swimming

“I’m so glad you’re home.”

Granny squeezed my hand.  We were laying on towels out at the end of a borrowed dock. The sun was sinking towards the trees at the end of the lake. The water treatment plant for the neighboring city  stood out across the water.  It was turreted like a castle and the bricks glowed in the silky clouds.

We had been swimming.  When I was a little tyke and she was a lifeguard, she taught me to swim.  The water had been clear blue and sparkling, then.  The smell of chlorine was in everything and I had coughed and spluttered until I learned to breath and let the water hold me.

The water was murky now, with things decaying and coming to life in it’s ripples.

She was talking mostly.  One of my aunts, her adopted daughter, was coming to visit.  My cousin, who had run away to California and had accidentally gotten a girlfriend pregnant. They had carried the baby to term and were getting married soon.

She wasn’t too happy with him.

She got on to the topic of outside events.  Her voice was disgusted and a little angry.  But quiet.  Everything was quiet here.

“To think of them criticizing Israel, when those people put their women and children deliberately into danger, so they’ll get killed and and they can whip up public opinion against the Israelis.”

The haze in the clouds was inside my head too.  Images from Persepolis flitted past.  The Iranian army had sent children out to clear minefields- clear them by stumbling across all the mines and detonating them.

They had put up little booths in honor of the virgin martyrs thus created to whip up public opinion against the Iraqis.

“The Palestinians deliberately fire from civilian areas, and the Israelis defend themselves! They have to!”

“Well.”  I said drowsily. “Maybe people think that those children don’t deserve to die just because their parents are weird. Maybe that’s the objection.”

“It’s the women too!” she put in.

“Uuuu- the women too, don’t deserve to be shot, just because their leaders put them in danger.”

“They just don’t think of their women as anymore than animals!” she shakes her head.

Animals- because they think it’s ok if they’re shot for the greater good? If you, too, think it’s ok for them to be shot for the greater good… what…?

The conversation rolls away into the lake.  Evil Obama.  Immigrants.

“They send their children over here and Obama decides to spend all our money on that.  It’s going to be the end of us!”

The ripples run under the dock.  Their sunward sides are living gold. Their dark sides are deep brown darkness.

“Everything ends eventually.   If we knew for sure it would  ruin us, why not go out doing… something worth while?”

“Well,  they should send them back. What do they have here? No parents to raise them… no…”

“Some of those countries are riddled with violence.  Guerrilla wars and the drug cartels… Send them back and they’ll end up dead.”

“Well, it would be better than them growing up without being raised right!”

I look over at her.  Her white hair and  bikini and the light from the water rippling across the under belly of the trees overhead.  I wonder if the world is real.  If I really did just hear her say that.

“Says the one not in danger of being shot!”

The best response I could think of on the fly.

There’s a pause, barely noticeable. The breath between the verse and the chorus.

“It’s like getting old.””she tells me. “It not that it happens, so much as not being able to do stuff.”

I wonder how that’s related.  Because… dying isn’t as bad as not being able to perform?

My sister stopped hanging out with Granny because Granny competed with everything she said.  And then, without telling her, left her out of a trip they had planned together and took someone else instead- because she was afraid my sister wouldn’t be able to hike as much as she could.

My aunt is only a few years older than me.  Her birth mother shut her and her brother in a room and stopped the windows with rugs, hoping that they would sleep all the time and not bother her.  Her first adoptive family had broken her arm and left the two of them  standing barefoot in the snow til they got frostbite.

Better for them to be shot?

I wonder if Granny hears the things she says.

Did she always talk like this? Is it new? There were so many things I didn’t notice before- did I just not notice?

She’s onto another topic.

“I can’t do those dolphin dives any more. You know, the one’s where you go over backwards and come up facing the direction you came from?  I’ve been doing those since I was twelve, like they were nothing! But ever since I crashed my bike, I haven’t been able to do them…”

She’s getting old, after all this.  She gets worried sitting alone in her house and calls my mom.  When Granpa was alive, she had an unused pump organ, covered with medals and trophies.  Running, swimming, triathlons.

Something’s creeping up on her now that she can’t get away from by running.  Can’t out swim.

I trail my hand in the water.  Water doesn’t frighten me anymore, clean, dirty , muddy or chlorinated.  It holds you up.  It’s your friend.

I am frightened of amoebas. Certain ones. If you swallow them, your body takes them apart, finds the pieces it can use and discards the rest.  If you choke on the water- if it goes up your nose- it’s a different story.  Safe inside the walls of your skull, your body can’t tell the difference between what’s you and what’s not you.  It has no defenses.

They begin to eat your mind.

When they’re finished, you’re gone.

It’s the risk you take,  swimming out here in the unprocessed water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of Nowhere

There was a stock tank below the pulpit  The first row of seats was reserved for people being baptized. The next two were reserved for the families and friends of those being baptized today.  We took up most of a row.

It was my cousins’ church. Evangelical, non-denominational, non-Pentecostal, so hip that I regretted sitting in the aisle seat by the wall. Speakers pumped out repetitively cheerful choruses so loud that you could feel the music coming out of your mouth if you tried to sing.

I wasn’t there to sing. I was there for my family.  For my cousins.

So were a lot of others. ‘Saved’ and ‘unsaved’ alike. The church had pushed this as a life event.

They were talking about evangelism. They were so on top of things that they even mentioned colonialism.  Real evangelism had nothing to do with that, we were told.

“Now, I know a lot of us like to do something called friendship evangelism.” the pastor said.  “We become friends with an unsaved person and expect that, in the course of the friendship questions of faith will just naturally come up.”

“But here’s there real problem. Here’s where it can go wrong. We become so comfortable in the friendship, we value it so highly that we don’t want to rock the boat by bringing up the unpleasant things like sin.  We don’t want to offend”

Verses were invoked.  Darkness and light. Not yoking with unbelievers.  It’s not just about marriage, after all. It’s about lifestyle.

“We can’t become friends with people without evangelizing. We can’t be friends with people.” he repeated. “The friendship can only happen if evangelism the whole goal.”

The baptisms began.  Prerecorded video testimonies played in the background and the lighting shifted emotionally, people moved from the category of mere potential converts to that of full human beings whom one could befriend without ulterior motives.

It was mostly kids. Children who had accepted Jesus when they were six, and then again at summer camp, and were now trying to make it become real. My young cousin.  My uncle was also baptized. He was the only adult baptized that day. He was also the only black man in the entire extended family. He had said he was a Christian years ago, but (behind his back) no one in the family believed him.

No one believed him now either.

As we left the parking lot, my mom seemed cautiously optimistic, despite the loud music.

“Wasn’t that a great message for Sue to hear?” she asked my dad.

Sue and her family had come, of course.  She wasn’t a Christian, but she and my aunt had been friends for such a long time. They had been through so much together.  She’d come anyway.

***

“You should have been there for the earlier part.” my sister said.

I had intended to come to the Bible study today.  My  little brother had asked me to come, all hopeful and wide eyed, where the others buried my non-attendance in starchy silence.

I had gotten involved cleaning and had forgotten the time.  When I walked in, everyone looked up.

I hid in a corner.

“Pastor seemed so sad.  He’s worried about his nephew in the IDF.”

I hadn’t known Pastor had a nephew in the IDF.  His family is all in the East coast, but they aren’t Jewish that I’d ever heard. So this would be someone married in?  How does that work?

I fretted as I reviewed what I’d heard, trying to see how the earlier part would have played into the later.

Not enough people had showed up, so they were taking a break from the official study til next week. It seemed they were doing a question and answer session instead. My little brother asked why  there are so many translations of the Bible.  The short answer popping into my head was that words have more than one meaning and can be translated many different ways, and also most languages change so you have to keep retranslating into the new version of the language so that people still understand.

Pastor started in on Evil Greek Alexander imposing Greekness on everyone everywhere and the seventy translators of the Septuagint magically all coming up with the exact same translation.

I sat in the corner and drew.

“I’ve tried to reason with the KJV only people, but even when presented with the evidence they don’t seem to see.”

It went on and on.

But maybe he was scattered and not at the top of his form.

Finally, it came around to prophesy.  It usually does.

Apparently, at the end of the world, the state of Israel will be defeated and almost all Jewish people killed  as “the power of the holy people broken”  Then, and only then, will God deign to come back.

“People think that  since they’re so strong, since they have one of the best militaries in the world, they can take care of themselves. But that’s not how its going to be. They’re going to be almost totally destroyed.”

Various passages were discussed. The Lord, The Lord Almighty has a day of tumult and trampling and terror, of battering down of walls and crying out to the mountains, after all.

“But don’t you see? God has to let that happen.  Of all the the people in Israel today, only 10% take God seriously…”

I am trying to imagine how this would have sounded, with the additional fact that Pastor was worried for a family member.  It sounds worse, to me.

I mean, sitting around and saying God should totally wipe out some group of people is cold and frightening and apathetic and passive aggressive, but you could argue that no one loves a faceless stranger, and that groups are abstractions.

But he was thinking of a specific person? A family member?

God has to kill you, nephew, and all your countrymen. Because you didn’t believe what I think you should believe.

You can’t even say he was lulled into complacency by distance.

When I came home I told my mother that I wouldn’t discuss my questions with her or her underage children unless asked.  In all this time, I haven’t been.  Maybe I could have gotten away with it under the ‘but this is a question and answer session’ clause.  That didn’t occur to me, and frankly, my throat was clogged with angry.  Maybe I’m passive aggressive too.  I hadn’t thought about that.

I think, if I had been there for the earlier part, I still would have walked out.

He had had a little quaver in his voice.

***

Mom was sitting at the computer as I walked in. We exchanged pleasantries.

“Have you seen the news today?”

I had. I had spent the afternoon with an elderly gentleman, watching footage of rockets in Gaza and tunnels into Israel while he slept in his chair.

“Why, what’s up?”

She mentioned the things I had seen.  Then what her websites had said.

“It’s like it was before World War II. There’s a wave of Antisemitism going on. People are demonstrating against the Jews, and even here in America, at a school, they drew pictures of ovens and showed them to the Jewish kids.”

“It’s so weird. It’s just come out of nowhere.”

Holi-Day

A year or two ago, I remember reading an article about Dios de la Muertos. The author was exasperated that her ethnic group’s celebration was becoming mainstream- mainstream in the sense that a lot of fat white people were amusing themselves by dressing up in the festival costume of people they have treated and do treat like dirt. You Anglos celebrate our festival as a curiosity- as a cultural artifact that you take if you want and do with as you please, she said. But this is part of my religion. This isn’t a joke for me.

That was a year ago.  I haven’t been able to find that particular article.   If I do I’ll link to it.

Here are some  other articles.

http://www.maswired.com/disney-dia-de-los-muertos-culture-is-not-for-sale/

http://sundial.csun.edu/2013/10/for-this-year-dont-be-a-racist-for-halloween/

http://bitchmagazine.org/post/costume-cultural-appropriation

As I was thinking about this, I wondered- if it is bad for us to celebrate your holiday, what holiday should we anglos be celebrating?

Halloween, of course! They happen about the same time- they both have something to do with death.  So, we’ll just practice that version instead.

But then the irony hit me.  Halloween seems to have come from the Celtic holiday Sanhaim. It’s the holy day of a culture and language that was deliberately erased by the English- the original Anglos- in every way they could think of.  If I remember correctly, step dancing- dance of the celtic Irish- was designed so that patrolling English looking in the waist high windows wouldn’t notice they were dancing and come in and beat them up.

Halloween is ok to appropriate because it was appropriated before our time?

I suppose there a lot of arguments that could be made about that. But then I started thinking about some of our other holidays. Maybe the rest of you know this stuff already, but I hadn’t thought about it before. Here’s how it went.

Thanksgiving. The first European settlers that we will admit to (Jamestown was a stinky failure) nearly starved to death their first winter on these shores. The friendly local inhabitants saved their lives by bringing them food and teaching them how to plant crops in their new environment. The settlers thanked God for feeding them, and then (in the long run) proceeded to cheat, bully and massacre the original inhabitants because God said they could.

Christmas. God impregnated a 14 year old and she gave birth to the child. In our culture God would be prosecuted as a pedophile because the 14 year olds are so young and naive that the power imbalance between them and, say, a 19 or 20 year old who impregnates them, is so great that the relationship constitutes predation.

God is said to be at least billions of years old.

God also didn’t pay child support, but we at least don’t have a specific date on which to celebrate that.

Mardi Gras. A religious holiday? Um. We celebrate. People’s asses? What’s that one about again? Mostly celebrated in New Orleans where there used to be French people. In the rest of the country where there didn’t used to be French people, people sort of just wear the beads and giggle nervously.  Or travel to New Orleans for a chance to act like morons.

So… more inappropriate appropriation.

Valintines Day. A minor holiday. We celebrate romance. Or try. In a very shy, frigid and mass produced sort of way.

It also something to do with St. Valentine, but we try not to think about Saints very much because of the thing about  God feeling the death of the devoted is precious to him (psalm 116), and then how the people who were really devoted to God ending up being butchered in horrible and surprising ways.

Because… God isn’t a sadistic voyeur at all.

Fourth of July. Our forefathers embarked on their dangerous bid for a nation state of their own: an idealistic state structured around the principle that political liberty and equality were the innate right of all human beings- since all humans are created in the image of God and therefore have innate value that must be recognized politically. They proceeded to spend most of the next 100 years sailing to another Continent, kidnapping people, selling them as slaves, breeding them like livestock and working them to death.

These images of God were not innately valuable because obviously God is Caucasian and they didn’t resemble God as much as other people. Fully half of the Caucasians at the time were not given political equality (without which liberty is somewhat chancy) because God obviously has a penis and other male biological markers. So, these images didn’t look nearly as much like God as the others did.

Washington’s Birthday. Washington being one of the Founding Fathers, this is similar to the the Fourth of July. We mostly don’t remember who Washington was except for the Cherry Tree Story, which didn’t actually happen and heaven help us if we remember what the punchline was. “Father, I cannot tell my allies I’m spying on them, but I can’t not spy on them either.”

I think that was it.

Possibly this should be renamed Edward Snowden Day?

Lincoln’s birthday. Slavery- the buying, selling, breeding like livestock and working to death of other human beings- was such a non-issue that no one did anything about it until it screwed up our system of importing and exporting goods. Then somebody shot the politician who freed the slaves as part of the solution. Also there was a war.

Martin Luther King Day. We are Such Racist Fucks. A Caucasian shot an African American for having the audacity to say so. The African American was even using polite language. The Caucasian sure showed him wrong. Right?

Easter. A long time ago, it was a celebration of new life and fertility. But then God took it over.  Today, if we celebrate it at all, we celebrate by dressing up in happy pastel colors and going to church where we thank God for loving us so much that he would brutally torture his own child to death so that we could see what we have coming if we don’t  beg for forgiveness and thank God for ever little good thing that happens as if He were the direct instead of the ultimate cause.

(Alternately, God allowed us to torture His child to death, so that we would finally see what awful fucks we are for torturing his child to death.  Despite the fact that if God has one of us tortured to death, it’s “precious”.)

God then brought his child back to life so that 1) there would be a carrot  for obedience, and 2) it would be clear that even death wont save you from God.

There is still some fertility symbolism associated with the day.  But mostly it’s used to market candy.

Labor day. Like Mardi Gras, I can’t remember why we have this one. But I don’t think we stole it from anyone either. It’s clearly not religious because instead of gorging on clothing, gifts, candy, food or sex in attempt to relieve our anxiety, people usually just hang out with their families and have a nice time together.

Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. In honor of the soldiers who have survived and the soldiers who have died in our near continual wars. Not particularly religious. Celebrated like Labor day.

Which brings us full circle to Halloween. Once a celebration of death as Easter was a celebration of life, when God took it over, the day upgraded very naturally to All Hallows Eve/All Saints Day, but then was downgraded to The Day We Get to Wear Costumes because we’re Not Catholic and we Don’t Like to Think About Saints.

There are a handful of others, like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Cinco de Mayo, and Dias De Los Muertos etc, practiced by constituant minorities. They are becoming more popular as we attempt/ pretend to be less racist. But we are still pretty racist on one hand and on the other hand it seems people don’t appreciate having their holy-days stolen by commercialists like us.

In short. I had a realization.  America doesn’t have a lot of good holidays.

Maybe that’s why we keep trying to steal more, huh?

It was recently the Fourth of July, the day on which we are supposed to try to feel patriotic.

What can I say? I honestly didn’t feel celebratory.

Maybe I can say this. Holidays are embedded in the past. Some of them commemorate past events. Some past persons. Some commemorate the cyclic passage of time, as we have experienced it thus far. They bring the past with us as we go, and sometimes the past has been horrible.

“But he who has no memories can have no wishes.”

Michael Ende said that. He wrote The Neverending Story.

If we wish the future to be different from the past. the past has to keep existing. In memories, in books, in rituals like holidays, it has to come with us, or we will never go anywhere.

As far the act of celebrating goes, if life is a good thing, then as long as we’re alive something can be found to celebrate.

We can celebrate birth, death, and love. We can celebrate the sacrifices that have been made to keep them from having to be made again, or made as often. We can celebrate the survival of everyone who has survived, whether they fought in war or escaped a genocide.
And if the founders didn’t describe the nation they built, perhaps they describe the nation we are building. A free nation with liberty and justice for all- it’s not what we have been.

But maybe it’s what we will one day be.

Or maybe that’s not even the point. Maybe they were describing the goal that we aim for- no matter how close we ever come or how far we fall short.

Maybe that’s what’s Holi about the Days.

 

snapshots and a rainbow

Sister 3: “Excellent, Sir!”

Brother 1: “Wait, why did you call [sister 2] ‘Sir’?”

Sister 3: “I called her Sir because she sounded brilliant and scientific!  Not like a lowly woman!”

***

My mom was explaining to my younger siblings  (aged 18, 16, 13 and 8) how the vast conspiracy aiming to take over America and destroy Christianity is getting the upper hand.

Me: “But if the Government was controlled by a conspiracy like that, they would hardly have given Hobby Lobby their case.”

Mom: “Oh, but that decision wasn’t unanimous! And I think they throw us a bone sometimes just to keep us quiet. Just to- test the resistance.”

Brother 2: “Ah!” He’s a lanky 18 year old in a rotting t-shirt full of holes. “So when people say that we’ve won something, it’s actually just Them tricking us into thinking things are getting better, so we wont fight Them.” His newly deep voice sounds confidant and cunning.  He sees that he understands something Most People don’t.  Most People aren’t clever like We are.

Me: “So if things don’t go your way it’s proof that They’re winning, and if things do go your way it’s also proof that They’re winning?”

***

Pastor stood behind the podium of the summer camp’s main hall. Everyone in the auditorium knew why we were here. So much of Christianity in America was corrupt, frivolous, and lacking commitment to God.  Also, years ago, the main church body had kept the building when they kicked Pastor out.

“Some people act like it’s a big deal that they turned their lives over to God.” he said. “They make it into this dramatic story about how they decided to give their lives to God. As if they did something.”

“No!’ he went on. “We are only saved because God allows us to be saved.  He does it! Not us!”

I felt a tad dizzy and kept my head down, focusing on my sketch. He had spent the first part of the sermon explaining how people who didn’t accept God and didn’t become Christians did this because they didn’t want to know the Truth, and deliberately turned away.

If you don’t chose God, it was your own evil choice and you are held responsible. But if you join God’s side, not even your choice counts as good.

No matter what happens, God is the only one responsible for Good and YOU are the one responsible for evil.

Despite God having all the power and you having none.

God’s a tricky devil, isn’t he?

 

The Fear of God

“… to call someone a Corinthian was really- well- it wasn’t a nice thing.”

I pulled the top off a new marker and continued to draw.  I’d been staying away from the the Church Bible Studies.  But  this one was at my parents house. All the people who had asked my family about me while I was gone were coming.  I had no real excuse that didn’t sound like obvious avoidance.

So I brought my sketchbook and some metallic markers and sat in a corner of the crowded room. This was what I had always done- I just hoped my expressions weren’t too expressive.  Pastor was talking about Corinthians.

“The church in Corinth was surrounded by horrible immorality.  Imagine if our church was plucked up and set down in the middle of San Francisco-  in the middle of…” he fumbled, looking for the words “-in the middle of a gay scene? Can you imagine how hard that would be? “

Camouflaged as a person among people, I tried to imagine.

You must not MIX with the immoral, Pastor explained.  You could be around them at work, he granted, but you couldn’t join your life with theirs in any significant way.  The only result would be suffering.  Terrible suffering.

The Church meets  at a summer camp and it’s member’s living rooms because it doesn’t have a building.  Most of the families home school/ed and most of the girls wore long denim skirts up until a couple years ago.  The youth were swept with a restless wind about that time. The girls started wearing long skirts made out of not denim, along with uber fashionable tops.

While they stayed home and waited for someone to marry them.  In their late twenties.

I wondered how the ‘adults’ would react if they suddenly were aware that that the immorality they had so studiously isolated their progeny from, and that they contemplated with such horror from half a nation away, was sitting in the room with them.

I kept drawing. Pastor went on.

“…Now, when we say ‘the fear of the Lord’, does that mean we sit around shaking with fear because God is going to come and get us?”

Que the explanation of how ‘the fear of the lord’ doesn’t mean abject terror but respect, etc. I told myself, planning  to pat myself on the back for knowing the talking points so well.

“It only partly means that.”  I looked up.  I thought I knew this routine.  “It does partially mean that, because after all, we serve an awesome God. But it also means having respect…”

They’ve been upgrading their definitions while I was away.  It isn’t the definition of fear that’s changed necessarily. He did still put the fear= respect thing in there.  It’s the definition of awesome that’s changed.

An ‘awesome’ person now means ‘a person so frightening that you would be immobilized with helplessness and terror at the thought of disagreeing with them, because they are going to show up and do horrible things to you in revenge”

I wonder if Rich Mullins knew that.

Awesome is no longer awesome.

The Pastor went on to talk about how  a true Christian must stand for one’s convictions even when surrounded by those who disagree with them.  Then he talked in a soft and tender voice about suffering.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw my mom move. He was saying this for her, I suspected. About her situation.

The point of life isn’t to be happy he said. The point of life is to obey. God. In whatever He wills for you.

They prayed.

The Bible Study ended.  I went to face/escape from a large gaggle of young women in long skirts and fashionable tops. In ecstatically happy voices that managed to sound prerecorded, they asked me how I was doing.

Closed in my sketchbook was a picture of a Hindu god. Stylized and glittering, the god’s arms and aura swirled around him.

“Now I am become Death- the Destroyer of Worlds”

 

 

 

 

The Nightmare Art Colony

Last night I was moving boxes. I noticed that my box of old journals was getting musty, and, I hate to say it, starting to mold. I took all the journals outside to air and drink a little lysol.  As any sane person in the middle of a project does, I leafed through one or two. It’s been years since I packed them away.

I found this entry in a book marked “2009-     “

For the sake of clarity, I am currently a bit Jungian. I think that dreams give you useful information about your own state of mind and can bring to your conscious attention things you have noticed or believe subconsciously. The subconscious tends to pick up on things before the conscious mind does. But I do not believe that dreams necessarily give you information from outside of your own head. So- if I dream about someone, it reflects what I subconsciously think,  not what they subconsciously think.

Also, things and people in dreams may be symbolic of other things that they themselves are not, in waking life.

2009 was before I had discovered Jung. I don’t know what I thought then.

***

I dreamed that I moved into one of Was Hurd’s Art colonies- except it really was one this time, established and a lot of people lived there. Something horrible was happening- some kind of plant got in and started to overgrown everything. People weren’t leaving but there were fewer and fewer people left. They [the ones who were left] were trying to get away.

I dreamed that a couple nights ago. [I had read something] just before I went to sleep about dreams being meaningful, and how you should record and consider them. I went over in my mind, how I used to do that and nothing ever really came of it, but fleetingly decided I might give it one more shot. I dreamed that, and wrote it down because it was odd.  Except for Kristen mentioning him once… I haven’t thought about Wes since I finished school, and didn’t have any massively strong opinions about him then. Later that morning, the mail came and the News and Views got plucked down in front of me. I got suddenly kind of scared, and when I opened it, in fact the article was by Wes Hurd.

The article was only the good old Gutenberg Message about the pursuit of truth and such. As I read it, however, it seemed to me that Wes kept referring to their [the Gutenberg] version [of Christianity] as ‘truer’ than ordinary American Xianity.

It occurs to me- what place can there be in existentialism for self congratulation? If you decide you have arrived, doesn’t that mean you have stopped the Pursuit [of Truth]? Isn’t the whole point of saying there is something wrong with Xianity in America that Xians in America seem to think they are as they should be, and have [therefore] stopped looking beyond themselves? But if we have stopped looking beyond ourselves, what good are we to them?

A plant that overgrows its surroundings kills everything that is not itself. A cancer kills [the body] when it begins to transform all the other tissues into it’s own kind of tissue.

We [Gutenbergers] complain that beliefs are held ritually and not through the passion of the mind and spirit- but do we really believe that there are no rituals of the intellect? We complain that they become a cancer, mindlessly reproducing themselves, but shouldn’t the accusation [leveled] outward make us turn fearfully inward [to see if we are doing the same thing]?

Have we really written down and codified the great Tao?

Couldn’t even our Pursuit of Truth become a Wild Hunt- where our fantasy selves are caught up into pursuit of an illusion- such that we pass even God by [without seeing him]?

I am venting here and not writing well. I’m not sure I should bring up the dream, but I think I should write Wes and ask him about this. The coincidence is too much.

***

I never did write him.

You Do WHAT in your Bible? The Ethics of Sex and the Demiurge (edited)

Sooo… I have to put an apology in here.  I posted this in a haze of tiredness and just-get-it-done.  I left out some thing that may be important.

Here is the edit.

Trigger Warning: Elliot Rodgers quotes.  Quotes from the Bible involving damnation. Discussion of  Biblical stories involving sexuality- some of them abusive.  Discussion of rape. Discussion of animal sexuality. Discussion of BDSM.  Discussion of Jack Crabtree’s version of God meeting  the technical definition of a sadist.  Discussion of the version of God derived from the Bible (when this is treated as an authority) having analogy to a misogynist serial killer. Use of Sarcastic language throughout, including during all the other triggers I have mentioned above.

This post is part of my response to Jack Crabtrees lecture On the Ethics of Sex in the Bible.  The notes, which I am going over, as well as audio recordings can be found here.

http://blog.gutenberg.edu/2014/the-ethics-of-sex-in-the-teaching-of-the-bible/

***

The class is over, but the show goes on.

I must admit that this section held little glamour for me. I also currently consider it the longest section of anything on the face of the earth.

Troublingly enough, this section has the best claim as the explanation of what the phrase Biblical Sexual Ethics means. You know- the title subject. Which we have not bothered to define till now.

IV. Biblical perspectives that are completely at odds with modern perspectives and that must be grasped in order to understand the Bible’s view of sexual ethics:

To the ordinary ear, it sounds as though we are going to to be talking about the Bible in this section. I mean, it does to mine anyway. So imagine my surprise when-

A. God created a purposeful, telic creation. Everything has a telos, a purpose, and it has a design to facilitate that purpose.

-it turns out we are talking about Aristotle!!!

A telos (from the Greek τέλος for “end”, “purpose”, or “goal”) is an end or purpose, in a fairly constrained sense used by philosophers such as Aristotle. It is the root of the term “teleology,” roughly the study of purposiveness, or the study of objects with a view to their aims, purposes, or intentions. Teleology figures centrally in Aristotle’s biology and in his theory of causes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telos_(philosophy)

Now. I cannot recall the Bible stating that ‘everything has a telos, a purpose, and is designed to facilitate that purpose.’ If there is one, and I have overlooked it, please, let me know.  In Psalms 119:91 the Psalmist states that

Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.

But the laws referred to seem to be the Judaic Ritual Law (the only law that had then been issued)?  According to Acts 15 Gentile believers are not required to follow this. All things do not serve the ritual laws as their purpose, so probably the endurance of the law is instead the indirect result of all things serving God.

However, this brings up the troubling problem that even the damned, by their damnation, serve God. If we assume that (at least part of) the Telos of humans is to ‘live according to God’s telos for them’, the damned are actually serving God by failing to enact their telos. Thus they aren’t failing in their telos and should not be damned.

If we further consider that certain passages in the Bible state that God purposed the failure of the failing-

Romans 9:16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”…

Romans 9:19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”[h] 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory…?

-and actually designed them to fail, thus designing them to facilitate the purpose of not fulfilling their purpose, this statement on the part of Mr. Crabtree becomes highly suspect.

Let’s leave this ‘Telos for everything’ business aside. Maybe if we narrow our focus, things will become clearer.

Does the Bible state that God has a purpose for humans?

Yes, it does! It says that:

Gen 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Apparently the purpose of humans is to rule the world. Some people interpret this to mean ‘care for the world in a protective/nurturing manner.’ That makes more sense, as most of our attempts to dominate the earth have been setting off processes that will eventually destroy it, if God doesn’t show back up and destroy it first.

(Question for another time. Is it a good idea to take the advice of someone who has the stated intention of violently destroying your world?)

Unfortunately, in order to maintain a stable socio-political, economic, environmental state in which the earth was cared for by the human race, the human race will probably have to find ways to limit its own growth, as a finite system cannot sustain infinite growth in any one of it’s parts. As a biological phenomena, homosexuality limits population growth without attempting to render a large segment of the human population asexual.

An attempt that was actually made by the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. It worked so well that Priestson became a family name.

http://www.americanlastnames.us/last-names/P/PRIESTSON.html

But we’re saying homosexuality is a horrible evil. So that can’t be it.

Tossing the Bible aside, where can we get a statement of God’s purpose for humans?

Westminster Catechism and random sermons by Puritans seem like as good a place as any, seeing Mr. Crabtree has given us no source for this statement. Telos!

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

http://www.reformed.org/documents/WSC.html

http://www.puritansermons.com/watson/watson5.htm

The trouble with this still is that Pharaoh glorified God by being destroyed.

Romans 9:17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”…

And the rebellion against God, for which he was destroyed? It wasn’t a question of predestination or free will (Exodus 9-14); God mind controlled Pharaoh so that Pharaoh would keep rebelling and God could keep destroying him until He had had enough fun destroying things for His own glory.

If you don’t love God, God is going to destroy you and glory in your destruction.

Totally free choice there.

But either way, the damned do not enjoy God.

God has still not designed humans such that their design facilitates their purpose.

Now, some kinder gentler christians have argued that hell and damnation don’t exist. Some of them say that if you don’t like God, you just go out like a candle and stop existing. Others say that eventually everyone is saved.

Here are the verses that made us think that God plans to subject everyone he doesn’t like to conscious eternal torment.

Isaiah 66: 22 “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure. 23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord. 24 “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”

Matthew 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Mark 9:43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out… 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell… 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where

“‘the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.’

Luke 16:23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ …26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

2 Thessalonians 1:5 …as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.

Revelations 19:20 But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.

Revelations 20:10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

Revelation 20: 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

Revelation 21:7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

You know where else I’ve heard this line of thought?

‘I’m going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB and I will slaughter every single spoilt, stuck-up, blonde slut that I see inside there. All those girls that I’ve desired so much, they would’ve all rejected me and looked down on me as an inferior man if I ever made a sexual advance towards them…’

It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me. But I will punish you all for it…

‘I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one. The true alpha male …’

http://bellejar.ca/2014/05/24/elliot-rodger-and-men-who-hate-women/

 Humanity has never accepted me among them, and now I know why. I am more than human. I am superior to them all. I am Elliot Rodger… Magnificent, glorious, supreme, eminent… Divine! I am the closest thing there is to a living god. Humanity is a disgusting, depraved, and evil species. It is my purpose to punish them all. I will purify the world of everything that is wrong with it. On the Day of Retribution, I will truly be a powerful god, punishing everyone I deem to be impure and depraved.

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Elliot_Rodger

Despite Augustine’s semantic squirming about evil being uncreated, there is only one person to blame for Hell. Mr. Crabtree himself once pointed out to me that if the New Heaven and Earth are perfect, if we’re there we probably wouldn’t sin. But we probably would have free will, or else our non-sinning wouldn’t be real- a.k.a. existentially chosen.

An argument routinely made by other Christians is that God had to allow sin (and hence evil) so that humans could have free will.

But apparently the sin we’re being damned for wasn’t necessary for the Creation to exist. God added it in because he wanted it.

And if reality is a novel that God is writing, not only is free will ultimately an illusion any way, but He could have easily written it such that everyone was saved.

If we take the parable of the sheep and the goats seriously, some of the people reading this are are goats. Goats, if there is a hell, you are going to meet me there.

Because I would rather go to Hell than to worship a Being this depraved.

Sheep, I sort of despise you. I would call you the ultimate quislings- traitors to sentient beings on every world and to all the Buddhas.

But you know what? You believe in God, and God is fekking scaring. You’re taking care of yourselves. Who am I to judge?

So much for purpose.

1. Human sexuality constitutes an objective reality to which human beings are
accountable. Human sexuality is not something that I can make into whatever I
want it to be. It is what it is (that is, it is what God designed and purposed it to
be); it is not mine to do with as I please.

If the universe is a novel written by God, the people who make sexuality into whatever they want (thus incurring the wrath of God and eternal torment), are what God designed and purposed them to be.

Sooo… why are we saying they are bad if God’s prescription sexuality is good? Or- if God can design something that’s bad, as long as it glorifies him, on what basis do we call the sexuality good just because God designed it?

Also, note the use of the word objective here. We’re still in section A. In sections C) D) and I) we are treated to a fascinating account of which parts of reality are to be treated as important- as really real. It sheds some light on the use of ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’.

Spoiler: According to Mr. Crabtree, reality isn’t necessarily the physically or experientially verifiable part.

…it is not mine to do with as I please.

Weeell, technically, even in this scenario sexuality is yours to do with as you please. It’s just that you are God’s property to do with as he pleases. If you don’t do it the way he likes you to do it, he’s going to make you wish you were never born.

2. The Biblical worldview is completely compatible with the notion that “natural laws” exist (if the concept of a “natural law” is understood in the right sort of way).

I just love tautologies.

This concept is completely compatible with that concept, as long as by that concept you mean this concept.

Yeah.

a) To speak of something as being “against nature” means to speak of something as being at odds with God’s purpose and design for what he has created.

A key to understanding what he’s saying here is the retroactive understanding that reality isn’t material. I swear this is actually coming- C, D, and I. ‘Nature’ doesn’t mean ‘biological existence as it actually occurs’. That would lend homosexuality and its variations the justification of being biological phenomena and actually occurring.

And we can’t have that.

No. ‘Nature’ means- ‘what the Bible says nature is’. Or rather, what Mr. Crabtree says Aristotle says that the Bible says that nature is.

(1) Therefore, to speak of sexual behavior as being “against nature” means that that sexual behavior is at odds with God’s purpose and design for human sexuality.

See? Against nature= ‘against what I think Aristotle thinks the Bible says.’

(2) Romans 1:26–2:2

Just as an aside.

Romans 1:26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

In my Mary Pride-filled youth, this verse was used to explain to me how women giving their babies formula (unnatural relations) instead of breastfeeding (natural relations) causes men to be gay. Also- I think- AIDS?

Or maybe that’s just what Mary Pride says the Bible says that nature is, hm?

b) When we consider what might be “natural” with regard to human sexuality,
we must ask what is “natural” with regard to human sexuality.

Hm. Interesting. Yes and no. According to Jared Diamond (author of Guns Germs and Steel), in his book, Why is Sex Fun? human sexuality has a number of traits that are uncommon or unique in the animal kingdom. He also gives fairly rational arguments as to how it evolved, and how the biological evolution of human sexuality has corresponded with human social evolution.

So yes, in a sense, humans have a unique pattern of sexuality. However, that does not mean that human sexuality is fixed. In fact, if society is to change further, I wonder if different forms of and attitudes towards sexuality might be the necessary groundwork.

I mean, not to go all John Lennon on you, but- a society without rape- where each person’s wishes for their own lives and bodies were respected and valued.

What would sexuallity look like in that society?

And wouldn’t that also have to be a world where the fact that a person was a person is more important than the religion they followed? Where people are more important than money or convenience? A world without genocide?

A world where an entire race of people couldn’t be massacred by, say, drowning them all in a flood?

(1) We cannot judge what is natural for human sexuality by observing what is “natural” in animal sexuality.

On the other hand, the author of proverbs sends his son to the ants as examples of diligence in order to learn wisdom (Prov 6:6-8) and these are moral traits. Morality is supposedly the thing that distinguishes humans and their God-yearning souls from the soulless animals.

If the Bible says we can learn moral lessons from the nature of animals, what’s the problem with learning about animal sexuality for lessons on what Nature is?

For instance- the great variety of roles that male and female play in animal societies might point towards the fact that the roles taken by male and female in OUR society are not necessarily Forms Dwelling in the Suprarenal Palace of Forms, informing all reality with our particular version of Male and Female-ness.

[Content Note: this link contains cartoon/symbolic nudity to indicate gender, but does not depict sex]

“If humans used animal mating rituals” http://9gag.com/gag/aZP2zgz?ref=fb.s

But the Bible isn’t actually important in this Biblical Sexual Ethic. Mr. Crabtree needs to not be able to learn from animals, because animals operate according to the rules of their biological existence. Other people, not Mr. Crabtree of course, would say they are ruled by Nature.

And Nature has to be what Mr.Crabtree says it is- NOT what’s observable. Otherwise it might not turn out to be what he says it it.

So. Those physical/ biological examples you have? Ditch them. After all, who needs facts when you have a theory about what the Bible says!

3. Given that this is the biblical worldview, it makes no sense whatsoever to reject the idea that “natural law” (if that is understood to mean whatever coherence to the created order would dictate) gives us important information about how we humans ought to behave.

Woah! Shit! When did the Bible come into this?

Oh right. This is the Biblical Worldview- a horse of a different color.

…whatever coherence to the created order would dictate…

The key word here is “created.” “Natural Law” is being used to mean ‘the rules of the material world when understood as a creation of God /the Bible/Aristotle.’

Well duh. Of course that’s not going to contradict the Bible. When squeezed and mutilated into being understood as a created order as defined by Mr. Crabtree’s interpretation of the Bible, the material world is going to always, 100%, going to agree with what he says the Bible says.

Wave your flag for team Tautology.

a) Accordingly, the fact that homosexual sex is incompatible with procreation is an important datum in one’s reaching a rational conclusion about the morality of homosexual behavior.

And so now, without quoting a single verse, passage or Creation Science Study, we are assuming that the purpose of sexuality is procreation.

The Biblical Book On Sex, The Song of Solomon, is overflowing with intimate and metaphoric details of the lovers delighting in each other. And never once mentions procreation.

David’s first wife, Michal- you know, the one he bought for the price of several hundred severed Philistine dicks (oh alright, foreskins)- who was madly in love with him at the time, never produced a child in conjugal relations with him. But she saved his life when her dad ordered him killed (1 Samuel 18-19, 2 Samuel 6). Were their sexual relations immoral?

Or how about David’s pretty little bed warmer, Abishag? He never even had conjugal relations with her, but once he was dead, her remarriage was considered a political threat to his son Solomon (1 Kings 1). It wasn’t because of any children she had had or could have, but because she had been the king’s consort.

Was Abraham and Sarah’s relationship illicit (well, other than that it was incest) in the years before it produced a child? Or why were Abraham’s children by his concubine Keturah (Genesis 25:1-5) simply given a sack lunch and a walking stick and thrown out when they were too old to be cute anymore? Like dumped pets. God more or less micromanaged Abraham’s life. If he was doing something wrong, you would expect God would have popped up and smote him or something. But of all the many children Abraham procreated, only Isaac counted to him (and kind of Ishmael). If the procreated themselves didn’t matter to Abraham, how could procreation be the point of the sex that produced them?

But perhaps all those examples are not important because the Bible gives us bad examples as well as good ones, eh?

Maybe we should be looking to Jewish covenantal/ritual law to tell us what the purpose of sex is.

You know. The law that evil modern society has by and large discarded because they think that kidnapping people of a different ethnic group and selling them like talking pottery is a detestable ?

I don’t have time to go into it here. And Mr. Crabtree didn’t either. But maybe those are not important because they only apply to the Jews. Or something.

Maybe we know that procreation is the purpose of Sex because in first chapter of the book of the Book of Genesis, God says that his reason for making humankind is so that they will rule the earth and he tells them to reproduce in order to do it.

But if sex is the means of procreation and procreating is part of the reason humans exist, it doesn’t logically follow that procreating is the only reason for sex.

Your hands are useful both for lifting things up and for setting things down. If we could establish that the purpose of your existence was to lift boxes onto shelves- that might end up meaning that your hands are necessary to move the crates already on the shelves down onto the floor in order to make room for said boxes.

The purpose of your hands’ existence might be both actions, even if the purpose of your existence was only one of them.

There is a great deal in the Bible to be dealt with before one decides what God has decided the point of sex is. It has emotional, social, and political aspects as well as procreative ones- and that isn’t even starting on economics or demographics.

But to just decide halfway through a sentence- without dealing with any of this? Are you kidding me?

This is the argumentative equivalent of a Piggybank marked ‘Jesus Saves’.

(1) Because it gives us important information about God’s purpose and design for human sexuality.

A design we pulled out of our ass.

Excuse me while I have trouble taking this seriously.

B. A moral judgment with regard to sexual behavior (as with regard to any and all
behavior) must be made on the basis of a rational moral judgment (grounded in the
biblical worldview), not on the basis of what feels right, natural, or acceptable.

Ahem.

Polanyi`s concept of knowledge is based on three main theses: First, true discovery, cannot be accounted for by a set of articulated rules or algorithms. Second, knowledge is public and also to a very great extent personal (i.e. it is constructed by humans and therefore contains emotions, “passion”.). Third, the knowledge that underlies the explicit knowledge is more fundamental; all knowledge is either tacit or rooted in tacit knowledge.

http://www.sveiby.com/articles/Polanyi.html

Emphasis added.

1. The moral judgment we place on any behavior (including our sexual behavior)
must NOT be made on the basis of what seems right to us, for what seems right
(and natural) to us is derived from our acculturation in and by a particular culture.
It is not typically a function of our rational, moral judgment.

Broca’s work seemed particularly invulnerable to
refutation. Had he not measured with the most
scrupulous care and accuracy? (Indeed, he had. I have
the greatest respect for Broca’s meticulous procedure.
His numbers are sound. But science is an inferential
exercise, not a catalog of facts. Numbers, by themselves, specify nothing. All depends upon what you do with them.) Broca depicted himself as an apostle of objectivity, a man who bowed before facts and cast aside superstition and sentimentality. He declared that “there is no faith, however respectable, no interest, however legitimate, which must not accommodate itself to the progress of human knowledge and bend before truth.”

Women, like it or not, had smaller brains than men and, therefore, could not equal them in intelligence.

Broca understood, of course, that part of this difference could be attributed to the greater height of males. Yet he made no attempt to measure the effect of size alone and actually stated that it cannot account for the entire
difference because we know, a priori, that women are not as intelligent as men (a premise that the data were supposed to test, not rest upon)

http://faculty.washington.edu/lynnhank/wbgould.pdf

The declaration that one is functioning rationality and not emotionally is no protection against cultural prejudice. The otherwise impeccable practice of rationality does not protect one against cultural prejudice.

Rational thought falls prey to culture just as easily as gut instinct does.

My suspicion is that the only real protection against cultural prejudice that exists is the injunction to know thyself- and to actively pursue knowing the culture as well.

a) To the member of a tribe of cannibals, eating his enemies (though they are
human beings) feels comfortably “right” and “natural.” Why wouldn’t it? That
is all he has ever known.

Apparently, Broca noticed that German brains were on average larger than French brains. A good Frenchman, Broca corrected his study of French and German brains to account for the average physical difference in height.

He thought it was perfectly right and natural to not correct his data on male and female brain sizes for differences in height.

http://books.google.com/books?id=MAw5Ol_VnmwC&pg=PA217&lpg=PA217&dq=broca+women%27s+brains++Gratiolet&source=bl&ots=iMH3z66bbz&sig=cFpxXgT-yG1vccF393nZrJov-Go&hl=en&sa=X&ei=yFuXU-kdyKfIBN2ogqgJ&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=broca%20women’s%20brains%20%20Gratiolet&f=false

Rationality won’t save you.

b) From a biblical perspective, it is important that we be willing to have our cultural attitudes and perspectives completely undermined and overturned.

Kind of like how God’s perspective was completely overturned between saying

Ezekiel 18:1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:
“‘The parents eat sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?
3 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. 4 For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die…

19 “Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. 20 The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.

And saying

Exodus 34: 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

I mean if the ultimate cookie cutter of morality for all of reality sometimes changes his mind on what it means to be moral, we shouldn’t be afraid to either, right?

(1) “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” > Romans 12:2.

In the verse before this, Paul talks about offering your body as a living sacrifice to God. One has to wonder if this is similar to what the Israelites are said to have done to the children of the citizens of Jericho.

Joshua 6:16 …Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city! 17 The city and all that is in it are to be devoted[a] to the Lord…

Footnote a. Joshua 6:17 The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord, often by totally destroying them; also in verses 18 and 21.

20 When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. 21 They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

Were those children living sacrifices before they were ‘given over’ to God ? Or only after?

At any rate, our minds must be renewed and transformed such that the murder of children is acceptable to us before the Biblical View will make sense.

To conclude IV B, I believe that the human mind is finite. Even if God exists and has gifted us with an absolute revelation, our understanding of that revelation is going to be limited. I see no reason to try rid ourselves of emotion (or rationality) in a misguided attempt to obtain absolute knowledge.

There is a verse in Ecclesiastes that talks about eternity being set in the heart, and a passage in Corinthians that talks about gaining the Mind of Christ. Perhaps you don’t share my bleak view of the limitations of knowledge.

Even so, no one said that the mind of Christ could be gained by simply discarding our human emotions in favor of our human mind.

C. My physical sexual nature is not an essential element of what I am as a human being— it is not an essential facet of what I am as a creature created in the image of God.

And now we are in Section C. The long awaited.

I have to ask. Did Adam, before he fell, have a body?

Gen 2:7 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

God begins with straight out and out matter and adds a spirit. Adam was never without a body, even when he was without a soul. The answer appears to be yes.

Did his body have a sexual aspect?

Gen 1:27 …male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

The answer appears to be yes.

Were the body and its sexual aspects part of God’s image?

Gen 1: 26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them…

Again, yes.

Was it good?

Gen 1:31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

It wasn’t just good, it was very good.

This entire point of Mr. Crabtree’s, if the Bible is our authority, is complete bunk.

The ‘image of God’ was pronounced on Adam as a total being. There was no disclaimer made about which aspect was the Image. So, if the Image was everything he then was, how is the rejection of sexuality anything less than the rejection of God?

Well- because God doesn’t have a body- the reasoning might go. God doesn’t look like a barely evolved monkey like we do. God doesn’t have sex. He doesn’t shit. The Image of God must be something other than our physicalness.

I’m afraid I have a lot of sympathy for the Via Negativa on this. If it isn’t generally useful to pursue the Via Negativa it is also useful to not forget it. God- if such a being exists- exists outside of  the created reality that informs our concepts.

As far as we know, God doesn’t have a spirit, as we understand spirits. The human spirit or consciousness is a lonely thing- embedded in material reality- most likely an illusion created by the firing of neurons.

http://www.amazon.com/Phantoms-Brain-Probing-Mysteries-Human/dp/0688172172

Hence the importance of being given a New Body when resurrected into the New Heavens and Earth. If you weren’t given a new body and new neurons in the new physical reality, you probably wouldn’t exist.

As far as we know, God doesn’t have neurons.

God, as the source of reality and as a being previous to and greater than reality as we know it, is no more accurately described by the word ‘spirit’ than he is by ‘matter’. Or ‘red’ or ‘blue’.

He’s on a different ontological level than we are.

If God can accurately be described as the author of the novel which is the universe, ‘spirit’ ‘will’ and ‘existential decision’ are just as much created items as the ‘body’ and its sexuality.  No more and no less.

If the entities that experience existence and  decision (our spirits, for lack of a better term) can be a metaphor of God, what prohibits bodies from being metaphor along with them?

1. In the biblical worldview, I transcend my body. My physical body, in general, is
not an essential element to what makes me “me.”

a) I will eventually have another, wholly new “physical” body. I don’t require
being in this present body to be me.

My impulse is to smart off, but this is an interesting question. I suspect that the new “physical” body Mr. Crabtree is talking about here is the resurrected body, alive in the New Heavens and Earth. And yet…

Your body replaces the matter you are made up of every seven years. And yet your experience of yourself as yourself persists. Different material being. Same identity. Clearly the person does transcend the body, right?

Let’s look closer. Your soul does not simply migrate from one block of matter to a different block of matter on the stroke of midnight every seventh year. It replaces that matter a little at a time. It discards and replaces the molecules you consist of according to a consistent pattern. At no time, during the seven year cycle, does that pattern simply and suddenly change. If the pattern according to which you are continually being made ever does simply and suddenly change, it’s called a genetic disorder, an autoimmune disease, or cancer, and may cause you to cease to exist in any measurable sense.

Pattern transcends matter.

But what governs this pattern?

Your DNA.

What is DNA made of?

Matter.

In any sense we can verify, your physical body is the essential element of what it means to be you.

2. When it comes to my sexuality, it is helpful to think of myself as a person—a
being created in the image of God—given an animal-like body through which to
act and express myself.

Maybe I just have a dirty mind. But you know what this person/animal/sexuality dynamic reminds me of?

Ponyplay.

Ponyplay is a combination of BDSM and erotic role play where the bottom assumes the role of an equid and becomes a ponygirl (or ponyboy)…

I would classify ponyplay into two very general types:

“Forced” ponyplay in which the pony still considers himself to be a human but is treated as an animal and is compelled by his trainer/owner/handler to behave as an animal. This type of ponyplay typically involves humiliation since the pony is a human who is forced to take on the role of an equid and may thus feel degraded.

Note: While it should not have to be said, it is still worth noting that in forced ponyplay (as with BDSM generally), the pony has consented to play and is not literally being forced. Ponyplay is consensual!

“Equine role play” in contrast, is when the human “becomes” an equid and does not have a human persona while in pony role. Humiliation does not typically play a role in this type of ponyplay since animals are generally not considered to be able to be humiliated, and in any event there would be no reason a horse would feel humiliated simply for being a horse.

http://www.cpony.com/home/faq.html

If we assume the body is an Animal that I, the Person, have to indwell- it sounds vaguely like God is into ponyplay.

a) The animal-like body through which I do and must express myself is a less
noble, less eternal, and less beautiful facet of who I am.

And not just Equine Role Play, either. God is going the ‘forced’/humiliation route.

b) It is my true identity as a “person” that constitutes the ultimate, eternal, noble,
beautiful, and essential facet of who I will be.

Let me reiterate something here.

Note: While it should not have to be said, it is still worth noting that in forced ponyplay (as with BDSM generally), the pony has consented to play and is not literally being forced. Ponyplay is consensual!

The difference between BDSM and actual torture and humiliation, as I understand it, is that the person being done to, in BDSM, has voluntarily entered their role.

As I understand it no one in the ‘created’ universe has entered their role voluntarily. The Bible is at pains to emphasise that point.

Isaiah 45:9 “Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker,
those who are nothing but potsherds
among the potsherds on the ground.
Does the clay say to the potter,
‘What are you making?’
Does your work say,
‘The potter has no hands’?

Romans 9:20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”

God hasn’t just created a kinky universe, where he has People running around in Animal bodies.

God is actually a sadist.

“You are a person, a beautiful image of the Most Holy. But I have you in my power and, without your consent, I’m going to trap you in an animal body that will subject you to horrible perverse urges. I’m going to watch you continually to see if you slip up and have your fellow Animal People butcher you- like an animal- if you fail. You have NO RIGHT to want anything other than what I want, so if you dare to be angry or resentful of what I’ve done, or do anything other than praise me and /or beg for forgiveness for your continual failures, I’m going to take you back out of the body and drown you in fire which will torment you but of which you cannot die.”

If being a Person is different than being a Body- who the hell would do this?

The Gnostics (of whom much has been written and of whom I do not feel qualified to speak authoritatively), seem to have believed that People were different entities than their bodies. Their responses to this belief differed. Some, I believe, proscribed ascetic practices, constricting and controlling the body so that it would not interfere with the Person. Some  were said to have proscribed complete licence. After all, if the body is so unimportant, what does it matter what the Body does?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnosticism#Moral_and_ritual_practice

But they tended to agree that the Creation of the material universe was not the work of the Good God. Creation was the act of an evil minor deity- the Demiurge.  Where Christians longed for a New Earth, the most sensible thing the Gnostic could long for was that Creation would dissolve completely and the work of the Evil One would be undone. The trapped souls then would be released to return to the Good God from whom they had been separated.

I have to hand it to them. The Gnostics were at least sharp enough that they didn’t worship the Demiurge.

3. Sexual desire per se is not spiritual, transcendent, eternal, or even ennobling. It is
not an ultimate good. Indeed, being connected with an inferior animal-like facet
of who I am, it has the potential to be demeaning.

Actually, according to the first chapter of Genesis.

You know.  In the Bible.

It’s part of the Image of God.

Not to bring up the sadist thing again- but given Mr. Crabtree’s Worldview why exactly did God/ the Demiurge trap People in bodies that reproduce sexually?

The last time I read anything about it, asexual reproduction is a pretty viable solution to the problem of biological death. God/the Demiurge either knew that humans would fall or created them broken to begin with. He also apparently has this very particular taste in human sex such that he needed to make all these rules and is upset if we don’t follow them.

So why not do some damage control and foreknowingly make the physical bodies ones that wouldn’t get on his nerves in case of Fall?

Did he want to pack in the most humiliation and brokenness possible in retaliation for humans not being good enough? Or what?

a) So long as the expression of my sexuality is kept within the bounds of its God-given purpose—it can be an expression of what is good, noble, right, and of God. But, if it is not kept within the bounds of its God-given purpose, then it will become evil, dirty, demeaning, and unclean.

So, the other day, I was walking along and saw a smashed set of earbud wires lying on the side of the road. I picked them up, cleaned them up, braided them into a single strand, and made them into a DYS, totally punk necklace.

Their original purpose, for which they were made was to transmit sound. The purpose I used them for was not that.

Some people don’t like Punk very much and that’s ok. But pretend you like Punk. Or that I had striped the plastic off and used them to wire a machine that makes shoes for orphans or something. You know what those wires were when I repurposed them?

They weren’t evil. They weren’t dirty. They weren’t demeaning. And they weren’t unclean.

Now, in real life (or in in the hypothetical version where I know how to wire machines), the purpose I put the earbud wires to was either innocuous or down right noble.

What if I had instead used them to strangle some one to death?

The wires would still not be evil. Or dirty. Or unclean.

You know what would be unclean if I decided to use the wires for murder?

Me. The person who had commited murder. And only me. The wires would be just what they were before.

Wires.

(1) While it is true that sexual desire and sexual behavior is not necessarily “dirty,” neither is it “transcendent,” beautiful, and a higher aspect of my being.

Either sexuality is morally neutral or it isn’t a possible element of both Good or Evil. Get your story straight.

(a) Sexual desire and behavior can readily become “dirty,” when they transgress their created purpose.

Sigh. There goes birth control.

And yet, the lecture is about how homosexuals are dirty. Pick on the minority, will you?

(2) While it is true that sexual desire and sexual behavior is not an inherently good and ennobling facet of who I am as a human being, yet it is nonetheless true that sexual desire and sexual behavior can become an expression of and a part of that which is good, righteous, beautiful and noble.

So, dispite the fact that sexuality is neither dirty nor trancendent in and of itself, it is for some reason not morally neutral either. When used for ‘the good purpose’ it is taken up into the Telos and becomes a moral good. When used for anything else, it is a perversion.

(a) Our physical sexuality is NOT inherently noble and good, but it can be taken up into that which is noble and good.

Is it just me, or is there a lot of repetition in this section?

(b) This is where the biblical worldview parts company with the Platonic worldview that has infused so much of Christianity.

Uuuh. I’m not going to try and figure out what he thinks the Platonic/Christian hybrid is with regards to sexuality- given that Christianity has by and large taken an extremely low view of sexuality since the time of Augutine (a Platonizer in other respects) whereas Plato described sexual attraction as a rung on the ladder that we climb to reach the Good. A very low rung, but a rung nonetheless.

The real difference from Platonism itself may be that Christians often think that there is an alternative to God (who nominally corresponds with the Platonic Good).

In the Platoninc universe, what Christians call evil can be created by stopping on any given rung of the ladder- loving the beauty of the body and not going on to love the soul as well results in lust- loving the beauty of one particular body/soul and not the beauty of all body/souls results in covetousness, loving people only and not the harmony of people desired by the laws of the polis results in political discord. Etc.

But in Plato’s universe, there only exists good which has not been taken far enough to be Good. There are only deficiancies of Good.

It seems to me that Mr. Crabtree believes in Evil as well as Good.

You can subjegate a thing to a Good Purpose. And then it is a step towards the Good. But there exists Evil Purpose as well. And the thing you subject to the Evil Purpose becomes a step towards Evil.

This, despite believing that God is Good and that everything in Creation is produced by him and is intimately under his control.

Somehow, Something, Somewhere, exists that is Against Him.

O Uncreated, speak thy name.

4. If I choose to act sexually in a manner that is inconsistent with what is morally good, then my sexuality has become beast-like.

AAAGH!!! SO MUCH REPITITION!!!! YES YOU ALREADY SAID THIS!!!

Note the dichotomy that’s been set up here. Physical desire (“urges”) are beastlike. What he says Aristotle say the Bible say God says, on the other hand, is morally good, despite being incredibly not well justified Biblically.

One’s sexuality is defined by the choice one makes.

One one hand, if his theory of sexuality is treated as a theory, he forces you to chose between verifiable reality, the nature of one’s own body and one’s own consistent physical responses- and how he believes things ought to work. Believes, I might add, in direct contradiction to the Bible, whilst claiming the Bible as his authority.

If you don’t chose his theory, you are beastlike.

On the other hand, if his theory were to be treated as the Moral Good that he says it is, one is forced to chose between material reality (the Animal body you have been trapped in by God/the Demiurge) and the immaterial reality of the Good.

You must reject material reality entirely if you want to be accepted by the Good.

a) It is not the God-created person inside of me that is determining what I do with my sexuality; rather, it is the animal-like body I have been given that is determining what I do with my sexuality.

AGH!!!! JACK HAS A PERSON INSIDE OF HIM!!!!!! AAAAAAAAGGGHHH!!!

In the previous point Mr.Crabtree said you could act inconsistently with his moral good if you  chose to do so. Here, he’s saying that if your actions are inconsistant with his moral good, it is not the Person who is determining your actions but the Animal.

Guess what? “You” are not the God-created person. “You” have a God-created Person contained within your borders-

but the God-created Person is not the part that choses.

If “you” are capable of choosing between being a Person and being an Animal, I have to ask-

What are “you”?

Isn’t the point of Existentialism that since you are a Person, you must chose?

Maybe I misunderstood existentalism.

But at any rate, the Gnostic soul/body Good/Evil split is being furthered. One must escape what is normally referred to as reality and superimpose on yourself the world of your mind. Ah. Well. Jack’s mind.

And, conveniently, Mr. Crabtree has found a way to claim that his opponents are literally Animals.

Thanks so much, teacher.

5. The physical (animalistic) nature of my sexuality is, in and of itself, morally undiscerning and does not discriminate between various sexual behaviors. (That is, there is not a class of sexual behaviors that is inappropriate to the animal in us.) Hence, physical sexual response can be influenced, trained, or channeled to respond to anything.

ARGH!!!!

I hate to bring this up. However.

The physical (animalistic) nature of my sexuality is, in and of itself, morally undiscerning and does not discriminate between various sexual behaviors.

I am suspicious that Mr. Crabtree doesn’t know anything about animals. Animals may not be morally discerning. But most species of animal are definitely discriminatory about sexual behavior- unless being raped by a human. Most animal species have sexual patterns, some of which are different than normative human patterns. But individual animals of the species stick to their species’ pattern.

The only species that breaks pattern, by, for instance, occasionally raping animals of a different species, is the human one.

What Mr. Crabtree is calling animalism is actually pretty unique to humans. If I were assuming a Christian worldview, my first impression would it was a direct result (via the Fall) to human moral nature.

Animals just don’t do shit like this.

(That is, there is not a class of sexual behaviors that is inappropriate to the animal in us.)

Appropriate? I think you would have to be either an anatomist or a biologist to say yes or no to that. I am neither.

Hence, physical sexual response can be influenced, trained, or channeled to respond to anything.

Uh. Wrong.

For the human race as a whole, I would refer you to the biologist. I have no clue. I do believe that the normative human sexual pattern is not fixed, as we have already been able to watch ourselves moving away from harems (characteristic of some species of apes and the patriarchs) towards monogamy.

However, as individuals go- there are some humans who will never find ponyplay appealing. No matter how much training is applied towards that end.

Some individuals will never be turned on by cars. Some individuals are asexual- and will never be turned on by another individual of any species.

Some people will never be turned on by people of the same gender.

And do you know what?

That is totally ok.

I believe it is necessary to respect other beings and not force on them behaviors that they don’t understand or do not consent to. But other than that, no two people are exactly alike. And while you can probably force someone to CLAIM that they respond to certain things, by, say, threatening to take them outside the city walls and throwing rocks at them until they’re dead- you can’t threaten, influence or channel a person into actually changing their preference.

a) Therefore, the things in which human beings become sexually interested should come as no surprise to us. Just because a human being finds something sexually interesting does not make it “natural” and, therefore, moral.

Because “nature” means “Mr. Crabtree’s interpretation of the Bible” instead of “the physical/material/biological structure of the universe”.

But, yes. I am ceasing to be surprised.

 

 

 

Thus ends Section IV, A through C. Next time? Section IV, D through J.

Because Section IV is the longest section on earth.

Thank you, whitechocolatelatte, for pointing out Gnosticism. That was incredibly ept.

Back from Beyond

Well.

This was quite a hideously interesting break from blogging.   I got a lot of work done that I would not have otherwise and also fruitlessly banged my head against several things that cannot be changed.  I got over a couple things, took certain items to Goodwill, and attempted to work for the greater good.

This attempt did not render me able to fly or even make me look good in spandex.  Much to my disappointment.

I have started in on the incredibly long Section IV of Jack Crabtree’s Lecture, The Ethics of Sex in the Bible.  Jack has asserted that he has an animal-like body, that is an inferior (“a less noble, less eternal, and less beautiful”) facet of his self.  Which God gave him.

On purpose.

Homosexuality is so much worse than Gnosticism, after all.

Anyway, whilst I finish that post, here is a passage that has been on my mind the last week or so.  It is from the book Letters and Papers from Prison, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

There is no longer any need for God as a working hypothesis, whether in morals, politics or science.  Nor is there any need for such a God in religion or philosophy (Feuerbach).  In the name of intellectual honesty these working hypotheses should be dropped or dispensed with as far as possible.  A scientist or physician who seeks to do otherwise is a hybrid.

At this point nervous souls start asking what room there is left for God now. And being ignorant of the answer they write off the whole development which has brought them to this pass.  As I said in an earlier letter, various emergency exits have been devised to deal with this situation. To them must be added the salto mortale back to the Middle Ages…But that is the council of despair, which can be purchased only at the cost of intellectual sincerity. It reminds one of the song:

It’s a long way back to the land of childhood.

But if only I knew the way!

There isn’t any such way, at any rate, not at the cost of deliberately abandoning our intellectual sincerity. The only way is that of Matthew 18:3 i.e. through repentance, through ultimate honesty… God is teaching us that we must live as men who can get along very well without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34)… God allows himself to be edged out of the world and onto the cross.  God is weak and powerless in the world, and it is exactly the way, the only way, in which he can be with us and help us.  Matthew 8:17 makes it crystal clear that it is not by his omnipotence that Christ helps us, but by his weakness and suffering.

…Man’s religiosity makes him look in his distress to the power of God in the world; he uses God as a Deus ex machina.  The Bible however directs him to the powerlessness and suffering of God: only a suffering God can help.

Why must God suffer?

Why is the Dying God the only one who is of value to Bonhoeffer and not the Warrior King- who created the universe by telling it had better exist or it’d be sorry- who brought you into this world and can take you out of it?

Perhaps it is because, as Aphrodite embodied the lovely desire of one for another, the Dying God Jesus personifies empathy.

I’m not going to argue about what aspect of history triggered the story of Jesus here.  But as the story stands, not even Jesus could save all humans from hell.  He couldn’t even make their lives on earth less nasty brutish and short.

But he could feel what they felt.  He could suffer too.

 

 

Guest Post: A Desire for Something

I do not believe that I can add much to what my guest poster has said by way of introduction. She is an amazing human being and a fantastic artist. You can find her work and blog here: 

http://www.kristenmohr.com/

I am honored to have her post.

 

Preface

In the interest of full disclosure let me give some background before I begin. My name is Kristen and I am a Gutenberg College alumni, class of 2008. When I first attended Gutenberg I was nineteen going on twenty. The school was like a breath of fresh air, but perhaps in ways different than might be expected.

To this day I have strong positive feelings and memories about much of my time at Gutenberg, the tutors themselves, and the life long friends I made during my four years as as student. As a child, I was homeschooled until the middle of third grade. I then attended two different private Christian schools for a year each, after which I moved to public school in the sixth grade as a result of the fact that a) kids at private school were mean and b) it was quite expensive. So off to public school I went. I walked there every day with my neighbor and socially it was a much better situation that either of the private schools had been.

When I was thirteen my family moved to Oregon where I attended public middle school and high school in Eugene. After high school I moved into the Mckenzie Study Center following a welcoming interview with two of the four house managers at that time (Tim & Corrie) wherein I told them I was “not really a Christian” and to which they replied that was perfectly fine and not a requisite of living at MSC. I did have to attend Tuesday night classes if I lived at the house though, to which I thought, “no problem, I’ve been dealing with church my whole life, I can deal with this.” I just wanted a place where I could live in peace and quiet away from any partying while I attended LCC.

[MSC is a living environment/ housing program associated with Gutenberg College. Gutenberg College was, at that time, housed in the same building as most of its students, but is technically a separate entity from MSC- Editor]

Two of my earliest memories involving the tutors were with Ron and Jack on separate occasions. My experience with Ron involved listening to a lecture he was giving on a Tuesday night. He was talking about the verse (Corinthians 11 I think?) where Paul is talking about women’s hair and head coverings and things of that nature. Verses which seemed to me the kind of thing you would want to avoid if you were trying to make sense of Christianity.

I found it impressive Ron was taking this passage on and attempting a rational explanation of how historically this sort of thing could make sense within the culture, considering people’s biases back then, and how in the present we have developed different ways to express similar sentiments. Because the sentiment itself is actually good. It wasn’t a passage degrading women, it was about respecting your husband, a notion that still makes sense in the modern world (because all women should respect their husbands and all husbands should respect their wives, right?). Anyways, I did not leave feeling pissed off. I left feeling I could appreciate the fact that these people were working to reconcile the bible’s most controversial passages in comprehensible ways.

My other memory involves the first time I met Jack at a social function. I must have had some impression of his teaching because at the outset of our conversation – practically after I told him my name – I added “ and I’m not a Christian.” I guess I wanted to be honest. Anyways, Jack looked at me and said “oh, ok!” in a awkward but quite friendly fashion (how do you not respond awkwardly in that context?). And that was it. I might as well have said, “I have brown hair!”. And it occurred to me that no one here hated me because I didn’t think the same things as them and they didn’t mind having me around. So I stayed.

My first year living at the house convinced me that not only were there people who did not mind my presence, they actually liked having me around. So many people, but a few in particular, were exceptionally welcoming. I am sure they know exactly who they are. These people went to great lengths to make sure I knew I was cared for. They dragged me out of the dark den of a room I hid in and got to know me. We had things in common. We had similar interests. I liked them a lot. And their compassion without pity changed me. And for the first time in many years it seemed maybe Christians could be something other than hypocrites.

I continued to attend LCC for a year while attending Tuesday night classes. Then one day after the presidential election in September (I had begun attending LCC for a second year) I had a very strange experience while I was at school. I should mention at this point politics were not a topic of much discussion at my house as far as I can remember. Probably because there were people who who held strongly opposing opinions living under the same roof and who didn’t want to create a more adversarial environment at home than already existed. My values were largely informed by whatever information I was naturally exposed to through my family, friends, school, and church or that I gathered myself during adolescence and early adulthood. Politics were confusing to me then and they remain confusing to me now.

Unexpectedly in the middle of an afternoon class I was suddenly overwhelmed with regret. I wished I had not voted for Kerry. I simply wished I would not have voted at all, or at least voted for a minority or third party leader who more accurately represented my own values. But I had voted for a mainstream party member because I did not want Bush to win. But he did, so did it even matter that I voted? Thinking of this made me desperately unhappy. And for whatever reason, I felt an enormous amount of fear, like I had done something wrong by voting for someone I had not felt convicted about. In retrospect, I hadn’t. I had done what seemed like the only logical thing to do at the time. But that is water under the bridge.

For whatever reason, all of this conviction and guilt led me to wonder if perhaps there was an objectively right way to live, a world where even if our actions did not make the kind of difference we wanted them to, we would still have made a decision that mattered on another level. And so I began to actively entertain the possibility of the existence of a good God and objective morality once again. Please note that I had never denied the possibility of a divine entity or even fully dismissed all my ideas about the Christian God. I would not have described myself as an atheist. And I certainly never stopped being terrified of being damned to hell. I had stopped actively trying to make sense of the Christian God because I was so exhausted by the hardships of life, frustrated by the hypocrisy of the church, and overwhelmed by the difficulty of making sense of biblical text. But I was ready to take on the challenge anew.

At this point I talked to someone about the possibility of starting at Gutenberg although it was already halfway through the fall term. The reason for this decision was because a) I had actually wanted to attend Gutenberg straight out of highschool but didn’t feel mentally or emotionally stable enough to commit myself to the curriculum in a way I wanted. I now felt stable enough. And b) because Gutenberg was a place where we could discuss everything in the universe while also considering these things in relation to the plausible existence of a good God. I would not have to make an argument at the outset of every discussion about why I was even considering a god of some sort in relation to the topic. I could expect other people to want to investigate things from this same perspective, and yet the jury could still be out! It was great. I could not have been more excited. I wanted to find out what the world looked like if in fact, a good God existed. Plus we read primary sources, my absolutely most favorite way of learning.

So I started late, attending two schools at once. I studied simultaneously at both institutions for around three weeks. It was crazy making and I do not recommend it. I made up almost every single reading and learned the greek alphabet along with some grammatical basics over winter break. And I studied Euclid and Aristotle over the next summer or two. Studying Aristotle by yourself is awesome by the way. And hilarious. Oh winged things, how can I forget you. <3

I loved it. I loved learning everything. Over the next two years (the first western civ cycle) between work, school, and friendship I did as much background reading as I could sanely manage. I bought extra books whenever I could afford them. In general, I was bat shit crazy about learning the history of western civilization, literature, and philosophy. The world felt like it was beginning to make a bit more sense. The final two years of my degree were more complicated for a variety of reasons which I won’t discuss right now. In many ways they were not as enjoyable as my first two years, but they were probably just as influential.

After college I married  my BFF Mike O’Malley Mohr (ceremony performed by Mr. David Crabtree himself) who attended the University of Oregon obtaining an undergraduate degree in Classics. Some of you might know him or be familiar with his participation in the ongoing discussion of Jack’s present lectures. After this we promptly moved to Ann Arbor where he obtained a J.D. from the University of Michigan while I helped manage a small cafe. We presently live in Portland, Oregon where I am a practicing visual artist and take continuing ed. workshops and classes at PCC. Mike is a practicing attorney. We have cats, smoke hookah, and spent a stupid amount of time talking about life, the universe, and everything. I wondered if these topics might get old at some point, but they don’t. Aren’t we lucky?

Anyways, now that you know a little more about me and where I am coming from, I’ll share some of my thoughts on how I first experienced the school. This is not written to be an attack on Gutenberg or anyone affiliated with it. It is meant to be both expressive and informative. It is also an opinion piece, obviously. Moving along.

 

Part I

While Gutenberg was a place open to discussion about all manner of material, I still felt pressure to conform. I cannot say whether this was an self imposed pressure or something external. It may have simply stemmed from my own desire to be fully accepted as someone who thought the “right” way. I have always been someone who desires acceptance and have gone to great lengths to find it in the past. I am trying not to do that anymore, but to live more honestly.

It’s important to state very clearly that no one was twisting my arm into believing any one thing in particular. Apart from all our studies about the history of the western world, Christianity was presented through reasonable argument as the ultimate Truth (capital T, meaning the type of truth that represents the ultimate nature of the universe). If for whatever reason you did not follow this same line of logic, it stood (and still stands) to reason you might not come to the same conclusion. Which was fine. But if this was the case, that your reasoning did not lead you down the same general path to Christianity as Truth, you might be destined to find yourself wandering through life as a vessel of wrath as opposed to a vessel of mercy. But, we were also told this was not cause to despair. Because it was possible for us to graciously accept that both vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy are equally important to the fulfillment of God’s ultimate plan for the universe. A plan which is morally good in nature in accordance with the necessity that God himself is good.

But if I am honest, I imagine no one wants to be a vessel of wrath, whatever that happens to mean. And if you can graciously come to terms with your reckoning, aren’t you actually a vessel of mercy after all?

All of the tutors at Gutenberg were Christians of some flavor. But we didn’t have to be Christians, or at least the same “kind” of Christian, to go there. We didn’t have to be determinists and there weren’t any rules about going to church on Sunday or referring to the bible as an infallible text. We were there to ask questions about all those things: why should we pray if we believe in Calvinistic determinism? How can the bible be infallible given that it was a cannon put together by far-from-divine humans years and years after the life of Christ? If the second half is radically different from the first and there are all these other parts that some people left out while others kept in, how do we know all the right pieces ended up in the version we have now? Etc. You get the idea. It was a place to ask questions freely about Christianity, how Christianity could be true, what it meant for us if it was true, and how, if we accepted Christianity, should we refer to the bible as a relevant guide when it is the year 2000+ and we have stuff like computers and woman teach in protestant churches?

As a culture (and perhaps especially protestants) we have decided that freedom of choice is important .At Gutenberg, freedom of choice was very important. Just wait until you read Kierkegaard. He, the gadfly of Denmark, nearly tore himself to pieces over the importance and necessity of every individual’s ability to make personal decisions honestly and consciously.

The existential decision to freely choose Christianity has become important to many adults throughout modern Christendom, just as Kierkegaard would have wanted. And while these adults may sincerely desire – even desperately desire – their children to find themselves vessels of mercy as opposed to the other less savory aspect of this binarism, they know that only through a  free choice can one be certain of whether they are in fact a vessel of mercy (saved) or a vessel of wrath (something else). If we don’t honestly know our own hearts, how can we make a truly honest decision to either turn towards or away from God?

But I wonder if when faced with this choice – to orient oneself towards or away from goodness – can we honestly say we want anything other than “goodness”, unless to be divisive? Especially when this is merely a hypothetical and poetic question being presented verbally as opposed to the actual moment in which a decision is made. Is there anyone in this world who honestly believes with complete certainty in a supremely good being and chooses to verbally reject them/it when posed with the question? I don’t know. But I don’t think so.

This situation brings us to a question we all face regularly and which is especially important to making an informed existential commitment defined by action as opposed to words: how does one rightly determine “goodness”? The short answer given by Gutenberg in the current lectures is through reference to the bible. Which leads us to several other big questions at the heart of Gutenberg’s project which were the focal point of discussion while I was in attendance: How can we know the bible is infallible and how can we know what the bible is really saying? This assumes we value authorial intent in our interpretation of a text. I did and I still do. And the short answer, to the best of my recollection, is this: we can know what the bible is saying, and we can say we know it with certainty through a hermeneutic defined by careful individual reading, translation and exegesis in accordance with our faculties of reason, common sense, and experiential knowledge. We can know the bible is true because of all texts, it most accurately represents reality and the moral nuances of reality. To explicate further, Jesus is the best example we have of a moral teacher and as such his word is trustworthy. The biblical story is more resonant than other story in recorded human history in that it accurately identifies the problems of human nature and the solutions to those problems which are found through rightly orienting ourselves towards God.

Most (all?) of the controversy surrounding Gutenberg presently, and to which some alumni are openly responding, stems from both the paper Jack presented at the last Summer Institute and the ongoing weekly lecture he is currently giving entitle Biblical Sexual Ethics. If you have even gotten this far into this post, you probably know what I am talking about.

While I attended GC, Jack’s interpretations of scripture were discussed in Tuesday night classes in the same way that other members of the community presented their own views. Maybe he got more air time, maybe he didn’t. In my opinion, Jack’s views were not given preferential treatment within the school’s curriculum. Or at least this was true when I started at the school. It is fair to say this changed during my attendance when we suddenly became required to take a “biblical capstone” or “biblical philosophy” class taught by Jack instead of what had traditionally been a year of Kant microexegesis. I was very excited to read Kant and this sudden change in an otherwise set curriculum (shorter individual readings changed occasionally, but year long subjects generally didn’t) made me upset. The class focused solely on Jack’s biblical interpretation. Apart from this, Jack’s viewdid come up in his lectures and discussions (as many of the tutor’s views did), but this was also partly due to the prompting of student questions. I think it is also fair to say that Jack spoke and continues to speak authoritatively, and he does not seem afraid to do so.

None of Jack’s views in particular seemed unwarranted since no view was unwarranted in the sense that we were there to discuss varying interpretations of all sorts of writing. Let me stress the learn part here. We were learning. We were fledgling adults. We were taking the opportunity to decide what we thought. I did not want to be pressured into accepting another pre-packaged opinion. Although in retrospect I think I was too terrified of God, the rejection of my family, and the notion of hell, to completely step outside a view of the universe involving Him. But this was the beauty of the idea of Gutenberg, in theory we could discuss all these ideas without judgment from the tutors or our peers and would be allowed to make up our minds about what we thought was true on our own.

In Tuesday night lectures specific scriptural exegesis was often the topic. The method of teaching often involved distributing handouts of the translation. The lecturer would then go through the passage line by line, verse by verse, explaining things in terms of historical context, sharing the various interpretive problems surrounding certain words and phrases, and generally doing their best to create a coherent picture of what a particular passage was saying without leaving anyone in the dark. At the end we all asked questions.

The sermons (well, lectures) at Reformation Fellowship followed a similar format. [Reformation Fellowship is the church associated with Gutenberg College. The tutors from the school collectively pastored the church, taking turns speaking. -editor] Apart from the people who went there, the method of these lectures was one of the things I liked most about MSC, Gutenberg, and Reformation when I first encountered them. It seemed to me that we were being given the clearest possible explanation of specific Biblical passages and discussing how to incorporate the moral principles of those passages into a coherent biblical worldview. We were not discussing theological “concepts” independent of biblical reference. There was too much of that in my life growing up. I did not want to go back there.

We were working inductively, from the bottom up, or from specific observations to broader generalization and theory – exegeting scripture and extracting relevant moral principles. If the the premise is true, the conclusion drawn from it should also be true.And then there is deductive reasoning or working from the top down, working from a broad spectrum of information to a specific conclusion. I imagine this could mean using the framework of a “biblical worldview” to find moral principles which are not explicitly stated within scripture or to argue for the application of previously “outdated” moral principles found in scripture.

Here are some picture to help clarify these two terms:

Inductive Reasoning

 

Deductive Reasoning

 

http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/dedind.php

At this point it needs to be said that both inductive and deductive forms of reasoning have their uses. One is not bad while the other is good. They are simply methods without moral affiliation. I thought using the inductive method with regard to interpretation of the bible made a lot of sense. I was okay with that. I am not inclined to think deductive reasoning is as good a method to determine moral truth via the bible.

Let me return to one of the projects at the heart of Gutenberg, or at least at the heart of some of Jack’s teaching: How can we know the bible is infallible? A deeply important and harrowing question for many Christians or people interested in Christianity who are actively seeking to reconcile their own experiential knowledge, common sense, and reason with the biblical text itself. Using an inductive method, we can say something like this: the teachings of Jesus resonate with my own experience of reality more powerfully than anything else I have encountered by way of authoritative moral teaching. They accurately reflect an idea of goodness that corresponds to the way I perceive goodness according to my experience. Therefore, I think this moral principle taught by Jesus is true and I will apply it to my life as such.

After this some people will further conclude that because we trust Jesus with regard to his moral teaching, we may also trust that he is who he said he was, the Son of God. I believe the argument goes something like this: it is difficult to imagine that someone endowed with as sound moral wisdom as Jesus could also be delusional. So he must be who he says he is. And in turn, we can also regard the same authorities he trusted as authoritative ourselves.

This is all fine and well in that it is a line of reasoning most people can probably follow. But I personally take issue with the validity of this argument. I am not convinced that because Jesus had common-sensical moral wisdom to offer, it means everything he said is true. I don’t think entertaining the possibility that Jesus wasn’t of completely sound mind is an irrational conclusion in any way. Were the teachings of Jesus truly something that only someone who was divinely inspired could have come up with?

Many of the things Jesus taught were not new ideas. Confucius: “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.”  (Analects, pt.15). This sentiment or something very similar is evident in many ethical traditions.

http://classics.mit.edu/Confucius/analects.3.3.html

http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/socialsciences/ppecorino/ethics_text/chapter_8_kantian_theory/Not_Golden.htm

Ethical traditions are not necessarily religious. They often contain moral sentiments which we now broadly associate with major religions as opposed to governments or other culture shaping forces like art and literature where they have been found since very early times. See the Code of Hammurabi and the Epic of Gilgamesh.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Hammurabi

http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/mesopotamian/gilgamesh/

Forgiveness is a concept found in Hinduism recorded in Hindu texts (such as the Rg Veda) dating back to 1500-1200 BCE. Here is a quote from the Bhagavad Gita regarding forgiveness and salvation from the 2nd century BCE or even as early as the 5th century BCE, the actual date of authorship has not been determined.

Though a man be soiled with the sins of a lifetime, let him but love me,
rightly resolved, in utter devotion.  I see no sinner, that man is holy.
Holiness soon shall refashion his nature to peace eternal.  O son of
Kunti, of this be certain: the man who loves me shall not perish.

                     Bhagavad Gita (Hinduism) 9.30-31

http://www.unification.net/ws/theme068.htm

Solon is rumored to have instituted debt relief in Ancient Athens. Jainism (which dates back to the 5th century BC) literally has a “Forgiveness Day.”

http://ejainism.com/kshamavani.html

Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics and Rhetoric exemplify a pre-Jesus discussion of philia, brotherly love or true friendship.

http://www.iep.utm.edu/love/

Of this we might ask, were the early Greek’s influenced by Jewish tradition and culture, the heritage of N.T. teaching? It certainly seems that way, but I don’t think this implies ethics of love were something unfamiliar to humans apart from Jewish tradition. And aside from this, the ethics governing the behavior of the Jews at the time of the O.T. were significantly different than the ethics governing the teachings and behavior of Jesus and his disciples.

Morality is not purely the concern of religion, it is a fundamentally human issue whether or not religion is involved. For instance, the Epic of Gilgamesh not only has parallels to the bible in its narrative structure, contains many examples of early concepts of justice, yet is not regarded as a religious text. We might ask ourselves: do these parallels exist because the bible is True or could they exist because these are ideas and principles which originate uniquely within humans evidenced in religious, literary, and legal texts from early times all over the world of which the bible is one example?

Here are a couple other links I found interesting pertaining to the above topics. I am sure you can do a simple internet search to find a wealth of information on most of the primary sources listed above.

Forgiveness in general: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forgiveness

More about Jainism: http://www.herenow4u.net/index.php?id=67777

Getting back to the point: I don’t think it is strange to suggest Jesus was not of sound mind, especially considering he was making such a bold claim as to be “the Son of God”. There are a lot of people in this world who have profoundly good things to say, but who then say other things that are difficult to reconcile with everything else they have said and done. I can think of people in my own family who exemplify this type of paradox.

For me, the conclusion that the bible is infallibly true does not follow from me agreeing that Jesus indeed both taught and exemplified wise examples of ethical behavior. But I don’t want to stop here. Let’s assume that because I think Jesus was right about certain types of claims, he is also right about other types of claims. And after further biblical exegesis I will eventually conclude that the bible (the original version) must be infallibly true if in fact it is the Word of God. Perhaps we conclude this out of rational necessity or conviction, I am not entirely sure. But this is a conclusion not uncommonly drawn.

To me, what this means is that even if sound biblical teaching contradicts whatever internal sense of morality has been fostered within me, I should accept those teachings as both true and morally right.

I have trouble with this. I cannot accept that the method of inductive reasoning which first inspired me to entertain the validity of Jesus’ teaching seriously and find them resonant should then be discarded in favor of a deductive method of reasoning which that argues that we ought also to accept all other parts of the biblical canon even if through inductive thinking we find scripture elsewhere that contradicts our intuitive sense of morality. I cannot accept that once the inductive method has served its initial purpose we are supposed to set it aside in favor of biblical infallibility whether or not it contradicts our internal sense of morality.

 

Part 2

And so now we need to talk about how our internal sense of morality is formed, otherwise known as “conscience.” Fortunately there was actually a discussion of what conscience is in the lecture two weeks ago.

Paraphrased or transcribed directly from the recording during the closing comments/questions (around 1:22:02) of Sexual Ethics in the Bible, session III:

http://new.livestream.com/accounts/8042776/Sexualethics

(Jack) The Christian life is not about not making mistakes in any way, including sexually – we have all been perverse and wrong sexually.

It’s about coming to the self knowledge; where did my mistakes and evil come from? From me. It’s a problem built into the very nature of who I am, God have mercy on me.

We can’t reform society,

We can’t reform ourselves,

We can’t change ourselves,

We can’t purify ourselves,

We can’t transcend our sinfulness,

Any christian teaching that says we can is a diabolical lie.

We are helplessly trapped in the depravity and evil that defines us from the get go, but are we willing to admit it?

Are we willing to call our depravity depravity, our sin sin, our evil evil?

That is the real life and death issue that we all need to come to terms with.

(Question posed by a member of the audience) So figuring out my moral and immoral choices is not necessarily in my conscience?

(Jack) What we call conscience is a cultural artifact.

“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of our mind…” (Paul) could be rewritten as “do not be conformed to this world, train your conscience.”

Your conscience is no good, it needs to be trained.

Conscience is the product of cultural forces, it tells us what to get excited about what not to get excited about.

I can feel completely not guilty about things I should feel guilty about. And vice versa.

I grew up thinking the conscience is basically infallible. If it made you feel guilty, it was wrong. If it didn’t, it was right.

My conscience is a product of cultural forces, therefore my conscience needs to be trained by the bible so it will be aligned with true moral judgement and sound moral judgement.

——-

 After hearing something like this I usually have a lot of questions running through my  mind. I have gone ahead and written them down so you can start to understand where I am coming from.

 

My questions prompted by this exchange

I am taking “conscience” to mean an inner sense of right and wrong felt both emotionally and perceived on an intellectual level. You describe it as the product of the influence of popular ethics within any given subgroup of a culture. Is this correct? Is this what you mean by conscience as a cultural artifact?

You also said that to have a properly functioning conscience, it needs to be trained by the bible so it will be aligned with true moral judgement.

I am understanding conscience then as our personal “morality gauge”, an internal indicator of whether we are doing something (or about to do something) right or wrong. And this determination of right and wrong is calibrated by whatever culture we are apart of.

If this is the case, do humans have any way to understand or know true morality apart from reference to biblical text? Do we have any innate sense of true and accurate morality that belongs to us solely by nature of existence, or is true moral sensibility solely a derivative of biblical exposure and study?

Considering morality in this way, could we say it is an epistemological model in the same way rationality is an epistemological model? A theory of knowing, considering morality is not simply something felt as an impulse, but also something thought and considered in relation to decision making? Are the two synonymous? Meaning that the morality one derives from the bible is equal to a form of rationality?

How does one determine that the bible is the one true source of moral knowledge and wisdom if one must make this determination before already having accepted it as the one true source of moral knowledge? Is this not a decision made through some personal, intuitive sense of morality/rationality (or conscience) as it has been enculturated? Or is it innately within us apart from (or pre) biblical exposure?

If we do not determine these decision based on rationality, conscience, or morality apart from biblical reference, what then is our criteria for determining what is true knowledge and a true reflection of goodness before we accept the bible as authoritative?

If reason as a method of thinking is the most fundamental (first) tool we have to determine that the bible is the best tool for determining true wisdom and knowledge, why should we choose to set aside our opposing moral sensibilities and rational thoughts when they are they very tools we first used to recognize the validity of Jesus’ teaching?

If there are discrepancies within the biblical text which cause us to give pause and question the moral certainty of its teaching, should we not be ready to address those concerns, concerns which stem from our pre-established sense of moral rightness and goodness, the one which led us to consider the bible seriously in the first place?

If you say that it is through some intuitive sense or innate wisdom we are aware we must set aside these uncertainties and questions posited by our “conscience”, why would we further choose in any other life circumstance to ignore what seemed to us to be this same innate wisdom that offered an answer contrary to scriptural authority? How is this innate wisdom different than our “conscience”?

By what criteria do we trust our intuition and moral sensibilities in some circumstances, but not in others? Why should we be convinced that Christianity is not also a cultural artifact with no greater influence than any other popular system of ethics?

On the other hand, if the bible is perfectly rational in the sense that we need not put aside our intuition and conflicting moral sensibilities (our reason) to accept it’s ethical and moral consistency, shouldn’t we be able to come to these rational, ethical, and moral conclusions without the aid of the bible? Especially when we consider the main subject of the bible is the imperfection and fallibility of humanity, a subject we have ample experience with and exposure to?

What does being obedient to God have to do with “morality” as a set of principles to live by? Is not obedience to God the only true moral law within an internally consistent biblical worldview?

If the only way we know the bible is the one True source of moral knowledge apart from rationality is because God has written the correct intuition on our heart, are we actually talking about “rationality” in the way I thought we were? What is rationality in relation in Christianity? What is rationality if not a faculty contained within the self? If divine influence is necessary for rationality to function properly, should we still be referring to it as “rationality”?

—–

Relevant addendum from this week: should we be referring to unconscious decisions as “choices?” or is there another force at work in these instances and should we be using a different word?

 

-End Questions-

What I see happening in the present lecture (BSE) is that the inductive method has been set aside in favor of reference to deductive methods and conclusions that have not been “confirmed” or even observed on the level of biblical reference (yet, I think this will change next week). This is my view. It may not be what is happening. Also, I have not taken logic classes so forgive me if I am using this language improperly.

First I want to pose a few questions regarding the Biblical Sexual Ethics series as a whole (not just epistemological ones). First, since the lectures have not defined Biblical Sexual Ethics as a subject, I am going to assume it means something like “a lecture series about any type of sexual behavior with contextual evidence of moral judgement found in the bible.”

The first question is this. Why would one seek to find anything more in the bible regarding the nature of morality or sexual morality beyond that which is clearly stated? And second, why must a biblical worldview be inclusive of a particular biblical sexual ethic when clearly the “sexual ethics” found in the bible regarding sexual attitudes, say, towards women – where there is a lack of the concept of consent, a notion highly valued today, even within many Christian worldviews including those held by the teachers at Gutenberg/MSC I assume – contradict many beliefs held by Christians at present about the nature of right sexual relationships between men and women? Does a modern biblical worldview exclude other moral imperatives found in the bible? Do we have new views surrounding sexual relationships between men and women than those presented in the bible? By what criteria have we made these decisions to include extra-biblical values or exclude scriptural values to form our “biblical worldview”?

Why are we not investigating sexual ethics with regard to the treatment of women as it is found in the bible? Why are we not discussing the concept of consent? Why are we talking about what Biblical Sexual Ethics are not as opposed to what they are? Isn’t this akin to negative theology, a form of theology that was described during my years at GC as unhelpful with regard to actually knowing the true nature of God? (See Via Negative and Cloud of Unknowing. And I believe it was talked about this way because we were interested in discovering how we could know who God was by his visible aspects, not through negation). I do realize the question I pose above regarding consent is also a negative type of question, I simply want to know why we aren’t also talking about since it has an established place in modern Christian culture although it lacks a sound biblical basis.

Why, in our investigation of “sexual ethics” are we using harmful language to describe the behavior of people whose sexual orientation and activity does not fall within the morally good spectrum of our biblical sexual ethic? Is “viscerally repulsive” a modern way of understanding the word “abomination”? As far as I can tell, this phrase boils down to some version of being exceptionally wicked or sinful, an evaluation which is equalized when we acknowledge that the wages of all sin are death, no matter how small or less abominable the sin might be in human terms. But in the lecture the exceptional part is being emphasized.

I myself am not about to argue that all harm is of equal value or that it all deserves the same punishment. And this is part of the reason why I think the language being used to discuss homosexuallity in the BSE lectures should be seriously reconsidered. I don’t think most people truly evaluate all “sin” as equal, despite how it will be judged by God. Individuals face and have faced significant alienation, discrimination, violence, and bullying due to non heterosexual orientation. When marginalized groups of people are discriminated against in this way, I think it is important to be sensitive and empathetic in the way we are discussing them simply because they already face heightened physical and psychological harm due to a part of their own identity they cannot help. And even if such cruel behavior towards individuals with homosexual orientation was condoned, why should we not choose to view this evaluation as a culturally contextual discrepancy we may disregard considering our cultural advancement? What is the moral principle underlying homosexual activity that should compel me to see it as “sinful” in all epochs?

While these lectures might be intellectual and philosophical discussions and have no intention of harming others, it is my perception that the nature of the language used in the lecture is priming the mind of listener’s towards singling others out and devaluing them as morally lesser beings. As adults who have the ability to choose to consent or not, we have no more to fear from people who are homosexually inclined than we have to fear from any other anonymous person with any type of sexual inclination, so why would we compare the moral equivalent of their actions to someone who would eat or rape our child? Even if you are only linguistically comparing the moral valuation of these behaviors, the comparative terms are regarded as heinous criminal activity within American culture, and as such are met with harsh punishment as is endorsed by the American legal system. Is consensual homosexual activity, even if you view it to be viscerally repulsive, a similar morally qualitative type of behavior as child rape according to your “conscience”, whatever it is trained by?

I find the attempt to rationally equate moral valuation of homosexual activity with that of child rape incredibly insensitive at the very least. What is happening here is that we are assigning dispositions that are not inherently harmful with moral valuations. I believe comparing these criminal behaviors (even if only the moral valuation) with acts of homosexuality engenders ideas of moral inequality and criminality among persons who do not deserve these designations. It propagates a view of the world wherein not all are created equal and that some of us are endowed with more viscerally repulsive qualities than others, categorizing their moral “level” alongside that of child rapists. The afterthought is that we each equally deserve to be put to death for our moral transgressions.

The final thing I have to say with regard to the present lectures is that I find it qualitatively different from the lectures I found most memorable and important via MSC and Gutenberg. I think the main reason for this is because from what I can tell, deductive reasoning is playing a significantly larger role than inductive reasoning. So far in this lecture we have not looked directly at scripture to see what it says regarding homosexuality in particular. We have not started out by asking ourselves, “how can I further inform my biblical worldview based on these scriptural references?” Instead this lecture is being presented as, “we have a formed a worthy roadmapthrough careful inductive study. This is our biblical worldview through which we can further deduce what God’s moral stance is on issues of sexuality which the bible does not coherently expound on.” Or maybe the bible does coherently expound on them. Either way, thus far the lecture has not focused on scripture with regard to the specific moral issue in question. Fortunately it sounds like we are going to be hearing about what Paul has to say on the matter next week.

If this is a misrepresentation of what is actually happening, please feel free to recharacterize the situation.

The reason I was initially drawn to the teaching at MSC/Gutenberg after my initial exposure to the community was because I felt it was defined by intellectual integrity with regard to study of the bible among other things. We began with scripture and from there asked ourselves, “does this teaching resonate with my own experience, does it strike me as true and is it consistent with my other perceptions of reality and what I innately understand goodness and morality to be?” I think this is both a good and right criteria to set out when studying anything for moral guidance. But even so, for me the answer to questions regarding the resonance of biblical content is not always yes.

Because of this, I cannot form a coherent biblical worldview. And I can definitely not form a biblical worldview from which I feel comfortable deducing moral principles which may or may not actually be present in the bible. And beyond that, certain moral issues that are contained within scripture have already been deemed out-of-touch even by the MSC/Gutenberg community. So why then, if through our faculty of reason we have been able to assume which of the bible’s teachings are inclusive in a true biblical worldview and which are not, should we set aside our faculty of reason in the judgement of this one issue in particular? And at this point I should say that deeming homosexual activity as immoral is not the only part of the bible I take issue with. Now just happens to be a time when an open discussion about these things has arisen and I am feeling brave enough to participate.

If it is true (and this was an idea discussed at Gutenberg and a premise of many of Jack’s arguments while I was in school) that morality is the most fundamental aspect of our humanity, the thing which defines us most essentially as created beings, why would morality be presented in such an obscure manner as to contradict the methods by which we reason? Especially if reason is one of the key tools by which we come to know the Christian God is the True God. If we are knowers and the world is meant to be known, why would God not present us with a recognizable sense of morality that appealed to our human sensibilities, being both thought and felt? He was willing to send Jesus as a man, so why not this?

This probably doesn’t need to be said, but I will say it anyways. Just because something has taken sway culturally does not mean it is morally wrong. One obvious example is moral opposition to slavery in America. There was huge resistance to change for a variety of reasons, yet this behavior would be viewed as “backwards” thinking by future generations and condemned as immoral by conservatives and liberals alike. If the inverse nature of this argument bothers you, what about the introduction of women’s rights or allowing women to hold positions of power in government and otherwise?

Also, I’m not sure it is fair to generalize “moderns” as one large entity defined by their opposition to the moral teachings and practices of small conservative communities throughout the country. It seems to me the world is full of pockets of people, some larger, some smaller, who have their own highly nuanced views on just about everything. And many of them are not vocal about their opinions or have any interest in imposing their views on others.

 

Some final-ish thoughts

My next question is this, why do we need an authoritative text to live by? Why must we know with certainty what the ultimate nature of reality is to engage in a life well lived (a bias, I know! forgive me, but I do want to live a life well lived even if I can’t tell you why it matters for me to do so.)? I think we would all find it reassuring to have a decided sense of certainty about these things, but I do not think such certainty is necessary to meaningful continued existence. What is so wrong with a universe where there is no known objective moral law laid down for all of mankind (other than the obvious “nothing”, lulz)? Maybe it is a frightening prospect to some, but it isn’t to me, not anymore at least. I should also say I am entirely ready to admit there may be a supreme being in this universe and that their ways are not our ways. I just don’t think that being is represented in the bible.

For me, existing without the plague of constant existential anxiety has become the only way I can move forward with my life. I have given up worrying about whether I was seeking out the truth hard enough. All I know is that knowing is something I will strive for throughout my life because that’s the kind of person I am, for better or for worse. And when I say knowing, I mean to know anything. I don’t think knowledge can lead us away from the truth, so I am done worrying I can know in the wrong direction.

I am not convinced there exists a knowable set of precepts that set out a morally consistent way to live. It seems that all we can do is decide on what we value most highly and base the many difficult choices presented to us in this life on these prioritizations. I have “chosen”, and some might call this cowardly, to regard my own personal well being (living without constant dread and anxiety) above obedience to a doctrine I cannot feel sane regarding as True. For me, this was an incredibly difficult choice I struggled with for many years. You don’t have to believe me, but it was.

To me and almost all people I know, there are things in this world we equate with goodness. And I do value goodness because well, it feels better (you might also read this as “sits better intellectually”) than anything else. You can brush this off as hedonism, but I think emotions are at the crux of everything I’ve already discussed. At the heart of any philosophical or existential discussion about the ultimate nature of reality is the desire to know the truth. And this desire is usually accompanied by additional feelings. Does being right make me feel better than being wrong? Does knowing what is true allow me to sleep at night? Does believing I have been obedient to God allow me to feel good about myself in spite of all my other shortcomings? Does trusting I have done my philosophical homework leave me contented that I am fulfilling my purpose as a human being? Does making an existential commitment to constantly orient myself towards goodness put my “conscience” at ease?

We have feelings and we wrestle with them every day whether or not we acknowledge them. Even leaving moral determination and law up to God (and the scripture) is a “decision” made through a need or desire for something.

And so I will go on inevitably struggling to live my life according to whichever ethic appeals most highly to my own moral sensibility. And so will everyone else. To some this will be mean adopting the belief in an all knowing good God whose will is represented in the biblical text. For others, it will mean doing what they believe is best for their own community with regard to a personal sense of justice and kindness. And for others yet this will mean simply trying to survive and probably harming others in the process, intentionally or unintentionally.

When I first found the MSC Community it sounded to me like everyone believed that if you were seeking the Truth, you would indeed find it. When I realized that Truth meant Christianity quite specifically, it was an exciting prospect. I would have really felt a lot better about myself if the ideas I had been raised with and spent most of my life agonizing over were actually right. But my search has not led me to this conclusion, and I accept this without hating myself for it. For me, the Truth has yet to reveal itself in any way other than everything I have already stated thus far. For me, this, the reality I have described above, the type of thinking I have described above, is truth. And freedom. And in the same way I have chosen to disregard the bible as a source of ultimate authority based on my own intuitions, wherever they may have come from, so others will choose to disregard my way of thinking. This is the way the world is. But if you made this far, thanks for hearing me out.