Monday, January 22, 2007

Your Bible is not my compass

I was listening to a discussion on 702 talk radio the other day about homosexual couples who are planning to have children. In December last year South Africa became the fifth country in the world to legalise homosexual marriage, and naturally it has become easier for homosexual couples to raise their own families.

It was an interesting discussion, but what really worried me was the type of on-air calls the station was receiving during the show. There were at least three individuals who called in and immediately started preaching about how evil and sickening homosexuality is, how un-spiritual and sinful homosexuals are, and how the gay lifestyle goes against God’s will and his creation. The host of the show calmly asked each of these callers what was the basis of their beliefs. The answer was the same in each case: The Bible.

“The Bible says . . . “

“The Bible does not condone . . . “

“According to the Bible . . . . “

The three callers are not alone: many in South Africa who argue against homosexuality appeal to the Bible when they present their arguments. The host of the show then patiently pointed out to each caller why this type of appeal is fallacious: she simply stated the fact that not all people subscribe to the precepts of the Bible, not everyone in South Africa is Christian. In other words, Christians don’t have the right to impose their moral code and biblical beliefs on unbelievers.

It worried me, listening to the show, that there is still much hatred shown towards homosexuals in this country. Ironically, the most intense hatred is expressed by those who preach love on Sunday mornings – this is a contradiction that for the life of me I cannot understand.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I know it’s not all Christians. I know there are many Christians who, although they might have reservations about homosexuality, understand that they are living in a society characterised by many cultures, religions and beliefs. They use the Bible as a positive guide for their own lives, but they are aware that they cannot force, or even expect, others to do the same. It is these Christians, Christians who view tolerance as a virtue, for whom I have respect. The Christians I am concerned about those who believe that they have the moral high ground to dictate, from their own interpretation of a religious book, how others should live.

The Bible is a fascinating book, but – as long as there are people living in South Africa who do not subscribe to the Christian creed – certain teachings of the Bible cannot be imposed, or even suggested as possibly becoming, a universal code of conduct for all persons living in society.


What do you think?

15 comments:

CyberKitten said...

KP said: certain teachings of the Bible cannot be imposed, or even suggested as possibly becoming, a universal code of conduct for all persons living in society.

I don't think that *any* teachings of the Bible or any other 'holy' book can be or should be imposed on anyone. If people want to live their lives by ancients books let them go ahead. Just as long as they back off from telling me that I should live *my* life by it too.

tichius said...

Kevin,

In response to your post, I just have a few questions:

1. Do you believe any human behavior or act is wrong?

2. How do you determine whether it is right or wrong?

Thanks,

Tichius

CyberKitten said...

Can I take it tichius that you're making the assumption that morality originates with God/The Bible and without reference to The Bible/God there is no morality?

Kevin Parry said...

Hi Tichius

Thanks for asking. I’m busy writing a post on some thoughts on why, as an atheist, I strive to be moral. This is still something that I’m thinking through in my mind, but I will post it up when I finish with it.

With regards to homosexuality: I don’t consider it wrong at all. If two responsible consenting adults of the same sex love each other, I don’t see any problem. (Note that I highlighted the word consenting). How they enjoy and express their love for each other (in terms of marriage, commitment, romance, etc) is no business of any government, politician, preacher, church, or any other individual – unless they infringe on the rights of other individuals.

So ‘consent’ and ‘rights’ are the two key words here. If someone lies, steals, murders – they are infringing on the rights of other individuals. If someone rapes or sexually abuses someone else – they are forcing themselves on another individual who have not given them consent.

This view of how to gauge what is right or wrong is quite simplistic, I know, and you (as well as many readers) will probably poke many holes in it. But it is an idea that I’m working with and slowly building on. It does, however, conflict with other Christian teachings: for example, since leaving Christianity, I’ve also changed my views regarding masturbation and sex outside of marriage (note: when I talk about being okay with sex outside of marriage, I’m not referring to infidelity).

I would like to know your criticism of this view. Although I might not be able to respond adequately to every point you might raise, I will definitely learn something from your input.

And I would like to know from other non-Christians if they follow a similar approach to gauging if something is right or wrong.

CyberKitten said...

KP said: And I would like to know from other non-Christians if they follow a similar approach to gauging if something is right or wrong.

Consent is a good measure of if something is moral or not. I also go on harm. If something does no harm then it is difficult to see how it can be wrong (the argument moves, of course, to what is meant by harm).

From my PoV morality originates in culture, upringing, education and peers, life experience and a smattering of genes. That's why ideas of morality change over time and from place to place and why so many people disagree on what is and is not moral. I doubt *very much* that we can come to much agreement on the subject.

Skywolf said...

I could not agree more, Kevin. Oddly enough, there was a talk show on the radio here in Britain yesterday that was discussing the Catholic Church's wish to prevent homosexual couples from adopting children through Catholic adoption agencies. There's recently been a bill passed here that makes it illegal for any organisation to discriminate against homosexuals, and the Catholic Church feels they should be exempt from this. It looks like they're losing the battle, thankfully.

But indeed, there were several callers in to the show whose attitudes were patently horrible. And, like you said, they all used the Bible to back them up, or more accurately, to justify their personal prejudices.

The thing that probably gets me the most about this anti-gay attitude from many Christians is the sheer hypocrisy of the whole thing. On the one hand, they declare that something must be wrong because the Bible says so, and on the other hand, they completely ignore so many of the other things that the Bible claims are wrong. So they can hide their homophobia behind the Bible, but still quite happily munch on bacon sandwiches, wear mixed fibres, and uphold equal rights for women (although these aren't always the case across the board, admmittedly). If they upheld every other declaration in the Bible with as much zeal, I'd be happy to respect their beliefs and move on, but the simple fact is they don't. And it seems to me the constant preaching and discrimination against gay people is nothing more than blatant homophobia handily disguised as religious doctrine.

Lui said...

This whole anti-gay thing smacks of an infantile fear of difference, but I suspect that many people also think of it in terms of a slippery slope, whereby allowing gay rights will contribute to total social decay. Anyway, I don't think we can reasonably talk about morality without reference to human emotions and needs, for without that, what's really left? Trying to please a deity? Is that really "moral", or glorified sycophantism? The hectoring tone of many homophobes certainly sounds like the latter. Maybe we can never really define what morality is, as everyone has a different opinion about it and ways of judging it, and mine is just one among many, but there is, i think, a reasonable criterion by which we can at least begin to sort out a clearer, more honest conception of it (albeit a necessarily imperfect one, as it's a human pursuit).

Cheryl Lim said...

Here's what I believe which you may or may not find agreeable.

I believe that the 6 days God took to make the world was a metephor. His ways are higher than our ways. I read once that a day in God's plane could be 100 or 1000 years for us. Whether it's credible or not, i never really fought against God's sovereignty or supremacy over us.

I think the dinosaurs were wiped out by the time Noah gathered the animals for the ark. I'm not sure if cavemen ever documented the existence of dinosaurs, but I know the only thing that made us know about them were the fossils. I believe they existed before God made Adam. He created the animals on the second or third day, if i'm not wrong and only made Adam later.

I had a talk about the unproven theory of evolution with a Christian friend yesterday. He's a Christian with in my opinion, sound doctrinal knowledge and a good grounding in his faith.

Does evolution purport that the world has been in existence for over 60 billion years ? Do the people who purport the theory of evolution even know how long that is? Were they or anyone else there? Did anyone document it? 4000 years is long but at least someone was there. Do the evolution apologists realize the magnitude of 60 billion? 1 billion is 1000 times of 1 million. I do think they sound a bit insane.

4000 years is long but at least it can be proven. Even 10 000 years is a stretch already. I hope the evolution apologists think more deeply and hard about the insanity of the figure they're purporting before they are so sure of writing God off.

Is it a coincidence that women have one less bone than men? I don't know about animals as I never did biology but I'm quite certain this phenomenon isn't found in the male and female gender of animals.

Is it a coincidence that every part of our body from our eyelashes to our armpit hair have a function that makes sense? Is it a coincidence that our planet is so strategically placed from the sun that we don't barbecue in the heat and don't freeze in the cold? is it a coincidence that everything from the atmospherics of the air to the moon controlling the waves of the sea work the way they do?

I see the logic of the survival of the fittest, but it does nothing to support evolution. It was a phenomenon that occurred in incidence but it does not explain the creation of the world. It happened along the way because it was logical to.

Evolution and atheism came about when the pride of men, one of the greatest sins God knew about got the better of them, giving them the false bravado to think they can explain the world and explain God away with their human intellect.

CyberKitten said...

Wow Cheryl Lim - no wonder you're confused.

The *Universe* is only about 15 Billion Years old. The Earth is about 4.6 Billion Years old - not SIXTY Billion. I have no idea where your friend got that number from. He may have "sound doctrinal knowledge and a good grounding in his faith" but he knows nothing about science by the sounds of it.

Do people have to actually 'be there' documenting things for you to believe that they happened? There is other evidence than eye-witness accounts you know.

Taking this point a little further - how do we know about things before Adam and Eve were supposedly created by God? How do you know that the Earth is not much older that 4000 or 10000 years old? Does it actually say anywhere in the Bible how old the Earth is?

Oh and as to dinosaurs... if they were only wiped out at the time of Noah (which was when exactly?) how come no one actually stumbled across any before then? How come they're not mentioned in the Bible? After all dinosaur bones of all types are found all over the planet... where they just *very* good at hiding?

Skywolf said...

Also... I thought it was men that had one less bone, seeing as how God supposedly created Eve from one of Adam's ribs?

I really don't understand why non-fundamentalist Creationists have such a problem with evolution, personally. If, as you say, Cheryl, you believe that the six 'days' in Genesis are a metaphor, then why can't other images in the book also be metaphorical? I'm not an atheist, although my thoughts on a possible supreme being are by no means clear at this stage - but if I did believe in a God who'd created the entire universe and all the amazing aspects of it, then why would I dismiss the science behind it? To me, the existence of science is an amazing point in favour of the existence of God, not against it. Why on earth would God create the amazingly intricate scientific processes we see all around us, and yet not use them himself? Why can't a person believe that God created the universe by the means he invented? I believe if the universe was created by a god, then evolution and natural selection were simply part of the creation process. Who's to say there was no great mind behind the millions of individual changes that took place to bring about the amazing diversity of species that we have today? I'd have a lot more admiration for a god that could create science - science, of all incredible things! - and then use that amazing, perfect system to bring about other things than for a god that just snaps his fingers and 'poof!' - the universe.

Perhaps I'll just never understand why science and religion can't go hand in hand. To me, they work perfectly together.

CyberKitten said...

skywolf - I forsee some interesting debates with you in the future over at my Blog... [grin].

Lui said...

"I think the dinosaurs were wiped out by the time Noah gathered the animals for the ark."

There are two things to consider here. First, the dinosaurs were wiped out at the end of the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago. There were no humans living at that time. Second, the flood didn’t happen, or if it did, it was a local event that was construed by the people living at the time as a global event, given their vantage point.

"Were they or anyone else there?"

Were any creationists there before God made them? See how silly that is? Of course they weren't there, because that's purportedly before humans had even appeared. But as Cyberkitten mentioned, there are other forms of evidence other than eye-witness testimony.

"Do the evolution apologists realize the magnitude of 60 billion?"

Do large numbers frighten you? It's odd that creationists talk about the "majesty" of God, and yet they would rather that their "great" God created the Earth only 6,000 years ago. The timescales advocated by Young Earth Creationism are pitifully inadequate to explain much of anything, and they are boringly inadequate in the inspiration stakes. And there’s a bigger problem: if all the changes we know happened during Earth’s history had to happen within the small window of 6,000 years, how can anything have survived? We’re talking meteorite impacts, earthquakes, volcanoes, tectonic shifts, ice ages, and so on, all compressed into a ludicrously small time frame. And that’s not even counting Noah’s flood. It’s odd that the Bible doesn’t mention these catastrophes, given that the Earth must have been constantly bombarded, shaken, frozen, burned and otherwise tormented.

"I do think they sound a bit insane."

And 6,000 years is beyond insane. It's beyond ridiculous; the evidence that the Earth is billions of years old is so overwhelming that the overwhelming majority of scientists consider it a fact. Even many creationists have been forced to admit this, particularly intelligent design advocates who want their enterprise to seem “scientific”.

"4000 years is long but at least it can be proven."

Where in the scientific literature does it say that 4,000 years is the cut-off date for "proof"? Do you, in fact, have any idea what techniques scientists use to determine age in rocks?

"I hope the evolution apologists think more deeply and hard about the insanity of the figure they're purporting before they are so sure of writing God off."

I hope you think about the nature of evidence before writing off centuries of it for the sake of a creation myth, and think about the fact that the universe doesn't care about our preconceptions and prejudices. Whether we find the truths revealed by science comforting or disturbing is utterly irrelevant.

"Is it a coincidence that women have one less bone than men?"

They don't, hence it's not a coincidence. TalkOrigins says it well:

"1. Men and women have the same number of ribs.

2. The Genesis account may be an explanatory myth for the absence of a different bone. Most male mammals have a baculum, a bone for stiffening the penis. Humans are one of the rare exceptions, relying on hydraulics instead. Genesis 2:21-23 could refer to its removal from Adam. A baculum, unlike a rib, is associated with reproduction. The closing of flesh mentioned in Genesis 2:21 could refer to the raphe, a seam on the penis and scrotum. Biblical Hebrew has no word for penis, so another term would have to be used. The Hebrew word for "rib" has other meanings such as the supporting columns in trees, or planks in doors; it could have referred to a structural support generally (Gilbert and Zevit 2001)."

It seems creationists aren't too big on humility, when they preach to others what they themselves haven't even bothered to look into.

"I don't know about animals as I never did biology"

I AM doing biology, and let me assure you that I've heard all this nonsense before.

"Is it a coincidence that every part of our body from our eyelashes to our armpit hair have a function that makes sense?"

No, it's not a coincidence, it's called natural selection. You are well advised to look into it (from a genuine scientific source, not the religious junk).

"I see the logic of the survival of the fittest, but it does nothing to support evolution."

In other words, you don't see the logic.

"Evolution and atheism came about when the pride of men, one of the greatest sins God knew about got the better of them, giving them the false bravado to think they can explain the world and explain God away with their human intellect."

It came about when thinking people looked at their world free form preconceptions and came to a better approximation of the truth, away from the dogmatic and evidence-deficient worldview offered by Christianity.

I'm sorry if I sound abrasive; it's not your ignorance that annoys me - that in itself is nothing to be ashamed of, for we're all ignorant about various things - it's your arrogance, and the way you seem to think you can tell others - who are clearly more well-informed than you are - what's what, as though you had attained some measure of understanding about the things you invoke. I’m sorry, but clearly you haven’t, and I could talk for hours about why. Perhaps you think that being Christian gives people the authority to talk down to others; it emphatically does not, and I'll gladly talk down to them when they start getting above themselves.

Skywolf said...

skywolf - I forsee some interesting debates with you in the future over at my Blog...

I look forward to it, 'kitten. *grins back*

The Moose said...

Interesting how a discussion on like this reverts back to evolution, billions of years and such. There are other posts that discuss that at length.

As for this discussion, Skywolf calls Christians who say "homosexuality is a sin" hypocrites.

SW: "So they can hide their homophobia behind the Bible, but still quite happily munch on bacon sandwiches, wear mixed fibres, and uphold equal rights for women (although these aren't always the case across the board, admmittedly)."

Just as much as it isn't tolerated for someone to speak on scientific matters here with ignorance, it shouldn't be accepted for someone to speak about "the law" of the Bible without a complete understanding of it. The argument of women's rights, eating pork, and mixed fibers had no weight whatsoever.

The Bible may not be the compass for your life but it is the foundation for many of the modern institutions we hold so dear including marriage. According to the Bible, homosexuality is outside God's will for our lives JUST AS much as any sex outside the boundaries of marriage.

That being said, there is never ever a cause for someone who claims to be a follower of Christ to show anything but love for their fellow man. This doesn't mean that they believe that what the other person is involved in is right but rather that they value them as a human being and even more so that God values them.

The Bible is the guidepost for my life as a message of freedom, justice, mercy, love, compassion, and hope. Through it I have come to know my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Do I believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to know peace? Yes. Not right for you? Fine but don't write it off until you have pursued it to its end. God loves you with a passion unrivaled by any human on earth.

I ached to discuss the evolution thing but I thought the discussion for this post needed to come back to the Bible and it's authority in our lives (or lack thereof in others).

Thanks again for all of your openness. It has been interesting for me to read these thoughts. Thanks for allowing me to share mine.

Skywolf said...

I do actually have a good understanding of the Bible, Moose. A complete understanding? Probably not. But I'm not sure anyone has that, do they? I fully understand the fact that most of the laws I referred to are ancient Hebrew laws that it is widely accepted no longer have a place in today's modern society. But I would argue the very same for the laws against homosexuality. And I still ask why it is acceptable to declare certain laws no longer relevant whilst upholding other laws that appear equally irrelevant in today's world?

You seem to be saying that the argument against homosexuality is simply an argument against sex outside of marriage. That would be a logical argument, seeing as how homosexual marriages are still impossible in the majority of countries. But I don't believe that's the argument that's normally used against homosexuality, is it? I'm sure you can come up with the verses more readily than I can, but there are passages in the New Testament (mainly from Paul, I believe?) that condemn a 'man laying with a man' outright. There is no mention of marriage in these passages, or a lumping of this with the rule against sex outside of marriage, as far as I'm aware.

I respect the fact that you use your Bible as your guidepost. But people all over the world say the same thing, and yet often have very different ideas of how to live their lives. So surely there are many different ways to interpret and use the Bible in one's life? If so, one person declaring that their interpretation of it is correct and must be followed by everyone else (which was the origin of Kevin's post) seems arrogant, does it not?