The gay debate. Illumination from comparing Leviticus 20 and 1 Corinthians 5?

Leviticus 21 offers a list of sexual offences which attract the death penalty – though some of them get additional denigration as ‘abominations’ or ‘perversions. After ‘vanilla’ adultery, the list goes via man with his father’s wife or daughter in law before gay sex, both mother and daughter, beastiality, marrying your sister, having sex with a woman in her period and with your aunt. Finally ‘your brother’s wife’; this verse that tripped up Henry VIII, who inherited Katherine of Aragon from his deceased older brother, Arthur,  with the Pope’s permission. The resulting one child – in contradiction to the warning that such a marriage would be childless – can be seen therefore as Arthur’s.

However what’s the point about 1 Corinthians 5? In that passage Paul condemns the behaviour of a member of the church who is living with his mother in law. So Paul explicitly condemns one of the behaviours in the list in Leviticus. There is an escape clause for those wanting to ignore the parallel; Paul refers to the behaviour as being ‘of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate‘, which can be taken to argue that the church was only concerned with its reputation among the pagans and not bound by an objective standard. However the implication of this is that the polygamous get to keep and add to their wives, the Greeks and Bugandans get to keep their boy catamites etc.

The temptation is to see 1 Corinthians 5 therefore as imposing the moral code of Leviticus 20 on Christians. Yet we are told ‘we are not under the law’ Galatians 3. So we are left with a conflict. The Lutheran position is to claim there is a distinction between the ceremonial law and the moral law, and it’s only the former that can be disregarded. Yet the danger here is that we revert back to an attitude that says: ‘I’ve not disobey the law therefore I get to go to heaven’. If we are making that mistake, we’ve lost it. But that’s a wider debate…

 

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Evangelical mandatory teetotalism – a major mistake

This is a brief summary of my MA thesis on the topic.

Biblical: The bible is clearly against ‘drunkeness’, but

In Deuteronomy 14 endorses celebrating before the Lord with ‘strong drink’.

In Matthew 11:16-19 / Luke 7:31-35 Jesus complains about the crowds rejecting John’s asceticism, including teetotalism AND his ‘eating and drinking’, implying that He did drink alcohol.

Extra-biblical

Clement of Alexander (c. 150 – c. 215 ) asserts that Jesus did drink

Ecclesiasticus – a book in the Apocraphya – argues:

Wine is very life to human beings
if taken in moderation.
What is life to one who is without wine?
It has been created to make people happy.
Wine drunk at the proper time and in moderation
is rejoicing of heart and gladness of soul.

(Sirach 31:27f)

In Church History

Athough Benedict explicitly allows his monks wine – though with some hesitation, and one monastic reform included the destruction of a monastery’s vineyards, on the whole the church does not endorse banning alcohol until the 19th century.

John Wesley is unambiguous on this: towards the end of his life he was brewing his own ale and discussing details of this in a letter to a newspaper. Methodists who only focus on his anti-drunkness sermon to justify their teetotalism are ill informed.

Conclusion

In the 19th century concern over drunkenness is a ‘moral panic’, and Teetotalism emerges as a response to this. However Evangelicalism drifts from endorsing teetotalism as a choice to enforcing it as a condition of membership and to the disaster of Prohibition; as I conclude:

Its concern for the rehabilitation of the drunkard was an admirable improvement on the previous dismissal of all such as beyond redemption. However the movement became a legitimation of of a ‘respectable’ culture in the life of many churches, reducing their ability to reach out into a community from which they were increasingly differentiated. Their resort to prohibitionism is unambiguously flawed, seeking to impose on society something that God does not require.

So whilst appropriate for a few to choose today, any attempt to require teetotalism as a condition of church membership is to be resisted; it is ‘teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’, leading to legalistic mindsets that fall well short of the gospel of Jesus.

Why are we going to heaven – if we are?

This is an attempt to dig through some of the prevailing beliefs about Christianity to reveal what it’s actually about. To clarify the issue, it’s first important to separate out ‘necessary’ and ‘sufficient’.

Something is ‘necessary’ if the aim won’t happen without it. An electric train will not move itself unless it has electricity supplied to it. Therefore electricity is necessary for it to move. But it’s not sufficient; if the train is not set to go, it won’t. So supplying electricity is necessary for the train to move – but it’s not sufficient.

Being sufficient means that something will happen; all the conditions required for it to happen have been met, so it will happen.

Note that in practice people use the terms more loosely, and often there is an implicit assumption about circumstances not changing, and identifying the flawed assumptions is often an important step in challenging an argument. Having established this, let’s turn to the theology.

  1. The death of Jesus was necessary for anyone to be saved; without His death to pay the price, God’s justice would result in us all being beyond salvation. This is the basis for ‘Penal Substitutionary Atonement, an understanding of the Cross that became de rigeur in Evangelical circles in the 19th century, though in recent years has come to be seen as one of a number of ways of seeing the process of the atonement.

  2. Universalism – if it accepts (1) at all – argues that Jesus death is sufficient to save everyone; because the way is open to all and God wants everyone to be saved, they will be. Sadly this does not match the biblical evidence; Jesus states: ‘But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.’ Matthew 7.

  3. Irresistible Grace. Hyper-Calvinism claims that if you are chosen you will make it; God’s grace saves you and He can’t be resisted. Whilst having the virtue of emphasising the power of God, the assumption that He actually operates like this reduces free will to rubble and leaves us as puppets. The core problem here is perhaps that Calvinism focus on the role of God’s grace has confused ‘necessary’ and ‘sufficient’. I think the biblical evidence is enough to justify ‘God’s grace is necessary to be saved’ and ‘God chooses whom He will offer His grace to’, but that is not the same as ‘God grace is sufficient to be saved’.

  4. Once saved always saved. If a person has once, ever, said the right words / made a clear commitment to Jesus, then they will make it to heaven regardless of how they subsequently live. I’m aware I’m walking on sensitive ground here; we probably all have friends who’ve shown genuine signs of salvation but subsequently clearly abandoned the faith, and for parents whose child has rejected their faith, the pain is very real. Yet sadly I’m certain that the biblical evidence (1 Jn 5, Heb 6) won’t support such a claim. David Pawson discusses this question in a number of videos.

  5. ‘As long as you haven’t been too bad’. Given we’ve eliminated all other possibilities, this is the only one left.

To expand on the ‘you haven’t been too bad’. We need to recognise the tension here. 1 John 3 causes some issues:

‘Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.’

Yet the same epistle – in chapter 5 – offers:

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.

As with so much theology, we can try for more clarity than the bible will allow; the same sin committed by different people may for one be ‘leading to death’ whilst in another be of less significance – though note that it always remains a sin. The best test of course is that the person does subsequently stop sinning in this area and come back to God; the pastoral challenge is to identify how to enable this without suggesting that the sin doesn’t matter.

Roman Catholic teaching on this offers some insight: such a sin ‘whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.’ Certainly the latter two are helpful, though both become slippery if pushed too far. The first is less helpful: even if the sin is not of itself grave (a term which is also defined precisely) in practice persistence in it may result in our total alienation from God.

A very different tradition argues for God rejecting the repentant sinner if they lived in sin long enough. This is expressed in Pilgrim’s Progress, where Bunyan shows us a man ‘in an iron cage’ who recognises his sins yet is denied the possibility of reconciliation to God. Several biblical passages are offered in support of this. Certainly it is an alarming prospect, seemingly contradicting the promise that ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ (1 Jn 1). Yet perhaps its truth lies in the fact that if persist long enough in specific sins we will end up deceiving ourselves that we don’t need forgiveness, and therefore won’t repent; certainly it should discourage thoughts of living a sinful life to be cured by a death bed confession.

In conclusion: I believe we must resist simplistic formulations here. At present the church is most generally in danger of ‘cheap grace’, giving the impression that if you say the right things how you live doesn’t matter. This is DANGEROUS. Yet any attempt to emphasis the need for a sin free life can run into the danger of teaching an earned salvation. However it is clear that the bible does expect such a life from Christians. We need to ensure that this is an element in what is heard from our churches – without it becoming the only thing; at the moment that is clear in some cases.

What is good Science Fiction / Fantasy?

For many years Science Fiction / Fantasy (SFF) was ignored by the denizens of English Literature departments as too simple to be worthy of its attention. In recent years, not least because of the success of certain books and films, that disdain has faded as the validity of a serious genre of literature came to be recognised, and some of its complexities and subtleties came to be respected. And, to be fair, the genre’s content has changed; the simplistic stories of grown greater depth: there’s been a greater tendency to develop characters and relationships. Unfortunately we’ve also seen the genre grow a propensity to be used for campaigning; feminist, racial and more recently LGBT themes have become the raison d’etre of some stories, and others have them bolted onto more traditional styles stories in a way that seems to have more to do with virtue signalling than the actual plot. This essay is an attempt to unpick the elements of good SFF and invite the propagandists to go play elsewhere…

I came to SFF after an overexposure to W. E John’s Biggles at the age of 11 or 12, for a period consuming one of the novels from the shelf in the school library every two days. These offer simple plot lines and derring-do stories where the emphasis is on resolving the issue, not the relationships between the characters. Biggles is first presented in the Royal Flying Corps in WWI, continues into Spitfires in WWII, before becoming an investigator after WWII; the technology may change but the plot arc is usually unaltered. As such it matches one style of SFF: the thriller / detective story with a different set of props. Thus instead of ‘cowboys and Indians’ or stories of WWII, the setting is the future or an alternative present – but the main interest is the same: how does our hero defeat the bad guys? The interest lies in the cleverness that the protagonist displays; some of the worst SFF is where a technological solution is gratuitously invented to resolve the plot, a failing of which many episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation are guilty.

A second style of SFF is working out the consequences of a new technology or event. Larry Niven did a series of short stories exploring the effect of cheap teleportation on society, discussing the way crime (no – put your booth OUTSIDE the house), tourism (attractive sites turn rapidly into slums) and riots (putative rioters and looters will want to join in; give the police the power to block people coming into the area, redirect all departures into a holding pen). Perhaps his greatest work, Ringworld, is ultimately about the efforts of a cowardly alien race (Pierson’d Puppeteers) to control the threat from humans and another alien race (the Kzin), but is focused on a remarkable artefact of the title, onto which a team of two humans, one Puppeteer and a Kzin crash land. The story is thus mainly a travel saga of the team’s journey across Ringworld, and their interactions with the people they encounter, providing a coherent explanation of why it’s all happening.

The same style is at the core of apocalyptic stories: John Wyndham’s ‘Trouble with Triffids‘ and ‘The Kraken Wakes‘ are about how individuals and communities respond to major disasters, as is Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds‘, though the interest there is surviving the birds’ aggression rather than wider issues about the long term implications; Hitchcock’s timeframe is less than a day, but Wyndham’s novels cover a period of years.

The point about such books is that their characters don’t need to be anything but placeholders as the situations work out. Wyndham, along with H G Wells in ‘War of the Worlds‘, merely has their characters engage with the events and make a decent job of responding to the situation; their gender, sexuality or race are wholly irrelevant. Of course sometimes such a feature may strengthen the storyline: the fact that one of the white characters propose excluding from the bomb shelter in the Twilight Zone episode ‘The Shelter‘ turns on the Hispanic guy is a perfect example of this. And it is interesting to contrast J G Ballard’s various apocalyptic novels with the above; he fixates on the characters, isn’t really interested in the wider social impacts – and are widely applauded in respectable academic circles.

The third element is characters and their development and interaction. This is, of course, mainstream fiction’s territory. I have a vague memory that P D James wrote her crossover novel ‘The Children of Men’ to show that SFF is easy to write – and to be fair, it IS good SF, giving a lot of thought as to how government and society would react to the challenge of no further children being born, but it also has a lot of characterisation and interaction based on people’s backgrounds and James takes her theology seriously. A similar mixture is found in Orson Scott Card’s ‘Ender’s Game‘ and ‘Speaker for the Dead‘; which are as much about the growth and personality of Ender Wiggins as about the scenarios he faces.

One specific class of SFF is the largely comic. Douglas Adams’ ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘, Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld‘ and BBC TV’s ‘Red Dwarf‘ are more about social comment on present day society than seriously engaging with the environment; Discworld’s magic system and the powers of its deities are notably incoherent, although this is not always the case: L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s ‘Compleat Enchanter‘ series achieves the mix very successfully.

So where does all this leave us? I suggest that SFF stories can be plotted on a triangle with ‘story’, ‘toys’ and ‘relationships / characterisation’ as the three points. A lot of SFF will plot on the line between story and toys, with minimal ‘relationship’ content. They work well on that level – yet are often disdained because of that lack. Such attitudes are legitimate as an individual choice, but to impose an expectation on the whole field and reject some of the classics as a result is surely a mistake; if the Foundation series, I Robot stories, Wyndham and Heinlein stories work for you despite their lack of realistic characters (Lazarus Long makes James Bond seem boring), then don’t fret.

Where we have a major problem is when SFF becomes a vector for propaganda. A classic example of this is Le Guin’s ‘Tehanu‘, which can feel like a feminist rant, critiquing the male, celibate, wizards as emotionally stunted. Similarly: Brunner’s ‘Stand on Zanzibar‘ is a dystopian vision of the consequences of overpopulation: Philip Jose Farmer’s first Riverworld novelette is anti-Christian rant (as opposed to the full set of 5 novels which is far less propagandist and far more interesting); Heinlein’s ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress‘ offers a libertarian moon colony, and Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged‘ – as alternative history perhaps still SFF – is known for this. In more recent times the LGBTI+ community has joined the fray, demanding the presence of LGBTI+ characters and themes in order for SFF to be acceptable. Yet such propagandising, worthy of the USSR or North Korea, must come at the expense of the freedom of the writer to tell a good story. Our ideal should surely to be blind to such concerns per se.

Overall it seems that SFF has become respectable in English Literature circles – but at the cost of delegitimising a element in the tradition that allowed authors to play with ideas without having to worry about the characters involved. This must be rated a loss, both readers for those who find logical conundrums interesting but messy relationships tiring, and authors who have ideas they want to explore but no skill in developing characters. The good news is that there is a large seam of older SFF that predates this fixation that can be easily accessed to good advantage. The bad news is that those who want to avoid the demand that the stories must have complex characterisation and relationships find ourselves being badly served. More broadly it can be argued that SFF has followed the same path as theology: selling its soul to become academically respectable.

Policy Proposals (5) Collect the TV licence with council tax

Collecting the BBC licence fee costs over £100m pounds. Yet the organisation that this supports duplicates much of the role of council tax collection; it is similarly dependent on reaching every address in the UK and having a full database of names and addresses. There are differences; being a flat rate tax TV Licensing doesn’t require the value of the property; the only significant data is whether the property is occupied by a partially or totally exempt residents. Essentially the council databases would need to be expanded by the extra fields to account for these exemptions. As an added bonus the government could vary the cost transferred across to reflect the value of the premises; A band to pay less than G band properties, as well as allowing rebates for low income families in the same way as council tax rebates are given.

The given system is breaking down: the licence fee is ever less obviously good value given the plethora of other material now available over the internet. If we are to avoid the licence fee becoming an ever more fraught issue, we need to reduce its visibility – though given that Council Tax itself is a persistent cause of dissent in anti-tax circles, being the most visible tax that most of us have to pay, as well as being iniquitous itself, this seems a valuable way of reducing bureaucracy, to the value of £100 million a year.

Political and theological irregular verbs

First coined by Bertrand Russell in 1948 as emotive conjunctions, they were popularised as irregular verbs in the UK TV show ‘Yes Minister’, reflecting how we fool ourselves into hypocriscy, this is my collection accumulated over the years. All additions welcome. I#ve credited a few to their originators on Ship of Fools discussion boards, though the links are dead; if you want to find them, a search will probably reveal them on an archived board on the site.

I have an opinion; you’re biased; they have an ideology.

I show discernment; you exercise good judgement; he picks and chooses.

I’m a warrior fighting to protect the interests of my people and my homeland.
You are a soldier who kills for your country (nation, ethnicity, religious or other meaningless word.)
He is a terrorist who kills people out of hatred.

I base my arguments on specific Bible verses.
You narrowly focus on texts that support your arguments.
She proof-texts.
MT
Ship of Fools

I read the Bible as a source of inspiration.
You understand the Bible to be a source of authority.
That fundagelical fruitbat over there takes it all literally.

I help the people discover what is in their best interests
You stir up the feelings of the people
He is a demagogue

Bullfrog also 21/7/10
Ship of Fools

I view erotica
You use porn
He is a sick pervert
Ship of Fools

“This church accepts a lot of diversity but there are limits.
You do not realise that my criticism is meant to be constructive.
They have always had problems with authority.”

Ship of Fools

I have a rational theory of society and human relations.
You have an ideology.
They are deluded crackpots.

Dafyd
Ship of Fools

I seek deep conversations with a few people
You gather a small group around you
He is anti-social

I seek to present the whole picture
You try to avoid misunderstanding of the data
He spins…

I am obedient to God’s sovereign plan
You have built up a nice little ministry
He exploits the vulnerable

The Great Gumby
Ship of Fools

I am a freedom fighter
You are a rebel
He is a terrorist

I exercise power in obedience to the providence of God and for the good of the people
you wield arbitrary power to choose or remove who you want
he is an unjust and unreasonable tyrant

cf Wesley’s denial he was exercising arbitrary power
Bernard Semmel, The Methodist Revolution (New York: Basic Books, 1973).p.115

I seek to enable work of the Spirit
You play minor chords to strengthen the impact of your words
He’s a manipulative git

I campaign vocally on issues that concern me
You are obnoxiously effective in voicing issues that upset me
He runs a hate group

I express clear views
You are somewhat controversial in your beliefs
He is a bigot

“I attempt to put things in a wider context,
you interpret through biased expectations,
she is biased by her life experiences and can’t even read good”.

I’m an enthusiast – you’re eccentric – she’s a nutcase.
Peter West

We teach our children what ‘everyone’ believes
You teach your children some challenging ideas
They indoctrinate their children

I draw out a logical conclusion
You stretch the argument painfully
He trolls

(But then I LIKE my bridge…)

I try to deal with truth
You actively confront lies
They court controversy

I seek to ensure my children understand my worldview
You encourage your children to hold your unfashionable worldview
They are religious bigots

I support a social cause
You campaign against an obvious injustice
They are at a political rally

I like to challenge people’s woolly thinking
You enjoy tripping up those who don’t think
They are a troll.

I live in the real world, only engaging with the facts
You seek to interpret the world according to the principles of science
They offer a way of living that is based on beliefs not accepting ‘what everyone does’.

I indulge in lighthearted teasing
You spice up your critique with stereotypes
They are vicious bullies

I am sensitive
You are emotionally driven
They are fools who fall for any sob story / fail to preach all God’s truth

I offer well documented criticism
You are highly critical
They are indulging in hate speech

I am civilised,
you belong to a culture,
He is a barbarian

I offer a parallel in political theory
You widen the debate remarkably
He is a blowhard in love with himself.

I am a skilled persuader
you are a clever salesman
he is a manipulative bastard

 

The prosperity ‘gospel’; real magic

The prosperity teaching that have become so popular in recent years is, according to my definition, ‘magic’; it is based on a power given by God to humans unconditionally. Although dressed up in Christian language, it uses a feature of the universe that it mentioned in the bible to achieve the satisfaction of the ultimately ungodly desire of its practitioners for material comfort. As with so many other features of the universe, if used aright it enables us to live well. However as with all forms of excess, it can easily become a form of idolatry, with the achievement of prosperity becoming the focus of the spiritual life instead of service of the true God.

As with all magic, there are times when it doesn’t work out: specifically God will, no doubt, sometimes intervene to protect His children from being deceived. Yet the basic mechanism is always there: ‘Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing’ (Mal 3:10), and ‘give, and it will be given to you—good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into · your lap. For by what measure you measure, it will be measured in return to you’ (Luke 6:38). Add in a belief that the love of God for us means that He wants us to have an idyllic life, and you have the reason why the prosperity gospel is attractive and effective; it is based on a powerful spiritual truth abused, and not a lie. It therefore becomes necessary to address the idolatry in the heart of the prosperity gospel believer rather than making the mistake of criticising the teaching as such; given that our Western society is based on that idolatry, we should not be surprised by its attractiveness.

Of course the New Testament gives us a view of the early church that shows that they weren’t all prospering. Paul’s listing of his sufferings includes being hungry (2 Cor 11, Phil 4) whilst the instruction to Timothy about taking wine for his stomach (1 Tim 5) shows that he had persistent ailments, freedom from which our prosperity preachers claim shouldn’t be the case with believers. We need to learn to live seeking God’s will – which may or may not include being visibly wealthy – not expect it as a right. Our sufferings develop our character, (James 1) and we should focus on our final home, not our sufferings down here (Rom 8), indeed Peter opines ‘rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. (1 Peter 4).

Yet there is another danger here; that we accept as God’s will what He wants us to change by prayer. Paul’s thorn in the flesh is invoked as a pattern for patient suffering – yet Paul says: ‘Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ We need to hear from God if He appears to be calling us to suffer; let’s resist the temptation to assume we know the truth.