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The Good Christian

April 5th, 2009

A Christian is depressed about the possible fallout after the Iowa Supreme Court rules that same-sex marriage is protected under the state’s constitution:

This morning, I had breakfast with some guys, including a lawyer. We weren’t aware of this decision, but we talked about this issue. The lawyer said that as soon as homosexuality receives constitutionally protected status equivalent to race, then “it will be very hard to be a public Christian.” By which he meant to voice support, no matter how muted, for traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality and marriage. To do so would be to set yourself up for hostile work environment challenges, including dismissal from your job, and generally all the legal sanctions that now apply to people who openly express racist views.

That world got a little bit closer this morning.

Poor guy. It’s getting harder and harder to be a publicly forward bigot.

Oh, I’m sorry. I mean Christian. Poor taste of me to equate Christians to bigots. This is about following the Bible and its teachings. Can’t blame the guy for simply following the Good Word, right?

Except, the same book teaches that it’s OK to own slaves. It says so, in several places. Even the high and mighty Ten Commandments, the source of all morality, clearly implies that owning slaves is OK. So shouldn’t he be bemoaning the long-standing lack of his ability to be publicly Christian and voice support for slavery?

But somehow good Christians know that that’s just wrong. The question is, how?

What it comes down to is a fundamental problem: the Bible includes a godly stamp of approval or at least tolerance for all manner of horrific stuff–killing pregnant women, children, people who break arcane religious laws; making slaves of people and so on. It also proclaims as horrific–abominations, crimes, even capital offenses–lots of stuff that today is seen as relatively pedestrian, such as homosexuality, eating shellfish, wearing clothes made from different materials, planting two different crops in the same field, working on the Sabbath, etc. etc.

And as for “traditional Christian teaching on marriage,” did he mean the traditional teachings about women being chattel? Or polygamy? One-man-one-woman as equals in love to cherish and so forth is very recent; “traditional” marriage, including Christian marriage, is no longer what the church teaches today.

So, many of these things Christians now accept as inapplicable and they disregard them when they appear in the Bible, acknowledging them as rules for a different time that don’t apply any more–or, as with marriage customs, pretend that they have always been the way they are now. But the Bible does not lay down which rules can be judged arcane and which cannot. Which means that some Christians are simply fully dependent on church authorities: if the authorities tell them that slavery is bad, then they don’t accept that any more, but if they tell them that homosexuality is still a sin, they do believe that.

Several problems here. For one, these things change slowly over time, which means that yesterday’s Good Christian is today’s Immoral Bastard. Temporal inconsistency. But that doesn’t seem to bother a lot of people–what is supposedly the unshakable, absolute truth can reverse course over time and still be absolute. Funny how that works.

The biggest problem is, however, that surrender to authority. The author quoted above is depending on authorities to tell him what ancient bigotry he should hold on to. Just because the elders of his church still cling that long-held bugaboo, he thinks that in order to be a good Christian, he must publicly excoriate homosexuality, and now feels oppressed because he cannot.

His Christian friend tipped his hand when he compared homosexuality to race; he was saying, in muted terms of course, that they lost the ability to discriminate against race, and now they’re losing their gay-bashing privileges as well.

How awful for them.

But at least they can take comfort in the fact that when they are no longer allowed to outwardly preach in the workplace that homosexuality is a sin, they can still openly bash atheists. With atheists being by far the most hated non-criminal group in society today, that one should still be around for quite a while.

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  1. April 5th, 2009 at 03:42 | #1

    I am, I suppose, an atheist. Actually, my religious category could best be described as “uniterested”.
    I support gay rights, although again, my actual belief would be that I support human rights, and see no need to categorize that further.

    Specifically, I support the right of anyone who wants to get married to do so.

    Having said that, I do not support crushing the freedom of speach of those who do not. Want to make a rule eliminating discussion of politics at work? Fine. But to make rules that allow one position and ban another is not acceptable.

    Protecting freedom of speach is always most important when it is protecting the speach of those you disagree with, or even despise.

  2. Luis
    April 5th, 2009 at 04:37 | #2

    Hrm. I note that many people are interpreting it that way. I wanted to comment on (a) the problems of what prejudices Christians must feel they must keep because Chirstians had them when biblical passages were written, and (b) the lack of sympathy I have for people who apparently feel it is necessary for them to trumpet these prejudices in the workplace instead of simply believing them and leaving it at that.

    The issue you bring up is an interesting one–but one that can be argued both ways. If I enter my workplace and start expounding on how black people, while talented in music and physically gifted, are mentally inferior and should be kept as property, is that a freedom you think I should have?

    I can see that as being argued for; that no matter how racist an opinion is held, you should not stifle free speech.

    OK. Now, how about if the office has twenty people working in it, only one is black, and the other nineteen white workers use their freedom of speech to expound regularly on how black people are inferior.

    Are we still OK? If so, I can make it even more extreme–but I trust that by this time I have exposed a problem in the rights of unlimited speech in the workplace.

    There are points at which free speech can become harassment. The line does have to be drawn somewhere in an environment where others MUST be in order to make their livelihood. In this way, the workplace is a special location and such laws should apply. In places where people don’t have to be, I am all with you there.

    But that is not wholly your point. You mention equal coverage. Banning all such speech is fine, but not just one side of it. OK. But I am not sure how the post I wrote advocated such an imbalance. If people are not allowed to say that homosexuality is sick or wrong, then people should also be banned from saying it is not? Again, we get into trouble if we maintain the principle: people should be prohibited from racist speech in the workplace–for example, saying black people are ignorant and should be slaves–but that means nobody can say that black people have average intelligence and should remain free? A rule that race should never be mentioned in any context would cause other complications. Once more, I think you might agree that we can expose problems with such ‘equality’ measures.

    So I am not entirely certain that I understand the point you made. If you could clarify what you mean, we could perhaps discuss and find a point of agreement.

  3. April 5th, 2009 at 13:22 | #3

    Probably the greatest accomplishment of the last century is the slow, painfull, but ongoing removal of the concept of the ‘non-person’. A human being who, for whatever reason is somehow considered and treated as less than other people.

    But slowly, without even realizing it, we are at the same time creating a new ‘non-person’. We call this person the bigot. And we say that they have no right to voice their beliefs, because it makes others uncomfortable, but we ignore that we ourselves are doing exactly the same thing to them. We have created a group of people whose beliefs are treated as having no value. But that does not matter – they are ‘non-persons’. And the definition of what is a ‘bigot’ gets ever wider and wider.

    To take your example to it’s logical conclusion, what if you are a conservative christian, working with nineteen non-believers, and someone expounds on how the religious right is a hatefull, evil group for resisiting gay marriage. Is that any less harassment?

    We are teaching ‘tolerance’ of other beliefs, and defining ‘tolerance’ as banning the speach of those who disagree with us. And we do not even see the contradiction.

  4. Luis
    April 5th, 2009 at 14:21 | #4

    To take your example to it’s logical conclusion, what if you are a conservative christian, working with nineteen non-believers, and someone expounds on how the religious right is a hatefull, evil group for resisiting gay marriage. Is that any less harassment?

    Nope. Kind of makes my point, in fact, doesn’t it? I don’t think I suggested or implied that people should be allowed to say hateful things about Christians in the workplace, either. I think the common denominator we’re looking for is hateful speech in the workplace, especially when directed at a person or group within that workplace. I am just ending a stint as a supervisor in my office, and if one of our people were a conservative Christian and people in the office were bringing up how conservative Christian are bad people, I would put the kibosh on it and quick. But I would not put the kibosh on, say, people mentioning abortion or contraception purely as a topic of debate. The line would be between discussion of issues and personal attack. The idea of saying that homosexuality is wrong crosses that line–it could be a point of debate, but it also attacks the core of what some people in that office are.

    I used to work in a movie theater, and one of the staff was a young girl who was a fundamentalist Christian. When she brought up Christianity, other workers scoffed and derided her; I felt that was inappropriate, and had I been the manager, would have directed staff members not to do so. As it was, I came to her defense when that happened, not that I agreed with her but that I pointed out such comments were not kosher. The girl and I had many discussions about fundamentalism which were enlightening to me–I do not think that was inappropriate, as it was civil discussion. But I also would not have encouraged her to be as aggressive in pushing her religion as she was.

    April 6th, 2009 at 00:11 | #5

    I have an American friend in San Francisco who feels that the government should get out of the marriage business and leave it to the churches and to public notaries to prepare contracts like any others for future couples whatever their sexuality.

    It makes sense to me.

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