too much into a vapid, intellectually-bankrupt metaphor?

10

MarkUp 12.22.08 at 8:44 pm

Perhaps Rome is upset that TV’s biggest family, the 20 Duggers of Arkansas, are Baptists.

11

Dave Maier 12.22.08 at 8:44 pm

a deviation, an irregularity, a wound

A wound. Holy crap. I believe someone else in this thread has already used the word “tool” (in reference to His Holiness), but since I really can’t think of a better word, my verdict on the unnamed “leading Vatican official” who said that is simply an unoriginal:

What a tool.

12

Chris 12.22.08 at 10:36 pm

Just in case it’s not clear, Papal infallibility doesn’t apply here. It’s only relevant if it’s invoked by the Pope, and it almost never is. I think it’s only been invoked once or twice in the last hundred years. When it’s not invoked, anything the Pope says is just the Pope giving what amounts to official, but not necessarily permanent, Church positions. That way, future Popes can say, “Oops, we were wrong. Sorry.” Thus Catholics will never be able to get rid of of, say, the assumption, but they can get rid of their homobigotry some day.

13

Martin James 12.22.08 at 10:39 pm

The fundamentalist approach and an atheistic approach to these things are relatively easy to understand. “God said it, so its a sin” and “no he didn’t, because he ain’t real real ” are pretty straightforward. But the doubtful believers or worshipers or attenders or whatever you want to call them are the interesting case.

I’ve never been to a catholic service actually have never had a religious discussion with one so I don’t know, but do you see the mass as a kind of sing-a-long movie where you do it but there are parts you like and parts you don’t or are you felling more like a person who married someone they loved but you seem to have grown apart and you don’t know when its time to leave or like something else completely?

It almost seems like you think the Pope is not very Christian. Do you believe in temptation and sin and do you think the Pope is sinning or just foolish because of his beliefs about homosexual acts?

I’m also curious about your ideas about the source of your own moral judgment. Is your feeling of right and wrong something you hold primarily as a matter of intuition and empathetic feeling or is it something that you think can be proved by reasoning, something where “unbiased” observers could listen to you and the pope discuss the matter and form a valid conclusion based on the arguments presented?

I think this is my all-time favorite CT post because of what you question and don’t question and the language that you use. The fact that gender preferences being “natural instincts” seeming to be evidence that they shouldn’t be blameworthy. The fact that intolerant language is “ugly” implying some kind of aesthetic judgment in your moral reasoning. The degree to which you are repelled by the infliction of pain and attracted to your own and other’s happiness is almost biological in fervor. You almost have your own ecology of love.

Well done. Encore.

14

Anderson 12.22.08 at 11:02 pm

The pope said humanity needed to “listen to the language of creation” to understand the intended roles of man and woman.

I tried that, but all I keep hearing is “anal sex is fun!” Maybe I need Remedial Creation language classes.

15

Watson Aname 12.22.08 at 11:17 pm

Maybe I need Remedial Creation language classes.

Or perhaps the pope needs a good ….

… perhaps not.

16

Delicious Pundit 12.22.08 at 11:21 pm

Of course you feel ill, you’ve been eating all that Campbell’s Soup.

St Monica’s, or St Monica the Eponymous as they ought to call it in that city, is really great, I’ve heard. It’s the church that launched my friend Julia Sweeney on her spiritual journey to atheism, chronicled in her monologue “Letting Go Of God.” I think one time she still went to midnight Mass at St James episcopal, on Wilshire. It’s hard to quit. I sympathize exactly.

17

dsquared 12.22.08 at 11:34 pm

NB that this post, and anyone else who is Catholic and who is also serious about thinking about the implications of their religion and about what demands church membership does and doesn’t place on their individual consequence, is what’s dismissively referred to by the Bill Donohues of this world as “cafeteria Catholicism”, which is IMO a pretty good reason for telling said Donohues to take a long walk up a short aisle.

18

Danielle Day 12.22.08 at 11:51 pm

I believe it was actor Morgan Freeman who observed “Belief in god is a fairy tale for adults.”

19

Martin James 12.23.08 at 12:02 am

The question is not just whether belief in god is a fairy tale, its whether that fairy tale aids and abets or, alternatively, controls and sublimates bad behavior. I mean its not like one has to go to church to learn how to be a homophobe ( although a good bumper sticker might be “Nobody is born a bigot – it takes years and years of practice”)

20

Michael Neville 12.23.08 at 1:29 am

When the Catholic Church abandons and apologizes for its official policy of protecting pedophiles then it can make a claim for some sort of moral leadership. Right now, the odious homophobe Rick Warren can claim to be more “christ-like” than Pope Benedict.

21

Righteous Bubba 12.23.08 at 1:57 am

The question is not just whether belief in god is a fairy tale, its whether that fairy tale aids and abets or, alternatively, controls and sublimates bad behavior.

It IS human behaviour. It’s an ill-attended religion that doesn’t allow an outlet for all the impulses – good and bad – of its followers.

22

Glen 12.23.08 at 2:37 am

“The Catholic Church teaches that while homosexuality is not sinful,
homosexual acts are.”

This is sounding like you have free will, but don’t use it.

23

dr. doctrine 12.23.08 at 3:06 am

the intriguing aspect of all this is that homosexuality occurs unabated regardless of the public mumblings, rantings, desires, proclamations, decrees from the brahmin priestly saintly class … of course phobic behavior stumbles forth unabated regardless of the private sexual proclivities of the breeder/non-breeder/hybrid classes.

24

Neil 12.23.08 at 3:09 am

I am considering if wearing the ‘pink triangle’ on a 1930’s style recession suit will look OK.
Thank You for such a positive comment on such a negative story!

25

Eszter Hargittai 12.23.08 at 3:28 am

This is a great post, Maria, thanks.

Like goodepic, I wonder if you could find a community elsewhere, although I understand the importance of traditions from when one was little.

Have you ever tried a Friends meeting? It seems to me that’s something you might enjoy.

26

Glen Tomkins 12.23.08 at 5:34 am

Maria and MattiJ,

Don’t let these contemporary scribes and Pharisees steal the Bible from you any more than you let them steal the joy. The only clear, even at all likely, reference to homosexuality in the Bible is in Romans, and in that epistle, Paul refers to the homosexuality of the Greek world only to argue against the homophobia of the Jewish community in Rome.

27

geo 12.23.08 at 6:02 am

“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.” ( Leviticus 20:13 )

Sorry, Glen.

28

magistra 12.23.08 at 7:07 am

For anyone interested in the Biblical arguments on homosexuality, there’s a good series of blog posts by Doug Chaplin on the key Old Testament and Pauline texts, which tries to look seriously at the verses in their context and how that might affect a Christian theology of sexuality.

29

Tracy W 12.23.08 at 8:38 am

Okay, you are willing to worship in a church that has, in its holy books, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 – which says that if a woman is raped (in the countryside) she is to be married to her rapist.
And yet what really bothers you is that the church leaders object to gay marriage?

I think gay marriage should be allowed. But I don’t understand how come so many Christians are so upset by their church’s opposition to gay marriage, when there is so much else to object to in the core of the religion. Marrying people off to their rapists strikes me as even worse than forbidding some people to marry their loves.

30

ejh 12.23.08 at 8:39 am

I keep on keeping on in the Catholic Church

My mother was a member of the Catholic Church for more than forty years, until she wished to get remarried, at which point she was shocked to find that the Church meant what it said, cruelly and ignorantly, on the topic. Why she was expecting them to say anything else, I can’t imagine.

Much the same can be said about the opening post.

31

lisa 12.23.08 at 8:50 am

To really move away from this view, the church may have to change its whole interpretation of natural law teleology–the whole teleological view of human beings and human actions within nature. I’m no theologian but I think there is kind of a medieval science lurking where male emissions have a natural purpose in procreation and any action that thwarts this purpose is evil. Good=going with nature; Evil=going against nature’s teleological purposes.

So that’s why the rain forest comes in here maybe? The thing Pope Benedict is overlooking is that cutting down the rainforest means the possible extinction of humanity and certain tremendous suffering for many, many people. The view of good and evil that permits the comparison between someone in Burma dying in a hurricane and two guys/gals getting it on is just so strange to me. I can’t even fathom it.

The story of Onan in the Bible probably matters as much as the scattered references to homosexuality. I think the Church kind of prides itself (or some segments do) on the fact that they are equal opportunity condemners of unnatural acts. Straights aren’t better than gays here, etc. They are kind of missing the forest for the trees, I think.

Note: This highly speculative claim I’m making is the result of Catholic school, which means it’s super rusty and subject to my sieve-like memory and probable lack of understanding at the time. I won the theology prize two years in a row (ages 16 and 17) but it wasn’t for my knowledge of these topics.

Since the teleological view of nature doesn’t really explain the natural world, I would say that it should be easy to give up this model but aren’t its roots in Aquinas? I’m not sure who else they’ve got or what there is to replace it with. So I don’t think we should hold our breath on their coming around. This isn’t even because they are burdened with a few Bible passages that could be reinterpreted. The whole perspective on sexuality–on ‘nature’ itself–doesn’t leave much room to maneuver. Masturbation is exactly the same mortal sin as gay sex for them–maybe slightly less terrible because you don’t involve anyone else. I can’t see the Church changing its view on masturbation in the next millennia.

I’ve lost all hope for official Church teaching on these issues. Maybe that’s too cynical. But Esther, I don’t think that there is any burden on you to understand your experience through that teaching or be answerable for it. First, it sounds like your real community is already dissenting from this larger institutional part of your community. There is the alternative to be some kind of free flowing atom, relinquish your community for a total absence of moral ambiguity or complexity. I think professors advocate that because they tend to see membership in communities as a kind of signing on to a set of beliefs–and academics are really very obsessed with consistency. But why think about membership in a community like this–that’s its purely doctrinal? I don’t think community membership even fits this model. Also, if you leave, there’s a huge price to pay and it’s not like you won’t continue to feel the tie. This suggests that membership isn’t voluntary in the way people suppose. Going to mass isn’t like being in the RCP and then being responsible for Stalin.

The Rick Warren thing is just a kick in the stomach. There’s the charitable view that this is about building bridges, avoiding division. In which case, it’s horribly ham handed because I can’t think of a more divisive choice. Now it’s like ‘Gays hate Rick Warren’/’Rick Warren hates gays.’ How is that supposed to bring us all together exactly? There’s the uncharitable view that this is designed intentionally to piss off the left, thus allowing Obama to dissociate himself with the left. In general, I think Obama’s schtick about reaching across these ideological barriers has merit but to do this, it is not necessary to honor those who demean or hurt others–I really think Warren has done that in many ways.

If Rick Warren gives an interview the next day saying he’s decided gay marriage should be legal or something then I guess I’ll get over this. If he goes on with his same blather, then I don’t know how we can forget this.

32

lisa 12.23.08 at 8:53 am

Oops. I called you Esther. I meant Maria! I know there is an Esther on here but also I was just talking to an Esther.

33

Francis 12.23.08 at 10:42 am

Agghhh! I expect good things from Crooked Timber, not a high level of theological ignorance starting with the OP.

This is doctrine, at least for those as believe in papal infallibility.

Papal infaliability doesn’t mean that. I forget the exact conditions necesary for the pope to make an infaliable statement, but they are pretty stringent to the point where IIRC all the infaliable statements made by popes are on some of the sillier parts of Marian doctrine (Immaculate Conception being one IIRC).

This is nonsense, I think. If it turns out that some of those old scriptures that Christians consider being directly inspired by God really do condemn homosexuality, then too bad for gay marriage also. Truly Christian argument against gay marriage is this: Jahve says it’s an abomination.

Then they need to selectively edit their bibles to get this. If you are taking Scripture as the arbiter (FWIW, that’s a very Protestant take – the Anglicans take the tripod of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason and the Orthodox (and IIRC the Catholics) are ruled by Holy Tradition of which Scripture is a part).

The story of Onan in the Bible probably matters as much as the scattered references to homosexuality.

And the story of Onan has nothing to do with homosexuality. It’s about breach of contract – Onan had said he would try and impregnate and after that used withdrawl method contraception. Had he not been explicitely directed by God to impregnate, this wouldn’t have been a problem.

34

peter 12.23.08 at 10:58 am

He doth protest too much, methinks, given Benedict’s proclivity for designer vestments and shoes, and for surrounding himself with young, good-looking priests (both of which facts have been amply documented in the Italian press).

35

Tony 12.23.08 at 1:50 pm

To really move away from this view, the church may have to change its whole interpretation of natural law teleology—the whole teleological view of human beings and human actions within nature. I’m no theologian but I think there is kind of a medieval science lurking where male emissions have a natural purpose in procreation and any action that thwarts this purpose is evil. Good=going with nature; Evil=going against nature’s teleological purposes.

Completely agree with what Lisa says above. The anti-gay stuff is a hangover from precisely that medieval mindset that saw human procreation as the supreme expression of God’s plan for mankind. God gave us the earth, and dominion over all the dumb and soul-less animals thereon.

The medieval world had a fondness for lists, and the medieval Church drew up a syllabus of sins running from venal misdemeanours to mortal felonies. Accordnig to this syllabus, rape was a FAR LESS serious sin than masturbation. At least with rape, the Church fathers argued, the sperm would reach its proper destination.

This was where their priorities lay, and seemingly continue to lie. On the issue of child abuse, for example, news of a report came out in Ireland only this week taking the Catholic Church to task for its continuing failure to protect children. One criticism levelled at the Church is that it continues to be more concerned with the perpetrator than the victim. This medieval world-view has real consequences.

This is an organization that, would criminalize homosexuality, would criminalize the use of contraception, were it once again to wrest control (God forbid) of the temporal power.

That Benedict should come out with something as morally skewed as his statement yesterday is not at all surprising. The mindset is fatally diseased. These people are not just deluded, they are highly dangerous.

36

Andrew Brown 12.23.08 at 2:13 pm

It is simply not true that the Vatican is in favour of criminalising homosexuality. It has said twice in the last week that it is not. And, if you look at the context of his statement — a very rambling, woolly discussion of the past year — it wasn’t some kind of sudden assault on gay marriage. He is trying to argue that heterosexuality is natural and good in the same sense as rain forests are. Given rather different spin, this would look fantastically progressive. I think he’s wrong, but I think that gtiven the thought-world from which he comes, he could be a lot wronger and nastier.

37

Picador 12.23.08 at 2:49 pm

I remember a statement in the newspaper some years ago by a Catholic priest in response to some wishy-washy statement by a cafeteria Catholic about how “I consider myself Catholic, but I don’t agree with the Church about everything.” The priest said: “We have a word for people like that: they’re called Protestants.”

There have been a number of comments in this thread about how the Pope shouldn’t be able to steal Maria’s Catholic church away from her, that her interpretation of the Bible and of the values of Catholicism are paramount. This is a very liberal, post-enlightenment way of thinking about religion; in fact, it is a specifically Protestant way of thinking about religion. Many thousands of people died bloody, tortured deaths at the hands of the Catholic church fighting to uphold this principle, and for someone to worship at a Catholic church and yet take for granted the individual rights to spiritual autonomy that the Protestants created and that the Catholic church has explicitly rejected strikes me as somewhat disrespectful of the dead and of history.

Maria is apparently a Protestant without knowing it, and she worships at a Catholic church and poses as a Catholic despite their public statements to the effect that they have no interest in people like her. I can sympathize with this impulse (my mother is also a cafeteria Catholic), but I find it pathological and dishonest. To my mind, it’s on par with a Jew attending a Pentecostal church, professing to be a Pentecostal, and then complaining that the Pentecostals seem to adopt positions that aren’t in accord with her Judaism.

Maria, do your kids a favor and make some changes now, or your theological incoherence will make it very hard for them to respect you intellectually, no matter how smart you may be or how much they love you. Trust me on this.

(Please note that I am neither a Catholic nor a Protestant.)

38

Frank 12.23.08 at 3:10 pm

“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.”

So, no: vaginal sex; cunnilingus; or rubbing your tits in the boyfriend’s face—otherwise, everything goes!

39

sd 12.23.08 at 3:18 pm

Peter wrote (#34):

“He doth protest too much, methinks, given Benedict’s proclivity for designer vestments and shoes, and for surrounding himself with young, good-looking priests (both of which facts have been amply documented in the Italian press).”

And yet again we see an ostensible supporter of gay rights who is perfectly happy to deploy the rhetorical tropes of anti-gay biggotry to attack someone who is not a (complete at least) supporter of gay rights. Designer Clothes! Fresh Faced Boys! Fags!

40

sd 12.23.08 at 3:37 pm

Maria wrote:

“No surprises here, I know. This is doctrine, at least for those as believe in papal infallibility. But what pierces me is the vehemence of the delivery. “

Vehemence? It was a single throw-away point in the midst of a long, rambling speech touching on a multitide of topics.

I understand disagreeing with the Chruch’s teaching on these matters. But what I don’t get is the trigger-happy tendency to say that Church leaders are obsessed with sexuality to the exclusion of other topics. Its simply not true.

The Vatican publishes transcripts of damn near everything the pope ever says in public (not to mention the staggering pace at which he publishes books given his public schedule). And if you look back over everything he’s said over the course of his pontificate, you will find:

* Tons of learned, thoughtful commentary on key figures in Church history
* Tons of leanred, thoughtful commentary on the life and meaning of Jesus Christ that ranks among the best homiletics in the modern history of the Church (and which engages thoughtfully and honestly with modern non-religious historiography)
* Countless thoughts on the nature and form of the Catholic liturgy that seeks to reconcile the post-Vatican II reforms with the earlier aesthetic and liturigical tradition of the Church
* Countless remarks on the need for peace and on the the obloigations to the poor, the suffering and the needy

Almost none of which gets written up with breathless headlines in the Irish Times.

You will also find among the Pope’s words the occasional reference to sexual matters, damn near every single one of which is in the news cycle for the next 24 hours. And, it should be pointed out, when the pope does say something about sexuality, what he says would gets the enthusiastic sign-off from probably 90%+ of living bishops and 99%+ of bishops who have ever lived.

Again, I understand, I really really do understand, if you disagree with Church teaching on sexuality. Many people do. But many people also complain that Church leaders are “obsessed with sex.” And well, someone clearly is devoting a disproportionate share of their spiritual mindshare to the topic of sexuality, but its not the pope.

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Lee A. Arnold 12.23.08 at 5:57 pm

Oh, I don’t know about that. People can hold forth on a number of topics and still be sexually screwed up. The R.C. Church has destroyed many lives around the issue, while not understanding the true basis of the necessary objection to sexual license of any kind, and therefore mistaking the Bible’s cultural conventions for moral and spiritual law. Anybody who joins the conversation should first state where they are coming from, and as for me, I am convinced that there are three kinds of people: (1) religious believers, (2) atheists-agnostics-secular humanists, and 3) those who know that the first two are out of their minds — because the radically different, higher consciousness exists in this life. It is real but it is rare, and worse, it is unsuspected and misunderstood. And a temporary necessity is to subdue the passions in order to develop this transcendent awareness. Read any true mystic. That is the “esoteric,” although it is been cast out of organized religion. Because it is wordless finally, and the written books of instruction are taken in different ways by people unawares, and taught wrongly. For the rank and file of the church, the Bible is a book of rules to follow, in order to be “good” and “saved.” That is the “exoteric.” It may give you a few jitters and swoons, but so will a can of beer. Beyond this main point of completely misunderstanding the inside goal, it’s a corollary that many religious seekers, (as well as many other people,) are sexually insecure or fearful. The presence of gays makes them uneasy. While in addition, the ones who believe that homosexuality is matter of choice must actually be feeling that same choice in themselves: i.e., they are repressed, self-denying bisexuals. There is no other explanation for this astounding misbelief in “choice.” And it could as well be a reason why the word “promiscuous” is so often found in the same sentence with “homosexual,” although of course gays may be quite as reserved as straights. A private estimate from a Roman Catholic priest is that half the clergy is gay, and no doubt half of those poor souls are beating up on themselves for sins either imagined, or real but misapprehended. We should in fact thank God that the Enlightenment has given us the protections of law to ignore Benedict, although now cafeteria Catholicism is hooking up with drive-thru Protestantism. Consider Rick Warren, an egotist who is attempting not to be one. He thinks the important sentence of his best seller is “It’s not about you” — how far has consumer culture been degraded by individualism, that anyone needs to be reminded of this!? — and he is another who is in way over his head.

42

Steve LaBonne 12.23.08 at 6:05 pm

You’ve gotta love PZ Myers’s post title on this: “Virgin male in dress chastises gay people for their confused sexuality”

43

Jimmy Steamer 12.23.08 at 6:24 pm

I too am interested in the typical Christian arguments invoking what “nature” dictates, particularly given that most Christian doctrine has been built upon Platonic philosophy which esteems, above all, going beyond and overcoming this dirty, filthy, evil natural world.

As for Leviticus, right: as long as you’re standing up, all is permitted.

Someone should throw shoes at Warren.

44

geo 12.23.08 at 7:09 pm

Lee: mistaking the Bible’s cultural conventions for moral and spiritual law

“Conventions”? Catholics believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. It is the moral and spiritual law, though like any law, it needs to be interpreted, and is authoritatively interpreted by the Church.

sd: Tons of learned, thoughtful commentary on the life and meaning of Jesus Christ

Haven’t read it, but I’d bet, without seeing it, that tons of Benedict’s commentary aren’t worth a few ounces of Garry Wills’s What Jesus Meant.

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ejh 12.23.08 at 7:17 pm

life of Jesus Christ

Not that there was one, mind.

46

sd 12.23.08 at 7:42 pm

Geo:

At least you are honest about the fact that you are criticizing a book you haven’t read. How enlightened.

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Righteous Bubba 12.23.08 at 7:49 pm

At least you are honest about the fact that you are criticizing a book you haven’t read. How enlightened.

Speaking of enlightenment…

Pro-life lawmakers [in the Philippines] move to kill RH bill
By Sammy Martin, Reporter

PRO-LIFE lawmakers are confident of halting the passage of the controversial Reproductive Health Bill that is being debated at the plenary of the House of Representatives.

[…]

The pending measure has been widely criticized by the Catholic Church led by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), which slammed its controversial provisions such as the mandatory teaching of reproductive health education from Grade 5 and the promotion of both traditional and artificial contraceptives, including condoms and birth control pills.

This is how the church would have it in your country too.

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Righteous Bubba 12.23.08 at 7:50 pm

Erg. Blockquote two of those paragraphs.

49

Tony 12.23.08 at 8:01 pm

To Andrew Brown @36.

Technically, you are correct. Okay, so The Vatican isn’t calling for the criminalization of homosexuality (that would be suicidal in the current political climate), but only last week, the Vatican’s man at the UN opposed a resolution calling for member states to decriminalize homosexuality.

http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2008/12/02/7040

50

Tony 12.23.08 at 8:08 pm

51

geo 12.23.08 at 8:58 pm

At least you are honest about the fact that you are criticizing a book you haven’t read. How enlightened.

Actually, I was estimating the likely worth of writing I haven’t read by someone with whose opinions on kindred matters I’m fairly familiar. This is something we all do many times a day, and justifiably. No reason for you to be snippy about it.

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Picador 12.23.08 at 8:58 pm

I am convinced that there are three kinds of people: (1) religious believers, (2) atheists-agnostics-secular humanists, and 3) those who know that the first two are out of their minds—because the radically different, higher consciousness exists in this life.

That’s only two kinds of people. In keeping with my hobgoblin about acknowledging the historical meaning of a word that’s had a stable meaning for hundreds of years: someone who adopts position (3) is what the devout have, for the past several hundred years, called an “atheist”.

You can dilate the meaning of “Catholic” and contract the meaning of “atheist” all you want, but moving the goalposts like that is a shitty, dishonest move that pisses on the graves of people who died for the right to be an atheist or to not be a Catholic. For that matter, it is a slap in the face of anyone who actually follows the requirements of Catholicism and believes what all Catholics, by definition, believe.

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Lee A. Arnold 12.24.08 at 12:58 am

Picador: Historically untrue, and absolute nonsense. Before the rise of modern science, most of the people in category (3) remained theists, although some were burned at the stake for twisting the theology. For example, Marguerite Porete was not the only one burned for saying that the realized one becomes God. Later, on the other hand, Eckhart got away with saying the same thing, and certainly was not called an atheist by the devout. Others politely avoided such issues. The real question is what they came to understand about the religion they were in. You can read through an enormous amount of mystical instruction by Church Doctors, therefore accepted by the “devout,” and not find any assertion of Catholic theology — sometimes hardly any expression of it at all. See for example John of the Cross. Many others such as Bonaventure used biblical storytelling in an allegorical way, but not as an expression of “the requirements of Catholicism.” You can misunderstand things all you want, but claiming that there is no basis for criticizing both theists and atheists is wrong. Trying to prove your claim by pissing and slapping is pitiful.

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Lee A. Arnold 12.24.08 at 12:59 am

geo: “Conventions? Catholics believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. It is the moral and spiritual law, though like any law, it needs to be interpreted, and is authoritatively interpreted by the Church.’

Interpreted, but the authority is incoherent. The Church has jettisoned dozens of injunctions in Leviticus. Are those strictures still considered the inspired word of god, or the conventions of an old culture?

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lisa 12.24.08 at 5:27 am

I just wanted to clarify: I wasn’t knocking Catholicism. I just meant that the teaching on homosexuality is part of an interlocking system of thought. The church can’t change this because it can’t just pluck one thing out and alter it and leave the system intact.

I know that Onan is about disobedience. He was supposed to impregnate his sister-in-law after his brother died and he didn’t want the burden of the child and thus he violated a Jewish law. But spilling one’s seed outside potentially procreative sex the way Onan did is a mortal sin. So would that teaching be changed? Technically, people who can’t have sex can’t get married in the church. I’m not sure how strict they are about that, though. But there is an extreme consistency there that arises out of this system of thought. Not that I can claim to understand all the nitty gritty details.

Picador, I really can’t see how a person using their reason and their ethics as a Catholic is tantamount to being a Protestant. If it is true of Maria that she cannot accept every single doctrinal truth, it is true of most Roman Catholics. It is true of many priests. (People always say ‘in Europe or the U.S.’ but this is incorrect. It is true of many Latin American Catholics. There’s this fantasy that Latin American Catholics don’t question the Church, that they are ‘obedient’ like unquestioning sheep. It’s just false.) It’s not for you or I or anyone to say how someone lives their faith and there is a long, long, long tradition of interpretation and dissent in the Catholic Church. I don’t see why it is up to us to do the job of that community and decide who gets to be in it or not.

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geo 12.24.08 at 5:33 am

The authority of the Magisterium, which is guided and guaranteed by the Holy Ghost, is “incoherent”? I fear you’re sailing pretty close to the wind heresy-wise, my son (daughter?).

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Righteous Bubba 12.24.08 at 5:38 am

It’s not for you or I or anyone to say how someone lives their faith

This is the internet. THE INTERNET I SAY!

Apart from that inescapable fact of gravitudinousness, yes, it’s for you and I to say how others live their faith. There are laws regarding the welfare of children that apply despite familial successes with exorcism.

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Lee A. Arnold 12.24.08 at 6:26 am

I think it was decreed by the third century that priests no longer had to be in the “state of grace” themselves, in order to effectively give communion. (Insert here pix of a lot of sweaty brows, mopped.) Let’s please not confuse “coherence” with “asses covered.”

59

wj 12.24.08 at 2:40 pm

Catholics believe that the wrongness of same-sex acts can be argued on the basis of reason alone. They believe that this wrongness is also revealed in scripture, but they do not believe that it is in principle *necessary* to be a believer to assent to this.

Of course, it is quite possible that late capitalism has so distorted our view of the human person that it is no longer rational to expect an argument from natural law to be accepted by anyone who is not already a believer. This is because behind natural law arguments is a whole philosophy of practical action that runs counter to how we tend to think of things today. To cite just one instance, natural law assumes that our desires can and should be ordered to specific ends, which ends correspond to our proper function as social and rational animals. But we tend to think that desires can’t be ordered, they can only be allowed or prohibited based upon whether and to what extent their actualization would impede the desires of other agents.

So I understand why many see the Pope’s argument against homosexuality as “fundamentalist.” But it is important to understand that it is not, if only better to see how to argue against it. I would also suggest that the teleology assumed by the natural law is fully compatible with a non-teleological account of secondary causes in the physical sciences, since it is a teleology of action and not events. More opposed to the natural law than the physical sciences is the capitalistic mode of production and the societies it comes to dominate.

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geo 12.24.08 at 5:35 pm

our desires can and should be ordered to specific ends, which ends correspond to our proper function as social and rational animals

Ordered by whom? Proper according to which (ie, whose) definition? Why accept that definition?

a teleology of action and not events

Would you please explain this?

61

Picador 12.24.08 at 7:30 pm

Picador, I really can’t see how a person using their reason and their ethics as a Catholic is tantamount to being a Protestant. If it is true of Maria that she cannot accept every single doctrinal truth, it is true of most Roman Catholics. It is true of many priests. (People always say ‘in Europe or the U.S.’ but this is incorrect. It is true of many Latin American Catholics. There’s this fantasy that Latin American Catholics don’t question the Church, that they are ‘obedient’ like unquestioning sheep. It’s just false.) It’s not for you or I or anyone to say how someone lives their faith and there is a long, long, long tradition of interpretation and dissent in the Catholic Church. I don’t see why it is up to us to do the job of that community and decide who gets to be in it or not.

WTF? Who’s talking about “how someone lives their faith”? I’m talking about whether Maria is a “Catholic”, as defined by “The Roman Catholic Church”, the formally defined and explicitly structured religious organization that is generally considered the authority on who is or is not a member of their organization.

I like bagels and take Saturday off from work, but that doesn’t make me an Orthodox Jew. And if I went around telling everyone that I were, and you told me I was wrong, you’d think it was pretty funny if I responded with a bunch of nonsense about how you have no right to tell me how to “live my faith”.

Words mean things. You can’t just declare yourself a “Catholic” because you like the sound of it; it’s something that may or may not actually be true, based on whatever criteria the Roman Catholic Church sets for its members. If you aren’t a member of the Roman Catholic Church, you might be something, but you’re not a “Catholic”. Last time I checked, among the criteria were a belief in the Immaculate Conception and some other hilarious junk that I suspect Maria has rejected. This is exactly the situation that lots of would-be Catholics have found themselves in over the centuries, and they have responded to it by forming their own churches that looked and acted more or less like the RCC, but were not. These churches were called “Protestant” churches. Is any of this sounding familiar?

Quick reality check: if someone is formally excommunicated from the RCC, does he or she remain a Catholic?

62

geo 12.24.08 at 7:37 pm

I agree with you, Picador, though I think a kindler, gentler tone is in order. But see, for another view, Garry Wills’s Why I Am a Catholic, which argues, with all Wills’s great intelligence and learning, that the Church really is a mystical body and not simply a “formally defined and explicitly structured religious organization.”

63

magistra 12.24.08 at 8:21 pm

Of course, it is quite possible that late capitalism has so distorted our view of the human person that it is no longer rational to expect an argument from natural law to be accepted by anyone who is not already a believer.

I don’t think people reject natural law arguments because of late capitalism. I think they reject them because they’re so full of logical holes. Many of the things that humans do with their bodies are not what they are ‘naturally’ intended to do with them. It is certainly not natural to (say) walk on one’s hands, chew pen-tops, play cricket or computer games etc, etc. No animals do these things, not did prehistoric humans; people have to learn or decide to do such things for themselves. But there are no Catholic denunciations of such practices. The conclusion can only be that natural law doesn’t tell us anything useful about whether an action is moral or not.

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Walt 12.24.08 at 10:34 pm

The one thing I can say about crude doctrines like objectivism and praxaelogy is that they at least inoculate their believers from “natural law”.

65

roy belmont 12.24.08 at 10:35 pm

Quick reality check for Picador:
The legitimacy of the institution itself as final arbiter of who is or is not a member of what that institution purports to be the sole arbiter of is pretty much the question.
So if the Roman Church officially excommunicates you, then you are officially not an official Roman Catholic as officially determined by the official Roman Catholic Church.
You seem to be having a little trouble accepting the idea that what it is to be a Catholic may involve a little more than that, as Geo so politely points out Garry Wills has so intelligently and eruditely pointed out.
Possibly it is possible to take back the defining of what it is to be a faithful Catholic from the Church, though I’m sure the Church doesn’t think so. And, key point for me, believers in the authority of institutions above and beyond the dictates of individual conscience certainly will agree with the Church on that, even if they think the rest of the dogma’s mostly nonsense.
What it is to be a self-defined Catholic may involve, as in Liberation Theology, doing and saying things in direct contravention of official Church positions, while still practicing the devotional rituals. See the lovely-minded Cardinal Ratzinger’s condemnatory musings on that for a little perspective on why some believers may not be all fine with whatever viz. the pronunciatory Benedict.
Or it may involve something as simple as, as in the case of various adherents to the old traditional liturgy, an adherence to the old traditional liturgy, now abandoned by the official Church.
…whether Maria is a “Catholic”, as defined by “The Roman Catholic Church”… wasn’t the real issue. If she defines herself as Catholic then it’s one issue, but at the side of the real one, because, as Lisa said, the main point of contention is in fact “how someone lives their faith”.
Christianity began as a confirmation and continuation of faith in God and at the same time a breaking away from the chauvinist rigidity and patriarchal elitism of the Old Testament.
200 years later it was as rigid and patriarchal and elitist as could be. As it remains, pretty much, today.
Huh.

66

bekabot 12.25.08 at 11:54 pm

The pope said humanity needed to “listen to the language of creation” to understand the intended roles of man and woman. He compared behaviour beyond traditional heterosexual relations as “a destruction of God’s work”.

Okay, so how does male celibacy (or female celibacy, for that matter) qualify as behavior which is consonant with traditional heterosexual relations? How many straight people do you know who have never had sex? Don’t traditional heterosexual relations generally involve sexual relations between persons who are not of the same gender? If not, of what do traditional heterosexual relations consist? And if celibacy is a behavior which falls outside or beyond traditional heterosexual parameters, how is it that celibacy does not also qualify as a destruction of God’s work?

Hat tip to John Milton…

67

sanbikinoraion 12.26.08 at 11:59 am

I think #37 and #61 really nail it. If you’re displeased with the actions of the leader of your church, Maria, it’s time to find another church whose religious beliefs accord better with yours.

Of course, if one gets to pick and choose which bits of one’s religion one believes in, that kinda suggests that God shoulda oughta been a bit more explicit when speaking to His followers to write down His laws – either that or you’re just trying to opt out of stuff that your god really does believe in but you think is wrong. Who’s more likely to be right, here? You? Or God?

(nb militant atheist, obv)

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Glen Tomkins 12.26.08 at 7:44 pm

geo @27,

Sadly, no.

Leviticus was written in Hebrew, not English. The Hebrew, unlike the English translation you cite, is not homophobic, explicitly or even by implication.

The best we can do at translating the original, extremely obscure, Hebrew is something like the Septuagint’s stab at it, “Lay not with a man in a womanly bed.” The scholars who came up with that translation in 200 BCE had a policy of translating phrases and words in Hebrew, already a dead language, as literally as possible whenever they did not know what the words meant. They didn’t know what the phrase meant, and neither do we.

The idea of translating the Bible literally was once a philosophy of the modesty of our understanding. In the hands of people who are, to the contrary, convinced that they know what God is thinking, the text be damned, it becomes a method of ripping isolated bits of overtranslated text from their context and proclaiming their prejudices to be thus the will of God manifest.

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Kaveh Hemmat 12.26.08 at 8:25 pm

@67
If the relationship between believer and Church authority was as simple as “I have to agree with everything its leaders say or be willing to suspend my conscience if I am to belong to a Church,” then your prescription would make sense, but it’s not that simple at all.
Of course, if one gets to pick and choose which bits of one’s religion one believes in, that kinda suggests that God shoulda oughta been a bit more explicit when speaking to His followers to write down His lawsNo matter what set of teachings you have, you face the problem of how to prioritize them–it’s trivially easy to find situations where two teachings are mutually exclusive. Even outside of actual dilemmas, teachings, even infallible teachings, are impossible to follow without a (rational) mind to do the work of interpreting them and interpreting the world. And this is exactly the problem outlined here, prioritization–there is a conflict between two apparent teachings, love for humanity and respect for others, on the one hand, and rules for appropriate sexual behavior on the other. If this is indeed a conflict, as Maria argues there is, and as many people now are certain, then she needs to make a decision as to which teaching takes priority.

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Lee A. Arnold 12.26.08 at 9:24 pm

The definition of catholic? If you’re a militant atheist, likely a scientific rationalist, maybe a secular humanist, then you might suppose that picking another religion makes sense in this discussion. Because you’re probably into consumer culture as a social solution anyway! And it won’t be the first Catholic to have left. But the question is what does it universally mean, since of course this is the definition of “catholic.” First, a religion claims universalism, then it twists its bible selectively. Honest protest is a correct response… However, notice that this selective twisting is not a distinction of only one sort of militant. Take a scientific rationalist or secular humanist who objects to religion and theism, largely on his or her own belief that materialism and symbolic expression can muddle along. You guys create two metaphysics: (1) a belief that eventually, a scientific synthesis will be possible — at least we are headed in that direction; AND/OR (since metaphysics doesn’t require excluded middles,) the following: (2) we cannot create the full human thought processes of induction, synthesis, and creativity, out of piles of formal language or mathematical algorithm — but that’s okay, because, well, you don’t always need excluded middles. Now of course creativity may not come out of a god, and in any case, secular humanism sends it own good consignments to morals. The point here is that the contention that God shoulda been more explicit, rather ignores the gaps throughout the sciences which are the atheist’s foundations. Deterministic chaos has different predictions, some arithmetics are incomplete, evolution of nature and economy are non-algorithmic and completely beyond prediction, etc. etc. You ALLOW gaps. This is unacceptable to anyone finding a need to incorporate the continuum. Both theism and atheism lead to intellectual nonsense, and they debilitate continuous consciousness.

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Lee A. Arnold 12.26.08 at 9:25 pm

As to what the Pope’s convictions do to the prospects of young homosexuals finding the world in poor and backward places, I shudder to think. Perhaps the Church’s doctrine that homosexuality is a sin in action, not in orientation, can give them enough time to get out of town.

72

geo 12.26.08 at 11:37 pm

That’s fascinating, Glen. But are you sure? When I googled “Leviticus 20:13,” the first link I got was to the website of the Ontario Center for Religious Tolerance, which gave a translation of the verse from every well-known English version (fourteen in all). There was no difference in meaning among them: all translated the verse as declaring homosexuality an abomination punishable by death: http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_bibh3.htm.

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roy belmont 12.27.08 at 4:14 am

The original purpose and meaning of “Lay not with a man in a womanly bed.” was that it was a proscription against having sex with girly-men.
It’s one of those metaphor things.
The wise men of that time were channeling the advice of the only Superior Being who even cares what happens to us, and that Superior Being wants us to be strong.
The message was to avoid namby-pambyism, that’s what’s wrong and that’s what’s being proscribed. It’s not against homosexuality itself, which when it reinforces the forthright carriage and upright posture of the masculine can be a fine thing, even inspirational, but against the clearly inferior effeminate, which brings intoand degrades the masculine with the disruptive and weakening feminine principle.
Laying with a man in a womanly bed is wrong.
Laying with a man in a manly bed is okay.

74

Glen Tomkins 12.27.08 at 7:16 am

geo,

Overtranslation can’t be avoided when translating a dead language. It isn’t surprising that your fourteen translations, all by Anglophones (by definition) and done within a brief span of time far removed form the time the text was written, and during which homophobia predominated in their culture, would all overtranslate in the same homophobic direction. This happens a lot with dead languages, and the systematic distortions by no means arise only from homophobia. Any strong and widely shared prejudice will do to enforce agreement among men.

The Jews still insist on everyone learning Hebrew, so that they can take responsibility themselves for avoiding the overtranslation inherent in translating their sacred text. For many centuries, the Church would not allow translation of the Christian sacred text into vulgar languages because of the well-founded fear that such translations would be necessarily and unavoidably wrong, as in this case.

You can take the word of men adrift in Augustine’s river of custom, or you can believe God. You’re free to follow the wise examples cited above and look up the passage in the original. Take whatever time you need to study the language. If you do this, I am convinced that you will not be able to support any of the translations cited. If you refuse to do this, then you are ceding any right to dispute this question, at least insofar as the questions of homosexuality and homophobia are disposed of by the authority of the Bible, to the anonymous folks who made those fourteen translations, and you must let them defend their homophobic distortions of God’s word.

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geo 12.27.08 at 5:31 pm

For many centuries, the Church would not allow translation of the Christian sacred text into vulgar languages because of the well-founded fear that such translations would be necessarily and unavoidably wrong, as in this case.

But, Glen, how can the Church’s fear be “well-founded” if the Church itself is responsible for what you claim is the mistranslation in this case? After all, every Catholic and virtually all Protestant translations of the verse agree in reading it as a condemnation of homosexuality.

I am convinced that you will not be able to support any of the translations cited

Just curious: what convinced you? Do you read Hebrew at least as well as the translators of those fourteen versions I cited?

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roy belmont 12.27.08 at 6:52 pm

Mr. Tomkins, when you say “…their homophobic distortions of God’s word”
it’s clear that your meaning is that what is being distorted is the “word of God”.
But when you say “…your fourteen translations […] done within a brief span of time far removed form the time the text was written…” it’s equally clear that, to you, that same “word of God” has become a static thing, that it is not alive, that once it was written down it became fixed in its moment, then, and no longer carries the strength and vitality of its origin.
It was incontrovertible as uttered and first transcribed, but now it’s just an artifact, prey to mistranslation and misunderstanding. Like the enigmatic speech of the Delphic oracle.
A bunch of mealy-mouthed rationalizations won’t change that.
The Guarani, an aboriginal tribe still living in the Amazon “jungle”, are as close to “God” as the ancient Hebrews ever were, and certainly as close to “God” and as capable of delivering, or interpreting, his “word”, as it comes to them, as you or I are.
This is blasphemy from a Judeo-Christian perspective I realize, but from the perspective of a human being, recognizing the humanity of both the ancient Hebrews and the contemporary Guarani, and your and my humanity as well, it is the truth, the necessary truth, and I speak it here as such.
It’s past time we break the chains of this ancient nonsense.

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MarkUp 12.27.08 at 8:24 pm

Roy, I fear you are headed to the rack for some alternative stretching. There is but one G_d and He gave to them dominion of all except Him.

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Glen Tomkins 12.27.08 at 9:10 pm

roy belmont,

Not being a Guarani, or a recipient of their traditions, I cannot say anything about their contact or non-contact with God. But, if I am not mistaken, they did not have writing until contact with the West, and so did not have the means to hand down through the generations the word of God fixed by writing so that the text could not be altered to suit the times. Well, cannot be altered to suit the times unless you proceed as geo would have us, and simply find some bit of text that can be wrenched out of context and mistranslated to suit the emotional needs of the present-day mob. Whatever truth the Guarani bear stands mute for the rest of us. This is not the case for the Bible, which is available to us all, if we only take the time to study it properly.

Why would anyone think that Leviticus is the word of God? It is certainly true as you say that large parts of it died with the language, Hebrew, in which it was written. The bit that geo goes on about, about “lying not with man in a womanly bed” is pretty clearly gone beyond all recovery, as even the scholars in 200 BCE who produced the Septuagint found that the meaning of the phrase was already lost. Hebrew has died again a few times since then, so our ability to pin that phrase down is about nil. And this is hardly the only bit of Leviticus that is lost. The book goes on at length about “house leprosy”, a form of the disease that affects buildings. Good luck figuring out what “house leprosy” refers to. The only difference between it and more famous lost bits that the literalists like to harp on, like the “womanly bed” thing, is that none of them have figured out a way to use the house leprosy thing to persecute some hated minority, yet. But perhaps I speak too soon, and the next big thing will be to claim Scriptural authority for blaming the economic meltdown on poor people, via some creative distortion of house leprosy into sub-prime mortgages.

I know that God speaks in Leviticus precisely because His voice is able to cut through the litter of irredeemably dead verbiage, and the even more irredeemably dead purposes that bigots would distort those dead words to serve. This book was written in times so materially hard that the people it was originally written for would have looked upon conditions in our Great Depression as an inconceivably generous godsend. Yet even in our prosperity, we are too hard-fisted to observe the simple measures of generosity to our poor that Leviticus asks people, even the richest of whom we would consider abjectly poor, to extend to the truly inconceivably poor of their time. “Remember, you were slaves once in Egypt.”, the book keeps insisting, as an explanation for why even slaves and the homeless need to be allowed some humane treatment, some share of even the scant material goods of the time. My family owned slaves not so long ago. It’s how they managed to maintain a life-style that encouraged high standards of learning, and supported the family profession of medicine, which did not pay for itself in those days, but had to be supported somehow. They managed a way of life that, handed down through the generations, made me a doctor, but they didn’t manage to maintain even the standards for the humane treatment of slaves that Leviticus prescribed for 25 centuries ago. Leviticus helps me remember that I was a slave once in Egypt.

That fools and bigots find no use for Leviticus except to mine it for the odd passage that they can rip out of context to make themselves feel good about persecuting the poor and defenceless, should not define the book for you, or anyone. The use they put Leviticus to tells us nothing about the book, or God’s will, but only about them, and what they are.

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Glen Tomkins 12.27.08 at 10:36 pm

geo,

I am hardly a defender of the Church. But even a blind pig will find the occasional acorn, and I don’t think that a sound practice, like reading a text written in a dead language only in the original, is refuted simply because a blind pig like the Church once endorsed it. Even less is the soundness of the idea called in question just because the Church eventually reverted to form on this point. I also cited Jewish practice in support of this idea. Not having a Church to burden them, their religious practice is often somewhat less unreliable.

As for my ability to translate passages in Leviticus, admittedly I only have two semesters of Hebrew. My degree is in Classical Languages, and, sadly, that discipline can be rather suspicious of the study of Hebrew, so two semesters is all I could manage to finagle from my academic advisors. But I know enough Hebrew, and have enough experience translating other dead languages, to be very confident that this text will simply not bear the homophobic meaning foisted on it.

It is not as difficult as you might think to achieve a high level of confidence in translating a passage in a dead language such as Hebrew, if your end is purely negative. You can never prove a negative empirically in an open universe, because, as in the classic example, just because no black swans have ever been observed in Europe does not mean that, should you discover a new continent such as Australia, you will not find black swans down there. But a dead language is not an open universe. Every text in the Hebrew of the time of Leviticus has already been examined, and none of them help us to understand this “lie not with a man in a womanly bed” thing, specifically the “womanly bed” part of it. We simply do not know what is intended by that phrase. We cannot and will never be able to confirm that homosexuality of any sort is intended, until and unless we discover some pot shard equivalent of the Village Voice personals of the day, and thus get some help on the language of the day, if any, as regards man-on-man hook-ups.

But what of those 14 scholars who say that “lying with a man in a womanly bed” definitely refers to man-on-man sex, some of whom surely must be more learned, have more academic credentials, than Glen Tomkins? (I say, “some of them”, because, as with sausage, if you like reading Bible translations, you probably don’t want to be in the kitchen when they’re being concocted, and, believe me, some of these translation decisions are informed by not much at all.)

Well, for one thing, in the Septuagint we have 70 scholars of Hebrew who all agreed that the passage means no such thing, who modestly agree with me that they do not know what it means, thus their refusal to say anything more definite, less literal, than “lie not with a man in a womanly bed”. Not only are they five times the number of your experts, but, if we are to believe the traditional account of how the Septuagint was produced, they all, unlike your 14 trimmers, arrived at this translation independently. Even if this account is a mere pious fable, the bottom line for me is the scholar or scholars wh0 produced the Septuagint lived in 200 BCE, and your panel all lived much, much later, several more deaths of Hebrew after 200 BCE. The whole reason for translating the Hebrew text into Greek in 200 BCE was precisely that Hebrew was dying, was not spoken any more by anyone in daily life. Many words, phrases and whole passages were already of unclear and disputed meaning. Bad as the situation was for translating then, it has been infinitely worse ever since. At least the scholars who made the Septuagint had access to other texts in the Hebrew of the time when Leviticus was written, since lost, and to the memory and tradition of a much more recently dead language. Not all of their conjectures when they reached for a definitive reading have held up to the more careful scrutiny of the Bible by modern scholarship for internal consistency, and so the Septuagint has a less than stellar reputation these days. But I know of no instances of caution rather than conjecture by the Septuagint translators, no passage such as this one, where they admit that they have no good conjecture of a specific meaning, where subsequent generations have proven the translation wrong.

But you don’t even have to appeal to any knowledge of the Septuagint to understand that this conjecture that “lie not with a man in a womanly bed” must refer to homosexuality, is a willful overtranslation. The connection between the literal phrase, “a womanly bed”, or transvestitism, and homosexuality, lies in a cultural stereotype peculiar to our tribe and age. The ancients did not connect homosexuality with effeminacy or cross-dressing, that’s our stereotype baggage, not theirs. Aristophanes is the locus classicus for both sex jokes and cross-dressing jokes. While I haven’t read every line of every play of Aristophanes, and so cannot be sure that this observation is truly definitve, I cannot recall any joke that comedian makes that implies that the ancients made any sort of connection between homosexuality and effeminacy or transvestitism. That a comedian of our tribe can’t do a cross-dressing routine without getting into gay jokes, while Aristophanes never makes this connection, despite jokes about homosexuality and cross-dressing forming the bulk of his oeuvre, is the best evidence possible that the ancients simply didn’t make this connection. That this connection is jumped to by every one of your 14 experts proves that, while they may have been quite learned, they were still all victims of their upbringing, unable to understand the concept that other peoples might have seen the world differently, and not have labored under the same stereotypes. If you can study ancient texts for a lifetime and not understand that, not have that rubbed in your face by every line you translate, you are indeed a fool, however learned a fool.

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roy belmont 12.27.08 at 11:32 pm

Glen Tomkins:

When I juxtaposed geo’s fourteen translators with your original scribe-prophet which I did by calling you on your claim that the first writing was indeed the “word of God” while lesser and later translations were not to be taken literally as that word, what I was doing was posing the question, “Where did it go?”.
Because you are saying it went away, the word of God, somewhere between the original Leviticus and this one. Or it stayed behind with the original writing, while the words themselves went away. The words in the fact of the writing with that particular name on it were appropriated, dragged off to serve other, baser purpose.
So I read your subsequent post anticipating a reply to that question, but what I got was a rhetorical flourish with Edwardian filigree:
“I know that God speaks in Leviticus precisely because His voice is able to cut through the litter of irredeemably dead verbiage, and the even more irredeemably dead purposes that bigots would distort those dead words to serve.”
“I know God speaks in Leviticus because I hear God speaking in Leviticus, loud and clear. As opposed to the noise of those haters going around hating.”
The reason I juxtaposed the Guarani and the ancient Hebrew was also to ask a question. That being how is it any different when I claim to hear the word of God echoing from the jungle, as he speaks to the Guarani about life and right and wrong, and your symmetrical claim for the ancient Hebrew? Except that the Hebraic claim is foundational to the culture and civilization we both operate in, the one this conversation takes place in, and that claim to authenticity and proximity is revered and cultivated and until quite recently was extensively proselytized for by that culture we share, while the Guarani claim is anathema to it, the people themselves viewed as inferior and poor because of how they live and what they have (even when the way they live is like an electric car running on solar power, like a local garden, like recycling and all that stuff, and they’ve been living like that for thousands and thousands of years, successfully) and any claim to their proximity to God is persecuted, and attacked from all sides when it does appear. Not to mention the very landscape in which they have that proximity being itself attacked and degraded. Not to mention other people like that in the same boat all over the place.
Your reply to that question is that you don’t know because they haven’t written down anything about their relationship to a speaking God, that you can understand. And then you deliver this:
“…why even slaves and the homeless need to be allowed some humane treatment, some share of even the scant material goods of the time…”
The sickness is masked in that statement but it’s very plain. The elision, the assumption, the confirmation of the existence of slaves, the rightness of a world where slaves are allowed “some humane treatment”.
I’m not sure if my disgust for that sentiment is engendered more by its sickness or by its arrogance.
The arrogance here, for sure:
“Leviticus helps me remember that I was a slave once in Egypt.”
Any Egyptian reading that of course should assume that it’s not about him, or her. And that’s the thing I came in on.

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M-H 12.27.08 at 11:37 pm

As a lesbian and a recovering Catholic I have found this discussion fascinating and absorbing. I find Lisa’s argument about the church’s teleologic position on natural law completely convincing – this is what I was taught by Irish nuns in New Zealand in the 19590s, and what entrapped me for many years. It has taken me many more years to disassemble those teachings. The Bible (especially the Old Testament which was only presented to us as a group of stories) was not the basis for their belief and what they taught – it was church law based on the (then new) Knox translation of the Gospels and Epistles, and structures by Augustinian philosophy. Maria’s position, which is shared by many of my old friends, is difficult for me to understand on one hand (if your position varies so much from the official church position why are you still there?), and so easy to sympathise with on the other. My few old friends who remain active in the church are much comforted by their faith, and at the same time much challenged by how they see church teaching affecting people’s lives. They work tirelessly within their small faith communities and in urban parishes to bring change to an organisation that I see as entirely resistant to any change, ever. I love them, and I understand their need to fight for change, but I do wonder at their blindness to the utter pointlessness of their quest. I also have close family who are highly intelligent christian apologists (their own title), whose mental gymnastics in support of their positions leave me breathless.

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M-H 12.27.08 at 11:38 pm

That was the 1950s…

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Steve LaBonne 12.28.08 at 12:41 am

I will always be grateful for having recovered completely and irrevocably at the age of 12.

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