Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Deontology, homosexuality and the Word's of God


Aric Clark and I have had several discussions about a philosophical view or school, as he puts it, of ethics referred to as “Deontology.” That is, ethics understood as acts based on a moral law which must be followed regardless of the consequences. As the Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it, “a deontological theory of ethics is one which holds that at least some acts are morally obligatory regardless of their consequences for human weal or woe.”

Aric first wrote on this subject on his blog. You can begin here with his posting about homosexuality not being a sin. He goes on with his philosophical views from there. He also commented on my blog posting, A Warning. You will have to scroll down to read his comment and my answer.

Aric next wrote me a letter and suggested I might want to continue the discussion. However after reading through again and thinking about it I believe most of my answer still stands. Here are the parts from the letter that I am the most concerned with. (Aric has put my thoughts from my answer in italics.)

Letter
"And the most important thought here is the Word of God. We do not obey the Word of God simply because it is a moral command or even because we believe the Bible has authority, but because God’s words have authority. And the Bible is God’s word to us."


It doesn't matter exactly where you place the authority. It still comes down to authority/command/obedience. It is still deontological ethics. And belief absolutely comes into it at every stage. We believe there is a God. We believe God speaks to us. We believe the mechanism of that speech is the Bible.

"But the truth is that it is not compassionate to break the words of God and encourage others to keep habitually sinning."

Notice the rules language here. The problem from your perspective is that people are "breaking the words (rules)" which get their authority from God. You don't say so, but given the context, I'm willing to wager by "sinning" you mean - not following God's commands. This is deontological thinking through and through.

"I believe we all must be molded by God’s word."

In other words, we all must obey God's rules. Deontology.You might feel like this is a lot of semantics, but what I am after is a clear understanding between us of the type of thinking behind our arguments. Too often in polarized subjects like this we argue past one another comparing apples and oranges. If we can agree that the way you and I are coming to our conclusions are specific (very different) modes of thought, we can begin to compare those modalities and see why we differ in this regard. Most likely it will end with neither of us being persuaded of anything, but at least we might understand one another better.

I will also be direct and say that I think that the quality of moral reasoning behind conservative beliefs about homosexuality is in general, very poor. Biblical hermeneutics? Strong. But when it comes to the moral argument, "why is homosexuality evil?" conservatives tend to have very poor answers: "because the bible says so" or "because it is unnatural". These answers are examples of deontological ethics. Worse, they are examples of unreflective deontological ethics. At least Kant was thorough and intentional about his moral reasoning, even if he ultimately came up with an unworkable methodology.

Finally, I will ask a couple preemptive questions. Assuming that you acknowledge that your moral judgment on this issue is a form of deontological ethics, and assuming you likewise acknowledge that you take circumstances and consequences into account when making moral decisions in many areas of your life (for example: deciding how to discipline or reward your children in order to raise healthy human beings).... then we see that you use different moral reasoning methodologies selectively. How do you determine what mode of reasoning you will use for a given moral question? How did you decide that homosexuality called for a deontological approach? In an ideal world would all moral behavior come down to obedience to divine commands? In which case, why hasn't God given us commands sufficient to cover every situation in life?
End


These are my words to Aric. First off I apologize for not posting the whole letter. It is too long. And it is mainly the last part that I have an objection to.


I came to my faith in Jesus Christ not only by use of reason but because the Holy Spirit opened my heart to God’s word. Some people came to their conversion in a slow process as they grew up in a Christian home. It is almost a natural process and they are often unaware of the change. But for me, and many others, it was different. I read the Bible often as a child, I prayed, but I did not know what it meant to belong to Jesus Christ, to be redeemed. When I became a Christian it was an all at once experience albeit an experience tied deeply to the word of God. Because of the immediate event I became aware of my sudden need to constantly read the Scriptures, and I found them opening to me in a new way. (Although I was only fifteen I was very aware of this change.)

I bring this up because I want to point out that this is more than a cold agreement or disagreement with a moral law. I love philosophy and would love to somehow come at this with you from a philosophical position but I cannot. The way you have put your terms means that you are insisting, as a Christian, that God’s authority is just one of several choices. I as a Christian do not believe I can even begin to argue with you from that point of view.

I obey God’s word because I love Jesus Christ. He is after all my Lord. Once he is Lord—reason is important—after all it was Anselm who wrote, "Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this, too, I believe, that, unless I first believe, I shall not understand." But when you simply use God’s word as an example of a supposed moral authority I will not enter into the debate. Because, first must come the debate about God’s word and his authority.

55 comments:

Pastor Bob said...

Dr Mouw of Fuller Seminary once spoke of, (I think I have this right) divine command ethics. If this is deontological, so be it.

Two examples:

1. Adultery: are there circumstances in which adultery is the good? I'm using the narrow definition here, two people married to each other and one chooses to have sex with someone else, even with his/her spouse's approval. I think there are no circumstances in which adultery is good.

2. Killing: are there circumstances in which killing is the good? There may be circumstances in which killing someone is the least sinful thing to do, (protecting the life of another), but I don't think it can be defined as good. I wish governments would consider this before they rush off to war.

Just some thoughts based on the 10 commandments.

Clay Allard said...

Viola--
I believe that Aric's argument has a hole-- just because one uses different approaches in different situations does not mean that the moral command changes. If I can help someone to not fall into a bus by gently guiding them out of the way, or by tackling them, it doesn't change the moral command. And yes, Aric-- it is all about obedience. "Love God, and do as you please," Augustine said-- the only thing that will please you in that Divine embrace is doing God's will with all you have within you.
Thanks for posting this-- I don't think that much light has been shed, but I'm not sure that that is any different from any other approach between the two sides at this point. You are a blessing, Viola. Whenever I need philosophical assistance, I know where to turn.

Clay Allard
Dallas, Texas

Aric Clark said...

Viola,

Thank you for taking the time to reply, and for sharing a piece of your personal conversion story.

I am disappointed that you seem to think that philosophy and belief are somehow at odds with one another - as if claiming simple obedience to God's commands wasn't itself a bundle of philosophical commitments. How do you measure your obedience? How do you discern what God commands? How do you act in situations where there is any uncertainty as to what God commands?

Thank you, in any case, for engaging this much.

@ Pastor Bob,

Divine Command Ethics is absolutely one type of Deontology. Deontology is not without merit in some, limited, examples. Read anything on my blog about torture to see me get pretty close to a deontological view on that issue.

What I hope for from this kind of conversation is an acknowledgment that we are approaching the subject of homosexuality with different methodologies. For most conservatives it is a matter of rules to be obeyed or broken. For most liberals it is a matter of consequences. (That is generalizing, but you get my point). Once we recognize we are using fundamentally incompatible methodologies to determine what is sin in this situation we can begin to dialogue about the merits of our approaches.

While I don't think Deontology is completely useless, I DO think it is weak as a mode of moral reasoning for a host of reasons you can read about on my blog. But let's take your 2 examples:

Adultery and Killing are wrong we are agreed. But why? Not just because God forbade them in the 10 commandments, surely. What if God had commanded murder? Would murder then be good on the basis of God's command? This is exactly what suicide bombers and holy war soldiers and a host of demented psychopaths through history have believed - that they were commanded to murder by God. They believed that because God commanded it of them it made the murder itself a good act. Are we not agreed that these people were sorely mistaken?

No, adultery and killing are wrong because of their consequences. Because they violate other human beings. Because they damage relationships and lives. Even in a case where the damage is minimal (ie: killing in self-defense, or adultery in an "open" relationship), we recognize that the act is still fundamentally harmful, if less harmful than other options.

Jesus repeatedly criticized the scribes and pharisees for being hypocrites by following the letter of the law, but failing to discern it's spirit. The parable of the Good Samaritan is about two law-abiding people who do harm to the bystander by scrupulously following God's commands. The New Testament frequently lifts up principles of discernment like the "fruits of the spirit" as the means to determining what is good.

In other words, why on earth would one take a deontological approach to deciding if homosexuality is a sin, "The Bible says it, I believe it, that ends it," when experience, reason, and even the Bible suggest there are better ways of discerning right from wrong.

Aric Clark said...

@ Clay,

Your analogy isn't accurate. The method or approach, determines the result you get, not the other way around. You don't decide that someone needs tackling and then try to figure out why. You tackle someone only because you've discerned that they are in danger and it is the best way, given the circumstances, to protect them.

It's ironic here that the criteria is "harm". You want to protect someone from harm. The criteria is not "it is against the rules to stand in front of buses". If, for example, you knew that no harm would come to that person standing in front of that bus (he is a traffic cop, for example) then you probably wouldn't tackle him.

You say it is all about obedience. Fair enough. How do you decide if you've been obedient? What is your criteria? Do you have rules that cover every situation and contingency? If you don't - how do you be obedient in the absence of clear rules? What if the rules seem to be harmful to someone? Is it still more important to be obedient than to be concerned about harming someone? How do you know YOU have the right rules? Most Christians, for example, are convinced that one of God's rules is that women should not be ordained to ministry. Out of obedience to God's commands they do incalculable damage to the Body of Christ by denying fully half the human race true participation in the Church. Are they right?

Viola Larson said...

Aric,
I didn’t write “that philosophy and belief are somehow at odds with one another”. I was making the point that God and his commandments are not just one moral choice among others. You seem to be equating other philosophical views with ethical choices based on Scripture.

For instance, Kant’s ethics which is the beginning of deontology, or W. D. Ross’s idea about using intellectual intuition as a basis for moral law, or those philosophers such as Plato who insist moral law is based on the good, which would be in contradiction to deontology. One could even think of A.J. Ayers who believed nothing was of value unless it could be tested empirically. And then we could totally discount ethics. (But that’s an aside.)

That is why I would prefer to understand your view of Scripture first and know why you reject the biblical text when it calls homosexual practice a sin.

From a reformed point of view God is sovereign over all and he is good. So why should we reject his word and not trust his commandments.

Aric Clark said...

Viola,

You didn't write that philosophy and belief are at odds. You said that you couldn't have a discussion with me at a philosophical level because of your beliefs.

Do you agree that there is such a thing as "right" or "good" and such a thing as "wrong"? Ethics is just a broad term for the attempt to figure out what these things are. Christians didn't invent the idea and they don't have any special claim to be the only ones attempting to live ethical lives. Whether you use God's command as your principle for making moral decisions or secular law, or a careful calculation of consequences it is all still "ethics". In that sense they are equivalent.

You may want to argue that divine command is superior to other ethical models - THAT is an argument we can have. But you can't say that you don't want to get into an argument about ethics because what you have is NOT ethics or NOT amenable to reasonable critique. That is not an argument that is a a copout.

The reason I insist it matters what ethical methods you are using (whether consciously owned or not) is because it is not as simple as making "ethical choices based on scripture". (your words)

You approach scripture already with an idea of concepts like right and wrong and a pretty specific methodology already in place for discerning between them. You don't just read scripture - you read it deontologically. That is you read it as a reliable source of moral commands from an authority you accept as having a right to demand your obedience. In anycase, scripture is not the method you are using for ethical decisions. Scripture is not a method. Scripture is a collection of documents.

If I'm not starting, in my ethical decision making process, in a deontological mode - that is I'm not looking for universal laws from a trustworthy authority that must be obeyed regardless of consequences - then I don't even begin my reading of scripture in the same way. I'm not combing it for rules or using it as a checklist for sanctification.

For example, if my ethical decision making process is teleological in nature, then I'm reading scripture for stories and parables - examples of how to behave (and how NOT to behave) on the basis of the consequences of those actions.

Or if my ethical decision making process is virtue based, then I'm going to read scripture as a practice or habit designed to lead to my becoming more fully human. Or I'll find characters or situations which exemplify certain virtues and try to translate them into my own life and setting.

In either case it matters little what the Bible may contain in the way of rules - and much more the effects on me as a person, or in terms of consequences of my actions, that reading the Bible may bear. In all 3 cases (including a deontological reading) the Bible is a conversation partner in ethical decision making, but not the source of our moral decision making process, which is prior.

Aric Clark
Ft. Morgan, CO

Pastor Bob said...

Aric

But what of societies in which killing or committing adultery is considered to be the good?

One of the consequences of having close contact with multiple cultures is that we find that different cultures see different consequences. Thus, for example, traditionally white American, Japanese and Chinese cultures have seen intermarriage with persons of other nationalities as fundamentally bad. The consequence of such a marriage is being cut off from one's family and one's community. On what basis do we decide that such racism is wrong?

One of the dirty little secrets of modernism is the assumption that a European view of ethics is correct and all others are to be measured by that standard. So we now find ourselves in the post modern era in which (some suggest) that each person is to decide what is good and what is bad.

How is one to measure consequences if there are no standards? And how are there to be standards if they are not deontological?

Or maybe we should measure standards by the "greatest good for the greatest number of people" standard. Of course then we would still have to decide what is the good.

Or we could all like sheep follow Peter Singer.

In other words if one does not have an inviolable set of standards from which one can determine what is a good or a bad consequence, how is one to determine what is a good or a bad consequence? I know that sounds circular. That is exactly my point.

Anonymous said...

Viola,

It is interesting how the debate on homosexuality raises so many other interesting questions. I think that the attempt to make ethical choices based on Scripture is in the strictest sense of the word a philosophy. But your last comment was the most interesting:

“That is why I would prefer to understand your view of Scripture first and know why you reject the biblical text when it calls homosexual practice a sin.

From a reformed point of view God is sovereign over all and he is good. So why should we reject his word and not trust his commandments.”

While a cannot speak for Aric, it would seem to me from what he said that not only does Aric not reject the biblical text but he upholds it in a most rigorous way.

According to Jewish practice and Rabbinical teaching even to this day, and probably to early Jewish Christians as well, the two most sacred Laws given by God are the keeping of the Sabbath and Circumcision.

But Scripture itself teaches us to judge obedience to Scripture on the basis of its consequences. This is what Jesus was teaching when he taught about the Sabbath saying that the “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. So even though keeping the Sabbath was a Law chiseled in stone by God Himself, Jesus said that if you obeyed the Law to the hurtful detriment of other human beings then in reality you were breaking the Law.

Paul took the same approach to circumcision, which was the paramount non-negotiable sign of the Covenant given by God to Abraham. Yet according to Paul, followers of Jesus could become children of Abraham, i.e. Jewish in every way, without being circumcised. And the other apostles agreed! Why? Because they had a new method of reading the Scriptures, given by Jesus, that directs you to effectively disobey direct commandments in order not to sin, and warns you that you very well could be sinning while obeying the exact letter of the commandments.

According to the Scriptures therefore, there is a superior method to obey the Scriptures than blind obedience the letter of the law. Paul – who himself started out as a rule based Pharisee - admonished his readers time and time again to judge their behavior on the basis of their consequences. He even admonishes the Galatians in his famous “Oh foolish Galatians” speech to stick to the Spirit through whom they first came to Christ and not revert back to strict adherence to the Laws given in the Scriptures.

Maybe it makes me a liberal, but I think Aric is right when he says “why on earth would one take a deontological approach to deciding if homosexuality is a sin, "The Bible says it, I believe it, that ends it," when experience, reason, and even the Bible suggest there are better ways of discerning right from wrong.

Aric is abiding to the Scriptures to a “T” and accepts His Word fully. According to the Scriptures, consequence based ethics takes precedence over rule based ethics, even if the rules are divinely mandated unambiguous Laws and listed in the Ten Commandments.

Tom Evans
KC

PJ said...

In reality, only someone who is omniscient can make ethical decisions based on consequences. The reason is simple: only an omniscient being, one who knows the end from the beginning, can know which choices will have good consequences.

So, if the only way we know what's morally right or wrong is by knowing the consequences, then we finite temporal beings have no way to know what's right or wrong. All we can do is guess and hope.

Centuries ago, Reformed thought distinguished "moral" and "prudential" decisions. Moral decisions were places where God had spoken, and our job was to do what God said. There was a right and a wrong, and our duty (yes, that's the Greek word deon) was to do the right and avoid the wrong. Some Reformed teachers said God declared things "right" or things "wrong" because he could see the consequences of different choices -- lying is bad because it undermined community, for example. Some Reformed teachers said God declared things "right" or "wrong" because of his own nature -- lying is bad because God's nature is truth, for example. But whatever the reason, God's declaration created a duty for us to follow.

On the other hand, prudential decisions were places where we used our limited wisdom to make our best prediction on likely outcomes and choose what seemed good at the time. They weren't decisions about ultimate right or wrong -- more like provisional estimates of what would be helpful or beneficial. And they were areas where people were allowed to disagree -- because different people had different senses of what would be helpful.

Should I feed my children, a parent asks. Yes; it's a moral question because God has spoken of the duty of parents to care for their children. Should I feed my children corn-fed beef or Pacific Salmon? Whatever; it's a prudential question calling for your speculation on what's best for your kids.

In our generation, we have blurred the distinction between deontology and teleology, between moral and prudential questions. Many unfortunate consequences have resulted… But maybe I should reactivate my blog to pursue them…

Viola Larson said...

Clay,

Thanks for the compliment; however, I am no expert in philosophy. I have a BA in it and like to think about it, that is all. I did the most work and writing in Plato because I had a teacher with great respect for Plato. That was a great time in my life, but long ago.

I think your idea about obedience is very good and like your Augustine quote.

Viola Larson
Sacramento, Ca

Aric Clark said...

I am conscious that I am putting a lot of words into this space. I want to be respectful of your hospitality Viola, while also responding to substantive questions from others. Just let me know when you've had enough. :D

Pastor Bob,

You are right that cultural differences present a challenge to ethics of all kinds, though I think you would be hard pressed to find a culture that truly approved of murder or adultery (every culture accepts "killing" in certain circumstances - but murder by definition is illegitimate killing, as adultery by definition is illegitimate sex).

You are also correct that deontology is sometimes used to attempt to bridge cultural gaps. See the push for universal human rights as a way of influencing laws in various countries toward some kind of universal standard. However, deontology isn't really immune to the cultural relativity problem either. In fact, the push back from countries like China and parts of Africa against Universal Human Rights is case in point - from their perspective it is just an attempt to foist western values onto them. Where for example in the Declaration of Human Rights is there any comment about such Chinese values as filial piety?

There isn't really any simple or straightforward way around cultural barriers, we just have to muck through them bit by bit and communicate on a human level. In fact, I think that teleology is more likely to get traction in a multicultural setting because everyone can probably agree they don't want to be beaten or insulted or murdered because they don't like those consequences. It is hard to get people to accept a rule on the basis of an authority they don't trust.

Peter Singer, by the way, is no more the best example of teleological ethics, than Hammurabi is the best example of deontological ethics.

But while you've raised an interesting point with the culture question, you haven't really addressed any of my questions to you.

What makes something good? Is it God's command alone? If God commanded murder, would murder then be a good thing?

Viola Larson said...

Tom a couple of thoughts about your comment.

You write:
“But Scripture itself teaches us to judge obedience to Scripture on the basis of its consequences. This is what Jesus was teaching when he taught about the Sabbath saying that the “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”.
So even though keeping the Sabbath was a Law chiseled in stone by God Himself, Jesus said that if you obeyed the Law to the hurtful detriment of other human beings then in reality you were breaking the Law.”

That is a unique exegesis of that verse. One of the things that should be pointed out is that by Jesus’ time there was a large amount of oral law compiled by the rabbis as they pondered the meaning and ways of obeying the law given by God. Jesus once referred to this as their “traditions.” Jesus generally went back to the original law cutting through that tradition. That is what he is doing with this verse. He is not at all writing about consequences.

You write this:

“Yet according to Paul, followers of Jesus could become children of Abraham, i.e. Jewish in every way, without being circumcised. And the other apostles agreed! Why? Because they had a new method of reading the Scriptures, given by Jesus, that directs you to effectively disobey direct commandments in order not to sin, and warns you that you very well could be sinning while obeying the exact letter of the commandments.”

Actually it wasn’t that they had a new method of reading the Scriptures “that directs you to effectively disobey direct commandments in order not to sin, and warns you that you very well could be sinning while obeying the exact letter of the commandments.” But they had a Savior who had fulfilled the law and had also fulfilled the Scriptures prophecy about giving the people a new heart. (see Jeremiah) What God had cleansed by his blood (see Acts) was now clean. The new sign of God’s covenant with his people was now baptism—that is the dying with Christ and being given new life.

You write:
“According to the Scriptures therefore, there is a superior method to obey the Scriptures than blind obedience the letter of the law. Paul – who himself started out as a rule based Pharisee - admonished his readers time and time again to judge their behavior on the basis of their consequences.”

I am not sure where you got the verse from which has Paul saying, Galatians judge your behavior on the basis of their consequences. Paul insisted that the Galatians not revert back to the law as a means of salvation. They could not be saved by the law. No one can. It is only grace bought on the cross by Jesus Christ. That has nothing to do with having good behavior based on the consequences.

Kevin said...

So, Aric, what is your norm for determining ethics? Utilitarianism? I saw hints of that in one of your posts.

But even if not, ethics always come from some form of deontology, to use your word. You can't point to any system that does not appeal to some internalized authority. So your arguments collapse under their considerable weight.

For those who do not accept scriptural authority, I think you are too quick to dismiss the value of natural arguments. Human sexuality is *obviously* intended to be both heterosexual and reproductive. Just because it has been creatively (one might argue perversely) put to other uses, does not mean that there is no natural use.

Interestingly, Paul appeals to this natural argument in Romans 1:26-27, adding to its weight his own apostolic authority.

And that is what it really comes down to: authority. True Christians, the True Church, accept the authority of the Scriptures. We submit ourselves to it. We must, therefore, call sin what God calls sin. In the current discussion we must call sinful any sexual behavior that God does not ordain. What he has ordained is one man and one woman experiencing sexual intimacy within the context of marriage. To each other. Any persistence in sin, in defiance of God's revealed will, is inconsistent with the Christian faith.

So you see, the issue is moral, ethical, bibliological, hamartiological, ecclesiological, and soteriological. But we have to start with some authority. We start with God and his revelation. Everything else is subordinate. Arguments such as you make on your blog may resound with practicing homosexuals, but they will be thoroughly unconvincing to biblical Christians (just as ours our to you). If you wish to be persuasive, you need to begin with our presupposition and lead us to your conclusion. Good luck.

Kevin
Macon, MS

Viola Larson said...

Aric,
You write that I stated that I couldn't have a discussion with you at a philosophical level because of my beliefs. Well perhaps that is a simplified version of what I said. I said, hopefully, that I felt, because of my beliefs, I thought that your views of Scriptures needed to be explored before we wrote about ethics from a philosophical perspective.

You asked “Do you agree that there is such a thing as "right" or "good" and such a thing as "wrong"? Of course the answer is yes, and of course that is what ethics is about. But it seems to me that the whole effort here on your side is to show that the biblical commands are not the ultimate ethic for Christians to be concerned with. I feel that this is because of your view of Scripture.

You write:
“You may want to argue that divine command is superior to other ethical models - THAT is an argument we can have. But you can't say that you don't want to get into an argument about ethics because what you have is NOT ethics or NOT amenable to reasonable critique. That is not an argument that is a copout.”

That statement contains two thoughts. One is that what I have is not ethics and the other that biblical ethics is not amenable to reasonable critique. A couple of thoughts on these two parts. My relationship with Jesus Christ is not ethics, what I do both good and evil in that relationship is ethics—of course. But I do insist that biblical ethics cannot be critiqued by reason with the thought that the scripture can be proved wrong with reason. That would place reason above Scripture and as I stated earlier Scripture is not unreasonable but beyond reason because it is the words of God and God is beyond reason.
You write:

“You approach scripture already with an idea of concepts like right and wrong and a pretty specific methodology already in place for discerning between them. You don't just read scripture - you read it deontologically. That is you read it as a reliable source of moral commands from an authority you accept as having a right to demand your obedience. In anycase, scripture is not the method you are using for ethical decisions. Scripture is not a method. Scripture is a collection of documents.”

There is some truth and some mistaken thoughts in this statement. Yes I have approached Scripture with my own thoughts about right and wrong but Scripture has at times corrected me. Abortion is one of those places. I at one time knew a young man who became a Christian out of a hippy lifestyle; he at one time mentioned that he loved to fornicate (yes he used that word which was funny)even after becoming a Christian then he read that fornication was sin. He, with the help of the Holy Spirit, stopped having sex as a single person. No Scripture is not a “method” for making moral decisions instead it is God’s guide to the Christian.

David Fischler said...

Aric wrote:

"What makes something good? Is it God's command alone? If God commanded murder, would murder then be a good thing?"

I think that this demonstrates the most important problem with your approach--you fail to take into account the nature of God.

I am completely comfortable saying that a given action is right or wrong for no other reason than because God has so decreed. Why? Because God has revealed Himself to humanity as perfectly just, perfectly righteous, perfectly loving, etc.. Therefore, all His judgments, commands, and laws are perfectly just, righteous, and loving. While it is undoubtedly the case that we can, to the extent our fallen nature allows, use reason to discern right and wrong, God's revelation of right and wrong, based on His own nature, is an infallible guide, not because of a particular view of Scripture, but because of a particular view of God.

Thus, your question, "If God commanded murder, would murder then be a good thing?" makes no sense. God can no more order His creatures to do what is wrong than He can will Himself to not exist.

This is why your use of the term "deontology" as if it is a dirty word is beside the point. The attack on rules-based ethics only works if it is confined to human-originated rules. At that point, a lot of the objections you raise make sense. Rules that have been given by God, and are therefore based in His nature, are simply not subject to the same kind of critique, at least not by Christians.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Aric Clark said...

@ PJ

It is true that human beings have limited ability to predict the consequences of our actions, but that hardly makes us incapable of making moral choices. Or to put it another way, the "prudential" reaches much farther than you seem to allow.

Let's continue to use killing as our example. I am a pacifist, but most societies and almost all Christians are not. They believe that killing is permissible under certain circumstances. Those circumstances vary considerably. What is the minimal "moral" duty we have in regards to killing? What is God's clear word on the matter? Is killing in self-defense acceptable? In which case how clear and present does the danger have to be? What about war? What about capital punishment? These are clearly moral choices and they equally clearly involve a calculation of circumstances and consequences. One ought not enter into them lightly.

Indeed, it is highly ironic that the "Golden Rule" is not really a rule in the deontological sense, because it doesn't prescribe specific action. Rather it is a teleological principle. It says that you should do to other people what you subjectively find to be good when it is done to you. In other words, if you don't like the consequences of other people's actions to you, don't do the same thing back to them.

@ Kevin,

I don't have a single overriding norm for my ethics other than something pretty minimal like - do no harm. I tend to find Virtue Ethics to have the most compelling and complete answers to moral questions, though I confess that teleology is more immediately practicable. Utilitarianism has some merits, but I disagree more than I agree with typical utilitarian conclusions. Ultimately, I think it is important to be morally aware and critical - actively trying to come to ethical conclusions about our own behavior.

As for the rest of your comments, you haven't really made arguments, but merely asserted things, which may resound with fundamentalists, but it is thoroughly unconvincing to biblical Christians like me.

Aric Clark said...

@ Viola,

"I do insist that biblical ethics cannot be critiqued by reason with the thought that the scripture can be proved wrong with reason. That would place reason above Scripture and as I stated earlier Scripture is not unreasonable but beyond reason because it is the words of God and God is beyond reason."God is beyond language. God is beyond the universe. We'll get nowhere if we push things that direction.

God is also incarnate. God also communicates using human means and God is accessible to human methods of apprehension like reason or else God is just a useless imaginary friend.

How on earth are we to understand scripture at all without reason? Reason is required to make intelligible sentence structures. Reason is required to translate scribbles and symbols into words with meaning. Reason is required to grapple with the arguments of Paul, or the parables of Jesus. There is absolutely no way of approaching scripture without using reason.

In any case I know full well that you are amenable to using reason. You only seem to set things off limits to reason when you think that reason might provide a salient critique of a point of doctrine you hold dear.

Indeed, the only way you can arrive at what you presume are a set of "biblical ethics" are by using reason to sift through scripture and come up with some kind of system or set of rules. If reason is acceptable to use in that way it is also acceptable to use reason to critique any particular system or set of rules that we come up with whether we claim it is "biblical" or not. Indeed, the Bible provides strong fodder for this kind of criticism since the Bible shows powerful signs of moral development, which I suggest broadly follows a trend of moving away from deontological modes toward teleological modes.

Consider the work of Daniel Friedmann (a Jewish legal scholar) on the Old Testament. He fascinatingly shows how there is a move away from divine command/obedience structures toward circumstance/consequence structures in specific texts throughout the OT.

Pastor Bob said...

Aric

Others have commented in response to your questions to me and probably better than I will. So let me respond first to your last question: if God commanded me to murder would I obey?

It seems to me that the question is similar to the question, "When did you stop beating your wife?" What I mean is, if we take Christ as the center of Scripture and the One to who all Scripture points, God does not command me to murder. So why raise the question?

It might be better if you asked me if I would do something that God commands in Jesus Christ. They aren't all pleasant. Go ahead, choose a real question.

About reason and philosophy: Being a Reformed type I would suggest that humans are totally depraved, that is that there is no part of any human that is not somehow flawed (sinful). That includes reason. Reason is a useful tool but we humans use it in ways that, while we might follow the tenets of logic, still disobey God.

I'm not suggesting that reason isn't a useful tool. But just like any tool when used incorrectly it can hurt the user or another.

So let us consider a parabolic ethical question raised by Jesus: a priest is on his way to the temple. As he walks toward Jerusalem he sees a body off to the side of the road. Should he stop and see if it really is a body or if it is a living person? Specifically should he touch the person/body to see if he/she is alive or dead?

As a priest he has special obligations. He is not supposed to touch the dead outside of his family (assuming he isn't the high priest). He also would be unable to fulfill his duties as a priest on this particular day if he touches the body . In effect if he touches a dead body he disobeys and fails to serve God. At least from one perspective. What should he do?

It seems to me that this question gets at the questions you are raising. If one follows divine command ethics, as I do, how do I decide which command to obey when? And how do I rank the commands, meaning I must obey this one rather than that one in this situation?

Does this help?

Kevin said...

Aric,

Assertions? The only one I made was about the obvious nature of human sexuality. If that is simply an assertion, let me back it up with some science:

Man + woman = human life.

Man + man = two eventually dead human beings.

As a variation: woman + woman = two eventually dead human beings.

Put another way, if the whole world were gay, what would become of the human race? Extinction in under 100 years. That is hardly an unsupported assertion.

Is that a bit more well reasoned?

You call yourself a biblical Christian. Talk about unfounded assertions. I have yet to see you make a single appeal to the Scriptures to support your position, either on the issue of morality or moral authority. I'm sorry. Am I missing something? Perhaps you do not appeal to the Bible, becaus you know where that would lead you. Sneer at me and call me a fundamentalist, if you wish. Yes, I hold to the inspiration, inerrancy, sufficiency,and authority of God's Word. Such is the essence of being a "biblical Christian" You either do not understand the concept or are deluding yourself. Which is it? If you want to claim the mantel of being biblical, then you need to be able to rationally defend from the Bible, something the Bible categorically calls sinful. That will be a tall order.

This is not an issue of interpretation. Viola and I have a few of those between us. But she marshals fairly solid biblical arguments do defend her position. I strongly disagree with her, but she is endeavoring to be biblical, as am I, so we can agree to disagree. In the instance of homosexuality, however, we do not find one of hermeneutical difference. Scripture is very blunt on the subject using words like "perversion" and "abomination" "unnatural." Sodom is held up by both testaments as the archetype of human depravity. Pretty hard to get around and call oneself "biblical."

I still maintain the issue here is one of authority. You said yours was the principle of not doing harm.

Fine, on what basis do you choose that as a guiding moral principle? Do you not, in choosing that standard, set up deontolgical morality with yourself as the final arbiter of good and evil by so doing? And, how do you determine what is/is not harmful?

Kevin
Macon, MS

Aric Clark said...

First of all, thanks for the debate, everyone - though I look to have someone actually answer rather than sidestep a question sometime soon.

@ David Fischler

I assure you I haven't overlooked God's Nature. God is good. All the time. Therefore what God commands is also good, I'm agreed. But how do we know for sure God has commanded something? Answer: because it's good. How do we know what "good" is?

You can't answer that last question "God commanded it". That is a tautology. You can't answer "It's in the Bible" because that leads to the same result: Why is the Bible Good? Because it comes from God.

At some point you have to have some criteria for determining what is good. Which I know every person in this conversation does - whether your conscious of it or not.

Just consider any simple series of ethical questions, and you'll start to get a sense of what your criteria are. Is it acceptable to lie? What if it is to protect someone's life? What if the person you're protecting is a criminal? What if their crime is murder? What if their crime was only petty theft? What if that person was in your family?

There are many biblical injunctions against giving false witness - but does that cover all lies? What about biblical commands to care for the weak? You have to decide what is good here. No rule is going to decide for you, and I'm willing to bet that the criteria you use in making those decisions have to do with weighing the consequences of your actions.

As for it not making sense that God would order his creatures to do wrong - I actually agree, but the Bible doesn't. God repeatedly commands horrible violence in various portions of the Bible (notably the book of Joshua). It doesn't matter how you dress up the conquest of canaan it amounts to a genocidal campaign and it is repugnant. (No arguments about protecting the lineage of Israel won't fly with me. God is all powerful and does not have to resort to mass murder to protect his chosen people).

Furthermore, many people through history, genuine Christians, have actually believed God was commanding them to do quite detestable things like wage war, torture, execute heretics etc... It is easy to say that they were wrong, but how were they (or we) supposed to know that? What criteria can we use to know what is really good so that we don't allow ourselves to get bamboozled into doing something we believe God commands, which must mean it is good right?

Aric Clark said...

@ Pastor Bob,

I am definitely not trying to trap you with a mean-spirited question like the one about wife-beating. It is not an attack on your character. It is a legitimate question since God actually does at various times in the Bible command atrocious violence - and many genuine Christians have through history committed atrocious violence believing it to be God's command. Thank heaven, you are not one of them. Nevertheless the question is valid.

It is valid, furthermore, because it is asking about the nature of good. Is something good because God commands it or does God command something because it is good?

I think it has to work both directions. That is we have to be able to test what we believe are God's commands by criteria to determine if they are good. If the commands are not good then they don't come from God. Period.

This is not a novel approach to scripture. Augustine used it and commented on it frequently:

"What is read should be submitted to diligent scrutiny until an interpretation contributing to the reign of charity is produced. If this result appears literally in the text, the expression being considered is not figurative” (3.15.23)...Otherwise, the expression is figurative or to be dismissed."Your reference to the parable of the Good Samaritan is the same example I used above. You frame it in terms of deciding between commands. Fair enough. I think it can equally be read as a criticism of deontological ethics - following rules consequences be damned. Jesus seems to think (and he repeatedly demonstrates this in the gospels) that it is less important to follow rules and more important to ensure the consequences of your actions tend toward charity.

Regardless - what criteria do you use for deciding between commands? Is it not something like "love"? In other words is it not about the effects of your actions on the well-being of others?

@ Kevin

There won't be any point in us having a conversation, especially when you insist on resorting to ridiculous histrionics about homosexuality ending the human race. I'm sure you will interpret this as a victory, but I refuse to be dragged off-topic into a petty battle about who is the most orthodox person ever. This isn't a conversation about Biblical hermeneutics, it is a conversation about moral reasoning - though contrary to your baseless remarks I have referred to scripture various times over the course of this comment thread. I wish you well, and I hope someday God opens your heart and you are able to see how you have set yourself in opposition to his reign of charity.

Viola Larson said...

Aric you are beginning to sound somewhat histrionic your self. I only allowed this comment because I knew Bob would want to answer you. Next time I won't even consider that if you insult someone as you have insulted Kevin.

Kevin said...

I'm not offended.

But let's address the ridiculousness of my statement. If all the world were gay, how would we procreate apart from medical intervention? That is not ridiculous,it is rational and points to the unnatural qualities of homosexual relations. Again, to fail to see that is, at the most charitable, bilogically deluded.

Speaking of charity, I love the concept and believe in it with all my heart. But--and here is another point you miss because you don't beleive your Bible--God's overarching attribute is his holiness. One of the necessary consequences of God's holiness is his wrath against sin. Obviously, sin is not limited to sexual sin in general or homosexual sin in particular. But since that is the topic of this thread, we have to let God, and not your notions of God, speak for himself. Self-revelation, by the way, comes from the Bible. We keep coming back to that, don't we?

Continuing on with the issue of love: Is it unloving to call idolatry, sin? Is it unloving to call false worship of God, sin? Is it unloving to call blasphemy, sin? Is it unloving to call Sabbath desecration, sin? Is it unloving to call dishonoring parents, sin? Is it unloving to call murder, sin? Is it unloving to call theft, sin? Is it unloving to call lying, sin? Is it unloving to call coveting, sin?

9 commandments, 9 no's. Ok, now follow the logic: if it is not unloving to call the violation of commandments 1-6 and 8-10 sin, why would it be unloving to call sexual relations outside of what God ordained sin? (This, by the way, is the way biblical Christians reason and it is the only way you will gain traction with them.)

But, as you reject the Scriptures as a morality base, we come back to your base, which you will not name. You say, "Do no harm." Fine, what if I say, "Homosexuality is harmful." Hmmmm? See, when I say that I force you (as I should) in one of two directions. The first is admitting that you really do have an underlying morality, one which is contrary to Scripture. The other is admitting to moral relativism. Either way, you have a system that won't work, especially where following Jesus Christ is concerned.

I appreciate you prayers. I too pray that Christ will constantly reveal to me how much I sinfully oppose his reign and how often I fail to love him and others as I should. I pray that the Holy Spirit will open your eyes to your hard-hearted wickedness and will grant you repentance, so that your soul does not perish.

Aric Clark said...

Kevin,

I'm glad you weren't offended. Apparently it is insulting when I say you are uncharitable and equating homosexuality with the end of humanity is extreme, but it is perfectly fine when you essentially imply I am a faithless heretical idiot bound for hell.

You comment about homosexuality is ridiculous because homosexuality is, and has been, naturally occurring in the human population at a rate of around 3% (some say up to 10% but none suggest more) for the entirety of human history. It is no threat to the longevity of the human species. More people are celibate, or impotent or voluntarily choose not to have children than are gay - are they to be regarded as endangering the human race?

Indeed I hope you will take up the line that "homosexuality is harmful" because study after study has shown it to be baseless. Homosexuality harms no one (at least not in any way which is different from how heterosexuality can be harmful) and that is just it. If we acknowledge that for something to be morally wrong it must actually cause harm then we have no basis for calling homosexuality sin.

Kattie W. Coon said...

Kevin,

Yes, let's address the ridiculousness of your statement.

"If all the world were gay"...

It's not, never has been, and never will be, so how does it relate to any realistic discussion? It doesn't. A logical argument drawn from a false premise is nothing more than fodder for ridicule.

"Again, to fail to see that is, at the most charitable, bilogically deluded."

Did someone fail to understand your argument? Failing to acknowledge the logic of a ridiculous argument is in no way "deluded" it is instead rather charitable.

"and here is another point you miss because you don't believe your Bible"

Don't you mean he doesn't interpret the Bible the same way you do? Wouldn't Christian charity dictate that you offer him the benefit of the doubt much the same way you do for Viola? I'm certain that he does believe the Word of God, attempting as best he can with all his heart mind and soul.

“Self-revelation, by the way, comes from the Bible. We keep coming back to that, don't we?”

Apparently we should again.

We read in the Westminster Confession: “Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word; …” (This applies to more than just the Worship of God and the government of the Church.)

Would you deny Aric’s reliance on the illumination of the Spirit of God? If so, by what authority?

“Scripture is very blunt on the subject using words like "perversion" and "abomination" "unnatural." Sodom is held up by both testaments as the archetype of human depravity. Pretty hard to get around and call oneself "biblical."”

You seem to concentrate only on passages >>you<< feel are relevant (evidenced by your vocabulary list), ignoring the totality of the Biblical witness. I would assume Aric is taking the advice found in the Westminster Confession: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”

I am sure that Viola has searched Scripture and discovered validation for Women’s ordination, which I am also sure you disagree with. Likewise, I am sure Aric has also searched Scripture and discovered validation for the Gay ordination issue. Why do you not simply agree to disagree? Why would you either insult his intelligence, or otherwise suggest he is deluded?

Aric,

“Indeed I hope you will take up the line that "homosexuality is harmful" because study after study has shown it to be baseless.”

I would hope so too. After having read Gagnon’s latest effort
( http://robgagnon.net/homosexIncestPolyAnalogy4.htm ), I think it needs to be addressed. His latest work is full of unsubstantiated/undocumented assertion.

Kattie
Huntsville, Al

Kevin said...

Aric,

I continue to be astounded that you do not deal with the substance of my post. Let's go through it again:

First, I did not say you are a heretical, hell-bound idiot. I said that you cannot call yourself biblical and argue agains the Bible. I did warn you that hard-hearted persistence in any sin endangers the soul in that it could belie (probably does belie) a lack of the new birth. That too is biblical. Read 1 John, for instance. Not being holier than thou; just concerned for your soul. Genuinely.

Second, you misread my comment. I am giving you an ad absurdum to make a point, which you continue to be obtuse about. If (a particle of condition, without making a statement of whether or not the condition is true) the whole world were (subjunctive mode, indicating that we are speaking of possibility, not reality) gay, what would become of the human species? The point of the question is to demonstrate that homosexuality is manifestly unnatural. If the condition were to exist, the human race would vanish. Please explain to me how that is untrue. I'm not talking about actual statistics. Turning back to the Bible, you cannot get around the fact that God created man (singular), male and female (complementarily),in his own image. (Indicating that the marriage union reflects the glory and oneness of the Trinity.) I know you deride the statement, "God did not create Adam and Steve" on your blog. That statement, however, is profound. And biblical in both its content and implications. For biblical Christians.

Finally, I ask for the third time, on what do you base your morality? I am starting to think you have no answer to that question.

I will be glad to take up your guantlet however.

Homosexuality is harmful because:

1. It destroys the image of God;
2. It makes a mockery of Christ's love for his church, which God casts in heterosexual, monogamous, married terms;
3. It is an affront to the natural order;
4. It threatens God's design for marriage;
5. It promotes promiscuity;
6. It continues to be a propogator for some of the worst STD's known to mankind;
7. It is flatly prohibited by the Scriptures.

I could go on, but you get the point.

Kevin said...

Katie,

See above my discussion on ad absurdum argumentation and conditional statements.

Regarding the biological deulusion remark, anyone, even an atheist, can see that sexuality was designed to be heterosexual. This is Biology 101. 4th graders know this. Man + woman = babies. I fail to see why that is such a difficult concept.

"Wouldn't Christian charity dictate that you offer him the benefit of the doubt."

Again, this is not an issue of hermeneutics but of obedience. The 10 commandments are not open to interpretation.

"Would you deny Aric’s reliance on the illumination of the Spirit of God? If so, by what authority?"

Yes I would. The Spirit of God does not contradict the Word of God. Bibliology 101.

"You seem to concentrate only on passages >>you<< feel are relevant (evidenced by your vocabulary list), ignoring the totality of the Biblical witness."

Uh, no. The witness of the Scriptures is consistent, very literally from Genesis to Revelation. Consider:

Genes 1:27--"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."

Genesis 2:21-24--"So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh."

Exodus 20:14--"You shall not commit adultery."

Leviticus 18:22--"You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination."

Leviticus 20:13--"If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination."

Romans 1:26-27--"For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error."

1 Corinthians 6:9-10--"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

1 Timothy 1:9-10--"Understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine."

Jude 1:7--"Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire."

Revelation 22:15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

I think that about does it.

Now, show me a single verse in all of the Scripture that conradicts the statement of these. I'll be waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

"Why do you not simply agree to disagree? Why would you either insult his intelligence, or otherwise suggest he is deluded?"

Because while there is exegetical wiggle room on the issue of the ordination of women (though I think it is shaky exegesis), the issue is apples and oranges. I do not insult Aric's intelligence. I mock his assertion that he is biblical while rejecting biblical authority. Obviously he is highly intelligent.

Viola Larson said...

P.J. I forgot to write that I appreciated your comment--but most of all I wanted to encourage you to start blogging.
Also, sorry to say you need to give your full name when commenting here.
Viola Larson,
Sacramento, Ca

Viola Larson said...

Aric,
First Friedmann. He is not only looking at Scripture from an experimental position but also a speculative theological position. Making a comparison between how Achan was appended and how Solomon decided between the two women who were fighting over a baby is hardly a picture of an evolving moral view point on the part of either the Bible or more importantly God. And that is after all the point here. God’s viewpoint.

And if you want to carry the stories further it is God who gives both Solomon and Joshua wisdom. And after all isn’t that the subject of the Bible God.

You write: “God is also incarnate. God also communicates using human means and God is accessible to human methods of apprehension like reason or else God is just a useless imaginary friend.”

This is all true except I would emphasize that the Son is incarnate. But given that, what has that to do with judging the commandments of the Scripture by the use of human reason. I could see where you would attempt to understand the word of God using human reason but of course the enlightening of the Holy Spirit also enters here.

I think you do not quite understand what I am saying and maybe I am saying it poorly, but I am not dismissing reason I am just not using it in the same manner as you. My thought here is that you want to use reason to make a judgment call on Scripture while I want to use it to better understand what God is saying to me.

Sacramento, Ca

Kattie W. Coon said...

Kevin,

“even an atheist, can see that sexuality was designed to be heterosexual.”

No disrespect intended, but when you stop and think about it, you just have to laugh out loud at a statement like that.

“I fail to see why that is such a difficult concept.”

I fail to see why you think we don’t get it. Yes Kevin, you made a very nice logical argument. The argument is nonetheless meaningless because the driving premise can never be true in the real world.

"I think that about does it."

Thank you, you've made my point precisely. It's your proof texting that I believe leads you astray of God's Word.

"Now, show me a single verse in all of the Scripture that contradicts the statement of these. I'll be waiting. And waiting. And waiting."

Again, thank you for realizing that I won't go there. I am smart enough to realize that I shouldn't attempt to answer a when-did-you-stop-beating-your-kids type of question. The fact is I don't agree with that kind of methodology and I consider the question invalid. I do however believe the >>totality<< of the Biblical witness as seen by the light of the Holy Spirit contradicts your claim. In addition, I’m not foolish enough to believe that you would agree with the applicable validity of any verse I should choose to present. Finally, with all due respect, I do not agree that the passages you cite are referring to the class of homosexuals (if they indeed are referring to homosexuals at all) that I would be willing to include in ordained ministry.

“the issue is apples and oranges”

You can say it, but that certainly doesn’t make it so. I rely on my faith in God and his infallible Biblical witness as my reassurance.

Kattie
Huntsville, Al

Anonymous said...

Viola,

I can't keep up with all this blogging back and forth here. Too many fundamentalist rabbit holes.

But you commented on my comment saying "That is a unique exegesis of that verse. "

I just wanted say thank you, but I cannot accept the complement. I am not that creative to make up something that others have not claimed before me. Actually I think the fact is that most Christians read that passage the way I do.

But I admit that some conservative Evangelicals probably do not.

If that is how you describe yourself, you are entitled to your opinions, and I don't presume to take that freedom away from you. I respect you and your opinions.

My concern however remains that your views can actually lead others to feeling justified in causing harm to other people. And there is no doubt that Jesus was concerned about that too. That in being overly zealous to obey God's commandments, we risk harming our fellow human beings, our neighbors.

And so he explained that Man was not made for God's laws, but God's laws were made for Man. Jesus did not abolish those laws. He fulfilled them by making Himself for Man as well, even unto death.

So when we use God's laws to hurt our fellow man, we are turning God's law upside down and denying the work of Christ.

It's the plain meaning of the text.

Kevin,

"The point of the question is to demonstrate that homosexuality is manifestly unnatural."

I think you do not know what is natural. My neighbor's dogs are homosexual. I assure you they have not become supernatural or left the natural real in any way. Homosexuality is as much a part of nature as rain.

Furthermore, whether something is natural or not has nothing to do with whether it is a sin. Sin is about choice. It is about willful decisions against God and Neighbor. If a person's nature is beyond choice, it is not within the realm of sin at all.

But to persecute homosexuals for their nature is to harm ones neighbor. And according to Jesus Christ, and therefore also according to Scripture, to harm one's neighbor in the name of Scripture, in the name of God, or in the name of God's laws, is to miss the point of the Law, and it is to sin against God and man.

If you do so, the at best you are breaking even. But at worst you have committed the greater evil.

Tom
KC

Kevin said...

Veering my remarks back on topic (though my excursus had an illustrative point), Aric feels that an ammoral morality is superior. My contention, which he has been unable to refute, is that such a position is impossible.

We all appeal to a system of values affect how we live our lives. Biblical Christians accept that authority as coming directly from God, as revealed in his Word. It is a presupposion that, in apologetics, is know as a defeator.

Aric's evidently arises from a utilitarian system which he thinks is more reasonable. He is incorrect. He simply appeals to a different defeator to bolster his presupposition. We all have them. We all do it.

So the big variable, then, becomes God. Does he exist? If so, does he communicate with his creation? If so, does he command his creation? Of course biblical Christians say, "Yes, yes, yes," then obey him.

Others do not and that is, of course, their choice. But eternity lurks and we both can't be right. I, for one, will take Paschal's wager and bet on the side of God.

Aric Clark said...

I hope Clay, or Pastor Bob, or PJ will not give up on the conversation because Kevin insists on driving it off-course. I really would love to hear someone, anyone, answer the question "What makes something good?"

Honestly, what I'm getting at is not at all radical. Do you not agree that an identical action "cutting someone" is morally different if it is done by a qualified surgeon in the proper setting with the proper tools in order to effect healing? Is it so strange to acknowledge that ethics involves making these kinds of calculations? And if so - why is such a calculation impossible when it comes to homosexuality?

@ Kevin,

I find your approach and attitude insulting. Whatever your intent you come across as condescending, which is extremely aggravating when combined with persistently attempting to shift the conversation from ethics to hermeneutics, and doggedly pushing arguments that have no merit. I am not going to take the bait, but I will respond to those points you've made which are relevant.

First of all, "my norm". I do not hold to a single overriding norm as you suggest. I do think the rule of thumb "do no harm" is useful as a kind of baseline, but it can be set aside in various circumstances, for example medical ethics (which often require doing harm in order to heal), or in disciplining children. In other words proportionality can also be at play. For most of life I think a virtue ethics approach is best which would be asking "what habits or patterns lead toward fuller humanity?" It is why I said above that I think it is important to be morally aware and critically examining our own lives for ethical content. Calling my approach amoral morality is just more insulting nonsense.

Yes, we all appeal to "systems" of value. That's just it. A system is complicated, it makes allowances for a variety of factors. It is not reducible to a single norm. I appears that you are trying to argue that all ethics are reducible to deontology. Well I'm happy to tell you that virtually every ethicist living and dead disagrees with you. In fact, John Stuart Mills argued quite persuasively that deontology is just disguised teleology. At the end of the day deontologists tend to acknowledge that what makes a rule good is that it has good results.

As for your insistence that because a species that was 100% homosexual would go extinct that makes it unnatural, this argument is so absurd I can't believe you actually want it addressed. Most behaviors if practiced by 100% of the species would be destructive. If 100% of the human species ate a single type of food we'd be vulnerable to massive famines. If 100% of the human species drove a car 10 miles to work every day we'd be out of oil in no time. Something being destructive in an impossible hypothetical situation does not make it unnatural. In fact, nature is frequently destructive. Drop the argument it has no legs.

Aric Clark said...

@ Kevin (cont)

Finally, on your reasons homosexuality is harmful:

1. It destroys the image of God;
No it doesn't. The image of God is Christ on the Cross - it is self-giving love. Homosexuals are quite capable of practicing self-giving love. It is a tragic abuse of scripture to confine the image of God to sexuality.

2. It makes a mockery of Christ's love for his church, which God casts in heterosexual, monogamous, married terms;
Genuine love is never a mockery. God is not such a sensitive baby that needs his image protected. He takes in his children regardless of how they come. Don't you find it more than a little strange to insist that the clergy must be male (which you do) and insist that God in Christ is male and then insist that the love between church and Christ is a heterosexual, monogamous marriage? Seems to me like you are making a mockery of yourself.

3. It is an affront to the natural order;
No it isn't. Homosexuality occurs naturally in every species of mammal. Besides, nature is inanimate and doesn't get "affronted".

4. It threatens God's design for marriage;
God doesn't have a design for marriage. God approves of a variety of forms of marriage in the Bible and none of them are really what we practice in America today, wherein the age of majority and consent are paramount. Furthermore, how does someone else's behavior threaten your marriage? My marriage is not so insecure as that.

5. It promotes promiscuity;
There is no inherent connection between homosexuality and promiscuity. There has yet to be a single reliable study that suggest this. Many homosexuals are not promiscuous by any definition. Even if some homosexuals are promiscuous (by your definition, since different people have different ideas of what is promiscuous), so are many heterosexuals. Deal with the promiscuity not with the sexual identity.

6. It continues to be a propogator for some of the worst STD's known to mankind;
There is nothing homosexuals do which could propagate STD's that is not practiced in far greater numbers by heterosexuals. In Africa AIDS is pretty much solely a heterosexual problem.

7. It is flatly prohibited by the Scriptures.
So are many things which are of no harm to anyone, and some things approved of by scripture are abhorrent to anyone with barest moral sensibilities.

To make the accusation of harm stick you have to show me the victim and show me conclusively that the immediate cause of the harm was homosexuality not something else like growing up in a homophobic culture, or promiscuous behavior. Furthermore, it has to be a harm that isn't also caused by heterosexuality - and there's the real rub, because about 30% of heterosexuals practice all the same kinds of behaviors that could possibly be attributed to homosexuals, from anal sex, to multiple partners etc.. etc..

I know none of this will have persuaded you. As I said in my first comment to you a conversation between us is not going to be fruitful. For that to be the case there would have to be some common ground. God bless you, but I don't think I'm going to be replying to anything else you write at this time. Please refrain from insulting comments about the state of my soul or the depth of my faith which you have no knowledge about.

Adel Thalos said...

I apologize for jumping in late to the discussion, but I have a few questions for Aric.

Are you arguing that part of the reason that homosexuality is not a sin, is because it does no harm?
Do you have clear evidence of this, because your statement seems to contradict major studies published on this issue in the last 20 years.
Here is a brief article highlighting a few of them:
http://www.exodusglobalalliance.org/ishomosexualityhealthyp60.php

Another follow-up question: Is idolatry good, because it does no worldly harm?
Even if it were shown that the homosex lifestyle were not physically and emotionally harmful (which is contrary to the evidence I have seen), why would this necessarily make it good? Are there not sins that cause spiritual harm, while not necessarily causing physical or emotional harm, like idolatry, or rejection of the Holy Spirit -- leading to eternal death?

Also, does not Jesus tell his disciples that if they love him, they will obey his commandments? This sounds a lot like divine command ethics.

Tom,

All this creative use of Jesus' discussion of the Sabbath, while creative, is exegetically and hermeneutically fallacious.
To actually extend the statement on man not being made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man, to "the Law" as you put it, is presumptuous and does not fit the context of Jesus' regular use of a great portion of the law. As the law can be summed up with Love the Lord your God...and Love your neighbor as yourself, would you extend your hermeneutics to this as well? It makes no sense.

PJ,
Excellent points on the omniscience of God and the difference that makes in ethical decision making.

Adel Thalos
Snellville, GA

Pastor Bob said...

Viola and Aric

Haven't given up on the conversation. It's just that I received my DMin yesterday in Pittsburgh, PA and my nephew gets married tomorrow in Rochester, NY. I'm a little busy.

Will be back soon.

Bob Campbell
usually in Sharon Hill, PA

Kattie W. Coon said...

Adel,

It's interesting that you present a link to a web site that has a clear anti-gay agenda rather than a truth agenda.

Just the first of many, here is a rebuttal to the Bell and Weinberg 1978 study referenced at the top of the web site article you presented:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WH0-45BT69K-B&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=6cdd7d7f6660446a41061b44d2819725

We could continue along this vane if you would like.

Kattie,
Huntsville, Al

Kevin said...

Aric, Aric, Aric. Don't you know that when the name calling begins, the argument is lost?

What I have demonstrated by focusing on the issue of homosexuality is that your ethical system does not work.

You appear to have no other moral foundation other than what seems good to you. I base mine on the concept of absolute truth based on the serlf-revelation of an eternal, unchanging, holy God.

Which one is correct? Only time will tell, but answer me this: what happens if, eventually, you decide sex with men is no longer good. Suppose you decide to return to sexual relations with women and that now becomes your definition of good. OK...and then you decide a month later that sex with dogs is great. Where does it end? At which point were you right? Are you ever wrong? Well, you don't know because you are the one who is determining morality and you change.

Believe it or not, this directly answers questions you have posed on this thread. You just ignore the answers because you can't believe someone as narrow-minded, bigoted, and "homophobic" as I would dare to challege you.

You have asked several times, "If God were to say murder is good, would it be good?" Before I answer that, I have to say that I marvel you understand the concept of a rhetorical, conditional question when you pose it, but fail to do so when others do. At any rate, the answer to your question is an unqualified, "Yes." God, as the Creator of the universe, is free to be who he is. He is equally free to call good and evil at his pleasure.

The first reason, then, that your system does not work is because it is subjective and changing. Mine is objective and unchanging, just as God is in both his persons and self-revelation.

Your system also doesn't work because you treat ethics as if they exist in a vacuum. They do not. You can't do ethics without an ethical system. You scorn me for bringing "hermeneutics" into the discussion. So do you. You just won't admit it. Which makes the point. What we believe affects how we live. You believe God does not lay down absolute, unchanging truth. You believe there is no Moral Law which God commands everyone, everywhere to obey. I do. You base that on your committment to your lifestyle. I base it on my committment to God.

Kevin said...

Now to deal with your off topic rant, Aric:

You say, "What makes something good?" The answer, of course, is God. But you don't believe that, so we are at an impasse.

"Honestly, what I'm getting at is not at all radical."

No, but it is morally relativistic and, therefore, worthless as an ethical system.

"I find your approach and attitude insulting...condescending"

I cannot help how you take it. I am declaring to you the truth. People don't like that. That, too, is biblical. Read John 3:19.

You continue,

"[It is] extremely aggravating when combined with [your] persistently attempting to shift the conversation from ethics to hermeneutics"

Actually, you opened that can of worms by suggesting you and your system were biblical. I couldn't pass up demolishing that particular piece of nonesense. It was a hanging curve ball.

"and doggedly pushing arguments that have no merit."

Only because you fail to see what I am doing. When someone challenges you, your scholarly veneer cracks. My excurses were designed to show that your system is relativistic and therefore unworkable, that they were changeable and therefore unsustainable. They are also irrational. But you cannot see that, because, honestly, your stake in the matter is too large. Anyone who cannot grasp that we have eyes to see and ears to hear and tongues to taste and hands to touch and genitalia to reproduce, well...

"For most of life I think a virtue ethics approach is best which would be asking "what habits or patterns lead toward fuller humanity?""

Fine, so we add to the charge of relativistism and subjectivity the charge of humanism. That whole biblical Christian thing is looking more and more difficult to maintain, Aric.

"A system is complicated, it makes allowances for a variety of factors. It is not reducible to a single norm."

True. Unless one believes in an eternal, unchanging, self-revealing, holy God.

"Please refrain from insulting comments about the state of my soul or the depth of my faith."

I said nothing about the state of your soul or the depth of your faith. I merely made the biblical observation about the relation between godliness and eternal life. I also listed a dozen Scriptures which directly bear on the subject.

I said, "[Homosexuality] is flatly prohibited by the Scriptures."

To which you replied, "So are many things which are of no harm to anyone"

Thank you for that poorly-timed moment of honesty. I appreciate the grand slam. If that admission proves nothing else, it proves that you are not the biblical Christian you claim. It also proves that your system is, at best, relativistic, changeable, utilitarian, and humanistic. In other words it is worthless. Good luck with it. I will go back to lurking now. :)

Kevin said...

Ok, Katie, I'll bite. Give me the totality of the biblical witness. I'll be waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

Kevin said...

Tom,

Thanks for chiming in.

You say,

"Furthermore, whether something is natural or not has nothing to do with whether it is a sin."

True. Sin is disobeying or not conforming to God's law in any way. See the Bible on the subject of homosexuality, or any other form of sexual sin. But my point was not that homoesexuality was against the created order and therefore sinful. It was that it was against the created order and therefore harmful.

"Sin is about choice."

Really, do you believe in the impuration of Adam's sin? As a corollary, do you beieve in the imputation of Christ's righteousness?

"But to persecute homosexuals for their nature is to harm ones neighbor."

Quoting the Scriptures is not persecution. And the message of salvation is at its heart an assault on all of our natures. Care to charge God with a lack of charity.

Your appeal to the principle of love is a common but weak one theological liberal often resort to. The love of God always decries sin, commands people to turn from it, and to embrace eternal life. Repentance is necessary, not unloving.

Kevin
Macon, MS

Adel Thalos said...

Kattie,

The reference to ministries, run by those who have recovered/are recovering with homosex behavior as anti-gay is clearly unfair. Would you refer to AA as anti-alcoholics? I could refer to those who affirm homosex behavior as anti-gay as well, as they are encouraging a very serious sin and calling it an identity, thereby causing serious spiritual, emotional and physical harm.

You reference some article as if it somehow unbiased, thereby trumping or at least negating the clear evidence. In fact, the author clearly is extremely biased, and profits highly from his position. This is not to negate a certain bias on the other side. In fact, his work simply muddies and reinterprets the clear evidence and sheds absolutely no new light or new research.

Adel Thalos said...

Also, consider this evidence, from a medical organization, that if anything is biased toward homosex-affirmation:

http://www.glma.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.viewPage&pageID=690

or these dozens of links from NARTH, many from homosex-affirming organizations:

http://www.narth.com/menus/medical.html

It seems to me that the preponderance of the evidence weighs heavily on the side of physical and emotional harm.

Kattie W. Coon said...

"Give me the totality of the biblical witness."

I would be happy to. Here's an ok approximation:

http://www.biblegateway.com/

I hope I didn't keep you waiting too long.

Kattie
Huntsville, Al

Kattie W. Coon said...

Adel,

So far you haven't produced anything that is peer reviewed, so I have no knowledge of the professional reputation of the author or the validity of the source material (bias, randomization, statistical significance, etc.) they use to verify their hypotheses. In other words, provide materials we can actually sink our teeth into and discuss on an intellectual level. Assertions need to be backed up with data/analytical sources that we can check out.

If you would like to continue, I would be glad to provide some sources, but I'll have to get back to you in a few days when I have easier access. Are you up to it?

I invite everyone to this party. Let’s gather the real source materials, and see where it leads us. Aric, Tom, Viola, Bob, Adel, everyone, let’s do it for real.

Kattie
Huntsville, Al

Viola Larson said...

Kattie,
Just to be blunt that is simply a put down of not only Adel's suggestions but also of almost everyone else writing here. What you are really asking is for everyone else to permit what you agree with but not permit others. If that was the case I would simply close down my blog. Please just have a conversation here and nothing more.

Kevin said...

Kattie, you didn't invite me to the party. I'm hurt. ;-)

Thanks for your humorous reply. I needed it er my long day. I did a wedding 150 miles from home. As part of the service I turned to Genesis 2 and explained to the congregation God's design for marriage, viz. heterosexual, monogamous, faithful, covenant-bound, for the purpose of mutual comfort, assisting one another in glorifying God, and raising children.

Interestingly this is the same passage that Jesus turned to when asked about the nature of marriage. (gasp)

Your link was amusing, as I said. But then, my challenge to you was unfair, seeing as your task was impossible. I'm not surprised you dodged it.

BTW, you may not be aware of this, but the exegetical fallacy of prooftexting is not what I was doing. What I was doing is called biblical theology. Jesus did what I was doing. Paul did it all the time. The Westminster Divines did it. Try it sometime. :)

For further reading and a better understanding of the error of prooftexting (I mean, hey, if you're going to accuse someone of it, you might as well know what it is), see D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies.

Ok. Lurking...starting.... NOW!

Kevin Carroll
Macon, MS

Viola Larson said...

Kevin while you are lurking I hope you will note that I think that book by D.A. Carson, (who I don't always agree with) is one great book. And I have used it before. Thanks I am glad to be reminded of it.

Viola Larson
Sacramento,
Ca

Viola Larson said...

Kattie,
Another suggestion. I really don't mind you commenting on my blog but I do think when you have such strong feelings that you want to start a different thread with your own supposed methodology you do need to get your own blog and start making your own posting. This is after all my blog.

Kattie W. Coon said...

"Just to be blunt that is simply a put down of not only Adel's suggestions but also of almost everyone else writing here. What you are really asking is for everyone else to permit what you agree with but not permit others."

Viola,

That is probably the most amazing reaction I have ever seen from you. I'm not sure exactly how to respond. It appears that you are conceding defeat before the investigation even begins.

I take it from your last comment that you don’t want to play, and that you are hoping no one else does either. Am I right? If so, fine.

If it is a put down to insist that people stop using mere book reports as if they’re evidence, then so be it. If you’ve done it, then consider yourself put down.

No one has peer reviewed those reports that Adel referenced (at least as far as I could tell), and they seem to add nothing to the true body of evidence they report on, although a lot of the source material referenced has clearly been reviewed. All we need to do (no small undertaking) is examine those reviewed references and anything else reviewed we can find. I don’t care which side of the argument they support.

To be honest, I've grown weary of reading articles by people of high academic rank (such as Gagnon for example) who publish non peer reviewed articles and books and wind up being seriously criticized by some for possibly misusing source material, for possibly using discredited source material, or for not referencing source material at all. Gagnon has written some fine peer reviewed stuff, it's just odd that almost none of it is related to the homosexuality issue, and those that are seem to me to be of little consequence. He makes it exceedingly hard on a reader like me when we constantly have to refer back to his sources (a daunting task at times) to find out if the source is reputable or if he used it properly.

Be honest, how often do you check out the references of the papers or books you’ve read on this issue? If the references are not peer reviewed, have you taken the extra step of checking out their references, etc?

Kevin,

Thanks for finally spelling my name correctly.

Kattie
Huntsville, Al

Aric Clark said...

Random Aside - I wish that blogger had a better comment interface. When threads get long like this it becomes difficult to track.

@ Adel Thalos

This space has already proven more friendly to hyperbole and absurdity than reason, so I don't think it will be useful to engage in a protracted discussion of the scientific or statistical data about homosexuality here. I will restrain myself to very few comments.

First, a majority of studies that get cited to claim homosexuality are harmful are extremely suspect on scientific methodology. One of the most popular studies, for example, was conducted entirely by voluntary anonymous mail-in submissions in response to an advertisement in a pornographic magazine. It can hardly be treated as scientific evidence. Here is a very careful and thorough analysis of a number of these supposed "studies".

Second, there are a number of studies that show exactly the opposite of what you suggest. I'm not asking you to trust my sources over yours. I'm asking you to look closely at the source itself and its methodology. This study, for example, has impeccable credibility.

Third, a study has to not only show a correlation, but actual causation of harm that is attributable to homosexuality and not attributable to heterosexuality. "All people who eat bread will die." This is a true statement. It is an accurate correlation. It is not proof of causation, and it applies to all people not just bread eaters so it is an irrelevant fact.

Finally, every behavior homosexuals engage in is practiced in far greater numbers by heterosexuals. Even the studies that are used as anti-gay evidence demonstrate this. Thus, any harm that could be alleged of homosexuals applies even more to heterosexuals.

You wrote: Another follow-up question: Is idolatry good, because it does no worldly harm?The basis of this question and line of thought seems to me to be a false body/soul dualism. Idolatry is harmful in a worldly sense. Idolatry in the form of nationalism is responsible for untold deaths through war. Idolatry in the form of worship of success or wealth destroys lives, and impoverishes millions.

I do not think there is such a thing as "spiritual harm" which has no worldly correlary or effect, because we are not bodies inhabited by spirits, but spirit animated bodies. If it is harmful spiritually it will be harmful in a worldly sense too, and if it is not harmful in a worldly sense, then it is not harmful spiritually.

You also write: Also, does not Jesus tell his disciples that if they love him, they will obey his commandments? This sounds a lot like divine command ethics.He also says that love of God and Neighbor is the fulfillment of the law. In other words the second clause here is not a separate condition it is an assumed reality for those who love Jesus. Loving Jesus is obeying his commandments. The NT also gives us a wonderful criteria to judge whether we are getting it right: "fruits". We know we are loving Jesus, and therefore in obedience to his commands, when our the results of our actions are consistent with love. Sounds a lot like teleological ethics to me.

Aric Clark said...

All,

Thanks to those of you who engaged me respectfully. I have a very busy couple weeks ahead of me and likely won't pay much attention to this space in that time. Besides, I've put too many words in here already.

Aric Clark
Ft. Morgan, CO

Viola Larson said...

Kattie,
You have the distinction of being the first person I have answered before going to Church--But perhaps this will be a good time to do it.

I know Robert Gagnon, he is not only academically sound he is also a very kind man. On the other hand I do not know you and I have never read anything that you have written except on my blog and a few others. And when you are on other blogs writing about me and others you are not academic or kind at all.

If you want to write on the subject of ethics do so, but don’t try squelching others thoughts or beliefs.

Anonymous said...

What happened to my last post here?

Tom
KC

Viola Larson said...

Tom,
The last several comments you and Kattie sent were over the top as far as I am concerned. It was time to end the thread. I will not post anyone else’s comments on this posting again.

Viola
Sacramento, Ca