Saturday, July 04, 2015
Homosexuality and Christian apologetics
Derision is my normal response when people claim to be Christian and then go on to countenance homosexuality. Both the Old and the New Testaments are crystal clear that it is an abomination to the Lord and must therefore be avoided or repented. And yet the mainstream churches go as far as having homosexual clergy. How do they do it? What conceivable excuse can they have for disobeying their Lord?
In the case of the Church of England and its various offshoots the answer is clear. They DON'T believe in their Lord -- and many clergy are closeted homosexuals themselves. The present Archbishop of Canterbury does appear to believe in something but as far as I can tell he is a rarity among the Anglican episcopate. The Anglican clergy like gracious old buildings, gorgeous vestments, "bells and smells" and the occasional bits of respect that they get -- but proclaiming the Gospel is a very low priority for them Even their Easter sermons are often very wishy-washy, with at best passing mention of redemption. With honourable exceptions (as in Sydney diocese) The Anglican clergy are mostly just poseurs, atheists in drag.
Some mainstream clergy, however, do make some sort of a fist of justifying their heresy and I want to say a few things about that. Unlike Leftists, I do take an interest in what "the other side" are saying so I do know their main lines of argument. I have no fear of being tripped up by awkward facts and hearing both sides of any question is in principle the safest way to a reasonable judgement about it.
And I note that real Christians generally seem to be a bit slack about countering the pseudo-Christian arguments about homosexuality. Real Christians think it is sufficient to quote the relevant texts and leave it at that.
But the pseudo Christians do have some real arguments to offer and they are good enough to lead some people astray -- so somebody needs to point out the sophistry in the pseudo-Christian arguments. It is rather crazy that I as an atheist should take on that job but I have never lost my early interest in exegesis and theology so am reasonably positioned to do so
Argument from the first century environment
One argument I see is that homosexuality is condemned only about three times in the New Testament so they cannot really have meant it seriously. If it really was a serious concern it would have been mentioned more often. And Christ himself did not mention it at all. Allied to that is an argument that Christ and the apostles lived in a Greco-Roman world where homosexuality was normal, common and unquestioned so it cannot have been seen as very wrong or it would have been condemned out of hand.
That is the sort of argument you might get from the U.S. Supreme Court -- one that completely ignores what the documents actually say -- and it seems to me to be an argument of desperation. But let me point out the simple and major flaw in it anyway.
Christ and the early Christians lived in an environment that was overwhelmingly Jewish. And Jews had always stood out in their rejection of homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22 etc.). They did indeed live in a Greco-Roman world and pedophilia had been routinely practiced by the Greeks for centuries -- something that the unfortunate Chris Brand got fired for after he pointed that out once too often.
But Israel was not Greece then any more than it is today. Regardless of what other subjects of the Roman empire might say or do, Jews lived in a society where homosexuals risked being stoned to death. Rejection of homosexuality could be taken as read in that environment so needed only incidental mention. And when the apostle Paul did in fact comment directly on Roman civilization, he absolutely ranted and raved in his condemnation of it.
Paul started travelling very early on and so came into much more contract with Greco-Roman civilization than one would have done in Israel. Most of his missions were at least initially to congregations of the Jewish diaspora so he still lived in something of a Jewish bubble. But when it came to Rome itself he could not restrain himself. He condemned just about everything Roman.
Read what he says about Roman practices in his epistle to the Christians in Rome, chapter 1, from verse 21 onwards. Being a good theologian, Paul puts his condemnation in the context of what Jewish backsliders in the past had done but there is no ambiguity about the general applicability of what he says. And he is clearly motivated by what he has observed of Roman civilization, which is why he felt the need say it when writing to the congregation in Rome. So on occasions when it was needful to condemn homosexuality, the Bible writers did just that. I quote from verse 27:
"And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet".
And in the final verse of the chapter Paul moves into the present tense, indicating that it is the malign influence of then-current Roman civilization on Christians that he has particularly in mind:
"Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them"
What did Christ say?
A related argument is that Christ never mentioned homosexuality so it was only that old puritan Paul who thought it was a bad thing. Since Paul's writings form a large part of the New Testament, that is simply a repudiation of the Bible and is, if anything, an anti-Christian argument and reveals those who put it forward for what they are: Disciples of Satan maybe but certainly not disciples of Christ.
But, that aside, context again is explanatory. Because Christ was a devout Jew in a Jewish society, the question never arose. It was not an issue. The Jewish law still unquestionably applied. Let me quote the only thing that Christ said about marriage -- in Matthew 19. He specifically put his teaching in the context of a debate about Jewish law:
"Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Clearly, for him, marriage was between a man and a woman and it was only they who could become "one flesh". And his authority for that was what was found in the Jewish scriptures. So there is no doubt whatever about his view of sexual relationships. Only male/female marriage was on his horizons.
A remaining argument from the pseudo Christians is that God is a God of love so therefore he must love homosexuals too. That is also an amazing argument. The Bible repeatedly makes clear that God loves his children but, like any parent, he also has rules for his children. And just as children can be disinherited, so God can sentence unrighteous people to everlasting "kolasin" (cutting off). Let me quote Matthew 25.
"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world ...
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal"
The word translated as "punishment" above is in Greek "kolasin" and it simply means "cutting off". It is the word a Greek gardener might use to describe the pruning of a tree. So it would be a proper translation to say that the goatish ones will be cut off and thrown away like the unwanted branch of a tree.
So the argument that the love of God is unconditional is utter rubbish. You have to do your best to obey his rules if you want salvation from death. There is no universal salvation.
So those are the arguments that the pseudo-Christians use. They are so weak that you could only accept them out of desperation. You could only accept them if you wanted to use Christianity as a false front. They are arguments that mock the Bible, not arguments from the Bible -- JR.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).