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Austin Cline

Mailbag: Homosexuality and the Law

By November 11, 2012

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From: "Kimberly"
Subject: Gays Shouldn't Marry
I don't think gay people should get married because in the Bible it says that a man should leave his parents and cling to his wife, a woman, not to another man or another woman.

It's true that the Bible says such things, but so what? Why should we care today? More importantly, why should this matter when it comes to civil laws?

The Bible says lots of things which aren't a part of civil law. The Bible authorizes slavery, but that isn't legal. Jesus rejected divorce, but that is legal. The Bible prohibits many things which are legal today; the Bible authorizes many things which are illegal today. Moreover, there is disagreement among Christians and Jews about what the Bible really does authorize and/or ban.

The standards laid out in the Bible for social and personal behavior are not and should not become the standards which everyone follows in modern society. Now, if someone chooses to try to adherent to those standards, that may be OK -- but there is no reason why everyone must be forced by the state to adhere to some people's interpretation of the Bible.

Biblical statements about men and women marrying simply are no more relevant to contemporary marriage laws than are biblical statements about women's social roles to contemporary marriages, or are biblical statements about permissible foods to modern restaurant regulations.

 

It doesn't bother me that a man or a woman love the same sex, I just don't think that they should marry the same sex. It's not that way in the Bible so, why change it?

Once again: lots of things have been changed about marriage over the past centuries and millennia. Divorce is legal. Women can own property. Polygamy is illegal. Why should those changes have been permitted?

Let's focus on polygamy for a moment: the Bible unambiguously endorses polygamy. It cannot be denied that polygamy is "the way in the Bible" and what "the Bible says." So, should polygamy be legalized today -- and precisely because of the Bible? Of course not. Christians wouldn't support such a change in the laws and they certainly wouldn't agree that it is authorized because it appears in the Bible.

Why not? Because society has moved on. Ideals about marriage and marital relationships have changed. Christians are willing to accept the change from polygamy to monogamy. Christians are willing to accept the change to legal divorce. Why aren't they willing to accept the change to same-sex marriage?

 

More selections from the Agnosticism / Atheism Mailbag...

Comments
June 19, 2006 at 5:45 pm
(1) Rob G says:

There seem to be some odd claims here. As far as state law is concerned, in an atheist/agnostic country such as England it is hard to see a political reason to keep marriage in line with the Bible, so I won’t argue that (although keeping Christian marriage that way is a different matter, of course).

However, as far as saying the Bible “authorises” slavery – what does that mean? It sounds as though the author knows that the Bible is completely disinterested in the argument about whether or not Roman slavery is right (it merely describes how those who are slave-owners or in slavery are to behave), but wants to use a word that is factually accurate yet implies the Bible condones slavery. This is just silliness, if it is the case.

Secondly, does the Bible actually endorse polygamy, as opposed to describing how to behave if one is polygamous? If it uses the phrase “If a man has two wives…” or some such, then it is the latter. Anyone who suggests that the Bible clearly endorses polygamy, and that Christianity has had monogamy forced upon it socially is (deliberately or otherwise) ignoring far too much to provide competent commentary.

While I don’t mind dispassionate assessment of the Bible and Christian belief, and the way practical Christian life can often fall short of the ideals they portray, it would be ridiculous if I did not comment on this article, which seems to draw its conclusions from a wholesale swallowing of some random website which “proves” unusual claims about the Bible.

June 19, 2006 at 6:03 pm
(2) atheism says:

However, as far as saying the Bible “authorises” slavery – what does that mean?

It means exactly what it says: the Bible sanctions the keeping of slaves, both through regulations on how to treat them and through regulations on the proper ways to acquire them.

Secondly, does the Bible actually endorse polygamy, as opposed to describing how to behave if one is polygamous?

God wouldn’t explain how to regulate something that God doesn’t approve of. There are plenty of examples of God prohibiting things. Saying that he positive regulations don’t indicate approval is like saying that prohibitions don’t indicate disapproval.

Anyone who suggests that the Bible clearly endorses polygamy, and that Christianity has had monogamy forced upon it socially is (deliberately or otherwise) ignoring far too much to provide competent commentary.

I agree, and anyone who thinks that I said that “Christianity has had monogamy forced upon it socially” is ignoring far too much of what I wrote to provide competent commentary. What I said was hat the Bible clearly endorses polygamy, but that fact isn’t a good reason to legalize it today. Why? Because polygamy was the way of life back then — and the same can be said for condemnations of homosexuality.

June 19, 2006 at 7:07 pm
(3) Rob G says:

I agree, and anyone who thinks that I said that “Christianity has had monogamy forced upon it socially” is ignoring far too much of what I wrote to provide competent commentary.

There’s some nice alliteration at the end there – I admire your skill with words :) If my previous comment misunderstood the following, then I apologise, and merely ask how it doesn’t imply that Christianity’s monogamous attitude was an external, societally imposed one:
Why not? Because society has moved on. Ideals about marriage and marital relationships have changed. Christians are willing to accept the change from polygamy to monogamy.

And also:
It cannot be denied that polygamy is “the way in the Bible” and what “the Bible says.”

And as for misreading, I don’t understand this fully, it doesn’t seem to make sense, either as a witty finishing remark, or as a sentence:
As opposed to comments on the article which draw base their critiques, in part, on misreading of the article and failures to take the context into account.

Finally:
God wouldn’t explain how to regulate something that God doesn’t approve of. There are plenty of examples of God prohibiting things.
The latter does not follow the former. God can disapprove of something and say how to behave if that thing occurs. For example: if one finds oneself in the position of being a slave, such guidance is helpful. If there are to be slave-owners, then by all means makes them fair to their slaves and good masters.

Also I believe slavery at the time could be a very good thing, especially if one was a slave to a wealthy family. Slaves could be written into wills and even adopted as sons, with all the rights this conveys. So when overpoweringly self-confident websites such as the one I linked to before say they “prove” that the Bible condones slavery, they may well have a very different idea of slavery to the one that the Bible is speaking of.

As an atheist, why do you start by saying what God “wouldn’t do”, in order to prove that it didn’t happen? The Bible is a pretty good starting point for what (the Christian) God does/does not do; I would start from there and argue from that, rather than stating what God’s behaviour is like and arguing from that.

Finally, saying that the Bible describing a situation means it tacitly condones it would – using identical logic – mean that Hare sees nothing wrong with intimidation beatings, Middleton and Rowley agreed with genital automutilation and Shakespeare approved of gouging out eyes, bedside regicide and serving someone’s relatives to them in a meat pie!

June 19, 2006 at 7:42 pm
(4) atheism says:

…and merely ask how it doesn’t imply that Christianity’s monogamous attitude was an external, societally imposed one:

As far as I can tell, Christianity appeared after polygamy had almost entirely fallen away. Not quite entirely, but almost. Society was well on the way moving on by the time Christianity appeared and Christians were never in a situation where they were primarily polygamous and then had to become monogamous.

Ergo, it simply isn’t possible that Christian monogamy was imposed upon Christians — it was simply something that was already there.

I don’t understand this fully, it doesn’t seem to make sense, either as a witty finishing remark,

You grossly misread the article and derived your critique from that misreading.

God can disapprove of something and say how to behave if that thing occurs.

By that reasoning, God can approve of something but ban it anyway. Do you have evidence of the above occurring, or are you simply imposing your own values on a text that doesn’t share them?

As an atheist, why do you start by saying what God “wouldn’t do”, in order to prove that it didn’t happen?

It’s a matter of logic.

The Bible is a pretty good starting point for what (the Christian) God does/does not do

In that case, God at least condones, if not approves of, slavery.

Finally, saying that the Bible describing a situation means it tacitly condones it would – using identical logic … [mean] Shakespeare approved of gouging out eyes, bedside regicide and serving someone’s relatives to them in a meat pie!

Only if we accept the same context, namely fiction. So, OK, I’ll agree that the Bible is all fiction and that allows us to think that God disapproves of slavery while appearing to condone it.

June 20, 2006 at 7:11 am
(5) Rob G says:

Your tone seems rather harsher than mine, hehe :) Makes any debate very joyless. I’ll just stick to a couple of small points then. Firstly, the last one you make:

Only if we accept the same context, namely fiction. So, OK, I’ll agree that the Bible is all fiction
I don’t particularly like the silly point-scoring you seem to enjoy; I think the more obvious analogy is that of authorship. If you’re going to use words like “only” to lock your argument into one track, it might be helpful to explain yourself, and cut down on the rest. Otherwise you will only ever convince atheists :)

As an atheist, why do you start by saying what God “wouldn’t do”, in order to prove that it didn’t happen?
It’s a matter of logic.

Sure, the shortest distance between two points is a line, and the quickest way to logically argue something is to start by stating it as a presupposition :) I was contending that it is possible to disapprove of something, but act in a way that mitigates or negates that thing’s bad effects. If you presuppose God cannot do this then congratulations! You have also just disproved that Jesus would come to earth, and that God loves despite sin :)

Lastly, sorry to be repetitive, but you never strictly answered this question:

If my previous comment misunderstood the following, then I apologise, and merely ask how it doesn’t imply that Christianity’s monogamous attitude was an external, societally imposed one:
Why not? Because society has moved on. Ideals about marriage and marital relationships have changed. Christians are willing to accept the change from polygamy to monogamy.
You berated me for not understanding your text properly (I agree, and anyone who thinks that I said that “Christianity has had monogamy forced upon it socially” is ignoring far too much of what I wrote to provide competent commentary.) – I’d rather you argued your point from the part I quoted, rather than historically (As far as I can tell, Christianity appeared after polygamy had almost entirely fallen away.). I don’t mind being wrong about my interpretation of what you said, but I’d rather you showed me from the section of your words that made me believe that (possibly erroneous) thing about you.

June 20, 2006 at 7:36 am
(6) atheism says:

I don’t particularly like the silly point-scoring you seem to enjoy

It’s not point-scoring; it’s context. We can say that Shakespeare didn’t believe in the appropriateness of what he wrote because was writing fiction. Lots of people describe things in fictional stories which they don’t approve of personally. You can’t use this as an analogy with something that isn’t also fiction, otherwise the analogy fails.

I was contending that it is possible to disapprove of something, but act in a way that mitigates or negates that thing’s bad effects.

Do you have any evidence of this occurring, or are you simply assuming it because it would be more consistent with the values you have and wish that this god would have? I haven’t found anything in the biblical text which suggests an attitude even remotely like “this is a bad ideal, but we’ll go along with it for now.” Every instance of polygamy appears in the same format as any one of a dozen other regulated social practices which no one even thinks to argue was “really” disapproved of.

According to your logic, Allah doesn’t approve of polygamy, either. The Quran has lots of passages describing what to do with multiple wives, but that doesn’t really mean that polygamy is good. No scholar of early Islam or Arabian culture would accept such an argument, though. Why? Because this sort of regulation, without any hint of disapproval, not only indicates that the behavior is condoned but at least moderately approved of.

In both the Quran and the Old Testament, God isn’t shy about expressing disapproval and there’s simply on reason to think the authors putting words in this god’s mouth would have held back if they really didn’t want polygamy to continue.

Lastly, sorry to be repetitive, but you never strictly answered this question

I believe I did, and do not comprehend your attempt to explain how I haven’t. Let’s look at your statements:

Anyone who suggests that the Bible clearly endorses polygamy, and that Christianity has had monogamy forced upon it socially is (deliberately or otherwise) ignoring far too much to provide competent commentary.

And:

If my previous comment misunderstood the following, then I apologise, and merely ask how it doesn’t imply that Christianity’s monogamous attitude was an external, societally imposed one…

Did I say or suggest that Christianity has had monogamy forced on it socially — anywhere, including in the quote your offered? No, nothing I wrote can be construed as saying that — and I later explained why it would be silly to imagine that that occurred, historically. Christians accept that society has changed from polygamy to monogamy, that society has moved on from polygamy to monogamy. Indeed, they have defended this change vociferously.

June 20, 2006 at 8:51 am
(7) Rob G says:

To try and quickly talk about your last point first, I will simply reiterate. You have argued it historically and now by looking at what I said – all I wanted you to do was look at my quoting of you and tell me how that quotation doesn’t mean you were implying that Christianity’s monogamous attitude was an external, societally imposed one:
Why not? Because society has moved on. Ideals about marriage and marital relationships have changed. Christians are willing to accept the change from polygamy to monogamy.
Goodness, please just answer from that text, as your original critisicm was that I couldn’t read what you were saying properly. That is where I got that assumption from that caused said criticism, so please just argue from that. Not by just saying “it doesn’t say it”, but by explaining how “accepting a change” doesn’t mean coming to terms with a different way of doing things.

I haven’t found anything in the biblical text which suggests an attitude even remotely like “this is a bad ideal, but we’ll go along with it for now.”
This seems almost odd. For example, I’m sure the people who wrote the Geneva Convention didn’t think war was a good thing, but still made rules about how – if war must happen – it should be conducted.

The Bible talks repeatedly about death, it talks about how young/old widows should conduct themselves, all sort of things to do with death, yet God does not like human death, it was a product of the fall. Likewise sickness: also not part of the original design, also part of the fall, but there are food hygiene laws aplenty, laws on when’s best to circumcise, examples of praying for the sick. Jesus says to remember the poor. Because He approves of poverty? No, because it is part of the world, and needs to be dealt with.

This is not a logically difficult situation. I don’t agree with abortion, but if a girl told me she’d had one I wouldn’t even come close to communicating that. My response would be based on the situation and her state and how best to help and comfort her, if she needed it.

June 20, 2006 at 9:33 am
(8) atheism says:

all I wanted you to do was look at my quoting of you and tell me how that quotation doesn’t mean you were implying that Christianity’s monogamous attitude was an external, societally imposed one

It doesn’t say anything about monogamous attitudes being imposed. Accepting a change doesn’t require coming to terms with a different way of doing things personally when a person is aware of a “way of doing things” that was once common and sanctioned, but isn’t done anymore. Racists in America today, for example, have to accept the change from segregation to integration even if they haven’t personally experienced segregation. Why? Because society has changed — the change they have to accept isn’t their own personal change, but the social change (“society has moved on,” “Ideals … have changed”).

For example, I’m sure the people who wrote the Geneva Convention didn’t think war was a good thing, but still made rules about how – if war must happen – it should be conducted.

I’m sure that if they didn’t think war was a good thing, then they have expressed their disapproval of war, too. If someone writes rules regulating some behavior, and never expresses even the slightest disapproval of such behavior, I won’t assume that they disapprove of it. The main exception would be if the regulations themselves appear designed to sharply limit the behavior in a manner that suggests a desire to dissuade people from doing it. Smoking, for example, is regulated in a manner that suggests disapproval because many regulations appear designed to dissuade people from smoking (never mind the abundant evidence that this is indeed the goal, I’m just talking about the bare text of the regulations themselves).

The Bible talks repeatedly about death, it talks about how young/old widows should conduct themselves, all sort of things to do with death, yet God does not like human death, it was a product of the fall.

The Bible doesn’t regulate death, it simply describes it (though it does regulate how people behave in the context of another’s death). Ditto with sickness and poverty. Polygamy, however, is something which is both described and regulated.

Polygamy is something which people chose to do and could have chosen not to do (it’s obvious that not every male was polygamous at the time). Death, sickness, and poverty don’t fall into the same category. God could not have issued a social law banning death, sickness, or poverty. God could not have said “OK, anyone who dies will be stoned to death, anyone who gets sick will be given 40 lashes, and anyone who is poor will be fined.”

God could have issued a social law banning polygamy, though — or, at the very least, sharply limited polygamy as later Muslim tradition did. Sharp limits on a practice usually imply some level disapproval of (or, at the very least, perhaps discomfort with) that practice (as is the case with the Geneva Conventions, for example).

This is not a logically difficult situation.

I agree. It’s not difficult to see that the attempted analogy between polygamy and death, sickness, or poverty doesn’t even begin to work. You can’t compare a cultural practice which is amenable to legal regulation or prohibition with events largely outside a person’s control and the occurrence of which cannot be legislatively prohibited.

Your analogy with abortion also doesn’t work because your saying something wouldn’t change the past — voicing your disapproval at that time wouldn’t lead to any changes. The same obviously isn’t true of God voicing disapproval of polygamy. There is also the fact that your need to comfort your friend would be undermined by expressing disapproval; there is no apparent comparison on this point in the situation for polygamy, though.

You are trying to use an “argument from analogy” here, but such an argument only works when the items being compared are analogous on enough of the relevant points (the more points that work, the better the argument). Ideally, you need to offer a comparison with something that is substantively like polygamy: a social, cultural practice which is chosen, which isn’t done by everyone, which doesn’t absolutely have to be done, which could be not chosen, which is amenable to legislative regulation, and which can be legislatively prohibited.

When you try to offer something like death as a comparison, you just aren’t being serious. God didn’t approve of death, but God also didn’t issue a commandment against dying so that’s a reason to think that God could disapprove of something without also banning it? Please….

June 28, 2006 at 1:26 pm
(9) Joshua says:

Homesexuality is siad to be wrong in the bible, and you say that why should we follow it because it isnt in the civil law and that slavery is in the bible so we shouldnt follow homesexuality either; you are incorrect, yes in the earlier days it did talk about slavery and the bible didnt frown on it, but did you forget about the whole second half of the bible. Thats the whole reason Jesus Christ came, he said to love ones neighbor as we love ourselves. But Jesus never came and said to marry Men and Men and Women and Women. The Family is something that is stressed in the Bible and its there for a reason. The family works with a Father figure and Mother figure. Without that balance the children will not recieve the support from the mother/father in a Homosexual Relationship. The bible strictly says that homosexuals will not inherant the kingdom of God, and it also says that whosoever turn one of these young ones from me, it is better to be drowned in the depths of the Sea then to stand before him on Judgement Day. Children who are adopted into a Homesexual relationship will automatically go against God because the parents are disobeying the Bible, God’s Word. The solution to this i think is for Christians to take up what Jesus said, Love one another as you love yourself, including homesexuals. Leading by example is the best way to bring some1 to christ. Even though they are disobeying God’s word, they are sinners just like every1 who’s ever walked the earth, except Jesus of course. The wages of our sins equal death, doesnt matter if you sinned by lying, or if you sin by being a homesexual, the punishment on Judgement Day is still Death.

June 28, 2006 at 11:49 pm
(10) jrb says:

But Jesus never came and said to marry Men and Men and Women and Women

Jesus never said to post messages on the internet, or invest in stocks, or play baseball, either. This makes TWO points: first, that we do lots of things that Jesus never said anything about, and (2) that (as has been repeated many, many times on this site) times have changed, and that many, if not most, of the things Jesus said are not relevant today.

The Family is something that is stressed in the Bible and its there for a reason. The family works with a Father figure and Mother figure. Without that balance the children will not recieve the support from the mother/father in a Homosexual Relationship. The bible strictly says that homosexuals will not inherant the kingdom of God, and it also says that whosoever turn one of these young ones from me, it is better to be drowned in the depths of the Sea then to stand before him on Judgement Day. Children who are adopted into a Homesexual relationship will automatically go against God because the parents are disobeying the Bible, God’s Word.

(1) Do man/woman marriages REALLY ‘work’ better than same-sex marriages? I’d like to see your statistics … if any exist.
(2) I’d like to see the research on your claim that the children of same-sex relationships necessarily receive inferior ‘support’, too
(3) Why not let the individuals decide whether or not they want to risk eternal damnation? Why focus on saving just the homosexuals, when there are SO MANY other sinners in the world … murderers, rapists, politicians, etc.
(4) I certainly hope that if God is going to condemn innocent children to eternal damnation for something about which they had no choice, that he at least sheds a little tear and considers changing his criteria a bit.

The solution to this i think is for Christians to take up what Jesus said, Love one another as you love yourself, including homesexuals. Leading by example is the best way to bring some1 to christ. Even though they are disobeying God’s word, they are sinners just like every1 who’s ever walked the earth, except Jesus of course. The wages of our sins equal death, doesnt matter if you sinned by lying, or if you sin by being a homesexual, the punishment on Judgement Day is still Death.

THIS sounds like an excellent idea! You do your sins, I’ll do mine, and we can swap stories about it in Hell!

June 29, 2006 at 6:22 am
(11) atheism says:

Homesexuality is siad to be wrong in the bible, and you say that why should we follow it because it isnt in the civil law and that slavery is in the bible so we shouldnt follow homesexuality either; you are incorrect, yes in the earlier days it did talk about slavery and the bible didnt frown on it, but did you forget about the whole second half of the bible.

The second half doesn’t frown on slavery, either.

Thats the whole reason Jesus Christ came, he said to love ones neighbor as we love ourselves. But Jesus never came and said to marry Men and Men and Women and Women.

So? Why should that matter at all to civil laws?

Children who are adopted into a Homesexual relationship will automatically go against God because the parents are disobeying the Bible, God’s Word.

Prove it.

The solution to this i think is for Christians to take up what Jesus said, Love one another as you love yourself, including homesexuals.

If this “love” includes denying them equal civil rights, I think we can all do with a lot less Christian love in our lives.

November 15, 2006 at 12:59 pm
(12) Aaron Kinney says:

Rob G,

Austin isnt being being harsh with you (or not intending to) but he is being harsh with scripture. He is taking it to task. He is not letting it wiggle out of the logical conclusions that follow from its claims. He is holding it to consistency and making it stick fast to its own standards.

As far as statistics go, the sample size of homosexual marriages is small (thanks to the barbaric laws on the books) but so far, research has indicated that homosexual marriages are less likely to end in divorce than heterosexual ones. Furthermore, research has shown no correlation between quality of childcare and whether the parental unit is homo or hetero.

Divorce most often happens in population centers that vote red and attend church more (and have no provisions for gay marriage).

June 15, 2007 at 12:10 am
(13) Uncle Sparticus says:

So, why can’t Christians just not offer gay marrages, instead of getting the government involved?

February 17, 2009 at 1:15 am
(14) blackmetalworkshop says:

If god didn’t condone somthing some people were doing, why then would those people continue to do it…perhaps they didn’t believe in him, whatever the reason they chose to continue doing it. If they chose to do somthing god did not aprove of why would they choose to do somthing god did aprove of like treating slaves well? And what sort of all knowing super being would think they would???

November 18, 2012 at 12:59 am
(15) Code Hinter says:

Not until the 21st century when (brain) cancer became a widespread disease of people all over the world didn’t I take literally that “it takes an ultimate amount of dead brain cells inside your head to be a faithfully religious (Christian) person.”

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