Thursday, May 06, 2004

Is Mel's movie impious?-3

2. Mariolatry

Moving onto criticisms of the movie itself, several objections take issue with the film as an exercise in Catholic propaganda. For example, it is said that The Passion plays up the Mater Dolorosa motif.

Before commenting on the specifics, a couple of general observations are in order. The Reformed critic runs the ironic risk of buying into a Roman Catholic reading of church history, according to which the Roman Catholic church is the trunk or the oak tree, of which Protestantism is just a crooked offshoot or mutant acorn.

There's all the difference in the world between blind tradition and critical tradition. Just as one can pick and choose from what is best in the history of art, music, and literature generally, one can be finicky about the best elements in ecclesiastical tradition. It's precisely because tradition is uninspired and fallible that we can be highly selective and choosy shoppers.

Not everything coming out of the Medieval Latin Church is an unclean thing. The pre-Reformation church was not conterminous with Trent. Calvin was quite happy to quote from Augustine and Bernard of Clairvaux.

In addition, a distinction often blurred or obliterated in the debate is whether the movie should be boycotted or criticized. These are two quite different things. Many of the theological critics are of the opinion that because the movie is theologically flawed, no one should watch it. But the one doesn't follow from the other.

Many things that are the object of valid criticism are not necessarily to be shunned. Indeed, you can't criticize something unless you know something about it.

Even if the movie is primed by an undercoat of Mariolatry, the only reason that a critic can identify this motif is because he is bringing extra-cinematic knowledge into the movie-theater. If you didn't already know about the cult of Mary, would the Passion brainwash you with all the Marian dogmas about the Assumption, Immaculate Conception, and perpetual virginity (ante, in, et post partum) of Mary? Or her role as the Mother of God and Mother of the Church? Or her role as the Mediatrix and Co-Redemptrix?

Who exactly is harmed by this? Catholic moviegoers already believe in it; Evangelical moviegoers already disbelieve it, and won't believe it just because of a few hints are dropped here and there in the course of the film; while the uninitiated won't know enough to pick up on these subtle clues. If you're a Mariolater going in, you'll be a Mariolater coming out. What has changed?

Have Calvinist critics of the film been converted to Roman Catholicism by seeing it or hearing about it? If they were sorely tempted they've done a marvelous job of suppressing the symptoms!

How can we witness to Roman Catholics or engage in apologetics if we're so afraid of defection within our ranks that we quiver and quake under a thorn-bush? There is a time and a place to avoid evil, but some evil is unavoidable, so we had better brace ourselves. Apologetics is a contact sport.

And in this regard, we join with our fellow Calvinists in shining a spotlight on all the damning dogmas of Roman Catholicism. But you can only shine a spotlight if you know where to point it.

3. The Mass

A related criticism is that the use of Latin rather than Greek is a subtle apologetic thrust for the Tridentine Mass. Now, it may be that using Latin dialogue is a plug for the Latin Mass. But, once again, unless the viewer already knows about the Tridentine Mass and its underlying theology, he is not going to get the idea of a bloodless resacrifice from watching a gory film about the Crucifixion.

However, the objection may be that a movie like The Passion softens up the audience to be more receptive to Romanism. And there's some truth to that. For some viewers, it will foster a favorable predisposition. Is it worth the risk? Just what are the possible perils?

1. An Evangelical converts to Catholicism. That would be a bad outcome. If, however, his faith was such a hothouse plant that it withers at first contact with the outside elements, then it wasn't much of a faith to begin with. Such a faith was just a default-setting in the absence of deep-rooted and time-tested faith.

2. An unbeliever converts to Catholicism. Even if we were to say, for the sake of argument, that all Catholics are damned, so are unbelievers, so it is hard to see how conversion from unbelief to Catholicism is, even under the most ungenerous construction of the consequences, a worst case scenario.

And let us not rule out the possibility that God has a remnant in the Roman Church. We, who know better, should coax them out of Babylon whenever the opportunity presents itself, but being a Roman Catholic isn't always worse than being an unbeliever.

3. A nominal Catholic becomes a devout Catholic. But assuming, for the sake of argument, that both identities are damnable, is that an unacceptable consequence?

Now it could be argued that a nominal Catholic is easier to win over to the Evangelical faith than a Catholic who is hardened in the errors of Rome. That is true. But this is all rather hypothetical. It assumes that he would be reachable before seeing the movie. This, in turn, assumes that he's is taken out of play after seeing the movie. Given that Roman Catholics outnumber Evangelicals by at least ten to one, many Catholics are already out of reach because there are not enough astute Evangelicals to reach them.

This entire line of criticism assumes an ideal situation in which a superior alternative is readily available, and where we can control the choices that people make, as well as the outcome of those choices. But, of course, such a rosy scenario does not obtain in a real-world situation. Calvinists, of all people, should resist the temptation to play God. We resign the results to his sovereign disposition over all men and events.

And although we don't wish to overgeneralize about this, social conditioning is a partial, although by no means infallible, indicator of who the Lord has chosen to save or not to save.

If, conversely, the Lord has chosen to save someone, then that individual can take a rather zigzag route. An unbeliever could convert to Catholicism, then get involved in Bible studies, network with Evangelical friends, and transition from the RCC to a Bible-based persuasion.

Indeed, it seems not to occur to some of the critics that their vehement opposition may precipitate the very thing they fear. Like it or not, many church members are going to see the film. When a pastor puts himself between The Passion and the parishioner, he forces a choice between himself and the movie.

The effect may be to drive some of his flock into the arms of Rome by driving a wedge between himself and the laity, or between himself and the youth. For if there's a wide discrepancy between what they hear from the pulpit and what they see on the screen, the shrill and lopsided denunciations are liable to backfire. Don't draw a line in the sand with your back to a cliff lest to take a tumble!

We're reminded of the split between the New Lights and the Old Lights, when the Old Lights—with the best of intentions—allowed the excesses of the Great Awakening to blind them to a heaven-sent revival. Let us guard against repeated that mistake.

It also betrays a profound lack of confidence in the laity. Of all people, a Calvinist ought to be in the best position to winnow the wheat from the chaff. Isn't one of a pastor's principal duties to teach his people some threshing-skills so that a layman is able to sift truth from error?

Suppose the film makes an unchurched viewer curious about the Gospels? So he goes back to the original and gets his theology straight from the horse's mouth (as it were). God is quite ingenious in using unpromising means to achieve his ends. That is an aspect of his sovereignty. The law of unintended consequences cuts in more than one direction.

4. Dramatic license

Another criticism is that, in addition to the canonical text, the screenplay incorporates material from Catholic contemplatives. Now the screenplay would no doubt be better if it stuck with the plain text of the canonical Gospels. And if there were nothing to be gained by going to see The Passion, then, of course, no one should see it. But a film can be more faithful in some respects, and less so in others. If The Passion gives us the most realistic depiction of our Lord's last hours before the other side of Golgotha, then doesn't the trade-off yield a payoff? We glean an insight into our Lord's redemptive work—an element of empathy—that we would not otherwise receive. As Gene Veith has pointed out, although the movie is too Catholic for some Evangelicals, it is too Evangelical for some Catholics.

A variant on the above criticism is that the screenplay both adds to and subtracts from the word of God, thus falling afoul of the inscriptional curse sanctions in Scripture. This objection is a category mistake. If the screenplay were based on a forgery, such as the Apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, then the charge might stick. But the film no more claims to be a verbatim reproduction of Scripture than the average sermon. Is an expository preacher accursed because his sermon is not a word-for-word recitation of the entire canon of Scripture?

A further criticism is that the Gospels don't describe the flogging in any detail. That is true, but irrelevant. Since Jesus was flogged, and we know what flogging entailed, from Josephus and others, what's wrong with unpacking a claim of Scripture? Doesn't an expository preacher ever spell out just what all a given statement of Scripture implies? Doesn't he ever draw a mental picture for the congregation of what was happening back then?

5. Emotionalism

The film has also been criticized because it accentuates his physical torment, and plays upon the feelings of the audience. Now it is true that an overemphasis on the physical suffering of Christ is a basic feature of Catholic spirituality. And this is misguided. We must never make our Lord an object of pity.

But as a criticism of the film, this raises other issues and alternatives. Catholic moviegoers are already infected by this overemphasis, so what harm can be done in their case? But because Evangelical theology does not suffer from the same imbalance, it is unclear how a dose of this will do injury to our personal piety.

For many of us who live in the age of anesthetics and painkillers, climate-controlled cars and homes and churches and offices, the bodily torment of Christ is a pious abstraction. To be brought in touch with what it looks like and feels like to be tortured to death should enrich our reading of the Passion narratives.

There is much more to the Passion of our Lord that the physical side. There is the anguish and alienation that came of calling upon himself the curse which we deserve (Gal 3:13). But if we put too much emphasis on the psychological side of our Lord's Passion, we run the risk of shifting the center of gravity from Golgotha to Gethsemane. We are no longer looking to the Cross, but the garden.

Mere emotion never saved anyone. But the Bible is a very passionate book. And if the Bible has no emotional resonance for me, then is it even real to me? If I never feel what I say I believe, isn't my faith just a dry and distant abstraction? Calvin himself was highly critical of a form of faith which flits about in the back of the brain rather than taking root in the heart of the believer (Institutes 3:2:36).

6. Theological omissions

Some critics attack the film for sins of theological omission as well as commission. The film, they say, fails to do justice to the Resurrection; it fails to teach the full panoply of Pauline soteriology.

All this is true, but how is that a cinematic failure? And even if it were, it that flaw sufficient to doom the whole enterprise? Is the Bach St. Matthew Passion not worth our while because it doesn't cover the same ground as his Christmas oratorio or Easter oratorio?

The real question we need to put to ourselves is why a non-Catholic should find it worthwhile see a Catholic movie like this one? Is it to hear a sermon on the extrinsic active and passive righteousness of Christ imputed by faith alone to the believer?

1. To begin with, this sort of abstract didacticism is not in the nature of narrative theology, much less the film medium. The critics are describing a Pauline construct. But even if Gibson made a verbatim adaptation of, let us say, the very first Gospel—Gospel of Mark—could the viewer extract this theological construct from the story of the Gospel?

2. If a Protestant goes to The Passion hoping to see this, or expecting that this is what he ought to see, then he will, of course, be sorely disappointed. But isn't that whole line of objection a red herring? Just as we don't go to Romans for the life of Christ, we don't go to the Gospels for Pauline theology.

The sensible reason for seeing The Passion is to witness a realistic depiction of our Lord's last hours this side of the cross. To gain a graphic sense of his outward ordeal.

The only relevant question is whether The Passion, in spite of its sins of theological omission and commission, succeeds at this level, and whether that is reason enough to see it.

7. Co-opting Evangelism.

A final line of attack seizes on certain extravagant claims about the evangelistic value of the film, and then debunks the entire enterprise on that basis alone. Again, though, this is not to judge the film for what it is, but for what some would make of it—for good or ill.

It isn't clear why I should all be bound by your predictions. Why must we prejudge the Passion one way or the other? Must it edify everyone to edify anyone? Must it be a vast evangelistic boon to be any good at all? Isn't one lost sheep worth rescuing? These all-or-nothing arguments are excessive on both sides of the debate. This is not forced option. We should avoid falling into the trap, in Bishop Butler's words, of damning the good because it isn't better. The Lord is able to bless and prosper the day of small beginnings. Let us, then, sit back and revel in his almighty providence.


On an editorial note, this paper was largely a collaborative effort between myself and Michael Sudduth. But owing to time constraints, Dr. Sudduth cannot be held responsible for the final draft.

Is Mel's movie impious?-2

3. The Apophatic argument

Scripture uses a number of verbal images for God: it says that God is a father, a farmer, a carpenter, a potter, a king, a shepherd, a warrior, &c. Verbal imagery naturally conjures up a corresponding mental image. Would a critic of theographic or Christographic art contend that we should suppress the mental image trigged by such picturesque usage when we read the Bible? What's the point of picture-language if we are not allowed to picture or depict it? And what's the moral or spiritual difference between a subjective and an objective image?

When the Israelites started out (e.g., the Patriarchs), they didn't have much revelation to go by, so it was natural for them to picture and depict God according to pagan models (e.g., wild animals). But in the course of progressive revelation, there are more and more authorized images of God in Scripture. Those who begin and end with the second commandment tend to forget its place in the inaugural stages of progressive revelation.

In the contemporary and escalating debate over unisex Bibles, conservatives have laid great weight on the masculine metaphors for God in Scripture. They insist, and with good reason, that these are more than merely anthropomorphic; rather, they implicate God's economic identity and even his essential character. Divine images are self-revelatory and normative for the church.

But when it comes to theographic and Christographic art, they suddenly abandon ectypal theology for apophatic theology. They treat God as so inscrutable that any and every analogy reduces to sheer equivocation.

Traditionally, this sort of religious epistemology is associated with Greek orthodoxy. There is no cognitive knowledge of God, but God can be apprehended in a mystical encounter.

This view is in tension with Protestant epistemology, which is predicated on the principle a realist epistemology—grounded in propositional revelation. God-talk has constantive force. Even symbolism has a representative and referential terminus. It is symbolic of something.

4. The Nestorian Heresy

Debate over the second commandment shades into another related objection, to the effect that no image of Christ can successfully capture the divine dimension of his identity. Hence, any such effort is guilty of the old Nestorian heresy by only presenting the human side of Christ, and thus dividing the hypostatic nature. By way of reply:

1. From the standpoint of historical theology, it should be unnecessary to point out that this way of framing the issue is a misappropriation of dogma, for it is not as though Cyril of Alexandria and the Council of Ephesus represented the iconoclast faction!

2. At one level, even a mere man is revelatory of the divine nature by virtue of the imago Dei.

3. It is hard to see how this amounts to a Scriptural objection. Could we pick Jesus out of the crowd because he had a numinous or nimbic presence? Although there may be occasions when Christ did project a divine aura (the Transfiguration), yet most of the time he looked like an ordinary man.

What did the Apostles see when they looked at Jesus? Did they see anything other than we would see if we were in a position to take a picture of him? To be sure, Christ is much more than a man—is God incarnate, no less; but he is no less than a man, and what they saw was a man. The sensible object was the humanity, not the divinity. They may have perceived a divine presence, but that was not presented to the senses as a tangible deliverance.

You might as well argue that the Incarnation itself failed to do justice to the divine nature of Christ by hiding his divinity behind human flesh.

Even theophanies represent rather than present the Godhead, for the spiritual nature of God is essentially invisible. This goes back to the old truth that, in some measure, the revealed God remains the concealed God.

A related criticism is that since mere men such as Spartacus were crucified, a film about the crucifixion of Christ fails to distinguish the sole and sufficient merit of his atonement from the death of many sinners.

But if this objection holds true for the film medium, then it holds true for the Gospel genre as well. Both the dramatic narrative of cinema and the historical narrative of Scripture convey their message by more by showing than by telling. This is one reason the NT complements narrative theology (the Gospels) with didactic theology (the Epistles).

4. One of the ironies of the Nestorian objection is that it adopts such a Catholic form of reasoning. Compare the following two syllogisms:

i) The 2nd commandment forbids images of God
ii) Jesus is God
iii) Ergo: the 2nd commandment forbids images of Jesus

i) Mary is the mother of Jesus
ii) Jesus is God
iii) Ergo: Mary is the Mother of God

The form of the Nestorian objection is far too Mariolatrous for our liking!

5. The flaw in both syllogisms lies in a certain equivocation of terms. Although each of the two natures of Christ is predicable of the person of Christ, each nature is not predicable of the other nature.

6. If those who support Christographic art are guilty of the Nestorian heresy, then are those who oppose Christographic art guilty of the Docetic heresy? These sorts of appeals either prove too much or too little.

7. Many critics operate with a false assumption about the function of representational art, to wit: they fail to draw a what/that distinction, which, in turn, beclouds the question of how a picture represents its subject.

A picture of Christ is not, and does not intend to be, a picture of "what" Christ is--whether human or divine or both, whether the Messiah, Redeemer, and/or judge (excepting pictures of the great Assize).

The image is just a visual token of Christ—"that" the figure depicted is taken to be Christ, but not necessarily "what" Christ is in his person and work.

Let us draw a parallel with the sacraments. Take the communion bread. This represents the Crucifixion, but one can hardly say that it resembles the Crucifixion. It is not a picture in the descriptive sense of the word. And it doesn't tell us what the Crucifixion signifies.

Of course, it's possible to have more of an internal relation between sign and significate. Some metaphors are more natural than others. But that's a bonus point.

Expressed schematically, the what/that distinction is as follows:
what: sign=significate
that: sign>significate

5. Sufficiency of Scripture

The last of the general objections is that Christographic art violates the sufficiency of Scripture. But this objection trades on a half-truth. There's a sense in which verbal revelation enjoys priority over non-verbal revelation. By the same token, preaching takes a certain precedence over the sacraments.

This emphasis is one of the things distinguishing Catholicism from Protestantism. Catholicism is image-centered whereas Protestantism is word-centered. And this is probably why Catholic filmmakers generally make better movies than Protestant filmmakers.

However, word and sign must never be pressed into an antithetical relation. Throughout the Bible, God employs both word-media and event-media in revelation. And word and sign are both in play in the teaching of Christ. A miracle is an enacted parable.

No, preaching cannot be replaced by another medium. But sign may supplement the word. There is, indeed, Biblical precedent for drama in preaching (e.g., Ezk 4). Likewise, the sacraments serve as visual aids and object lessons. They are no substitute for the word of God, but they assist our comprehension and retention of the Word.

In a sense, general revelation needs the context of special revelation in order for the former to be adequately understood, or at any rate to act as a constraint against distortion and error to which humans are prone when left unguided by Scripture. But then we don't infer from this that general revelation simpliciter has a tendency to mislead, much less because it involves images. What we say is that "if" one reflects on general revelation in the context of special revelation it achieves results that it doesn't otherwise. The same general logic applies to images. They have no intrinsic tendency to mislead. Context is crucial.

Surely the point behind the second commandment is to prohibit the worship of false gods, not teach us some statement about information processing.

The Bible uses a lot of picturesque imagery. And the historical narratives of Scripture contain many visual descriptions. Is a critic telling us that the reader should never try to see, to imagine, to visualize what the Bible describes? Isn't there some value in a reader attempting to picture the scene depicted in Scripture? To be a participatory reader? To enter as fully as possible into the text?

In addition, we don't read the Gospels through quite the same set of eyes as the original audience. It is one thing to read about a crucifixion, quite another thing to see it. Many of the original readers were witness to this cruel form of execution. A graphic historical reconstruction of the event can bring us closer to the original intent and barbaric impact of the text.

For the modern reader, our mental picture of Bible history has been informed by Biblical archeology. And many movies about Bible history have also been informed by Biblical archeology. The text supplies the dialogue, but archeology supplies the visuals. Would a critic also say that Biblical archeology violates the sufficiency of Scripture?

Another objection is that just because God has depicted himself in various ways (theophany, Christophany, Incarnation), that doesn't give us the right to depict him. But the underlying principle is so broad that it could either be true for false depending on the situation. No, we don't have a right to do whatever God does. On the other hand, imitating the Lord is a general directive of OT piety (e.g., Lev 11:14-45; 19:2; 20:7

There is yet another point of tension, if not outright contradiction, between arguing—on the one hand—that the film medium is illicit because moving images are an inadequate medium to convey theological truth, and—on the other hand—arguing that the film is illicit because it conveys a false theology in terms of its Roman Catholic distinctives.

III. Supporting arguments:

1. Church history

Many critics are under the impression that theographic or Christographic art is contrary to the Reformed tradition.

Because a number of critics have attacked The Passion in the name of Calvinism, it is necessary to draw some boundary-lines—especially as some of the critics seem not to be overly-conversant with the tradition they profess.

For example, some of the critics attack The Passion on the basis of the 2nd commandment in general and the regulative principle in particular. But such a line of attack assumes that Calvinism is identical with 17C Presbyterian theology. But this is a decidedly provincial definition of the Reformed tradition.

To begin with, it appears to have been forgotten that a not few of the Westminster Divines were Anglicans (e.g., Brownrigg. Coleman, Featley, Hammond, Holdsworth, Lightfoot, Morley, Prideux, Sanderson, Selden, Ussher, Westfield), which goes to show that the Anglican view of the 2nd commandment was not thought to be outside the pale of Reformed orthodoxy. Indeed, Toplady wrote a whole history of the Reformed tradition within the Anglican church. (Cf. The Historic Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England.)

So the RPW doesn't distinguish a Calvinist from a non-Calvinist, but, at most, serves to distinguish a Reformed Presbyterian from a Reformed Anglican.

And even if we limit ourselves to the RPW, this is irrelevant to the current debate inasmuch as the RPW is, as the name implies, a rule of worship. It only applies to what is permissible in public and private worship. It does not, of itself, forbid the fine arts or sacred art outside the church. So unless the critic is going to equate a movie-theater with a house of worship, invoking the RPW is quite beside the point.

Historical Calvinism is not hostile to sacred art or the fine arts. As Kuyper observes,
"When his colleague, Prof. Cop, at Geneva, took up arms against art, Calvin purposely instituted measures, by which, as he writes, to restore this foolish man to sounder sense and reason. The blind prejudice against sculpture, on the ground of the second commandment, Calvin declares unworthy of refutation," Lectures on Calvinism (Eerdmans, 1983), 153).

Kuyper's observation is significant, both for what it says about Calvin as well as the Dutch-Reformed, for the Dutch-Reformed were great patrons of the arts. Holland has a number of historic organs, such as the Aa-Kerk, Martinkerk, and Alkmaar organs.

Holland is famous for the Dutch and Flemish schools of painting, which extended to sacred art. Rembrandt is the best known example. As one art historian has noted,
"After the Synod of Dort…The strict Calvinists became the official church, and attached themselves to the head of State… [Rembrandt's] first commission, the scenes of the Passion, was given to him on behalf of Prince Frederick Henry of Orange, head of the official Calvinist party," K. Clark, An Introduction to Rembrandt (Harper & Row, 1978), 117.

Holland was also a center of drama, including sacred drama, of whom Joost van den Vondel is certainly the most celebrated, but hardly the only name. And sacred drama isn't limited to the Dutch Reformed, but extends as well to the mother church of Geneva, for Beza, Calvin's right-hand man and successor, also wrote Christian plays.

Since Holland had a national church along Erastian lines, all such artistic expressions could have been banned by force of law were they deemed to be at odds with the official stamp of Calvinism. (For a general overview of church/state relations in Holland, cf. W.R. Godfrey, "Church and State in Dutch Calvinism," Through Christ's Word, W.R. Godfrey & J. Boyd, eds. (P&R, 1985), 223-43.)

It also cannot escape notice that many of the critics come from Reformed denominations which are very loose in their adherence to the RPW. Strict subscription to the Westminster standards, commits you, not only to the Confession and catechisms, but to the Directory of Worship. It commits you to the divine right of kings, the abiding validity of the Solemn League and Covenant, the historicist reading of Revelation, strict Sabbatarianism, exclusive a cappella Psalmnody, and a very rigid liturgy.

The Westminster standards include the Directory of Worship, which is, in turn, underwritten by the Solemn League & Covenant (see the preface). The original version of the WCF equates the Pope with the Antichrist. This assumes the historicist reading of Revelation inasmuch as it identifies the Antichrist with the papacy—which is a church historical entity. Likewise, the crown stood for the status quo ante.
The original version was only revised after the Revolutionary war and overthrow of the monarchy in America.

In other words, if you're going to be a stickler about this, and use it as the yardstick for measuring The Passion, then you must believe that the only true Calvinist is a Cameronian. (We would also note in passing that a true purist will use the old Geneva Bible rather than the KJV, which is a trophy of Anglican scholarship.)

It would seem, then, that many who attack The Passion in the name of Calvinism would be well advised to bulletproof their windowpanes lest the stones they hurl today should one day rebound.

Is Mel's movie impious?-1

"The making and using of the image of Christ—as born, living, preaching, walking, dying (a crucifix), rising, and ascending—is not unlawful in itself…As Christ was a man like one of us, so he may be pictured as a man.

It is a great part of a believer's work to have Christ's image very much upon his imagination, and so upon his mind—as if he saw him in the man-ger, in his temptations, in his preaching, in his praying, watching, fasting, weeping, doing good, as crowned with thorns, as crucified, &c.; that a crucified Savior being still (as it were) before our eyes, we may remember the price of our redemption, and the example which we have to imitate; and that we are not to live like a Dives or a Caesar, but like the servants of a crucified Christ. A crucifix well befitteth the imagination and mind of a believer," The Practical Works of Richard Baxter (Soli Deo Gloria, 1990), 1:698a.

I. What's all the fuss about?

Most folks who have taken an interest in Mel Gibson's The Passion are aware of the controversy swirling around this film. Secular Jews and lib-eral theologians have attacked it as antisemitic. To a large extent, the film has served as a stalking horse to shoot the Gospels full of arrows.

What many Christians may be unaware of is a tangential controversy within some Reformed circles regarding The Passion. The contention among some is that The Passion runs counter to Calvinism.

Since these objections emanate from within the Reformed community, the impression is easily left that there is one received viewpoint on this general subject and its concrete application to the case at hand. Without alleging that the critics are clearly mistaken, the authors of this essay merely wish to present an opposing and alternative viewpoint.

II. General Objections

One class of objections takes the form of intrinsic theological objections. If applicable at all, they are applicable, not only to The Passion, but to any theographic or Christographic art.

1. The Second Commandment

The film is said to violate the second commandment: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image" (Exod 20:4, ESV). If it is wrong to have images of Christ, as the second commandment appears to entail, then it is wrong to have cinematic depictions of Christ. Hence, the making and viewing of the film violates the second commandment. What is at issue here is not some purported "use" of the film, but the very making and viewing of the film. Hence, we have here an "intrinsic" objection to the film.

But invoking the second commandment raises three central questions: (i) What precisely is prohibited by the second commandment? (ii) How did this commandment apply under the old covenant? (iii) How does the commandment apply under the new?

In the first place, while the second commandment prohibits the making of graven images, God in fact commanded his people to make images with religious significance on several occasions, as is illustrated by God’s command to make the arch of the covenant (Exodus 25:10-17), cherubim of gold (Exodus 25:18-22; 26:1,31), and a brazen serpent (Numbers 21:8). If we suppose that what God commands in these other contexts is consistent with the commandments given to Moses in Exodus 20 and restated in Deuteronomy 5, then the prohibition against graven images cannot be taken in an absolute manner. There must be exceptions.

Second, there is the issue of the relationship between the first and sec-ond commandment, and indeed the relationship between the elements of the second commandment itself, both matters that bear on the interpretation of the second commandment. The question is this: does the second commandment prohibit the mere making of images? Or does it prohibit something more specific: the making of images "as objects of worship"? In the latter case, the second commandment is a further specification, or special case, of the commandment against false gods established in the first commandment.

Since false gods take the form of deified natural objects (e.g., sun, moon, stars) and dei-fied products of man’s own creation or invention, the suggested interpretation does not reduce the second commandment to the first commandment, nor does it render the sec-ond commandment superfluous

The latter interpretation is, of course, the natural one among the Christian denominations that combine the first and second commandments. Lutherans and Catholics combine the first and second com-mandment, whereas Eastern Orthodox and most Protestants separate them. While combining the first and second commandment leads naturally to viewing the prohibition against making images to be more precisely a prohibition against the making images to be worshipped, separating them isn’t sufficient to generate a prohibition against the mere production of images with religious significance. The inclusion of Eastern Orthodox Christians among those who separate the commandments is a case in point. The rationale for this is borne out above in text.

But separating the commandments, as Reformed believers typically do, doesn’t sufficiently eliminate the latter interpretation. Even if the first and second commandments are taken as distinct, it is important not to isolate them from each other in an arbitrary manner. God didn’t give Moses a "numbered" set of commandments. The first table forms an interrelated set of commandments unified under the motif of the true God as redeemer: "I am the Lord thy God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery" (Exod 20:2, ESV; cf. Deut 5:6). In what most Protestants regard as the first commandment, God prohibits worshipping false gods: "you shall have no other gods before me" (Exod 20:3, ESV; Deut 5:7). It might be argued, with some show of plausibility, that the first commandment is programmatic for the first table itself and thus should guide the interpretation of the subsequent commandments. In that case, the second commandment prohibits the "worship" of false gods produced by man’s artistic devices and thus the making of graven images where they are intended as objects of worship.

Moreover, the second commandment itself includes a prohibition against both the making of graven images "and" the worshipping of such images (Exod 20:5, Deut 5:9). Hence the same question that arises regarding the relationship between the first and second commandment arises within the second commandment itself, regardless of how one chooses to group the commandments. How are these elements of the second commandment related? If the two elements of the second commandment are logically connected, one sensible connection would be to view the first element as subordinated to or based on the second. In that case, the second element governs the interpretation of the first. The making of graven images is prohibited in the context of their functioning as an object of worship. What is really at issue is idolatry.

(Incidentally, Calvin (in his commentary on the relevant passages) notes that there are two prohibitions involved in the 2nd commandment, a prohibition against the making of images and a prohibition against worshipping them. How-ever, despite the fact that Calvin says he sees the "connection" between the two elements of the commandment, he doesn't do justice to it. The suggestion above (in the text) is obscured by Calvin since he begins with Exod 20:4 and Deut 5:8 (the prohibition against image-making), thereby omitting the preceding verse in each case, to wit: "thou shalt have no other gods before me."

In the Institutes (1:11:12), Calvin says that "we believe it wrong that God should be represented by a visible appearance, because he himself has forbidden it." But Calvin goes on to say that "only those things are to be sculptured or painted which the eyes are capable of seeing." But the eyes were capable of seeing Christ Incarnate [e.g., 1 Jn 1:1f].)

Now we don’t propose this interpretation as the "correct" one, for the point here is not to argue that the second commandment only prohibits the production of images to be worshipped. Instead, we take it that the above considerations do at least substantially weaken the case for sup-posing that the commandment was intended as unqualified prohibition against the mere making or possession of images with religious signifi-cance.

But let us suppose, along with Calvin and plenty of other Reformed theo-logians that the second commandment does in fact prohibit the "mere production" of "any" physical representation of God. The crucial question now becomes whether we can simply infer from this that any pictorial depiction "of Christ" is prohibited?

And here a preliminary point of theological method is in order. If we just stick with exact wording of the 2nd commandment, it doesn't merely forbid images of God. It forbids any images of anything whatsoever. Taken at face value, it forbids a family photo album, an x-ray, &c.

For the actual phrasing of the prohibition is emphatically unexceptional: You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or "any" likeness of "anything" that is "in heaven above," or that is "in the earth beneath," or that is "in the water under the earth" (Exod 20:4, ESV).

That just about covers it, does it not? Doesn't leave anything out. The technical term for this is a merism, in which opposites denote the totality.

Yet the critics who are so keen to invoke the second commandment against The Passion are not, in fact, committed to anything like such a strong thesis is that. To the contrary, they modify the full verbatim force of the second commandment by reference to Deut 4 and the question of original intent.

And that's a valid move. But if you cross that bridge you pay a toll. For now you've shifted the ground of your objection from the actual wording and absolute formal force of the second commandment to a more narrowly gauged pragmatic objection.

And in making that move, the opponents cease to be in any position to privilege the 2nd commandment. They no longer enjoy an exclusive pur-chase on that text. They themselves have moved away from the strict literality of the text. They have switched their primary prooftext from Exod 20 to Deut 4.

So both sides—supporters and opponents of religious art—are now modulating the apparent sweep and scope of the second commandment by appeal to the stated rationale in Deut 4. Hence, the point of disagree-ment is less over the interpretation of Exodus 20, per se, than over Deut 4, or their interrelation.

So, to reiterate our question: Can we simply infer from this that any pictorial depiction "of Christ" is prohibited? Or must the answer be more nuanced?

First, in the context of the OT this aspect of the commandment is closely connected to the fact that God had not revealed himself in any physical form (Deut 4:12,15). Any attempt by the Israelites to represent God in physical form would be (a) at variance with how God had revealed himself to them, (b) blur the distinction between Yahweh and the false image-gods that abounded around them, and hence (c) inevitably lead to the worship of a false god (Deut 4:16-24). So even if the second commandment as delivered to the Israelites did prohibit the mere making of any physical representation of God, the reasons for this prohibition must be taken into consideration. And remember that both sides of the debate are taking contextual considerations into account.

Secondly, the doctrine of the incarnation has some important implications for the above points. The Incarnation entails that God took on and retains a physical, visible form in the person of Christ. While (a) "was" true, it is "now" false. Prior to the incarnation, any physical representation of God would entail something inconsistent with the revealed-identity of the true God, namely that God has no substantial physical form. But the Incarnation alters this. Moreover, since the true God is now identified with a physical form, (b) must be suitably revised, for it is (now) possible to represent or otherwise signify the true God indirectly by way of a representation "of the physical form" assumed in the Incarnation. In either case, though, we lose our reasons for supposing that (c) is true.

So while the connection between making physical representations of God and worshipping false gods was "tight" in under the old covenant, under the new covenant this connection is not as tight, and it acquires a high degree of looseness when we're discussing putative images of Christ, who is the physical, substantial manifestation of God. Indeed, it would seem that we need to make a distinction between physical representations "of God" and physical representations "of the self-revelation of God in Christ." In that case, "pictures of Christ" would technically not be representations of God. They would be representations of God "as revealed in Christ," or—more broadly—pictorial representations of the truth that God became man.

Technically, absent a theological interpretive context, pictorial representations of Christ only "depict" a human person. It is only the presence of a theological interpretive frame-work that allows such depictions to "symbolically represent" the truth of the incarnation or the life of Christ. Moreover, this also suggests why the notion that Christographic art is, or is at least intended to be, a physical or visible "depiction" of God is not plausible. Christographic art only violates the second commandment if "no physical depictions of God" entails "no physical depictions of a human person that function as a symbolic rep-resentation of Christ."

In terms of redemptive-historical theology, the fact that we're on the other side of the cross is not inconsequential to the shape of covenant theology. There are discontinuities as well as continuities to consider and integrate.

It is, of course, possible for Christographic art to service idolatry. We don’t intend to deny this possibility. This, however, is not objective to the piece of artwork, but a subjective relation on the part of the idolater. He makes the object an idol by making it an object of worship, just as much as another object can become an idol. Now there's no doubt a danger in this. Many worshippers in Catholicism and Anglo-Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Anglo-Orthodoxy are guilty of idolatry. (Indeed, Calvinists can have their own idols). But, of course, idolaters who go to see The Passion are going to bring their idolatry right along with them into the movie-theaters. It isn't going to make idolaters out of them. If we strapped Calvin into a front row seat and forced him to watch the movie against his will, would he come out of the movie-theater a raving idolater, kissing irons or lighting a candle in the Lady chapel? We rather doubt it, however. Maybe some Catholics or former Catholics will be encouraged in this direction.

So the case against the Passion based on the second commandment is seriously inadequate. Indeed, it looks like it is fundamentally mistaken by failing to consider the implications of the incarnation for both the second commandment and the range of physical signs that can function in a religiously meaningful manner.

2. The lies of art

Another objection, related to second commandment objection, is that an artist or filmmaker is guilty of making God in his own image or in some way proliferating falsehoods about Christ since the artist’s depiction is never fully true to the reality he represents, being filtered through his own imagination. Like the second commandment objection, this is intended to be an intrinsic objection against the film as a putative cinematic depiction of the life of Christ.

Now it is surely possible for Christographic art to misrepresent Christ. But that is no less possible in preaching or poetry or hymnody or systematic theology. Moreover, the objection is misleading in another way. For in the Incarnation, God makes himself in our own image (as it were). So if a painter or filmmaker tries to depict Christ, this is not the same thing the second commandment forbids, inasmuch as he is taking the Incarnation as his point of reference and point of departure. It isn't a work of raw, unbridled imagination. We already know what men look like, do we not? And we have a fair idea of what a Palestinian Jew would look like. This isn't like a SF movie with alien make-up.

Here it is also crucial to recall that Christographic art in the West and the East is situated within the context of Biblical revelation, and thus redemptive revelation is already presupposed. The power of Christographic art to reveal any truth supervenes on theological concepts that are derived from Scripture. Indeed, such art is fashioned on the basis of these theological concepts. Thus, such representations are not the product of an individual's fancy or sheer imagination. If an artistic image of Christ reveals anything, it merely re-reveals what has already been disclosed and is part of the consciousness of the believer and the life of the church. Hence, one might regard it as a reminder of redemptive revelation whose form reflects the central truth of redemptive revelation—the Incarnation.

However, some critics will nonetheless contend that any representation of Christ will misrepresent our Lord inasmuch as we don't know exactly what he looked like. But this objection confounds the distinction between a presentation and a representation. No one supposes, at least no reasonable person, that the image in question is a "portrait." This objection imposes a distinctly modern conception of what constitutes an image, based on photographic realism rather than symbolism. There's no problem with symbolically representing God.

It is also erroneous to suppose that Christographic art is proposed as (i) a source of information about Christ and (ii) isolated from their context in the life of the church and its given theological concepts. Such artwork might "remind" people of truth they already know, or be a source of aesthetic appreciation or pleasure. Closely connected, it might engender, sustain, or redirect affections of various sorts. (And we haven't even considered the reasons why someone might create a pictorial representation in the first place). And it is hard to see how these functions are necessarily improper.

(In his article on "Pictures of Christ," John Murray’s arguments against christographic art, popular in some Reformed circles, seems to rest on faulty assumptions at this juncture. Several of his arguments assume that pictorial representations of Christ are intended to convey information as a photograph conveys information. But they are, at most, only intended to convey artistic and theological insight, not hard biographical data.)

Another difficulty with this argument is the relation between the first and second objections. Are these even mutually consistent? There is a serious tension, is not a downright contradiction, between objecting to the film because it violate the second commandment, and objecting to the film because its depiction of Christ is inaccurate. For the second objection implies that if the depiction were accurate, then the film would be licit rather than illicit.

Like the objection putatively based on the second commandment, the deception objection also does not succeed.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

The Passion of Bugs Bunny

Many of us have heard about the church in which the Easter Bunny got a whipping. The media has made this a matter of much mirth and levity. But we mustn't allow such profane jollity to blind us to the deeper and darker theological issues broached by this episode. For half a dozen reasons, we must take up arms against the cult of bunny-rabbits and all other such stuffed animals.

1. 2nd commandment

First and foremost, a stuffed animal is in clear violation of the 2nd
commandment. Although there are false brethren in our midst who would tamper with the plain sense of Scripture and introduce all manner of mischievous codicils and scholastic distinctions, yet the wording of the 2nd commandment could not be more emphatic: Thou shalt not make "any" likeness of "anything" in "heaven" and "earth" and "under" the earth.

The technical term for this is a merism—a figure of speech in which
opposites denote the totality.

Now, I ask you, my brethren, is or is not a stuffed animal a likeness of an earthly creature? Be not deceived!

2. The lies of art

No stuffed animal, whatever its verisimilitude, can to justice to the real thing. It is, at best, a pale imitation of the archetypal form of bunnyhood. It is, in other words, a LIE! And all liars shall be consigned to the lake of fire!

3. Sufficiency of Scripture

It will also be granted that the only purpose that could properly be served by a stuffed animal is that it would convey to us some thought or lesson representing the animal, and consonant with truth.

But when we set about to invent a representation not prescribed in holy writ, but devised after the vain imaginations of men, we thereby do add to holy writ, and render ourselves justly obnoxious to the divine approbation. If the Omnipotent had willed us to learn of bunny-rabbits, he would have described them for us in holy writ.

4. Hareolatry>Mariolotry

A child naturally becomes attached to his stuffed animal, and comes to reverence it. In addition, every child soon infers that rabbits come from other rabbits, and if Bugs Bunny had a daddy, he also had a mommy. Hence, our impressionable and unsuspecting child slides down the slippery slope from hareolotry to Mariolatry.

That innocent looking teddy-bear he so sweetly clutches in bed is nothing less than a trojan horse of popery, beckoning him into the lascivious bosom of Babylon's scarlet whore. Nay, he might as well clutch an adder to his breast. So steel yourselves against his childish cries and tears as you snatch this soul-killing device from his hands and consign it to the flames. Better it burn in hell than he!

5. Lapinary sacrifice>Latin Mass

Today's pet rabbit, tomorrow's rabbit pie. Thus, by an insidious and
subliminal association, he is softened up to one day embrace the
blandishments of the Mass.

6. Emotionalism

Needless to say, those little pink eyes evoke a sentimental attachment in which the head is easily led by the heart.

Do Muslims & Christians worship the same God?

Back in December of 2003, Steven Waldman published an article in Slate Magazine with the above title. It's a very good question. But Waldman gave the wrong answer.

1. On a semantic level, this debate confuses sense and reference. The same name can designate a different referent, or, conversely, the same referent can have more than one name.

For example, I am not the same person as Steve Forbes or Steven King, even though we share the same first name. Conversely, the same person can go by more than one name. He may have a nickname.

The same applies in religion. On the one hand, Arab Christians use "Allah." On the other hand, the God of the Bible has a variety of names and titles. But it doesn't follow, merely from linguistic usage, that Arab Christians are designating the same referent as are Muslims, or that the Bible endorses polytheism. To draw that inference commits an elementary semantic fallacy.

3. Another semantic fallacy is committed when the multiple use of a divine designation for different referents is taken to imply polytheism. This commits a type/token confusion. In order to refer to something, even in hypothetical or counterfactual terms, we need some verbal token to designate the referent of the sentence. But this doesn't entail an ontological commitment to the objective existence of the referent. Likewise, one can employ the same name to designate either a real referent or a fictitious or hypothetical referent.

Take, for example, the Faust legend. This was based on a historical individual—a seminary dropout. And that, in turn, gave rise to a literary tradition. But if I compare and contrast Marlowe's Faust with Goethe's or Mann's, that exercise does not, of itself, imply anything positive or negative about the ontological status of the characters in question.

When, therefore, a theologian compares the Christian "God" with the Muslim "God," this does not imply polytheism. From a Christian standpoint, Allah is a nonentity. But, as a practical matter, you can't talk about something without giving it a name.

4. When the Bible describes pagan idolatry, it talks about the "gods" of the heathen because the heathen worshiped their idols "as" gods. That is merely idiomatic and functional usage. It does not ascribe any metaphysical status to the pagan pantheon.

At the same time, the Bible has a demonology. There is an occult reality standing behind the various manifestations of idolatry.

It is perfectly possible that Jethro was a polytheist. Not every speaker in the Bible is a Yahwist.

4. On the face of it, it is obvious that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God, otherwise you wouldn't have distinct and divergent groups.

5. The Koran is equivocal on the subject. One has to draw a line between the Meccan verses and the Medinan verses. Muhammad had a garbled, hearsay knowledge of the Bible and Christian theology, interlarded with local folktales. At the outset of his career, he apparently believed that his movement was a restoration of the true faith, and that his message was essentially the same as that of the Jews and Christians.

But after a while, it became clear that the Jews and Christians did not share his equation. At that point, his begins to position harden.

In the Koran, Muhammad rejects the Trinity, although it's also clear that he lacks an accurate understanding of the doctrine. Because of the Trinity, Muslims often class the Christians with other idolaters who compromise the unity and utter transcendence of God. This accounts for the pervasive persecution of Christians by Muslims, both past and present.

6. Conversely, Byzantine theologians referred to Allah as a solid God or holospheric deity because it lacked any internal complexity. Clearly they didn't equate Allah with the true God of Nicene Orthodoxy.

7. Whether Jews and Christians worship the same God is not a simple question, for it depends on what you mean by a Jew. In Christian theology, the OT God is the same as the NT God.

However, modern-day Judaism runs along a wide religious spectrum, filtered through the Talmud (which canonizes Pharisaic Judaism), the Kabbala (based on Neoplatonic theosophy, with a lot of Hebrew wordplay thrown in) and liberal humanism (a la Marx, Moses Mendelssohn, Martin Buber, Isaac Mayer Wise, Abraham Heschel, Mordecai Kaplan, Zionism, &c.).

Christian theology would say that Messianic Jews (=Jewish Christians) worship the same God. This would include the NT writers as well as the Jews for Jesus crowd.

8. It's true that the Muslim God and the Jewish God have different attributes, although that is not necessarily the best place to start. It is an issue of rival revelatory claims. Islam is a Christian heresy. If Christianity is true, then Islam is false because Islam both builds on Christianity and contradicts it.

9. It's also true that the hostile reaction to Bush's equation is, in part, driven by opposition to religious relativism and pluralism. Pluralism is an intellectual charade, for in the name of diversity it presumes to state the real interrelationship of the world's religions. But in that case it offers one global interpretation of religious phenomena, which is no more tolerant than the traditional rivalries.

Pluralism also operates with the unspoken assumption that unless everyone is saved, no one should be saved. But this seems, at the very least, like a rather ungenerous expression of inclusivity.

10. Pluralism often claims that the great monotheistic religious share a common bond by being Abrahamic faiths. However, the Abrahamic lineage of Islam is a Koranic claim and not a Biblical claim. So pluralism begs the question.

11. By virtue of natural revelation and common grace, there's a sense in which Muslims and Christians know the same God, but Muslims don't worship the God they know, at this subliminal level. Rather, they worship a surrogate "God" or idol. They know one thing, but believe another. To suppress and supplant the knowledge of the true God is the essence of idolatry (Rom 1). Islam is not monotheistic, but mono-idolatrous. The difference between a Muslim and a polytheist is that a Muslim only worships one false god instead of many.

Unequally yoked-2

Let us now transition from his exegetical arguments to his sociopolitical arguments, from some articles at his website.

Here Comes the Groom: A conservative case for gay marriage.

"The judge ruled that to all intents and purposes a gay lover is a part of his lover's family, inasmuch as a 'family' merely means an interwoven social life, emotional commitment, and some level of financial independence."

The assumption here is pretty breathtaking. As Sullivan would have it, a judge has the prerogative to define the institution of marriage. Judges don't merely interpret the law, consistent with legislative intent, with a view to applying general laws to specific cases. No, judges now enjoy the stipulative authority to define reality. A fact is whatever a judge says it is. If a judge says that the moon is made of green cheese, then we must acquiesce to his sovereign judgment in the matter.

Other issues aside, I scarcely suppose that Sullivan would be so docile and deferential to the judiciary if it were ruling regularly against his sexual agenda.

"In these cities (San Franciso, Berkeley, Madison, and LA), a variety of interpersonal arrangements qualify for health insurance, bereavement leave, insurance, annuity and pension rights, housing rights (such as rent-control apartments), adoption and inheritance rights. Eventually, according to gay Lobby groups, the aim is to include federal income tax and veterans' benefits as well. A recently case even involved the right to use a family member's accumulated frequent-flier points."

How many people, when they are polled on same-sex marriage or other queer rights, are the least bit aware of the whole package of entitlements and benefits? What do you bet it would change the survey results if they knew?

"The only possible effect of [same-sex marriage] would be to persuade gay men and women who force themselves into heterosexual marriage (often at appalling cost to themselves and their family) to find a focus for their family instincts in a more personally positive environment."

How are homosexuals being "forced" into heterosexual marriage? Do straight men and women—"swinging singles" and "confirmed bachelors"—feel forced into the matrimonial state?

It is, of course, true that, especially in the past, many homosexual men have led double-lives, maintaining the façade of a normal family life while having a boyfriend on the side. However, the very fact that they were able to father children proves evinces a capacity for heterosexual arousal. So they must find women somewhat attractive.

And if a homosexual's familial "instinct" is that strong, then he sounds like a good candidate for reparative therapy. The familial instinct goes hand-in-hand with the procreative libido.

"Even the most hardened conservatives recognize that gays are a permanent minority and aren't likely to go away. Since persecution is not an option in a civilized society, why not coax gays into traditional values rather than rain incoherently against them?"

There are many permanent minority groups: the rapist, the robber, the murderer. Should we mainstream everything we can't eradicate?

Are we persecuting the rapist, the robber, or the murderer, when we imprison or execute the members of his minority group?

Is this uncivilized? Of course, "civilized" is a value-laden word. For example, some of us would regard a society in which the age of consent is lowered so that sodomites can safely prey upon adolescent boys is barbaric rather than civilized.

"Many lesbian relationships are virtual textbook cases of monogamous commitment."

That may or may not be so, but women are not wired the same way as men. Indeed, you notice that he doesn't say the same thing about queer men, and for good reason.

"Given that gay relationship will always exist, what possible social goal is advanced by framing the law to encourage those relationships to be unfaithful, undeveloped, and insecure?"

Of course, this all hinges on the moral status of the relationships in question. Organized crime will always exist, but do we really wish to pass laws that strengthen the ties between various members of the syndicate?

And even setting aside the moral question, this assumes that it's the duty of government to make people feel good about themselves. But this is just plain childish. Indeed, it plays into the stereotype of homosexuality as a state of arrested development, as if the homosexual yearns for parental approval, for a pat on the head from Mother Church and Uncle Sam.

Why Civil Unions Aren't Enough

"Marriage, under any interpretation of American constitutional law, is among the most basic civil rights."

What about an interpretation based on textuality and original intent? Since the Constitution never says that marriage is a civil right, to insist otherwise is just an act of make-believe.

Since all the Colonies had anti-Sodomy laws on the books at the time the Constitution was ratified, it is absolutely certain on any historically authentic interpretation of Constitutional history that sodomy is a civil wrong rather than a civil right.

"There are no arguments for civil union that do not apply equally to marriage. To endorse one but not the other…is to engage in an act of pure stigmatization. It risks not only perpetuating public discrimination against a group of citizens but adding to the cultural balkanization that already plagues American public life."

I agree with Sullivan that any argument for one is an argument for the other. Of course, this reasoning is convertible. Any argument against one is an argument against the other. So I concede his logic, but reverse the presumption.

Some social stigmas are good. They have deterrence value.

Some forms of discrimination are good. That's why we have a criminal law code.

"Is there some reason a heterosexual couple without children should have the rights and responsibility of civil marriage but a lesbian couple with biological children from both mothers should not?"

Yes, there is a reason. Either a lesbian should not be a mother, or a mother should not be a lesbian. Simple as that.

"As a political matter, to secure the rights of a majority by eviscerating the rights of a minority is the opposite of what a liberal democracy is supposed to be about. It certainly should be inimical to anyone with even a vaguely liberal temperament."

Well, then, I guess I lack an even vaguely liberal temperament. Should I cry myself to sleep? Jump off a bridge? Read Das Kapital? Given a choice I'd rather jump off a bridge than read Das Kapital!

To cast the issue as though we were denying them their rights is begging the very question at issue. We cannot deny what we never affirmed.

Again, this is not a question of liberal democracy, but a Constitutional republic. The Constitution of the United States allows for anti-sodomy laws. Always has.

"Marriage is a fundamental mark of citizenship. In its rulings, the Supreme Court has found that the right to marry is vested not merely in the Bill of Rights but in the Declaration of Independence. In the Court's view, expressed by Chief Justice Earl Warren…'the freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.' It is one of the most fundamental rights accorded under the Constitution. Hanna Arendt put it best in her evisceration of miscegenation laws in 1959: 'the right to marry whoever one wishes is an elementary human right compared to which…[other rights] are minor indeed…nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution are secondary to the inalienable human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs.'

You can see Arendt's point. Would any heterosexual in America believe he had the right to pursue happiness if he could not marry the person he loved?

When an extremely basic civil right is involved, it seems to me that the burden of proof should life with those who seek to deny it to a small minority of citizens, not with those who seek to extend it…if gay love truly is as valid as straight love, and if civil marriage is a deeper constitutional right than the right to vote, then the continued exclusion of gay citizens from civil marriage is a constitutional and political enormity. It is those who defend the status quo who should be required to prove their case beyond even the slightest doubt.

To concede that gay adults are responsible citizens…and then to offer gay men and women a second-class institution called civil union makes no sense…Gay men and women are citizens of this country. After two centuries of invisibility and persecution, they deserve to be recognized as such."

There's so much wrong with this that it's hard to know where to start, but I'll give it a go. Perhaps the most fundamental blunder is the failure to draw an elementary and elemental distinction between a civil right and a human right. Civil rights are conferred by the state, but human rights by God. At least, Jefferson grounded human rights in a divine donation, and if we're going to bring the Declaration of Independence into the mix, then there goes a neat and tidy division of church and state.

Indeed, there's a screaming contradiction in Sullivan's argument. For whatever the state can give, the state can take back. For Sullivan to lead all his weight on judicial fiat is a very shaky reed indeed.

Governments routinely take away life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It's called imprisonment and execution. And this is ordinarily done to citizens. The rapist, the robber, the murderer, is a citizen.

Where does the Constitution empower the courts to "find" new rights in the Constitution? "Find"? Like something lost or hidden? What does that really mean? Once again we're back to play-acting. Judge pretend to find new rights, and we pretend they found them.

This sort of game, which is really a bait-and-switch scam, is played by those who don't have an honest argument for their position, so they must resort to legal fictions. They see faces in the clouds, and insist that we must seem them too.

And, of course, his arguments are reversible. Court rulings are reversible. If "gay love is truly valid," then a certain conclusion may follow; but if invalid, so much for the conclusion. If citizenship confers equal rights, then one solution to the incongruity of second-class citizenship is to strip the sodomites of their citizenship. Indeed, if we were to accept Sullivan's judicial philosophy, this could be done by simple judicial fiat.

To equate same-sex marriage with interracial marriage is to compare the incomparable. In an interracial marriage, all the parts intermesh, like a lock and key, whereas a same-sex marriage is a misfit. I don't mean this merely at a physiological level, although that's fundamental. But also in terms of complementary role relations and nurturing role models. And if this is considered sexist, I'd just note how often queer coupling parodies the stereotypical positions and role relations. So the analogy falls apart at the precise point where it needs to hold together.

Note, also, how sweeping are the statements of Arend and the Warren Court. The right to marry whomever one wishes? What if a man wants to marry his five-year-old daughter and consummate the wedding? What if he wants to marry his dog?

And for all the indignant rhetoric about unjust discrimination and lump-throated oratory about the pain of persecution, let us never forget that it's the liberals in general and sodomites in particular who are exerting every effort to penalize dissent through their hate speech and speech codes.

And let us also not forget, when we talk about queer rights in the abstract, what we're really talking about—about rimming and fisting, anal sex and scat, not to mention all the STDs, not to mention the seduction of minors, not to mention the whips and chains.

And while we're on the subject of who has what rights, let us not forget the rights of a child to be reared in a natural and normal and moral environment. Of course, the heterosexual ideal often falls short, but a homosexual environment is intrinsically evil and abusive.

The State of Our Unions

Finally, Andrew Sullivan published a piece of pro-homosexual advocacy in the WSJ (

Much of what makes a fallacious position persuasive is the cumulative impact of sly half-truths, equivocations and, exaggerations. These are all on display in his article. Let us therefore dissect his leading arguments:
"Whatever you feel about the reasoning of the decision [Lawrence v. Texas], its result is clear: Gay Americans are no longer criminals. And very few conservatives want to keep them that way."

Of course, many conservatives regard Lawrence is another example of a runaway judiciary. (Cf. R. Bork, The Tempting of America (Free Press, 1997); Coercing Virtue (AEI Press, 2003);;

Scalia, for one, cut it down root and branch (

Why should conservatives feel bound to accept the result? After all, Lawrence represents an express reversal of past precedent. So it could be reversed again. Judicial activism cuts both ways. All you need is five votes. Or, state and federal executives could just tell judges to go fly a kite. That's what Jefferson said when he was President. There's nothing in the Constitution that empowers or authorizes the court to strike down social legislation. When one branch of government oversteps its Constitutional mandate, it is the duty of other branches to uphold the Constitutional division of powers. Congress ought to exercise its Constitutional right (Article III, Section 2) to rein in the jurisdiction of the courts

I don't know what percentage of conservatives oppose anti-sodomy laws. Where is Sullivan's polling data? It's clear that theonomic conservatives were excluded from the sampling base!

In any event, this is a red-herring. This issue is not whether anti-sodomy laws are good or bad, but whether they're unconstitutional. The fact that all thirteen colonies which ratified the Constitution had anti-sodomy laws on the books, and the further fact that it took a 21C court to discover a right to sodomy in an 18C document, go to show that this newly-minted Constitutional right is just another legal fiction, like Roe v. Wade or Everson v. Board of Education.
"The social transformation of the last decade cannot simply be gainsaid: A poll this week for USA Today found that 67% of the 18-29 age group believe that gay marriage would benefit society. The public as a whole is evenly split on that issue. Many of the people favoring a new tolerance are Republicans and conservatives. And this is inevitable. When the daughter of the vice president is openly gay, it's hard to treat homosexual citizens as some permanent kind of Other, as a threat to civil order and society."

Of course, many social conservatives would take this polling data as an indictment of the liberal media and liberal education establishment. Also, to seize on this as evidence of social transformation is a bit optimistic. There is no popular groundswell for the mainstreaming of sodomy. What we have is a highly polarized population with a cultural elite trying to force its value system on the majority. And there's a stiff, grass-roots opposition to this heavy-handed imposition. Indeed, the reason that the left-wing resorts to such iron-fisted, top-down tactics is that it doesn't enjoy a popular mandate for its radical agenda.

But perhaps even more to the point, moral relativism cuts both ways. If yesterday's immorality is today's morality, then what is to prevent today's morality from becoming tomorrow's immorality? Moral relativism can do a double flip. Indeed, the reason the far left is so strident and imperious is the fear that its social and legal gains could revert overnight.

As to the VP's daughter, social conservatives could, to the contrary, view this as yet another dangerous step in the insidious ascendancy of the queer lobby to the levers of power. And there's nothing new about powerful parents of dissolute youth. That, indeed, is an occupational hazard—from David and Absalom to Saddam & sons.

To imply that social conservatives have hitherto treated homosexuals as "some kind of Other," carries with it the odious insinuation that any disapproval of sodomite sex is based on prejudice and ignorance: if we only got to know homosexuals, we'd discover that they're human too!

However, social conservatives have never treated homosexuals as subhuman. Sullivan is stereotyping and demonizing his opponents. To the contrary, it is just because the homosexual is human that he is a morally responsible agent, accountable for his actions and answerable to God. Opposition to sodomy is not rooted in irrational fear and ignorance, but a considered judgment which is well grounded in natural law and revealed theology.
"The majority of social conservatives oppose gay marriage; they oppose gay citizens serving their country in the military; they oppose gay citizens raising children; they oppose protecting gay citizens from workplace discrimination; they oppose including gays in hate-crime legislation, while including every other victimized group; they oppose civil unions; they oppose domestic partnerships; they oppose . . . well, they oppose, for the most part, every single practical measure that brings gay citizens into the mainstream of American life.
This is simply bizarre. Can you think of any other legal, noncriminal minority in society toward which social conservatives have nothing but a negative social policy? What other group in society do conservatives believe should be kept outside integrating social institutions? On what other issue do conservatives favor separatism over integration? We know, in short, what conservatives are against in this matter. But what exactly are they for?"

Not only do most social conservatives oppose queer marriage, so do most queers. It is telling that Sullivan doesn't favor the reader with any polling data on the rate of promiscuity among homosexuals.

As to military service, are sodomites serving their country or their own agenda? Most sodomites are social liberals, and social liberals always want to slash the defense budget. Our coed military has already sidetracked the brass on sexual misconduct trials, and it doesn't take much imagination to see openly queer CO's hitting on their subordinates.

As to anti-discrimination in employment (or housing), let us keep in mind that many social conservatives take a broadly libertarian position on this issue, believing that a private employer (or landlord) should be free to hire or fire anyone he pleases, whatever the grounds. It is one thing to legislate discrimination (e.g., Jim Crow), quite another to legislate non-discrimination. One can oppose the former without supporting the latter. For example, if a black restaurateur refused to serve a white customer, social conservatives would voice their disapprove, but they would never legislate their disapproval.

Yes, we don't want homosexuals anywhere near our kids. If they can't be trusted in the confessional—witness the Catholic sex scandal—then they can't be trusted in the classroom.

And, yes, we believe that there are two sexes, that men and women were made for each other, that children have a natural right to be raised by suitable role-models of manhood and womanhood. This is as old as boy-meets girl. Hardly an outlandish position.

Social conservatives quite logically oppose the extension of hate-crime legislation to homosexuals for the general reason that social conservatives oppose hate-crime legislation across the board. They reject the whole cottage-industry of victimology. (Cf. R. Rushdoony, Politics of Guilty & Pity [Thoburn, 1978].) Sullivan is imputing a false premise to the social conservatives, and then accusing them of inconsistency. That's a straw man argument.

Can we think of any other legal, noncriminal minority in society which social conservatives with to exclude? This way of framing the question is itself prejudicial and tendentious. Once again, Sullivan is imputing a false premise to social conservatives. Since they've have never conceded a Constitutional right of sodomy, they don't classify sodomites with other minorities. For that matter, social conservatives don't believe in legally classifying any minority group. It's the liberals who want to stamp everyone with a legal label, as a member of some protected and preapproved subculture. So Sullivan's accusatorial question is question-begging twice over.
"Let me be practical here. If two lesbian women want to share financial responsibility for each other for life, why is it a conservative notion to prevent this? If two men who have lived together for decades want the ability to protect their joint possessions in case one of them dies, why is it a conservative notion that such property be denied the spouse in favor of others? If one member of a young gay couple is badly hurt in a car accident, why is it a conservative notion that his spouse not be allowed to visit him in the intensive-care unit? In all these cases, you have legal citizens trying to take responsibility for one another. By doing so, by setting up relationships that do the "husbanding" work of family, such couples relieve the state of the job of caring for single people without family support. Such couplings help bring emotional calm to the people involved; they educate people into the mundane tasks of social responsibility and mutual caring. When did it become a socially conservative idea that these constructive, humane instincts remain a threat to society as a whole? And how do these small acts of caring actually undermine the heterosexual marriage of the people who live next door?"

How did we make the sudden jump from homosexuals to "couples"? Do homosexuals ordinarily pair off? Not according to the statistics I've read. And how is homosexuality a constructive instinct? It hardly qualifies as a survival instinct.

Sullivan throws in the little tearjerker about a homosexual who can't see his injured boyfriend—note how Sullivan sneaks in the word "spouse"—in ICU. What's missing from this picture? Maybe the immediate family—you know, the mother and father who reared him from birth, the brother and sister with whom he grew up. Shouldn't the natural family have first dibs at tending and caring for a fallen family member?

How do homosexuals pose a threat to the neighbor next door? Well, now, let us count the ways. What about queer Boy Scout leaders who wish to take young boys on remote retreats? What about pressure groups like NAMBLA that wish to lower or abolish the age of consent? What about the same-sex ratio between victim and victimizer in the Catholic sex scandal? What about the spread of AIDS? What about hate-speech that outlaws the freedom of dissent? One could go on and on about this, but you get the picture. Really, it's no different than our suspicion of a leering old man who hangs around the playground, scoping out the boys and girls.
"On what grounds do conservatives believe that discouraging responsibility is a good thing for one group in society? What other legal minority do they or would they treat this way? If a group of African-Americans were to set themselves up and campaign for greater familial responsibility among black couples, do you think conservatives would be greeting them with dismay and discouragement or even a constitutional amendment to stop them?"

Whether social responsibility is a virtue or a vice rather depends on the social circles in which you move, does it not? Gang-bangers are responsible to gang-leaders. Vikings are responsible to their warlords. Hookers are responsible to pimps. Suicide-bombers are responsible to the Mullah. Mafiosi are responsible to the Don. Nazis are responsible to the Führer. Kamikazes are responsible to the emperor. Call me intolerant, but I'd rather like to discourage that brand of social responsibility.

The comparison with black skin is a non-sequitur, for dark pigmentation is no sin, whereas sodomy is a sin that unravels the social fabric.
"At times, the social conservative position is almost perversely inconsistent: Many oppose what they see as gay promiscuity; but even more strongly, they oppose any social measures that would encourage gay monogamy, such as marriage. What, one wonders, do they want?"

Yes, social conservatives oppose queer monogamy and promiscuity alike for the simple reason that they oppose any form of homosexual activity. What could be more consistent?

Suppose we were to plug another example into Sullivan's pseudo-dilemma. "At times, the social conservative position is almost perversely inconsistent: Many oppose what they see as serial killing; but even more strongly, they oppose any social measures that would encourage a one-time hit. What, one wonders, do they want?"

Sullivan knows perfectly well the conservative alternative. Social conservatives favor Christian conversion and sexual healing.

In answering Sullivan's question, I cannot speak for all social conservatives, anymore than he can speak for all sodomites, but speaking for myself and other like-minded conservatives, what I want is a social order that honors and upholds the fundamental institutions of society as defined by the creation mandates in Gen 1-2 and their practical application throughout the remainder of OT and NT ethics.

Unequally yoked-1

Among those who have made a case for the mainstreaming of sodomy, I suppose no other voice has had as wide and respectful a hearing in conservative circles as that of Andrew Sullivan. As a fiscal and foreign policy hawk, Sullivan already has the ear of many conservative news junkies. And on the subject of sodomy, he comes across as affable and reasonable.

Except for the religious right, conservatives prefer conservatism in moderation. Their conservatism is a pragmatic conservatism. They dislike the practical consequences of liberal ideology. But they have a libertarian streak. They think a little religious is a good thing as long as you don't get carried away with it and take it to its logical extreme. They're equally at ease with a little vice and a little virtue as long as neither gets out of hand.

Sullivan is very adept at playing to this crowd by playing both ends off against the middle. He comes across as the voice of reason and moderation. He massages their love of compromise. He flatters their sense of fair-play. And, in the meantime, he also has the liberals and the radicals in his camp. The radicals may not stop where he draws the line, but they find him a useful bridge.

All and all, then, Sullivan is a natural coalition builder. Here's a man who has the ear of liberal-opinion makers as the London Times, New York Times, LA Times, and Washington Post, as well as conservative opinion-makers at the Wall Street Journal and National Review. As such, we need to take him seriously and subject his writing to searching scrutiny.

In opposing sodomy, our very advantage can be a disadvantage. We are faced with a familiar philosophical paradox. It is often harder to argue for the obvious than for the mysterious. One function of reasoned argument is to make the mysterious more evident. The ordinary assumption of a good argument is that once a mysterious matter has been clarified, the argument has done it's job. There's nothing more to say, for at that point, the truth should be plain for all to see, and accepted as such.

But what do you do when someone denies the obvious? When what is obvious is where the debate begins, and not where it ends? In discussing the obvious, there's not much more that we can do than describe and paraphrase the obvious.

This is why many men are caught off guard and left speechless when challenged to defend the obvious. They've never given it a second thought. It's something they've taken for granted. You might as well ask them to prove that grass is green.

Now, what could be more obvious than boy meets girl? That is based on common biology and physiology, evident to all. It's where we all come from. At this point, even the teaching of Scripture merely codifies common sense. This is not the disclosure of something deeply mysterious. Here is where special and general revelation overlap. Where Scripture confirms and give grounding to our native intuitions.

For purposes of this essay, I'll simply run through Sullivan's major arguments in his major articles, as well as his book. One of the difficulties with weighing his arguments is that it's often unclear in his writing what counts as an argument. For much of it consists in question-begging assumptions and barefaced assertions stated as though they were self-evident propositions.

Virtually Normal

In his article on "Why Civil Unions Aren't Enough," Sullivan says that "this essay is not intended for those who believe that homosexual love is sinful or immoral...or who claim that homosexual relationships are inherently dysfunctional." However, Sullivan does devote a whole chapter to that group in his book Virtually Normal (Vintage Books 1996). And he admits at the very outset that their position "commands the most widespread support of any of the four arguments outlined in this book" (23). Needless to say, it is also the argument of most interest and concern to Christians. So how does Sullivan try to defuse the religious argument?

It is striking that in a book of some 200 pages, only pp25-31 are given over to a discussion of the biblical materials. That's six pages—total. That comes out to less that 3% of the entire book. Most of the chapter is devoted to a critical analysis of Catholic natural law theory.

But let's go back a page. Sullivan launches his counteroffensive by saying that "a liberal society cannot engage someone who bases his view of homosexuality on religious authority alone. Like unreasoned emotion, unanswerable religious authority is, well, unanswerable" (24).

This statement has a couple of notable features. The first, which is a common tactic of Sullivan's, is to attach a question-begging adjective to the noun ("liberal society"), the effect of which is to make an acceptable noun smuggle the contraband of an unacceptable adjective. Sullivan's statement is true by definition, since a "liberal" society, in his usage, does not defer to religious authority. But this statement is a tautology, not an argument. As soon as we drop the prejudicial adjective, the conclusion falls flat.

The other insinuation, again not an argument, but innuendo, is that an appeal to religious authority is an appeal to blind faith. But, of course, this is a very careless generalization. It all depends on the religion and the religious adherent. If the Bible is the word of God, then appeal to Scripture is an appeal, not only to a higher authority, but to a higher reason—indeed, to supreme reason.

So the relevance of the religious argument cannot be dismissed except on the assumption that religious authority is, indeed, akin to unreasoned emotion. And that, to say the very least, demands a supporting argument.

Sullivan's next move is to claim that "a democratic society can forbid—as the constitution of the United States forbids—the state's coercion of people into unwilling obedience to religious authority" (24).

This calls for two comments. Once again we see the use of a tendentious adjective to tilt the scales. Strictly speaking, the US is not a democratic society, but a constitutional republic. As such, its citizens cannot lawfully forbid anything they please. They are bound by the constitutional rule of law. They can amend the Constitution, but they cannot lawfully violate the Constitution.

In addition, Andrew Sullivan is rewriting Constitutional history. His reading of the Establishment clauses reflects a popular misconception and deliberate distortion of the fact. He turns the Establishment clause into a disestablishment clause—the polar opposite of what it means. But the Establishment clause is only a check on the coercive powers of the Federal government in matters of faith. It forbids the establishment of a national church. But by the same token, it leaves the sovereign states entirely autonomous to regulate their internal religious affairs as they see fit. As far as the Constitution is concerned, an individual state is perfectly free to coerce its citizens into unwilling obedience to religious authority. (Cf. D. Dreisbach, Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State [NYU Press 2003]; P. Hamburger, Separation of Church & State [Harvard 2004].)

Sullivan goes on to say that "one of the first principles of liberal societies, as they have emerged from the theocracies and dictatorships of the past, is that the religious is not the same as the political; that its very discourse is different; and that the separation of the two is as much for the possibility of vibrant faith as it is for the possibility of civil polity. So there is no argument here either against a religious conviction that doesn't respect or understand a separate, if related, political sphere (24).

This calls for a number of comments. One concerns the level of abstraction. Historically, a number of democracies have had state churches. So this is a false antithesis.

Sullivan is subtly shifting from a Constitutional question to a prudential question, but blurring the two in the process. Whether or not church/state separation is a good idea or a bad idea, it is not a Constitutional question. That was expressly reserved for the individual discretion of the states.

There are many important issues to which the Constitution does not speak. And for good reason. Nothing is more dangerous or fallacious than assuming that all civil rights or human rights, or matters of right and wrong, devolve from the Constitution. The Constitution is not the source and standard of personal and social ethics. It simply puts in place a political process. It is neutral on most matters of morality.

Whether a secular state is better than a theocracy is a very value-laden judgment. This calls for a supporting argument. And everything depends on how you define a theocracy. A theocracy doesn't select for any particular polity. The OT theocracy could function under both a constitutional monarchy and a tribal oligarchy. The key issue is not the enforcement mechanism, but what social code enjoys the force of law.

The law has a moral basis. Morality has a religious basis. The law codifies social morality. As such, religion has a political dimension.

Perhaps Sullivan would take issue with some of these derivations. But, if so, he needs to work up an argument to that effect.

Before moving to the specifics of Scripture, Sullivan outlines the religious argument in general, as he sees it: "Homosexuality is a choice. There is no significant difference between homosexual orientation and homosexual acts. Homosexual orientation is the willingness to commit such acts or a history of so doing…so any human being can be direct to heterosexual conduct" (25).

This is not how I myself would mount the argument. It contains a number of assumptions and equivocations that I don't make. So his version is, as far as I'm concerned, a straw man argument.

Perhaps the most basic assumption in the way that Sullivan has chosen to frame the issue is the presumption that we cannot formulate a moral public policy until we isolate and identify the root-causes of sodomy. This has, of course, become a very popular assumption, fostered by the social sciences. Every time we have a schoolyard shooting, the armchair psychiatrists, sociologist, and anthropologists opine on the causal origin of this outburst. This has turned a cottage industry, with consultants for hire.

Speaking for myself, this is sometimes interesting, but never relevant. I don't care whether a vicious dog is vicious because he is a mean breed or because he was mistreated as a pup. It isn't necessary to come down on one side or the other of the nature/nurture debate, or apportion their respective contributions. Although I have some opinions on this matter, it isn't necessary that I have some opinions on this matter.

To begin with, then, let's drop the term "orientation." That's a loaded word. Maybe it's accurate, maybe inaccurate. It goes to the question of origins, for which I doubt we can offer a definitive or uniform answer. And, in any case, we don't need to. So let's avoid the gratuitous connotations of that word.

Instead, let's distinguish between homosexual attraction and homosexual acts. Attraction is consistent with orientation, but doesn't commit us to the stronger thesis.

Now there are a variety of differences. It is not a difference between vice and virtue, per se. Both are sinful.

Bad feelings are not necessarily as evil as bad actions. Suppose I feel like killing some one. This could mean that I would kill him if I thought I could get away with murder. In that instance, deeds and feelings are morally equivalent. Or it may only mean that, at a certain level, I'd like to see him dead, but I'd never kill him, even if I could do so with impunity. In that instance, deeds and feelings are not morally equivalent.

Now, one thing we discover very early in life is that we don't have as much control over our feelings as we would like to have. We think bad thoughts. And although we can exercise some measure of mental discipline, our powers of emotional self-restraint are admittedly limited. We fail to feel about others the way we know we ought to feel.

But the fact that some of our bad attitudes are involuntary doesn't excuse them. So I don't go along with the glib assumption that something must be voluntary to be culpable. No doubt there are folks who would disagree with me, but the immediate point is that an argument predicated on common assumptions which are, not in fact, shared in common by the respective parties, is an unsound argument from the get-go. And knocking down that version of the argument doesn't necessarily establish you own case, for my opposition didn't buy into that version in the first place.

Another broad and basic distinction between feelings and deeds is that we enjoy much more control over our actions than over our attitudes. For even if homosexual attraction were uncontrollable, it wouldn't necessarily follow that homosexual expression is uncontrollable.

Having said that, it is probably unrealistic to suppose that a homosexual won't act out on his impulses. So the category of the celibate homosexual, while a bare possibility, is a rather artificial construct.

I don't assume that every homosexual can cultivate heterosexual passion. To begin with, I don't know how we would know that. It's an empirical question, and I don't know by what inductive method we could test such a sweeping claim.

But from a theological standpoint, I think it highly unlikely that every homosexual can be reoriented—if that's the right word for it. Rather, I believe that many homosexuals are hardened reprobates.

My guess is that homosexual attraction is an overdetermined behavior. Many factors may predispose a man or woman to be a homosexual. None of these are determinates. A sinner can't help sinning, but he can choose between one evil and another. Like an acquired taste or obsessive-compulsive behavior, sin can become engrained, become second nature.

Of course, I also believe that God saves sinners—not all, but some. Regeneration effects a basic change in their moral and spiritual disposition. But Christians still struggle with besetting sins.

I reject the category of a Christian homosexual, both because the label implies that sodomy is consistent with Christian ethics, and also because it implies that Christian conversion has no practical effect on our attitudes. But I also don't assume that if a homosexual undergoes genuine conversion, his immoral impulses are totally eradicated. He may relapse in thought and deed. Every Christian is still a sinner, and a sinner is a recidivist. There is, though, a difference between sinning and backsliding, and another difference between backsliding and apostasy. God sees everything in black and white, but pastoral ministry must sometimes distinguish between shades of gray when deciding whether to refer some cases to counseling or church discipline. We can be too soft in some cases and too harsh in others.

In this general connection, Sullivan says that "even the prohibitionists themselves have found it impossible to avoid the term 'homosexual,' conceding by their very language that some people, by their own nature, appear to be predominantly or exclusively attracted to members of their own sex" (30).

This is almost too silly for words. We name things so that we can refer to them for communication purposes. By Sullivan's line of logic, if I call a man a plumber I thereby concede that some men are plumbers by nature, and are either predominantly or exclusively attracted to water closets!

Now let us review his handling of Scripture. When we turn to this section we're confronted with another complication. Not only is there the question of whether his explanations are consistent with Scripture, but whether his explanations are even consistent with one another. So, for clarity of analysis, let us separate the two questions, even though this will entail some element of backtracking. Consider the following statements:

"In the Bible, indeed, the whole notion of heterosexual conduct is a preposterous one; there is merely human conduct, which is assumed to be heterosexual" (25).

"The most important point to realize is that none of the handful of injunctions against homosexual acts in the Bible are based on an argument about nature. Indeed, the whole argument about a universal human nature is absent to the writers of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures" (25-26).

"Paul regards the perversion of heterosexuality to be a crime against the nature of the people involved. But we should not that this is not a crime against 'nature' as such; it's a crime against the nature of individual heterosexuals. What Paul is describing here is heterosexuals engaging, against their own nature, in homosexual behavior…he seems to assume that every individual's nature is heterosexual" (29).

"Without invoking a general natural law, which was unknown to Paul, they have to say that each of us has his own heterosexual calling, and that our abandonment of it is deliberate and perverse" (30).

For the moment, I'm not commenting on the quality of the exegesis, just the question of internal consistency. In summarizing the position of Scripture, as Andrew Sullivan understands it, he manages to say, in the short space of five pages, that there's no such thing as heterosexual conduct, just human conduct (assumed to be heterosexual), that there is no notion of a universal human nature, that there's such a thing as an individual heterosexual nature, which applies to everyone, and that there's no general law governing sex appeal.

It's very hard to harmonize these statements. On the one hand he denies a universal natural law or human nature, on the other hand, he affirms an individual heterosexual nature, and he admits this heterosexual nature applies to every individual human being. To contradict himself so many times in so little time is a truly remarkable achievement.

Let us now go back through the individual exegesis. He begins with the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah. This is a false start. The proper place to begin is at the very beginning, with the creation of man as male and female (Gen 1-2).

According to its divine constitution, human nature consists of two genders. Male and female are natural companions, sexual partners and counterparts. This holds true for as along as there are sexually differentiated human beings. It isn't two of one, or one of two, but one of one and one of another, forming a natural pair. A couple of left shoes do not make a pair.

Sullivan also skips over the sin of Ham and the cursing of Canaan, but this is probably the first recorded instance of sodomy, and the malediction reflects the moral opprobrium of Scripture. The parallels between Gen 9:20-27 and Lev 20:17 are telling. More fundamentally, the Canaanites (Lev 18) are accursed in Canaan, the son of Ham. This goes to the principle of tribal solidarity in Scripture.

Let us now pick up where Sullivan left off:
"Many modern scholars, most notably John Boswell, have argued that the story of Sodom does not refer to the sin of homosexual sex but to that of inhospitality to strangers; similarly, Boswell argues that the KJV erroneously translates the term 'kadeshim' as 'sodomite,' when it should properly be understood as 'temple prostitute.' In many passages condemning sex" (26-27).

By way of reply:
i) Sullivan speaks of "many" modern scholars who share this view, but he only names one. So how many are there? And who are they?
ii) Even if we brought inhospitality into the mix, these explanations are by no means mutually exclusive, for homosexual gang-rape strikes me as a rather inhospitable way of treating a stranger or a houseguest. But Boswell and Sullivan are evidently assuming the S&M viewpoint on this score!
iii) Even if we went along with Boswell's rendering in general, what's the relevance to the account of Sodom & Gomorrah, or its parallel in Judges—which Sullivan skips over entirely? When the text says that every male, young and old, was engaged in this behavior (Gen 19:4), are we to suppose that every man and boy was a temple prostitute? Do we even know for a fact which, if any, of these townships had a temple?
iv) How can this be a more accurate rendering of "many passages condemning homosexual sex" when Sullivan twice talks about a "mere handful" of such passages?
v) The fact that a passage like Deut 23:17-18 has proximate reference to temple prostitution does not nullify its normative force:
a) God ordered the execution of the Canaanites for idolatry and immorality alike. Paul makes the same connection in Rom 1.
b) Child sacrifice was also an aspect of the pagan culture, but that doesn't suggest that although sacred child sacrifice is illicit, profane child sacrifice is licit.
vi) Boswell's rendering is equally inapplicable to Lev 18:22 and 20:13, where Moses does not use the word for a cult prostitute (qadesh), but the word for a human male (zakar).
vii) When Ezekiel comments on the fate of Sodom, he alludes, both to Gen 19 and the Levitical code in his use of the loaded word "abomination."
viii) Likewise, 2 Pet 2:7,10 and Jude 7 each finger sexual sin as the downfall of Sodom.

In this general connection, Sullivan also says that "even the prohibitionists themselves have found it impossible to avoid the term 'homosexual,' conceding by their very language that some people, by their own nature, appear to be predominantly or exclusively attracted to members of their own sex" (30).

Moving on to the Mosaic Law, Sullivan says that "the reason here is the proscription of impurity. 'Abomination' is more clearly translated as 'ritual impurity.' In the same context, there are identical provisions against eating pork or engaging in sexual intercourse during menstruation.

So those who use Leviticus to argue for the general prohibition of homosexual acts today have also to say why they are not in favor of a general prohibition against eating shell-fish or rabbit, against cutting hair, or mixing different fabrics in the same item of clothing, or having sex during menstruation, all of which are also proscribed in very similar language in Leviticus. If they truly are fundamentalists, they also have to argue for the death penalty for homosexual acts. Sadly, for the sake of consistency, no such arguments are made" (28).

But, of course, such arguments have been made repeatedly. Yet you'd never know that from looking through his "select bibliography," which is select indeed—by leaving out all of the scholarly literature to the contrary.

By way of reply:
i) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Christians have been inconsistent on this point, an inconsistency can be relieved in either of two directions. There are, for example, Christians who still observe the Kosher laws.
ii) In reading the law of Moses, we need to look both backward and forward. Assuming common authorship, sexual ethics in the Mosaic code has its background in the creation account. That doesn't mean that every detail of the law code is a direct implication of the creation mandates. But the basic binary gender relation and distinction most certainly is. Sullivan might deny common authorship, but that would require a supporting argument, and since he has chosen to address the Bible-believers on their own turn, he bears the burden of proof.
iii) Looking ahead, the NT teaches us that the ceremonial law was discontinued under the New Covenant (Heb 10).
vi) Conversely, as we shall see, the moral valuation of sodomy is carried over from one Testament to the next. So there is no inconsistency at the precise point of comparison.
vii) There is also an overlapping area between physical, ritual, and moral impurity. Although some things are ritually impure as a matter of mere convention, other things are ritually impure because they are also morally and/or physically impure. Ritual purity/impurity is an extension of nature and natural kinds (Gen 1:26-27). This is also the basis for the ban on bestiality.
viii) In Lev 20:13, the prohibition is grouped with other sex crimes rather than the cultic and occult section preceding it, while the ceremonial law resumes in the next chapter.
viii) The question of capital punishment is often raised as a kind of blocking maneuver to silence further debate. But this question is very much in play. However we come down, it cannot be dismissed out of hand.
ix) It is sometimes objected that this would be inconsistent with the church's missionary mandate. But that either proves too much or too little, for it amounts to an argument against the death penalty for any crime by anyone whatsoever.
x) Let us also not be more merciful to the victimizer than we are to the victim. As the Catholic sex scandal has brought out into the open, there's a very high correlation between sodomy and the seduction of minors. Indeed, sodomites lobby to lower the age of consent.

Moving on, Sullivan says that "in the four Gospels, the founder of the Christian religion makes no reference to homosexual acts whatsoever—not a single one. While he seems adamant about the prohibition of divorce, he has nothing to say about the role of homosexuality, to judge from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John" (28).

But this is neither here nor there:
i) Because of Christ's primarily Jewish audience, the question never came up, for this was never an open question in Jewish moral theology.
ii) Christ upholds the Mosaic law (Mt 5:17-19)
iii) In the very context of the divorce debate (in which Christ makes an exception for infidelity, Mt 5:32; 19:9), he appeals to the teaching of the creation account regarding the natural role-relations of male and female (Mt 19:4-5).
iv) Christ cites the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah as a foretaste of the final judgment (Lk 17:29).
v) Christian theology has never been limited to the express teaching of Christ. Christ himself chose the Apostles as his appointed spokesmen (Mt 10:40; Jn 13:20; Acts 9:15)

Moving on, Sullivan says, "St. Paul, however, is another matter. Here again, there are simple mistranslations, as contemporary Biblical scholars have pointed out. Two words translated later to imply homosexuality are, as Boswell has elaborated, more accurately rendered as "wanton" and "male prostitute" (28).

Actually, the compound word (Gr. arsenokoitai=male+lying) employed in 1 Cor 6:9 & 1 Tim 1:10 is lifted straight from the Septuagintal rendering of Lev 18:22 & 20:13. So here the NT directly reaffirms the Levitical law on sodomy. And the other term (Gr. malakoi=soft men) has evident reference to males or boys who are quite literally on the receiving end of the transaction. . If we were using old-fashioned words in their strict meaning, we'd render arsenokoitai as "sodomite" and malakoi as "catamite."
In addition, 1 Tim 1:9-10 is paraphrasing the second table of the Decalogue.

Alluding to Rom 1, Sullivan says that "Paul uses the example of heterosexuals…who yet decide to spurn the 'natural use' of their bodies in order to 'burn in their lust" for members of the same gender" (29).

But this is incoherent on its own terms. Although a normal man can commit sodomy, as is common in prison, he cannot lust after another man. A man who is attracted to another man is not a normal man, is not a heterosexual. That's a distinguishing and defining feature of a sodomite. Both straight men and queer men can engage in the physical act of sodomy, but homoerotic passion sets a homosexual apart, just as heterosexual passion sets a heterosexual apart.

Sullivan then says that Paul "seems to assume that every individual's nature is heterosexual" (29). But Sullivan believes that some individuals are naturally homosexual. So this amounts to a tactic admission that Paul condemns what he commends.

St. Paul transcends the nature/nurture debate by treating sodomy as a punishment for idolatry (Rom 1:24,26). God punishes sin with more sin. Sullivan also misses all of the allusions to Gen 1:26-27 in Rom 1:23,26-27.

Finally, Sullivan says that "Paul and the early Christians lived in the belief of the imminence of the Second Coming…Although sexual desires were, for Paul, something that needed to be satisfied within marriage, they were inherently suspect, as all earthly desires were suspect. Paul's admonitions against the flesh were the corollary of his demanding call to life in the spirit" (31).

This is a classic canard:
i) In Pauline theology, the flesh/spirit antithesis is not synonymous with a body/spirit antithesis. For Paul, carnal sins include, but go well beyond, sexual sins, to take in mental acts (Gal 5:19-21).
ii) Paul has a positive view of the sensible world, and was opposed to asceticism (1 Tim 4:1-5). If Sullivan is alluding to 1 Cor 7, I would just say that what we find there is a balanced and realistic assessment of the respective tradeoffs of the single and married life. Beyond that, people should consult the standard commentaries (by Blomberg, Fee, Garland, & Thiselton).

Sullivan also overlooks one other prooftext. In the list of idolaters and malefactors excluded from heaven, the reference to "dogs" in Rev 22:15 is likely an allusion to Deut 23:18. This makes painfully plain the damnable status of sodomy.