Saturday, July 2, 2011

Conservative Versus Classical Christianity

There’s always a chance in the news to criticize Christianity on its generally conservative political positions on GLBT issues, but this time, we have a criticism from a recent graduate of Yale Divinity School who observes that the modern church has shifted away from what could be said to be the more classical Christianity of its early history. This runs the gamut from the primacy of marriage in theological terms to issues of when conception begins.

There’s little doubt that the authors of the Bible found homosexual relations immoral, probably most commonly manifest in ritual practices of other deities or the practice of rape in ancient times to demean the enemy. But even the consensual form that manifest in pederasty from ancient Greek times and into Roman times was condemned as unnatural by the apostle Paul. It’s difficult to contest this even by the language, but people will. If we assume it was considered unnatural, though, it’s also pertinent to consider that Paul said that nature implied that men having long hair was degrading, while women having long hair was a blessing. So I guess my female friends who have short hair are degrading themselves? To be fair, Paul was a product of his times and probably also a staunch conservative, moreso than many conservatives of this age in comparison, but that goes without saying with a gap of over a thousand years.

But there are other issues many Christians are not as opposed to or are opposed to on grounds not agreed upon until later in history. The most interesting one is that of marriage being superior to celibacy. Many Christians historically argued that marriage was inferior to celibacy, probably going along with Paul himself who also voiced this opinion, saying that if you had self control, it was better to be married to God than to be married to a human, pulling your attention away from God by association. But Paul did say that marriage was good for those without such restraint upon their pleasure seeking. So it’s ambivalent in the sense of a complete condemnation of either, but celibacy was preferred on the grounds that you are focused on God and not on humanity. But marriage is definitely emphasized as a sacrament in the church or at least ordained by God in creation; there’s no doubt God blessed marriage in the Christian context, what with Adam and Eve’s pairing. And there’s the whole procreation aspect, but I won’t get into the whole anti gay marriage issue that I talked about in “Gay Marriage Does Not Equal Anarchy” Overall, the notion of family’s importance in modern times with conservatives could be said to have overshadowed the historical tendency in early Christianity to value the individual before God and focus on the interpersonal relationship that is blessed by God, but is also understood to not be for everyone.

On the issue of abortion, it’s always said by so many Christians that it is tradition that life begins at conception, but many Christians, including Augustine and Aquinas, thought that life, or ensoulment for a more particular term, began at quickening, which was around 20 weeks or so, more generally around the 5th month of pregnancy, which, ironically lines up with more scientific consensus on the nature of viability of the embryo/fetus, which indeed starts around that time, though medical technology is still in the early stages for enabling such premature births to survive. In this sense, the Christian attempt to use a minority scientific and gynecological perspective to justify illegalizing abortion is actually not backed up by early Christian thought, especially since they were considering ensoulment as opposed to when life began strictly speaking. The notion that a clump of DNA has a soul in any significant way hardly makes sense even in a Christian perspective, since a soul makes sense only for something conscious, so it would only be at the point of sentience where an embryo could even be argued to have a soul in that sense of personhood and humanity as a creation of God instead of mere potentiality in the form of a multiplying blastocyst or a zygote attached to the uterine wall. In this way, Christians seem to focus too much on the issue of life as opposed to when we gain a soul and use that to illegalize abortion entirely.

The most contentious issue, however, is the seeming hypocrisy of Christians who speak against homosexuality and their getting the right to marry, yet they also permit divorce against the general tone of disapproval of divorce in the bible with a minor exception for unfaithfulness. Apparently, Christians are more than willing to permit divorce due to problems besides adultery, which seems to suggest a flexibility they don’t have about homosexual behavior being immoral, since it could be said to be moral in a monogamous relationship, even if it’s not procreative. Some Christians are stricter about it, but the majority of Christians are oddly silent about it, speaking about it as if it’s just an unpleasant but acceptable part of life, like cancer. The only problem is that it doesn’t really seem to sync up with what the Bible teaches about it, particularly Jesus himself. He noted, to paraphrase, that a man and woman become one flesh and no one should separate them.

In general, it appears that conformity to the Bible is a matter of convenience more than actual conviction to the message. When it comes to the explicit evidence about some issues, people can still ignore it on ethical grounds, particularly homosexuality. Abortion and divorce could also be said to have changed in terms of the focus on ethical priorities. However, this seems inconsistent; if you’re for marriage, why wouldn’t you be against divorce for convenience when you’re more likely to oppose abortion for convenience? And on homosexuality, it seems like you’re more insecure about equality of sexual preferences between committed adults than actually concerned about whether it’s morally permissible to have a particular kind of sex at all. With these issues, the change of culture seems to be where the change in opinion results from, not to mention the prominence of individualism from Protestantism where people are their own priests of sorts, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as the median to God, not another human. When people cease to follow actual tradition or defenses from the bible as a whole, they can cherry pick it and follow general norms of the age, which goes against Christianity’s claim to follow an eternal law. It’s one thing to say you’re conservative, but to say you’re Christian along with that and ignore the contrasting history seems disingenuous. Being consistent on culture and convictions is something we ought to strive for, instead of conforming to culture to create our convictions. Yes, I like alliterations, did you notice? Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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