Saturday, January 06, 2007

Cor ad cor loquacity

Armstrong has weighed in once again:

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2007/01/response-to-steve-hays-further-defense.html

Before I delve into the details, in his current response he has posted a picture of Pee Wee Herman, while in his prior response he posted a picture of Alfred Kinsey.

The innuendo is that anyone who opposes the Catholic stance on masturbation or contraception is in the same camp as these two poster boys of sexual iniquity.

Let’s remember that Dave belongs to a denomination which is the world leader in clerical pederasty.

If he chooses to paint with a broad brush, then he will be indelibly stained from head to toe in the process—especially when he’s surfing the web for portraits of Pee Wee Herman and Alfred Kinsey. Clearly someone needs to install a v-chip on his computer.

“We see it all over the place: in liberalized divorce laws, in easy acceptance of abortion in the wake of the sexual revolution (while the Catholic Church never wavered on the issue), in acceptance of contraception (previously regarded as grave evil: Luther and Calvin absolutely despised the sin), starting with the Anglicans in 1930, and now almost universally; now homosexuality is increasingly accepted, etc. Masturbation is just one sexual issue in a tidal wave of compromise in Protestantism considered as a whole.”

Three points:

i) He disregards the liberal/conservative fault-line which runs through Protestantism.

ii) He disregards the fact that his own church is a leonine on paper, but sheepish in practice.

iii) Not to mention the deeply entrenched subculture of sodomy within the Catholic priesthood.

“First of all, it's not my responsibility to also answer your replies to Alan; it's his. Why should I get involved in inter-Protestant squabbles?”

Now he’s backpedaling. Dave posed an accusatorial question which I had already answered. So I pointed him to the preexisting answer.

As soon as I do that, he does an about-face.

“Secondly, you disregard huge portions of my reply, so I am not bound to deal with every jot and tittle of yours.”

No, you’re not bound to deal with everything or anything I say. If, however, you pose a specific question which I specifically answered, then you are being unresponsive to the way in which you yourself framed the issue.

“Even Frank Turk doesn't dare pursue the argument with you. At least he has the sense to know when he is in over his head. But I'm delighted to see that at least he gets it right on this issue. Good for him.”

Yes…well…my informant at the Vatican tells me that CafePress is just a front organization for the Knights of Malta, of which Frank is card-carrying member. I realize that you’re way too far down the food chain to be in the loop, but when Stigmata II comes out this summer, you’ll have a better grasp of Frank’s pivotal role in the advent of the Antichrist.

Don’t be taken in by that family photo album mock-up of his. His “wife” is really a Carmelite nun, while their “children” are rent-a-kids from the off-season cast of Rugrats. I’d love to tell you more, but Cardinal Kasper was speaking off the record.

“Every lawyer learns these tricks, because every lawyer will occasionally have to argue a lost cause and will have to come up with nonsense that is ‘believable’ enough to hoodwink and fool twelve human beings on a jury with illogical and fallacious gibberish.”

I’m glad to see you share the same opinion of Karl Keating and Jonathan Prejean that Svendsen, White, Engwer, and I do.

“No Christian can fully live by the entire code of Christian conduct (or even very well at all).”

This begs the question of what constitutes the Christian code of conduct. The reason that the Catholic church has a history of clerical concubinage, clerical pederasty, and other widespread sexual scandals is that it has an unnatural and extrascriptural code of conduct.

By setting such a surreal, inhumane standard, it inevitably falls into gross iniquity, for the ironical consequence of legalism isn’t greater morality, but greater immorality.

“As I noted: who of us isn't guilty of massive shortcoming with regard to lust or greed or gluttony? But I don't see you constructing fanciful, wishful, desperate apologetics for any of those sins.”

Comparing masturbation to greed begs the question of what is sinful and what is not.

“The Bible I read says stuff like ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ and ‘with men it's not possible, but with God, all things are possible.’ Do you have so little faith in God's power and guidance that you are prepared to assert that certain sins are literally unable to be overcome, or so rarely that we can't even apply such passages and grand encouragements to them?”

This is the same Pentecostal pietism as Juan’s. In my reply to him, I distinguished between natural impulses and sinful impulses. I also distinguished between different ways of dealing with them. 1 Cor 7 is a case in point.

“By your reasoning, the growing chastity movement shouldn't even exist. The liberals tell us it is impossible for young people to restrain their sex drives. But there they are: all these heroic teens who haven't bought into the lie of ‘animalism’. Now here you come along in all your supposedly ‘conservative’ and ‘biblical’ glory and try to lie to us that it is virtually impossible to not masturbate, as if God isn't powerful enough to give the grace by which to overcome that sin.”

Several problems:

i) You beg the question by assuming that masturbation is sin. But that’s the very question at issue.

ii) You also beg the question by equating masturbation with fornication. But I’ve distinguished the two.

iii) I’m all for sexual restraint, including premarital abstinence. But sexual restraint needs to be defined in Biblical terms, with Biblical remedies, and not tendentious classifications or Pentecostal pieties.

iv) I also think that many young people should marry at an earlier age. We have a culture that, for economic reasons, postpones marriage—with predictable results.

“If anyone disagrees, you mock them and pillory straw men with reckless abandon.”

Dave, you’re such a fund of unwitting comedy that it would be a crime to let so much raw material go to waste. I'm just attempting to be a responsible citizen in the stewardship of natural comedic resources.

“Since a person isn't conscious at the time; therefore not culpable, it is irrelevant to the discussion.”

It’s a sexual outlet outside of procreation—which is directly relevant to the issue at hand.

“Granted, there is usually an erotic dream that could be said to have derived from cultivated lust, but the thing itself is not a sin. Or do you habitually accuse sleeping people of committing crimes?”

Notice how he completely misses the point of the analogy between masturbation and wet-dreams—as if I’m arguing that masturbation is sinful because wet-dreams are sinful.

“In both cases the man is by himself.”

A man who performs coitus interruptus is “by himself.”

You see the difficulty in debating with a guy who has such an elastic definition of terms, where antonyms become synonyms.

“In pornography or masturbation with internal fantasizing, "women" are used in the abstract as tools. They are still dehumanized and cheapened and lowered to means to an end. Just because a woman isn't really there makes no difference, according to Jesus' principle of lust already occurring in the heart and hate already being the root of murder.”

i) I’ve discussed the problem of pornography elsewhere.

ii) But while we’re on that subject, what does Dave think about all that risqué art you find in Italian churches—much of which was commissioned by the papacy? R-rated Catholic piety.

A Catholic worshiper would have to bring a very dark pair of shades to Mass to keep his mind on the homily.

It’s really rather funny to compare Armstrong’s high-minded talk about “internal fantasizing, ‘women’ are used in the abstract as tools. They are still dehumanized and cheapened and lowered to means to an end. Just because a woman isn't really there makes no difference, according to Jesus' principle of lust already occurring in the heart and hate already being the root of murder. When such a person is later with a real flesh-and-blood woman in a moral situation of married sex, these sins (sadly) often continue to have an effect, because if you have habitually abused the gift and have approached women as objects, useful only for selfish lust and pleasure” with the kind of artwork you find when you take a tour through the historic churches of Rome—not to mention the homoerotic angle to some of the art.

iii) Dave is citing Mt 5 rather than exegeting Mt 5.

“Obviously, you have only the dimmest comprehension of the Catholic sexual teaching that you so delight in mocking and lying about (presumably if you knew how ignorant you were on this score, you wouldn't mock).”

I pose these rhetorical questions to smoke out the duplicity of Catholic teaching on contraception.

“The sin lies in the deliberate separation of the procreative and pleasure functions of sexuality.”

Which is exactly what happens whenever a married couple has sex under conditions, whether natural or artificial, where conception is not in the cards.

“Hear this, and hear it well (for the next time you attempt to seriously analyze serious sexual teaching from the Catholic Church): our teaching is not: ‘every time you have sex it must literally be possible for the women to have a child’.”

“Literally” possible to conceive. As opposed to what? Figuratively possible to conceive?

This is where Catholic moralism instantly crumbles in a heap of pixie dust.

“I don't know, Steve; why don't you tell me why you answered me, then, if you care so little? Why did you write a virtual book in response to Dr. Blosser, who is also a layman like myself?”

Because you paid a visit to my combox, and because some people get their Catholic theology from laymen like you.

“Secondly, it is irrelevant what belief-system I belong to if my argument is true and carries weight.”

There’s a reason why serious Catholic writers submit their writings to an official approval process to receive the imprimatur.

“That's simply a subtle form of the ad hominem argument.”

Read Peter Geach on ad hominem arguments.

“Thirdly, you engage in your customary ignorant, cynical strategy of trying to create an artificial clergy-laity dichotomy which is not taught by the Church.”

To the contrary, it’s the Magisterium which engages in a cynical strategy of letting the laity stick its neck out instead of the Magisterium. That way, if the laity gets its head chopped off, the Magisterium can plead plausible deniability.

The laymen are cannon fodder for the Magisterium. Laymen are the foot soldiers. They assume the intellectual risk of failure. If they successfully storm a city, then the Magisterium will ride in after the fact and take possession. If they are mowed down, the Magisterium escapes without a nick, because it was sitting on a hill, waiting to see how the battle would go.

That strategy avoids the public debacle of Humanae Vitae, when a Pope is imprudent enough to lead the charge, and be shot to pieces in the process.

“Right. You freely admit that the Onan passage deals with contraception, yet you want to claim that contraception isn't frowned upon in the passage?”

i) Yes, because you’re making an illicit move from the specific to the general in the teeth of contextual markers to the contrary.

ii) I’d add that if Gen 38 is the primary prooftext for the sin of contraception and masturbation, then why is it not cited in that connection in Humanae Vitae or the Catechism of the Catholic Church?

Like many converts to Rome, Dave is more Catholic than the Pope.

“Yet your position within your paradigm is far more troublesome and self-contradictory: you stand there as an individualist (that which your Tradition inconsistently glorifies) and expect me to take your word as Gospel Truth and authoritative and immediately profound, when in fact, on this very issue, you differ wildly from Luther and Calvin: the very founders of your overall Protestant system (who agree with me).”

Calvin is not the rule of faith in Calvinism. Scripture is.

“Okay, what am I supposed to do: pretend instead that Christians through the centuries did not condemn masturbation and that suddenly in the 1960s, Christians woke up and figured out that what was previously almost universally despised as sin now is simply biological, morally-neutral, practical activity (just as Protestants did in the 1930s and 1940s with contraception)?”

This is the stereotypically Catholic historical fallacy about a mythical Christian consensus.

The vast majority of Christians never wrote on this or any other subject of Christian morality or theology.

This patently fallacious appeal is really an appeal to a statistical fraction of a fraction of a fraction of Christians over the past 2000 years who were literate and had an institutional platform within the church from which to speak.

Moreover, the historical appeal is self-refuting. A primary reason why the mythical consensus of opinion on this or that issue has unraveled is in direct proportion to increasing rates of literacy and mass education.

As ever more of the laity were in a position to read for themselves, the official gatekeepers could no longer able to say: “We know better—take our word for it.”

As a result, some tradition teaching has survived scrutiny, while other pieces of tradition have been unable to withstand scrutiny.

Speaking of which, let’s take a closer look at ecclesiastical tradition:

“Roman Catholic thinking on this issue [birth control] goes back at least to St. Augustine…Marital intercourse could be justified (using categories of a later period) as an example of the principle of double effect. Intercourse involves the satisfaction of sexual desire, which Augustine did not treat as a good, but it also served the purpose of procreation which was a good. When done with the purpose of procreation marital intercourse was morally justifiable, despite the ‘negative’ result of satisfying sexual desire,” J. S. Feinberg & P. D. Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World (CB 1993), 168.

“The next major development came from Thomas Aquinas. While Aquinas rejected Augustine’s suspicion of the physical, his basic position on birth control amounted to the same thing. Coupling the Aristotelian notion of causes with natural law ethics…Aquinas concluded that contraception was outlawed, for it thwarted the natural purpose of the sex act, which is procreation. Engaging in sexual intercourse without the intent of procreation was, therefore, considered sinful. This meant, of course, that intercourse with one’s pregnant wife or with a sterile woman was sinful, because intent to procreate was impossible. In the Middle Ages there was even debate about whether intercourse with one’s wife was lawful of the sole purpose was to satisfy sexual desire so that one would not be tempted to commit adultery. Many thought such a motive made it unlawful,” ibid. 168-69.

Little further change in the Catholic position occurred until the twentieth century. In 1930 Pope Pius XI published the encyclical Casti Conubii…Using Augustinian and Thomistic reasoning and interpretation of Scripture, he condemned contraception. However, he claimed that it does not follow that sexual intercourse is sinful in marriages where, through natural causes, procreation is impossible. Moreover, he stated that though procreation is the primary purpose of marriage, sexual intercourse in marriage also serves such secondary ends as fostering of mutual love and the abatement of lust,” ibid. 169.

Notice two things about this summary:

i) Catholic tradition is not as monolithic as Armstrong presents it when opposing Catholicism to Evangelicalism.

ii) The most traditional parts of tradition are opposed to theological innovations and moderations of the traditional position which Armstrong now takes for granted.

“Right. So all Christians prior to 1930 were utterly mistaken when they opposed contraception, then the lights went on in the profoundly Christian culture of 1930 England and Christians finally got it right.”

I assume he’s alluding to St. Gallup of Aquitaine. And I’m waiting for Armstrong to hyperlink us to the Medieval polling data which supports his conclusion. Is this contained in the Vatican archives or St. Catherine’s monastery?

“And sexually-repressed Catholics who don't even allow priests to marry (so they can get divorced in record numbers and have notoriously-disproportionate dysfunctional families like Protestant pastors do).”

Oh, so the reason for the ban on married clergy is that, if given the chance, Catholic clergy would divorce at the same rate as their Protestant counterparts.

Therefore, the church refuses to countenance married clergy for fear of scandal—because the Catholic priesthood would prove untrustworthy if given the opportunity to fulfill the cultural mandate (Gen 1:28).

With such a vote of confidence from a Catholic epologist, who am I to oppose the priesthood?

“First of all, Fr. Harrison's article was primarily about contraception, not masturbation, with secondary application to the latter.”

Which limits its relevance to the immediate issue at hand.

“Thirdly, neither he nor I nor the Catholic Church invented the scenario whereby the same word in both Hebrew (zerah) and Greek (sperma) could be used both for plant seed and human sperm.”

Which is not the point at issue. At issue his the absurdly free-associative allegorization, as if the same word has the same referent.

Christ is a lion, the devil is a lion; ergo: Christ is the devil. God is a rock, Peter is a rock; ergo, Peter is God.

“To simply dismiss this present interpretation out of hand does insufficient justice to those aspects of the Bible. Protestants are often guilty of this, in their over-emphasis on biblical literalism and ignorance of historical fourfold exegetical methods.”

If you want to treat the parable of the sower as an allegory for the sin of birth control or the sin of masturbation, and use this exercise as a showcase for your brand of hermeneutics, that’s fine with me.

You make my job quite effortless with examples like these. I only have to stand back and point. The laugh-track does the rest.

“I expect to find tons more hidden treasures in the Bible before I die, and I would hope that anyone who loved the Bible would feel the same way.”

You’re mistaking buried treasure for fool’s gold and rhinestones.

“I regarded it as purely a historical question, abstracted from the question of how these Jewish sources came to their conclusions.”

Fine. We have dueling experts. Stalemate.

“Because I'm not required to. Most of you could care less what any Catholic thinks about anything anyway, so why would I waste my time (speaking pragmatically)?”

i) It’s significant that Armstrong is out of touch with standard Catholic scholarship.

ii) I don’t care what a Catholic qua Catholic has to say. But I’m always game for a good argument.

“If he wasn't killed due to contraception, then you have to explain why he was killed.”

Been there, done that.

“Since the penalty for failure of fulfilling the levirate law wasn't death, it makes little sense to assume that he was killed by God because of that.”

Been there, done that. As well as Tom R. As well as Gene Bridges.

“Nice try. If God decided in His providence that someone was to be infertile, then who are we to mess with that by technology and again separate procreation from the sexual act just as we separate sexual pleasure from procreation?”

And if man were meant to fly, God would give him wings. Who are we to mess with our terrestrial mode of locomotion?

The Wright brothers were the Margaret Sangers of aviation.

For 2000 years, Mother Church rode around in a horse-and-buggy. If it’s good enough for Mom, it’s good enough for me!

“This mentality involves the opposite sin of contraception: in one case couples reject God's possible will that they have children, or more than one or two children (the fashionable number today: below zero population growth), in the other, they reject the fact that the man is infertile and try to circumvent the normal course of sexual relations.”

I see. Does Mother Church feel the same way about canes, pacemakers, wheelchairs, prescription glasses, hearing aids, and prosthetics—or do these enjoy a papal dispensation from the damnable taint of mortal sin?

“So (everyone) note what has been done: you assume that I meant an age that my words do not prove (I often, e.g., refer to my ten-year-old son as a ‘little boy’ - it's a relative term).”

Even a ten-year-old is prepubescent. So Armstrong’s usage, both before and after damage control, is subject to the same Freudian premise.

“It stinks any way you look at it and you should be ashamed of sinking to such a level.”

This from a man who associates anyone dissenting from Catholic morality with Pee Wee Herman and Alfred Kinsey.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Pray For Albert Mohler

Albert Mohler's condition has worsened. You can read about it here.

And Juliette is the sun

My discussion of masturbation has clearly hit a raw nerve in some quarters. Let’s remember how this got stated. Philip Blosser had launched an attack on sola Scripture by, among other things, charging that the Protestant rule of faith leads to liberal morality, and he cited the shifting Protestant position on masturbation as a case in point.

I simply took issue with Catholic moral theology at this juncture. What is surprising is that anyone would be surprised that I might take issue with a point of Catholic moral theology.

Let’s recall that while the Reformation is best remembered for theological controversies over sola fide, sola Scriptura and the like, another central concern of the Protestant Reformers was sexual ethics. The restoration of a Biblical view of sex and family life.

It’s easy for some of us to take this for granted because we are historical heirs of that tradition.

I’ll begin on a high note with Frank Turk. As was to be expected, he, along with Tom R, is the most reasonable of my critics.

CENTURI0N SAID:

[1] You asked, "Are you suggesting that it’s sinful for man to want to make love to his fiancé, and that his desire only ceases to be sinful the moment they tie the knot? Surely that’s not your position."

“Yes, that is my position.”

Sorry, but that’s way too Manichaean for my blood.

“If a Dad wants to kill the man who murdered his son, that's sin; if a judge orders the execution of the murderer, that's not sin but justice. Same act: different context -- even if the motive of ‘serving justice’ is inside both.”

Well, the problem with this illustration is that I don’t think it’s wrong for a man to want to kill the man who murdered his son.

And it isn’t intrinsically evil for him to actually kill the man who murdered his son. In the OT we had the avenger of blood.

This doesn’t mean it would be the right thing to do under our own system of justice, where that is delegated to second parties.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, because it’s just an illustration. But it does illustrate a lack of common ground.

“Here is, I think, the problem -- you equate the matter of ‘having children’ and ‘having sex’.”

No, I don’t equate the two. What I did was to tick off three normal, ordinary reasons that a man, especially a Christian male, would want to marry a woman. I didn’t equate them, although, in this case, they are naturally interrelated. But the motives are distinguishable.

“There's not question that you must have sex to have children -- but the pre-marital notion of ‘I want her to be the mother of my children’ is not a euphemism, even if some treat it that way.”

I never said it was, and I don’t see the relevance of this observation to the issue at hand.

“Motherhood is more than being the object of sexual fantasies, and choosing a woman who will make a great mother is more than making sure she'd satisfy one sexually.”

This is both a false dichotomy and a misstatement of my position. And, frankly (pardon the pun), it shouldn’t be necessary for me to exert so much effort to defend the obvious.

But let’s take a contrasting example. Especially in the past, when there was more of a social stigma attaching to sodomy, homosexual men used to marry women just to keep up appearances. They would lead a double life.

But aside from the other immortalities involved in this arrangement (hypocrisy, sodomy, infidelity), it is wrong to marry a woman if you cannot love a woman the way a woman was meant to be loved.

It wrongs her to marry her if you don’t feel the way a normal man would feel about a woman. She’s entitled to a husband who covets her for being all that a woman can be, and only what a woman can be.

I don’t know why I have to belabor these elementary truisms.

I think part of the problem is that some Christians are overreacting to our licentious culture. And in their reactionary stance, they don’t make adequate room for God-given sensuality.

“Let's also be clear about this: any man is going to have sexual desires for any woman in the right circumstances. The issue is if those circumstances are not just useful or practical but morally correct. It is not morally correct to have sex outside of marriage -- not outside of a marriage which exists, and not apart from a marriage which does not exist. Sex outside of marriage is morally wrong. I am sure you don't deny this.”

All true.

“However, if your point is that the desire is neither moral or immoral but neutral, I'd have to think about this some more.”

No, that’s not my point. The desire is either moral or immoral.

“[2] Regarding Mt 5, the only way to say what you are saying here Steve is to say that fornication is not wrong. If fornication is not wrong, then the argument is yours: if it is wrong, then even if the specific example Christ makes in Mt 5 about adultery is only about married people, the precept has to be applied to the sexual sins unmarried people will encounter.”

This raises a valid issue. Several points:

i) We need to begin our interpretation of any given passage with what that passage has to say. Taking it on its own terms. Paying careful attention to the specific wording and literary allusions.

The Scriptural prohibition against fornication should not dictate or prejudge the interpretation of Mt 5:28. We first need to listen to what that text has to say about itself.

ii) Adultery and fornication are both analogous and disanalogous. They are analogous inasmuch as both are sexual sins.

But if doesn’t necessarily follow that if extramarital desire is a form of adultery, then premarital desire is a form of fornication.

a) For starters, what makes extramarital desire illicit is that you are already in a committed, covenantal relationship.

For a married man to, fantasize about a woman other than his wife involves an alienation of affections. He no longer covets her. Rather, he covets another woman. He is defrauding her of the emotional fidelity he owes her, and vice versa.

That is not analogous to premarital desire between a single man and a single woman.

b) In addition, in the economy of God, premarital desire is meant to be directed towards a state of matrimony, and not away from it.

This takes its point of departure with generic sex appeal. Why do men in general take an interest in women in general? Well, there’s more than one reason—but this is one of the reasons.

It is then supposed to move from the generic to the specific. A particular woman as a particular object of affection. A potential or prospective mate.

Christians shouldn’t be uncomfortable about stating the obvious. And we shouldn’t cede the ground of natural, normal sensuality to the unbelieving world.

“It's not enough to say, ‘well, Scripture is silent on such a thing’.”

But, of course, that’s a straw man argument because this is not all I’ve said on the subject.

“Scripture is silent on the use of the dagger in murder -- and they had daggers in those days. Does that mean we can interpret that killing with a dagger is OK, or does it mean that we can understand the precept that unjust killing is murder -- whether it is done by a rock, a sword, a knife or an arrow?”

A poor comparison. We all agree that murder is a sin. Therefore, the fact that the methods may vary is inconsequential.

“There are things in Scripture which can be understood even if they are not explicitly worked out for us to the most obvious degree.”

Once again, this is true. But in that event, people need to lay out a cogent argument for their inferences.

DAVE ARMSTRONG SAID:

“And another thing: what the hell difference does it make to the discussion if you or I or all of us here reading and commenting (including women: let's not leave them out, as if this is only a "guy thing"!) have committed this sin or not? How is that the least bit relevant? __So, e.g., if you condemn Catholic commenters as hypocrites, if they happen to admit that they committed this sin, why could they not come right back (on the same kindergarten-ethics basis) and condemn you as rationalizing sin and calling evil good for self-interested purposes if indeed you are doing it yourself? This has nothing - NOTHING - to do with the merits of the case pro or con.”

i) Actually, I offered a detailed reply to this question in my response to Alan. You’ll notice that Dave simply disregards my reply, and instead launches into a hysterical tirade.

ii) I’m not particular concerned with the rather banal issue of hypocrisy per se.

Rather, as I already explained, the question of hypocrisy goes to the issue of whether the critics have a viable code of conduct.

A point of inconsistency can be relieved in either of two different directions. It’s hypocritical for a white supremacist to inveigh against miscegenation if he has a black mistress on the side.

This doesn’t mean that he should be a more consistent white supremacist. Rather, he should achieve consistency by ditching his racism.

If people have a code of conduct that they can’t live with, then they may have the wrong code of conduct. If their ethical ideal is simply unlivable, then it may be unlivable because it is unnatural.

Christian ethics is not supposed to be utterly impractical or unrealistic.

ANONYMOUS SAID:
“berny, paul wrote in romans that if your conscience tells you something is a sin (even though it is not), if you do it you have sinned. so listen to your guilty feelings.”

This oversimplifies what Paul has to say about the weaker brethren. Indeed, Paul makes the point that guilty feelings can arise from faulty theology. And the lingering guilt is a sign of spiritual immaturity in this particular respect. We need to correct our theology and outgrow our false guilt.

There are many legalistic theological traditions that saddle believers with a false sense of guilt. They pile on a backbreaking load of extrascriptural prescriptions and proscriptions. This needs to be challenged, not codified and canonized.

DAVE ARMSTRONG SAID:

“The two are ethically similar if not identical insofar as they both separate ejaculation from its proper sphere (in the context and act of intercourse, open to procreation, which is its deepest ontological purpose).”

What about a wet-dream?

“Onan deliberately removed himself from proper sexuality and ‘interrupted’ it with de facto masturbation.”

That’s eisegesis, not exegesis.

“Homosexual sex, or sodomy, is another instance of the same. They are all essentially the same on a moral plane because they deny the divine purpose of sexuality: procreation.”

So infertile couples should divorce? When a wife passes her childbearing years, the husband should dump her for a younger woman and sire more kids by his second (third, fourth, fifth…) wife. Is that it?

“Besides, most Protestants are no more opposed to contraception than (many) are to masturbation.”

True.

“You may say this is solely contraception and has no bearing on masturbation at all, but even if one grants that (I don't, per the above) you still have to explain how the Bible explicitly condemns it and Onan winds up dead. Theories about his failure to do the levirate duty, etc., fall flat with cross-referencing, as I showed, particularly in my longer paper.”

i) To begin with, why should I care for what a Catholic layman has to say? Dave doesn’t speak for the Magisterium, now does he?

ii) And while we’re reading his paper, we might also want to read a few standard commentaries on Genesis.

Notice that Dave simply disregarded the exegetical argument which I reproduced from the commentaries I quoted.

“So you are in a position of defending a sexual morality that IS explicitly condemned in the Bible, in the case of contraception (specifically an old variant of it: coitus interruptus).”

i) Only on your blatantly acontextual interpretation.

ii) However, Dave does us a favor by pointing out that there is an analogy between support/opposition to/for contraception, and support/opposition to/for masturbation.

Many Evangelical critics of masturbation are, indeed, rather inconsistent on this point.

“Any way you slice the cake, the Protestant who has (knowingly or not) caved into the sexual revolution in part, has severe biblical problems to contend with.”

i) This is another part of Armstrong’s rhetorical shtick: pretend that challenges to Catholic views of contraception and masturbation automatically represent a capitulation of the sexual revolution, rather than a course-correction on the basis of grammatico-historical exegesis.

Over the course of 1500 years, the church piled up some traditional misinterpretations of Scripture. It’s necessarily to clear away the debris. And the job is still a work in progress.

“One may abstractly or conceptually distinguish the two, but it doesn't follow that 1) they were not both condemned by the ancient Jews, or 2) that Genesis 38 has no bearing on masturbation at all.”

Notice the bait-and-switch:

i) The fact that they may both be condemned in Jewish tradition doesn’t mean that you can use one as an interpretive grid for the other.

ii) Jewish society was a tribal society. The land belonged to the clan. That’s a major reason for levirate marriage. It was adapted to the socioeconomic conditions of the time.

Onan was depriving his sister-in-law of her property rights. Her livelihood. Her chance at having legitimate offspring who would support her in her own old age, as opposed to selling her body as a prostitute to keep from starving. That’s the ANE background of Gen 38.

***QUOTE***

Fr. Brian Harrison did a huge study on ancient exegesis of Genesis 38: "The Sin of Onan Revisited": http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt67.html__He showed that your overall contention is incorrect and that the Talmud also associated masturbation with the condemnation of Onan: "

6. In the parable of the sower, the idea of seed which falls upon the ground, rather than in it, symbolizes a fundamental sin: rejection of the Word of God (cf. Lk. 8: 5-6, 12-13). In Hebrew poetic thought a woman's body in its capacity for fruitfulness and motherhood is sometimes alluded to under images of a "garden" in which seed is to be sown (cf. Song of Songs 4: 12-16; 5: 1; 6: 1-2). Indeed, the very fact that in Hebrew the same word (zerah) is used for both 'semen' and 'seed' suggests that the potential for fruitfulness is understood as essential to any sexual activity."

***END-QUOTE***

Okay. So the Lucan version of parable is a really an allegory about the sin of masturbation. That’s very creative. Who would have known?

What a pity that in the two standard commentaries on the Gospel of Luke, which also interact with the synoptic parallels, as well as other Catholic scholars (e.g. Lagrange, Cerfaux, R. E. Brown), neither Fitzmyer nor L. T. Johnson discern the esoteric meaning of this parable.

Continuing:

***QUOTE***

"The Encylopedia Judaica (Vol. 4, p. 1054, article "Birth Control") states: "Jewish tradition ascribed the practice of birth control to the depraved humanity before Noah (Gen. R. 23: 2, 4; Rashi to Gen. 4: 19, 23)." (For further confirmation of Jewish views on this point, cf. H. Hirsch Cohen, The Drunkenness of Noah [University of Alabama Press].) The Encylopedia article adds that on the basis of Gen. 38: 9-10, "the Talmud sternly inveighs against 'bringing forth the seed in vain', considering it a cardinal sin (Nid. 13a). . . . Strictly Orthodox [Jews], . . . for religious reasons, refuse to resort to birth control." In the same Encyclopedia, under "Onanism" (Vol. 12, p. 1495), it is stated that the act of Onan "is taken . . . by the Talmud (Yev. 34b) to refer either to unnatural intercourse or (cf. Nid. 13a) to masturbation. The Zohar [a 13th century work] expatiates on the evil of onanism in the second sense." Other works by Jewish authors corroborating this tradition include D. Feldman, Marital Relations, Birth Control and Abortion in Jewish Law (New York: Schocken Books, 1974) and J. Cohen, 'Be Fertile, Increase, Fill the Earth and Master It' (Cornell University Press, 1989).

***END-QUOTE***

i) No one denies that Gen 38 has reference to contraception. That isn’t the issue. The issue is what makes contraception illicit in that particular situation.

ii) Even if some post-Biblical Jewish traditions gloss Gen 38 as a case of masturbation, that doesn’t make it valid exegesis. Why doesn’t Armstrong quote from a major Jewish commentary on Genesis like Sarna’s?

Likewise, why isn’t Armstrong quoting any contemporary contemporary Catholic commentaries on by major Catholic OT scholars?

***QUOTE***

Fr. Harrison summarized: " The classical Jewish commentators - who can scarcely be accused of ignorance regarding Hebrew language, customs, law, and biblical literary genres - certainly saw in this passage of Scripture a condemnation of both unnatural intercourse and masturbation as such.

Two problems:

i) Dave has cited very little supporting material to document the masturbatory interpretation. Instead, he’s tried to obfuscate the issue by amalgamating different sources that say different things.

ii) It’s quite possible that a Medieval Jewish commentator like Rashi would be ignorant of ANE culture. That’s about 2500 years under the bridge.

***QUOTE***

A typical traditional Jewish commentary puts it thus: "[Onan] misused the organs God gave him for propagating the race to unnaturally satisfy his own lust, and he was therefore deserving of death." And this is undoubtedly in accord with the natural impression which most unprejudiced readers will draw from the text of Genesis 38."

***END-QUOTE***

If this is typical, then it’s typically wrong. It’s clearly out of context.

On the one hand, it’s oblivious to the framework of levirate marriage.

On the other hand, coitus interruptus is scarcely the most satisfying form of sexual expression. It’s only used as a contraceptive measure, and not because it’s more pleasurable.

***QUOTE***

Moreover, Joseph Schenker is the Professor and Chairman of the Department Of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Hadassah, University Medical Centre, Jerusalem, Israel, wrote: "The collection of semen can present problems because of the prohibition against masturbation and "seed wasting". Masturbation is strictly condemned by the rabbinical sources: "Thou should not commit adultery, neither by hand, nor by foot". Coitus interruptus, or withdrawal, and the use of condoms are generally prohibited on the basis of the Biblical injunction against "spilling of the seed needlessly". "http://www.obgyn.net/women/women.asp?page=/eago/art13 See the texts in the Babylonian Talmud itself: Niddah 13a / 13b: http://www.come-and-hear.com/niddah/niddah_13.html

***END-QUOTE***

i) This is irrelevant to the original intent of Gen 38.

ii) It also illustrates a point of tension in Catholic moral theology. On the one hand, we’re told that masturbation is wrong because it thwarts the proper purpose of sex, which is procreation.

On the other hand, when masturbation is used in the service of artificial fertilization, in the case of couples who are unable to conceive by natural means, it is still treated as immoral.

***QUOTE***

This involved what is known as the "levirate law": the duty to produce offspring with the wife of a dead brother. But this is not why God killed Onan, since the penalty for that was public humiliation and shunning, not death (Dt. 25:5-10). Context also supports this interpretation, since immediately after this (Gen. 38:11-26), is the story of Onan's father Judah refusing to enforce the law and allow his other son, Shelah to produce a child with Tamar, his daughter-in-law. He was afraid that Shelah would be killed like Onan and his other wicked son, Er (38:7,11). Judah acknowledges his sin in 38:26: "She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah." He wasn't killed, so it is unreasonable to contend that Onan was judged and killed by God for the very same sin that Judah committed (in the same passage). Onan was judged for contraception (sex with the deliberate intent to unnaturally prevent procreation).

***END-QUOTE***

i) To begin with, it’s unsurprising that we find some detailed differences between patriarchal common law and the Mosaic law, for the patriarchal honor code is a social custom, whereas the Mosaic law, to the extent that it codifies and canonizes preexisting social mores, also reformulates them in a more nuanced fashion. The Mosaic law doesn’t merely rubberstamp tradition.

ii) Armstrong’s interpretation is incoherent, for, on the one hand, he contends that Gen 38 doesn’t have reference to levirate marriage since refusal is not a capital offense in Deut 25; on the other hand, he also says that Shelah doesn’t suffer the death penalty for refusing to honor the custom.

So, in basing his argument on the respective penalties, Dave, to be consistent, would have to deny that Deut 25 is also dealing with Levirate law.

iii) The sin of Onan was to game the system by pretending to honor the law when he was really dishonoring the law.

“It only is in modernistic Christianity and biblical interpretation; this is the problem. Fancy that!: Steve Hays, the victim of modernism in both sexual morality and hermeneutics. How ironic…”

i) Catholic casuistry is far from treating every case of conscience as indubitable. Just consider the debates over Probabilism, Equiprobabilism, and Probabiliorism.

Does that represent a surrender to the sexual revolution?

ii) Let’s also not forget that Catholicism represents a moral compromise. It arbitrarily distinguishes between natural methods of contraception and artificial methods of contraception.

***QUOTE***

That's right. The liberals make the same exact argument about kids having sex: they'll do it anyway and can't control themselves so we must let them do so and no longer say it is wrong. This reduces human beings to the level of the brute beast. Nice going there. They give them condoms: you wink while little boys play with themslves and arouse fantasies and improper sexual feelings. Let 'em dop it. This is pure sexual revolution thinking, through and through. It's not traditional Christian or biblical teaching, by any stretch of the imagination.

i) Dave is now descending to pure demagoguery. I said that we shouldn’t automatically give into our feelings because some of our feelings are irrational or unjustified. We can’t always avoid having certain feelings, but we can avoid acting on them. And I gave false guilt as an example.

Dave turns this on its head, as if I said we should automatically act on our irrepressible feelings, which was just the opposite of what I actually said.

ii) Dave also has a rather odd view of young children who explore their anatomy. Does he really thing that a two-year-old who “plays with himself” is indulging in sexual fantasies?

Evidently, Armstrong subscribes to the Freudian thesis of infantile sexuality, which is the basis for organizations like NAMBLA.

Nice going there. This is pure sexual revolution thinking, through and through, it’s not traditional Biblical teaching by any stretch of the imagination.

JUAN RIVERA SAID:

“You know guys, I guess you're right. Since you would only be considered ‘unclean’ in the OT, it's really not that big a deal. I mean, you didn't have to slaughter an animal over it. God just declares that you're ‘unclean’. Only ceremoniously so. I guess I'm just being prudish and uptight about the whole thing. No Christian man should have a problem with being declared ‘unclean’ by his God...”

Having backed himself into an untenable corner, Juan is now being silly as well as inaccurate.

i) Does he think that defecation, menstruation, and conjugal relations are sinful? Or does he draw a distinction between ritual impurity and intrinsic evil?

ii) And, no, you didn’t have to slaughter an animal for the types of ritual impurity we’re talking about. Rather, a ritual ablution is all that was required.

“Let's see Steve, when you use your sex organ, is it sex?”

Well, that all depends. What you call the sex organ has more than one function. I don’t equate urination with sex, do you?

I’m sorry to inflict this on the reader, but that’s what happens when people back themselves into a corner. They flail about for any argument, however desperate, to extricate themselves.

“Steve, does a man consciously and purposefully initiate a wet dream? A wet dream may be the result of lust in a man's heart, but it is not a conscious act, is it?”

i) Now he’s shifting ground. His original objection to masturbation was that it violates the procreative purpose of sex.

Since that argument doesn’t work for wet-dreams, he’s having to shift gears. But, in so doing, he’s tacitly withdrawn his original argument.

ii) He’s also adopting the Arminian principle that only conscious sin counts as sin.

“And I'm Reformed and a Calvinist, btw, not Pentacostal.”

In that event:

i) You should appreciate the ethical difference between the moral law and the ceremonial law.

ii) You should avoid an Arminian definition of sin.

iii) And you should avoid a Pentecostal epistemology, which—to judge by your statements thus far—is your operating epistemology.

“Was Paul's answer in 1 Cor. to fast and pray when faced with sexual temptation? No, he said "it is better to marry than to burn". I don't recall him saying, well, if you can't find a wife, look for a nice, quiet dark place and Onanize it.”

He was addressing the case of those who felt an irrepressible urge to marry, not with those who couldn’t find a wife.

“What is God's intention with regard to sex, Steve?”

What is God’s intention with regard to wet-dreams, Juan?

“You asserted that necrophilia is dealt with in Scripture.”

No, I didn’t say that. You denied that Scripture addressed the question of necromancy. Two problems:

i) The Bible does address necromancy.

ii) Necromancy is not a form of sex.

The only form of neco- sex would be necrophilia—although that is not discussed in Scripture.

So what are you referring to? To judge, both by you previous statement and your present statement, you don’t seen to know what you mean.

“The reason I am animated about this topic Steve, is because I know that a lot of young men struggle with this. There are guys out there like Berny that have guilty consciences with regard to it. And this isn't like being afraid of heights, some irrational fear you have to deal with. This is a moral issue before God, and guilt is involved because man knows in his heart it is wrong.”

A man’s heart is hardly the measure of morality. There are legalistic denominations that think it’s sinful to take a sip of communion wine. So they substitute grape juice.

A Christian conditioned by this unscriptural tradition may feel conscience-stricken about imbibing communion wine.

If he feels in his heart that communion wine is sinful, is that an objectively valid argument against the use of communion wine? Or must that question be settled on exegetical grounds?

“But don't cause others to stumble because, while the biblical principles about sexual purity are all around you in Scripture, you just didn't come across the ‘word’.”

A straw man argument, since the silence of Scripture was never framed with reference to the absence of a particular word.

But what is far more likely to cause others to stumble are extrascriptural legalisms.

“Ought the man of God be chained to his libido and his penus? Or is he in union with Christ?”

It would be difficult to come across a finer example of a false dichotomy than this monkish antithesis.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Romeo and Julietiquette

Both Alan and the Turkoman have chimed in on the current thread. Clearly I’m moving up in the world. I’ll have to trade in my Hawaiian shirt for a Tux.

BTW, glad to see you stateside, again, Alan. And in my mother’s home state.

RHOLOGY SAID:
“[Quoting me]--How does Juan know about the guilty feelings which accompany masturbation? Is he leading a double life?”
>>Steve, you're doing a really good job breaking down this debate and clarifying it. Please don't spoil it w/ out-of-place statements like this.

For several reasons I don’t regard this statement as out of place:

i) In reading Catholic literature on human sexuality, it’s as if you stumbled across a Scholastic treatise on angelology. It’s so utterly out of touch with reality. Ethereal and hair-splitting.

Or it’s like those B-movies which are so badly scripted that you can never suspend disbelief. You know very well that if you were in the same situation as that character on the screen, you wouldn’t do what he did. Indeed, you can tell from the actor’s expression that he can’t do it with a straight face either.

You read this literature, in which a Catholic man is pretending to be offended by something that no man really finds offensive, and he expects you, the reader, to pretend that he’s not pretending to be offended by it.

And one runs across this attitude in certain Protestant circles as well when we get on the same subject.
I just want to see some of the male discussants drop the studied pose of shock and horror. And I’m not referring to you or Frank.

ii) Apropos (i), I appreciate the candor which you, Frank, and Berny bring to this issue. And one of my concerns with the break-out-the-smelling-salts swooning and hyperventilating of guys like Juan is that it shuts down honest discussion.
Men share a common, unspoken understanding of what they do or used to do behind closed doors (depending on how old they are), but even though it’s an open secret, there’s a conspiracy of silence and collective mistrust due to the social stigma attaching to masturbation in some Christian circles—even though everyone concerned may be in the very same boat.

It’s like the waning years of the Soviet Union when no one believed in Marxist-Leninism anymore, but no one wanted to be the first to admit it.

So you end up this oddly circular, self-reinforcing police mechanism where you know that I know, and I know that you know, but we both continue to enforce a code which neither of us may believe in, because I’m afraid to say what I know you already now, and you’re afraid to say what you know I already know.

It’s as if all the prison guards walked off the job and never came back, but years later, none of the prisoners had ventured outside the prison walls, but had, instead, taken to guarding one another so that no one was allowed to escape. I won’t let you escape because you won’t let me escape, and you won’t let me escape because I won’t let you escape. A self-imprisoning captivity—born of mutual fear.

iii) Another reason I bring it up is that if the very men who are castigating masturbation as a mortal sin or damnable transgression are obviously complicit in the very same activity, then it raises the question of whether their code of conduct is viable.

As you know, Francis Schaeffer use to argue that non-Christian worldviews were simply unlivable. They said one thing on paper, but in practice…well…it was impossible to put into practice.

Contrary to popular and hostile representations of the Bible, the Bible is a very practical, down-to-earth book.

Indeed, one of the ironic criticisms of Scripture is that it’s too realistic and down-to-earth.

Now, since we’re sinners, there’s a sense in which Scripture sets the moral bar out of reach. Yet what the Bible condemns isn’t nature, but fallen nature.

“So far in the discussion you've been dealing w/ the act itself, which I can understand. I would like to know your thoughts on it in relation to the fact that SO MUCH of the time, the act is accompanied by lustful thoughts (I speak from personal exp as well as common sense). Obviously, that would make it sinful. Given that, this debate is mostly academic.”

Except that it isn’t obviously sinful. The problem is that “lust” is a loaded word with negative connotations. Thus, whenever that word pops up in a traditional translation or discussions thereof, people assume that a sinful desire must be in view.

The mere word has acquired a free-floating life of its own. So whenever the word is employed, it triggers the adventitious associations. And that, in turn, prejudges the interpretation.

But as France points out in his commentary, the desire in view isn’t sexual desire generally, but a *forbidden* desire. And what makes it a forbidden desire isn’t that the object of desire happens to be a woman in general, but *married* women in particular—the wife of another man.

The text needs to be interpreted on its own terms, according to whatever literary allusions are in play. It’s wrong to load it up with extraneous overtones.

CENTURI0N SAID:

“Steve. Carson aside, don't Jesus' comments on this matter coincide with Paul's admonition that it is better to marry than it is to burn with passion? (1Cor 7).”

They’re complementary, but I’m not sure of how that’s relevant to the point you’re trying to make.

“I think you are right about one thing: the Bible is almost silent on the matter of masturbation -- but not quite. But it seems to talk around the matter a good bit. Deu 23 says one becomes unclean because of a nocturnal emission of semen; Lev 15 talks about a variety of emissions making a man unclean. None of these are treated, I admit, as ‘take a sacrifice to the temple’ sort of uncleanliness -- you wash your hands and your clothes and you are unclean until the next day. But I think we also can't take all of these examples as demonstrations of utter silence on this matter.”

A couple of issues:

i) My basic point is that Scripture isn’t bashful about spelling out exactly what it means when condemning sexual sin. So, given the fact that masturbation is so prevalent, if it were a sin, it’s surprising that Scripture doesn’t come right out and say so.

That, of itself, isn’t a knockdown argument one way or the other. But I think it does create a presumption against assuming that masturbation is intrinsically evil.

ii) I agree with you that some passages of Scripture are relevant to the moral status of masturbation. So what about Lev 15 and Deut 23?

a) In Lev 15, a nocturnal emission is discussed in the same breath as conjugal intercourse and menstruation. All three contract ritual impurity.

There is a debate over why these activities would contract ritual defilement. One plausible explanation (favored by Currid and Ross in their respective commentaries) is that sexual activity was a feature of pagan worship (i.e. male and female temple prostitutes), so Scripture classifies these three activities as ceremonially impure, not because they were sinful, but to dissociate sex from the sexual immorality connected with pagan worship.

b) In any case, since the Bible clearly does not regard conjugal relations as sinful, then, presumably, by discussing it in the same breath as a nocturnal emission, the moral status of a nocturnal emission would be analogous to conjugal relations.

c) And, although Scripture doesn’t say this, we also know, as a matter of experience, that nocturnal emissions often involve erotic dreams. That would make it analogous to masturbation.

d) As to Deut 23, here a nocturnal emission is discussed in the same breath as defecation. But since, presumably, the Bible doesn’t regard defecation as sinful, then—by parity of reasoning—it wouldn’t regard a nocturnal emission as sinful.

e) As you might expect, the antidote to ritual impurity was ritual purification.

You only have to compare this to the punishment meted out for sexual sin in Scripture (e.g. rape, adultery, sodomy, bestiality, incest) to see the completely different moral status of these two different categories of sexual activity—ritual impurity and genuine impurity.

“OK -- I was going to wait for Steve to respond to what I posted already, but there's something he has said here that needs some more attention -- he has equated the sexual desire which leads to marriage with any ol' sexual desire.”

Have I? Sorry, but I’ve done nothing the kind.

There’s a fundamental moral a difference between sexual desire involving single men and women, and adulterous or incestuous or homosexual desire.

“I think your view -- that sexual motivations are all of the same moral value.”

Save for the fact that this isn’t my stated or implicit view.

“You see the sexual desire of a man or woman as always warranted, only to be bounded by some other factor -- privacy perhaps, or modesty.”

No, that’s now how I see it.

“Sex inside marriage is the view of Scripture -- leave and cleave, become one flesh, be fruitful and multiply, the husband for the sake of the wife and the wife for the sake of the husband. In that, sex is made for marriage, yes? That's what it is introduced to and for. All other sex is, by definition in scripture, sinful.”

All true.

“I agree with your definition elsewhere that sex is inherently a 2-partner deal -- but the question really is how those partners are engaged. For example, Scripture tells us that rape is wrong; Scripture tells us incest is wrong; adultery is wrong; fornication is wrong; bestiality is wrong; prostitution is wrong. Those edicts exclude all kinds of non-spousal, non-human sexual gratification. To get around all of these, you have made the urge that every married man has had toward his future bride into a virtue -- when in fact it is not a virtue until after the two are joined as one.”

Two problems:

i) I haven’t tried to “get around all of these.” I agree with your moral valuation at this particular point. But—

ii) What motives a Christian man to marry a woman? Well, there’s more than one reason. He enjoys her companionship. He wants children.

But he also wants to make love to her. He desires her sexually.

This is a primary inducement to Christian marriage. Passion. Sexual passion.

Are you suggesting that it’s sinful for man to want to make love to his fiancé, and that his desire only ceases to be sinful the moment they tie the knot? Surely that’s not your position.

What would be sinful is to carry through with his desire apart from the actual, monogamous, lifelong commitment to which the marriage ceremony bears public witness and seals certain legal obligations.

But the fact that a man has a desire to marry a woman, because he desires her as a man desires a woman, is natural, normal, and entirely proper.

He desires her to be his wife—with all that entails. This is a premarital sexual desire for conjugal sexual relations.

It’s sexually acquisitive and covetous, but in a way sanctioned by Scripture.

“You do that by citing 1Cor 7 -- but notice that Paul doesn't say there that the virtue is the urge which brings on a greater blessing: Paul says, ‘because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.’ That is, the married union is the context in which the urge is not immoral.”

i) So the sexual urge is only moral within marriage? And not the sexual urge to be married—to be married to this individual in particular? If so, I profoundly disagree.

ii) I’d add that there’s a process of elimination at work. A generalized sexual attraction which, in turn, narrows down the field to a more specific object of desire as a potential or prospective mate.

iii) Paul doesn’t indicate that the desire leading to marriage is sinful. To the contrary, in 7:36 he indicates that the desire leading to marriage is a natural, healthy appetite.

“But this is where your line of reasoning seems disturbing. If we accept the idea that the lust I had for my wife was neutral when we were dating, and is neutral now, then we have to grant that my lust for some other woman would have to be of neutral value -- and it simply is not.”

i) I don’t accept that idea. And, as I said earlier, the word “lust” is charged with invidious overtones that we carry over from other occurrences.

I would simply use a word or phrase like sexual desire or attraction or passion.

ii) I don’t regard sexual desire between a single man and a single woman as neutral. Rather, I regard it as a feature of God’s design for the sexes.

iii) And even if there are occasions when it is sinful in that broader context, I hardly regard it as sinful when it has a view to marriage. It’s good for a man to desire a woman with a view to marriage.

iv) Moreover, I certainly do not regard it as merely neutral within marriage.

“Even in Carson's view of the Mt 5 passage, the problem becomes a problem of contexts for the desire. I suggest that one's desire for one's wife is sanctified when it is a desire inside marriage, even though one had the same desire 10 minutes before the wedding and it was sinful.”

i) I’m unsure as to how you arrive at such a position.

One potential source of the problem is that to say sexual desire outside of marriage is illicit is ambiguous. For that would either have reference to premarital desire or extramarital desire.

Extramarital desires are illicit, but premarital desires are not necessarily illicit. Indeed, they may be perfectly appropriate.

ii) In my opinion, you are taking Mt 5:28 far too generally, as if it’s talking about men and women in general, and sexual desire in general. That’s not how I read it.

Rather, it’s talking about adulterous desire.

“But when it comes to the matter of willful engagement of desires, I think you have missed the point regarding marriage as an ordinance and the context it creates.”

I don’t regard marriage as sanctifying a sinful desire. Rather, marriage is the framework within which a proper, divinely-implanted, desire finds its proper, divinely appointed, outlet.

“Here's my thought on the matter, and it's more than I'm usually willing to say on this subject: Christ made it clear that to look on a woman with lust who is not your wife -- that's adultery.”

No, that is not clear. What is clear, from Mt 5:28, is that it’s incipiently adulterous for a married man to sexually covet a single woman (or vice versa), or for a single man to sexually covet a married woman (or vice versa), or for a married man and married woman to covet someone else’s husband or wife.

The actual wording, along with its literary allusions to the Decalogue, are far more narrowly drawn and tightly targeted than mere, generic, sexual desire.

And the distinctions are hardly arbitrary. Premarital desire leads to marriage, whereas extramarital desire leads out of marriage. So they are not morally equivalent by any means. One is a natural good, leading to a greater good, whereas the other is an evil leading to a greater evil.

If you want to make your point with some other verse, you’re welcome to bring it into the discussion, but this verse doesn’t get you to your destination.

“Without saying more than I am saying, I find it hard to believe that a man can do the behavior in question here and not participate in the behavior Jesus has classified as sin. Masturbation may not be sin in and of itself -- but it is for all practical purposes tied to something Christ defines as sin.”

That is building on a false premise.

Onanism

JUAN RIVERA SAID:

“I'm surprised by your neutrality with regard to masturbation and single males. First of all, God created sex to involve two parties, ‘He made them male and female’.”

i) This is a good example of how our reading of Scripture is unconsciously conditioned by extrascriptural assumptions.

Juan defines masturbation as sex. But the Bible doesn’t define masturbation as sex. And the Bible doesn’t define it as sex for the simple reason that the Bible doesn’t discuss masturbation at all.

So his appeal is circular. He classifies a certain behavior as sexual, although the Bible is silent on this specific behavior, and then he plugs that extrabiblical definition into the Biblical framework of sexual sin.

ii) Aside from the above stated circularity, there is also a basic incoherence in his definition. If the Bible defines sex as a two-party transaction, and masturbation is a solo behavior, then, by definition, masturbation wouldn’t qualify as sex.

iii) Juan is half-right. Wherever the Bible talks about either licit or illicit sex, it’s a two-party transaction, whether premarital sex, extramarital sex, marital sex, sodomy, or bestiality.

So, one could agree with his premise, but draw a different conclusion. Since the only forms of sexual sin targeted in Scripture involve two-party transactions, masturbation doesn’t fall under the operating definition.

Again, I’m not saying that masturbation isn’t sex. And I’m not saying that masturbation isn’t wrong.

I’m simply noting that, as of yet, the critics of my noncommittal position aren’t coming up with very good arguments.

Instead, they’re importing extrascriptural assumptions into the text of Scripture, as well as resorting to very slipshod forms of reasoning.

This is well-meaning, but it illustrates the fact that they really haven’t thought through the issues before rushing to judgment.

iv) Let’s revert to an example which another commenter introduced. What about nocturnal emissions? This is something the Bible does discuss (Lev 15:16-17; Deut 23:10-11).

How does a wet-dream fit into Juan’s definition of sex as a two-party transaction involving a husband and wife?

Would this qualify as sex? Is masturbation sexual, but a wet-dream is asexual?

“Secondly, He created sex to be pleasurable within the marriage covenant.”

Is a wet-dream pleasant or unpleasant?

“As well as for the purposes of procreation.”

Is Juan’s position that a married couple should refrain from sex whenever the wife is pregnant?

What about couples in which either the husband or wife are infertile?

“Any departure from the clear testimony of Scripture with regard to God's purposes with regard to sex, is a perversion of it.”

i) What’s the purpose of a wet-dream?

ii) Should a husband divorce a barren or post-menopausal wife? Should a wife divorce an impotent husband? Should they stay married, but have a platonic relationship?

“Sex was not meant to be a one-man show.”

Is a wet-dream a one-man show?

Is a wet-dream sex? If not, what makes masturbation sexual, but nocturnal emissions asexual?

Note that, in Scripture, nocturnal emissions are discussed in the general context of sex (Lev 15:16,18).

“Nor does God's approval rest upon it because Scripture is silent.”

A strawman argument. The question at issue is whether we should infer either approval or disapproval where Scripture is silent.

“To my recollection, Scripture is silent with regard to necromancy also.”

Actually, the Bible has a fair amount to say on the subject of necromancy.

I assume that Juan said “necromancy” when he meant “necrophilia.”

“Does that mean it's OK for teenage boys or single men to engage in it?”

The question is whether we can mount an argument from analogy from what the Bible does discuss to what it doesn’t discuss.

This, indeed, is often possible. And it’s an essential element in the application of Bible ethics to our own time and place.

However, an argument from analogy is just that—an argument.

Too many critics are substituting an *assumption* from analogy in lieu of an *argument* from analogy.

“I am surprised that you suggest masturbation could be a safety valve for pre-marriage teenage boys or single men.”

Why is that surprising? If wet-dreams serve that purpose, why not masturbation?

“Would it not rather be God's intention that we exhibit some kind of self control, and realize our dependence on Him for grace to keep a pure heart and mind.”

i)That’s the way Pentecostals talk. If we fast and pray, we will pray our way out of temptation.

Church history is littered with the wreckage of conscientious, but naïve Christians who thought they could overcome temptation by performing spiritual exercises of one sort or another.

ii) We need to draw a couple of distinctions. It is possible to overcome a sinful temptation by the means of grace.

It is not possible to overcome a natural temptation by the means of grace.

Consider Paul’s discussion of sexual temptation in 1 Cor 7. Does Paul counsel a Christian to overcome his sexual appetite by fasting and prayer and other spiritual exercises?

iii) The fact that we can overcome a sinful temptation doesn’t mean that we can overcome it by any means whatsoever. Not just any means will do.

One of the best ways of queuing yourself for spiritual downfall is to foster a false expectation. To be overconfident in your powers of resistance because you think that you can simply pray your way out of temptation.

“In no way will masturbation simply be a physical stimulus, God didn't make men that way.”

Are you speaking from personal experience? Otherwise, what is the source of your insight?

If you speak from experience, why are you so disapproving?

You know the old saying—98% of men do it, and the other 2% are liars.

“You are attempting to light a camp fire that will, eventually, turn into a forest fire.”

i) The sexual appetite, like any other appetite, can degenerate into obsessive-compulsive behavior.

But that’s not the only source of danger. Many professing believers have succumbed to sexual sin because they were operating with a hyper-spiritual pietism and quietism which made them an easy mark when temptation came knocking.

And some of them have been so disillusioned by their downfall that they never underwent spiritual restoration. They fell away and never returned to the faith.

ii) In addition, a false sense of guilt over masturbation can be equally if not more destructive to a believer's moral, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.

“Waiting for marriage, focusing upon the Lord, denial of the flesh, make one's marriage to be truly delightful and an occasion to rejoice in God's goodness to us in providing the particular woman He has chosen for us.”

In 1 Cor 7, did Paul recommend “denial of the flesh” as a general antidote to sexual temptation?

“I think you've missed the boat on this topic.”

And I think your boat is taking on water.

“Masturbation is just as much of a perversion of sex as is fornication, homosexuality, and adultery.”

Are you now a prophet? Since the Bible never says any such thing, I take it that you have a private revelation to share with us.

“Solo sex is not beautiful, it's ugly and pathetic.”

Is a wet-dream ugly and pathetic?

“I think, if we are to be honest, everyone knows in their conscience masturbation is wrong. Would you, before God, care to defend it? Why does guilt accompany it? Not because of a misinformed conscience or Victorian social mores. The Holy Spirit testifies to its' sinfulness in your heart....”

i) This is another bit of Pentecostal pietism. Ironically, the reliance on spiritual impressions has led many professing believers to make shipwreck of their faith.

Juan needs to cultivate a more Biblical notion of decision-making, such as:

http://www.amazon.com/Finding-Will-God-Pagan-Notion/dp/0802839746

ii) How does Juan know about the guilty feelings which accompany masturbation? Is he leading a double life?

iii) There’s a circularity in the appeal to a guilty conscience. If you think it’s a sin, then, of course, you’ll feel guilty about it. But that begs the question.

Conscience is not an infallible rule of faith. Scripture is.

“Conscience” can easily degenerate into the self-justification that “if it feels right, do it!”

iv) I’d add that all Christians share his feelings. For example, this is how John Wenham describes his own experience:

“I noticed too that it was most likely to take place when I had had a blissful time of bedtime prayer with a great sense of love for God, when presumably erotic pressures were strong,” Facing Hell: An Autobiography (Paternoster 1998), 53.

Is that an argument *I’d* use to validate masturbation? No.

But it goes to show that Juan’s subjective appeal cuts both ways.

DAVE ARMSTRONG SAID:

“I find it equally remarkable that in 32 comments on masturbation and Scripture, not a single mention was made of Onan thus far. Yet his story was understood very widely as dealing with both masturbation and contraception, for many centuries.”

As this is a textbook example of why tradition is an unreliable guide to exegesis.

i) In context, Gen 38:8-10 is describing coitus interruptus rather than masturbation. These are hardly equivalent.

Onan was having sex with a woman. That is how he achieved a state of sexual climax.

Is that interchangeable with masturbation? I don’t think so.

ii) Talmudic literature draws a clear distinction between contraception and masturbation:

Cf. E. Ullendorff, “The Bawdy Bible,” BSOAS 42 (1979), 425-56.

So it’s Armstrong’s interpretation which is anachronistic.

iii) He also rips the verse out of context in another way:

“It refers to the levirate law of antiquity (the Latin *levir* means ‘a husband’s brother’)…Here and elsewhere (Deut 25:6; Ruth 4:10) it is for the preservation of the dead brother’s name and family. In addition, the law is one of inheritance so that the dead mans’ property will remain in the extended family. Finally, it is for the protection of the widow so that she should not have to sell herself for debt or have to marry outside the clan,” J. Currid, Genesis (Evangelical Press 2003), 2:209.

“Onan apparently does not want to father a son who will prevent him from receiving his deceased brother’s inheritance,” V. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50 (Eerdmans 1995), 436.

“Onan’s refusal is explained by his knowledge that the son will not be his (38:9). We need to recognize, then, that there is a birthright issue here. Er was the firstborn and entitled to the birthright. If he has no offspring, the birthright will transfer to Onan. If, however, Tamar bears a son that is considered Er’s, the birthright will pass to that son. We can therefore conclude that Onan is punished by death for preserving his inheritance rights by disposing of the competition,” J. Walton, Genesis (Zondervan 2001), 668.

Does Catholic moral theology endorse bigamy? Does it sanction a married man cohabiting with his sister-in-law to keep the property in the family?

If not, why is Armstrong appealing to the tribal custom describe in Gen 38:8-10? It either proves too much or too little for his own purposes.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A House Divided

Dawkins and the Religion Petition

The Will to Disbelieve

The Will to Disbelieve: a Critical Review of the Loftus-Wood Debate by David Wood.

The Queering of the Priesthood

The Gay Priest Problem by Paul Shaughnessy

Pat, Pat, Pat, Pat, Pat!

In May, Robertson said God told him that storms and possibly a tsunami were to crash into America's coastline in 2006. Even though the U.S. was not hit with a tsunami, Robertson on Tuesday cited last spring's heavy rains and flooding in New England as partly fulfilling the prediction. My local newspaper reported today that this year there will be a major terrorist attack on US soil. "God didn't say 'nuclear' but it will be something like that." At times, Pat's like your crazy uncle from Alabama or West Virginia. (If you're a Southerner, you'll know what I mean). But recently, he's gotten even nuttier, and this needs to stop now. It's time to have the crazy uncle institutionalized, so to speak.

This needs to stop. And, you know, this is one of those times that I find myself siding with Roman Catholics and atheists alike. Sorry, Brother Steve Camp, you know I love you, but I'm doing some reverse "ECB" here. ;).

Now, I realize that this probably won't really have any result, because, well, we're all just cogs in the wheel as far as Robertson is concerned. However, Frank Turk, aka, "Centurion," has started an online petitition calling Robertson to stop, because he is, for all intents and purposes, dragging Christians as a whole down and making himself and the nation look foolish. If you're a Christian, I urge you to sign it and pass along the link to others.

It reads:

Whereas the Bible is God's word to all people in all places at all times, and points to the Son of God, Jesus Christ; in that, it is the final arbiter of God's revelation, and is given that men may believe and be saved, and not to advance anyone human being’s personal agenda,

and

Whereas we, the undersigned, take the Gospel of Jesus Christ seriously, for the sake of those who have not yet believed,

and

Whereas we, the undersigned, also take the word of God seriously, as it is God's word and not the result of some man's imagination,

and

Whereas we, the undersigned, also have a concern for the integrity of the whole church, regardless of denomination, to be a credible witness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ by proclaiming the whole word of God,

and

Whereas Pat Robertson has, in the last several years, abused the authority of Scripture, abused the license of a minister of God to expound of what "God has said" to him regarding prophecies and signs, and abused the position of high visibility to the public he possesses in those ways while representing himself as a minister of the Gospel,

Therefore, we respectfully and earnestly exhort him to stand down from his self-appointed position as "prophet" -- that is, one who receives God's own words and speaks them to the world apart from established Scripture -- and apologize to the church, and on behalf of the church to those who have witnessed his abuses, for his on-going representation of himself as a mouthpiece for God Almighty.

Because Mr. Robertson has made his errors publicly, we call for his apology publicly. His mistaken representation of his imagination as the word of God is a stumbling block to unbelievers, and discredits the Gospel, which is the only power to save.

If you agree with this, then please, take a moment and sign it. See here: http://www.petitiononline.com/fof0001/petition.html

Sanctification, Sex and Separation

To many of us—it was certainly so to me—this talk of victory over sin came to mean particularly and concretely victory over masturbation. I heard an Oxford theological college principal recently quoted as saying: “If Jesus had known the agony which his statement, ‘Whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart’ would cause millions of young men, he would have torn his tongue out.” It would be an overstatement to say in my case that it caused me agony, though one of my contemporaries was suicidal at one stage, as was a theological student whom I knew later on, but it was very troublesome and it was a long time before I came to a satisfactory understanding of the problem.

A number of considerations helped to save me in the matter of masturbation. For one thing my whole spiritual experience was built on the assumption that the Bible was God’s Word and that it was to this primary source that we should go for guidance. I found the Bible condemning all manner of sexual sins but this activity (said to be practiced by the great majority of men) is nowhere mentioned…In any case it was very near to nature, not far removed from a wet-dream.

It is a shame that for a millennium Christendom had all its sexual instruction from men who had had no experience of pure and happy sexual intercourse. It makes it difficult now to steer a course between a guilt-ridden anxiety on the one hand and a sinful laxity on the other.

All of us in the CICCU, I think, accepted the fact that a Christian should not have sex before marriage. With all the colleges being single-sex and only two of them being for women, there was not the pressure of continual contact experienced in modern universities. Most of us hoped to be happily married and were content to wait till marriage had come into sight as a practical possibility before forming alliances with girlfriends.

Incredible though it may sound today, this was to us one way of “seeking first the kingdom of God.” And God wonderfully added the blessing of happy marriages to nearly all of us. Some sixty of us went down from Cambridge in 1934 and we kept in touch with each other by six-monthly duplicated letters thereafter and, in spite of prudish upbringings and lack of sexual knowledge, not a single one of our first marriages went wrong.

In common with other evangelicals we had a strong doctrine of separation from the world. This consisted of a taboo on smoking, dancing, theatre, cinema, gambling and alcohol, and is often thought of as something negative, when Christianity with its belief in a Sovereign Creator ought to be supremely world-affirming.

J. Wenham, Facing Hell: The Story of a Nobody - An Autobiography 1913-1996 (Paternoster Press 1998), 52-56.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Lusting in one's heart

Anonymous said:
“dear steve, while i think most of the things you write are totally awesome, i am quite troubled by your approval of masturbation. don't you remember that jesus equated lust with adultery??”

Several issues here:

1.I didn’t say I approve of masturbation. I don’t approve or disapprove. From what I can tell, Scripture is silent on the issue, so I’m not going to condemn something as sin unless it falls under the condemnation of Scripture.

That doesn’t mean I commend it. It means that I have no firm opinion one way or the other.

2.What I do object to is an extrascriptural scrupulosity that is stricter than the Bible itself.

3.I agree with Keener, Carson, and Guelich that Mt 5:28 is blended commentary on both the seventh and tenth commandments. On that interpretation, the issue is one of adulterous sexual covetousness.

Examples would include a married man covenanting a single woman, a single man coveting a married woman, or a husband coveting someone else’s wife or vice versa.

4.Keener notes that “Jewish men expected married Jewish women to wear head coverings to prevent lust (single women were exempt, since they needed to find a husband),” 187.

This suggests that singles were expected to sexually appealing to the opposite sex—within the bounds of modest attire—for purposes of attracting a mate.

5.There is a dispute over whether the construction involves lust on the part of the first party—A is lusting for B–(e.g. Nolland) or whether it involves A provoking B to lust (e.g. Carson, with Blomberg straddling the fence).

6.There’s a question of how to interpret the apparent silence of Scripture on the subject of masturbation. On the one hand, Scripture is very specific and even explicit about naming sexual sins. On the other hand, masturbation is extremely prevalent.

If masturbation is a sin, then it’s a little odd that Scripture would leave the believer guessing about its moral status.

7. At the risk of stating the obvious, while a sexual fantasy can facilitate masturbation, masturbation can involve a purely physical stimulus.

8. At the risk of stating the obvious, even where a sexual fantasy is involved, sexual fantasies don’t necessarily take married women or even living women as their object.

One could fantasize about a long dead movie star. Or one could fantasize about a generically beautiful woman.

If a teenage boy has a fantasy about, let us say, Rita Hayworth, it’s hard to see how that would qualify as adulterous covetous lust. He is single and she is dead. So it doesn’t involve an alienation of affection on one side or the other.

Again, I’m not saying that this is right or wrong. I’m simply discussing it within the framework of Mt 5:28.

9.At the risk of stating the obvious, the lack of an erotic outlet for single men in their sexual prime is, itself, a source of lust and sexual tension. In that context, masturbation is a way of releasing the pent up, psychological preoccupation with sex.

This may be good or bad, but if we’re going to frame the morality of the act in terms of lust, we need to keep in mind that the objection to masturbation as lustful actually cuts both ways.

10.At the risk of stating the obvious, how do we teach our kids about sex (whether homeschooling or private Christian education) without visuals of one sort of another? Since premarital sex is illicit, the only licit alternative is either diagrams or an active sexual imagination.

11.I’m discussing this from a male standpoint because that’s the point of reference in Mt 5:28, and because I’m in no position to speak for women.

12. Sorry if this discussion is a bit graphic, but there are unspoken assumptions in this debate that need to be discussed in a frank and open manner.

Apparently, there are sectors of the church which are still too squeamish to dive into the details, but the details are an essential element in the moral valuation of the act.

Christian commenters are welcome to weigh in on this issue.

Mind your elders and betters!

For purposes of legal exegesis, which is to say as a matter of authority, this is perfectly well within the discipline; it is not EISEGETICAL but EXEGETICAL. There are plenty of ways to answer Roe v. Wade and its progeny as being defective forms of legal reasoning (including natural law) without the absurd consequence of tying our hands to the historical meaning even explictly contrary to the intentions of its authors, who understood it to be the charter of a nation to be applied by later generations, not merely some mundane catalog of then-current beliefs. Svendsen speaks like someone who has had no training whatsoever in Constitutional law, which has been an interest of mine since elementary school. Even the "originalists" like Scalia and Thomas, both of whom I respect a great deal as jurisprudes, don't hold to such a ridiculously hide-bound rule of interpretation. So what Svendsen considers an "unsound approach" is nothing other than the discipline of law, giving binding authority to texts, and where that is concerned, Svendsen knows nothing. I, on the other hand, have studied Constitutional law under Charles Fried, Richard Fallon, and Larry Tribe, so the reader can do the math. All I can say is that if legal exegetes interpreted Constitutional documents like Svendsen does, our legal system would degenerate to pure anarchy.

http://crimsoncatholic.blogspot.com/2006/12/christmas-comes-early.html

The problem with this lordly dismissal of the common lumpen is that, in a democratic republic, it does matter what the common lumpen happen to think, even of the Prejeans of the world hold the rest of us in contempt.

For the judiciary is a political creature—ultimately answerable to the electorate. Technically, the Federal judiciary may be insulated from direct accountability, but it depends on two other branches of gov’t to impose its will on the masses. It has no armies or police department at its disposal.

Unlike Federal judges, presidents and congressmen do have face the voters on a regular basis. It’s the Executive branch that enforces judicial rulings, while Congress wields an enormous degree of potential authority over the lower courts.

So Ivy League law schools don’t get to dictate judicial philosophy to the electorate. They can attempt to persuade us, but not to dictate. Popular sovereignty is king.

Indeed, Prejean’s “shut up and do what you’re told” approach is one reason that the liberal establishment has been losing influence over the years.

The judiciary has practical power to the extent that the other two branches voluntarily defer to it or implement its rulings. But if it oversteps its bounds, that can change. And if Prejean doesn’t like it, he can move to Brussels.

As Newt Gingrich points out:

Let met talk briefly about judges, and then I am going to talk about education and immigration. The issue of judges is not a complex one. It’s just a question of timidity. There is no judicial supremacy. It is an arrogation of the Warren Court in 1958, and has no historic precedent. Jefferson, when asked if there was judicial supremacy said that would be an oligarchy. Lincoln’s First Inaugural, in describing the Dred Scott decision of the Supreme Court—which extended slavery across the whole country, led Lincoln to run, and ultimately led to the Civil War—said we were not going to let a handful of judges redefine the American Constitution. It would be inconceivable.

So what do you do about it? Again, I am trying to embed this in historic fact. This is not theory. This is not ideology. This is fact. In 1802, the Jeffersonians, faced with courts deliberately packed by the Federalists, passed the Judiciary Act of 1802, which abolished over half of all the sitting federal circuit judges. The act didn’t impeach them; it simply said their jobs didn’t exist. They wouldn’t be paid, so they shouldn’t bother to show up. The judges were deeply offended. They promptly went to court, and the remaining federal judges essentially said, if we overrule the Congress, they’re going to abolish our jobs.

I cite this, because of the Ninth Circuit Court. We should just close the jobs of the two judges who said that it was unconstitutional to say, “One Nation, Under God” as part of the pledge. Let’s just say, “Terrific, you’re now retired.” I am citing this, because the first step to getting this done is to have people like you talk to your delegations, and then presently somebody will introduce a bill. Initially people will say that it’s very radical, but then as the courts behave more and more stupidly, people will get madder and madder. Finally, one morning we’ll do it, and then the judges who are left will realize that maybe they don’t want to be quite that bold.

This is a straight-out fight. The elected branches, the legislative and the executive, have every right to re-balance the judges under our Constitution. Remember, if you read The Federalist Papers, they refer to a division of power. There’s a balance between the three branches, so when the judges say that they are all powerful, the correct answer is, “No, you’re not.” The only way you prove that is to have the legislative and the executive branches take steps to change them.

http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=17624

Monday, January 01, 2007

Jacob Vernet - Lessons in Latitudinarianism

“We have no creed but the Bible.”

“Baptists use confessions descriptively, not prescriptively.

“Local church autonomy is an absolute.”

___________ violates “religious liberty.”

___________ violates “soul competency.”

___________ violates “priesthood of the believer.”

___________ violates “historic Baptist principles.”

or

If you don’t believe _______, _______, and _______, then you are to be disfellowshipped, even if these items exceed the parameters of our shared confession.

Who among us Baptists has not heard or read these ideas or exact words in Baptist politics in the past few decades? Why do we hear them?

We hear them because there is some truth to each one, yet there is another manner in which each objection can be taken in a misleading direction. We believe in Sola Scriptura. We use confessions, and Baptist history is littered with prescriptive and descriptive uses of confessions. We believe in local church autonomy, but we reserve the right to reprove our neighbors and, as a last resort, even disfellowship a church. On the other hand each of these principles can be abused.

In this article, I hope to elaborate a bit on the old adage that those who do not listen to history are doomed to repeat it themselves. Baptists are notoriously insular at times. One of the current concerns of Southern Baptists has, in the past few years, been the attitude on the part of other Southern Baptists that, “as the SBC goes, so goes the rest of evangelicalism.” On the other hand, there are those who have expressed concern about “Baptist identity” (defined by them in, for example, the IMB’s new missionary guidelines). In response, some have accused them attempting to so narrow the parameters of cooperation that they exclude all who do not share their beliefs from service, while at the same time accepting their support for missions.

From my perspective, one of the reasons this is a problem in the SBC is the nature of the Baptist Faith and Message. The current BFM is the fourth iteration of the New Hampshire Confession. It is used by churches and a denomination for which the NHC was not written. For example, given the history of the NHC, how can a soteriological synergist really read his doctrine into it, when the NHC was written with monergistic categories in mind? Logically, they cannot, yet many do. On the other hand, the BFM is quite clear on closed communion, but many SBC churches ignore it when it suits them, just as they seem to ignore the portion of the section on Religious Liberty that states clearly that the church should not resort to the state’s power in order to do its work.

One reason this may be problem in our current context arises from several generations who did not take the BFM seriously or as seriously as their forebears took the Philadelphia Confession when they signed the SBC Charter. In addition, seminary professors were signing off on the Abstract of Principles in some seminaries while not truly believing in them and teaching their content. Instead, they said they could sign them if they were allowed to (re)interpret them on their own. There are still some today who do the same thing, even on the conservative side of the aisle. As a result, on the one hand latitudinarianism arose and on the other pragmatism arose, for men decided “for the sake of ‘unity,” we shall put aside our differences.” That’s a laudable goal, but it resulted in a reductionistic approach on the one hand, as well as a pragmatic ethical undercurrent. In the end, as we shall see, doctrinal latitudinarianism and pragmatism, whether argued by theological conservatives or liberals, are just two sides of one coin on the crossroads to a slide into oblivion.

In this article, we examine the late 18th century period in Geneva under Jacob Vernet, as a case study. I think my Baptist brethren will recognize much of their history in the past century encapsulated in this article.

After the death of Francis Turretin, Amyraldianism (e.g. “moderate” Calvinism, in the parlance of that day), and then crypto-Arminianism invaded Geneva. This was followed by pragmatism, Enlightenment rationalism, and secularism. The door had been opened contrary to the desires of Turretin, within his own lifetime. It is also important to note that Vernet himself was one of the last orthodox men in Geneva, and, while this article will seem critical of his views, he is not to regarded as unorthodox in his personal views. Rather, his approach coupled with that of the others in Geneva’s Academy led to this situation. Vernet himself was a professor of theology from 1756 until his death in 1789. He inherited his theology, in part from Jean-Alphonse Turretin.

Turretin’s theology, he believed, was pastoral. Yet it resembled little in the way of orthodox Calvinism in Geneva of prior generations. Rather, it more closely resembled the Remonstrant theology. Amyraldianism had, contrary to the wishes of Francis, prevailed, and now it bore its fruit in Jean-Alphonse. Combined with the growing popularity of Enlightenment philosophy Geneva’s theology had so changed that by the time of Vernet, even those outside the Reformed faith were accusing Geneva of Socinian sympathies. These were somewhat overstated, but there is truth to the accusation, as we can tell from Vernet’s long and often convoluted responses to critics.

As we examine Vernet’s responses, read carefully, for you will find certain themes repeated today in broader evangelical circles and Baptist circles in particular. In the SBC’s fight against “liberalism,” ask yourself if the SBC, if it does not recover the material principle of the Reformation, the gospel itself, it will not sink into the depths of sloppy theology and pragmatic praxis, only to find itself walking down the same path from which they believe themselves to have recovered, only wearing a different pair of shoes, for, in the end, there is are often common principles that underwrite both radical separatist fundamentalism and syncretic liberalism.

Vernet, according to Martin I. Klauber ( “Theological Transition in Geneva from Jean-Alphonse Turretin to Jacob Vernet,” in Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment, ed. Carl R. Trueman and R. Scott Clark, Paternoster, 1999, 2005, 256-270, hereafter called Klauber), defined religion as a relationship between God and man in which we are obligated to honor and obey, fear divine justice, and depend on God’s grace (Klauber, 262). In doing this, he reduced Christian religion to ethical and practical terms. His interest was the promotion of a utilitarian, natural theology that he believed both atheists and skeptics would find palatable and relevant, as a “neutral ground,” in which all citizens could find common cause.

Likewise, he used natural theology as proof for the truthfulness of the faith. Again, looking for common ground with unbelievers. He did not mention doctrines like predestination and election or the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. He believed that evidentialism in the way of fulfilled prophecy and biblical miracles was a reasonable and convincing basis and less “fideistic” than the more complex doctrinal and exegetical defenses of the faith common then, in which fideism and rationalism had, during this period, become radically opposed philosophically.

To a certain extent, there is some truth here, for many today would defend the faith from a fideistic posture, as if faith was some sort of reason free leap. On the other hand, others will defend the faith from an evidentialist posture, as if autonomous human reason is able, from a state of nature, to apprehend and love truth without the illumination of the Holy Spirit. The former operates from a less than robust definition of faith, which is opposed not to reason in Scripture, but sight, and the latter suffers from a diminution of the noetic effects of sin on the human mind. In the case of Vernet’s Geneva, they also suffered from a less robust presentation of the Christian worldview and Christian theology, resulting in a minimalist approach that did not live up to their expectations.

Problems would arise through this minimalist posture. If something was deemed “unreasonable” it was to be rejected. Thus revelation itself did not arbitrate the object and content of faith, doctrine, and practice; rather reason, e.g. the philosophies and theories that prevailed in the age, arbitrated. It is one thing to say that reason is the handmaiden of faith and the two are not logically opposed; it is quite another to allow the philosophies of the day and not Scripture itself dictate what is reasonable, ethical, and doctrinally true. Reason is a tool, but it rests on sinking sand if it can be swayed by the ever changing winds of literary theory. We have only to look at the history of higher-critical theory and its theological fruit to see this phenomenon at work. In the end, in Geneva, to be a good Christian meant to be a good citizen, and vice versa, without reference to doctrine, within just a few generations.

For example, Turretin had written The Necessity of Revelation. Vernet turned this title to The Usefulness of Revelation, again to promote natural theology. In the end, he came to teach that the foreign, “heathen” could be saved, perhaps, without specific knowledge of Jesus Christ, but by their response to whatever natural light they may have. Does this sound familiar?

Vernet employed five principles. Note the lack of clarity, for some are true in one sense, yet untrue in another. Note also the common thread, “reason,” loaded with its 18th century philosophical meaning.

1. Faith must never contradict reason.

2. Revelation cannot contradict itself and shows the reasonableness of the Christian faith.

3. Revelation perfects natural theology.

4. Revelation provides specific information about Christ and eternal life.

5. Biblical miracles and prophecy authenticate true revelation.

By way of reply:

1. Is that true, or is it that reason must never contradict faith? What determines the content of “faith,” and “reason?”

2. Clause one is true, so far as it goes, but, again, what arbitrates what is “reasonable?”

3. Is this so, or is revelation superior to natural theology?

4. True, but what if reason determines something is not reasonable? Which do we accept?

5. What if we come to believe that the Bible itself is inauthentic?

As you can see, the lack of clarity results in responses from either a more conservative direction or a more latitudinarian direction. In addition, Vernet also stated that he believed Christianity had become overlaid with too many traditions and needed simplifications. His response was to use only the language found in the Bible. This was in one sense, one of the calls of the Reformers; yet on the other, many in Christian history have also used this same argument, like Alexander Campbell and Mary Baker Eddy, the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even the Arians. It is also the call of many a separatist fundamentalist who claim he has “no creed but the Bible.”

Vernet came into conflict with the French philosophers of the age, particularly Voltaire. the center of the conflict centered on Voltaire’s desire to bring the theater to Geneva. Vernet’s opposition rose not on theological grounds, but on practical grounds. How many times in Baptist politics in the past year have we heard men opposed a perceived vice on ethical and dodgy exegetical ground or raise ethical and philosophical but not substantive exegetical objections to the doctrines of grace?

D’Alembert later wrote an Encyclopedia article on Geneva in which he accused the Council of Pastors of Socinianism (Ibid, 266). Their response was lackluster at best. Here, it should be read for what it did not say as much as what it did say.

They affirmed the divine inspiration of Scripture. The affirmed the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit. They stated they believed reason is subservient to the Word of God, and they said we can know about eternal life by it. Then they defended their use of natural theology and philosophy, arguing these two did not contradict revelation.

The old orthodox adherents to the Second Helvetic Consensus saw this for what it lacked. There was, for example, no mention of the Trinity or a repudiation of Arianism or other others errors.

Vernet’s personal response was quite telling. He defended Genevan Christology, grace, and the Incarnation. However, he steered clear of words like “Trinity,” because he wanted to use the language of the New Testament alone. In the process, however, “no creed but he Bible,” gave way to heterodoxy as a result.

Vernet argued that he would not hold to even the most essential elements of the ancient ecumenical creed of Nicea in his vocabulary, for, he argued, they represented only the opinions of those bishops. That is, once again, true in one sense and not true in another, for Athanasius informed us that their deliberations were based on the exegesis of Scripture. Ironically, Vernet was also employing, in these statements, the same argument as the Socinians and, in another way, the Arians, who had wanted to only use biblical terminology and not dogmatic language. In fact, this was the argument of John Smyth among the General Baptists of the previous century, who eventually chose not to employ the Bible in any translation because anything, he believed, less than the original manuscripts should be avoided. Helwys parted ways with Smyth after he came to believe Smyth had adopted too many Anabaptist ideas, like their “heavenly flesh” Christology. General Baptists themselves had drifted into Socinianism by the time of Vernet. The next century, Alexander Campbell would employ similar argumentation, and it would become a familiar drumbeat employed by many crypto-liberal theologians in the 20th century, and it would also be adopted by many a fundamentalist up to the present day.

Should we appeal to tradition? Here is the problem: while it is true that Sola Scriptura means that Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith and practice for the Church in its normative state (e.g. past the time of inscripturation), it is not to be construed as “Solo” Scriptura, for the principle does state that we may also appeal to extra-biblical categories, like confessions, theological works, and creeds, as long as their authority and conclusions are subjected to Scripture and are valued in a secondary and fallible capacity. In departing from this second principle, the liberal and the fundamentalist who says he has “no creed but the Bible,” wind up walking hand-in-hand. On the other hand, those who disregard the first principle wind up piling error upon error and wind up with Sola Ecclesia, and not Sola Scriptura. Could it thus be that liberalism and fundamentalism, traditionalism and latitudinarianism, like antinomianism and legalism and hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism, are all two sides of the same coin?

Vernet even described the crucifixion distastefully as a “nude, disfigured, and bloody corpse” that is “not pleasing to the sight.” (Ibid, 268) Isn’t this precisely the language that opponents of the doctrine of penal substitution often employ in the present age?

He affirmed the unity of God and full divinity of Christ. However, he found himself reducing the Holy Spirit to a divine principle. He went on to affirm the Trinity, thusly redefined, and again emphasized its reasonableness and lack of logical contradiction. By 1814, Vernet’s successors had published a revised catechism, removed the doctrine of Christ’s divinity and redemptive work, and they denied that Christ should be worshipped. Instead, he should be honored.

Vernet stated that the pastors no longer strictly held to predestination, but stated that the doctrine was not contradictory to reason. It was a mystery and beyond reason’s scope. (One wonders then, if that is so, how he could know it was not contradictory to reason). How many times have we heard folks in our own church pews state that a doctrine is a “mystery,” in order to justify their own ignorance, or, worse yet, a seminary professor, theological writer, pastor, or denominational spokesman do the same thing in order to either cover up his own sloppiness or, even worse, hide latitudinarianism.

What of hell? Vernet refused speculation on it. To a certain extent, this is warranted, since Scripture is long on its reality but short on exact descriptions of it. However, Vernet came to argue that God might even grant a man pardon from hell after he had served his sentence there. Does this sound familiar? Are there not echoes of this today in the words of some Arminians who speak of the possibility of a post-mortem salvific encounter? Vernet also pointed out the utility of the idea of divine judgment to society at large, and liberals in the next centuries would also speak of the utility of certain ideas derived from theology for motivating people to ethical behavior. This was just another move toward a Christianity that was more “agreeable” and “palatable,” in a word, pragmatic or attractive, to unbelievers than the one of just a century before. Here is the fruit of being “seeker-friendly,” and “felt-needs” oriented. These are not, as I am hoping you are beginning to understand, modern ideas.

This is not to say that Vernet himself was unorthodox doctrinally. However, it is to say that his lack of clarity led to a great deal of justified criticism. In the end, his critics were proven right, not about Vernet himself, but his overall approach. He had so “simplified” Christian religion that he had reduced it to ethics and overly simple doctrine that was, in that state, unclear and indefensible, for it was designed not for the edification of the saints, but wide, pragmatic appeal for society at large. In rejecting the more rigorous approach of the major Reformed confessions and the rigor of the wider Protestant Scholastic tradition in the academy, as well as a latitudinarian approach to the essentials of the first creedal formulas of the Ancient Church, Vernet and the Genevan pastors left the door open for secularism. In fact, in just one generation, Geneva was overrun by those with deistic and atheistic presuppositions.

Vernet is thus a parable for many today, including my fellow Baptists, especially, I think my Southern Baptist brothers and sisters. We must guard against latitudinarianism on the one hand and radical separation on the other. We must not succumb to pragmatism; nor should we so press our opposition to the latest social ills (abortion, gay marriage) that we so wed the church to the state that we begin to sacrifice doctrine for “common ground,” for history tells us that in the end, the outcome is not good. Neither can we be so inclusive with each other that we lack clarity in our doctrinal convictions, whether they be personal or denominational. In our desire to reach the lost, we can not accord the ability to apprehend truth to the unregenerate, autonomous mind working on human reason alone; neither can we reduce apologetics to fideism in order to make ourselves more attractive to “seekers.”

Doctrinal latitudinarianism and radical fundamentalist separatism are, like Arminianism and real hyper-Calvinism, two sides of the same coin. The same is true of rigid traditionalism and pragmatism and of antinomianism and legalism Let us learn from these examples, unless we repeat these same errors yet again.

It is also worth noting that these events were set in motion in Geneva not by confessional, orthodox Calvinism, but by the triumph of Amyraldianism in one generation and then the insertion of Arminianism. This is one reason why men like Dr. Philip Ryken and James Boice have stated, “The pathway from Calvinism to liberalism – and even atheism – is well worn, and it usually passes through Arminianism.” (The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel, Crossway, 2002, 66).

In addition, and more importantly, the lack of clarity and the “can’t we all just get along” attitude today hearkens back to Geneva of this period too, does it not? Why should we be concerned about debating theology in public? That’s “divisive.” Why not just reduce doctrine to a few bare essentials and leave it at that? The Fundamentals of the beginning of the last century were a brave attempt, but did that really serve its purpose?

This is not to say that those who disagree over the doctrines of grace should not cooperate with those who accept them, rather we both should both cooperate and debate theology. We should cooperate and, whatever we teach, teach with precision and clarity. That, incidentally, is one of the biggest problems I have with some of the theology I hear from the anti-Calvinist camp. They can tell us what they believe Calvinism is, but they can’t seem to articulate a coherent theology of their own with any clarity, and they seem to prize an eclectic approach where doctrines are held together in disjoined, unsystematic fashion. For example, I’ve stated many times, that if they were consistent, they’d be functional Unitarians, because in soteriology they place the Father’s work and the Spirit’s work outside a chain of grace. Instead, only the cross is in view. Likewise, we can’t afford to write “broad” and imprecise confessions in which two parties can find radically divergent meanings. Neither can be make every doctrine in the confessions we may draft in the future first order, such that all those who do not agree with us on every jot and tittle are outside the camp.

We can also see, in Vernet’s Geneva, the obvious danger in reducing the faith to ethics and equating being a good Christian with being a good citizen. That is the essence of liberal theology, liberation theology in particular. It can happen if we so bring the church and state together that the state is made an organ of the church, for politics and religion become so entangled in the minds of the people that, when combined with apologetic reductionism and theological latitudinarianism on one hand or doctrinal “simplicity” and “fideism” on the other they can’t tell the difference between ethics and doctrine. On the other, if we too radically separate them, doctrine becomes a mental exercise and we divorce sound piety and service both to each other and in reaching out and serving unbelievers with the gospel and by other means. We cannot let James Dobson determine what makes a good Christian, and we can’t spend so much time passing around petitions against gay marriage that we forget to actually take the gospel to the homosexual or to the women having abortion and to the politicians making the laws. Good citizenry is laudable, but it does not make a new heart, and “Can’t we all just get along,” said by a theological latitudinarian is not functionally different than a separatist fundamentalist making doctrine “simple” or “palatable” for the masses or a reductionist apologetic method. There’s a reason Van Til began his magnum opus with a discourse on Christian theology. We walk a fine line, and we Baptists need to get it together and start talking to each other and not at each other about these issues. Let’s try that this year and see what happens.