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Shepardize (TM) the Bible, Would You?

I'm going to mention this here because, while I like Ambimb and Heidi, this is the kind of blogging that really disappoints me. Both of them post approvingly of a speech by Congressman Jim McDermott of Washington in which he mockingly proposes a constitutional amendment to make marriage conform to 'biblical principles.' (Actually, he's recycling a piece of old internet political humor, but we'll leave that aside.)

The trouble is that McDermott's 'amendment' cites biblical passages in the way of which a law student should be astoundingly wary. Imagine you received a brief in which only one of the Supreme Court citations was more recent than Dred Scott. Imagine that no direct quotations were given, and that if you looked up the citations, they actually covered a far narrower range of holdings (divorce on the basis of lack of chastity, rather than all divorce) than the conclusion warranted by the cite. And imagine the lawyer before you had done all that approvingly, and when you asked them about it, said, "Oh, heck, I don't know anything about Constitutional interpretation. I just found a law review article quoting these, so I used them." You wouldn't be impressed, would you?

Well, McDermott's "piece" cites only Old Testament provisions, with one exception regarding divorce. (That exception should have proven to be a hint, given the differences in Jewish and Christian divorce traditions.) His use of Deut 22:19 as support for a ban on all divorce (as opposed to a punishment for lying with regard to a woman's virginity) is sketchy to say the least. One can debate how much religion ought to go into public policy if one wishes, but Cong. McDermott's speech is pure pig-ignorant calumny, probably lifted from a Constituent letter. And in Ambimb's comment section, he admits:

"As for McDermott's statements about what the Bible says about marriage, you got me. I don't know much about these passages. I can't tell you what the salient characteristic of each of the passages is; I haven't read them."

Now, Congressman McDermott is a doctor by trade, so one can almost excuse putting such excresence into the Congressional Record. But Ambivalent Imbroglio is a law student. Even supposing that biblical text is subject to such literalist exegesis as he'd never give the Constitution, he should know that later amendments can overrule prior ones; that a text cannot be interpreted piecemeal, and even if you're Scalia the intent of the authors counts for something; and that a lack of recent citations is inherently suspicious. The continual quotation of the Old Testament should have made him think that even if there is an argument similar to this to be made for a non-scriptual interpretation of marriage, this is not it.

Why does this bother me? Because while I agree with Ambimb's position on gay marriage (roughly, get the state out of the marriage business altogether), I can't imagine he'd do this kind of thing in any other social context. I can't imagine him citing one or two passages from the EU founding documents, or a crumb of African history, or a few random passages of a sutra, and all of a sudden declaring (or reprinting someone who declares) that can prove all sorts of things, even in jest, while admitting he's not read the relevant documents. [1] Ambimb, and more importantly the Congressman, is not only saying that he thinks the non-profit Presidential Prayer Team is silly (an opinion I would probably share), but that by throwing out a few lines of scripture from a document he's not read and certainly doesn't understand that he can declare himself superior in scriptural exegesis. The trouble is that to even my admittedly passing theological knowledge, the piece is dumb. Smart people shouldn't post it.

(That said, I reprint the text in the full post below for reference, in case you don't feel like clicking on the Congressman's link. Perhaps I should say that smart people shouldn't post it approvingly.)

[1] Note: In fairness to Ambimb, this style of argument isn't unique. It's also pretty silly when people with no knowledge of Islam lift a few selected passages out of the Koran, something I've seen a lot of online recently, often by the same Christians who would object to the piece below. If a religion has a history of scriptural interpretation, it should be respected.

Update: Some backup commentary from The Clerk, who is better at both Biblical and legal citation than I am. I wish I'd thought of saying this: "I cannot help but note with some genuine humor that the folks so eager to throw the Hebrew law in Christians' faces stand in the shoes of the Pharisees."


Regarding Justice Scalia's Refusal to Recuse Himself From Hearing Case Concerning the Vice President

House of Representatives - February 25, 2004

Mr. Speaker, the President's presidential prayer team is urging us to ``pray for the President as he seeks wisdom on how to legally codify the definition of marriage. Pray that it will be according to Biblical principles.''

With that in mind, I thought I would remind the body of the biblical principles they are talking about.

Marriage shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. That is from Genesis 29:17-28.

Secondly, marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives. That is II Samuel 5:13 and II Chronicles 11:21.

A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed. That is Deuteronomy 22:13.

Marriage of a believer and a nonbeliever shall be forbidden. That is Genesis 24:3.

Finally, it says that since there is no law that can change things, divorce is not possible, and finally, if a married man dies, his brother has to marry his sister-in-law.


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I'd argue that they are merely highlighting the absurdity of the tactics of some on the other side of the debate. Lots of people have no problem citing a random passage in the Bible (usually from the Old Testament) to "prove" homosexuality is an abomination and then claim that, therefore, the government should not recognize same-sex marriages...
I think you're missing the point: Those who appeal to the bible's authority for a proposition THEY support (namely, no gay marriage), should also have to defend propositions in the bible stating remarkably absurd things (at least to modern sensibilities) and explain how they would pick and choose which portions from an allegedly divine book to follow. As to your belief that law students should be above this, I disagree. We’re debating public policy, not writing briefs. In such a policy discussion, arguing as if we were writing briefs would be completely detrimental to the cause. Simply put, the Congressman (and law students you chastise) would have to fill pages upon pages (perhaps hundreds of them) to make what you would call a legitimate point. And by that point, the average constituent or blog-reader would no longer be reading and the ultimate point would be lost. (Read Tom Paine’s Common Sense, one of the perhaps best pieces of political propaganda of all time, and surely one of the causes of the American revolution, for some of the most ill-founded logic of all time—“Surely a country as geographically small as England should not govern one the size of America.” You’d denigrate his work for not being logically correct, but he helped spawn the revolution, something far more important in the grand scheme of things) We’re engaged in a public policy debate. Basically, you’re asking those who posted the link to the Congressman’s speech to do the work of the pro-Bible-one-man-one-woman folk. That’s not how a debate works, though. Here’s how the conversation would play out: (1) “The bible says gay marriage is a sin” (2) “Oh yeah, well the bible also says [insert any absurd biblical principle]. So if we’re going to make gay marriage illegal we should also make [the absurd biblical principle] illegal as well.” You’re chiding (2) for not doing enough research. Why should (2) have to, given the utter lack of logic and research put in by (1)? BTW, I can’t figure out just why you think the Congressman’s remarks are wrong, except for some hints of him “cit[ing] biblical passages” wrongly. The other places you fault the Congressman are for citing Deut 22:19 “narrowly” and for not including more citations from the New Testament. Well, do such citations exist? You’re criticizing him for making these statements, so, by your own logic, you should have to figure out what’s exactly correct before posting, right? If so, I’m certainly not convinced by your attack on his propositions . . .
ASDF: Except, of course, that when it comes to Christianity at least, the New Testament is pretty much its own explanation of why the Old Testament is subject to revision. A simple (and I'll admit unsophisticated) example would be: OT: If a woman has been found to be unchaste before marriage, stone her to death. (A simple reading of the Deut 22:19 passage cited by the Congressman.) NT: Sure, stone her. And let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Simply put, the New Testament casts a lot of the Old in a completely new light. And to the extent that the Christian Old Testament tracks the Jewish faith, it has been interpreted and reinterpreted within that faith to the point at which simple-minded exegesis is ridiculous. Making the argument the Congressman does disregards the fact that all of the faiths which arose from Jerusalem have a history, a tradition of interpretation, and that it doesn't involve lifting passages at random and in isolation. Even the Devil may quote Scripture, yes, but he'll do it well. Most of the manifestly 'absurd' things do have an explanation--although they're generally complicated and require a willingness to learn doctrine. There are some fascinating debates over whether homosexuality is or is not a sin--but this isn't it. You and I have both done Constitutional interpretation. Both of us know that however 'simple' any of the text seems, even the most textualist reading of the Constitution is controversial, deep, and difficult. Someone who interpreted it by pulling out one or two quotes in isolation--the commerce clause, say--would not just be guilty of a poor argument, but would be revealing a fundamental ignorance of how constitutional interpretation works. It is a fair argument to say that whatever a religion says about a public policy shouldn't be relevant. That's not what I'm arguing against. I'm arguing against people who don't have a basic knowledge of scripture, of religious background, and the historical interpretation of a religious text arguing that the members of that religion have gotten their textual interpretation wrong. That's disrespectful, arrogant, and ignorant.
ASDF: To put it in more concrete terms: supposing someone came up to you and said, "You've been reading the Constitution wrong all these years. After all, it argues that 'No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein...' So see, slavery's OK if a state says it is!" Your answer back would almost certainly include the 13th Amendment. And while yes, you might consider yourself to bear a burden of explaining exactly why this is so, you'd probably consider that person pretty damn dumb for not checking in the first place. If the person involved were a citizen of another country engaged in mocking your own, you might even consider him disrespectful, arrogant, and ignorant.
T: I am by no means a biblical scholar; ergo, the grain of salt is necessary in reading this: The passage cited most often for the proposition that homosexuality is immoral is Leviticus 20:13, which is from the Old Testament: “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.” http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?language=english&passage=Leviticus+20%3A13&version=NKJV If I understand you correctly, you’re saying, “While the passage may say this, we should instead look to the contemporary understanding of the world’s major religions—i.e., the Catholic Church is not calling for the death of homosexuals—and also to the New Testament, which, by virtue of it being written after the Old Testament, is more authoritative and is dominated by love, understanding, compassion, etc., for the proposition that the Bible, taken as a whole, doesn’t *really* mean what its plain language says.” Fair enough argument. The problem, as I see it, is that this argument is too sophisticated for those who, when questioned on gay marriage, say, “See Leviticus 20:13 (or see The Bible). End of discussion.” (And there are apparently a lot of those people out there). They’re too simple minded to buy your argument. It’s a much easier—and better, I’d guess—way to debate the issue with them by saying, “Wait a second buckaroo, in your very own Old Testament from which we find your Leviticus, we see all these other ridiculous examples. Should we follow these too? And if not, then where do you get off being so selective?” I also think that your example dealing with the 13th Amendment overruling previous portions of the constitution concerning slavery is a bit overstated. As far as I know, there is no section of the New Testament that says, “Leviticus 20:13 is hereby repealed.”
ASDF: No, there isn't an explicit repeal. (See the Clerk's article linked in the update above, however, for an example of about as explicit a repeal as you're going to get.) That's my point: exegesis of Biblical text is difficult. And anyone with even passing knowledge of it (as is mine) knows that McDermott's speech is trivial. There may be people who base their entire religious objection to homosexuality on one line of Leviticus. Simply put, anyone for whom that's their entire objection is an idiot. Of course, there's not a lot of those. Most of them are actually basing their opinions on a bit of scripture and teachings they've received from rabbis, priests, ministers, and others who have been responsible for their moral education. These people have a better textual knowledge of the Bible, so it behooves one to look to what they may say. And at that point, there's actually a fascinating debate. If you want to cite me someone for whom Leviticus is their entire moral education, well, I'll happily call them ignorant. That's not at issue here. Whereas what you're saying is, "If you're arguing against the ignorant, it's OK to act knowledgable even if you're ignorant. You don't have to be clever, don't even have to check your facts, so long as you're higher on the pecking chain than someone who can't articulate their argument--though that person is probably relying on the authority of a priest or minister of his who can." I simply don't find that a satisfying conclusion.
All I'm really trying to get at is this: If a bunch of stick wielding Canadians attack the United States, it's probably not necessary to drop the atomic bomb on them. I also think we disagree with the number of ignorant people out there opposed to gay marriage. Maybe it’s because the “It’s Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” crowd appears so frequently on the news that I’m overestimating the mass of people that adhere to this type of simplistic, ill-founded argument. And I don’t think the fact that they might be taught this from their priest or minister makes much of a difference, especially if the priest or minister is using the bible (or at a minimum the passage I've quoted earlier) as the justifying work. I do agree with you that it’s insensitive and arrogant to criticize someone who has spent the last ten years of his life studying in earnest the bible and who has come to the conclusion that the work as a whole should be read as disapproving homosexuality by simply saying, “You’re retarded, the bible also says not to eat shrimp.” I don’t think that these are the people the Congressman is trying to chastise, however. I’m also wondering where the “you’re just afraid that gay men are out to rape you” guy is. He’d likely have something funny to add to this discussion.
ASDF: 1) I think more of myself--heck I think more of you--than to think it's acceptable for either of us to say something that's demonstrably infantile, even if arguing against infantile arguments. The fact that it might have enough wit in it to seem like a 'gotcha' to the uninformed doesn't make it an intelligent statement, or the person stating it more than the greater fool. 2) You mistake the role of faith. Suppose someone says to you 'See, Leviticus says X.' Now, if that's all there is, maybe your method of argument makes sense. However, if your fictional interlocutor is saying, "Homosexuality is wrong because my church says so, and here's Leviticus," then it behooves one to learn what that church says, even if your immediate advocate couldn't find his way around it. Saying that the argument is 'good enough' to beat an idiot doesn't make it the position of a reasonable man. (Nor, in McDermott's case, the action of a reasonable congressman.) 3) A man may be measured by the caliber of his enemies. If I'm going to be arguing that scripture does allow homosexual conduct, or should, then start bringing me papal encyclicals. Start shoving not only both books of the Bible, but rabbinical commentary, papal encyclicals, the best ecclesiastical writing of the last several centuries at me. The Pope, now there's an adversary of some worth. To say that you can beat down the ignorant with an argument is simply not worthy of one's self-respect.
T, Last post for me on the subject. How would you deal with the following hypothetical? I vehemently believe in the rights of gays to marry (I would denying them this right analogize it to slavery or at least pre-Loving v. Virginia) and am also an atheist (so I really could care less what the bible says), but I’m faced with religious folks who constantly point to the Bible to justify denying gays the rights to marry. Furthermore, I truly believe that if I can convince them the Bible is not per se against homosexuals, then their views will change. I decide that I’m going to learn to speak their lingo, and after spending hundreds of hours researching the Bible (and all the religious writings flowing therefrom) I come to the conclusion that bible objectively would *not* support gay marriage. Instead, I’m convinced that the bible actually comes down decidedly against homosexuality in general. Assuming nobody will buy my “the Bible just shouldn’t be a factor” argument, what would you say my duties are? Can I cite the Bible at all for any proposition that would tend to negate it’s, in my view, anti-homosexual stance? Assume that there is some language or some plausible arguments that could be made, though they’re bad ones (“infantile,” in your words)—can I just cite those? Is my duty to my cause first and foremost (gay marriage) or to what the Bible really says? Is it ever okay to intentionally misrepresent what the Bible says? Could I say, though I didn’t believe it, the Bible supports gay marriage?
ASDF: Certainly, I think you should be able to cite scripture. I'd even say you shouldn't be restricted to citing scripture before hundreds of hours of study. One of the joys of learning and arguing and debating is gradually expanding ones views by making arguments, changing your views, and watching the views of others change in response to your own: I don't think you need be an expert. However, if you did become and expert and honestly believed that scripture doesn't forbid homosexual relations--and some don't--then I'd want to see you put them forward, and put them forward well. I'm sure at the moment you could write a book, get talk show invitations, perhaps even (gasp!) end up on Oprah. :) Given that this debate has been raging for several centuries, I doubt you'd overturn it in your lifetime, but you'd do a good job. On the other hand, if you're citing arguments that you know to be bad, and that you don't believe are strong just to get your political point across, you're a charlatan. Which is fine, if you don't mind that, but you should bear in mind that it's an ungentlemanly manipulation, and you're a liar of the first degree. I don't actually think that's the problem here. I think that Ambimb and McDermott probably don't know exactly how bad the argument they've put forward actually is. But seriously, I'm not a Bible scholar, nor even a Christian, and I can see the weakness in it. (Ambimb didn't even spot, after some huge hints, that there was only one NT reference.) I'm marking it down to not knowing how the other side actually argues, rather than a wish to perform deliberate malice.
Here's my amusing input: this thread is RIDICULOUS. You people are hyperly criticizing a JOKE. The Old Testament is riddled with laws that are entirely inconsistent with modern Judeo-Christian views of ethics. Next thread.... A-rick what was UP with the scarf?
Ok-here's another comment...this has been bugging me: this suggestion that "smart people" shouldn't post this Presidential Prayer Team thing. How about this suggestion? Smart people shouldn't be AGAINST same-sex marriage. You can only go so far with this "government should get out of the marriage business-therefore laws expanding marriage are wrong" argument. The point is that marriage, as a civic institution isn't going anywhere, and as long as it's around, then denying a class of people those rights is morally wrong. Period. It's like saying you don't believe in public education, therefore Brown v. Board of Education is bad law. You can make all the intellectual arguments you want about constitutional law and speeches by Congressman and jokes that cite the Bible, but the point remains: civic marriage is a secular institution, and unless you believe in denying other civic rights to gays, it's very difficult to ethically argue that marriage should be denied.
Alex: There's a big difference between the arguments. You're essentially saying that "Anyone who opposes me on this position is stupid." Which, to the degree you want to make the argument you can, I suppose, but it flies in the face of a number of rather smart people who object to same-sex marriage. Secondly, there's the argument that marriage as an institution was recognized religiously prior to civil recognition, and that it was a male/female matter definitionally. (Note that even as a male/female institution, you can't deny marriage to any individual: you can merely restrict who they can marry, but that's the same no matter who's marrying.) But most importantly, I'm not arguing that the Congressman can't quote scripture to argue that there's no biblical impediment to same sex marriage. Indeed, I was at a presentation by one of Columbia's chaplains with a very erudite, very skillful lesbian minister who proceeded to do exactly that, and it was very engaging. But the argument the Congressman did give was scripturally ridiculous, immature, and ignorant. It doesn't stand up to scrutiny. As for it being a 'joke': shall I remember that the next time someone makes an argument against same-sex marriage based on a misstatement of the beliefs of homosexual activists which is colorably 'humorous?' Or do you think that might be offensive and, more to the point, ignorant?
Anthony, You still have to establish that McDermott meant his words to be scriptural interpretation. I don't see how you can read his opening statement and say "oh, he meant this to interpret the Bible with a straight face." You really don't have a leg to stand on until you establish that the people you're criticizing intended their arguments to have the meaning you're imputing to them. Here's how I see it: McDermott: {speech} You: We do not agree with {speech} doesn't work because of reasons A, B, C. People supporting McDermott: McD wanted people to argue that what he did doesn't work because of reasons A, B, and C (namely, that the Bible can be amended, that our view of what's moral has changed over time, and that we must take a broad view of what's going on, as you point out). This is because reasons A, B, and C are more likely to support an inclusive view of marriage. In order to respond to McDermott's speech you have to grant arguments that help McDermott's cause. That's the whole damned point. Not "McDermott believes Christians believe this." Not "McDermott thinks that people who interpret scriptures would believe this." It's: "McDermott wants to establish certain ground rules for the debate, and does show by pointing out that one cannot use the Bible as a trump card, but must instead make other arguments." If I'm right about what McDermott is trying to do, your criticism simply misses the point. I don't see why you insist on reading this speech in the dumbest possible way.
That should read: "We do not agree with {speech} because of reasons X, Y, and Z." Whoops.
Heidi: Take his statements: " I thought I would remind the body of the biblical principles the Presidential Prayer Team] are talking about." "A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed. That is Deuteronomy 22:13." Now, if that statement has any reason at all, there are one of two statements that must be implicit within it: (a) The Bible as a whole upholds the idea that this Amendment would satisfy a 'Biblical principle' which requires a wife who is not a virgin to be executed; or (b) It is a suitable method of Biblical interpretation to pluck random passages from the text and use them as operative principles for how to live life and govern. Further, the PPT advocate the use of this method of interpretation. Otherwise, the only argument that the entire piece supports is that, "It's a dumb idea to interpret the Bible based upon random passages plucked from it." Which is, of course, true, and I can't think of any credible Biblical scholar who'd disagree. But I think you'd have a hard time showing that the Presidential Prayer Team, any of the sources you cited, or indeed anyone thinks that. I suppose to the extent that McDermott was winning a battle with idiots, he made a point. But to that extent, he was calling a group who quite clearly don't subscribe to the 'pick and mix' form of Biblical interpretation idiots. If he were specifically pointing at someone who cited only Leviticus--and not, for instance, Paul or (as the Clerk pointed out, Romans), then he'd have a point. But he cited a particular group who make a complex and interesting argument. His refutation would only defeat a group who made the most trivial of arguments, and thus implicitly stated that the group was trivial in its thinking. So either he's accusing a group of people of an easily-refutable calumny, or he believes that a particular and foolish brand of scholarship is a particularly appropriate way of reading the Bible. The point you believe he's making is pretty valid, Heidi, but you simply can't get there from here.
Otherwise, the only argument that the entire piece supports is that, "It's a dumb idea to interpret the Bible based upon random passages plucked from it."
No, he gets slightly more than that. He gets "It's a dumb idea to interpret the Bible based upon random passages plucked from it because you must consider (a) changing contexts (b) messages and moral norms which are later articulated, which may conflict with a particular passage from the Bible and (c) whether this represents what we want to do now." Winning the point that you must consider conflicting moral norms and not wield Biblical passages as a trump card is important--it means that if you win the moral message, they can't fall back on, "Well, you must be wrong because it says here that ...." It means you have to argue on the merits. If you argue this any other way, gay rights will not triumph. You're right that McDermott's speech didn't prove that gays should have rights. You're right that it didn't articulate any reasons, religious, moral, or otherwise, for his position. But if all it got him was that the Bible can't be used as a trump card, that's pretty darned good for a one minute speech. And I'm certainly not convinced that the Presidential Prayer Team is making arguments that consider changing contexts, messages and moral norms in the Bible, that may conflict with an anti-gay marriage stance, and what our society now thinks about things. This is their statement of faith. I've looked on their website, and I don't see a lot of argument that looks either complex or interesting. Mostly it looks like "the Bible is a trump card" to me. An aside: I find it amusing that they cite scripture to show that scripture is supreme authority.
Heidi: Please show me where anything that McDermott said mentioned anything that you have put there. It might be what you hope he had argued, but it's just not there. As I've said, numerous times before, the argument you're making is quite good. (I think you misinterpret the PPT's statement of faith, in that it says nothing in conflict with democratic norms, unless you don't believe that a Christian ought to vote his beliefs. That in and of itself is fairly illiberal.) But the argument just isn't there. And, incidentally, what's wrong with citing scripture to show that scripture is supreme authority? While I'm sure not all branches of Christianity hold that as an article of faith, many do.
H: Now that I think about it, the only way he can make the argument you mention, even if he's making it, is in this sense: A) You cannot 'consider the Bible a trump card.' B) A stands because if not A, then you would have to think the list of Amendments would be necessary to the constitution. Given that you can't get through B without running into the arguments I placed above about scriptural interpretation, it's still a bad argument. Or rather, a possibly good argument with very bad support. So if he'd presented a compelling argument for not treating the Bible like a trump card, you're right, it would be impressive for a one minute. What's he's proven is that you can quote anything--the Bible, the Constitution, my mother's collection of chicken stock recipes--badly, and sound like you're quoting it badly.
Heidi: Sorry for interjecting. Do you think the people who use the bible to support their position that the bible does not condone gay marriage are "interpreting the Bible based upon random passages plucked from it?" McDermott's reading is not wrong because of changing contexts or later superimposed moral norms. He has simply misread or mistranslated passages or is entirely unaware of huge swathes of the bible. (Anyone who has read through the bible even once is aware that marriage to a non-virgin is biblically valid). I dont think that because McDermott has misread the bible that proves that anyone using the bible to make a point is misinterpreting it. All McDermott has shown is that he doesn't think that the bible should be quoted as a source for contemporary law. He has done nothing to show why anyone else should think that way.
Joel: Indeed, not only wouldn't anyone who'd read through the Bible once think that only a marriage to a virgin is valid, McDermott mentions the practice Levirate (sp?) marriage (a valid marriage to someone who is most certainly not a virgin) at the very end. Besides, I don't think you can get from Deut 22:13 to "if she's not a virgin, she shall be executed" applying in all cases (as it would in an amendment). After all, it only speaks to the case of a woman being taken out of the home of her father when she is supposedly a damsel. It's worth pointing out, though, that it was Ambimb that turned the points into amendments, so we may not be able to lay that at the Congressman's door.
I actually am more familiar with the Hebrew term for it(Yibum) but I think levirate is correct. As a point of interest, the Talmud actually clarifies that Deut 22:13 is referring to an adulterer (though I understand that may be a distiction without a difference to many).
"You're essentially saying that 'Anyone who opposes me on this position is stupid.'" No, but thanks for putting words in my mouth. Are you saying anyone who quotes the list is stupid? Why can you call people stupid? Because it's your blog? What I'm saying is there is no rational basis, outside sexual morality, which has its roots in religion, for denying this right to same sex couples. "Secondly, there's the argument that marriage as an institution was recognized religiously prior to civil recognition, and that it was a male/female matter definitionally. " Yes. Fine, and no one is talking about forcing religious institutions to change their views or practices. You're the one, after all, who wants to focus on the civil aspect of it. I find it more than amusing that Mr. Get the State out of Marriage now wants to refer to "tradition" in order to defend state sponsored discrimination. Miscegnation laws had their roots in religious institutions and practices. So did abortion laws. So did sodomy laws. Need I go on? Society has, for the most part, determined that these codifications of religious doctrines have no place in the law any longer. "But the argument the Congressman did give was scripturally ridiculous, immature, and ignorant. It doesn't stand up to scrutiny." "As for it being a 'joke': shall I remember that the next time someone makes an argument against same-sex marriage based on a misstatement of the beliefs of homosexual activists which is colorably 'humorous?'" IT WAS SATIRE. It wasn't put forth as a rational argument. It's not supposed to stand up to scrutiny. That's my whole point. And referencing or mis-referencing scripture isn't even in the same ballpark as what you're alluding to. For starters, I'm not sure what "beliefs" "homosexual activists" (I play rugby, that's active--I reckon I'm an activist now), have other than "please leave us alone and let us live our lives like any other people in society." This is a far cry from the "anyone who doesn't engage in man-on-top, intra-heterosexual-marriage-procreation-oriented-sex is a sinner who deserves to have his actions regulated by the state" Good God. Lighten up, people.
"You're the one, after all, who wants to focus on the civil aspect of it. I find it more than amusing that Mr. Get the State out of Marriage now wants to refer to "tradition" in order to defend state sponsored discrimination." No, I'm not. I don't agree with the position. However, I also don't believe it's totally irrational--I'm willing to see that there are rational bases on which people might disagree with me on them. I'm also willing to believe that religious belief is a rational basis, and something that smart people may believe. The fact that there's a position between those two extremes has been the ledge I've been standing on, and the ledge you've been rejecting, for quite a while. (As for calling anyone stupid, I didn't. We've already established in prior threads that you're one of my less civil visitors, but I've not called you stupid.) As for putting words in your mouth: "Smart people shouldn't be AGAINST same-sex marriage." Now, I'll admit that there's a subtle distinction: anyone who disagrees with you (i.e. is against same-sex marriage) cannot be smart. That is indeed different from being absolutely stupid, I suppose, but it's not a far cry. So I stand corrected. What you've said is that "No one who opposes me should be considered smart." As one who opposes you, that provides little comfort.
Anthony, The point I think McDermott is trying to make is that in order to answer the things he brings up, one has to make several arguments. You do them. That's good; the answers that you give (that you should consider New Testament values of love, forgiveness, and not passing judgement on others for instance) help his cause. Forcing people to make those arguments helps his cause. And that's what I think he's trying to do. It seems to me that you're willing to believe that every religious person against homosexual marriage must have intelligent, reasoned arguments, but you're completely unwilling to believe that McDermott did. Quite frankly, it seems like you took McDermott's speech as a personal attack on religion and scriptural interpretation itself, and you're responding emotionally, without considering an alternate reasonable interpretation. I'm not sure why you think that your interpretation--that an entire group of religious people are all reasonable and rational, even the very dregs and rag-tag end of them, but that one Congressman must have been completely off the deep end--is the only reasonable one. Now, did he say this was what he was doing? No. He didn't. He was making a one-minute speech. And as someone else pointed out, it was a satire. Quite often people don't say "Oh, and by the way, let me explain all the ways this was satirical." But his little comment in the beginning clearly signals that he was not making what he considered to be sound Biblical arguments. People are allowed to satirize without saying that's what they're doing. As for citing scripture to prove scripture is authority--dude, you have to realize that's circular. You have to first have faith that scripture is correct. Finally, for Joel. The Bible says nary a thing about gay marriage. It does talk about gays. Among other things it mentions that we should under some circumstances kill people for having homosexual (and heterosexual) sex. These days, we think this response should be barbaric. Why? Well, as Anthony points out, Jesus defends a woman of somewhat looser virtue because because those of us who sin shouldn't be so quick to judge each other; because we should strive to create good works in this world rather than try to find ways to cut each other down; because we should love our neighbors. So I think that if someone says people shouldn't marry because we should kill homosexuals instead of allowing them to marry, we can quickly discard that interpretation because as Anthony points out, it's probably been amended. (So the fact that in order to respond to McDermott's statements requires you to use the "amendment" bit is important--it helps his cause). Once you get to the New Testament, the Bible says that homosexual marriage is "indecent" and that they "won't inherit the kingdom of God" because they're "wicked." This doesn't say they shouldn't be allowed to marry; it says that the Bible doesn't believe this is proper moral behavior. Now, do we think that there must be a link between proper moral behavior and what the state should sanction? Let's examine contexts. The same passages cast aspersions on straight people who are sexually immoral. And yet we allow people to marry who have been otherwise sexually immoral. We allow people to have open marriages. We allow married people to have orgies and remain married. In fact, you can write prenuptial agreements in many states that specifically allow for infidelity. The fact that homosexuality is mentioned in the same passages in the Bible as other forms of sexual immorality which we currently allow during marriage tends to imply that secular marriage is not controlled by the standards of a Christian Biblical marriage. (So looking at nearby context, which Anthony insists is an error that McDermott makes, shows that secular marriage is not controlled by biblical standards.) I don't insist on the above interpretation (and I don't intend to argue it, because I don't believe it's the proper forum in the first place), but I don't think there's an open-and-shut case against gay marriage in the Bible. I think that McDermott showed that there are some mistakes you can't make in Biblical interpretation (look at later statements in the Bible, look at the context of the statement), which, if not made, make it possible to make a case for allowing secular homosexual marriages. And that's what I think his point is.
{Clarification: by "proper forum" I meant I certainly don't want to argue what the Bible says when I don't care.}
"(As for calling anyone stupid, I didn't. We've already established in prior threads that you're one of my less civil visitors, but I've not called you stupid.)" Dude, you simply can't worm your way out of this assertion. You can't defend your statement like "smart people shouldn't say blah" and then turn around and say "but Alex thinks people who disagree with him aren't smart and that's wrong." People who disagree with A-rick, dumb, and that's ok. People who disagree with Alex, and he's wrong to call them that? As for being one of your "less civil" visitors, let's see. I said you were 5 years younger than you are. OOOOHHHH. Wait a few years and you'll take that as a compliment. I made a few SATIRICAL comments (which we now know is a horrible thing to do) which I've issued "mea culpas" over. Meanwhile you've accounted for yourself quite nicely. I don't consider your responses (including your decision to tell the world where I work), which have been quite pointed and at times quite biting to be any less "civil" than my behavior. Name calling, bar fighting and intentionally wheeling a scrum are not very civil. None of what transpires on these threads falls into that category.
H: I'm not sure why you think that your interpretation--that an entire group of religious people are all reasonable and rational, even the very dregs and rag-tag end of them, but that one Congressman must have been completely off the deep end--is the only reasonable one. Unfortunately for you, this is another case of "Heidi inferring what she wishes to hear." McDermott didn't accuse 'dregs and rag-tag ends' of Christian thinkers, or as you state at your blog, date-raping frat boys, of having poor arguments. If he had, it would have been OK, even if I'd wonder why he picked the target. He accused a specific group--the PPT--of making no sense in their arguments. You'd like him to have accused others, but he simply didn't. It would be like you telling me my arguments are lousy not on their merits, but because poorer versions had been made by Rush Limbaugh. I'm not unwilling to believe McDermott has reasonable, intelligent arguments. What I have been arguing, continually, is not that he has no arguments, but that he didn't make them. I'll agree that, to an audience like yourself who knows what those arguments are and agrees with them, the better arguments might be already known. He doesn't have to make them to you. But not everyone knows those arguments, and others disagree with them. The good arguments are not on the table. I'm willing to accept every argument you've made, Heidi, as perfectly good, and most of them I agree with. But you've continually told me what you 'believe' he said. I've countered, often with specific quotations, with what he actually said. Can you tell me, please, where he referred specifically to the 'dregs and rag-tag ends' of Christian thinkers? As for it being satire: satire still has to make sense. Even Swift has to have some internal logic, or it simply doesn't hold water. It sounds cute, but if it can be picked apart in seconds, it's bad satire. As for citing scripture to prove scripture is authority--dude, you have to realize that's circular. You have to first have faith that scripture is correct. Yes. Being that it's in a 'statement of faith,' however, I'm pretty sure that's appropriate. It's citing passages that say that scripture is supreme, but it's listing articles of faith. As for Alex: First of all, I seem to recall that the statement I took issue with was not so much the age itself, but the assumption that I must be insecure in my sexuality and afraid of being raped by gay men. (That would be asdf's ref above.) Secondly, I said that smart people shouldn't make a particular kind of argument. You've said that smart people may not reach a certain result. These are very different types of assertion. I'm perfectly willing to believe that people may be smart and disagree with me--indeed, the fact that I think Ambimb's smart and has better arguments than what he posted was what I found disappointing.
Heidi: I thought it would have been clear from my post that I am one of those outliers who has not made the move to the New Testament. If McDermott's point was that we need to re-examine the "Old" Testament(an appelation that I am not comfortable with) because our current mores and culture make some of it's provisions obsolete and barbaric, he could have made that point by pointing to the text banning homosexuality. That would have been an accurate quotation. Instead, he quoted other texts incorrectly and used them to make prove his case that the Bible is obsolete. My objection is to the inaccuracy of his quotes. Those inaccuracies cannot be explained away by saying that the Old Testament is a crock so we can ignore all of it. McDermott cannot debunk something if he does not know what it says. I don't expect him (or you) to agree with my substantive position on gay marriage but I do expect a certain level of intellectual honesty. The first requirement in intellegent discourse is not contributing "facts" to the dialogue that are incorrect or that you do not know the provenance or accuracy of. That is what McDermott has done.
Maybe this analogy will illustrate my point. Suppose we were arguing whether we should interpret the Constitution by strict textualism or allow other methods of interpretation. Suppose further that I was arguing against strict adherence to the text (a stretch admittedly, but since you don't know me you should be able to do it). What would you think if I argued that it is foolish to interpret the Constitution strictly because the Second Amendment gives the right to bear arms and we all know how imposibble it is to give human beings a polar bears limbs? I might also argue that the Constitution is obviously ourdated because it limits the rights to search and seizure. This is ridiculous because we all should be allowed to use google and it is unfair to epilectics to limit how many seizures they can have. If I made these argument seriously then you would rightly think me a fool and if I was joking you would rightly think me possesed of a remarkably juvenile sense of humor. Either way, I would have contributed nothing to the debate.
Argggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh....this is maddening. Bush and the extreme right wing have declared war on a class of citizens, and we're going back and forth over the rules of engagement applicable to someone's response. Heidi, if you are still reading this, I think your analysis was spot on.
Joel-- I thought I made it clear from my response that I'm one of those outliers that reject the Old Testament and the New Testament altogether. But anyways, your idea of intelligent debate seems to be completely wacky--you seem to think that making a rhetorical point has no value. Sometimes, saying something that's not true, to make your opponent grant you an important point, is a reasonable strategy. That's what I think McDermott did. Tony-- You've asserted that the Presidential Prayer Team makes "deep" arguments. I've looked throughout their website, and I see references to scripture without argument. You've asserted that McDermott was trying to interpret scripture, but the quotation you give doesn't support that point. The effect of McDermott's speech was to make you articulate points which are more likely to favor a gay rights position, which is the effect I deem McDermott to be going for, as I agree with you that nobody could credit his speech as a serious argument, and his introduction is so over the top that it seems absolutely clear that he's not trying to interpret scripture. With respect to interpreting McDermott, you're taking what he says at face value, and refusing to admit that the goal of his piece might not have been to have his piece not taken at face value. His use of the word "admirable goals" and "codifying marriage entirely on biblical principles" signifies tongue firmly in cheek. At that point, you look for other reasons for him doing what he did. If, as I think, his goal was to get people to articulate reasons for doing things, I think he did a great job. I don't see how anyone can read McDermott's initial introduction and then say, "Oh, here come serious arguments which he thinks are valid." But that's exactly what you're imputing to him.
All that being said, I just read Alex's comments on the other thread and ... um ... I have to say that I'd prefer not to be allied with Alex in anything other than agreement on this very narrow issue. "Less than civil" indeed. I don't agree with Anthony, and I suspect that at this point he and I are going to have to agree to disagree. I just don't see McDermott as saying what he says, and he just doesn't see what I say, and I think we've gotten to the point where we're just talking back and forth. Nonetheless, I still respect him. I think that we're equally baffled at the other person's refusal to agree because we're both seeing things from a very different point of view. Whatever I think about how he's seeing things, I wouldn't think to try and resolve this particular argument by, without merit, calling Anthony a closet homosexual. Sure. What the fight for gay rights really needs is people making sly insinuations that someone should be denigrated for having closet gay tendencies. That'll do the trick. The rules of engagement are always relevant, in any war. One of the reasons is that if you don't follow them, you will have no allies.
Fine, Heidi. I've changed my mind. Your analyis was weak. Feel better?
As a follow-up, Hi, the comment, which I've done everything but put on sackcloth and ashes over, was about as tounge-in-cheek as it comes. Oh it was off-color. It was out-of-line. Fine. Guilty. So far this group seems like some sort of treehouse where everyone takes turns showing how devoted they are to the club president by stepping on the hands of the kid who's trying to climb up the ladder. And yet no one talks about the inapropriateness of the board host posting pseudo-private (information only he has access to) information about participants in retaliation. Interesting.
Dag, this thread got hot. Sim-simmer, folks. I mean, does anyone really think that what McDermott said was an airtight syllogism? Similarly, does anyone really think that that's all he should have been allowed to make during the one-minute speeches? Look, all's I'm saying is that it seems an odd topic to inspire, what is it? thirty-five comments or so. Not that I'm necessarily saying it's a Freudian substitute for what's really on your mind, cos I ain't one to speculate....

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