False Dichotomies

It irritates me to no end that headlines keep framing the Indiana flap as gays versus Christians or the “secular left” versus religion. It is no such thing.

A number of religious groups, including Christian ones, have spoken out in opposition of Indiana’s “religious freedom” law and call it plain old bigotry.  Here’s a roundup. I’d already mentioned the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Indiana Episcopal diocese, and other denominations speaking out in support of equal treatment for LGBT people include the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. I’m betting the BJCRL doesn’t include Southern Baptists, but still … also the Unitarian Universalists, the Sikh Coalition, the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

The dichotomy we’re seeing is a faction of hyper-reactionary religionists — some of whom are about as genuinely religious as the Las Vegas strip — versus everybody else. Let’s keep that straight.

Frank Bruni says a true thing that the religionistas are not ready to hear:

… homosexuality and Christianity don’t have to be in conflict in any church anywhere.

That many Christians regard them as incompatible is understandable, an example not so much of hatred’s pull as of tradition’s sway. Beliefs ossified over centuries aren’t easily shaken.

But in the end, the continued view of gays, lesbians and bisexuals as sinners is a decision. It’s a choice. It prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since — as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing.

It disregards the degree to which all writings reflect the biases and blind spots of their authors, cultures and eras.

It ignores the extent to which interpretation is subjective, debatable.

And it elevates unthinking obeisance above intelligent observance, above the evidence in front of you, because to look honestly at gay, lesbian and bisexual people is to see that we’re the same magnificent riddles as everyone else: no more or less flawed, no more or less dignified. …

… So our debate about religious freedom should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.

Bruni goes on to make some of the same points I made in The Book (Rethinking Religion: Finding a Place for Religion in a Modern, Tolerant, Progressive, Peaceful and Science-affirming World), in particular that even among “Bible believers” ideas about what is sinful and what isn’t have changed over the years. Polygamy used to be okay, until it wasn’t. Just 150 years ago southern white preachers defended slavery as not only sanctioned by the Bible but a benefit to the Africans who were sold into the West and made Christian. And so on.

The truth is, the moral views expressed in Iron Age scripture reflect Iron Age culture. Humankind has moved on. If the biblical literalists can’t accept that, they are free to run their own churches any way they like. But unless they want to be like the Mennonites and form their own enclosed communities, they need to adjust.

16 thoughts on “False Dichotomies

  1. I saw a great cartoon on a website that came from a newspaper.

    In the cartoon, you see Christ and his Disciples at the Last Supper.
    A baker walks in carrying loaves of bread.
    He looks around, and says, “Hey, is this a gay wedding?”
    And he leaves.

    I just read Bruni’s piece, and, though I’ve not been a fan of him as a columnist – he was a good food critic, though – I’ve got to admit that that’s one of the absolute best pieces of writing not only that he’s written, but on this subject.

    No one is forcing churches – or any other religious institution – to gay-marry people. That’s the choice of the institution.
    All we Libtards are saying is, in commerce, and in other non-religious transactions, you can’t discriminate based on anything.

    Our conservative “Christians” are now like cornered rats. The world’s changing around them. Fast! And they either can’t or don’t want to deal with it.

    This entire reaction to the left’s reaction against bigotry, is political. It’s meant to drum-up more conservative voters for the 2016 election.

    Start getting ready to help GOTV in time for the 2016 elections.
    And, not just for the Presidential. But for ALL seats – from the lowest local candidates, to whoever the Democratic candidate will be.
    If we lose in 2016 to the GOP, the progress made in the last 6 years will be flushed down the toilet.
    And, we’ll be preparing for war with Iran – and possibly other countries in the Middle East.

    So, please – PLEASE!!! – help GOTV in your area!

  2. So, can Mormon businesses refuse service to blacks – Indiana says yes.

    Then there is the very real pseudochristian pharmacist who can now refuse to sell birth control or day-after pills in Indiana.

    I’m not sure why the laser-focus on gay weddings – let’s see an exploration of the real and far-reaching implications of this law in the conservative mainstream media!

  3. The focus is to try to divide potential opposition. The hope is that few people care about gay people’s rights. Even that hope seems to be ill considered. But they definitely don’t want to l!EET it out about how many people could be personally affected by this law.

  4. I’m not sure why the laser-focus on gay weddings

    That accounts for the “restoration” part of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That’s the rallying cry, although it does open the doors for all manifestations of bigotry the main focus is to come against the progress of gay rights…actually just equal rights.

  5. Several thoughts…

    Humiliating and heaping scorn on the poor, for ex., the obsession on the right to shame food stamp recipients by preventing them from buying certain food items and subjecting them to drug tests, is a sin per Jesus. And yet these same anti-LGBT religious purists fully support shaming rather than helping the poor. If one is a “sin” so is the other.

    They say “God’s Law” is absolute, yet they pick and choose which laws they will be absolutist about. Clearly, that is not about being true to one’s professed religion, as it is using religion to be true to one’s prejudices.

    Lastly, “forced christianity.” Isn’t that the reason they supposedly left England back in the day to come to the New World?

  6. csm,
    “Isn’t that the reason they supposedly left England back in the day to come to the New World?”

    According to David Barton and other conservative “historians,” our Founding Fathers, whose forefathers came here, and witnessed and/or participated in the battles and slaughter of the European wars between Catholics and Protestants, decided to make this a Christian nation!

    It’s in the US Constitution!
    You and I just don’t have the Jesus-goggles necessary to see it.
    You see, we’re heathen Libtards.
    If we weren’t, it would be as obvious to us as it is to our Dominionist Evangelical Christo-Fascists!!!

    *SNARK* – lest anyone misconstrue my comment.


    These are some really scary, fearful, stupid, ignorant, bigoted, and intolerant “people.”
    I am, of course, talking about our “Christians”, who, apparently never read the New Testament because their Bible’s pages are stuck together on the Old Testament’s begetting, smiting, wars, murders, retribution, revenge, and violence; and all of the other good stuff that our American “Christians” love about The Bible – sans the New Testaments messages of peace, love, tolerance, and acceptance.
    Besides, only gays would ever “turn the other cheek!” 😉
    Why read the sequel, when the original book is so juicy, and full of all of the good stuff you hate and fear, and works you into a proper frothy frenzy?!?!?!?!?!

  7. It’s in the US Constitution!
    You and I just don’t have the Jesus-goggles necessary to see it.
    You see, we’re heathen Libtards.

    🙂 I got an Obamaphone, but where do I get the Jesus goggles?

  8. I see two abuses of power at work here. First, there is the obvious violation of the First Amendment; making religious exceptions for discrimination is an establishment of religion.
    In addition to that there is the claim that a business possesses religious scruples. This is an extension of the Hobby Lobby folly; the unification of market and church. But corporations have no souls, and so can have no faith; and the founder of Christianity did not worship wealth.

  9. One thing a lot of people don’t recognize, or won’t acknowledge, is that “free association” is what created Jim Crow south, and that it wasn’t just “can’t eat at a restaurant, can’t use the same water fountain, can’t ride in the front of the bus”. It was also “denied the right to vote, by hook or by crook,” and “were occasionally murdered, sometimes in front of witnesses, and no charges were ever filed. Were more frequently beat down and harassed, often under color of the law.”

    People complain that these are just intended to allow “free association” – they may not use that phrase, or understand its potency – but they don’t realize how toxic a process it was. (Or maybe they don’t care. Maybe they think only the “cool kids” get to be full members of a society?)

  10. Pingback: Links 4/7/15 | Mike the Mad Biologist

  11. It’s also worthy of mention that when you do look at the scattered New Testament citations that are the ones that generally get used and you look at them in context, they fall apart. The three that I have seen most often cited are from the letters of Paul: 1 Timothy 1:9-10, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, and Romans 1:26-27.

    An overwhelming majority of Bible scholars now believe that the Pastoral Epistles, 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy, along with Titus, are pseudoepigraphical. In other words, they aren’t by Paul, the author they purport to be written by. This has been a longstanding controversy, and it’s worth mentioning that the beginning of this controversy predates by many centuries the religious right in America or even the founding of the colonies here, so it is not the result of modern secularists trying to discredit material they don’t like.

    At least Paul’s letter to the Romans and his first letter to the Corinthians are of undoubted legitimacy. But cherrypicking a tiny section of each one without looking at what he was actually talking about makes no sense, unless you just wish to reinforce preexisting beliefs with seemingly authoritative but context-free quotes. Probably the most important context anyone needs is twofold.

    First, in neither letter in question was the quote in question a central part of what he was trying to say. In Romans 1, he was leading up to Romans 2, which he led off by preaching [I]against[/I] passing judgment on others (Romans 2:1-5). Again, in 1 Corinthians 6 it is almost an aside to what he was trying to impart. He had already said in the previous chapter, 1 Corinthians 5, that believers shouldn’t allow those guilty of gross sexual immorality to associate themselves with believers in a religious context, but also that it was for God to judge them, not men (showing a strong congruence between his expressed thoughts in Romans 2 and 1 Corinthians 5 on this point).

    Second, and most important, in the very next chapter of 1 Corinthians, that being 1 Corinthians 7, Paul scrupulously makes it clear, not just once but several times, that quite a lot of what he had to say about sex and marriage was his own personal opinion, NOT a commandment from God. That repeated admission should be something any Christian who takes Paul seriously should bear in mind.

  12. Michael,
    Thank you.
    Very elucidating!
    About 40 years ago I read The Bible in English, Russian, and Russian Orthodox Church Slavonic -the latter not being an easy task!

    But, admittedly, I read them for their literal – not their spiritual – worth, so I find what you wrote very interesting!

  13. Except for some who believe that every word in the Bible is “the” word of G-d. You will never persuade them to enter this or any other century.
    Of course they conveniently forget all of the many things and aspects of our culture which are not mentioned in the Bible: like blogs and electricity and modern medicine, which most of them accept just fine.
    Even so, there are sects which reject all of that too. But they are very rare these days and don’t have any political power.

  14. One other thing, something I neglected to mention above, is that if you do look at Paul’s letter to the Romans, you can see in Romans 2 that Paul was clearly paraphrasing there what Jesus was quoted as saying in one of the most famous parts of the gospel of Matthew, that being Matthew 7:1-3:

    7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged. And with the measure you use, it will be measured again for you.

    3 “And why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank that is in your own eye?

    Here are Paul’s words in Romans 2:1-5:

    2 Therefore you are without excuse, O man, whoever you are who judges, for when you judge another, you condemn yourself, for you who judge do the same things. 2 But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who commit such things. 3 Do you think, O man, who judges those who do such things, and who does the same thing, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Do you despise the riches of His goodness, tolerance, and patience, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

    5 But because of your hardness and impenitent heart, you are storing up treasures of wrath against yourself on the day of wrath when the righteous judgment of God will be revealed, 6 and He “will render to every man according to his deeds.”

    And yet, despite this, Paul’s letter to the Romans is the letter quoted perhaps the most often as a justification for having a hard and impenitent heart set on judging gay men and women and despising tolerance.

  15. Well, I don’t know about judging, but according to Romans 1:26 -28 ( written by Paul) God seems to have the same view as the Westboro Baptist Church, or more exactly, the Westboro Baptist Church has it close to right when they say that God hates Fags. I’m not judging, but the due penalty or just recompense referred to in the scripture below is death, so if God doesn’t hate homosexuals he must have a very strong aversion to them.
    And if God became flesh and manifested himself in the person to Jesus the Christ then I’m more confused then the Apostle Paul seems to be. I’d recommend getting as far away from this bible bullshit as one can. Sort of like what the bible recommends about dealing with sin….flee from it!

    26. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,
    27. and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
    28. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,…

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