Saturday, April 18, 2015

Hand, foot, and eye

I was asked to comment on this post:
A few years back, a Pew Research poll discovered 79% of white evangelicals thought torturing a suspected terrorist to gain information could be justified while only 30% thought monogamous gay sex was moral. That is, white evangelicals were 3 times more likely to approve of abusing a man to the edge of death than they were of a gay marriage.
And I think I know why.
When thinking about the moral life, many Christians only consider the rules found in the Bible. We like rules. 

Of course, that's an overgeneralization. Some people like rules, but other people chaff at rules. 

Because there are no biblical passages forbidding torture in the legalese we commonly use, Christians can rationalize using enhanced interrogation techniques (they calm our fears, might keep us safe, and are hopefully used only on bad guys). 

That's tendentious because it presumes that defending the coercive interrogation of uncooperative high-value terrorists is a "rationalization." A philosophy prof. like Jeff Cook ought to avoid elementary fallacies like begging the question.

Conversely, the Bible does have six passages that seem to forbid all forms of gay sex.

That's highly deceptive. The Bible begins with the creation of man and woman. With heterosexual sex as the paradigm. That's how God designed humanity. 

"But doesn’t it seem strange that many Christians can quickly argue against a committed gay relationship with chapter and verse, yet have difficulty objecting to locking a man in a small box filled with insects?"

He doesn't bother to explain what's wrong with exploiting a terrorist's phobias to extract information to prevent the massacre of innocent men, women, and children. He simply takes his standard of comparison for granted. Once again, that's shabby from a philosophy prof. 

Doesn’t it seem odd that we can criticize faithful, monogamous lesbians, yet in theory endorse chaining a man to a concrete floor until frozen?

That confuses prisoner abuse with interrogation. Once again, a philosophy prof. should be able to draw rudimentary factual distinctions. 

I am a philosopher specializing in ethics and religion…

Then why does he reason like a hack?

(To be technical, apologists from both sides assume “deontology” as the Biblical normative ethic. Deontology judges how moral a person is by how closely his or her actions follow a set of rules. For deontologists rules, and rules alone, tell us what is right and wrong. 

Where does he come up with that? Some apologists are natural law theorists while other apologists are divine command theorists. And there are variations on divine command theory.

Because Christians often assume that rules are the way God displays his will for human life…

That's not something we "assume." Rather, that's explicitly and pervasively taught in Scripture.

…they argue about monogamous same-sex relationships almost exclusively with those six passages in mind.

Homosexuals are notoriously promiscuous, not monogamous. Even their "marriages" are open marriages. 

Not only is a commitment to a rule-focused ethic a misstep for thinking about gay sex, it is a horrible way to think about moral living in general. When unveiling the best possible life, the New Testament writers rejected a system of morality focused on rules, and it’s easy to see why. As Jesus showed us, those who follow all the divine commands can at the same time be the worst human beings (Mt 5.20). Jesus described one set of meticulous rule followers as “sons of hell” because they neglected the real source of moral goodness—the life of virtue (Mt 23).

i) That confuses man-made regulations with divine laws.

ii) It also fails to distinguish higher obligations from lower obligations.

iii) And Jesus made obedience to his commands a litmus test (Jn 14:15,23).

iv) The NT letters contain commands and prohibitions. Sin lists. "Household codes." You can't eliminate that from Christian piety or ethics.

v) In addition, good behavior can have a morally conditioning effect. 

Given the New Testament’s claims, all the healthiest action-focused laws we could affirm or create must be met if one lives the life of virtue.

Even if we grant that claim for the sake of argument, according to both Testaments the homosexual lifestyle is a life of vice rather than virtue. Aggravated vice.

Nothing about monogamous same-sex relationships by necessity contradicts a life of virtue. Physical relationships between same sex individuals may be enjoyed by faithful, courageous, wise, hopeful, loving, grace-filled, self-controlled people. Those who disagree will need to show how committed homosexuality, by its nature, always keeps a person from reflecting Christ or violates some Christian virtue. If they cannot a decisive argument emerges: Because monogamous gay sex does not violate the demands of Christian virtue, monogamous gay sex cannot be the target of the New Testament’s prohibitions when speaking about vicious sexual behavior.

That's viciously circular. He assumes the very thing he needs to prove–in the teeth of explicit Biblical testimony to the contrary–then deploys that tendentious assertion to claim the Biblical passages can't mean what they say. They must mean something else, anything else, however much gay-friendly reinterpretations cut against the grain of the text. 

Just as some have used the scriptures to advocate slavery, violence, or the silencing of women in church…

That's a popular wedge tactic. But it's only appealing to pacifists and egalitarians. I don't object to what the Bible teaches on those subjects. 

We may rightly read a passage like Romans 1 and say: pederasty, pagan temple prostitution, or using sex to dominate others (arguably what Paul has in the front of his mind when writing about gay sex) are soul-destroying because they cannot arise from love or faithfulness or self-control. 

That's a backdoor admission that he'd lose the exegetical argument if he dared to engage it. Knowing that's a lost cause from the outset, he forfeits that futile line of attack and tries to preempt serious exegesis altogether by declaring that we have the right to impose any interpretation on the text that we please consistent with our gratuitous presupposition. But that's an exercise in make-believe. 

But monogamous same-sex relationships are not soul-destroying; faithful, compassionate, Spirit-empowered, Christ-honoring people can enjoy them.

A committed relationship is morally neutral. Whether it's good or bad depends on the nature of the commitment. Bonnie and Clyde had a committed relationship. They were devoted to each other. Partners in crime. 

Now, perhaps you are unconvinced and continue to see the rules as the foundation of moral living. Perhaps you believe divine commands must be followed to the fullest extent of the law. Question: if you took a quick look at the New Testament, which sexual act would you guess requires the most severe remedy and is tied to the harshest punishment? 
In my reading, the answer is masturbation. In his teaching on lust, Jesus said, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Mt 5.30). If the problem continues, Jesus the Great Physician insists masturbators gouge out an eye. For those assuming a rule-focused ethic, following Jesus will require many of their friends, children, parishioners, and perhaps they themselves to break out the cleaver. The divine command could not be more clear.

That's so bad it's funny. Where do you even begin to deconstruct such a preposterous interpretation?

i) He'd need to show that Jesus is speaking literally rather than figuratively and hyperbolically.

ii) The Sermon on the Mount wasn't addressed to adolescent boys, but husbands, wives, and children who happened to be in attendance.

iii) Does Cook think masturbation is all that men use their hands for? Is this all that Cook uses his hands for? Consider all the things you use your hands for in the course of a day–or a week. 

iv) Apropos (iii), our hands are the primary natural tools we use to manipulate and interact with the physical world. We use them all the time to do all sorts of things. If you had no hands, imagine how severely that would limit your field of action. 

v) Apropos (iv), sinners use their hands to commit a variety of sins–both sexual and nonsexual. Think of how many crimes in the Mosaic law require the use of hands. 

vi) In Mt 5, the "eye" in v29 refers, not to masturbation but adulterous lust in v28. Frankly, blind people can masturbate. The point of the eye, in context, is sex appeal. 

His interpretation is nonsensical. Even if he thinks right-handed men masturbate with their right hand, do they rely on their right eye. What about the left eye? 

vii) In the Synoptic parallel (Mk 9:43,45,47), the same imagery ("hand…foot…eye") is used generically. It's not specific to sexual sin, much less masturbation in particular. 

ix) Sinners use their eyes to look at or look for the object of forbidden desire, use their feet to go to or go in search of the object of forbidden desire, and use their hands to touch or obtain the object of forbidden desire. It's generic imagery involving the stimulus and logistics of sin. 

x) Carson thinks "hand" is used here as a phallic euphemism in the context of adultery. If, moreover, that identification is correct, it wouldn't mean the hand stimulates the sex organ, but that the hand is the sex organ. So on that interpretation, Cook's interpretation fails on both counts. 

xi) Nolland cites a single, admittedly ambiguous, Mishnaic text that may possibly use the hand to allude to masturbation. There's no evidence that this is representative. And it's often anachronistic to construe the NT in light of the Mishnah. 


  1. According to his website, Jeff Cook is both a philosopher as well as a pastor. But both his reasoning as well as Biblical interpretations are poor, to say the very least. This doesn't seem to bode well for either of his career choices!

  2. Thanks for taking the time on that Steve, if you think the post was bad you should peruse the combox

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  4. It's not difficult to discern which sin Cook loves more than Jesus.

  5. If within the bounds of covenantal same sex marriage, he doesn't consider it a sin. In fact, he insists the onus is on the Christian who insists otherwise how same sex marriage violates the "virtue ethic" of the NT

    1. Cook says: "The burden of proof in ethics falls on those calling an action immoral."

      That''s absurd. Even in the abstract, both sides are making truth-claims,. Both affirmations and denials are truth-claims. To call an action moral carries just as much burden of proof as calling an action immoral.

      It's not as if there's a presumption that the action is moral, which the other side must overcome.

      And that's just in the abstract. In reality, the Bible has already said, both explicitly and implicitly, that homosexuality is immoral. In addition, scholars like Gagnon have provided the relevant exegesis, and rebutted alternative interpretations.

      So the burden of proof is on Cook's side.

    2. In addition, Jesus cites a panoply of OT verses in giving a positive statement of *what marriage is* in Matthew 19 (and Mark 6):

      “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh.

      In doing so, he affirms a proper understanding of what marriage has been "from the beginning".

    3. I went to Matt. 19 and pressed Jesus' teaching about God's design for marriage as being between a male and female "from the beginning", His intention for marriage as the Creator. The response? That is a passage about divorce, it doesn't address whom should marry. Incredible. Our culture, and to some degree, the church, has lost its collective mind.

    4. Clarification: I did this in the combox of the posts in question. Most of the commenters pushing back were professing believers. Troubling. And Jeff Cook is a pastor, by the way.

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    6. @CMG - Check out this article by Robert Gagnon that essentially addresses the same argument deployed by Cook. The conclusion that homosex is always and everywhere representative of unqualified sinful behavior is well argued and inescapable.

    7. Thanks, I'll give this a thorough reading.

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  6. Yeah, sin blinds like that. It's typical. One can pick literally anything and bracket it as Cook has, and assert the burden of proof is on others. That's a parlor trick.

  7. Simply replace "gay sex" or "monogamous same-sex relationships" with "beastiality" or "mother-son incest" or "father-daughter incest" to see the absurdity of Cook's argumentation.