New book: Bible doesn’t say what it says

Today’s Review-a-Day from Powell’s (originally in The New Republic) involves a new book about the Bible: The Bible Now, by Richard Eliot Friedman and Shawna Dolansky.  The reviewer is Adam Kirsch, an editor for The New Republic, who summarizes the contents thusly:

[Friedman and Dolansky] have set out to explain “what the Bible has to say about the major issues of our time,” in particular “five current controversial matters: homosexuality, abortion, women’s status, capital punishment, and the earth.” Some people turn to the Bible for guidance, they observe early on, “because … the Bible is the final authority and one must do what it says.” But as secular academics, Friedman and Dolansky recognize that the Bible was written by historically situated human beings, with various political and religious agendas. They belong to the other category of Bible-seekers, they say, those “who do not believe that the Bible is divinely revealed, [but] turn to the Bible because they believe it contains wisdom — wisdom that might help anyone, whatever his or her beliefs, make wise decisions about difficult matters.”

But the book appears to be a postmodern way of excusing what the Bible says by claiming that it really meant something else.  Kirsch takes this apologetic pretty much to pieces. Here’s his analysis of how the authors deal with homosexuality, as unambiguously condemned in Leviticus 20:13 (“If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them”).

The first chapter of The Bible Now is devoted to homosexuality, and it is not long before Friedman and Dolansky run into Leviticus 20:13. It is easy to sympathize with their embarrassment. Here the Bible is saying something they obviously regard as cruel and retrograde, something they would not hesitate to brand as homophobic in any other situation. What to do? Well, “for one thing, one must address the law in its context.” Turning from ancient Israel to Assyria, Egypt, and Greece, Friedman and Dolansky observe that these other Near Eastern societies generally had nothing against homosexual acts as such. They reserved their odium for the passive partner in anal sex, the man who was penetrated. A “Middle Babylonian divination text” instructs that “If a man copulates with his equal from the rear, he becomes the leader among his peers and brothers”; on the other hand, Plutarch writes, “We class those who enjoy the passive part as belonging to the lowest depths of vice.”

Never mind that these texts were written more than a thousand years apart, in two very different civilizations, neither of which was Israelite. Friedman and Dolansky use them to establish “the wider cultural context” of Leviticus, from which it follows that “what the authors of Leviticus … may be prohibiting is not homosexuality as we would construe the category today but, rather, an act that they understood to rob another man of his social status by feminizing him.” Why, then, does Leviticus, uniquely among ancient Near Eastern law codes, prescribe death for both partners in homosexual acts? Friedman and Dolansky argue, quoting another Bible scholar, that it is because Leviticus “emphasizes the equality of all. It does not have the class distinctions that are in the other cultures’ laws.”

This is a remarkable performance. Before you know it, a law that unambiguously prescribes death for gay men has been turned into an example of latent egalitarianism. Friedman and Dolansky imply that it was not homosexuality the Bible wanted to condemn, but the humiliation of the passive partner. And since we no longer think of consensual sex acts as humiliating, surely the logic of the Bible itself means that homosexuality is no longer culpable: “The prohibition in the Bible applies only so long as male homosexual acts are perceived to be offensive.”

But wait: doesn’t Leviticus also say, in Chapter 18, that “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is an abomination”? Here too, Friedman and Dolansky have a reassuring response. “The technical term to’ebah,” they write, is usually employed in the Bible not for absolute moral laws, but for cultic taboos: “an act or object that is not a to’ebah can become one, depending on time and circumstances.” Maybe homosexuality was once to’ebah, but “why do people assume that things relating to God must be absolute and unchanging? Even for a person who believes in God wholeheartedly, why should that person assume that God is never free to change?”

By this point, the game has been pretty well given away. . . Their treatment of Leviticus is nothing but a masterful example of twisting the text to make it say what they prefer. What licenses this kind of reading is the principle that “God is free to change,” that is, to change his mind about what is offensive and inoffensive, good and evil — but only, it seems, in ways that bring him more in tune with the views of people like Friedman and Dolansky (and, I hasten to add, myself).

There’s more, and Kirsch did a great job.

Christians are better off admitting that God was simply wrong than trying to twist the Bible’s words in such an unconvincing way.  After all, the Old Testament God also accepted slavery, the slaying of adulterers, and the stoning of nonvirgin brides.  As Kirsch notes, today’s morality stems not from the Bible, but from the Enlightenment (and, I would add, from sentiments evolved in our ancient ancestors).  No Christian or Jew can make a tenable argument that morality comes from God.  I’ve written an essay on this that should appear soon.

103 Comments

  1. Tulse
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    why should that person assume that God is never free to change?

    So much for moral absolutes…

    • Scote
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Christians don’t deal well with the distinction between moral relativism and absolute morality. If you point out that their religion is *founded* on moral relativism, saying that the rules and morality of the Old Testament no longer apply, and were only meant for one time and people, they hem and they haw.

      • Sajanas
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        The old argument of whether God is good, or good is good because its what God wants never made sense to me, when its clear that God can be a tremendous asshole.

      • Diane G.
        Posted July 16, 2011 at 12:27 am | Permalink

        Wow. So God created situational ethics!

    • Claimthehighground
      Posted July 16, 2011 at 6:00 am | Permalink

      GOD:”Don’t lie with another man. It is an abomination.”
      MAN: “But we don’t believe that anymore.”
      GOD:”Oh, OK no problem.”

  2. Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    You’d think God could have developed metaphysical software updates (a la Microsoft) for the Bible to specify, clarify, and modernize his injunctions … but noooooo.

    • Chayanov
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      Yeah, but Theology Service Pack 3 also requires you to install the Yahoo toolbar.

      • Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

        Yeah, but non-corporeal toolbars are minimally invasive. Besides, the updates just “show up” without any quantifiable mechanism — it’s very feng shui and nanoesque. Perhaps this is what Fermilab needed.

  3. Bacopa
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    I always thought “pitching” was way gayer than “catching”.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with either if that’s what yall want to to do.

    Gotta be turned on to pitch after all.

  4. Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Christians are better off admitting that God was simply wrong than trying to twist the Bible’s words in such an unconvincing way.

    Erm…far better still, wouldn’t you agree, to admit that the Bible is a faery tale and its cast of characters purely imaginary?

    Cheers,

    b&

  5. Clive
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    As I recall the argument in Louis Crompton’s massive ‘Homosexuality and Civilisation’, Western homophobia derives precisely from the ancient Israelite attitude *as distinct* from other cultures, which tended not to be bothered about it.

    (‘Caprica’ – the prequel to Battlestar Galactica – tried to follow through the logic of this idea by imagining a society which wasn’t Judeao-Christian, and therefore had a completely different attitude to homosexuality).

    In other words, the Bible is to blame. As apologetics go, Friedman and Dolanksy’s sounds pretty virtuosic.

  6. Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Why all the mental gymnastics? Why not just admit to themselves that it’s a horrible book, full of vile lessons?

  7. Nom de Plume
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    This has to be a false flag operation, right? Because judging by those excerpts, that is precisely how I would write such a book if my aim were to make Bible apologists look real stupid.

    Shorter Bible Now: The Bible is 3000-year-old bollocks, but it’s still relevant!

  8. Drew
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    And that’s why we call it the big book of multiple choice.

  9. Paul
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Well, it’s true. There’s just no excuse for some of the opinions represented in the Bible. But are Christians really better off admitting God was wrong? I can’t picture a being who is so advanced physiologically and yet somehow so illogical morally. Wouldn’t someone who controls all forces in the universe therefore have a perfect understanding of everything in the universe? God shouldn’t be wrong. If Christians accept that, then, instead of dropping their religion altogether, they usually begin to reject parts of the Bible as false. I find that irritating. If part of it is false, what’s saying the entire Bible isn’t false?

    For example, the book of Romans probably was written by the apostle Paul of Tarsus. It is one of 7 books of the New Testament that are probably legitimate (rather than probably illegitimate). Romans was written after Paul’s discipleship with Jesus, after the death of Jesus, and yet in Romans, Paul writes that homosexual people are “worthy of death”.

    If a Christian rejects what is written in Romans as testament, then they also reject Paul’s discipleship. In fact, of the 7 books of the New Testament which are probably authentic, 6 were written by the Apostle Paul. That leaves Christianity only the gospel of John. And if that aint cherry-picking, I don’t know what is.

    I believe I agree with Richard Dawkins on this issue: the Bible needs to be reedited. If only the gospel of John is acceptable, then get rid of all the rest, because they are extremely dangerous.

    • Drew
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      wait I thought Paul didn’t actually have a discipleship with Jesus. I thought Paul was the one that was converted along the road to Damascus by the holy spirit but wasn’t actually a follower of Jesus during his lifetime.

      • Sajanas
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

        Paul never met Jesus… he converted via a vision he had of Jesus, and met the living disciples only one or two times.

        And the Gospel of John is the furthers of all the gospels from the life of Jesus. Mark is the oldest of them, but even then, Ben Goren can tell you what he thinks of its historical reliability.

        • Drew
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

          that is what I was thinking I just needed clarity about Paul’s post (not the biblical Paul but the one above), as I interpreted it (possibly wrongly) as though he was placing Paul (of Tarsus) among the original apostolic band; which, if my interpretation was right, would be incorrect.

          • Marella
            Posted July 15, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

            Paul was an apostle, but not a disciple to be pendantic. Whereas disciple means ‘student’, apostle means ‘messenger’.
            He never talks about disciples only apostles, because he new there weren’t any, Jesus never having lived on Earth. And remember that in the letters actually probably written by Paul there are passages which were almost certainly added later to bolster certain positions, and no doubt bits which are missing but they are even harder to detect.

            • Ken Browning
              Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

              He also apparently participated in pogrom and was the author of the silly Second Adam theology that we more commonly know as ‘Justification by Faith’.

              • Paul
                Posted July 15, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

                Thanks for that clarification. I thought Paul was supposedly a disciple. At any rate, by my count, he probably wrote 6 of the 7 probably apostolic books of the Bible, and his works are included as testament and written after the death of Jesus. If the gospel of John was written last, and the gospel of John is the only other apostolic book of the Bible, I suppose Christians have to say “So be it”, or quit their religion. What Paul wrote is complete bullshit, even if it is apostolic.

            • Drew
              Posted July 17, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

              Hmm that’s strange. In my Sunday school classes we were always taught that the distinction between disciple and apostle was that the apostles were direct followers of Jesus (i.e. actually had followed Jesus and been instructed directly by him) whereas anyone who was a student of Jesus’s (i.e. anyone who studied the words and teachings of Jesus, and followed them, even in modern day) were disciples. This take seems to be directly opposite to yours. I wonder if the difference lies in denominational interpretations, or if the people teaching my Sunday school classes were just dumb.

              • Sajanas
                Posted July 18, 2011 at 7:09 am | Permalink

                I always heard it as the disciples were the followers of the living Jesus, while the Apostles were the followers of Jesus after he had died. So it was possible to be both a disciple and and apostle, but an apostle did not necessarily have to be a disciple. And I guess a disciple could have quit after Jesus died, so perhaps there was more rational for the difference at the time of Paul… there could have been former disciples that quit the religion, thus resulting the need for a new term.

              • Drew
                Posted July 18, 2011 at 10:51 am | Permalink

                Here’s what the Catholic Encyclopedia (I’m not certain whether to use html or BBCode so here’s the URL http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01626c.htm) has to say (this is basically what I was taught as a Methodist child as well) “The word “Apostle”, from the Greek apostello “to send forth”, “to dispatch”, has etymologically a very general sense. Apostolos (Apostle) means one who is sent forth, dispatched–in other words, who is entrusted with a mission, rather, a foreign mission. It has, however, a stronger sense than the word messenger, and means as much as a delegate.” Also it says “It is at once evident that in a Christian sense, everyone who had received a mission from God, or Christ, to man could be called “Apostle”. In fact, however, it was reserved to those of the disciples who received this title from Christ.” Saul of Tarsus (Paul) apparently claimed the title of apostle because he claimed his vision gave him the authority to claim he was sent by Jesus (Even though he was not one of the “original twelve”, a distinction that he wouldn’t have recognized anyway since as you said before he didn’t believe that Jesus had ever lived on Earth)

              • Drew
                Posted July 18, 2011 at 11:19 am | Permalink

                sorry for the block of text without any paragraphs.

      • Moewicus
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        1 Galatians 12 claims his preaching came directly from Jesus via revelation, and contrasts this with being taught the gospel (IMO implying he didn’t think of discipleship with Jesus’ ghost, but that he’s just saying what came to him). He probably didn’t convert on the road to Damascus, as that seems to be a literary turn by the writer of Luke, borrowing from Euripides’ “The Bacchae” and 2 Maccabees. In fact elsewhere in the Pauline letters it says some of his relatives or acquaintances were already christians when he converted (I forget where).

  10. Billare
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    I’m glad you voiced an agreement with this opinion. So, then, I take you are agreement with me that the efforts of Anglicans and ostensibly other “mainline” churches to anoint practicing homosexuals to ministerial positions is pure sophistry? I mean, certainly, one can think that Biblical morality is outdated — I think so, I’m an atheist — but it strikes me as indeed gross sophistry to twist the unambiguous words of the Bible so that one can claim the mantle of a venerable religion. So-called “Christian” homosexuals are trying to have two different types of cake; I think they should stand firmly behind the rules they believe in — that is, either behind the mantle of secular philosophy, or under the aegis of the Church. (I suppose that’s because, though I’m no accommodationist, I don’t find Protestant Christianity and theology to be unalloyed bad; and because think the case that religion is helpful and necessary in the lives of the wanting to be quite strong, though of course at the end of it, it’s justification is false. That theology should not be perverted by tendentious interpretations such ad that of Friedman’s and Dolansky’s.)

    • Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      Get this: they also ordain people who eat pork!

      • Chayanov
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        And people who mix their fabrics!

        • yesmyliege
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

          But at least they protect the institution of Holy Matrimony by not offering it to those who have been disrespectful to their parents. Otherwise, they would be hypocritical.

  11. juhavs
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    A leading Finnish scholar on Christian beliefs (who published some time ago the massive “The Rise of Christian Beliefs”), Heikki Räisänen, gave an interview for a mainstream Christian publication (“Kirkko ja kaupunki”, 18.01.2010) where he points out that the attitude of the Bible is unequivocally negative to homosexuality. Yet that attitude is contrary to what the demands of humanity say. Hence his conclusion on this – and on many other questions – is to abandon Biblical views as unsustainable and passé.

    Räisänen considers himself as “Culture Christian” for whom such Christian themes as grace, love and justice are important. But most of the Christian beliefs, whether metaphysical, epistemic or ethical,
    are difficult or indeed impossible to accept anymore.

    • PeteJohn
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      To my ear that sounds like a sort of wishy-washy opinion that Raisanen holds. When you strip Christianity of all the things that make it Christianity you’re left with a bunch of decent enough morals/ethics that are relatively common across all religious and secular belief systems. What is the point of claiming any relationship with Christianity in that case? It seems a bit of a cop-out, and I mean that with no disrespect intended.

      • juhavs
        Posted July 16, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        Indeed,in the very interview Räisänen asked the question himself: What is the point of calling oneself as a “Culture Christian” when one has abandoned most of the Christian beliefs? Simply because he was born in a Christian environment, grew up as a student keenly interested in the study of Christianity, spent much of his life in studying it etc. That is, he thinks that he is, to a large extent, a product of that tradition. Hence more of a “Culture Christian” than a “Culture Muslim” or a “Culture Atheist” (!)
        Of course, this has a lot to do with Räisänen’s belief that Christian beliefs proper are mostly a theoretical superstructure that is important only for a fairly small number of faithful.

        Is this cop-out? A very good question! I think Räisänen (and many other similar “Culture Christians”) sort of belittle the amount they are in fact products of the secular tradition of academic scholarship. Räisänen has always been quite non-nonsense on such questions as whether, say, the Bible is “both a testimony of people’s beliefs in God and revelation of His Word to people”. To my great amusement and to a great shock for many Christians, he is on record for saying that, of course, the Bible is testimony of human beliefs and faith – and that he cannot even comprehend what it might mean that it is God’s revelation to men!

        Many interesting comparisons could be made here. One of the most famous researchers in medical sciences in Finland has been Kari Cantell, coming from a very religious and Christian background. However, in 1996 he published a book that would translate to English as “A Scientist’s Reflections on Faith” where he explains meticulously why he, as a scientist, cannot share the Christian beliefs. Yet, despite his outspoken atheism, he stayed in the Lutheran-Evangelical Church, for “cultural reasons”. The same as 18% of the members of the Swedish Church in our neighbour are really atheists but decided to stay in that church for “cultural reasons”.

        Yet another parallel would be Doctor Ilkka Pyysiäinen who is a theologian by first education but nowadays studies religions from the perspectives of evolution, anthropology etc. He too, calls himself as an atheist, but I do not know whether he has left the Lutheran-Evangelical Church now.

        In all these cases you can indeed ask whether their attitude is “cop-out”. In some ways it surely is because they do not share the beliefs at all. On the other hand, one needs to admire their honesty and courage to step outside their tradition and say things that have made them very unpopular among the true believers. Which means that while I may find their varying attitudes towards the Church and the Christian tradition open to criticism, what they say on Christian beliefs must be taken seriously and and they must be treated respectfully. For if I want to know what Christians or other religions have believed on this or that, I shall read what Räisänen or Pyysiäinen tell me. They know that subject so much better than me and write about it honestly!

  12. RFW
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    P-zed: “the Old Testament God”

    How very dualistic of you! The Gnostics were dualists and at least some schools of Gnosticism believed the bloodthirsty Old Testament God was the evil demiurge, in contrast to the more loving (or less hating?) God of the NT.

    John Danley (9:03 am): “You’d think God could have developed metaphysical software updates (a la Microsoft) for the Bible to specify, clarify, and modernize his injunctions”

    A better analogy would be the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. It was bound looseleaf so that when the political scene changed, appropriate updates expunging newly hatched non-persons could be issued to owners. Perhaps encapsulating the essence of Stalinism.

    Clive (9:06 am) “‘Caprica’ – the prequel to Battlestar Galactica – tried to follow through the logic of this idea by imagining a society which wasn’t Judeao-Christian, and therefore had a completely different attitude to homosexuality.”

    Not a common theme in fantasy and SF, but not unheard of. One of Ursula Le Guin’s novels (iirc “Left Hand of Darkness”) depicted a culture accepting of homosexual couples. Jack Vance mentions homosexuality a few times in his oeuvre but disparagingly, as when two characters in the Lyonesse trilogy “range the near and far shores of unnatural congress”. I’m quite sure there are others, some only by implication; one has to wonder about Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and his sidekick the Grey Mouser, for example.

    An important point oft overlooked in discussing the OT prohibition on buttsecks is Christ’s dismissal of the OT, with the exception of the 10 commandments, as not binding on his followers. He was referring particularly to the many detailed prohibitions in Leviticus, so that ban on buttsecks would seem to have been among the non-binding bits.

    And the christianists, for all their emphasis on the evils of buttsecks, always forget an important point: Christ himself said NOT ONE WORD on the subject. If it’s as important as they make it out to be, why did the Founder not touch on the topic? Christ was far more condemnatory of greed and wealth – such as the shakers and movers of the christianists seem to always have.

    • Scote
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      “An important point oft overlooked in discussing the OT prohibition on buttsecks is Christ’s dismissal of the OT, with the exception of the 10 commandments, as not binding on his followers.”

      Could you point to where Jesus, as opposed to Paul, said that of the Law, only the Ten Commandments sill applied to his followers? I’m not familiar with where Jesus explicitly rescinded the Law.

      • Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink

        And, even if there is such a passage in either one of the Gospels or any of the Apocrypha (let’s not unduly privilege the Bible, please), it’s also the case that the Jesus character, in his most notorious bit of preaching, went out of his way to explicitly affirm the eternal applicability of Mosaic law:

        Matthew 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

        18 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.

        Cheers,

        b&

      • yesmyliege
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

        It was at the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus introduced the New Covenant. It was a presentation to hundreds or thousands of people, where the man who claimed to be a god threw out the Mosaic Law, and the Jews of the time did not stone him for either reason, but instead embraced this blasphemous change.

        Strangely enough, not a single historian of the period recorded even a glimmer of this occurring. Indeed, not a single historian of the time ever mentioned Jesus Christ of Galilee (or Nazareth, or Capernaum, or Bethlehem, or Cana). Strange that, because they DID mention six or seven other troublemakers named Jesus, who were of very little or no lasting significance.

    • Sajanas
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      Wasn’t it Paul that dismissed the OT rules? If I’m remembering correctly, Jesus specifically re-affirmed the Torah laws, but Paul was convinced that his own revelation trumped what the original disciples believed, since it came right from the source. The early church had all kinds of problems dealing with the views of the original disciples, who were still Jews, and the followers of Paul, who were mostly converted pagans that had no interest in keeping the Torah rules.

    • Vicki
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      Literary nitpick: there’s basically nothing on homosexual acts in The Left Hand of Darkness, an omission that Le Guin has since said she regrets. (The concept of a homosexual relationship is literally irrelevant for most Gethenians, because they are only gendered a few days per month, and people’s genders change from one time to the next, apparently at random: “the mother of several children may be the father of several more.”

      See her later story “Coming of Age in Karhide” for more on the sexual practices of (some of) the aliens in that novel.

    • TheRationalizer
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      >An important point oft overlooked in discussing the OT prohibition on buttsecks is Christ’s dismissal of the OT, with the exception of the 10 commandments

      Is that the bit where he says he hasn’t come to change a single letter of the law?

  13. RFW
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Coyne: “the Old Testament God”

    How very dualistic of you! The Gnostics were dualists and at least some schools of Gnosticism believed the bloodthirsty Old Testament God was the evil demiurge, in contrast to the more loving (or less hating?) God of the NT.

    John Danley (9:03 am): “You’d think God could have developed metaphysical software updates (a la Microsoft) for the Bible to specify, clarify, and modernize his injunctions”

    A better analogy would be the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. It was bound looseleaf so that when the political scene changed, appropriate updates expunging newly hatched non-persons could be issued to owners. Perhaps encapsulating the essence of Stalinism.

    Clive (9:06 am) “‘Caprica’ – the prequel to Battlestar Galactica – tried to follow through the logic of this idea by imagining a society which wasn’t Judeao-Christian, and therefore had a completely different attitude to homosexuality.”

    Not a common theme in fantasy and SF, but not unheard of. One of Ursula Le Guin’s novels (iirc “Left Hand of Darkness”) depicted a culture accepting of homosexual couples. Jack Vance mentions homosexuality a few times in his oeuvre but disparagingly, as when two characters in the Lyonesse trilogy “range the near and far shores of unnatural congress”. I’m quite sure there are others, some only by implication; one has to wonder about Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and his sidekick the Grey Mouser, for example.

    An important point oft overlooked in discussing the OT prohibition on buttsecks is Christ’s dismissal of the OT, with the exception of the 10 commandments, as not binding on his followers. He was referring particularly to the many detailed prohibitions in Leviticus, so that ban on buttsecks would seem to have been among the non-binding bits.

    And the christianists, for all their emphasis on the evils of buttsecks, always forget an important point: Christ himself said NOT ONE WORD on the subject. If it’s as important as they make it out to be, why did the Founder not touch on the topic? Christ was far more condemnatory of greed and wealth – such as the shakers and movers of the christianists seem to always have.

    Apologies if this was posted twice.

  14. Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Just wait until you try to figure out why Christians have to abide by some laws of the Old Testament but not others.

  15. Jim Jones
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Leviticus 20:13 (“If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them”).

    No, it doesn’t say what they say it says.

    Leviticus 18:22: “And with a male you shall not lay lyings of a woman”.

    When and if there’s ever a definitive explanation of “lyings of a woman” I hope we’ll all be notified.

    For now I’ll stick to Jesus’ words: “Get it on boys” (Parable of the Centurion and his pais).

  16. Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    This is no more than a point of curiosity, since Leviticus is so explicit, but it’s interesting to note that the apologetics attempting to excuse Sodom and Gommorah’s destruction as not being anti-gay are actually fairly plausible. In context, it seems that when God got made at the Sodomites for wanting to rape a couple of angels, it was more because raping houseguests is rude than it was because of teh gey. God was made at the people of S&G for being unwelcoming douchebags, not so much for the sodomy.

    There’s plenty of other places where the Bible unambiguously condemns homosexuality (and supports slavery, and disses women, and blahblahblah on and on, who the fuck thinks there’s wisdom in that book?!?) so it’s a moot point. Just interesting, I think.

    • Scote
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      “In context, it seems that when God got made at the Sodomites for wanting to rape a couple of angels, it was more because raping houseguests is rude than it was because of teh gey. God was made at the people of S&G for being unwelcoming douchebags, not so much for the sodomy.”

      That was my impression, too, but frankly my arguments on that point with Christians failed. The bible does mention homosexuality as one of the vices of Sodom, several times, so there really is an anti-gay connection. Remember, it was male angels the crowd wanted to rape–though they didn’t seem especially picky.

      • Sajanas
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

        As a side note, why is it that the bible is still translated as “know” rather than “rape”. Is there a reason why we have to have that biblical euphemism? Cause I remember being rather confused as a kid, since it seemed like the crowd just wanted to see who Lot’s guests were, which isn’t that unreasonable of a request.

      • Chris aka Happy Cat
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        The bible does mention homosexuality as one of the vices of Sodom, several times, so there really is an anti-gay connection.

        Not true. Ezekiel says this:

        “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy” (Ezek. 16:49).

        Sounds more like apathy toward need and suffering than teh buttsecks. I’m not defending the “sophisticated theology” of the book. Outside of Christian dogma, I don’t find anything in the Bible that equates Sodom’s big f**k up as buttsecks. The angel thing attempted gang rape.

        This site has more than you need to know about Sodom and Friends:

        http://pastorbobcornwall.blogspot.com/2010/08/wickedness-of-sodom-and-gomorrah.html

        • Ken Browning
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

          Teh bibble is messed up but if you quote the whole passage in Ezekiel it may in fact reference homosexuality. The ending is, “They were haughty and did detestable things before me…” The word for detestable is the same used in Leviticus as ‘abomination’.

    • TomZ
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      Also interesting that the man that protected the angels from rape (why do angels need protection from and by mere mortals is also interesting) by offering his daughters to the mob to be raped is considered a good and righteous man. And the daughters are so happy about that they get daddy passed-out drunk, have sex with him (to completion), and both get pregnant.

      Yeah, there’s all kinds of “interesting” things in that book.

    • Moewicus
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      Personally I don’t see where we get the idea that the crowd wanted to rape the angels from. I suppose it must be the ambiguity of “know”, but Genesis 18:19 said that Yahweh “has known” Abraham. Are we to believe Yahweh had sex with Abraham? No, its meaning in that manner is created by context, and IMO Genesis 19 doesn’t contain that context. I think the hospitality ethic is what’s in view here, and sexual intercourse is not. Compare the story to the story in Judges 19-20, where a very similar thing happens–except in that version, an innocent woman does get thrown to the crowd and is raped by the mob:

      http://yltbible.com/judges/19.htm
      http://yltbible.com/judges/20.htm

      Although many translations like to read the implication that the crowd wants to rape the Levite traveler into Judges 19:22, the subsequent chapter gives the interpretation of the Levite traveler himself:

      “and rise against me do the masters of Gibeah — and they go round the house against me by night — me they thought to slay, and my concubine they have humbled, and she dieth” Judges 20:5

      A more readable translation reads:

      During the night the men of Gibeah came after me and surrounded the house, intending to kill me. They raped my concubine, and she died. (New International Version)

      We see a similar concern for the hospitality ethic in Homer’s Odyssey when Odysseus first greets Polyphemus, and a story similar to the Sodom and Gomorrah story in the tale of Baucis and Philemon: http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Ar-Be/Baucis-and-Philemon.html

      tl;dr:
      I think the conclusion that anybody wanted to rape the angels is untenable. They probably just wanted to kill them for being strangers.

    • Grania
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      “it was more because raping houseguests is rude”

      Raping his daughters on the other hand was okay though, except the crowd didn’t want them.

      Moral of the story: don’t try to work your morality issues out using Leviticus as a model.

      Honestly, the “rudeness” defence is a modern apologetics one. This passage has always been used as a justification for vilifying homosexuality through the centuries.

  17. PeteJohn
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Apologists for the Christian faith will go to the end of the earth to twist their nasty, hate-filled, bullying, bigoted, monsterous sky-daddy into a caring, cuddly, loving 21st century sky daddy. What these folks don’t realize is that they are showing their sky-daddy little to no respect. They think he can’t have possibly meant that homosexual men caught in the act should both be stoned to death. However, if you read that passage it’s obvious that that is exactly what the author of Leviticus wrote “per God’s instructions” (or something). Rather than accept that this sky-daddy is a huge jerk, they perform some goalpost-moving to make Him sound like not-a-jerk. It’s insulting to the intelligence of any thinking person and it’s rude to their sky daddy (who thankfully is probably not real).

  18. Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    not homosexuality as we would construe the category today but, rather, an act that they understood to rob another man of his social status by feminizing him

    How exactly does this interpretation salvage the Bible? It maintains the hierarchy in which “masculine” is superior to “feminine.” Which is bad.

    But it’s also strange that they’d suggest this interpretation could be useful and informative for our current society. Don’t quite a lot of Pomo-pushers insist that we look at EVERYTHING through the lens of gender, and typically evaluate that which we construe as “masculine” as good, and “feminine” as bad? And don’t they say this is a bad thing (insofar as we actually do that)?

    This is just more evidence that Pomo is not a genuine intellectual pursuit, with the aim of converging on reliable knowledge. The Pomo-ists simply write down whatever silly idea they happen to vomit up first.

    • Phosphorus99
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      Why does the Bible need to be salvaged for its position on homosexuality ?

      • Posted July 15, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        Wait — you can’t be serious. Please tell me you’re trolling.

        Stone teh gheys?

        b&

        • Phosphorus99
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          According to you :

          There is no God.

          There is no free will.

          Morality is fluid and derived by consensus.

          In light of the above how could it be coherently stated that Bible, or any other source,needs to be salvaged from any moral position it presents?

          • Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

            Oh, Jesus.

            Look, there aren’t any gods any more than there are monsters under your bed. Your personal favorites included.

            It’s as equally meaningless to get upset over the lack of “free will” as it is the nonexistence of married bachelors.

            And, for the umpteenth time, your mischaracterization of the nature of morality is insulting. It is quite emphatically not derived by consensus. Your lies to us about what we write only serve to demonstrate that you’re nothing more than a small-minded Liar For Christ who’s best ignored or shouted down.

            As for the Bible? That collection of filth? The only way it can be salvaged is by shredding it and using the paper to line birdcages.

            You’re all grown up now. Time to take personal responsibility, stop whining about the fact that nobody likes your imaginary friends, and get busy on making the world a better place to live in.

            You know…start acting morally. If for no other reason than because your whiny three-year-old act is really wearing thin.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Phosphorus99
              Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

              How do you determine what everyone should consider moral and what gives you such a capacity ?

              • Posted July 16, 2011 at 10:22 am | Permalink

                I’ve told you this before, but here goes again.

                I. Do not do unto others as they do not wish to be done unto.

                (The First Rule may be broken only to the minimum degree necessary to otherwise preserve it.)

                II. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

                III. An it harm none, do what thou will.

                The rules must be applied in that order. For example, following the second rule is not permissible in circumstances which require violating the first rule (except as provided for by the Exception).

                If you’re wondering where I got them from, it’s by long and careful thought applying my intuitional understanding of game theory.

                And, before I let you challenge my authority for stating that that’s an effective moral code, I’ll ask you to demonstrate that it’s not.

                b&

          • Posted July 15, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

            Morality is only fluid because we are constantly discovering, and (in the case of political progressives) actively seeking out ways to improve the way we treat each other; or as Ben Goren might say, ways to improve our strategy for success as a species.

            2000 years ago, people had apparently not realized that slavery, stoning, torture, etc, were NOT optimal strategies. Thank goodness we’ve (mostly) remedied this.

            Who knows what improvements will have been made 2000 years from now.

            Yes, morality is fluid in that sense. That is not to say that “anything goes.” You reveal your own lack of moral awareness when you conclude that if there were no god issuing mandates and threatening punishment, then anything would go. Honestly, the people with that attitude are the people of which you need to be afraid.

            • Phosphorus99
              Posted July 15, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

              “..or as Ben Goren might say, ways to improve our strategy for success as a species.”

              How would you define optimal strategies – are the Cannanite nations which shared some values similar to today’s political progressives still nations and identifiable today ?

              • Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

                I’m not sure of what you’re asking. Are you trying to imply that now defunct societies are defunct because they valued some of the same things valued by the left today? Is your name Dennis Prager irl?

                I’m no anthropologist, but it seems to me that often, societies fade out because the people stopped living and doing things in the ways that defined that society; not because they all went extinct.

                An optimal strategy, in the most basic terms, would be a way of behaving that would likely result in the most well-being for the most individuals. Pathological behavior like theft, rape, murder, generally being a nasty asshole, does not promote well-being. No man is an island, and if you think you can exempt yourself from obeying the golden rule, pretty soon you’ll wind up in a society of people who make the same exemption, and lo and behold, everybody’s miserable. That’s why we try our hardest not to exempt ourselves. Not because god said so.

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted July 16, 2011 at 2:30 am | Permalink

                Societies are complex entities and not subject to simple analysis.

                I am also not an anthropologist but it would be useful to determine why the Jewish people, who -according to Gnu Atheists- were subject of a most vile social order imposed by a “nasty, hate-filled, bullying, bigoted, monsterous sky-daddy” ( quoting PeteJohn) have survived and thrived as a people,despite severe trials, while other nations have not.

              • Posted July 16, 2011 at 6:28 am | Permalink

                Many, many Jews identify as such because of their DNA alone, and don’t believe in YHWH or subscribe to the practices that defined ancient Jewish society.

                In Norway, nobody sails around in longboats, looting and pillaging anymore, but that doesn’t mean the Vikings went extinct. Who do think all those people in Norway are descended from?

                One of the options open to groups with suboptimal strategies is to change their strategies.

              • Posted July 16, 2011 at 10:16 am | Permalink

                the Jewish people, who -according to Gnu Atheists- were subject of a most vile social order imposed by a “nasty, hate-filled, bullying, bigoted, monsterous sky-daddy”

                Dude. You need learn how to tell the difference between fantasy and reality.

                For the umpteenth time. The Bible is fiction. Bad fiction. Very, very, very bad fiction.

                The Jews of a few millennia ago were not subject of anything from any sky daddy.

                There are no sky daddies. Including the one you think you’ll be talking to this time tomorrow morning.

                have survived and thrived as a people,despite severe trials, while other nations have not.

                They’ve done so in large part because they’ve transmogrified the Bible into something completely unrecognizable. They no longer “punish” rapists by forcing them to marry their victims. They no longer brutally murder people for cleaning up the yard on the worng day of the week. And, recent history in Palestine notwithstanding, they generally don’t go on far-ranging murder / rape / pillage rampages against neighboring tribes.

                And they’re hardly unique in their survival. Hindus are far older. Christians not much younger. The Vikings now make hotdish in Minnesota. A bunch of Yaqui live less than a mile from my house.

                b&

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted July 16, 2011 at 11:00 am | Permalink

                Are you saying that the Canaanites did not exist and that they did not endorse practices which were outlawed by ancient Jewish custom ?

                Some Chinese ethic groups have been around longer than the Jews but that’s not the issue.

                My take from Gnu Atheists is that the Jewish culture was informed by a monstrous, hateful – though non-existent God.

                At least with regard to sexual orientations some (?all) Gnu Atheists ( and “political progressives”) find common ground with the Canaanites.

                That the Jews are still with us is beyond doubt but do you know of anyone who has been established to be a descendant of the Canaanites ?

            • Posted July 16, 2011 at 11:26 am | Permalink

              Are you saying that the Canaanites did not exist and that they did not endorse practices which were outlawed by ancient Jewish custom ?

              Come back when you’re willing to argue in good faith.

              All your lying for Jesus may give you a warm feeling, but it’s at the expense of civil society.

              That is, it is immoral.

              And, further, it is becoming clear to me that, since you’re here not to engage in serious discussion but rather to pretend you’re scoring cheap rhetorical points for your side, all I’m doing by engaging with you is encouraging your petty childish intellectual vandalism.

              I will no more enable you in your truly evil ways.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted July 16, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

                No doubt we come from different sides of the fence but if, on this blog, critical thought is king I believe that we will all gain.

                Thanks for the engagement.

      • Marta
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

        The Bible needs to be savaged for its position on homosexuality because it is hateful.

        • Phosphorus99
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

          Why are there no Amorites in New York but there are Jewish Hospitals, businesses etc ?

  19. Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    This is laugh out loud funny:

    “As Kirsch notes, today’s morality stems not from the Bible, but from the Enlightenment (and, I would add, from sentiments evolved in our ancient ancestors). No Christian or Jew can make a tenable argument that morality comes from God. I’ve written an essay on this that should appear soon.”

    Sure, the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount (and Christ’s preaching in general: “‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'”) have nothing to do with Western ideas of morality…and Jerry is coming to church with me on Sunday and repenting of his sins. I can’t wait to read the essay — I promise to fisk it on my blog.

    I suggest you do some historical research on what pagan civilization was like before Christianity (a good place to start is this book: http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300111903) To the extent that “today’s morality” comes from the Enlightenment, we can trace the origins of many of our contemporary problems 🙂

    Anyway, we do agree that it is silly to try and twist the Bible to mean something it clearly doesn’t mean — and the Bible clearly and correctly condemns homosexual acts. The guy to turn to for the best analysis of this topic remains Robert Gagnon:

    http://www.robgagnon.net/

    • Posted July 15, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      First, that narcissism on Jesus’s part that you quote is despicable.

      But more importantly, even the pleasant-sounding deeptities in the Gospels are in the minority. It’s all hellfire and brimstone this, kill all the infidels that, rip your families apart with vitriolic hate the other…it’s really every bit as despicable as the common (and, to be sure accurate) caricature of the Q’ran that Christian evangelicals often like to rail against.

      Hell, even in the Sermon on the Bloody Fucking Mount Jesus tells men that the only way they can avoid infinite torture (at Jesus’s personal command) after looking at a woman and privately thinking, “Yeah, I’d hit that,” is to immediately gouge out their eyes and chop off their hands.

      Whatever Jesus is, it’s most emphatically not a love god. Love gods don’t put up with that kind of shit.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

        Umm. . . Ben, did you miss the part where he says, “The Bible clearly and correctly condemns homosexual acts”?

        • Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

          Woah.

          Damn. Yes, I missed that.

          You have no idea how much of a can of rhetorical whoop-ass I want to open up on this guy…but I should probably let one of our “teh ghey” regulars be the one to rip him the new one.

          b&

    • Chris Granger
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      Congratulations, you’re a bigot with imaginary friends. That would be laugh-out-loud funny if it wasn’t so common.

  20. Max
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    “Postmodern” is a word that covers a lot of ground, but it doesn’t apply to all current scholarship in the humanities, as a lot of folks here seem to think. I haven’t read this book, but nothing in the review makes it sound notably postmodern, and I wouldn’t use that word to describe any of Friedman’s earlier books. The review accuses the authors of strained interpretation, and on the face of it the charge seems valid, but not all strained interpretations are postmodern. People have been stretching to make favored texts mean what they want them to mean since roughly forever.

    • Posted July 15, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      I went with the descriptor “postmodern” because it strikes me that the authors engage in “deconstruction” of a sort.

      “Concluding that the Bible just means what it says would be so pedestrian; let’s take it apart, “unpack” it and discover its real, but hidden message. Or at least one of its real but hidden messages. But certainly, the one message that’s NOT a possibility is the face-value one.”

      • Max
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

        It isn’t deconstruction, either, as far as I can tell from the review. By the way, I didn’t mean to single you out for criticism. You posted your comment after I began mine but before I posted it.

        • Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

          No offense taken. I figured you were referring to Jerry’s use of the term. 🙂

          How is their approach to the passage from Leviticus not deconstruction? It seems to fit the bill to me. At least, the bill I’ve managed to glean from informal study.

          • Max
            Posted July 16, 2011 at 12:18 am | Permalink

            Friedman and Dolansky seem to be using historical context, linguistic scholarship, and ordinary careful reading to try to get at the original meaning of the text, then using that to get at the spirit of the text, and then arguing that if you transport that spirit into a modern context it leads to a different result than what you might think. I’m not defending what they do with this particular text — it does seem to be an implausible stretch. My point is just that their method doesn’t seem to have much in common with deconstruction. The idea that you can get to the original meaning of a text is pretty much the opposite of deconstruction.

            • Posted July 16, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

              Hmm. Perhaps I was using too broad a conception of deconstruction. I was thinking about their project being an attempt to reject the meaning of the text taken at face-value, and to uncover a different, less obvious meaning (perhaps one of many, even infinite possible meanings) which may not jive with the face-value meaning.

              But I think you’re right. They’d probably insist they’re trying to get at the actual intent of the original Biblical author.

              I still see a similarity between the endeavors.

  21. Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    The Bible is a number of stories about mankind’s relations to God, arranged in some sort of historical progression. Not all of these encounters are successful either from the divine or the human perspective; none of them are wholly successful. Spinoza explains the lawgiving as what was necessary to hold that community together at that time. Friedman & Dolansky’s explanation may be BS; it would take a specialized Classicist to tell, which I am not. The valid point is that the Mosaic narrative is in fact historically contingent and we don’t have to accept it as enforceable in our own story.

    (Specifically as to Leviticus 20:13, it’s interesting that 20:10-21 is mostly about incest and not at all imaginative as to sexual behavior. Is the unspoken, unspeakable concern here about molesting one’s own male children?)

    As Christians, we pay special attention to those other narratives about Jesus, who lived in a culture informed by the Mosaic narrative but did not regard himself as bound by it: “The Holy Stuff was made because it was a useful and suitable way for Mankind to live. Mankind was not created to be crushed under the weight of it.” At to “one man + one woman”, he said: “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.” He said: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

    • Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      I have no clue what book you’re referring to, because the book of that title that I read opened with a pretty silly story about a magic garden with talking animals and an angry giant. A bit later, a talking plant (on fire!) convinced the reluctant hero to resume his quest by giving him magic wand lessons. And it all ended with this utterly bizarre zombie snuff porn fantasy, complete with the zombie-in-chief commanding one of his thralls to give his protruding intestines a hand job.

      Why on Earth you’d look to it for anything even vaguely resembling moral insight is utterly beyond me.

      And, seriously now: you don’t actually think that any of that really happened, do you? Virgins giving birth? Campouts in giant fishes? Giants and unicorns and dragons, oh my?

      Please.

      Cheers,

      b&

    • McWaffle
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      BS. Killing gay people is NOT needed to “hold communities together” in any historical context. To say such a thing isn’t only barbaric, it’s completely unfounded. What, exactly, was going to happen to communities if God didn’t lay down that particular law? Chaos?!

    • Moewicus
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      Matthew 5:19-20
      19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

      Compare:

      Marshall 21:1-3:
      The valid point is that the Mosaic narrative is in fact historically contingent and we don’t have to accept it as enforceable in our own story. […]
      As Christians, we pay special attention to those other narratives about Jesus, who lived in a culture informed by the Mosaic narrative but did not regard himself as bound by it: “The Holy Stuff was made because it was a useful and suitable way for Mankind to live. Mankind was not created to be crushed under the weight of it.”

    • Grania
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      “the Mosaic narrative is in fact historically contingent”

      Um, the Mosaic narrative is made up [translation: didn’t actually happen]. That is a fact. So large parts of the culture that Jesus lived in was based on complete legend. But, yes, they did regard themselves as bound by it.

      And I quote:
      “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.” Matt. 5:17-18

      Here’s the other fascinating bit from your comment:
      “we don’t have to accept it as enforceable in our own story.”
      Really? How do you know which bits you are allowed to leave out and which bits still apply? Was it revealed to you? Maybe by a priest? Or do you just make it up as you go along?

      Don’t try to quote the bible to atheists. We probably know it better than you.

    • Posted July 15, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      I think some here must have a strange idea of what is a “story”, where it comes from, and how to make what use of it. Yet I know people here read poetry, history, fantasy fiction. Watch movies. Appreciate art.

      A story doesn’t become something different because it’s about God.

      And even in a strictly rational, empirical textbook, you can’t just pick an equation out of the middle of a page in the middle of the book; you have to read, maybe more than once, and study. People who do that are Fundamentalists, and they are wrong. It says here: Mat 5:20.

      For Mat 5:17 ff, a clue: Jesus just gave his own formulation of the basics, Mat 5:3-11. Grania, Moewicus, if you enjoy chewing on this stuff, come on down.

      • Posted July 15, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        Yet I know people here read poetry, history, fantasy fiction. Watch movies. Appreciate art.

        Yes, we do. And we have taste.

        That’s why we’re laughing at that absurd fictional anthology you seem so enamored with.

        Because the childish stories are so bizarre (talking plants on fire giving magic wand lessons?) and the non-childish stories are so abhorrent (murder the adults and rape all the children?).

        We’ve read it, and it’s largely been a waste of time.

        Cheers,

        b&

      • Moewicus
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I’ve read Matthew 5, and Jesus is in fact more restrictive than before. Don’t just obey laws, be perfect: don’t divorce, don’t even lust, for it’s all adultery. It’s insidious. Hence the imperative that the one must be more righteous than the pharisees.

  22. TheRationalizer
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    It says to put them BOTH to death. So if it is a ruling against an involuntary act then it is even worse because it sentences a rape victim to death.

  23. Matt Penfold
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    No Chuck yet to explain how Jerry and the rest of are not sophisticated enough to understand how the bible can both be anti and pro gay ?

  24. MadScientist
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Ah, once again the bible really means what the reader wants it to mean and that must necessarily be the word of god.

    • Posted July 15, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      Hardly surprising, really, considering that these gods exist nowhere outside of the heads of the readers.

      b&

  25. Egbert
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Theology is the transformation of mythology over time. Kinda like evolution but for religion.

  26. Sili
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Even for a person who believes in God wholeheartedly, why should that person assume that God is never free to change?”

    So do people who got their freak on before God changed his mind get a get-out-of-Hell-free card?

  27. Posted July 15, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    “I’ve written an essay on this that should appear soon.”

    Did you write it with disappearing ink or something?

    • Posted July 15, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      Jerry has been playing with his @Home Time Machine ™ again. 🙂

  28. capercaillie
    Posted July 16, 2011 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    To me this really boils down to this:

    If you need to interpret the problematic bits “in context” and as valid only for specific times and places, then you must do the exact same with the “good” parts: they must only apply to that given contextual case also.

  29. colluvial
    Posted July 16, 2011 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    “God is free to change”

    And how are we to know when he does change? Is he issuing new editions of the bible?

  30. Posted July 17, 2011 at 4:46 am | Permalink

    How ironic is this:

    Friedman and Dolansky imply that it was not homosexuality the Bible wanted to condemn, but the humiliation of the passive partner. And since we no longer think of consensual sex acts as humiliating, surely the logic of the Bible itself means that homosexuality is no longer culpable: “The prohibition in the Bible applies only so long as male homosexual acts are perceived to be offensive.”

    But one of the main reasons why people still perceive male homosexual acts as offensive is because the Bible declares them an abomination!

    I’m reminded of the famous “if by whiskey” speech

  31. Posted July 17, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    “Christians are better off admitting that God was simply wrong than trying to twist the Bible’s words in such an unconvincing way. After all, the Old Testament God also accepted slavery, the slaying of adulterers, and the stoning of nonvirgin brides.”

    Given that most Christians *do* explicitly think that OT laws don’t apply. It always staggers me that more can’t take this step.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] from “believer” to “liberal believer” to “atheist” passed through a “don’t take the Bible literally” stage. But then I found myself twisting the Bible to back up what I already thought; that wasn’t […]

  2. […] and has regaled us with several post over the pointlessness of theology, here, here, here, here, here, and here. The last one is a comment on Jason Rosenhouse’s double barrelled Where Can I Find […]

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