Strange Brouhaha

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Free Debate Tool

I'm not the world's greatest Biblical scholar. I'm probably not even in the top million. Ten million. But I do know a couple of things, and what with all the distressing revelations over the last few months about the "faith" of George W. Bush (and possibly the lack thereof; the article makes the very interesting point that Bush has been scrupulously careful not to define himself in terms of being Evangelical or born-again, and that he in fact doesn't regularly attend church), and the recent renewal of hostilities against the U.S. Episcopal Church's consecration of Gene Robinson, I thought it was time to trot out one of my favorite debate tactics.

This thing with the Episcopal church is especially distressing to me. I'm still nominally Episcopalian, although I haven't seen the inside of a church in a long-ass time. I've always thought of the Episcopal church as being open to intellectual curiosity, debate and dissent; as Father Davis put it, "We want you to use your mind." (My friends may feel free to disagree with me on this. I think I'm right, though. We had our rigid Father Kaneshiros and our bemused, distant Father Sasakis, and whatever Headmaster Coon was, but Father Yoshida was a good guy, exactly the kind of guy I think of when I make that statement. Like I said, feel free to disagree.) That impression has suffered a bit, though, with the news that several diocese (dioceses?) across the country have seceded from the church and joined with African and Brazilian churches because, apparently, these people want to be members of churches that hate homosexuals. I don't think this is the first time that the U.S. Episcopal church has split, although I'm too lazy to do any research to verify, but I'd be willing to bet (a small, insignificant sum) that it's the first split caused because people would rather hate other people than, you know, actually live by the scripture they purport to follow.


Here's the hammer: John 3:17.

You don't want to argue theology, trust me. At least, I don't. And you don't want to get into the whole "Jesus never mentions homosexuality in the Bible" thing either, because that's a logical fallacy. Silence doesn't imply approval or disapproval. It doesn't even imply that it's a non-issue. Just leave that alone. You don't want to get into "Leviticus this" and "Romans that." That's a minefield that bigots know very well. (You might counter the former with Matthew 5:17, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill," with, I think, the heavy implication being that Christ will fulfill, or complete, the Old Testament by being the vehicle of the New. And the latter...I don't hold much with Paul, so I find non-gospel evidence uncompelling. YMMV.)

Just ask someone who comes at you swinging the Bible if they know what John 3:17 says. "No," you say when they condescendingly ask you if you mean arguably the most famous Bible verse in the world, John 3:16, "I mean John 3:17." Chances are they won't. "I'll give you a clue," you say in the nicest possible way. "It doesn't say 'Unless they're gay.' It doesn't say 'Unless they're black.' It doesn't say 'Unless' anything, as a matter of fact. Do you not understand what 'whosoever' means?"

As I told Savannah, back when we were going to church and there was a problem over the ordination of gays, there aren't, as far as I know, any instructions in the Bible--from Jesus or anyone else--that says who is fit or unfit to spread the Word. In other words, it doesn't say who can or can't be a priest. In other words, if you believe that the authority for consecration comes down in a directly traceable line from Paul, as Episcopals do, then if the Bishop says somebody's a priest, then that's that. (Yes, I used cruder language. No, it doesn't need repeating.) I'm pretty sure that the ordination issue is fundamentally different, and that this is not a case of argument from silence. Anybody who believes should be able to spread that belief.

The larger point is, I think, that you can counter religious bigotry with religion itself, rather than with screeching diatribes against the very idea that people might believe in something. I realize that people who are going to use the Bible to preach hate against anyone will not have their mind changed by rhetorical brilliance, but I think we need to try to hammer home to these people that they're basing their venom on the word of man, not the word of God.


  • (SLJ) As I said to Rob, something is really wrong with people who are that homophobic. Or for whom homophobia is that important. It boggles my mind. You want some Jesus? Jesus would get in these people's faces and yell "PEOPLE ARE STARVING!! And according to the theology you PROFESS to believe, they're all ME! So if you don't want me to bitch-slap you when you die, SHUT UP ABOUT THE GODDAMN GAY BISHOP who is also me AND START DISHING OUT FOOD AT THE SOUP KITCHEN!!"

    Unlike Rob, I do kinda appreciate old St. Paul, and there's a weapon in there every bit as powerful as John 3:17 (and perfectly complementary too): the famous and beautiful words, "There is neither rich nor poor, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, but all are one in Christ." If there is neither male nor female in Christ, then there is certainly neither gay nor straight.

    Sweetie--with this post, I feel *really* bad that you missed Reverend Oas at Prairie this Sunday, because he said just about exactly this same thing, only with a lot more words. He said "We [religious liberals] remember teachings of Christ that they [religious idiots] have forgotten." And frankly, this has nothing to do with atheist or theist. (After all, if there's no male or female...) Personally, I reached the end of the supernatural road and I don't think there's anyone or anything up there. But you lose surprisingly little of Jesus when you stop believing he was anything other than a passionate and idealistic man. In fact, there's a whole new vista that opens up; you see statements like "The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath" in a whole new way.

    I read once, long ago, that for Jesus, the kingdom of heaven (which is, remember, "inside you"--another "aha" phrase when you come back to it as an atheist) would not be complete unless it included EVERYONE. Those of us who like that idea have always had our work cut out for us in the ongoing battle against those who don't. Those who don't have gotten pretty loud lately, from Osama to Reverend Ron Parsley (eegh) to the Falwell-Robertson-Christian Coalition crowd, to these African Anglicans who are hysterical over gay people, to the Americans who are glad about that. Very depressing. But we will fight on.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:27 PM  

  • (SLJ) Just to go on a related tangent: atheists who get angry at people for "believing in something" tend to be ex-fundamentalists who retain their fairly rigid mindset. There is also a good deal of anger at The Church In General, which frankly has a fairly dismal track record of, like, burning people, torturing people, rationalizing slavery, rationalizing abusive marriages, fearing science and progress, and other little boo-boos that have harshed the collective human mellow over the years. Atheists should not be the only ones who are mad about this. Believers should be mad about it--really mad. I once saw a T-shirt that said THE ONLY REASON FOR THE CHURCH: MONEY AND POWER. I wished I was still a Christian, because it would've actually meant something for me to wear it in that case. I agreed with the message back then, and I still agree with it now.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:40 PM  

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