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Getting Religion

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I am beginning to think that there must be some cosmic reason why so many of the things I start out thinking will be easy to write end up in such a muddle.

Muddled I am, however, and the only excuse I can think of is that there must be some kind of point at the end of all this.

Let’s start with this link


The link goes to a story about the town of Salem, Massachusetts and a small local Christian institution called Gordon College.

For some years now, Gordon College has rented the town of Salem’s Town Hall and also maintained a town museum dedicated to the history of the witch trials.

Everybody was very happy with everybody else until Obama announced his intention of making an executive offer that would forbid any federal contractor to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

Gordon College–which is evangelical enough to have a code of conduct that could have done duty in 1835–applied for an exemption from this impending executive order.

Now there are a number of issues here, not least of which is the legal one.

When I first read this story, I thought the legal issue was simple–the 14th amendment grants equal protection.  Therefore government entities cannot discriminate, even if private ones can.

On second look, however, I’m not so sure  The 14th amendment does grant equal protection, but it grants it on a very specific set of things that does not include sexual orientation.  It doesn’t even include sex.

It is therefore entirely possible that if Gordon College decided to file a law suit about this, they would win.  The 14th DOES grant equal protection to religion. 

As fascinating as all that is, however, what really bugs me about this story comes near the end of the letter from Salem’s mayor, begging the administration of Gordon College to realize how “hurtful” the Code of Conduct is, and not just to the LGBT “community.”

Have I done my rant on how much I hate the word “community”?

Not as much as I hate the word “appropriate,” but one thing at a time.

At any rate, what struck me was the assumption that the “hurtfulness” of ideas is the only basis on which we need to judge them–that beliefs and behavior should be judged first, foremost, and without compromise by whether or not they make other people feel bad.

I’m not going into a song and dance here about how we don’t really mean that all behavior should be judged on whether or not it is “hurtful,” only that some behavior in some circumstances should be. 

We would not be having this conversation if Gordon College had declared that the behavior of pedophiles was sinful and unacceptable.

Which, of course, they have.  It just wasn’t the only thing they declared sinful and unacceptable.

As far as I can figure out, Gordon College adheres to a fairly standard Christian understanding of the nature of human beings and the nature of human sexuality.

The nature of human beings is fallen.  Human beings have a tendency to love evil, and to do it, because the fall of Adam gave them a propensity to sin.  In sin is death. 

But human beings are something else–they’re made in the image of God, and they’re called upon to realize that image as far as they are able and with as much grace as God will give them.

There are significant differences between the way Protestants and Catholics view this process, but that’s less important here than the fact of it.

We are, as Thomas Aquinas once said, creatures between beasts and angels.  Our job is to fight against the beast in ourselves as far as we are able, and to strive always to be like the angels.

Sex is, by definition, part of the beast in us. 

All sex.

In heaven, we will be neither male nor female.  We will not be taken or given in marriage.

Here on earth, sex is a necessary evil–we can’t do without it altogether, because we have been told to go forth and multiply unto the end of the world.

But that does not make sex any less part of the bestial side of ourselves.   We need to be careful of it.  We need to use it properly and otherwise not to use it at all.

Properly, sex is for procreation.  Period.  If we have sex for any other reason, it is sinful and wrong.

Any other purpose. 


During the whole Duck Dynasty-Phil Robertson thing, I was amused to see writer after writer decry the fact that Robertson had compared gay sex with bestiality.

And it was true.  He had compared gay sex to beastiality.

The problem was, he had also compared STRAIGHT sex to bestiality, if it occurred outside a consecrated Christian marriage.

In practice, of course, even the most conservative Christian denominations these days amend this line of thinking to “all sex is bestiality unless it takes place in a proper marriage.”

And Pope John Paul II took that idea and elaborated it considerably in what is called his “theology of the body.”

But push comes to shove, that’s where we’re at–sex is for marriage only, marriage is for procreation, and everything else is the same as screwing a chicken.

We can get into a lot of different arguments about this sort of thing, but let’s get one out of the way at the outset.

It’s really NOT safe to try the tack of “well, I’ve looked in the Bible, and it doesn’t say anything about this.”

It’s true that the New Testament says nothing about abortion or homosexuality, but it’s ALSO true that one of the reasons Christianity spread as fast as it did throughout the Roman world was that it vigorously opposed both from its beginnings. 

The issue here is something much simpler.

You can like the way these people think or not, but it’s a) possible to figure out what they’re saying and b) possible to figure out WHY.

That is, whether I like what they have to say about sex or not, whether I agree with what they have to say about sex or not, I know where it’s coming from.  I know the basis on which they rest their judgment.

With the mayor, I’m left completely without even an intimation of a clue.

Obviously, she thinks behavior is wrong if it’s “hurtful” and “offensive,” at least to some people.


Why is that a value I, or anybody else, should hold?

We live in a world of contested moral systems.

Contested moral systems need to defend themselves on the basis of first principles, precisely because they are being contested.

Gordon College tells us that God has told them what to believe and how to behave, and it can point to two thousand years of Christian theology to back it up.

This does not mean they’re right, but it does mean that I can understand WHY these particular ideas and behavior are something I should follow and base my own judgments on.

The mayor’s letter gives me no idea why anybody would want to take “be nice” as a moral commitment.

And no, it’s not “obvious,” not by a long shot.

It’s not enough to explain THAT we should behave one way or the other.

You have to explain WHY–and by “why,” I don’t mean things like “because everybody will feel better” or “because more people will be happy.”

Because then you’d have to explain WHY everybody feeling better is a good thing.

Maybe the mayor of Salem needs Gordon College to teach her how to argue her own point.

Written by janeh

July 12th, 2014 at 9:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'Getting Religion'

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  1. Yeah. This is what I mean when I say Movementism hasn’t gelled yet. Gordon College–or any reasonably orthodox (note small “o”) Christian institution has a consistent standard. And they should. They’ve had 2,000 years to get it right. Even Marxists, at least of the Leninist variety, do pretty well, and they’ve had less than two centuries.

    Any ideology/religion–the distinction isn’t clear sometimes–needs scripture: it has to have a set of authoritative writings explaining the world and man, and at least outlining how we proceed when something new comes up. There would be no problem outlining this, not just for Christianity and Marxism, but for Libertarianism or Islam. But Movementism is still in the rough draft and loose-leaf binder stage of development–much like economic outrage was prior to Marx, or Libertarianism before Rand. There’s a space for defiance of economics–formerly Marx, now perhaps Picketty; there’s a space for environmentalism–formerly Rachel Carson, now Al Gore; and assorted tracts for various other policies, and why democracy doesn’t count if you lose. But the Movement really needs an ideology which commits them to equal treatment of whoever they feel should be equally treated this week. All they have is the Bible which tells them that we are all the creatures and children of God who commands us to love one another. But to accept that, they’d have to accept the authority of the Bible, and they choke on that. Once someone provides them with a credible alternative, maybe that person can get the various ducks of Movementism in a row.

    The most interesting bit of the link was the comment cheering on the government by a Presbyterian minister–complete with the bad wordplay which is the hallmark of the not to be taken seriously left. We must do what the city is pushing because God wants us to: never mind what it says in the Bible. But if we’re free to disregard the Bible, why should I pay any attention to the minister?

    All of which said, Salem was no doubt right to insist that everyone operating under contract with the city operate under the same rules, however whacko. This ought to make someone on the left ask themselves whether they really want governments running businesses, but there is a solid majority on the left which refuses to admit they can lose elections and have the same rules used against them. You can spot them by their panic and outrage whenever someone else gets a turn at bat.

    Oh. Someone is going to ask how I can natter this long about ideology and not mention conservatism. That’s because it’s more complicated. Conservatism is a matter of temperament and situation. You could study or teach the core texts of AMERICAN conservatism, or BRITISH conservatism–but neither would help you understand Vladimir Putin who is a RUSSIAN conservative. He and Bill Buckley just wouldn’t get along–though both of them would understand why they didn’t, which makes both of them smarter than several prominent contemporary American politicians. As Jane says, not studying ideologies has consequences. Continually being blindsided is only one of them.


    12 Jul 14 at 12:33 pm

  2. The answer can’t be along the lines of “let’s make everybody feel better” because devout Christians including Catholics obviously will not feel better.

    I admit being cynical but does anyone think there is an “issue of the day”? The US had Prohibition in the 20s, anti-fascism in the 30s, racism in the 50s and 60s, feminism starting in the 70s,and sex crimes since the 80s. When was the recovered memory scandal?

    Now it seems to be LBGT.


    12 Jul 14 at 6:27 pm


    This has absolutely nothing to do with Jane’s post but I want to call attention to it.



    12 Jul 14 at 6:40 pm

  4. OK, not on current topic. But it’s not as though I’m introducing a new theme. The connection between even out of office politicians, “speaking fees” and corruption has finally gotten so obvious even Maureen Dowd has picked up on it;


    But of course she’s only got half-way there. So long as laws run into multiple volumes, and so long as they leave discretion for the regulators, money will continue to flow from those hurt or helped by the regulation to anyone who might have influence with the regulators. If you restrict “campaign contributions” you get “speaking fees.” If you found a way to stop that you’d just get even more book deals and family members hired at inflated salaries or paid fees as lobbyists. The root of the problem is the corruption inherent in complex and discretionary law, and nothing short of simpler less discretionary law will solve it. Anything else not only won’t help it probably isn’t even meant to.

    But it’s interesting that it’s gotten so blatant that even the New York TIMES has figured out half the problem.


    13 Jul 14 at 7:53 pm

  5. I once read a critique of Maureen Dowd saying she was the stupidest columnist in the mainstream media, a judgement I’ve never had any cause to dispute until now. Good on her for daring to buck the liberal machine and go at least part of the way.


    14 Jul 14 at 12:18 am

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