Tuesday, August 07, 2012

I Talk to the Snakes, But They Don't Listen to Me

It's hard for me to get past the title of Elizabeth Kaeton's latest missive on the conflict over marriage. When she accuses her opponents of "listening to talking snakes", it's easy to get the message that serious response to their objections isn't on the program. It's also easy to get the message that grounding in scripture isn't a component of her theology. Or perhaps the temptation of a snappy and contemptuous comeback has overcome the recollection that it is God in those early chapters of Genesis who is providing the instruction.

And indeed, that's the rub, for if she isn't going to listen to God speaking in scripture, it might well be asked to whom she does listen. It's all well and good "to talk about the traditions of mutual love, fidelity, intimacy and mutuality that are at the heart and soul of Christian marriage," especially when that talk comes from scripture. That talk, in scripture, is found in the context of an explicit acceptance of all that stuff in the book with the talking snake. And back when I was discussing the lessons for the proposed same-sex blessing rite, I noted how all nearly all the lessons addressing marriage were dropped apparently because they all started from the "man+woman=godly intent" theology of Genesis, except for one passage of love poetry, a lot of general lessons about agape, and a couple of slash re-readings out of the OT.

So where is the instruction coming from? Well, without regard to the opinions of the DSM, it isn't coming from science. Permit me to turn my religion off for a second: the teaching of biology is that homosexuality among humans is a sexual aberration which fortunately hasn't been common enough to interfere with the continuation of the species, at least perhaps until recently. That's about what we can get from that, and it's obviously not a good basis for a moral mandate of any kind, for or against. No, it's pretty obvious that the starting point is in some respect taking the material in Genesis 2 and maybe adding a few extra verses after verse 25, and maybe filing the gender off Eve, and dropping verse 24. The argument is that homosexual relationships are just like heterosexual ones, but the latter continue to be informed by the same set of verses (except some of what Paul says), and therefore someone like Kaeton is listening to the talking snake just as much as anyone else in the church is.

The point here is not about listening to talking snakes, but about listening to other people. My interpretation of Kaeton's remarks is that anyone who explicitly goes to scripture as an authority in opposing her program is going to be dismissed out of hand. I also interpret them as expressing contempt for those people. So, really, there's no point in even talking about talking, because it's pretty clear that the only talking that's supposed to be heard is her talking. And you know, I'm not willing to sign up for that.

It's hard to find any discussion of "alternative sexuality" of any sort and not hear at least a whisper if not a droning mantra of "it's what feels natural to me, and it's not hurting anyone else." Why on earth should anyone take that seriously? It's nothing more than the voice of appetite. Meanwhile I look at ordinary, procreative heterosexual sex, and I see a lot of people who hurt each other, themselves, and especially the kids they bear because they cannot control their appetites. It seems to me that same-sex relationships shouldn't get a pass on these issues, so that I think we can step up to getting rid of the same-sex blessing rite simply because we cannot possibly justify having an opposite sex relationship blessing. Instead, it's easy enough to figure out that we countenance endorsement of marriages-which-aren't-marriages simply as a tactic toward insistence on the acceptability of homosexuality.

Kaeton thus comes across here as a classic "[w]e know better than you on this topic and we’re going to have a 'dialogue' until you see the error of your ways and agree with me at which point our dialogue will be done" liberal. Personally I have better things to do with my time.


The Archer of the Forest said...

I knew the Episcopal Church was in trouble when the Bishop of my diocese at the time decided to have some "dialogues" around the diocese at various churches. I actually went to the one at my parish, somewhat naively. I think I was about to start seminary at the time.

So, the Bishop shows up and lays these ridiculous ground rules where no one could quote scripture. No one of a more conservative theological opinion was basically allowed to actually say much of anything. No one could present any science that might lead one to conclude that homosexuality might be contrary to natural selection.

After being browbeat for about 30 minutes, I actually got up and left. The bishop actually called me down and asked where I was going. I actually had the pluck to say in front of everyone, "Well, actual dialogue means that both sides actually are allowed to speak and both sides have to actually listen to what the other side is saying. What we have here is a monologue. I got better things to do with my time."

Needless to say, the Bishop was not pleased, but he knew I was correct. When half the crowd walked out with me, he just sputtered with fury. I think the traveling dialogue show around the diocese pretty much ended thereafter.

bls said...

I always find it fascinating to listen to Christians argue from "natural selection" and how homosexuality - because it's non-procreative - is an "aberration"

I mean: Catholic priests, anybody? Monks and nuns? The church fathers? There must be and have been more celibate Christians than there are stars in the vast, dark sky. (In fact, I think one could make the argument that celibacy is the preferred option in the New Testament.)

You guys are a riot, seriously....

C. Wingate said...

Maybe you should go back to the sentence you seem to have skipped over, about how the argument from science isn't a good basis for a moral mandate. It cuts both ways.

bls said...

Well, yes - I saw that. I don't think The Archer of the Forest did, though.

But - I dispute your claim about "what biology says," anyway, C. Wingate, as the thinking veers again again towards group selection nowadays (see what's-his-name vs. what's-his-name - Dawkins vs. Wilson - and their recent dustup).

That's nothing new to most of us, though - we've always understood this idea. And Christian history certainly confirms it (via the above-mentioned celibates - and "the blood of the martyrs" being "the seed of the church" and all).

I'm not sure either thing really has anything to do with the faith itself, though. I do like your premise about Scripture here, though; I'm really awfully tired of "literalist" arguments of every sort....

Anonymous said...

Since you consider it an aberration (at least biologically) why bother to remain in religion when it's well known that clergy are more likely to be gay than the general population?

C. Wingate said...

I'm not really interested in getting into the whole vaguely Donatist "should-we-ordain-homosexuals" discussion. I get the impression that being homosexual gives you a leg up in the Ordination Process in some dioceses but when it comes down to it, if you are looking to find a group of utterly normal people the clergy was never the place to go.

Frair John said...

Where I think that the argument goes astray is the "Liberals" tend to not want to do any theological work. There is a distinction to be made between Tobias Haller and Elizabeth Keaton in that Haller has done a considerable amount of theological work on the topic and Keaton is of the school that finds overly nuanced theological discussions tiresome, in particularly when it is simply going over old ground.

Now, to be a bit more direct to a point you made. The creation accounts of Geneses are theological reflections on the cosmological understanding of the time periods that they are penned. The older one simply takes the existence of things as a given, the later one is a reflection of the three tiered cosmos. Since we no longer talk about a bowel in the sky and water under the Earth (unless you are on a really bizarre fringe) then the other assumptions of the text can also be explored from the POV of what we now understand. The Woman is created, in the priestly text, as a companion to the Man. If the primary goal is mutuality, and that science tells us that sexuality is a fluid dynamic for some people, and that a few are attracted to the same gender, then we can go someplace. Hanging onto the biological assumptions of a text that we now reject the cosmological ones is a tad silly, if not outright counter productive.
What I am trying to say is that we read the Text differently because the assumptions behind the text have changed.