November 23, 2009

Thought for 11.23.09

The Manhattan Declaration* gives me one more reason to be glad I live in the Bronx.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

* to which I will not link as I have no wish to give it any more notice than it deserves, which is to say, none.


Allen said...

The declaration has about as much to do with Manhattan as it does with, say, the gospel.

By the way, you could safely link to this site.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Allen. I do appreciate the link the eminent Dr. Troll! He is by far the better exponent on the subject...

IT said...

I also have discussed it at Daily Kos, and in slightly different form at Friends of Jake.

I refuse to link to their own page, but pulled the text off of a Friendly site.

June Butler said...

Good one, Tobias. Still, some might say that you're a little too close for comfort.

Must I read the whole thing, or may I form an opinion simply by eavesdropping on the conversations of my friends?

Fr Gregory said...

Tomorrow 16,000 children will starve to death. And another 5,000 child will die of preventable or treatable diarrhoea. What does the Declaration – committing itself to “a special concern for the poor and vulnerable”, and affirming “the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life” - say about this scandal? Not a word. Not a passing comment. Not a footnote.

Also tomorrow, somewhere, some same-sex couples will marry.

So, in the face of an incomprehensible scale of poverty, oppression and suffering, what would the signers of the Manhattan Declaration have us do?

The answer is obvious: prevent the same-sex marriage.

The dying children will surely bear witness to heaven about such a choice.

MadPriest said...

Well, at least this helps us set our priorities.


They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I'm coming now, I'm coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

I'm guided by a signal in the heavens
I'm guided by this birthmark on my skin
I'm guided by the beauty of our weapons
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
(Leonard Cohen)

Although I'm not too sure what Berlin has done wrong.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

IT, thanks for the pointers to additional thoughts.

Mimi, I would say don't read it. Unless you require an emetic.

Fr G., thank you so much for limning the objective disorder in this statement. While I can grasp their concerns about abortion, the argument on same-sex marriage is just so wrong-headed and irrelevant to the real concerns of the world that it screams out its scandal, and its obsessions.

MP, a song is always a good response to exile, even in Babylon.

Michael Cudney said...

Hmm. Does living about 100 yards from the Bronx count?

Phil said...

Fr. Gregory and Tobias, I don’t understand the logic. Is every moral concern not directly addressing the issues of poverty or hunger a second-order, even illegitimate, one? What then does society have to say about polyamory, prostitution, incest and arbitrary age of consent laws? These have little to nothing to do with hunger, and, to the extent one might draw extended connections to them, they most likely only exist because of restrictions imposed by the State on the activity – akin to pathologies associated with Prohibition.

What’s more, I don’t see how the statement can be called “disordered” (as in the prior post) – at least by a Christian – as it is merely a restatement of common Christian moral teaching for nearly two-thousand years. Perhaps that teaching is wrong. If so, you’ll be among the first to discover it, even over Christ Himself. That calls for a heck of a lot more humility than you show.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I'm not sure I follow yor comment or question. I would certainly say that life and death issues do take precedence over second or third-order concerns. To do otherwise is an example of "disordered thinking" -- when vital matters are neglected in an obsessional concern with the secondary or tertiary.

I am not sure why you raise polyamory, incest, or the age of consent. These are largely definitional issues, and all of them are permitted in one form or other in Scripture -- depending on your definition. Most states limit marriage to a far greater degree than Scripture did. If that is what you are trying to say, fine. But the state does not limit these on moral bases, but in the interest of protecting the welfare of women and children, who are understood to be victims. The state offers legal protection, not a moral judgment. There may of course be overlap, but there is no need to appeal to a specific creed -- and in fact the states will make exceptions to incest laws on
a religious basis: for instance in allowing Jews to practice uncle/niece marriage (which is allowed by Scripture).

Please refrain from the urge to make the "two-thousand year" argument. In fact several of the matters addressed in the Declaration are of very recent vintage (abortion in the first trimester, for example, has not always been considered the same as later abortion in Christian moral thinking, nor in Judaism. Nor is the historic teaching on sexuality as uniform as some would like to pretend. It has been both stricter and laxer, depending on the era in question.) And as to Jesus Christ, he is silent on the subjects of abortion and same-sexuality. While he does address the questions of treatment of the poor and hungry with lapidary clarity. Those who follow him should do as he said, and not be concerned about what they think he might have said on things he didn't address.

Finally, in your saying that I am wrong, you are evincing exactly the degree of humility which you believe I should exercise. I have as much right to call this statement disordered as you do to say I am mistaken.

MadPriest said...

I'm surprised Phil can even spell the word.

MarkBrunson said...

How surprising, Phil!

When it's a conservative "social-justice issue," it's a first order issue.

When it's a progressive "social-justice issue" it doesn't have anything to do with the priorities of Bible, Church, or God (in that order, usually).

I'm just amazed that you would have it so.

IT said...

Marriage definitions over 2000 years? TOSH.
As discussed at length here,
It seems helpful to me to recall what traditional marriage is: it is a community's legal arrangement in order to pass on property. In it, a male acquires (in the sense of owning and having sovereignty over) a female for the sake of reproducing other males who will then inherit property.....

In any case, the idea of marriage as "one man and one woman" is a true rupture and innovation in the tradition. The tradition in nearly every major ancient culture --at least, for those players who had power and thus for those whose marriages we have written records of -- has been polygyny: one male who owns several (or many) females.....

Let's insert a reference to John Boswell's work here, too. Since there may be some traditions supporting same-sex marriages.

Is same sex marriage a change with current tradition? Yes, but that tradition is MAYBE 200 years old. And let's be clear: there are two parts to this. Religious beliefs are irrelevant in the public sphere; we don't let devout Muslims outlaw the eating of pork sausages, either. And nor do we allow orthodox Jews to ban mixed-religious marriages.

And, as far as the religious issues go, the conservatives lost that leg to stand on when they found a way to justify divorce.

It's convenient for a movement to have a reviled class to spit upon. It's easy to tie into the revulsion that some people feel for a same-sex sex act. Of course, marriage is about far more than sex, and some marriages are even sexless. But by reducing our marriages to a mere physical act, the conservatives seek even more to humiliate us, and turn GLBT folk into something sub-human.

What is this need to revile, to establish a "them vs us" rather than a "we"?

Some Christians.

KJ said...

A family member helpfully forwarded the "declaration" to me with the encouragement that "It's time for us to take a stand!"

I would agree -- Love God and love your neighbor. All the rest of the stuff then takes care of itself.

Bob G+ said...

I just got an e-mail update on the Declaration. They proudly claim that now, as of Monday, Nov.30, that 200,000 people have signed their on-line form in support of the Declaration.

The hard thing in all of this is true mixed with misunderstanding (or outright deception). There are parts of the declaration I absolutely agree with and parts I do not. For me, the problem is the intention behind the declaration... the thoughts and ideas and feelings that compel this group of Christians to declare such things. Who and what is behind it all?

For too many people, the world is changing all too fast, and they want it to just stop. It won't.

If the Gospel is not pertinent and workable within any human circumstance, any culture, under any philosophy or "system," then it is not what we claim it to be. If people cannot conceive of the Gospel under, say, Postmodernism or under Socialism or any other "ism," then it is an accusation against our creativity, our ingenuity, our clear understanding of God's work within the hearts and minds of all the people of this world.

Phil said...


Apologies for the late response, but -

1. “Tak[ing] precedence” over second or third-order concerns” isn’t what I disputed, and it isn’t in any way related to Fr. Gregory’s over-the-top comment. His concluding point, with which you apparently agree, is, further, a non sequitur. Nobody opposed to your position has said, certainly as any kind of central or even immediately peripheral point, that SSM has a relationship to hunger and poverty. What’s more, the Church is able to walk and chew gum at the same time: I assure you the signers’ of the “Manhattan Declaration” ability to continue providing ample aid to the needy was not hindered in the least by virtue of updating a web page with the statement.

2. I disagree with you entirely that laws concerning the other sexually-involved practices I mentioned have no basis in morality – that they are the product of some kind of “welfare calculus.” Law is the expression of the morality of a society. (What “women and children welfare calculus” do you contend resulted in Blue Laws?) If that society is predominantly of one “specific creed,” then the law, pace IT, is likely to be (and should be) expressed accordingly. Of course, in all of these specific cases, the expression is of a wide consensus across “creeds.”

3. With regrets, I won’t refrain from making the “two-thousand year” argument, as it is demonstrably true, especially as it concerns marriage. What you (and, later, IT, as usual) are doing is hand-waving on the subject to distract from the main point. The relative strictness of teaching on sexual behavior at various points, or what “ancient culture[s]” thought about marriage (which is irrelevant to my original point about Christian teaching) has nothing to do with the definition of the institution. You may as well say football players should be allowed to call their game “baseball” because MLB’s rules have changed over time, and baseball players have used steroids, and, besides, they used to wear wool uniforms and not wear gloves. One has nothing to do with the other.

By the way, why should I take your advice when you yourself won’t? If we shouldn’t be concerned about what we think Jesus might have said on things He didn't address, and you choose to believe He didn’t address SS behavior, why do you try to have it blessed in the name of the church? – and am I allowed to follow your rhetorical rules and assume you push that agenda to the exclusion of “first order” concerns?

Finally from my side, humility has nothing to do with your right to express yourself. As far as humility, it goes with your territory, and not mine; you’re the one advocating the radical change. The engineer who thinks skyscrapers would be better built out of cardboard owes a deference to those who have been safely doing it with steel and stone for the better part of a century that is not owed in return.

IT, in continuing to beat the divorce horse, why don’t you just post, “Two wrongs make a right?” No parent, or most anybody else, will agree with it, but at least you’ll save yourself time.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Phil, no need to apologize. I will respond briefly.

1. In a world beset with so many first-order problems (at least first-order according to Jesus), when a body of Christians comes together to address the woes of the world, and chooses which such woes to address, it seems odd and disproportionate that same-sex marriage rise to the top. I wish I could trust your assertion (without evidence) that there is still plenty of gum-chewing going on as the M.D. leaders continue their treadmill walk on this issue, but I wonder about the large amounts of money that were spent in California and Maine? Money spent on these efforts can hardly be used to feed the hungry, can it? Of course, money was spent by the pro-marriage equality side, too; but then, that isn't for the most part a church-based effort. Besides, it is the document itself that is lopsided -- addressing life-and-death issues in the same breath (a long-winded one) as same-sex marriage -- and treating the latter as a "threat" to anything at all, is, as I say, a sign of disordered thinking at work.

2. Well, obviously you disagree. But it is simply a matter of fact that incest laws, for example, are on the books primarily for "eugenic" reasons rather than any "moral" concern -- this is why the state forbids (in many places) first cousin marriage -- which is not forbidden by Scripture. Most opposition to same-sex marriage is also not pitched solely on moral or religious grounds -- but on a supposed "threat" to society or the welfare of children. (Have you been paying attention to the arguments from your side of the aisle?)

Obviously there are laws on some books that pertain to religious beliefs of one sort or another -- the Blue Laws you rightly offer as one example. However, the state's primary interest in most laws is in fact a secular "welfare calculus" you seem to disparage.

I couldn't disagree more with your contention that a dominant religion should be allowed to infringe on human rights just because it is dominant. To each his own, however -- I assume you hope never to have to live in Saudi Arabia and find this principle tested against your own creed?

3. You are of course free to continue to make spurious assertions about a supposed 2,000 year continuity. Those who can read history books know better. For even within Christian tradition there has been a very wide range of teaching on the matters at hand, including fundamental issues of the definition of marriage itself.

I'm afraid I'm losing the thread of your intent in the final paragraphs. The issue of blessing same-sex relationships is not, to my mind, based on any explicit teaching of Jesus, who took a somewhat pragmatic view of marriage as a worldly phenomenon suitable to those called to it, but of no import for eternity. He did give the church a wide ambit on what it might choose to bless.

My only reason for "pushing the agenda" (as little as I do) is to help the church lift its eyes from the pelvic obsession that seems so to dominate it in these latter days.

Nor do I see this as "radical change" though it may strike you that way. I obviously don't accept your silly analogy about cardboard skyscrapers, or your logically fallacious argumentum ad verecundiam. The case for change is in fact being made, and merely pointing out that change is involved is no rebuttal to those arguments.

Finally, as to IT's comment, it is not a matter of "dead horses" but of camels and gnats, not about two wrongs making a right, but the dangers of hypocrisy.

Phil said...

Tobias, thanks for the response. If you would permit me to continue the conversation:

1. I’m sorry, it’s the natural reaction: do you mean, like the money the Episcopal Church spends on lawsuits? That also can’t be used to feed the hungry.

2. I should have been clearer. I don’t mean to disparage welfare concerns as a motivation for lawmaking. But I stand by my assertion that there is a primary moral component (which does not have to equal, vis-à-vis your incest reference, “biblical”) to these laws. It seems obvious to me that if prostitution were decriminalized, it would be a) a business with no more pathologies than most others and b) still looked upon unfavorably by society. Ditto for polyamorous arrangements.

I think we need to be careful in invoking “Saudi Arabia”-like what-ifs. We have constitutions (federal and state) that limit what the majority can do, and, on this score, they are silent. There is no right to gay marriage or sexual gratification (in truth, with which actual results from the judiciary have, increasingly, little to do). And, on this, you are stealing several bases in attributing to me the position that “a dominant religion should be allowed to infringe on human rights just because it is dominant.” In my view, there are no “human rights” at issue here, any more than there are with respect to other laws related to sexually-involved practices. So far as I know, blue laws have never been held to be unconstitutional, and they clearly infringe on the economic rights of the populace (as do anti-prostitution laws) in the spirit of the dominant religion. Of course, these continue to persist, primarily with regard to alcohol sales.

I do pay attention to arguments on my side of the aisle. I don’t know about “threats,” but I do think society loses by continuing to endorse additional flavors of sexual behavior as welcome and normative. I think some of (I will admit, I am presuming as to your views) your likely responses were made when divorce was legalized, fast tracked and made no big deal: what does it matter to you if someone gets divorced? What business is it of yours? Why should your morality be enforced on others? That hasn’t worked out so well, as countless children of broken families can attest. And it hasn’t worked out so well for people who can’t avoid swimming in the cultural sea that brushes off the seriousness of divorce, even if they may oppose it. Their opposition simply becomes weaker and more likely to crumble when things get tough in their own relationships, and, presto, it did matter after all.

The best situation for children is within a family of a husband and a wife. That is what society should support.

3. When can you demonstrate the “definition of marriage itself” within Christianity has been anything other than the union of a man and a woman? Who altered that definition back to one man and one woman? Where and when?


I have to smile when I see you claim to be trying to get the church to “lift its eyes from [its] pelvic obsession,” almost in disbelief that you would write such a thing. There would be no “pelvic obsession,” as you falsely call it, if not for your side raising the issue in the first place. If I am supposed to drop it because Jesus supposedly didn’t address it – you go first.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Phil, at this point I don't think we are likely to have a fruitful discussion. You continue to repeat your assertions, which I heard the first time. I do understand the bases of your position, but they beg the question ("no 'human rights' are at issue here" because you don't accept that there is a right to marriage.)

I will note that the cheap shot about lawsuits in which the Episcopal Church is engaged, in order to protect its assets from alienation, is quite beside the point, as it actually does involve the Episcopal Church -- while the money Mormons and Roman Catholics spend fighting secular laws which need have no effect upon their own members is a horse of an entirely different color.

As to the "definition of marriage itself" within Christianity, and its variability over time, I and others have already pointed you to the documents that could provide you with some illumination. Of course, you might well pull out the trusty, "No true Scotsman" fallacy when it is pointed out to you that a number of Christian traditions (and a few Jewish ones as well) have already provided for same-sex marriage, recovering a tradition dating back about 1400 years.

But I have little interest in prolonging this discussion. Others can judge the thread of this conversation as they will, but it appears to me to be leading nowhere. I can see that your position is invincible, and your assertions will also be ineffective in changing my views. So I think we must simply disagree at a fundamental level of world-views, and let the matter rest there.

Phil said...


Then I will leave it at this: I do want to say that yours is a disappointing response, not even engaging my arguments. We hear constantly about “listening process” this and “inclusive” that, but what always becomes plain is that all of this means everybody capitulates to you and remains silent.

Two things have to be said. First, the comment about lawsuits is hardly a “cheap shot.” It’s an attempt to show your double standard; recall that your own words were, “Money spent on these efforts can hardly be used to feed the hungry, can it? Of course, money was spent by the pro-marriage equality side, too; but then, that isn't for the most part a church-based effort.” [emphases mine; it’s a clear implication that “church-based efforts” are subject to your criticism]

Second, there were no “documents” referenced above, just a link to Boswell, whose work has long since been discredited.

Is this kind of thing what passes for your “case” that you say is being made? And do you deign to preach it only to the choir, as it were? Apparently so.

The sects that are providing for SS marriage do not represent mainstream Christianity, by numbers alone – which is as good a definition as any of “mainstream.” I assure you no Apostolic Church will ever do so. Perhaps you will say that majority of Christians will have to be relegated to a fringe whose views are hated by society. May it ever be so: “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” That’s the right side of the only history that matters.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


My reason for not wishing to carry the discussion further is amply demonstrated by your response. When I attempt to engage your assertions, you change the subject and deploy an array of fallacies, some of which I have enumerated. You continue to do that here.

As an instance, you got us off onto a debate concerning the nature of law, as to whether the basis is morality or the public good. I agreed with you as far as Blue Laws go, but offered a concrete example concerning why the modern state prohibits incest, which is based explicitly on eugenic concerns. (You appear not to know that cousin marriage is not forbidden in the Table of Affinity either.)

Moreover, you disparage a "welfare calculus" and when I pointed out to you that one of the key arguments from your side about SSM is precisely of that sort (the welfare of society and children in particular) you act as if that were not the case -- and then employ it! "The best situation for children is within a family of a husband and a wife. That is what society should support." You may well believe that to be true, and my think you do so on moral grounds, but there is no objective evidence that it is true, and the sense of your statement requires a conception of the welfare of the children. The whole tenor of the "defense of marriage" effort (which is what I am addressing) couches itself in terms of the welfare of society, not explicitly or even implicitly the "morality" of same-sex marriage.

Your comment about lawsuits was completely off the topic, and represents an instance of the "Tu quoque" logical fallacy, in addition to being a "non sequitur." There is no connection between lawsuits entered into to recover assets, and money dedicated to a lobbying effort. (The lawsuits are mandated by fiduciary responsibility, by the way, and failure to act might be actionable.) And yes, the theme of the comment was my opposition to "church-based" efforts negatively to influence the law on a civil rights matter. It is not a "double standard" but two entirely different things. That is why your comment is off-topic.

And yes, Boswell is referenced. However, you are quite mistaken that "his work has been discredited." There are some scholars who disagree with his findings and research in detail, and some on the whole. Others support his views. That is what the world of scholarship is about. You may agree with those who find fault with Boswell's work, but that doesn't mean that they are correct. This is, as I pointed out, more of the logical fallacy, "argumentum ad verecundiam." The fact remains that Boswell's primary thesis is objectively true: that there existed in the church a rite similar in most respects to the marriage liturgy, for two men to be joined in a life-long covenant; and that while it is unlikely this was intended as a form of "same-sex marriage" it did serve that practical function in particular cases, and was eventually removed from use for that very reason. I am not aware of any scholar who disputes this essential fact. (And by the way, Boswell was not the first to point this fact out!)

Finally, as I predicted, you have fallen into the logical fallacy "No true Scotsman" when I pointed out that at least some Christian churches recognize same-sex marriage; and into "argumentum ad numerum" in an effort to discount the fact. In short your "argument" comes down to stating your opinion and attesting to its longevity and popularity.

So, Phil, the reason I find this discussion unproductive is based on your inability to sustain a rational argument based on premises that can be agreed upon, leading to conclusions. As in the old Monty Python sketch, it isn't an argument, just contradiction.

Perhaps if you were to stick with one concept at a time, and begin with some agreed upon premise, it might be possible to carry on a reasonable conversation in the blog-comment-limited space. Otherwise, not so much.