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When religion loses its credibility,” dogmatic sophistry is sure to follow

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By Mel Seesholtz, Ph.D.

“When religion loses its credibility” was the title of a USA Today article by Christian writer Oliver Thomas. The article’s lead posed the question: “Galileo was persecuted for revealing what we now know to be the truth regarding Earth’s place in our solar system. Today, the issue is homosexuality, and the persecution is not of one man but of millions. Will Christian leaders once again be on the wrong side of history?”

Mr. Thomas rephrased and answered the question:

What if Christian leaders are wrong about homosexuality? I suppose, much as a newspaper maintains its credibility by setting the record straight, church leaders would need to do the same:

Correction: Despite what you might have read, heard or been taught throughout your churchgoing life, homosexuality is, in fact, determined at birth and is not to be condemned by God's followers.

Based on a few recent headlines, we won’t be seeing that admission anytime soon…
Religion’s only real commodity, after all, is its moral authority. Lose that, and we lose our credibility. Lose credibility, and we might as well close up shop.

It’s happened to Christianity before, most famously when we dug in our heels over Galileo’s challenge to the biblical view that the Earth, rather than the sun, was at the center of our solar system. …

This time, Christianity is in danger of squandering its moral authority by continuing its pattern of discrimination against gays and lesbians in the face of mounting scientific evidence that sexual orientation has little or nothing to do with choice. To the contrary, whether sexual orientation arises as a result of the mother’s hormones or the child’s brain structure or DNA, it is almost certainly an accident of birth. The point is this: Without choice, there can be no moral culpability.

The hateful antigay politics of the radical Christian Right have alienated a lot of people of genuine faith, and for good reason. As C. S. Lewis warned, Christians who uses their faith as a means to a political end corrupt their faith.

A post-election survey of evangelicals conducted by Beliefnet and summarized in their article “Evangelicals Sour on Politics” documented that “40.2 percent of the evangelicals surveyed favored the idea of Christians taking a ‘fast’ from politics.” The survey also revealed that nearly 60 percent of non-evangelicals have a more negative view of Jesus because of Christian political involvement. And chief among that “political involvement” is the vile – and distinctly unChristian – campaign against gay and lesbian Americans, their children and families.

The American public is turning – slowly but surely – against hate-mongers who advocate discrimination in the name of religion. A recent Opinion Dynamics/Fox News poll documented that “60 percent of Americans favored some form of legal recognition for gay unions, 30 percent favored gay marriage, and 30 percent favored civil unions.” This should not be surprising. Throughout American history, civil equality has inevitably trumped bigotry and discrimination, even when the bigotry and discrimination had the stamp of approval from some “Christian” leaders as in the days of slavery and legal racial discrimination.

When the poll was reported in a propaganda organ of James Dobson and his perversely named “Focus on the Family,” the usual spin was applied by a Dobsonian acolyte: “Jim Pfaff, cofounder of Colorado Family Action, said the survey was reported with bias. ‘It says here that 30 percent of people want to allow same-sex couples to get legally married,’ he told Family News in Focus, ‘but it doesn’t talk about the fact that 70 percent don’t.’”

Of course Mr. Pfaff conveniently forgot to mention the additional 30 percent of respondents that supported civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, something Colorado Family Action and Focus on the Family vehemently oppose despite the fact that legally recognized civil unions would benefit not only gay and lesbian Americans, but their children and their families. Hypocrisy, the desire to demean others, and dogmatic sophistry always go hand-in-hand-in-hand as was so well illustrated in an article that appeared in another Dobson-FOF publication.

“Pro-Gay Theology: ‘Jesus Said Nothing About Homosexuality’” was penned by Joe Dallas, founder of Genesis Counseling and one of the founding forces of the “ex-gay” sham. Not surprisingly, Dobson’s Focus on the Family runs its own “ex-gay” program.

At least part of the article’s title was accurate: Jesus said nothing about homosexuality. But Mr. Dallas mastered the art of sophistry in his apologia for antigay dogma.

Already distressed by reality – “a recent poll showed 66 percent (two-thirds) of Americans no longer believe there is such a thing as ‘absolute truth.’ More disturbing, though, was the fact that 53 percent of those not believing in absolute truth identified themselves as born-again Christians; 75 percent of whom were mainline Protestants” – Mr. Dallas directed his sophism at gay Christians:

Invariably, when the “gay Christian” movement is represented, someone in their group will hold up a sign saying, “WHAT JESUS SAID ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY: ________________.” The idea, of course, is that if Jesus did not specifically forbid a behavior, then the behavior must not have been important to Him. Stretching the point further, this argument assumes if Jesus was not manifestly concerned about something, neither should we.

Troy Perry (along with most gay Christian leaders) makes much of this argument based on silence: “As for the question, ‘What did Jesus say about homosexuality?’, the answer is simple. Jesus said nothing. Not one thing. Nothing! Jesus was more interested in love.” [Troy Perry, Don’t Be Afraid Anymore (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990), p. 40.]

To refute Troy Perry and like-minded Christians, Mr. Dallas offered four “reasons” why a theology based on love and inclusion should be replaced by the dogma of hate and exclusion. His first “reason” addressed the fact that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality:

the argument assumes the gospels are more authoritative than the rest of the books in the Bible. The idea of a subject being unimportant just because it was not mentioned by Jesus is foreign to the gospel writers themselves. At no point did Matthew, Mark, Luke or John say their books should be elevated above the Torah or, for that matter, any writings yet to come. In other words, the gospels – and the teachings they contain – are not more important than the rest of the Bible. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. The same Spirit inspiring the authors of the gospels also inspired the men who wrote the rest of the Bible.

If all that’s so, then why isn’t Mr. Dallas campaigning to have those who wear clothing made of two different threads stoned to death as demanded in Leviticus, or to have non-virgin brides stoned to death as demanded in Deuteronomy? And for “God’s” sake, why isn’t he campaigning to repeal the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution so as to fulfill St. Paul’s edict in First Timothy to “suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence”?

His second “reason” was equally self-serving and suffered from the same convoluted sophistry: “Not only are the gospels no more authoritative than the rest of Scripture, they are not comprehensive either. That is, they do not provide all we need to know by way of doctrine and practical instruction. Some of the Bible’s most important teachings, in fact, do not appear in the gospels. …”

Indeed, the “gospels” were cobbled together decades, sometimes centuries after Jesus’ death. The resulting texts were then either sanctioned or shunned by men whose sole purpose was to create a religion and its dogma that would control people and have them do and believe as they were told to by the hierarchy of the institution.

Spirituality is intrapersonal. For most it’s a personally liberating and uplifting experience, an encouragement to grow and evolve to more conscious perceptions. But when personal spirituality is organized into a religion, an institution is produced and as all institutions it produces a hierarchy who produce dogma that often has little to do with spirituality and everything to do with maintaining social and political control.

The third “reason” Mr. Dallas offered was of a kind: “The gospels do not profess to be a complete account of Jesus’ life or teachings. Whole sections of His early years are omitted; much of what He did and said remains unknown” [italics added].

It’s historical fact that the “gospels” and other “sacred texts” were sanitized (if not completely excluded) by early Church fathers before what we now call “the Bible” was canonized. For example, all references to or mention of Jesus’ sexuality were expunged. Any references to possible siblings were also deleted. But such information remains extant in “unapproved” texts such as the Gospel of Thomas, written by a man some believe was Jesus’ sibling, as well as in other so-called “gnostic texts.” Alas, such records just didn’t fit the official dogma “The Church” wanted and needed to create for its own social and political purposes.

The fourth “reason” Mr. Dallas offers begs the question of civil equality for gay and lesbian American citizens and diverts attention to procreation: “Jesus referred in the most specific of terms to God’s created intent for human sexuality: ‘But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate’ (Mark 10:6-9).”

There’s that pesky biblical interdiction against divorce again. If he were true to his espoused beliefs, Mr. Dallas would be campaigning to have divorce made illegal. Despite that glaring inconsistency, surely even Mr. Dallas would acknowledge that people – including devout Christians – have sex for pleasure with no intent to procreate. And just as surely that pleasure was also part of “God’s created intent for human sexuality” otherwise why would Divinity have made sex so pleasurable, not to mention making it one of humans’ most basic, fundamental instincts? To suggest the pleasures of sex were a divine test of faith conjures a rather mean-spirited “God” who enjoys torturing his creations.

Mr. Dallas and those who share his anti-human, anti-pleasure views on sexuality might want to read Vatsyayana’s Kamasutram (aka “Kama Sutra”). But then again, they’d probably view such a work as anti-Christian hedonism, so perhaps they should just stick to reading the Wife of Bath’s prologue in The Canterbury Tales. She addressed their concerns most astutely and from a Christian perspective.

Instead of concocting sophomoric, self-contradictory arguments to support discrimination and propagate hate, James Dobson, Jim Pfaff, Joe Dallas and the rest of the dour dogmatists of the Christian Right might want to join the twenty-first century and embrace its diverse human community instead of trying to factionalize it to enhance their own power and profit.


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