Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Big Gay One

I think I've touched on this subject before, but perhaps I haven't made myself as clear in my writings or even in my own head about this subject. For once, I am quite nervous mainly because I have some good friends who would call themselves gay and I sincerely do not with to lose them. However, most of these friends know my position and I can trust them to read my words with tolerance and intelligent consideration. I am happy for them to discuss with me any issues that I raise, and if they can open my eyes to where I am wrong, I would be most grateful.

I'm often asked, "where do you stand on homosexuality?" I reply that I have no alternative but to obey Church teaching at which point I get called a bigot or worse by some people who become incensed at my "intolerance". I often wonder what these folk perceive "Church teaching" to be. I fear that they read Scripture and Tradition with an view to being upset rather than hear the message behind it.

Let me try and put across what I believe the Church teaches. If I am wrong, I know that I will be corrected by folk who have studied Church teaching better than I have.

I want to start with St Matthew vii


Μὴ κρίνετε, ἵνα μὴ κριθῆτε: ἐν ᾧ γὰρ κρίματι κρίνετε κριθήσεσθε, καὶ ἐν ᾧ μέτρῳ μετρεῖτε μετρηθήσεται ὑμῖν. τί δὲ βλέπεις τὸ κάρφος τὸ ἐν τῷ ὀφθαλμῷ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου, τὴν δὲ ἐν τῷ σῷ ὀφθαλμῷ δοκὸν οὐ κατανοεῖς; ἢ πῶς ἐρεῖς τῷ ἀδελφῷ σου, Ἄφες ἐκβάλω τὸ κάρφος ἐκ τοῦ ὀφθαλμοῦ σου, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἡ δοκὸς ἐν τῷ ὀφθαλμῷ σοῦ; ὑποκριτά, ἔκβαλε πρῶτον ἐκ τοῦ ὀφθαλμοῦ σοῦ τὴν δοκόν, καὶ τότε διαβλέψεις ἐκβαλεῖν τὸ κάρφος ἐκ τοῦ ὀφθαλμοῦ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου. Μὴ δῶτε τὸ ἅγιον τοῖς κυσίν, μηδὲ βάλητε τοὺς μαργαρίτας ὑμῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν χοίρων, μήποτε καταπατήσουσιν αὐτοὺς ἐν τοῖς ποσὶν αὐτῶν καὶ στραφέντες ῥήξωσιν ὑμᾶς.


Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged : and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

This is such an important place to start because it sets my limitations. On what can I legitimately pass judgement? Well, the Lord tells me in this passage that my vision is distorted because of my own sins, and that my judgement is impaired. Clearly though, if my brother is about to walk into a pit, I can still see that and warn him - what I can't do is tell if he sees that pit as dangerously as I perceive it to be. The warning may be enough to save him.

As a matter of fact, I do suffer from very bad eyesight, but I can still make judgements on what I see within a certain tolerance. If I remove my glasses then that tolerance becomes much wider and less precise because my vision becomes much less reliable. Even without my glasses, I can still make out people, though not necessarily who they are. I certainly can't read any opticians charts - even the first letter! I can still make reliable judgements, though.

So, then, on what can I pass judgement? Well, surely I can only pass judgement on actions and NOT pass judgements on the human heart. I do not have the vision to enter into the human soul and pick out all the naughty bits. Only God can do that, it is not my remit. If I see someone killed, I know that the action of killing is wrong - it shouldn't happen - but unless I know the underlying reasons, the only facts on which I can bear witness to in court are the facts that someone has been killed. I must let the judge judge and convict of murder, manslaughter or unlawful killing, or acquit on the grounds of diminished responsibility, insanity, or for honest defence of others' lives .

So what are the facts of homosexuality? The Bible is pretty clear that men should not lie with men as they would with women. This is true in the Old Testament and St Paul confirms it in the New. The Lord Himself certainly does not change this teaching. In short, the practice of homosexuality is wrong. I know that many modern scholars are desperately trying to change the words and meaning of these texts to suit "modern views" but it's clear that Tradition has interpreted these texts in the negative view of homosexuality. A good Catholic listens to Tradition first rather than Joe PhD with his radical ideas which he is only exploring in order to get his name into history. Those ideas will be tested by Time and ultimately God. If there is any truth in them, that truth will become apparent over time, the rubbish will die out.

Now this is where I begin to hear many double standards from those who truly hate homosexuals.

First, there is the obvious: you cannot suspend "Love thy neighbour as thyself" in favour of condemning homosexual practice. This commandment of our Lord trumps any other. All other commandments in the Bible have to be processed through the lens formed by the two Great Commandments given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. That means that God's wishes must be obeyed, but that hatred of another human being is never an option. Anyone who claims that they are Christian and then proclaims "God hates fags" is no Christian but a liar and a fool. God hates SIN, yes, but look at the lengths He went to to save us from it. Look into the eyes of Christ on the cross and then say "God hates fags"!

Second, it is true that St Paul lumps homosexuality together with sexual immorality. He sees it as the same as fornication, i.e. sexual activity outside marriage. To hate one with a homosexual life-partner and then engage in a one-night stand with a girl you just picked up in a bar is hypocrisy. It's the same wrong thing to do, but whose sin is greater? The men committed in a loving same-sex partnership or the Lothario with a string of women on the go, yet neither committing to nor even in the least respecting any of them? According to the Bible, both are in danger of falling into a ditch, but it seems reasonable to see that for one the ditch is likely to be wider!

Third, Romans viii.28 says:

οἴδαμεν δὲ ὅτι τοῖς ἀγαπῶσιν τὸν θεὸν πάντα συνεργεῖ εἰς ἀγαθόν, τοῖς κατὰ πρόθεσιν κλητοῖς οὖσιν.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.



(emphasis mine)


Clearly, we cannot presume that God will not bring some great good out of a homosexual relationship. If we cannot pass judgement on the human heart, then we must accept that God can and will do marvellous things in all situations. We can also believe that God has the capacity to purify the relationship betweem two men as long as they are actively seeking Him by His means.

I hope, then, that I have made my first point clear. I refuse to condemn those who call themselves homosexuals. I regard the practice as being wrong and potentially, if not actually, sinful, but seeing as I certainly don't have the keys to Heaven and that the Church certainly doesn't have the keys to Hell, the matter of sin lies between the individual and God. I can only point out potential pitfalls and would rather, for their safety, that they would seek heterosexual relationships.

My second point is that I do regard homosexuality as a grave disorder. This sounds harsh but I hope you will appreciate my reasoning.

All of my homosexual friends are deeply special. Well, all of my friends, nay every member of the human race is special, but I don't know all of the human race - perhaps that's something I should be ashamed of. But, looking at my homosexual friends, I see people who are clever, witty, creative, in touch with dimensions that I cannot fathom. That's not to say that my straight friends don't possess these qualities, but the "gays" possess a different perspective - theirs is a slant on life peculiar to them. This is good.

So how are they to pass that perspective on?

This to me is the tragedy of labelling oneself as homosexual, "coming out" as it were. While it is by no means impossible, these folk generally do not pass on their genes nor raise children. All that creative energy, that personality, that vision, that insight isn't replicated for the next generation. Children are more than the sum of their nature and nurture, but both are necessary to foster brand new people. While I do not deny that the childless still manage to positively affect society even after they are gone (the prime example being Our Lord Himself), the genetic continuation of a person is sacrificed perhaps unnecessarily for the feelings that they may have for the same sex. That is a dis-order.

With regards to homosexual marriage, it is clear that only such a thing can exist legally and not in the sacramental sense. A Civil wedding of homosexuals in a registry office makes some kind of sense as a public declaration of loving commitment, a Church wedding does not make sense because it is a Divinely instituted sacrament far exceeding human legalities and promises. A homosexual partnership is sterile. Yes, one can say that so was the marriage of Abraham and Sarah until late in their lives. One can point to monks, nuns and Roman priests (more on them later). However, while God can work any miracle He likes, for a homosexual couple to have a baby would result in one of them changing sex and while I do not doubt that this could be done, I do doubt that He would want to do it for this very reason. As I've written earlier, change a person's sex and you change that person at one of the most fundamental levels. Marriage is an open possibility for the family, a homosexual partnership is never open to that possibility. I cannot possibly comment on whether homosexual couples should adopt - that can only be on a case by case basis. My vision is distorted and unreliable here.

I do not doubt that two men can fall in love with each other. I have recently seen a dear friend lose his life partner, and the only way I can interpret the facts of his reaction is that he truly, truly loved his partner. So there was some aspect of the Divine in that relationship and I find it very hard to believe that, beyond this life, the best aspects of that relationship would not be continued. I do not even doubt that out of what the Church describes as a disorder can come order. Mathematically speaking chaotic systems produce fascinating order. Again we return to Romans viii.28.

My third point is a concern that I have about how "homosexuals" perceive themselves.

I have tried very hard in the above not to call these people "homosexuals" or "gays" not for fear of offence but for the simple reason that I don't want to identify the people with the property of homosexuality. I'm not convinced that "homosexuality" even properly exists as a definable concept.

If a friend were to come out and say "I'm gay" what would I say? First, I would recognise the courage that he has taken to admit that. It's clearly something with which he has been wrestling for some time and this struggle needs to be appreciated.

Second, I would wonder what he means. I suspect he would say, "I'm sexually attracted to men." What he means, I suspect, is, "every person to whom I have been sexually attracted so far in my life has been male." However, there is a dangerous and restrictive assumption that every person that this chap will ever be sexually attracted to is male. Whilst homosexuality may be observable in animals and in humans and the tendency to be attracted to the same sex may be written in some way in our biological machinery, human beings are more than biological machines and are capable of considering their drives, passions and attractions carefully.

It's fair to say that everyone has been attracted to someone of the same sex at some point in their lives. Does that mean that everyone is homosexual? Well, there we go! We are back to this identification of the self as homosexual. We run the risk of seeing everything we do as the result of being homosexual. Homosexuality suddenly becomes the entirety of our final cause, "namely we are who we are because we are homosexual."

Does homosexuality exist as a cause be it material, formal, efficient or final? That's the danger. Call no man happy until he is dead? Then call no man homosexual until he is dead and you can examine all the attractions that he has ever had and judge that more than 50% of them have been for the same sex.

It's easy to understand why this is the case. If mainstream society vilifies homosexuality, anyone with attractions to people of the same sex, finds themselves cast out. Outcasts form their own community and their badge of identity becomes the very thing that has caused them to be cast out. Thus, people with same-sex attraction see themselves as being homosexual as being a fundamental part of their being in order to find some social place.

However, people who call themselves homosexuals in a rather aggressive way often are committing the same "sin" of "closed mindedness" when they accuse "heterosexuals" (does that exist as a definable quantity?) of not being able to see the other side's point of view. If neither side is prepared to examine their own hearts and recognise that therein lie both homo- and heterosexual attractions, then there can be no commonality of vision.

What then of monks, nuns and Roman priests for whom celibacy is the requirement? Is this a disorder because it is genetically fruitless to be a monk or a nun or a Roman priest? That's a good point, but one that, I believe, is answered by the idea vocation. Sometimes, good things have to be given up so that a greater good can happen.

God calls in order for us to serve in some way. I find it difficult to believe that a homosexual relationship is a vocation from God in the light of what we are told about such relationships in the Bible and Tradition. The religious life, the priesthood and the married life are ways in which God can call us to serve. The commitment to a married life may have to be transferred to a community. I would suggest for this reason that a celibate priesthood is preferable to a married one, though I see no reason to impose celibacy on priests given some of the sterling work that I've seen vicars' wives do on account of them being vicars' wives.

It does have to be said that it is more important for the clergy and the religious to set the examples for the world in following the teaching of God. If they are to answer their vocation then they must answer it to the full. Bishops like Gene Robinson who leave their wives and family in order to persue a homosexual relationship and then seek to change what they perceive as the Church's rules rather than God's are morally reprehensible on many counts. Again, I cannot condemn, but I am very far from condoning such behaviour especially since many lives were ruined as a consequence of Gene Robinson's desire to be true to himself at the expense of being true to his family and to God.

Lastly, what do I say to the man who is lonely because he is encumbered with the belief that he is a homosexual? There's little that I can say, though I identify very much with how lonely and stark life can be. Again, the argument of motes and beams comes back. I cannot know what is in a brother's head, so I can only advise him to go out and love others appropriately within the parameters of the Love of God, to make good friends and to know that he is loved by God more passionately, more fully and more appropriately than any human being could. Is this enough? What more can I do? Answers in the com box please.

25 comments:

Nicholas Jackson said...

I'm not sure it's sensible or accurate to regard human sexuality as a binary state, not least because that rather overlooks the existence of bisexual people (of whom there are many). I think it makes more sense to regard it as a closed (or possibly open) interval with "heterosexual" at one end and "homosexual" at the other. Many people are very close to (or at) one end of that interval, but I know a good few people who are somewhere in the middle, many of whom took some time to figure out quite where they fit in, and some who found themselves drifting somewhat towards one end or the other over time.

(Analogously, I've met various theists and atheists who consider religious belief and spirituality to be a discrete quantity rather than a continuum - as an agnostic I dispute this, but have been told by people on either end of the spectrum that I'm really just one of them but in denial about it. This is quite irritating, I can tell you.)

"A good Catholic listens to Tradition first rather than Joe PhD with his radical ideas which he is only exploring in order to get his name into history."

I certainly agree that there's a lot to be said for Tradition, and when approached in the right way it can be a very positive thing. But what happens if a particular tradition turns out to be inapplicable, wrong, no longer relevant, or indeed actively harmful? For centuries, the Church held rigidly to a geocentric cosmology, before eventually acknowledging that this just didn't fit the available evidence.

It seems to me that a lot of the current problems within the CofE can be traced to a disagreement about the importance of certain traditions and doctrines within a changing society. It'll come as no surprise to you that I (insofar, as an outsider, I even have a right to an opinion) think that the Church should regularly revisit these traditions and see whether they're still relevant in a modern, just and tolerant society. There will inevitably be some upheaval during this process, but I think the end result is worth the bother. (See this excerpt from an episode of The West Wing for an analogous discussion.)

(One of the many reasons I have a lot of respect for the Quakers is that they do regularly revisit issues like this and try to interpret them in a compassionate and tolerant manner.)

The scriptural basis for the condemnation of homosexuality is, as far as I can see, somewhat tenuous: a few passages in the Old Testament whose exact meaning depends heavily on subtle nuances of translation, and a rather vague remark by St Paul in the New Testament; Jesus himself said nothing on the subject at all. So if a tradition with such an apparently shaky scriptural basis causes such divisiveness and pain among otherwise reasonable and good people, then isn't it time to reconsider whether it still has a place in the modern Church?

I also dispute your characterisation of a fame-hungry academic churning out radical ideas for self-serving reasons: you and I both know that, on the contrary, most academic researchers do what they do primarily because they're interested in their chosen subject. There are far more reliable and lucrative ways of getting one's name into the history books than by doing slightly controversial theological research. I think it's more likely that Joe/Joanne PhD was thinking "Hang on, it just doesn't seem likely that Jesus and His benevolent Father want us to persecute gay people and make them miserable, let's carefully analyse the scriptural and doctrinal rationale for those traditions" than "Ha! This'll put the cat among the pigeons, get me a best-selling book deal and hopefully a permanent academic post".

Warwickensis said...

I'm not sure it's sensible or accurate to regard human sexuality as a binary state, not least because that rather overlooks the existence of bisexual people (of whom there are many). I think it makes more sense to regard it as a closed (or possibly open) interval with "heterosexual" at one end and "homosexual" at the other. Many people are very close to (or at) one end of that interval, but I know a good few people who are somewhere in the middle, many of whom took some time to figure out quite where they fit in, and some who found themselves drifting somewhat towards one end or the other over time.

To be fair, I don’t think I have. One can break down affections into homosexual and heterosexual depending on the object of that affection. But I do claim, and I know that Ed will disagree with me, that “being a homosexual” is not something I can clearly define. As I said in the body of the text, is a homosexual someone for whom more half of the attraction is to the same sex? Similarly, what’s a bisexual?

Warwickensis said...

(Analogously, I've met various theists and atheists who consider religious belief and spirituality to be a discrete quantity rather than a continuum - as an agnostic I dispute this, but have been told by people on either end of the spectrum that I'm really just one of them but in denial about it. This is quite irritating, I can tell you.)

That fits in rather well with the argument about motes and beams. I hate it when people claim that they can see into my heart!

Warwickensis said...

"A good Catholic listens to Tradition first rather than Joe PhD with his radical ideas which he is only exploring in order to get his name into history."

I certainly agree that there's a lot to be said for Tradition, and when approached in the right way it can be a very positive thing. But what happens if a particular tradition turns out to be inapplicable, wrong, no longer relevant, or indeed actively harmful? For centuries, the Church held rigidly to a geocentric cosmology, before eventually acknowledging that this just didn't fit the available evidence.

It seems to me that a lot of the current problems within the CofE can be traced to a disagreement about the importance of certain traditions and doctrines within a changing society. It'll come as no surprise to you that I (insofar, as an outsider, I even have a right to an opinion) think that the Church should regularly revisit these traditions and see whether they're still relevant in a modern, just and tolerant society. There will inevitably be some upheaval during this process, but I think the end result is worth the bother. (See this excerpt from an episode of The West Wing for an analogous discussion.)

(One of the many reasons I have a lot of respect for the Quakers is that they do regularly revisit issues like this and try to interpret them in a compassionate and tolerant manner.)


I’m afraid that I’ll have to take issue with this because, as a Christian, I believe in moral absolutes. There are no grounds for moderns to revisit traditions because nothing has changed. Sin has stayed the same. Good and Evil have not changed. God hasn’t changed and neither have His commandments. What was good for the Christians of the first century was good for the Jews of five hundred years previous, is good for us now and will be good for us in 1000 years’ time. Humanity hasn’t even changed! Indeed, it’s rather hubris on the part of those living now to believe that they are more enlightened than those of the past. In which century was the greatest loss of human life as a result of human evil? As a Christian, I believe in life after death which mean that the dead are as much part of the Church as the living!

Warwickensis said...

The scriptural basis for the condemnation of homosexuality is, as far as I can see, somewhat tenuous: a few passages in the Old Testament whose exact meaning depends heavily on subtle nuances of translation, and a rather vague remark by St Paul in the New Testament; Jesus himself said nothing on the subject at all. So if a tradition with such an apparently shaky scriptural basis causes such divisiveness and pain among otherwise reasonable and good people, then isn't it time to reconsider whether it still has a place in the modern Church?

Not so. The argument is very simple.

1) Sexual activity outside of marriage is immoral.
2) Two people of the same sex cannot get married.
3) Therefore two people of the same sex cannot engage in sexual activity without acting immorally.

Premise 1 is affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 5.28 in his teaching that having sin in the heart is as bad as sinning. He cites the case of adultery but he expands on this with the case of anger. He is therefore harder on this than the actual Law. Earlier in verse 18 He says “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass , one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled”. In 1 Corinthians 6.18, St Paul says, “Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.” Sexual immorality is always regarded as a grave sin throughout the Bible.

Premise 2 is affirmed by Jesus throughout the Gospels. It is always, always in the context of man and woman.

Thus the conclusion holds. I could even put it into an Aristotelian syllogism, if you like. In which case it would be Barbara.

But please note again what I say, it is not the business of the Church to convict anyone of sin, but only to bear witness to the Truth. It would not surprise me if there were those who term themselves “homosexual” in Heaven and in full eternal bliss, possibly even with their partners. That relationship will certainly have been purified by God in Purgatory.

Warwickensis said...

I also dispute your characterisation of a fame-hungry academic churning out radical ideas for self-serving reasons: you and I both know that, on the contrary, most academic researchers do what they do primarily because they're interested in their chosen subject. There are far more reliable and lucrative ways of getting one's name into the history books than by doing slightly controversial theological research. I think it's more likely that Joe/Joanne PhD was thinking "Hang on, it just doesn't seem likely that Jesus and His benevolent Father want us to persecute gay people and make them miserable, let's carefully analyse the scriptural and doctrinal rationale for those traditions" than "Ha! This'll put the cat among the pigeons, get me a best-selling book deal and hopefully a permanent academic post".

Amongst mathematicians no, but then mathematicians work with infallible logic. The worst that they can do is set out on a quixotic adventure only to find that what they wanted to prove doesn’t actually exist. (Personal experience!)

I’m not saying that all PhDs are ill-gotten. Far from it, but there is a loud minority of philosophers/historians/theologians who are out there trying to make a name for themselves by adopting what amount to the old heresies of the past. Rob Bell, for example, is merely rehashing Origen’s heresy which was firmly dealt with in the Third Century. There were also the heretical works of Bishops Spong and Robinson to deconstruct the Christian Faith in terms of their own world views. Bultmann was trying to demythologise the entirety of the Bible and, though he was inherently unsuccessful, there are still a lot of modern theologians and academics following this idea to make money, especially in a materialistic climate. Too many intelligent folk are now putting forward their opinions as fact despite their work being nothing more than speculation. Look at the New Scientist. Not a week passes without some great challenge that “all that we know is wrong” or “Einstein was wrong.”

Warwickensis said...

...and I hope I've shown that the Church wants to persecute no-one! It's just those singularly uninformed and ignorant of the Lord's commands who do!

Nicholas Jackson said...

"... is a homosexual someone for whom more half of the attraction is to the same sex? Similarly, what’s a bisexual?"

I'm not sure it's possible (or even desirable) to quantify these things accurately, because so much of it relies upon subjective opinions and emotional responses by the people concerned. I know people who consider themselves to be bisexual because they are attracted to members of either sex, but who have relationships exclusively with members of only one sex. Some people spend a long time self-identifying as a member of one category and then eventually come to the conclusion that they're actually in a different category.

So while we could try to set down formal, objective, nicely quantifiable definitions, such as "anyone in [0,0.2) is heterosexual, anyone in (0.8,1] is homosexual, everyone else is bisexual", I'm not sure it serve any valid purpose to do so, because there's no objective, consistent way of working out where a particular person fits into that scale, or even if their position on the scale is constant over time, and also a lot of people would disagree about where the boundaries should be.

(Analogously, my own position in the theist-atheist interval is similarly difficult to quantify, and my subjective perception of the same tends to vary depending on both external and internal influences. After a t'ai chi class or after talking to Quakers or Buddhists, for example, I tend to have a more spiritual outlook on things than if I've just been to something like a Sceptics in the Pub talk. Being harangued by evangelical fundamentalists, whether by Dawkins and his ilk, or by that bloke who rants intolerantly in Coventry city centre on a Saturday afternoon, tends to push me towards the opposite end of the spectrum from the one they're at.)

And of course, as you say, you yourself haven't said that sexuality is a binary or objectively quantifiable thing, but I felt it was worth mentioning, because my impression is that many other Christians seem to think it is, with unhelpful results.

Nicholas Jackson said...

"I’m afraid that I’ll have to take issue with this because, as a Christian, I believe in moral absolutes."

But I know Christians who seem not to believe in moral absolutes to quite this extent. Is everything morally absolute? Are they not really Christians after all? (Will you tell them or shall I?)

I'm not a complete moral relativist, certainly: I agree that there are certain things I consider to be absolutely wrong, and I've spent some time trying to figure out some sort of vaguely objective criteria to describe it - the best yardstick I've come up with so far is based on informed consent. (Someone else I know claims that I'm a theist because he maintains that "objective moral code" is a synonym for "supreme being", and then tries to apply his own personal version of Christian theology to convince me of whatever it is he's talking about - it doesn't work, and to be honest I tend to avoid talking to him these days, because he does that kind of rhetorical goalpost-relocation a lot, and I don't find it to be particularly helpful or interesting.)

"God hasn’t changed and neither have His commandments. What was good for the Christians of the first century was good for the Jews of five hundred years previous, is good for us now and will be good for us in 1000 years’ time."

But hang on, there's a whole load of stuff in the Old Testament which has since been swept away (either by Jesus himself or since) as not being relevant any more, stuff which may have had some rationale in a desert-dwelling, nomadic, tribal culture but doesn't really apply now, and is only adhered to by the most hardline orthodox Jews. For centuries the Roman Catholic Church forbade the eating of meat on Fridays, but these days that seems to be a custom more honour'd in the breach than the observance. It's probably a relatively minor issue when compared to more contentious topics like sexual morality, but you're the one who's claiming that your religious traditions are absolute and immutable for all time, so either they are or they aren't.

Warwickensis said...

Perhaps I should have been clearer I should have said MORAL Traditions hadn't changed. In order to understand the food laws which were wiped away by Christ personally, as was circumcision in the reception of the Gentiles into the faith, we listen to what He says. Much of what he says keeps the spirit of those food laws intact. One can still see remnants of that at Mass.

Incidently, a good book here is Paul Copan's Is God a moral monster which discusses why the God of the OT is the same as the NT.

As Catholics, we distinguish between traditions of men and Tradition of God by first considering the Old Testament in the light of Jesus' teaching (since He's God after all). His moral teaching is conservative. His observation of pettyfogging and uncompassionate law following is not.

That being said, Liturgical Traditions are written so that we might keep in touch with Christ and our Jewish heritage too. Reading through a Missal (which is by far a large proportion of scripture and allusion to scripture) gives one a sense of these things.

Warwickensis said...

Also, I really do struggle to see how Christians can be moral relativists and believe in an absolute God. Again, not for me to judge.

How can a God be Eternal and changing? Well, Jesus Christ is one answer to that, but He never contradicts Scripture - He fulfils it. Jesus is a moral absolutist and moral absolutists are certainly much more tolerant than relativists!

Just look at the proud relativist Mussolini.I'm not saying that that's where relativism always goes, but it's certainly a possible destination!

Nicholas Jackson said...

"Also, I really do struggle to see how Christians can be moral relativists and believe in an absolute God. Again, not for me to judge."

Well, you might not explicitly judge, but judgement is often an almost immediate corollary of some of the things you do say.

Anyway, I doubt that many Christians (or, indeed, many people in general) are pure moral relativists, but most probably adopt a pragmatic approach to certain issues, because otherwise it becomes a lot more difficult to exist in the real world. Very few things turn out to be clearly-delineated matters of black-and-white, good-and-evil in practice, so at that point we have to make our own decisions about the right course of action, and how to best follow the spirit of the law when the letter is inconsistent or absent.

"Just look at the proud relativist Mussolini. I'm not saying that that's where relativism always goes, but it's certainly a possible destination!"

Some equally objectionable people have been moral absolutists, of course. Similarly crazy and bad things can happen if you take any idea to extremes.

Warwickensis said...

Actually, I doubt that. Most objectionable people have said that theirs is the ultimate moral authority, which is largely arbitrary, and, yes, this does include some popes.

The moral absolutes of Christianity are clear and it is by those absolutes that we will be judged.

One of those absolutes is Justice.
Another is Mercy and both are most perfectly embodied in God.

edpacht1 said...

I gave Jonathan a very long response to the article. Too long, I fear, to post here, but since he has mentioned me, I guess I need to jump in here with a few observatio0ns.

1. I do NOT believe in a black/white division of gay/straight, nor do I think the description of a continuum is very helpful. I am convinced that the sexual impulse, the libido, if you will, is more generalized than merely sex, but empowers a whole realm of esthetic attractions. Its force varies, as do the objects toward which it draws. I am unconvinced that any persons are entirely unattracted either by the opposite sex or by the same sex, and have no opinion as to what seems to incline someone more one way than the other. I do firmly identify as gay (though once married) simply because years of self-scrutiny have made that, for me, the most comfortable identification.

edpacht1 said...

2. There is no real meaning to the label homosexual outside a societal context. What is considered to be normal sexual behavior has varied enormously from one society to another. A male person in ancient Greece whom we would define as fully heterosexual would have been expected to have been in a sexual relationship with an older male during his youth, and to enter into such a relationship with a younger male in his maturity. That, quite obviously does not fit contemporary norms. I do identify myself in such a way, because such an identification fits the society I inhabit.

edpacht1 said...

3. I lose patience with assertions that either Scripture or Christian tradition is in any way vague or undecided in sexual matters. What is said is said quite simply and clearly. Warwickensis outlined it well. Sex is confined to marriage. Marriage is between persons of opposite sex. any other practice of sex is sin. Yes, Scripture does evidence development, but the evolution has always been toward strictness. Polygamy was tolerated (though not precisely approved), as was concubinage. Both practices came, over time, to be recognized as sin. In no case whatever has tradition (either within Scripture or subsequently) moved in the direction of laxness.

edpacht1 said...

and Scripture has little to say about the form our temptation may take, but does recognize that we will all experience temptations - even Jesus was tempted - but requires that all temptations be resisted, that yielding to them is sin. If we do sin (and, alas, we shall) we come to Jesus and the Cross for forgiveness, and so go on. Scripture displays no interest in whether I am, at heart, gay or straight, but displays great interest in my behaviors. The sexual code is identical for me and for a straight man, and neither of us is authorized to have sex outside of marriage as Scripture defines it.

5. God so loved the world ... God loves gays, even if they be in sin, and so must every Christian.

I've a lot more to say, but I'll quit here.

ed pacht

Nicholas Jackson said...

"The moral absolutes of Christianity are clear and it is by those absolutes that we will be judged."

I'm not convinced that the moral absolutes of Christianity are clear, though. Certainly, there seems to be a considerable amount of disagreement among individual Christians about what those absolutes are, and how what the Bible says should be interpreted.

Warwickensis said...

Sorry, Ed, I was trying to figure out how to arrange your comments, but without success. I am grateful that you've managed to give an overview of what you wanted to say.

edpacht1 said...

When I sent my long comments, I was fully aware that it would be nearly impossible for you to do anything with them & wasn't sure how I would get any of my thoughts in here. Nicholas gave me some specificsto comment upon.

Nicholas. It most certainly is true that there are a lot of interpretations being advanced. I'm afraid I can't see them as anything but self-serving. The words of the text are clear and direct in themselves, and have been interpreted as clear and direct all thro7ugh the many generations up until a very short time ago. One is, I suppose, free to reject what a document says, but it seems highly dishonest to attempt to force the document to say something quite other than anything it has ever said before. I, for one, am far less impatient with a person who refuses to accept the authority of Scripture than I am with one who jumps through hoops to make it say what he wants to hear. I apply this same standard to the rampant Fundamentalists who wrest the text to support their own cherished brainstorms as I do to those who try to make it justify a lifestyle. Scripture as seen by countless recognized scholars over centuries is very clear on most of the controverted points.

ed

JamesIII said...

Civilized humans have a penchant for lumping somewhat connected details into a single issue in an attempt to corral separate ideas into a “whole” that can be labeled and pigeon-holed. We sometimes see this done deliberately in a thinly-veiled attempt to lend legitimacy to a very questionable practice. One great example is the political marriage of “women's rights” with the termination of a pregnancy.

The two issues in “The big one” are no exception. Our creator gave us strong biological urges to assure the propagation of the race. The boundaries of the use of those urges was not included in our genetic coding. They are part of a behavioral code, and therein lies the rub.

Scripture, tradition, and the Church Catholic are in perfect agreement. Scripture does not address “what you are” or what your inclinations may be; Scripture addresses how you should behave. There are a sea of misuses of the sexual imperative that fall into areas of the heterosexual. Temptation comes at us from all directions and it is the resistance to that force that forms and guides our souls and minds upward. Like all true freedoms and blessings there is the underside of responsibility. Sexual activity may be a way of expressing our love but it is not love itself.

Cutting to the meat, it's not about who or what you are... it's about how you behave.

edpacht1 said...

Even aside from scriptural/theological conceptions of morality, the so-called "sexual revolution" presents some formidable logical problems. It is a fact that every human society has norms and standards and often severe restrictions on sexual practice. Most, if not all, center these rules on marriage or something closely approaching marriage, and on child-bearing and family relations.

Historic Christianity has specific standards, which have been at the heart of Western culture. When (as is frequent) these standards have been violated, the acts have been recognized as violations, even by the perpetrators (even by those clergy and popes who have done such things). Those who wish to change or eliminate these standards are actually, I would think, taking shots at the fabric of society, not least in eliminating any foundation for any restrictions on what is probably the most powerful single force in the human psyche.

If monogamy is discarded, in the ease with which divorce is permitted, in the prevalence of premarital sex, in the increasing toleration of extramarital affairs, and in a prevailing attitude that a long marriage is something unusual -- if the purpose of procreation is removed from the institution of marriage by the disgust one often seems at those with large families by the ease with which abortions are obtained, by the insinuation of necessarily sterile relationships into the concept of marriage -- if maleness and femaleness are to be reduced to an irrelevant concept and relations once forbidden come to be blessed with legal defense -- where does one draw lines How can one justify ANY regulation of sexual practice?

Currently there seems to be only one major taboo remaining, and it is one that inflames anger, even hatred, and that is pedophilia. This certainly is one of the behaviors that should not be extant -- but how does one justify such a powerful ban when one has removed all the other major restrictions?

In Ancient Greece, it would appear that the sexual involvement of a boy with a man was seen as normal, indeed, close to obligatory, while similar relations between adult men was, while allowed, distinctly disapproved. That makes neither more or less logical sense than our reversal of the pattern.

Can any sexual regulations stand once the traditional structure is broken? I don't see how. What would a society with no sexual restrictions look like? I shudder to think.

Anonymous said...

What about ""Office of Same Sex Union" (10th and 11th century Greek) or the "Order for Uniting Two Men" (11th and 12th century)"
That certainly sounds like gay marriage.

And! then there are the 12 recorded same sex marriages in the Holy Fathers Church of St John Lateran.

Then again there is the union of St. Serge and St. Bacchus,a partnered gay couple.

There are many other recorded same sex marriages in the Church Catholic over the centuries. Even to the point of a liturgy having been written up for that same purpose.

How say you all?

Peter

Warwickensis said...

I am certainly not convinced that these are anything other than either the products of the minds of the aforementioned Joe PhDs seeking to read into history that which isn't there (in the cases you mention, the widely discredited research of John Boswell) or the product of heretical sects of which there were plenty in these centuries.

edpacht1 said...

Sorry, I'm thoroughly with Warwickensis on this one.. Just because some self-styled 'scholar' makes assertions does not lend credence to those assertions It is a constant in history that self-serving 'scholars' have unearthed long-condemned documents and declared them to be authority, or have insisted on a novel interpretation of a legitimate document entirely out of accord with prior interpretation. There have indeed been many cases of outright fabrication and deliberate alteration of sources.

Frankly, I think Warwickensis was altogether too mild in his rebuttal. These "sources" are so thoroughly out-of-accord with Catholic Christian tradition that I can see them as nothing else but a calculated attempt to discredit historic Christianity and replace it with yet another invented religion.

I don't often come on this strong, but it just isn't honest to claim to be a Christian while opposing historic Christianity. I'm comfortable talking with an honest unbeliever like Nicholas, but have nothing to say to those who attempt to destroy what they claim to follow.

ed