September 2, 2008

Thought for 09.01.08

We should no more expect the Scripture to provide a reasoned explanation for human psychosexuality than we should expect it to provide us with an accurate value for π.

Tobias Haller BSG


rick allen said...

Science marcheth on:

"We have heard about the God gene and the gay gene -- though each has been met with significant skepticism. Now comes news of a gene that Swedish researchers are touting as a possible biological basis for why some guys won't settle down."

Apparently all that old adultery stuff is going to have to be revised.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Only if you think biology determines morality. Oh, but then, you do -- since you think the genes on the Y chromosome have some moral significance.

Anonymous said...

Oh, don't get them started on that old saw, please! :)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Only fundie biblical inerrantists try to defend the Bible's accuracy on this score -- and their "explanations" are as acrobatic as they are pathetic. They have to violate the "plain reading" of Scripture in order to prove it means something other than what it says.

However, my point here was not in reference to the obvious inaccuracy of the bible on this score, but to remind us that we shouldn't look to the bible to tell us such things in the first place. The Bible is not a science text, and it isn't just the physical sciences where it is wanting if that is what we are looking for.

Cany said...

Never Never once have I agreed with you until today:

Only fundie biblical inerrantists try to defend the Bible's accuracy on this score -- and their "explanations" are as acrobatic as they are pathetic. They have to violate the "plain reading" of Scripture in order to prove it means something other than what it says.

I sure hope someone advises the GOP on this matter, particularly Palin.

Anonymous said...

I've sometimes made the analogy, that Scripture no more knows of the concept of sexual orientation, than it does jet lag!

Consider, for the moment, the Democratic nominee for President: the Bible can no more---or LESS---foresee his very existence [Black "Kenyan" and White "Kansan" (what are they?) who choose---apart from the will of their parents and gods---to marry?], than it can comprehend one wife burying her (legal) wife of 55 years, in California...

...and yet "Thy Kingdom Come" nonetheless. And none the less gloriously, for the Barack Obamas and Phyllis Lyons of the world in A.D. 2008. Alleluia!

Erika Baker said...

The problem is that our distractors aren't interested in a reason. Even if one could be found they would still say that, sadly, God has decided that acting on "inclination" is wrong.

I've been told by a scientist that it doesn't matter what reasons science comes up with, it's still no different from his diabetis: a negative affliction that causes suffering and just has to be accepted and lived with.

Anonymous said...

It's not clear to me why your thought would necessarily hold. What's the essential equivalence between human sexuality and the value of pi? The latter is a universal constant that can be described mathematically, while the former is subject to a wide variety of behavioral expression and can't be described with nearly as much precision. As to Scripture as a resource, it isn't necessary to answer the underlying question to expect that human sexuality - or, more to the point, the norms expected thereof - is exactly the kind of thing we might learn about from its pages. In contrast, only fringe commenters - none of which figure into Anglicanism in any noticeable way - think the Bible can be read as a treatise on math.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks JCF, and Erika. Phil, That is really in part what I'm challenging -- the notion that the Scripture gives us, from an informed understanding of human nature, any real guidance on the subject of sexuality. The questions are:

(1) to what extent is what little Scripture tells us about sexuality accurate in terms of our better understanding of sexuality and psychology? and

(2) to what extent is the moral view presented in and through scripture shaped by the dominant cultures of the times in which it was composed and/or inspired?

I do, lest there be any doubt, believe that the Scripture does give us an eternal and everlasting moral principle; it's just that I don't think we find it in Leviticus, but in the teaching of Jesus Christ.

rick allen said...

"Scripture does give us an eternal and everlasting moral principle; it's just that I don't think we find it in Leviticus, but in the teaching of Jesus Christ."

Love your neighbor as yourself? That's Leviticus. As quoted by Jesus.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Of course, Rick -- and it is literally the only thing he quoted from it! So I assume we should follow his lead.

In any case, I was thinking more of "Do to others as you would be done by" -- which, as you know, I've written about before. You commented on the first part of the series, but then offered no further comment. I think the Golden Rule is a sufficient standard for moral living, as Jesus said.

Erika Baker said...

can you add a point (3) please: to which extent can we be certain that the texts have been translated correctly throughout the ages, that the relationships we are debating today are the same ones Scripture appears to condemn, and that we read the texts with the same understanding the original readers would have had?

To date, I am not even sure that the "moral view" presented in Scripture is as condemnatory as is often claimed.

And incidentally, although I agree with you that the universal moral principle is found in Jesus Christ not in Leviticus, it is nevertheless true that Jews find the same God of love in their Torah, and that despite Leviticus many Jewish theologians are firmly pro-gay.

We are far less damaged by Leviticus than by our insistence to give St Paul a status of authority and infallibility that appears to exceed that of Jesus himself.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Points taken. In fact, they form a part of my book, even now being given a final read through before I take the ms to the editor tomorrow!

One point in particular is the irony that most Jewish traditions have come to terms with an accommodation of gay relationships, in spite of Leviticus (or through a very careful reading of it!) while some Christians are still stuck on the issue.

rick allen said...

"I think the Golden Rule is a sufficient standard for moral living, as Jesus said."

Jesus certainly gave it to us as a useful summing up of the law and prophets. But I am not sure if Jesus meant the golden rule alone, the rule of reciprocity, itself to be entirely sufficient, making all other standards for moral living superfluous.

If, for example, I have what used to be called an "open marriage," if, in other words, I am perfectly happy that my wife sleep with whom she pleases, and she is content that I sleep with whom I please, we have certainly not treated each other in any way other than that in which we ourselves wish to be treated. Nevertheless, what is going on is adultery, whether we consent to it or not.

On a broader level, the "new commandment" to love one another as God loves, seems to me to go far beyond reciprocity. It does not nullify the golden rule, but it takes us somewhat beyond its scope.

We have to have these summaries and epitomies and maxims and rules of thumb to live. But just because Jesus gave us the Lord's Prayer doesn't mean that that's the only prayer we pray. Similarly, the golden rule is a great help, and does epitomize much of the law and the prophets. But if, literally, that's all that is necessary, the remainder of the Torah and Jesus' teaching becomes redundant. It simplifies, but I don't think it captures the whole.

But I understand the appeal of another "sola."

Mitchell Anderson said...

First Kings 7:23, Pi is 3, clearly... (dripping with sarcasm)

Though I'm definitely on the progressive side of most issues within Christian (being myself openly queer) I think the Bible might know a thing or two about sexuality. It's also off on a few parts, but I find the poetry of Song of Songs to be beautiful, and it's portrayal of an egalitarian loving intensely sexual relationship to be profoundly human and true.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I understand where you are coming from, and the desire to add to what Jesus said. I certainly don't divorce the GR from the Summary of the Law or the Great Commandment -- and if you read my other posts you know that. The point is that this is what Jesus gives us -- he does not make any reference to the Law Code beyond some of the laws of the Decalogue and this general principle: he appears, in fact, to take the approach of rules of thumb rather than sets of rules.

As to your example, it is hypothetical. The only cases of real open marriages I've ever known have been tinged with jealousy and so while I suppose such a thing might be conceivable, I doubt it actually exists.

Thanks for stopping by. I really wasn't thinking so much of π = 3 as the more general scope of things -- I could have said Planck's constant or the speed of light. In some sense the Bhagavad Gita and the Vedas have a greater grasp of the immensity of the cosmos than do the Hebrew Scriptures -- though Job is my favorite book!

I agree that there is much of human good on the subject of love in Scripture, and the poetry of the Song is wonderful -- in fact I'm using part of it as the dedication for my book on same-sex marriage, which is just about to go to the editor. If I can finish tinkering!

rick allen said...

"The point is that this is what Jesus gives us -- he does not make any reference to the Law Code beyond some of the laws of the Decalogue and this general principle."

I don't think that that's quite right. There is, just to take the most obvious example, the following from the Sermon on the Mount:

"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 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. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

Now I don't say that that's not a problematic saying. Jesus himself elsewhere sets aside provisions of the law, such as the lex talionis. But it is hardly the case that Jesus' teaching ignores the Torah. Indeed, I've always felt that the failure to understand Jesus' teaching in that context of Second Temple Judaism is one of the main obstacles to understanding him.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Rick, the problem is not a general failure to understand Jesus in the context of 2d Temple Judaism (I think I've probably read as much on that subject as anyone.)

The problem here is you fail to understand what Jesus is saying about the law not passing away until all is fulfilled.

In him all is fulfilled. The Law and the Prophets are about him. This is, among other things, the meaning of the Transfiguration.

That's the point of the Gospel. The Law is no more binding. This is precisely why Jesus makes no reference to the Law apart from portions of the Decalogue, as guides to right living. For those who really want to be perfect, however, they must give up everything and follow him.

Jesus doesn't ignore the Torah. He IS the Torah --- the living Word of God.

Anonymous said...

In Matthew 23, Jesus said: " 1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2"The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them."
What is it they taught that the people were obliged to obey if not Torah? Why were they to obey it if Jesus abolished the need to obey the Law?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

You misunderstand me. I did not say Jesus abolished the need to obey the Law; I said he was the Law -- it is in following him that we do as he intends.

On the question of the Rabbis -- this is an argument about authority, in part, and this is where the Second Temple Judaisms come in, concerning the growing role of Rabbis in the day to day living out of Jewish life. To some extent, judging on the quote as a whole, Jesus is somewhat speaking tongue in cheek, don't you think? This is a rhetorical device, like the senator referring to "my good friend from the great state of X" and then turning the knife. His point here is not an emphasis on the law, but on the hypocrisy of the Rabbis and Pharisees.

I think you and Rick are simply straining against the evidence in your effort to come up with something explicit: Did Jesus support any specific Torah law apart from the Decalogue and the "Summary" -- itself well understood in 2d Temple Judaisms as a tradition of "how do we reduce the whole of Torah to a easily followed principle?" There is a long discussion of this in Talmud (Makkot 23b-24a)

I think you both also have to remember to whom Matthew was writing: the most "Jewish" of the evangelists, he is anxious to portray Jesus in the light of being the New Moses -- hence the Sermon on the Mount, essentially a commentary on the Decalogue first given on another mountain. This figures in to his rather different engagement with the Law, of which the Decalogue is the heart and soul.

Anonymous said...

Tobias (9/3 9:01a), I'm not surprised that you would challenge the idea that Scripture would give us such guidance. How far, though, would you as a (presumably - forgive my stereotyping) social liberal take your logic?

Economics is also a behavior connected to human nature. So, I might ask:

1) To what extent is what Scripture tells us about "money matters" accurate in terms of our better understanding of economics and social behavior?

2) To what extent is the moral view presented in and through Scripture shaped by the dominant cultures of the times in which it was composed and/or inspired?

It's fairly well acknowledged by now (grudgingly by some, to be sure) that free markets, sound money and individual incentive produce the greatest wealth for the most people. Economics is a science; this is what it tells us; and, I think we can see a disconnect between this and themes in Scripture to, for example, hold property in common or possibly even take a welfare approach to the poor. Many progressives would favor related policies.

Are you willing to say, by your reasoning, that the relevant Scripture has been superseded by our better understanding of markets - an understanding that is, in addition, "shaped by the dominant cultures of [our] times?"

Also, I can't agree with the dichotomy you're trying to set up between Christ and Leviticus. Remember that Jesus said, as has been strongly repeated by the Church Fathers, that the Scriptures testify to Him.

Anonymous said...

I did not misunderstand you at all. Obeying Jesus is how we obey the Law. And if Jesus tells us to do ... (fill in the blank) ...., we obey Jesus by doing that which he commanded us to do. By way of example, he commands us to go and make disciples. We do not obey the Law (i.e. Jesus) if we ignore the Great Commission.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Not sure I'm following you here. I'm not an economist, and am not really following your analogy. Are you saying that the Bible advises economic communism but history shows that doesn't work? I'm not sure either is completely true. There are a number of different models of economy in the Scripture, and no single one is advocated as equally applicable to all situations. The early disciples as described in Acts did live a kind of "communism" but that appears to have been voluntary (consider Peter's word to Ananias -- he didn't have to turn over his property), and it seems to have worked for their small communities for a time. Religious orders from the fifth century to the present day live along a similar model. But I don't think the Bible offers us a plan for economies that would work on a national or international scale.

It does advise against lending money at interest, and sees that as a serious sin; so to that extent all modern economies are in conflict with the Scripture.

So if what your asking is, "Does the Bible offer a plan for governing a modern economy?" I would say no. But that doesn't mean that there aren't some important principles about fair trading, honesty, and debt forgiveness in Scripture, that we bear in mind under the principle of the Golden Rule, and so on that regard are reflective of the way Christians should handle their money and treat each other in an economic system -- whater its particulars.

BTW, I've never said the Scripture doesn't give us moral guidance. What it doesn't give us is specific answers to questions concerning biology, psychology and economics, or mathematics -- but it does give us a rule of thumb to judge if how we treat each other is moral.

The problem, as I see it, comes with the filling in of the blank. I've suggested that Jesus fills in that blank with the Decalogue, the Summary of the Law, the Golden Rule and the Great Commandment -- to which I'm happy to add the Great Commission (though I think of that as a charge to ministry and not a question of morals).

I think these things do in fact give us sufficient direction for living a moral life.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Jesus filled in the blanks with the commandments to which you refer. The question remains: Is that the sum total of the fill-ins to which we are called or did he give us more? And when he filled in the blank with the Decalogue, did He mean adultery as defined by the rabbis or was it a more expansive meaning as evidenced by the Sermon on the Mount - that is, all sex (inclduing lusting) outside the bounds of the union of one man and one woman who join together and become one flesh -- (His words, not mine)?

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Wow, Tobias, who'd a thunk that such a short post would have created so many responses?

When I think about Leviticus (which is probably, is the main book at the thrust of your statement, second only to several of Paul's letters in the NT), I have another thing to look at as a parallel to the sexuality aspects of it. I find "Leviticus as an infection control manual" very interesting.

You know, for their day, it's not bad. They knew there were foods that made people sick, and they knew that there were sores that were worse than the others. It was medicine totally based on observation. But no one would use it as an infection control manual now. For present day Orthodox Jews, it's not about "infection control" in this day, it's about "obeying the law."

Then I think about the rationale. This was a nomad band of people, cast in and out of bondage, wandering in the desert, later hanging out in Babylon, where survival mattered. That's why all the attention to food and sores.

Likewise, in this setting, non-procreative sex did not contribute to the band's survival. So it made sense in that day and age to make these things a no-no.

These rationales and explanations are not germane to you and me today. It just makes no sense to me to make a big deal about it. However, things like the Decalogue and the Great Commission, et. al, DO still make sense.

I keep reminding myself the Bible is a set of books that has been translated and re-translated from other languages and written in a time I can barely understand what life must have been like. To ignore those facts is to ignore much of the meaning of Scripture!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I concur with all you say here except that last bit. I don't know of any passage in the Gospels that says that "adultery is any sex outside the bonds of one man and one woman who join together to become one flesh." In particular it's the "any sex" I don't see anywhere in the teaching of Jesus. He doesn't talk about "sex" but he does talk about adultery -- and I assume that by that he means a violation of a marriage, either one's own or someone elses.

I don't think "any sex" is a phrase or a concept that would have had any meaning for Jesus. (I've been doing a lot of research lately for my forthcoming book on sexuality, and the Rabbis had lots of ways to describe sexual activity, but they were more or less all specific. There was no general term for "any sex" at all or "all kinds of sex" -- contrary to the assertions some make about porneia. The rabbis had terms for all sorts of different sexual activities -- though it gets a little confusing sometimes because almost all of them are euphemisms. What's more, Jewish law allowed sexual relationships that Christians came to reject, and we don't know where Jesus would have stood on some of them, as he didn't have the opportunity to address them. I've just done the research, and the claim that "porneia" is a sort of catch all for all sexual activity except in marriage is false. In fact, there are several (marital and non-marital) sexual behaviors that the rabbis specifically say aren't porneia (z'nut in Hebrew).(You'll have to buy my book when it comes out!)

What you've said here (apart from the "any sex") seems to be a compilation gathered together from several different contexts and sources. As you state it I think it goes too far, even apart from "any sex." For instance, I don't think Jesus was against a widow marrying a second time, which would be ruled out if you really mean "one" -- Paul recommended against such marriages though he permitted them, and the early church went further by disallowing them. (Although they also allowed it to happen, in a kind of don't ask don't tell sort of model.) Such was certainly expected of clergy, as the Pastoral Epistles intend ("married only once").

It's also true that Jesus was dead set against divorce and considered remarriage after divorce to be the same thing as adultery.

FWIW Jesus certainly expanded the meaning of adultery beyond what the Decalogue says, but then again, he does that on the basis of equity: the Jewish Law allowed men to have a second wife or use a prostitute, but women had to remain untouched. Jesus certainly applied a principle of "do as you would be done by" to balance the equation.

So to answer your question, I think those "fill-ins" represent the principles Jesus left us to use to determine if something is right or wrong -- for ourselves. He gave us no permission to judge someone else, and in fact told us not to do that. He gives us guidance, but not a new rule book -- which was also Paul's point in writing to the Galatians. (3:10 for starters)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Kirkepisk...

I too am amazed that such a short, and to my mind, obvious, statement of fact should engender such debate. Hooker said it long ago, the the Scripture is not an answer book for every sort of human problem -- it tells us what we really need to know to be saved, and who it is who saved us: Christ. As Hooker said,

[Some] grow likewise unto a dangerous extremity, as if Scripture did not only contain all things ... necessary [to salvation] but all things simply, and in such sort that to do any thing according to any other law were not only unnecessary but even opposite unto salvation, unlawful and sinful. Whatsoever is spoken of God or things appertaining to God otherwise than as the truth is, though it seem an honour, it is an injury. And as incredible praises given unto men do often abate and impair the credit of their deserved commendation, so we must likewise take great heed, lest in attributing unto Scripture more than it can have, the incredibility of that do cause even those things which indeed it hath most abundantly to be less reverently esteemed." (Book II. Chapter 8)

He also wrote, (III:4) "It is no more disgrace for Scripture to have left a number of things free to be ordered at the discretion of the Church, than for nature to have left it unto the wit of man to devise his own attire."

The irony is that the church has long known that Scripture doesn't give us pat answers for many modern problems, and we have to work them out: abortion, just war, whether slavery is wrong or not, is it o.k. to travel into outer space, is it o.k. to charge interest on a loan, and so on.

Amazing that people should find that so worthy of comment...

rick allen said...

"I too am amazed that such a short, and to my mind, obvious, statement of fact should engender such debate."

What started the conversation was the assertion that Jesus recognized no authoritative law beyond the Golden Rule, which a number of respondents, myslef included, found far too reductive.

The relationship of law to grace has a complex controversial history, and suffice it say that there is a Catholic approach and a Protestant approach, and to the extent that I accept one and you the other there is no need to go too far into that here--there are countless tomes on the subject.

But what appears to be happening here is the suggestion that grace consists in the reduction of Torah to Golden Rule, which I think totally misses the fact that the Golder Rule, whether preferable to other epitomes of the Torah, is still law.

My point was not to diminish the Golden Rule--Jesus gave it to us (though it has been expressed by others)--but that Jesus' imprimatur regarding it no more replaces other expressions of law that Hillel's. Neither said the Golden Rule is sufficient, even as law.

WE might compare it to the Nicene Creed. It is to some extent the conventional expression of the faith, but it leaves out a great deal (like, for instance, the Golden Rule). It is good to have maxims, but they are not the whole.

Erika Baker said...

You say the irony is that the church has long konwn that Scripture doesn't give us pat answers for many modern problems, and we have to work them out. You then cite a long list of problems that have been hotly contested by Christians, throwing verses of Scripture against each other.

Isn't the point that the church at large still believes that the answer to all our problems can be found in Scripture and that we just have to bible mine for verses long enough to come up with "the plain meaning of Scripture"?

Or that everything that the church decided until about 1950 and which we still personally agree with, is the Mind of the Church based on Scripture, Tradition and Reason, but that nothing new can ever happen?

It fascinates me to hear evangelicals talk about the slavery debate and flatly deny that the church ever truly followed the Spirit and changed its mind, rather than that it suddenly "rectified" a heretic mistake made by previous generations of Christians.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

The conversation didn't "start" nor did it continue, on the basis of my saying that "that Jesus recognized no authoritative law beyond the Golden Rule." I didn't say that, and you are displaying your usual carelessness and misunderstanding, as well as your personal obsessions (I would hardly call them "Catholic"), which apparently blind you to being able to comprehend what others are saying. It is becoming very tiresome, and leads us nowhere. If you cannot articulate what your interlocutor believes, in language she or he can agree with, no further discussion is possible. Perhaps your approach as a lawyer or debater is seeking to "score points" rather than to gain understanding. I don't know. But you really don't appear to understand what I am saying, as you misrepresent it.

I said that the law of love of neighbor was the only law Jesus quoted from Leviticus. That is a fact. You were the one who raised that issue, by the way, pulling us off topic from the original post, which was about the use of Scripture for ends it cannot well serve. I also said that the "summary of the law" had to be taken in the context of Jesus' other moral teaching, including the laws he cites from the Decalogue, and most importantly, the Golden Rule, which -- if you read the rest of my essay on the subject, you know I see as a "summary maxim" in the Rabbinic tradition. It does go beyond it, however, as you seem to fail to note -- it is positive, rather than negative, as was Hillel's summary maxim of the Torah (taught to a Gentile joker who asked to be instructed in the whole law while he stood on one foot. You do realize the context, don't you?)

But the GR is not to be treated in the manner of "law" in the Rabbinic sense -- it is a general principle. For one who keeps touting 2d Temple Judaism you seem not to be aware that this was one of the chief conflicts between the early church and the synagogue from which it was born. As I say, Galatians documents the problem -- and presents the extreme position of Paul's late career that dependence on the law is the way of death, of the "flesh." This is Paul at his most antinomian; but it is also his mature thought on the subject.

As to Jesus, he did not intend to substitute the GR for "the Law" but rather as a means to determine how to follow -- or ignore -- the Law. See his treatment of the Sabbath (a Decalogue matter!) as opposed to the strict observance the Scribes proposed -- here we have in miniature the issue as Jesus saw it: you apply the overriding touchstone of the love of God and neighbor to the gold of the Golden Rule, and use these to examine the application of the underlying law. These maxims serve to "decode" and "run the software" of the law. And that includes the power to set any particular law aside completely if need be. The actual substitute for the Law in the end was he himself: he is the way, the truth, and life.

This is not a "protestant" teaching. It is the teaching of the undivided church --- which even forbids the observance of any number of Torah regulations, and has never held the Torah as a whole to be obligatory for Christians, and applied various tools (including "natural law") to determine which laws should be followed. The fact that "natural law" is not the tool Jesus offered in part of the reason we are in such difficulties today.

Please, Rick, if you want to have an intelligent discussion, try to grasp what I'm saying before responding. You know, you need not take up an adversarial pose -- you can, actually agree from time to time, or if not, argue the actually opposing position instead of boxing with shadows of your own invention.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Yes, Ericka. That is the dilemma. The "Law" will not solve many of these modern issues. (FOr instance the fact that Numbers 5 provides a procedure that would lead to the abortion of an illegally conceived child is one of those things that rarely comes up in the abortion debates -- as I've said before, the conservatives know it's there and the liberals don't!)

I commend Richard Norris' last posthumous publication in the Summer 2008 Anglican Theological Review. He addresses this point precisely, and skewers it with his usual panache. He notes that the whole natural law tradition arose from this very quandary -- a sense that it wasn't enough to say "it's in the bible" since obviously there were things in the bible the church didn't do. (If there is a difference between "catholic" and "protestant" this is where it might lie. The great pity is that few in the church actually apply the tools Jesus gave us -- perhaps because it would allow the legitimization of the things they don't want legitimized, or forbid the things they want to permit.

rick allen said...

Toby, I am sorry you think me merely obstreperous, but I do honestly disagree with some of your assertions.

You don't agree with my characterization of your position. But what you said was that "I think the Golden Rule is a sufficient standard for moral living, as Jesus said."

Maybe we don't agree on the meaning of "sufficiency." But to me, your statement means that observance of the Golden Rule is sufficient to be moral. Nothing more is required. If some further authority might compel another outcome, then something more is required, and the Golden Rule is no longer sufficient.

I tried to say why I thought Jesus didn't say that, and I gave what I thought was a non-trivial counter-case, consensual adultery.

You're right that that's not what the original subject matter of the post was, but I didn't bring up a new subject, but responded to your assertions about the Golden Rule as they came up.

The original post focuses on the assertion that scientific discoveries about sexual matters make obsolete scriptural prohibitions. Assuming you meant recent claims that certain sexual propensities appear genetically based, I implicitly questioned whether the logic of that argument (genetically determined = involuntary = "God made me this way, and it's good") would be applicable to other forms of sexual propensity outside of those currently in controversy, with reference to another recently-announced scientific "breakthrough". But that question apparently went nowhere.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


No, no and no. You really don't get it. And I don't have that much time to spend trying to make it any plainer to you.

You do have a very different notion of sufficiency: I said the GR is sufficient; that does not mean it is all-encompassing or exhaustive, by definition. You appear to ignore the importance of "as Jesus said." He said, "this is the law and the prophets" --- argue with him if you don't find his moral guidance sufficient.

I thought I'd made it abundantly clear that I did not isolate the GR from the whole of Jesus' teaching, as neither did he. I specifically mentioned the long series of posts I wrote on the subject. I said as much in reply to your first challenge to this notion of sufficiency.

In this present stream, I did address your example of consensual adultery -- and you did not respond to my comment on that. I said I doubted such a relationship could truly fulfill the GR. As it is a hypothetical, it's up for grabs. The few relationships of this sort I've known seem to be morally flawed or tinged with jealousy or imbalance. But you never addressed my response.

This is in part why dialogue is so difficult with you -- you keep going off on the hunt for new "points" rather than addressing what is actually on the table.

Finally, it is abundantly clear you misunderstood even the initial post, as it has nothing whatever to do with "scientific discoveries" that "make obsolete scriptural prohibitions." Again, you are projecting your own obsessions. I have in other posts on this blog explicitly and repeatedly denied the very thesis you attribute to me concerning biological causality and moral responsibility. I have said exactly and (I thought) clearly that the biological source for any given behavior is irrelevant to moral discourse. That is why I did answer you, by saying, "Only if you think biology determines morality." That was the answer to your question. The fact is, you missed it. Why, I don't know. Except, as I suggest, that at a certain level you do believe biology determines morality (as in maleness and femaleness, genetically determined characteristics, which you think place a limit on moral behavior.

But I don't accept biological determinism. That is why your initial comment was so off base, and why I suggested you read more carefully and try to deal with the statement as it stands: which is about the limits of what the Bible can tell us about certain things. If you want to disagree with a premise, fine... And if you don't want to accept the moral teaching of Jesus, fine too. But your continued explanations here only reveal the depth of your misunderstanding.

It would be nice to be able to say, Yes, Rick, I agree with you; or even, Yes, Rick, that is what I think and we disagree. But it is very tedious to have to keep saying, "No, Rick, that's not what I said" or "not what I meant." Most of my readers here seem to grasp what I'm saying even when they disagree with me. You don't.

toujoursdan said...

Tobias: I agree with what you say.

8Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.

9The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Well, and what the hell, let me throw my "adultery bomb" on the table since the word has been bantered around. I am of the opinion that you don't necessarily have had to have done the wild thing to "commit adultery". There are lots of ways to exploit the sacrament of spousal love by committing the deepest parts of one's emotions to another that are every bit as hurtful as having sex with another person.

Sometimes, I think, sex with that other person is just the sine qua non of the act of adultery. By the time the transgressor has bedded that other person, they have already been guilty of the emotional estrangement and exploitation.

Just a thought to stir the pot....(my friends all like to claim I like to stir stuff anyway, and stand back, just to watch the show!)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

We've wandered a bit far from the topic, but this is good pot-stirring.

I think you are right, and that this is consistent with Jesus' teaching on "adultery of the heart." There are many ways to "alienate affection" apart from sex. In fact, I think folks are rather stuck on the "outside" of sexual apparatus and miss the deeper moral issue of the "inside" of the heart. This is, for instance, one of the reasons I think a faithful gay relationship is morally superior to a unfaithful strait relationshiop. It it's just about "body parts" then we are precisely caught up with "the flesh" and not the spirit.

This is also why I argue for holding gay and lesbian persons to the same standards of moral action as strait people. I think this is real morality -- based not upon the letter of the law but its spirit.

Erika Baker said...

And, Kirke and Tobias, this is also why we should not judge.

It's too easy to say that "“By the time the transgressor has bedded that other person, they have already been guilty of the emotional estrangement and exploitation."
Because it is just as possible that the emotional distance of the "innocent" partner is the cause of the transferring of emotional attachments to a friend, who then becomes a lover.

The greatest harm we do, we do when we look at what appears to be obvious, without understanding individual circumstances.

What fascinates me about the story of the woman taken in adultery is that it is the only story in which Jesus forgives and then tells the person to sin no more, but it is also the only story where he forgives without any forgiveness having been sought. The woman does not speak at all, we don't know how she feels, all we know is that others considered her to be guilty. Because Jesus forgave her, we must assume she was guilty at some level, yet we have no idea whether she “repented”.

But, and this is my third point, we don't even know what she was guilty of.
Göran Koch-Swahne writes: The woman had broken Civil law not the 6th/7th Commandment, which was not yet about "marriage breaking". Moixeía didn't become Modern "Adultery" before well into the 2nd Millennium. It means “disloyalty”, not “sex”.

I'm sorry, I really have strayed too far from the topic now.... but Kirkepiscatoid started it!
And yet, it neatly highlights my original difficulty with your “thought for the day. Not only does the bible not give us scientific information about modern day problems, but even worse, modern day translations and assumptions about Scripture are distorting the “facts” the literalists are basing their opinions on.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

How true, Ericka. One of the things I talk about in my book is just how much attitudes have changed -- were changed in Jesus' time from the days of the Patriarchs and Moses, and into the time of Augustine, and into our present day. The whole area of women's sexuality was regarded very differently then than we do now -- as women were treated differently in every other aspect of their lives. The disproportionality of the adultery law is a case in point: the Torah held that men could only violate someone else's marriage, women only their own. That's why it is absurd to broaden the Decalogue commandment against "adultery" to include "any kind of sex outside of marriage" -- that just isn't what it meant to Moses, or the later Rabbis. Jesus begins to get "inside" the law by applying it to men as well as women -- and by demanding fidelity and forbidding divorce was considered to be asking the impossible.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Erika, you also make an excellent point about "alienation of affection" cutting both ways. Good question...if you alienate your spouse to the point the spouse sexually strays, who's the adulterer? Or are both of 'em?

Oh, and Tobias, I am with you for sure on the "all spousal relationships should be held to the same moral code, be they gay or straight." Again, this is about the "inner parts," not the "outer ones."

But sneaking back to the original topic, there's no reason why we should believe there are pat answers in the Bible for these things. There ARE, however, a lot of stories about human foibles that can give us some roundabout degree of insight, though...

June Butler said...

Tobias, off topic, but you brought it up first, congratulations on the completion of the ms for your book. Will your book come equipped with the "Talk Back To The Author" function?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

HI Gm,
actually, once it's published I think I'm going to set up a special blog response area for it... or just make it here!

ps we're getting hanna right now... watch out for ike!

Paul (A.) said...

Tobias, re your "It's also true that Jesus was dead set against divorce," do you give any credence to David Instone-Brewer's exegesis based on your own studies?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I'd read David's essay some while back but I find it somewhat confusing, starting with references to adultery. In Mat 5:32, where "logou porneias" appears -- and I think it here means "rumor of harlotry" rather than "any [bare] thing" or "any cause" he also uses "adultery". What Jesus was opposing was "any cause" divorce; that is, divorce allowed for anything in which a woman displeased her husband. It seems to me that efforts to broaden the scope of grounds for divorce actually lead back to the kind of thing Jesus was opposed to. He seems to have taken a narrow view. That being said, I'm not entirely sure what David is trying to get at in his essay.

I'm on the road at this point, and have limited access to references -- so this is largely from memory. If I err, pray forgive...