Visions of Daniel
An edited version of this paper appeared as the editorial in Southern Voice, March 19, 2009, page 9. A critical response to the editorial prompted a Letter to the Editors from me. It appeared on page 19 of the April 16, 2009, issue, and with top billing I reproduce it here: it is my outright challenge to the Biblical Literalists to come clean on their supposed biblical argument against homosexuality.
After that Letter to the Editors and the longer, original version of the editorial on my frustration, there follows my response to discussion on my university campus.
The focus of this whole affair was a local incident. Still, the issues at stake pertain to religion and society at large. Hence, I post these materials.
Also see related papers, which explain why I speak of the "so-called Christians": Why Bible-litteralist "Christianity" is not Really Christian at All and Foreword to Patrick Chapman's Thou Shalt Not Love.
Throwing Down the Gauntlet before the Christian Fundamentalists
To the Editors:
A letter in Soapbox (4/9/2009) dismissed my criticism of the so-called "Christians" as "condescending elitism." Supposedly, Prof. Robert Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary proposed a position on homosexuality in the Bible that is "compellingly well-reasoned, based on factual evidence, and contradictory" to mine.
In response, no, I would not call Gagnon's work "sheer assertion of pious faith." More insidious, it is an elaborated and highly rationalized assertion of pious faith—"insidious" because it leads people to think the "Christian" apologists actually addressed the historical evidence.
I throw down the gauntlet: let the Fundamentalists address the following historical facts or abandon their anti-gay agenda:
• The pre-Christian Greek translation of toevah, abomination, in Leviticus 18:22 is bdelygma. This term refers to ritual "impurity" and carries no ethical meaning.
• The "lyings of a woman" in this same text refer to penetrative sex only (see Numbers 31:17, 18, 35; Judges 21:11, 12 and Olyan's and Boyarin's research), not to male-male sex per se.
• In the Babylonian Talmud, 3rd to 5th century C.E., the ancient rabbis taught that the Torah forbade only penetrative sex between men and that sex between women didn't (couldn't) count. (See Olyan and Boyarin again.)
• In Romans 1:24, Paul introduces his discussion of sexual acts under the category of impurity (akatharsia), not sin.
• In Roman 11:24, Paul uses the very same term para physin to describe God's actions ("unusual," "atypical"; impossibly "contrary to Nature," "unnatural," or "unethical") as Paul uses in 1:26 to describe the sexual behaviors in question.
• Bernadette Brooten (Love Between Women) documented incontrovertibly a popular usage of para physin, meaning "atypical," that squares with Paul's usage. He was not invoking the technical Stoic meaning, not speaking of Nature and its inherent Laws.
• Paul uses two other terms in Romans 1:24-27 (atimia and aschemosyne) to describe the sexual acts. In his every other usage, these words have no ethical meaning but, rather, imply social disapproval. He even uses atimia to describe himself, held in ill repute (2 Corinthians 6:8), for preaching Christ.
• In contrast, before verse 24 and after verse 27, Paul has readily available and uses many terms of ethical import.
Gagnon faced none of these historical facts but conveniently weaved together other considerations to bolster his pious party-line preaching. It's that same old tactic: say it often enough and people (who want to) will believe it. It's a pattern. Jason Engwer reviewed White and Neill's The Same Sex Controversy on amazon.com and asserted it refutes all my and others' arguments. In fact, published in 2002, it is not even aware of my updated 2000 edition, which introduced points 2, 3, and 6 above. So much for "Christian" "scholarship"!
So my adjectives about this movement hold: anti-intellectualist, insulting and offensive, intransigent, self-righteous—and dangerous. I stand by my criticism of the so-called "Christians."
Daniel A. Helminiak
My Frustration with the So-Called "Christians"
In early March (3/5/2009) on my home campus, I presented a lecture on my best-selling book What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality. Probably 150 people were there. Lambda at UWG, the campus gay-straight alliance, sponsored the event. It was fine until the Q&A segment; then all hell broke loose.
As is their style, the Bible-toting "Christians" attended in force, teams of them strategically located in different corners of the hall. Initial interventions were restrained, but the intensity escalated until people were shouting at one another, cheering and arguing. I have seen this same demonstration at many of the lectures I've presented from coast to coast. The "Christians" came to "bear witness," and chaos was the result.
The lecture officially ended as scheduled at 9 PM. Many wanted to continue the "discussion," and in foolish good will, I agreed to stay. About 50 people remained, some leaving and then returning, until 10:30 PM when, emotionally drained, headachy, and absolutely frustrated, I declared I was going home, and I shut down the hall.
Many of the "Christians" protested that they were not like those condemning, aggressive, and offensive ones, whom I had denounced. Yet the result was the same. A university lecture was turned into a shouting match because of emotional religious opinions. And I was supposedly at fault for not respecting their religion, and this is the kind of behavior we are all expected to respect.
My presentation was relatively simple. Following the teaching of all the mainline churches—that is, not Fundamentalist or Literalist—it insists that the biblical texts mean what the original authors intended to say, as best as can be determined. The project is historical scholarship, the unearthing of intended meaning by attending to original languages, cultural contexts, and foreign mindsets. As in scientific research, one's own beliefs are irrelevant; only reasoned argument based on evidence counts.
For example, the "abomination" of "man lying with man as with a woman" in Leviticus 18:22: The ancient rabbis translated the Hebrew word toevah into Greek as bdelygma. It means a taboo, a ritual disqualification; it does not mean an ethical fault. So one could conclude that Leviticus was not teaching that male-male sex is wrong in itself, but only forbidden as a Jewish religious requirement in the same way that Catholics were forbidden to eat meat on Fridays.
The very first intervention after that lecture noted how "big words" and too much history just complicate the matter. This theme arose again and again. People should just take the Bible as it "obviously" reads and follow "God's teaching." That is, the up-front position of the "Christians" is unapologetically anti-intellectualist. And on my own university campus, having spent my life studying these questions, I was expected to apologize for my education. For the "Christians," education is a liability. Are we to respect this stance?
Repeatedly, too, the "Christians" insisted that they were not condemning anyone: "We are all sinners." This guilt-ridden mantra implies, of course, that all the homosexuals in the audience were indeed sinners, and this statement was supposedly not a condemnation.
One young woman stood and, to make her point, began reading the story of Sodom (Genesis 19) in declamatory liturgical lilt. She was lecturing me. Sodom was not even the focus of the evening. Yet her reading at us ran on and on.
This absolutely typical "Christian" tactic is classic passive aggression. "Oh, but it's religious, it's good-willed, it's gentle!" Yes, and its effect is insulting attack; it's a stealth put-down. It commandeers the process; it diverts the focus of the event; it assumes that, as in preliterate days, no one in the audience can read for themselves; it suggests that I am ignorant of that story and could not, in fact, analyze it line for line in all its varied interpretations. How absolutely obtuse and socially inept! Have these people no sense of how offensive they routinely are? Yet they demand respect and insist they be heard out.
Other "Christian" women in the audience were also lecturing me. According to 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in no uncertain terms, women are to be silent in public gatherings and never teach a man; they are to go home and there ask some male figure about questions they might have. I certainly do not hold this outdated biblical teaching, but read in historical context, it was far more absolute than the Bible's teaching on homosexuality. Yet these women ignore a firm biblical requirement to crusade over a tenuous one. Is the inconsistency not blatant? And are we to respect such dishonesty?
Another woman argued that I should respect her opinion just as I expected her to respect mine. She presumed our opinions stand on equal footing. Hers was a sheer assertion of pious belief. Mine was a reasoned argument based on factual evidence. Both may have their place, one in church and the other at a university and in society at large. But they are not comparable, and in the end the reasoning is weightier.
As I pointed out, she herself was gathering evidence from the behavior she observed, and she was using it and reason to make her point. So reasoning counts only to discredit someone who rejects pious opinion?! Then, is piety to ultimately dominate? If so, woe to us when the "Christian" Taliban finally overcomes. And are we to respect such totalitarian piety?
A courteous young man proclaimed that he was inspired by the Holy Spirit and, thus, was sure of his opinion against homosexuals. But he was unable to explain what exactly this inspiration felt like and how it differed from other "highs" that people could experience. Furthermore, he totally lacks any neuroscience background. He had no conception that even his "experience of the Holy Spirit" must involve brain function and could not be a pure and unambiguous act of God. I teach neuroscience. I've studied the recent surge of research on "religious" experience. My expertise is the psychology of spirituality. He knows nothing of it. And I'm to grant him credibility, and must we respect his naïve opinion?
One woman feigned sincerity, asking for references to reading on our subject. When I mentioned Countryman's Dirt, Greed, and Sex, she sneered and mumbled that she didn't want the books on which I based my presentation. What was she saying? That I am dishonest in my scholarship and that my sources are incompetent—although she evidently knows nothing of scholarship: serious scholars, such as Countryman and unlike the Fundamentalists, acknowledge all the opinions in the field, use them all, and give reasons for a proposed conclusion. So who was disrespectful to whom in this exchange?
Finally, unable to stay longer but also unable just to leave in silence, another man made a parting pitch for his Bible study group. Saying nothing relevant to the lecture, he invited people to join him each week to really learn about Jesus. Standing in front of the whole gathering, he was unembarrassed to push his personal pet project at this public event, using a subtle reference to the title of my book to slur me in the process. Such behavior is not even courteous, not even humanly decent! But "Christianity" allows it. And we're to respect this kind of religion?
If Jesus stands for the exhibition I witnessed that Wednesday evening, I want nothing to do with the man. I saw the unwitting—and, indeed, I grant this: good-willed, well-intentioned—effects of a socially disruptive, theologically uneducated, anti-intellectual, insulting and offensive, intransigent, self-righteous, self-centered, myopic, and—note this well—dangerous movement.
Particularistic beliefs could have served society in former times when religious enclaves and all social groups were significantly isolated from one another. But today, such beliefs and attitudes cannot contribute to the well-being of a pluralistic society and global community.
My sense is that the "Christians" haven't even a clue what I'm talking about. And they don't care to learn. Am I wrong to be frustrated, offended, angry, and sometimes even scared?
On the other hand, people in the audience, including some "Christians," perceived the atrocity perpetrated that evening in the name of Jesus. "By their fruits you will know them," he had said, so the "Christians" are being discredited. This is to the good. It offers hope.
A Response to University Colleagues about My Frustration
April 7, 2009
I want to make some response to the discussion I provoked now that, it seems, most opinions have been expressed and I can address them all. I want to respond to some opinions and to clarify my own. I must say that I am impressed with the level of discussion—although I am also impressed, as I always am in religious discussions, with the lack of sophistication people often indulge when addressing these exceedingly subtle and emotionally charged matters. I will address no one by name, except at the very end, since many of the opinions run into one another.
As many honestly noted, I was not speaking about all Christians. I specifically addressed myself to the ones I experienced that evening and the many other evenings and occasions when I had similar encounters. If the shoe fits, wear it. If not, support me in my attempt to foster civil discourse. Some who responded in defense of Christians agreed that the behavior that evening should not have occurred. Then why do so many, some of these same people, take insult when none was given to them specifically? Why so defensive about their religion? I, for example, am completely comfortable admitting the flaws and even outrages in my own Roman Catholic Church. I know its strengths; in its own way it has served me well. I am also pained by its shortcomings, so I work to correct them. In contrast, is this sensitivity and self-protective defensiveness among the "Christians" not part of the very mentality to which I object?
I certainly do not believe and never said that all members of any religious group are the same. Please, give me the benefit of the doubt the way people are expecting me, always and ever again, despite repeated assault, to give them the benefit of the doubt. My editorial did say that I know much of these offensive behaviors are done in good will. But, as the saying goes, so is the road to hell paved with good intentions.
Let me highlight a phrase in my editorial: "at many of the lectures I've presented from coast to coast." My experience on our campus was not an isolated incident, not even on our campus. I have had police escorts from two university campuses. I have used the back doors of auditoriums to get away from "witnessing" "Christians." My lectures have been hooted down in numerous cities—including places as prestigious as Georgia Tech. In contrast, I received a most respectful and scholarly, even though sometimes critical, reception at Oxford College of Emory University on two occasions. At times when we allowed only written questions (a procedure I will regretfully reinstate), I have seen groups of Bible-toting "Christians" (I suppose) stand up and walk out en masse: no fight here; no chance to "witness." I suppose they never really came to listen.
I merely respond to what I have experienced, repeatedly. My objection is not, as someone optimistically phrased it, to "this group of people [who] lost the little lessons of life." There are many such groups; they are all about us; and they tend to belong to the same large group.
Still regarding the term Christian: It was in quotation marks in my editorial. Evidently, I was using it in a peculiar way. Most immediately, it referred to the group I was describing. By extension, it was referring to all such people and groups, as I just noted. But more than that, I was referring to a particular kind of religion. In fact, in recent decades, the Bible Fundamentalists—those who insist on reading the Bible (when it is convenient) "literally," "just as it reads," "in its obvious sense"—have appropriated the name Christian. In standard usage today, Christian refers to "bible-believing" people. The word no long generally includes the long-standing, mainline churches. Indeed, when I moved to the South, I was astounded to learn that this born-and-bred-Catholic boy was not a Christian. Talk about bigotry and painting with a broad stroke!
Although I believe in God, worship in church weekly, pray daily, reverence Jesus, and have a special devotion to the Holy Spirit (does this information come as a surprise to those who condemn me to hell?), I hesitate to ever say "I am Christian" because people will think I'm one of "those kinds of people." There is even a phrase now circulating—at least in many of the circles in which I move, both secular and religious: "Taliban Christians." It refers to those who are intent on imposing their personal beliefs and eventually taking over the country on the claim that their beliefs are from God. The Reconstructionist branch of the Reformed tradition holds this position explicitly: to make our nation a theocracy based on the Bible, Old and New Testaments. Their website sometimes does—I've seen them—and sometimes does not include the lines to this effect. (See my "Response to Olliff and Hodges.")
The matters I have cited tend to focus on observable behaviors: particular practices and peculiar codes of ethics, usually highly sex-negative, and also guilt-inducing on an array of other concerns: wine and alcohol (Supposedly, wine means grape juice in the Bible. Ha!), dancing (David was a renegade), child-rearing, husband-wife relationships.
But beyond the ethical matters, there are also the doctrinal. None of the posts that I read attend to this distinction between ethics and doctrine—as if religion were a clear and precise concept rather than a notion that includes a swath of disparate elements. Am I at fault, as a systematic theologian who was teaching assistant to one of the philosophical and theological geniuses of the 20th Century, Bernard Lonergan, to see this oversight as simplistic and naïve? Am I to respect opinions that are grossly uninformed?
To me, the doctrinal basis of a religion is what distinguishes it from others. (Ethics is a human matter; not a religious one. More on this below.) I believe (and with good reason, if reason is allowed at all in religion) that the Biblical Fundamentalists are not Christian at all. This one-century-old movement (this Biblical literalism) is a radical departure from the prior 1900 years of Christianity in Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic traditions—not to mention the Jewish.
The pivotal issue is attention to history. Christianity is a historical religion. It insists on God's intervention in human history and, in the case of the Bible, in God's inspiration of the biblical authors. (I am speaking now and sometimes elsewhere in this post, of course, in the voice of a Christian believer; I am recounting Christian belief. I am not suggesting these beliefs are necessarily factual—nor necessarily mistaken. They are simply the defining elements that makes Christianity what it is.) If this insistence on history is respected, one cannot hold that the biblical word is immune from historical analysis. What was revealed is what God inspired in the authors whom God chose and respected as they wrote in their own languages, times, cultures, and literary forms. If God is to speak in history, God must use human forms to speak, and these can only be understood correctly in their own historical and cultural contexts. To reject this insistence on history is to vitiate the tradition at its heart. And Biblical Fundamentalism rejects this insistence. I have published this argument. It is reprinted in my Sex and the Sacred.
So I put "Christian" in quotation marks to suggest I am speaking, not of "practicing Christians, but more [of] Christian posers," as someone suggested but, in that case, only regarding behaviors. So I am, indeed, and deliberately so, making statements about a whole religion. It is not Christianity. It is Biblical Fundamentalism. I do agree that the incivility, aggression, and offensiveness I note do not apply to all who follow such beliefs. But the beliefs themselves, and certainly the guidelines for "witnessing" they enjoin, do lead to the kinds of behavior I criticize—especially in its passive aggressive form.
What does one make, for example, of a Mike Huckabee, who panders to religious extremists by declaring that it is easier to change the U. S. Constitution than the word of God in the Bible (as he and some others choose to interpret it) and gets the Carroll County vote for Republican presidential candidate? What priorities and values stand behind such a trend? And it is a trend. It is not an isolated event. It is not the work of some single individuals here and there. The core characteristics of a whole religious movement work against the principles on which the nation was founded and modern civilization emerged. It is that emphasis that I am decrying.
Again, if the shoe fits, wear it. But don't rationalize the facts (oh, do facts matter in the face of faith? Consider how insidious this "religious mentality" is). Don't deny the logical and existential implications (oh, does reason matter, either?). I object as much as anyone to blanket statements and stereotypes applied unthinkingly (oh, does thinking matter?). But I also believe my analyses are reasonable, rational, plausible, probable, and not to be dismissed by excessive good will and wishy-washy political correctness.
What I was most objecting to could be simply called lack of courtesy, civility, propriety. The chaos at my lecture is only one blatant example. The others tend to be more pervasive and more subtly insulting and demeaning.
What do my Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Baha'i, Native American, and Wiccan friends think when they drive Buckhead Highway into Carrolton to see a billboard declare, "Jesus is Lord over Carrollton "? (What would happen if it said "Buddha" or "Moses" or "Mohamed" instead?!) And the eyesore of a cross that outranks the cinema marquee, punctuating the same message? What right has one religion to impose its belief system (doctrines) on a whole, pluralistic community? And who could object? Who could get away with objecting? (One member of our UWG community had political signs, not even yet religious, just political signs repeatedly torn down from the front lawn—in this democratic country and "Christian" community.) The "Christians" control the locale. My talk of being scared hardly deals with a supposed afterlife, much as anyone might believe in it. The danger is here, it is physical, it is psychological, it pervades our everyday living. I habitually look both ways before I exit a building, and I lock my car door as soon as I'm inside. I feel like a traget. Is there no sense of toleration among these "Christians"? Is it always their way or the highway (which they also seem to control)? Are they unaware of how offensive these exhibits are? These gestures are insulting.
So any objection to declarations of people's going to hell is fully justified. So is any objection against painting everyone as a sinner, this covert judgment and condemnation from those who claim not to be judging. So are the sermon bits that were posted on the discussion list—not discussion of people's ideas, but "admonitions," instructions, and proclatmations about correct belief, all blind to my concerns and couched in the saccharine "good will" of insensitive religious fervor.
Here's another one: In my mailbox today through campus mail was a religious card, four crosses and a scripture quote on the front (truly, very attractive for this Holy Week). Inside was the scrawl, "God loves you!! P. S. I am praying for you." From my mother, brother, sister, aunt, or cousin, I would have welcomed such a card. But from whom was this card? It is unsigned.
So what would YOU make of this gesture, given the "discussion" we are now engaging. I take the card to be from some good-willed but cowardly "Christian" (won't even sign it) who wants to show concern for me and, in the process, suggests that I am really in a bad place, really in need of help, probably diabolical. And all this is not supposed to be an insult! Moreover, coming from such a supposed source, I find the naiveté of the piety infantile. The message as such does not speak to my belief in God and divine providence. How dare someone intrude on the sacred precinct of my conscience and my relationship with the Divine Power and presume to direct me in that place?! Is the assault, the violation, the arrogance, not blatantly obvious? And the "Christian" involved evidently just doesn't get it, blinded by a naïve and myopic religious faith—and, evidently, supposing that I have no religious faith of my own or that, if I do, it is certainly mistaken. What gall! (And supposedly, by just letting this pass, just sucking it in, I will do more good than otherwise: the honey-versus-vinegar analogy. Will letting such pervasive and egregious offense pass as a kind, religious gesture contribute to the common good? Does political correctness also mean no one should condemn the other Taliban?)
Oh, yes, I should feel compassion for this person, and in some way I do. And if he or she were a child, I could easily overflow with patience, compassion, and good will. But this comes from an adult. And these kinds of adults confront me regularly, not just on occasions such as the present but as a stranger on street corners, with billboards on the highways I drive, with t-shirts on their backs in the parks. And they want me to respect them. Respect them as children? Oh, no, they demand respect (infantile behavior?) as well informed and deeply wise people who know what it's all about. And they presume to tell others what it's all about and to attempt to control community standards. No child should be in such a position. Why, then, these religiously narrow adults? Please, don't ask me to be respectful of such institutionalized passive aggression. As Sister Jeannine Gramick phrased the matter in response to an imposition of silence from the Vatican (you see, I am an equal opportunity critic), "I will not cooperate in my own oppression."
Some of the posts engaged the difficult topic of epistemology. As a psychologist of religion, whose scholarship explicitly entails interdisciplinary method and the philosophy of science, I have an extensively elaborated position on these matters, which basically follows Bernard Lonergan. Here I can give only some indication of where I stand.
First, I am always taken aback by the more and more frequent reference these days to "epistemologies." When pluralized, what can this word mean? That there are many ways of arriving at the truth? That there are many truths to be arrived at? That one method is as good as any other? In my mind, truth is one and can only be one; what is not true is false. There is no middle ground here. Yes, there are different ranges of knowledge and degrees of understanding. Yes, there may be different sources of data and various occasions for achieving insight. But in the end, when the telling question is posed, "Is it so, or not?" there is no multiplicity of ways of judging; otherwise, the conclusions will differ; they will not be expressions of the same thing, a fact. I think the current discussion (not only here, but at large) needs to be nuanced, much as I suggested that religion needs to be treated differentiatedly.
Second, I reject the opposition between faith and reason, religion and science, except in the most simplistic of senses. Say "theology and science," and I am perfectly comfortable. Put the discourse on the same field, and the opposition dissolves. (My problem with the "Christians" is precisely that their position has no theological sophistication but they want it to be respected as if it did.)
If truth is one, all truth must cohere. The dichotomy of faith and reason is misconceived. One never exists without the other. Scientific method is itself one kind of faith; it believes in appeal to evidence and reasoned argument. Or again, it relies on the work of predecessors: who checks their calculators to be sure they are accurate before ever balancing an equation? Even more broadly, who has ever checked the accuracy of a map? At best, individuals know only pieces of it first hand; the rest they, we, take on faith. The whole of life relies on faith.
In contrast to scientific reliance on evidence-based reasoning, religion may appeal to revelation, inspiration, founders, or hunch. But in religion, there is reasonable faith (plausible, non-contradictory: for example, theology can show that there is no real contradiction in Christian belief in the Trinity or in the union of humanity and divinity in Christ; these positions are not unreasonable; but this fact does not mean they are, therefore, true). There is reasonable faith; but there is also unreasonable faith. How does one judge?
Logical consistency is only one criterion. (The Literalist position is logically incoherent, by the way. See the chapter I cited in Sex and the Sacred.) But a more important criterion is that the belief squares with what we know to be true, good, wholesome, in this world. What leads to blatantly unacceptable and humanly destructive behavior is not a reasonable position—such, for example, as al-Qaida's attack on the World Trade Center or a "Christian's" attack on homosexual people or abortionists and, more subtly but nonetheless really, on ordinary citizens walking the streets, driving the highways, or opening their mail. What dismisses out of hand the evidence-based conclusions of honest research—such, for example, as the conclusion that the earth is far older than some 6,000 years—is not a reasonable position.
I must emphasize that all knowledge claims are not equally solid. And not all are compatible: they are not on equal footing. I made that point in my editorial. Let me add here the ending of that particular paragraph, which was cut in editing, about the woman who wanted me to respect her opinion as I expected her to respect mine: "As I pointed out, she herself was gathering evidence from the behavior she observed, and she was using it and reason to make her point. So, is reasoning valid only to discredit someone who rejects pious opinion? Then, is piety to ultimately dominate? If so, woe to us when the 'Christian' Taliban finally overcomes. And are we to respect such totalitarian piety?"
I opt for reasonable belief; I insist that sheer and ungrounded faith has no place in the university or in public life overall. Or else, maybe there is a place: let the religions be treated in history courses where all belief systems and cultures are equally open to investigation and criticism, or let them be expressed in literature courses where fiction, fantasy, myth, and other types of personal, imaginative, but ungrounded opinions find welcome and even sometimes usefully delight and inspire. (Offensive? You see, I have strong opinions, well formed, elaborately argued, responsibly considered. It's all in print if anyone cares to check it out. Forgive me at my near-retirement age. I am tired of bowing to simple ideas and of apologizing for my education—except that I do enjoy children and have patience with them, but they tend to be teachable.) In making this statement about religion as inspirational, in no way am I buying into the logical positivist position that claims metaphysics has no valid meaning and pertains only to emotions or encouragement. I hold a different epistemological position, and it is far more subtle than logical positivism.
Faith and reason are not mutually exclusive. I agree on this point. But structuring the interrelationship is the challenge, and sheer protestation of opinion and even gentle "bearing witness" do not meet it.
Some have said that I was insensitive to religious believers whom my labels did not fit. But I was not addressing them. And, frankly, I'm tired of being sensitive to people who don't agree with me but think I have to respect their opinions that I find ludicrous. I am tired of having to treat such self-aggrandizing people like children. I show my respect for adults by taking them seriously, and if their opinions are incoherent, I feel free to say so—certainly on a university campus: respectful but free-wheeling discussion is what we are about. I can respect the person without having to respect his or her ideas.
Some have pointed out that such a strategy is counterproductive. Perhaps so, but I've tried the other approach, and with the "Christians" it does not work, either. And in the meantime they continue to run rampant over the common good, including diversity. Somebody needs to blow the whistle on this charade of "in Jesus' name" and "God's word condemns, not I." In the complexity of the postmodern world, it has gotten far out of control. In certain considered cases, I have chosen to be the whistle blower. Then, if people think they do not fit my characterization—and they may be deceiving themselves as we all do to some extent—let them realize I am not speaking about them, and let them direct their concern for the common good somewhere where it might actually do some good.
Third, still regarding epistemology, entangled here is the confusion between doctrine and ethics. Matters of doctrine tend to be other-worldly or, at least, not immediately (although almost always eventually) relevant to the goings-on in this world. Whether God is Allah, Elohim, Eternal Father, Mother, or Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit or of Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu generally makes little difference. Similarly, whether we are saved by Jesus' death on the cross or by a series of reincarnations to work through karma generally makes little difference in this world. These matters are indeterminable, in any case; there is no way to adjudicate them. Therefore, it makes no sense to debate them, certainly not in the public forum. Said otherwise, they are irrelevant to public life. (Sorry, but I truly believe this, with the parenthetical qualification noted above. See my Spirituality for Our Global Community.) The problem arises when people attempt to impose their "other-worldly" beliefs on other people, and the "Christians" are committed to such an enterprise: Jesus as Savior, the blood of the cross, the Bible alone, the punishment of hell. And that's the problem.
Notice that we are in the postmodern era. The insistence on monolithic religious communities, acceptable and taken for granted in earlier times, is counterproductive today. It is not only inappropriate, but also downright harmful. On the criterion of positive contribution in this world, outdated practices and attitudes need to be eschewed. Sorry, again. But think about it, please. I may not be as off base as it might initially seem. We have a world to hold together, huh?
On the other hand, there are ethical matters. These are not religious matters although, with the clumsy separation of religion and government in our country and increasingly elsewhere, ethical matters tend to be left to religion—and the rest of society conveniently goes its own way, bound only by what is legal and, thus, able to get away with gross immorality in all fields, especially financial and political, as we are experiencing today. (Notice that my commitment to the common good, as best we can determine it on the criteria that apply in this world, leads me to agree in many ways with the concerns of the Fundamentalists. I, too, think our society is in trouble. But I don't think the Fundamentalist solution is viable; on the contrary, I think it is part of the problem.)
Ethical matters are to be adjudicated in terms of the common good in this world. As such, they are the domain of every person, institution, government, society, and nation in the world. Religion has no claim whatsoever on ethics and no privileged inside information on the matter. To be sure, in former times, religious "beliefs" generally gave us our ethical or moral (I use the terms interchangeably) standards. Yet bit by bit, different areas of life branched off from religion, and more informed, otherwise informed, agencies set the standards. Thus, for example, medical science generally determines health practices, and many related folk practices or religious beliefs have fallen by the wayside. They have been shown to be ineffective and sometimes downright destructive.
Sexual behavior is a matter of ethics. There is no reason in today's world that religions should claim privileged insight into the right or wrong of sexual behavior. The criterion is the degree to which behaviors contribute to wholesome, positive, constructive growth, to a world that has a future. (This statement is no tautology in my understanding; I just can't explicate the entire position here. See the last two chapters of Meditation without Myth or chapter 4 of Spirituality for Our Global Community.) The criteria are of this world, as best we can determine them, and their implications shift as we learn more about what supports life and what destroys it—plastics, for example, and DDT or abusive husbands and stifling marriages. These are not religious matters, but human matters.
Homosexuality is a case in point. (I recently published an article on "Homosexuality in World Religions: A Case Study in the Psychology of Spirituality" and would gladly share a copy with anyone who requests one.) So, when the "Christians" protest that science is silencing religion—yes, indeed, of course. Apart from arenas where religion has its specific competence (such as those other-worldly beliefs), it ought to be silenced unless it is on the same page as the rest of society and is willing to join in the discussion as just another discussion partner. When it claims to have inside information—which it can defend only by claiming divine revelation in a world where almost every religion claims divine revelation and all differ in the supposed revealed content—it loses all credibility; it becomes laughable; it merits and it DESERVES NO RESPECT.
Enough on the epistemological question. As you see, its discussion has also implicated ethics although the two, regarding cognitions and values respectively, are not the same thing. They require different methodology, but all too easily they get bottled up in undifferentiated appeal to "religion" as, for example, in the posts I have read.
Two of the posts stand out as long and carefully composed defenses of the "Christians." Again, if the shoe fits, wear it. If not, take my point for what I am trying to say. In light of what I've already said, I will make some final comments on yet omitted points.
First, T.'s post: She is "tired of Christians not being able to state their truths."
Is it truths or, rather, beliefs? The difference is massive. Notice how the rhetoric, pervasive in "Christian" circles, biases the discussion from the start. Of course, a religion cannot but hold that its beliefs are true. But in a postmodern world, where we all know painfully much about other religions, such standard religious claims can hardly be honestly sustained. One is impelled to pursue extensive study, thought, and heartache and to make a deliberate and undeniable choice, which one will recognize as one's own (and not attribute to God what one knows one has personally chosen to believe in the face of plenty of available alternatives). I know that struggle and heartache. My conclusion is to speak of holding metaphysical beliefs "only lightly" and to the extent that they serve life in this world. Then in true faith, that is, in hope-filled unknowing, one lets the world-to-come rest in God's hands.
It should be noted that, whereas T. speaks of truths, the discussion is about ethics.
People can believe what they want and call it truth as they please. As long as it's private, who really cares what they believe? But the laws of this country, and common sense, draw a line when what's in the head and heart starts producing behaviors in public. From what I have already written, it should be clear that I believe the "Christians" routinely approach that line and in many cases flagrantly cross it. That they believe deeply gives them no right to "state their truths" in people's faces. Why, for example, do I have to put up with preachers on campus and loud-speaker-fortified rallies in "Love Valley" that condemn me and my kind? Have I no right to protest? Why can't my academic lecture on a historical topic be allowed to proceed undeterred? How would the "Christians" feel if we infiltrated their every church service, bible study group, and youth conference to protest whatever they say about their peculiar beliefs about homosexuality? From my experience, that's what they do to me. Who is being prevented from speaking whose "truth"?
Others in this discussion have made the point that "dominant perspectives are often privileged." The "Christian" is indeed one of the privileged. Nonetheless, pot-and-kettle-like, as a matter of calculated tactics, as far as I can determine, the Fundamentalist movement claims its ground by accusing everyone else of suppressing it: "We are being marginalized." This line is pure propaganda.
One would hope that people could see through the ruse and not adopt the tactics of the leaders. These preachers' livelihoods depend on the promulgation of their "religious" views—their livelihoods and oftentimes their psychological balance: remember Michael Busse and Gary Cooper, David Caliguiri, Colin Cook, John Paulk, Ted Haggard, Paul Barnes, all adamant "Christian" opponents of homosexuality and even "ex-gays" who turned out, nonetheless, to be gay.
T. makes reference to "the radical for homosexuality on campus," and I presume she is referring to me. Well, how does one define radical? I've not been in Love Valley with a loud speaker, proselytizing for homosexuals. I've not stood around campus campaigning for homosexuality. I've not held Wednesday night study groups to foster homosexuality. I've not booed and jeered and called out vulgar names as "Christian" floats passed in the Homecoming parade. I've not beaten up students because they were heterosexual. All these are standard and fairly common anti-homosexual practices among the "Christians."
What I have done is to serve as advisor to Lambda for years. I have presented good-will lectures on my research, biblical and psychological, on campus. At the instigation of Dr. Gunnels (I am ever grateful to her for getting started something that this radical homosexual only thought and talked about for years but never mobilized because he was too busy with research, publication, and national and international lectures), I have helped organize the Safe Zone program on campus. I have developed a comprehensive, interdisciplinary psychology of spirituality, published numerous books and articles about spirituality and, in many cases, about its relationship with sexuality.
Does all that make me radical? If so, y'all ought to visit Atlanta once in a while! Or better, San Francisco. You'll see what radical queer means. If I appear radical, it is only because in these parts almost nobody is doing anything public to support sexual diversity. Most LGBT people at UWG can't afford to be "out" because they live in Carrollton. So I look radical: I'm out. Big deal! This is 2009. They're marrying in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont—and Iowa! Because I raise discussion on a university campus, I am radical. But the in-your-face "Christians" are not radical.
How myopic our vision is around here! And how limited, our knowledge of the outside world!
T. suggests that Leviticus 18:22 is "one of the clearest verses in the Bible." The literal translation from the Hebrew would read, "With a male you shall not lie the lyings of a woman." This is clear?!
I am grateful for the post that presented other "abominations" from Leviticus, and I ask, "How clear are those verses, and why don't the 'Christians' follow them?" There are also those verses about women who teach men (right where we are, huh?). They are lucid—despite T.'s claim.
She says I "attack women." Notice the rhetoric. I made no attack whatsoever. I merely quoted the Bible in the very same way the "Christians" quote it at me. Perhaps this response from T. will suggest to her, and her objection suggest to others, that my feeling of being attacked is legitimate and their tactics of quoting the Bible at people are offensive.
Notice also that it's okay for the "Christians" to quote the Bible and tell me I'm going to hell, but it's not okay for me to quote the Bible, which tells them to stop saying such things to me, they being women. Here's the double standard in reverse! (Maybe we men deserve it. But then again, I'm gay, and women tend to like gay men because they don't hit on them all the time. You just can't win, can you?)
Then there's the issue of my supposed misquoting the Bible. T. says the stricture against women's speaking in public pertains only "in the churches." I quote the Revised Standard Version (RSV). Recognized to be the best English translation if not the most elegant, it was the second (1880s and then 1950s) international revision of the King James Version, recognized (through the historical scholarship of the late 19th Century, which provoked Fundamentalism) to be based on corrupt manuscripts. Part of the Christian world refused to accept the corrected translations and clung to the King James Version—here is another instance of anti-intellectualism at the very roots of the Fundamentalist religion.
In the RSV, 1 Corinthians 14:34 does say "the women should keep silent in the churches," as T. pointed out. (Of course, in historical perspective, churches in Paul's day did not refer to buildings but to communities.) But presenting the same teaching about women, 1 Timothy 2:11-15 begins in verse 8 with "I desire that in every place…." Take it literally, please, and T. is in blatant violation of the Bible when she speaks out as she did in public against my editorial or in regards to anything else. Again quoting a part of my editorial that was edited out, "Is the inconsistency not blatant? And are we to respect such dishonesty?"
Well, maybe it's not outright dishonesty, but an honest mistake. But what will poor T. do now that she knows better? (I really do feel for people caught in this religious bind. I had to work my way out of something similar; the effort was painful and costly.)
T. suggests that my "comments also imply that Christians are stupid." Well phrased. She speaks of "implication," not outright statement. But who discerned this supposed implication? Not I.
I never said that "Christians" are anything. I said that they are part of "a socially disruptive, theologically uneducated, anti-intellectual, insulting and offensive, intransigent, self-righteous, self-centered, myopic, and dangerous movement." I stand by my judgment. I have a right to my judgment. I have presented the evidence for my judgment. Moreover, I have nuanced my intention; it is not an unqualified, blanket statement.
In fact, I hardly believe "Christians" are stupid. For the most part, they are simply uninformed, and their leaders work overtime to keep them that way. Are you aware that ministers around campus dissuade students from coming to my lectures for fear they might "be led astray," which is to say, begin to think differently, begin to think, period? Are you aware that "Christian" pastors warn people against my book because, as one of them noted, it is really dangerous because it is so well done? Much of the "Christian" religion relies on intensive indoctrination (as do other religions).
However, the matter goes further because this Fundamentalist indoctrination had begun in most cases before the child could think, and deep, emotionally laden foundations of fear, blind obedience, and need for approval were set in place. (Read some studies on the Fundamentalist personality. I remember one case of a young girl, perhaps eight years old, who was beaten by her mother when found admiring herself in a mirror. Talk about guilt over the body!) The sad and disconcerting fact of this matter is that, although far from stupid, many "Christians" somehow continue to cling to positions that merit the adjectives I chose to use.
The human mind and its workings are amazing. Its highest priority—of course—is survival. (I have two chapters on this phenomenon, 16 and 17, in The Human Core of Spirituality.) Despite the inherent urge for coherent meaning in life, for survival's sake religion is able to sequester parts of people's minds and allow them to hold blatantly incompatible contents. Freud, both Sigmund and Anna, had much to say about defense mechanisms. The psychological cost, of course, is considerable. It relates to much of the socially outrageous behavior I have been decrying. To maintain one's sanity, one needs to go to extremes while preventing oneself from recognizing the fact. The irony is that generally, the more intelligent a person is, the more capable he or she is of such self-deception—because one has more resources to apply to the task of self-protection and self-maintenance. Again, I speak from experience.
You could never guess how up-tight and suavely defensive I was about sexuality, unknowingly, until I finally came to grips with my reality. Take a look at the early photos on my home page: such a nice boy, so wonderful that he wants to be a (celibate!) priest, so dedicated to religion, so innocent, so trusting and believing…so gullible about Catholic teaching. Not stupid at all. On the contrary, highly rationalized.
So there are other possible implications besides stupidity in my analyses. The others are actually much more interesting.
Then T. was disturbed by my allusion to the execution of Socrates, placed in quotations marks to highlight the allusion: "corrupting the minds of the youth of our city." I see a remarkable irony here. Socrates' fault was fostering critical thinking in the face of ancient Greek religion and culture. I am saying that the "Christian" pastors' fault is stifling critical thinking in the youth we are trying to educate on our campus. I don't know what she was thinking, but T. just does not want to go there.
Oh, but let's do go there. This is what this discussion is all about. Are we allowed to think? To do research? To draw conclusions? To believe that God gave us minds to use? To trust our God-given minds? To think that to use our minds actually brings us closer to God as we enjoy, as Thomas Aquinas put it, quaedam participatio creata in luce increata: some kind of a created participation in the uncreated light? So I'm not getting rid of God at all but, rather, bringing us closer to God, not by pitting reason against faith but by using reason to open onto the incalculable mysteries of the universe that have been laid before us—by the Creator.
Finally, there is B.'s statement.
She is convinced that homosexuality "breaks down the fiber of society and its continuation." On the basis of what evidence does she make this assertion? In fact, all the evidence is to the contrary.
How could people's being comfortable with themselves and others be disruptive to society? How could the establishment of lasting, loving relationships be disruptive to society (recall that the heterosexual divorce rate is above 50%)? How could finding deep love that overflows into contribution be disruptive to society? Is the fear that all heterosexuals are going to rush out and find gay lovers? (Hum. What kind of inner inklings would make supposedly heterosexual people think that way?) In an overpopulated world, is the suggestion that society's continuation depends on lesbian and gay people's marrying heterosexually and having children? Many are already raising children, many children whom others will not have. Is this care for unwanted children also a detriment to society?
Unfortunately for B.'s plan, lesbians and gays just will not marry heterosexually; they have no such inclination (despite the propaganda in "Christian" circles that homosexuality is a choice and can be changed; see the list of ex-ex-gays above as well as empirical research on the matter: in Shildo and Schroeder's 2002 study, in no case was there internal change, only behavioral change, the most successful being heterosexual marriage in 4%, along with severe psychological damage in 77% of the "treated"). And if they do marry, the marriages will be disastrous. Is the goal to put people in unbearable relationships so they can be miserable all their lives and, thus, give glory to God? Or is that the USA will crumble just as the Roman Empire did—because of homosexuality? All historical evidence discredits this thesis.
The issue of the breakdown of civilization is simply absurd. It deserves no hearing. Or am I compelled to respectfully bow to every nonsense that comes out of anybody's mouth?
Then, she would love the sinner but hate the sin. Apart from the implicit judgment of all homosexual people in this guilt-ridden mantra, there is a more weighty issue—the meaning of love. Is confining homosexual people to sham heterosexual marriages or to a life of isolation and stealth sexual exploits a way to express love for homosexual people? Is this the plan of God? Well, I believe God is intelligent, and this plan is not—unless God is a capricious tyrant. The "Christians" may believe in and worship such a God if they wish. I'll have not part in it. I prefer a more intelligent God. If Jesus came so that we could have life and have it more abundantly, why oppose people's fulfilled living? (As for defining fulfilled, recall my insistence above about life in this world, the only arena we can really judge; and recall my dismissal of appeal to indeterminable other-worldly criteria to determine the common good in this world.)
What does love mean, anyway? I certainly don't experience if from the "Christians" I have to deal with.
My comment about God parallels the one I made about Jesus in my editorial. If that is what God stands for, if that is what Jesus stands for, I want nothing to do with them. Of course, it is not Jesus, but the "Christian's" Jesus, whom I reject.
B. says I want others "to blindly accept [MY] teachings which contradict years of others' teachings in regards to Christianity." This is the same line I've heard a hundred times, standard propaganda. Well, should we be consistent?
So, given new understanding, why could we change those matters and not sexual mores? The biblical teaching on those matters is firm; its teaching on sex is fluid. Makes no sense—if making sense matters.
Or take another tack: The fact is that Christian history did not always oppose homosexuality. The medieval Christian universities routinely debated the merits of heterosexual-versus-homosexual love. In John Boswell's Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, I've read some of that material. It does exist.
Then B. compares me to those who "have shown little tolerance" and "make societal change by cramming…beliefs down another's throat," the very thing I accuse the "Christians" of doing. I fail to see how my presenting an interpretation of some biblical quotes on the basis of historical evidence constitutes cramming beliefs down someone's throat. I always begin my lecture with the admission that I do not expect to change anyone's mind. Rather, I merely ask for a hearing so people might understand how someone could claim that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. If my objection to the disruption of my lecture and to preaching at me and others in a university lecture hall, on street corners, and everywhere else is showing little tolerance…well, I am at a loss. Again I see here this same self-serving "Christian" apologetic: "we are being marginalized; our beliefs are not being respected; the godless are persecuting us." Sorry, I don't buy it.
Then B. "admonishes" me. I suspect this is a "Christian" code word, and I do hope it relieves her conscience. As a "Christian"—I know this is standard teaching—she is not to stand by idle and watch this sinner go straight to hell. If she doesn't admonish me, she herself is guilty in part for my condemnation. Perhaps I'm making too much of one word in this particular case. In any case, however, notice how the duty to intrude on other people's lives is central to the whole "Christian" belief system. They are instructed to preach at people—and are given explicit tactics and talking points, such as those who come to practice at my lectures—particularly in cases that they or their congregation or their preacher deem particularly egregious, such as homosexuality. But not, as one of the posts noted, in other egregious cases. How about the economic debacle? Why was it not condemned, banks picketed, brokers denounced? Why is the biblical opposition to usury not applied to the outrageous interest rates on credit cards?
Her specific point of admonishment is that I be more patient with the offensive "Christians" and not expect a mere logical presentation to change their minds. As I just said in the paragraph before last, I have no illusions about my capacity to change any true-believer's mind. Moreover, I also explained how patience doesn't help—especially when the outcry in the audience prevents you from being heard at all. Nice ideas! Too bad they don't work. In my experience, we are not dealing with rational people. So standard civil tactics are useless. As I said, I am trying another way. It does take all kinds. I'll play the "bad cop" for a while, and let others burn out their patience playing the "good cop."
I'm also supposed to put myself "in those people's shoes." Easier said than done. One on one, I could deal with them. What is called for is to shift to a psychotherapeutic mode. But you can't do psychotherapy with a disorderly crowd. Any other ideas?
Maybe I'm just in a particular place where I get information that others don't have. I'm not referring to my research. It would be nice, of course, if it at least got some respect and I were treated as if I might actually know something about the Bible. But the research material is there in the literature for anyone who wants to look it up as I did. I did not create the information; I merely popularized it.
At this point, rather, I am referring to the horror stories that keep coming across my email and greeting me in church gatherings or pulling me aside in quiet moments when I'm on a lecture tour. I will conclude with an email that I received just yesterday when I began work on this response. (Anybody want to see the work of the Holy Spirit in this coincidence? It supports my side of the argument.) I was going to edit the email to conceal the identity, but the woman in question says she has nothing to conceal: the "Christians" publicly aired the details of her every personal secret. When one hears this same kind of story again and again, tell me there's not something wrong with that kind of religion (just as, I will admit, there's something wrong with Vatican teaching and policy about sexuality, and it does relate to the abuse scandal). And if you must insist that you are not a Bible-believer of this kind, at least admit that these horrors are part of your religion and start doing something about them instead of trying to kill the messenger.
Thank you for your consideration of these thoughts. I hope they bring more light and compassion to our campus, city, nation, and world.