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Why Political Speech Is Inappropriate from the Pulpit!

For years now, I have been criticizing the preaching of politics from the pulpit. Why? What's so wrong with talking about issues and can...

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Wrestling with God!

In a comment regarding the post which preceded this one, Byker Bob made a statement that really caught my attention. He wrote: "I believe that you really have to look at the way in which people see themselves in terms of their relationship with God. That is what is important. David was a man after God's own heart because no matter how he failed and sinned, he didn't turn his back on God. He steadfastly kept praising Him, and he kept on praying to Him. He knew that like all of us, he was born to sin, but refused to allow that to separate him from God."

Immediately after reading that comment, I was reminded of a story in the book of Genesis. We are told there that Jacob wrestled with a strange man for the better part of one night. We read: "And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed." (Genesis 32:24-28)

In the story, Jacob holds on to God's representative and refuses to release him until the man promises to bless him. Is this story a metaphor about how all of us should approach our relationship with the Divine? Do the experiences of these two very imperfect men (Jacob and David) teach us to keep on keeping on with God until we prevail? In other words, while our understanding of God and our attempts to follow "His" will may be very flawed/imperfect at present, does God consider the effort/struggle to understand and follow "Him" worthwhile?

I believe that these examples are indicative of the very personal nature of our salvation through Jesus Christ. In a very real sense, each of us must wrestle with God and refuse to let go until we receive the blessing. Although Jacob and David had many personal weaknesses and failures, neither one of them ever stopped trying - they never turned their backs on God and walked away from "Him." And, of even greater interest to us, God never abandoned either one of them. Like the man who wrestled Jacob, God remained with them both until they obtained the blessing. The lesson: Perseverance is rewarded.

Paul told the Philippians to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." (Phil. 2:12) Maybe that is why Christ instructed us to focus on the beams in our own eyes rather than attempting to remove the speck from our bother's eye? (Matt. 7:1-5) Maybe we should all be focused on this important wrestling match in which we are currently engaged - this match that continues through the long night? What do you think?   

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!

The story of Adam and Eve has been used by conservative Christians to invalidate homosexual relationships and defend the traditional definition of marriage for many years now. "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!" they proclaim with a self-assured grin (as if this simple statement has settled the matter beyond all doubt). In the real world, however, things are rarely as simple and clear as they first appear; and it's usually a good idea to dig a little deeper if we are truly interested in understanding some phenomenon.

First of all, even if we confine ourselves to the subject of human sexuality, any serious student of the Judeo-Christian Bible would have to acknowledge that there is a lot going on in the first couple of chapters of Genesis. And one of the first things we notice is that there are two very distinctive stories about the beginnings of humankind.

In the first chapter of Genesis, we are told that God created all plant and animal life to reproduce after its "kind." Next, we read: "And God said, Let us make man (Hebrew Adam) in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man (Hebrew Adam) in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." (Genesis 1:26-28, KJV)

Hence, in this initial story of the beginnings of humankind, Adam (man) is both male and female. We are also told that this Adam (male and female) is designed to reflect God's persona. As a consequence, we ask: Doesn't this suggest/imply that both genders derive their traits/characteristics from God? Is this story about a literal person or persons? OR Is this story meant to be representative of the origins of humankind in general?

God goes on to tell Adam (male and female) to "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth..." To me, this instruction makes clear that this story was written to describe the origins of humankind. Adam is clearly told to reproduce and fill up the planet with his/their offspring.

Is this instruction general or specific in its application? Does God expect Adam to "replenish the earth" on his/their own? In other words, is it reasonable to conclude that God expected the first man and woman to populate the earth by themselves? Is that what happened? OR Did the population expand gradually over many generations of humankind? Isn't it clearly understood that this scripture refers to the origins of the entire human race and was intended to apply to Adam (humankind) in general? And, if it did only apply to one man and one woman, we must admit that they failed miserably in fulfilling this instruction!

In the second chapter of Genesis, we are given an entirely different account of the origins of humankind. Instead of the man and woman being created simultaneously on the sixth day, we are told that Adam was initially created as one male. We read: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (Genesis 2:7)

Next, we are told that God "planted a garden eastward in Eden" and placed the man in the midst of it (verse 8). Later, we are informed that God observed that "it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him." (verse 18) The Hebrew indicates that God felt that Adam needed an aid or a helper. Toward that end, God brought representatives of all of the different species of animal life to the man and allowed him to name them (verse 19). Then we read: "And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him." (verse 20) In other words, none of the animals proved to be a suitable companion/aid/helper for Adam.

As a consequence, we are told that God decided to create a female human. We read: "And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man." (verses 21-22) This apparently solved the problem of providing Adam with a suitable companion/aid/helper as we are told: "And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." (verses 23-24)

In this connection, it is interesting to note that the Hebrew word translated here into English as flesh is indicative of the body. In other words, this woman's bones were derived from his bones, and her body was made from his body. Thus, in later generations, an Adam would leave his parents household and cleave to this companion/helper/aid and become one body again.

Now, once again, we ask: Is this about one man and one woman or humankind in general? Do these scriptures apply to the first man and woman? OR Do they apply to all subsequent generations? Doesn't the language about leaving his parents household make plain that the broader application is more appropriate? And, is this story about the inadequacy of animal companionship in fulfilling human needs? OR Does this story suggest that only female companionship is appropriate for males? And, although it's not explicitly stated, does this story suggest that sexual intercourse between one man and one woman is the only kind of human intimacy that can make one body?

Aren't we all Adam? Don't you and I possess the bones of his/their bones and the body of his/their body? And, if we do, doesn't that imply/suggest that the sexual union of any two people could make one flesh/body?

Finally, do ANY of the verses which make up this second creation story in the second chapter of Genesis say ANYTHING about procreation? In other words, isn't the entire focus of the second story based on suitable human companionship?

The chapter concludes with the statement: " And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed." (verse 25) Now this verse is also very interesting when we consider the puritanical attitudes of many Christians with regard to nudity and human sexuality. This scripture seems to indicate that the natural state of humankind is to not feel shame/embarrassment about their bodies and how they function!

Hence, it is not unreasonable to conclude that God created Adam, Eve and Steve. While a narrow reading of these scriptures is certainly possible, I think we have demonstrated that a more general interpretation is not only possible but is also more consistent with the context than the narrow one. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

God, Natural Law Theory and Homosexuality

In his challenge to my Bloomington Statement, Mr. Jensen Carlyle has referred over and over again to Natural Law Theory. Hence, in anticipation of some statement by him on the subject, I thought that it would be helpful to him, the readers of this blog and myself to dig a little deeper into the theory. It is hoped that this exercise will offer some clarity on the subject and better articulate my view of its impact on the viability of the Bloomington Statement.

To begin, it is clear to me that Natural Law Theory (NLT) means different things to different people. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) tells us that NLT can refer to either a moral or legal theory. As a moral theory, the IEP article on the subject https://www.iep.utm.edu/natlaw/ states: "the moral standards that govern human behavior are, in some sense, objectively derived from the nature of human beings and the nature of the world." The same article goes on to say that, as a legal theory, "the authority of legal standards necessarily derives, at least in part, from considerations having to do with the moral merit of those standards." Now that seems clear enough, doesn't it? Don't get too comfortable with our definitions just yet. The IEP article goes on to inform us that there are many different manifestations of these theories.

For instance, most would probably agree that classical NLT finds its best expression in the writings of the Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas. In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas discusses his view that there are four types of law (eternal, natural, human and Divine). He wrote: " Wherefore, since all things subject to Divine providence are ruled and measured by the eternal law...it is evident that all things partake somewhat of the eternal law, in so far as, namely, from its being imprinted on them, they derive their respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends. Now among all others, the rational creature is subject to Divine providence in the most excellent way, in so far as it partakes of a share of providence, by being provident both for itself and for others. Wherefore it has a share of the Eternal Reason, whereby it has a natural inclination to its proper act and end: and this participation of the eternal law in the rational creature is called the natural law." You can read more at this location: http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/sum229.htm

Now others would point out that Aquinas was not the first to espouse these theories. They would point to antecedents among the Greek philosophers (Aristotle, Plato), which many conservative Christians would say automatically disqualifies the theory (by virtue of its having roots in pagan philosophy).

However, to avoid distraction with another lengthy and complex set of arguments, let us assume for the sake of argument that Aquinas was correct. I have pointed out that it is in the nature of at least some humans to be sexually oriented toward members of their own sex. I have also pointed out that because something occurs with less frequency in nature than some other occurrence, it does not necessarily follow that it is abnormal or unnatural. Earthquakes may not be the norm, but they are certainly part of the nature of the planet on which we live. Finally, I have pointed out that a rationale exists (though Jensen would say it is flawed) for believing that homosexuality does not exclude the possibility of moral behavior. Hence, from my perspective, homosexuality is not incompatible with Aquinas' notion of NLT.

As for some of the other expressions of NLT and their relationship to this subject, I would point to the works of others who find problems inherent in interpreting NLT in a fashion consistent with Jensen Carlyle's previous comments on the subject. For those who are interested in pursuing the subject further, I have provided a number of links for your convenience:
The Morality of Homosexual Conduct: A Response to John Finnis - https://scholarship.law.nd.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1416&context=ndjlepp

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Bloomington Statement Revisited

Over the course of the last week, I have been carrying on a discussion with a blogger named Jensen Carlyle regarding my scriptural and philosophical justifications for the Bloomington Statement. Although I have found the conversation to be stimulating, it recently occurred to me that the folks who read this blog on a regular basis might be interested in following this discussion. For those who are so inclined, I invite you to review the original post and the comments which it has generated here: http://godcannotbecontained.blogspot.com/2017/09/the-scriptural-and-philosophical-basis.html

Part of the discussion has focused on whether or not homosexuality should be regarded as natural. I have contended that it should be regarded as natural for several reasons: 1) Whatever we may eventually learn about the role of nature vs. nurture in determining sexual orientation, it is clear that humans do not choose their orientation; 2) As homosexual behavior occurs in nature, it cannot be said to be man-made (I can't think of any examples of someone setting out to create a homosexual or develop a program to do so, can you?); 3) If homosexuality is innate, then it is natural; 4) If homosexuality is generated by environmental factors (hormones, mutations, chemicals, etc.), then it is natural; 5) Sexual attraction appears to be a universal phenomenon within the animal kingdom, and must therefore be adjudged to be natural; 6) The fact that homosexuality occurs less frequently than heterosexuality does not make it unnatural (volcanic eruptions occur with less frequency than earthquakes, but they are both considered to be natural phenomena); 7) Likewise, in this same sense of the word natural, homosexuality cannot be designated as unnatural simply because a majority of human society has deemed it to be abnormal.

The fact that marriage is a very human institution means that it is NOT natural. Yes, some animals mate for life, but I have never heard anyone suggest that such animals are married. People can and do procreate without marriage. Hence, it certainly cannot be claimed that marriage is an essential natural element of procreation. As it is not uncommon for single adults and institutions (e.g. orphanages) to raise children, we cannot claim that marriage is essential to the rearing and nurturing of children.

If we are talking about civil marriages, then the institution is defined by the society/culture/government of which it is a part. Similarly, if we are talking about religious marriages, then the institution is defined by the religion/church/denomination which administers it. Finally, if we are talking about biblical marriage, then we are looking at an institution which is defined by an individual leaving his/her parents home, cohabiting with another individual and having sexual intercourse with that person. From a biblical perspective, it is also generally understood that marriage is intended to be exclusive (yes, there are many instances of polygamy recorded in Scripture) and lifelong (albeit there are several disputed justifications for divorce also recorded in its pages).

Hence, from the biblical perspective, we must conclude that there are a great many folks who think that they are simply living together who are in fact married in God's eyes. Likewise, there are a good many folks who are on their third, fourth or fifth "marriage" who we could certainly characterize as NOT being married in God's sight. Remember, there is no biblical formula for a marriage ceremony. The Bible is much less formal about the subject than most churches and states appear to be.

To say that marriage is fundamentally about procreation and child-rearing is to ignore much of what the Judeo-Christian Scriptures say about the subject. We are told that Adam needed a companion and a helper - that it wasn't good for him to be alone. We are told that husbands and wives owe each other love and respect. We are told that sexual activity is meant to unite two souls, and that it is dangerous for the pair to refrain from this activity for any length of time. The Song of Solomon glorifies sexual attraction between a man and woman. In short, from a Scriptural perspective, marriage is about the union of two people.

To be sure, those same Scriptures make plain that God chooses to bless some marriages with children. And those children can and should enrich any marriage of which they are a part. Nevertheless, the marriage IS NOT about the children - it is about the two people who are a part of the contract. Hence, from a biblical perspective, we could say that children are incidental to a Godly marriage.

Now, admittedly we have been talking about marriages between one man and one woman, but does that mean that two people of the same sex should be excluded from participating in this institution? Are the folks who say that a comprehensive or organic union between two people of the same sex is impossible correct?

Surely, we can all acknowledge that human sexuality is about much more than procreation? Indeed, most folks are willing to acknowledge that there is an emotional component to sex - that it is an expression of love. Are two men or two women excluded from experiencing this?

Without getting too graphic (we don't want to unnecessarily offend anyone), we should all be willing to acknowledge that homosexual folks engage in many of the same sexual behaviors that their heterosexual counterparts engage in. Like heterosexuals, homosexual folks come to climax and exchange bodily fluids during intercourse. Like heterosexuals, intercourse is about much more than a penis or a vagina (things like faces, mouths, hair, hands, breasts/pecs, buttocks, etc. are often integral parts of the act). And we should all be willing to acknowledge the most important sexual organ which humans possess - our brains. Just think about the role of imagination and desire in this behavior!

Finally, the claim that "no bodily good" can be derived from homosexual sex is unsustainable. As with heterosexual intercourse, homosexual sex can improve immunity, heart health, lower blood pressure, relieve pain and stress, strengthen muscles, improve sleep, reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men and improve bladder control in women. If that's not enough, think for just a moment about the potential psychological and emotional benefits which might be had by our theoretical homosexual lovers (pleasure, self-esteem and the expression of love, respect and tenderness for another person).

Hence, it is clear to me that the use of nature, procreation, child-rearing and comprehensive union as arguments against homosexual behavior and marriage is not sustained by a review of the available evidence. What do you think?