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This is a running commentary/stream-of-consciousness response to a rather bizarre attack on the Christian worldview, and especially the Old Testament found in the Holy Scriptures. The original column can be found here, although the entirety is posted here with commentary in italics. It seems the real reason for the column is a rather volatile local political issue here in Southeast Idaho, but the majority of the column is mostly an attack on the Scriptures and Christianity. A more formal columned response is to follow…
Biblical Morality (Idaho State Journal, 3-30-14)
Found at: http://www.pocatelloshops.com/new_blogs/politics/?p=11925
By Jack Moore
(Running Commentary by Aaron Hayes in Italics)
“I keep seeing quotes in the letters to the editor about objective morality. I still wonder what the writers mean by it.”
Most in the classic Christian tradition mean something akin to “those actions, thoughts, and behaviors which reflect the character, will, and mind of the one God.” This God is Holy, Righteous, judge, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present, all-good, just, perfect, simple, love, merciful, etc…and has revealed himself especially in the Holy Scriptures, and also through his church and natural law. This is objective morality, based on God’s transcendent and imminent reality.
“I have come across few objective moral truths. One is: “Treat others with love and kindness.” Jesus said it this way: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:27-29). I fail at this one small morality often.”
These certainly qualify as objective moral truths, although they are certainly not the only ones. And yes, we all DO fail to meet these standards, which is why we need Jesus to save us in the first place. This being said, moral truths and laws only make sense in the Christian worldview. Any other worldview cannot account for the laws of logic and morality, because such laws are based on the character of the lawgiver and His sustaining of creation. If we are here by accident/chance, or if laws are based on culture or the individual, they are completely arbitrary and non-objective. Only the Christian faith can make a coherent and sensical worldview out of the very idea of law and morality.
“Besides that one, I have not found any objective moral truths in the Bible.”
You must not be looking very hard. Ever heard of the Ten Commandments? Ever encounter the phrase, “Thus says the LORD?” That’s pretty absolute and objective!
“If there are some they are well hidden.”
Only for those who refuse to seriously and objectively look. Any basic orthodox Christian systematic text will suffice, or even a good study bible. Talk to any Christian who has been catechized (instructed) and you will get some objective morals and truths right away.
“That is why I cannot understand why people hold the LGBTQ community in such disregard.”
If you cannot see why Christians teach what they teach, then yes, it is probably difficult to understand why the church teaches what it does regarding human sexuality. This is however out of love of God and neighbor, not so-called ‘disregard.’
“Out of all the laws in the Old Testament, the passage in Leviticus concerning homosexuality is the one law that must be upheld (Leviticus 18:22). It is always quoted to justify discrimination against the LBGTQ community.”
This is a woeful misunderstanding on a variety of different levels. First, Christians teach the entire counsel of God, not just a single law. All of God’s laws are upheld, God’s law is perfect, and Christ himself says that not one “jot or tittle” will pass away, and that He came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:16-20, and that word fulfill is VERY important for understanding this issue). It is the law which makes us realize how desperately we need a savior. So no, Christians don’t just uphold one law, but rather know how broken we are when confronted with the whole of God’s law. The question here is how God’s objective truths apply in civil society in a flawed and broken world, and how these are enforced. Besides, do you know any Christians going around saying it okay to lie, to cheat, to steal, and to commit adultery? Those are laws that Christians uphold….so obviously there isn’t just one. And the word “discrimination” assumes certain things that the Christian worldview is not willing to grant, such as sexual behavior being how one defines an individual as a class for example.
“I wish someone could explain to me why society has done away with 99 percent of Mosaic and Levitical law, but has decided to keep this one part of it.”
Where does this percentage come from? 1 out of 100? I hope this is simply rhetorical, and if it is, it is overstated to the extreme. For the record, there are 613 different laws. And no, Christians do not just “keep this one part of it” as explained above. Secondly, the Holy Scriptures contain multiple instances in which God’s design for marriage, family, and sex is demonstrated. Leviticus 18:22 is not the only passage in Holy Scripture that references homosexual behavior. There is another passage in Leviticus 20:13, Paul’s use of “natural” and “unnatural” in Romans 1:18-27; I Corinthians 6 includes such behavior alongside a variety of other sins/vices; I Timothy 1:9-11; and Jude 1:7, which describes the sin of Sodom found in Genesis 19:1-5 as going after “strange flesh,” which demonstrates what the Genesis passage is about. The passages found in I Corinthians and I Timothy use a Greek compound word from the Greek translation the Leviticus passages (arsenoskoitan). In other words, the morality found there still applies “across the testaments” for all people and all time, not just ancient Judaism. Such behavior is also excluded by the created order found in Genesis 1-2, Jesus’ definition of marriage as one man-one woman found in Matthew 19:4-6 (referring back to the created order), and the general prohibition against sexual immorality found throughout Scripture (such as the word porneia, which would include ALL forms of sexual immorality outside of one woman-one man marriage). We also know that God does not lie (Numbers 23:19), does not change (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8), and is not the author of confusion (I Corinthians 14:33). All of this demonstrates that far from being “hidden” or “unclear,” the Holy Scriptures are remarkably consistent and clear on this issue. Natural law also bears this out, given the physiological, emotional, and reproductive complementarity between the sexes. Even if one were to remove the Leviticus passages, the position of the universal church would be the same, as it has been since the beginning.
““Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13) is not even an absolute for most Christians. If it was, the death penalty would not exist, we would not send soldiers into war, and there would be no such thing as an armed drone.”
This is simply a misreading of the KVJ translation. Most modern translations use the term “murder,” and the Hebrew here covers both intentional and negligent killing (what we could call manslaughter and deliberate homicide), not capital punishment or just wars.
“God could not even give us the correct laws about eating. I find this to be very telling. If eating pigs and shellfish is OK now, and God got this wrong then, how can we trust God’s moral judgment on who people should love? (Leviticus 11:7-10).”
God gave perfect laws then, and he gives perfect laws now. There is no contradiction. Why? The ritual and cultic laws of Israel which were to teach them about God’s holiness and how they were to be different to the nations, has been fulfilled/superseded (NOT abolished or contradicted) by Christ. All of God’s creation was originally very good (Genesis 1), and God tells the Apostle Peter that nothing the Lord has made is unclean (Acts 10). Instead of a nation/state theocracy as God’s people (ancient Israel), God has called his people from every nation, tribe, and tongue on the earth, due to the work of Christ. Because of this, the ritual and cultic aspects of ancient Israel are no longer necessary, although it is certainly within the realm of freedom to observe such things if one so chooses. These ritual/cultic laws such as the food laws (some of which may have had sanitation concerns as well), the weaving of fabrics, building fences on roofs etc…still tell us about the character of God, and contain absolute truths behind them. Other laws such as the dimensions of the tabernacle, the priestly garments etc…are fulfilled in the person of Christ. The greater is here (Jesus). This does NOT mean that the universal laws found throughout scripture, such as the teachings on human sexuality, lying, stealing, etc…are abolished. They are still in force and have been since the beginning. To claim that the universal laws and the food laws are the same sort of thing is to commit a category error, or a fallacy of composition.
“How moral is the Bible, anyway? I find the law that says a woman has to marry her rapist or be stoned to death a pretty abhorrent law and very revealing—the rapist has to pay for his plunder (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).”
This is actually an amazingly benevolent action. In the ancient near east, a woman who was violated was as good as dead, an outcast, and most likely would turn to prostitution to survive. Instead of these things, God’s people were quite “liberal” in the good sense of the word, by stating that the woman had rights, and must be taken care of (shelter, food etc…) by the perpetrator of the crime. Compared to other near eastern law codes, this is simply amazing, and demonstrates God’s concerns for both man and woman. Notice that the man cannot divorce her as long as he lives, and the rest of the law in how he treats her would still apply.
“This, by the way, is one form of “traditional marriage.” That kind of “morality” has no place in a civilized society. I don’t know anyone personally that would defend it. That is because it is not moral.”
No, this is not a “traditional marriage,” it is an example of case law. Case law is what you are to do should a certain situation arise. Prescriptive law is a command. The rape example given here is an example of case law, not something that is ideal or normal. And while some certainly use the term “traditional marriage,” it really is just “marriage,” which exists independent of whatever a given society might try to make of it, and anything else is simply a counterfeit. Regardless, this is again another category error, in which case law is confused with prescriptive law. Notice also that how marriage is defined is assumed here, even if the circumstances leading up to it were sinful and requiring justice.
“Conservatives hold onto “Homosexuality is a Sin” for two reasons. Otherness. It is a foreign thing to them. It is a way of thinking that they do not understand, and so it should be punished, because heterosexuality, their way, is what they know. The other reason is control. Sex should be controlled, especially regarding women.”
Translation: Because I do not understand how people could possibly disagree with me, I have to explain this opposition away by saying there is a psychological deficiency in my opponent. There is an inherent arrogance and insulting tone about this, because it implies that the author is “enlightened,” but orthodox Christians fearful power-grabbers. However, Christians know all too well the power of sin, death, and the forces of evil, which is why we say what we say! It isn’t because of “otherness” or foreignness, but because without the grace of God, we are all lost. Teaching God’s design for humanity is an act of love, and a duty for every Christian, not a power-conspiracy or unfounded fear.
“Morality comes from society as a whole. Morality grows and develops as the knowledge of society grows. We know that homosexuality is not a choice and even if it was, it should not be punished by society. There is no morality in consensual sex. It is merely part of nature.”
Saying that there is no morality in consensual sex is a nonsensical statement. To use a term like “consensual” implies a certain morality about individuals and choice. The very statement includes a moral judgment, yet somehow there is no morality in it? This statement is self-refuting. Also, why stop at “consensual sex” if the justification is a “mere part of nature?” We see a variety of other actions in the animal world, and if humans are simply part of nature and nothing more, why arbitrarily stop at “consensual sex?”
If morality comes from society, then there is no such thing as objective morality, since as the author admits, it grows and develops. This implies change. If morals change, they are inherently non-objective, and subject to the whims of the majority or culture. If this is how one views morality, then having difficulty seeing objective morality isn’t exactly a surprise, and should be expected. Morals are based on truths about who we are, our place in the universe, how we relate to each other, and the like…If this is changeable or society-contingent, we might as well give up now, since morality will collapse into despotism (people are made to agree) or anarchy (each individual decides for himself) or some combination of the two. Either way, morality as a useful term has disappeared, and we should stop using it. Perhaps we should start talking about utility instead….
“I believe there are objective moralities.”
Which makes no sense in a naturalistic/materialistic worldview.
“A couple that most people agree on are slavery and genocide are evil, both of which the Old Testament encourages (Leviticus 25:44-46 and Deuteronomy 13:13-19).”
This is quite telling, the statement “most people agree on.” A democratic or majority consensus does not decide truth, truth is truth regardless of the number of people who believe in it. To say “I believe there are objective moralities” and then appeal to “what most people agree on” undermines the case (if there is one) being made. To use a term like “genocide” and apply it to Scripture is another case of a category error. Taking a modern concept (the systematic eradication of an ethnic group) and comparing it to Israel’s conquest of Canaan because of pagan immorality and evil is not even close to the same thing. God does not command Israel at any point, “kill them all because they are Canaanites,” but rather because these people were so morally corrupt their culture was being judged. In fact, God’s people pass by at times because some cities’ “iniquity was not yet full,” meaning they hadn’t corrupted themselves yet (Genesis 15:16). It is also quite telling that God would use the other nations to punish his own people, hardly the act of someone engaged in “ethnic cleansing” or genocide. In regards to slavery, a better modern equivalent would be “indentured servant,” not the slavery of the antebellum south, which most moderns have in mind. The idea of case law and prescriptive law also comes into view again here.
“Another couple of evils that God perpetrates are child ritual sacrifice and infanticide (Exodus 12:12 and Judges 11:29-40). Most people agree that these things are evil, but they completely gloss over it when the evildoer is their God.”
Other than the faulty “most people agree” basis for determining morality rearing its head again, both of these passages have rather straightforward explanations. The case of Jephtha’s daughter (Judges 11) is not perpetuated by God (it is because of a rash vow by a man in a troubled culture in a troubled time), and both Christian and Jewish scholars have demonstrated that the text is far from clear in terms of the daughter’s fate, and the church fathers such as Chrysostom and Ambrose say that God is permitting an evil (notice permitting an evil is not the same as endorsing it!) for teaching purposes. Either way, God doesn’t do this, does not endorse it, and to claim he does means one has completely misread (or not even read) the text. The killing of the firstborn in Exodus 12:12 is the 10th plague, in which Pharaoh (a ‘god’ in Egyptian culture and law) was given every opportunity to stop his evil actions, and brings death and destruction down upon himself and his people. Remember here that there is no such thing as “separation of church and state” or even “individual rights” in many senses, so cooperate guilt was a very real thing. Secondly, it is also likely that Egyptian law contained within it the idea of “reciprocity,” and since Pharaoh was actively killing Hebrew children without discrimination (true infanticide) over the course of decades, God acting in a limited sense (only males of a certain age) in a limited amount of time, was perfectly just based on the practices of Egypt. If anything, it demonstrates God’s restraint (“I take no pleasure in the death of a sinner” Ezekiel 18:23).
And again, to somehow argue that this means God endorses this as normal or ideal is to completely misread the entire counsel of God, and assumes that one can judge God. This is key, as the entire piece seems to assume that a created being with finite understanding who has to rely on what the majority has agreed on for any sense of morality, and presumes to judge the perfect creator for His acts of justice. This would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.
“The most dangerous idea in the Bible is the idea that there are “the chosen.” Apparently these chosen can do all kinds of evil, but because they are “chosen,” their evil is good or acceptable. It is the antithesis of “No one is above the law.” The idea of the chosen never made any logical sense to me. Yet people espousing their faith speak of an objective morality found in the Bible.”
I’m not sure how this can even be taken seriously. Surely the author is aware of the multiple times God judges His own people for their evil? The Babylonian captivity and exile anyone? The Persians? Philistines? Etc….So no, in God’s eyes, being part of God’s people does not exclude you from judgment. God also “chastises those he loves,” (Hebrews 12:6) which isn’t exactly an endorsement of evil for being on the right team. To claim that being part of God’s redeemed people is permission to violate God’s laws is to completely misunderstand the nature of the gospel. Christ saves us in spite of our violations, in spite of our selfishness, in spite of our rebellion, in spite of our evil. He saves us from ourselves. If you would like to know the consequences of our evil, look at a crucifix. Again, we have terms like “evil” being tossed around as if we should know what that term means. Since the author is rejecting the source of all creation, the very definition of good and love, how does a term like evil have any meaning except that which society decides it does? Why should I take the author’s word for it, since he is admitting that his “objective morality” is based on society’s whims. The term “evil” only makes sense in reference to what “good” is, meaning it is a parasite, a negation of the eternally blessed source of goodness. Also, orthodox Christians long and want ALL of humanity to come to faith, even though we know many will not. We want you to be part of the “chosen,” including the author of this hit piece. We are trying to reach the lost, as much as we fail to do so. “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”(II Peter 3:9). How exactly does this excuse evil? We are told to repent, not just do what we want…
“Dr. Archie B. Carroll says “As religion and faith are being driven out of the public square, the Judeo-Christian ethical foundations that have sustained our country since its beginning are being replaced with a humanistic amorality, a self-centered, pragmatic indifference that will ensure that our moral compass will fail to point us in the right direction in the future.” Is Dr Carroll saying that this country is going to be morally corrupt because it is losing its ties to biblical morality? I say just the opposite. I say that women’s and civil rights have done a great deal to undo the moral corruption that the Bible brought to this great country.”
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil.” (Isaiah 5:20). And any historian worth his salt will gladly stack up Christianity against competing worldviews in history regarding the status of women, slavery, etc…see the work of Dr. Alvin Schmidt or Dr. Rodney Stark for more on this. Of course, without the Christian tradition, there wouldn’t be “this country” in the first place.
“Where exactly does this moral compass that Dr Carroll speaks of point? If it points in the direction of the Sermon on the Mount, then I can go along with it. I don’t think that is what he had in mind though. The direction he is pointing is not where I want to go.”
In other words, I want to pick and choose what is convenient for me, or whatever society thinks is useful or popular, not what God actually says. I am the god of my own universe, so I pick what I want, and throw out the stuff that I don’t like. You can’t speak of morality in a coherent way while denying the source. You can still live morally, but the worldview is incoherent.
“My moral compass points to this. Our laws should reflect our awareness that everyone has worth. If our society is rich enough, no one should go hungry, go without a roof over their head, lack proper medical care, or live without proper sanitation.”
Why should your compass matter? Why does everyone have worth? Why should hunger, shelter, medical care, sanitation etc…matter when society decides what morality is? What if society decides that the elderly are too much of a burden and lack a high quality of life and should be eliminated? Since the source of morality here is completely arbitrary, it can arbitrarily rejected.
“There are a lot of people that believe these basic rights are things that should be earned. I hope they, themselves, never have to suffer the indignity of what they propose.”
Where do these rights come from, and why should they matter? What exactly is a ‘right’?” and why should I care if we are just materialistic products of nature, about someone else’s rights? After all, what they are and what they are there for will simply develop as society develops.
“With all this in mind, then, how can someone argue from a moral standpoint that homosexuality is evil? They cannot.”
Sure they can, because they actually read the text seriously from “cover to cover” and not by copying and pasting from Richard Dawkins style diatribes. They actually look at textual context, the church in history, natural law etc…something that this author has not even bothered to do in the slightest.
“The Bible is not a book that you can argue a moral code from—at least not one that does not contradict itself. The LGBTQ community is about as evil as a woman eating a piece of fruit. Yes, quite benign.”
Of course, this world is a paradise, or soon will be…that’s news to…everyone? But denying original sin isn’t exactly a surprise here.
“LGBTQ individuals should be treated with the same respect and dignity that you treat your church-going neighbors.”
No one is arguing that those with these predilections should be treated as less than human. What is being questioned is whether or not such behavior should be endorsed, and whether people of conscience and who own private property should be forced to endorse or become a material party to behavior they deem morally wrong. Of course this assumes that we should start defining people by inclinations and behavior (people are just animals) rather than their worth as people created in the image of God.
“That is why you should vote NO on May 20 to keep Pocatello’s ordinance in place. It is the moral thing to do.”
The main problems with this column/hit piece on Christians can be summarized as follows:
1. The author simply has not done his homework in dealing with the biblical text, but seems content to take cheap potshots without consulting any source that might have answers to some of these “difficulties.” The relationship between the law and gospel has been discussed and written about since the time of the New Testament, so I’m not exactly sure why the author seems ignorant as to the variety of different solutions that have been offered throughout time, space, and culture, many of which are the same (reflecting, *gasp, objective biblical morality).
2. The author presumes to make moral arguments as an authority, but gives no reason why we should trust him as an authority, other than the vague and completely arbitrary, “most of society says…”
3. Only the Christian worldview can account for universal laws of morality, laws of logic etc…To make an argument for some sort of objective reality whilst denying the source of what makes such thinking even possible is inherently irrational.
4. The opposition to the sort of behaviors the author references is not limited to Christians, but also includes orthodox Jews, Muslims, and proponents of natural law (including some atheists). Taking uninformed cheap shots at the Bible in order to demonstrate one’s superiority isn’t a new tactic, but it is completely unhelpful and has no place in the “civilization” he seems so concerned about.
Virtually everyone has heard comments in our current cultural climate such as, “Who are you to deny two (or more) people loving each other?” “Love has no boundaries,” “Jesus preached love, and you orthodox Christians are just a bunch of haters,” “I follow Jesus, not Paul,” “We should be supporting commitment, regardless of arrangement”, “Love does not deny people rights” and so on and so forth. Implicit in these remarks is the idea that love is an inherently experiential concept that is reliant on the parties involved, rather than an objective reality. This is often combined with a sort of “Christianesque” language, as post-Christian westerners appropriate Christian terminology in order to further so-called “progress.” Even some Christians are confused by this, because after all, it is certainly true that Christ preached love, and most people do not want to be seen as a “hater.” So what is it exactly about this popular language about love that is dangerous for the culture? Why is this sort of thinking and language foreign to the biblical and Christian worldview?
In classic orthodox Christianity, love is an objective reality, because God IS love (I John 4:8). Put another way, because love is an inherent attribute of the Triune God’s nature, and because God is the ultimate source of all things “both visible and invisible,” the definition of love is contingent upon who God is, and how He has revealed Himself both generally in nature (natural law/revelation), and especially in the person of Jesus Christ, and His continuing actions of grace and forgiveness found in His Word and Sacraments in the church. It then follows that certain behaviors and feelings that contradict God’s will and nature as He has revealed them, are simply NOT love. These behaviors and feelings may be powerful, potent, and perhaps very real to the people involved, but they are a corruption or counterfeit. Counterfeit money after all, is more than an idea, can feel quite real, and can fool all but the trained expert.
The greatest commandment for Christians in the words of Jesus is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:20). The second greatest commandment follows from this, which is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” What is important here is that one cannot claim to follow the second commandment while not practicing the first. If the greatest commandment is God-centered, all forms of love, including that between humans and in societies at large, must be God-focused in order to be true love. Claiming that the love of neighbor (in the name of nebulous “rights”) allows one to justify the acceptance of immoral behavior, or to promote laws that violates God’s law is as contradictory as it gets. True love of neighbor flows from a correct conception of God, and takes into account God’s full revelation, not just the parts that are socially convenient.
Imagine if you will, a man riding a horse at full gallop towards the edge of a cliff. He is happy to be doing so, finds meaning in it, and believes one of his purposes in life is to gallop at full speed in that general direction. He may pick up companions on the way, all of whom share in his goals and aspirations to gallop off of the cliff, and they all perhaps “love” each other. With this scenario in mind, what is the Christian loving response? The current culture would have us believe that we should congratulate him on his lifestyle, be affirming and accepting, perhaps come along side him for a time, and “love him on his journey.” We might even have a special support group for others like him, and catering programs of outreach, since we should be about “love and acceptance” and warning of the danger is too “judgmental.”
Instead of affirming or assisting in his ultimate demise, the Christian does not encourage the rider and his friends to gallop off of the cliff. Instead, the Christian does everything in his power to warn the rider, and may use a variety of methods to demonstrate the danger, and the alternative route for a means of escape. This is true love, both of God and of neighbor, and true hatred would be to become a party to destruction, or to turn a blind “live and let live” eye to it. It may at times be a tough form of love, and it may at times be offensive, but it is love nonetheless. One of Christ’s last commands after his Resurrection was to command his disciples to “go into all the world and preach the gospel” baptizing in the Triune name of God (Matthew 28:18-20). True love takes this command seriously, and true hatred would be to deny the gospel message in the name of what the current culture thinks is “love.” The Christian walk is a walk of repentance centered on the cross, not of agenda-driven secular humanitarianism. And regardless of what temporary societies do and teach, the true love that comes from God in the person and work of Christ is eternal and life-giving, not beholden to votes and litigation, and perilous to ignore.
As I continue to work on producing and editing an educational video on the crusades for our local public access channel, I thought I’d share a written excerpt of some of the material that will be covered. Some of this might be a bit of a shock for those whose average view of the crusades and the middle ages comes from movies like “Kingdom of Heaven” and the average middle school textbook.
It may come as a surprise that in the minds of both clergy and laity, crusading was deeply tied to the ideal of Christian love. Since love is considered one of the most fundamental (if not chief) of Christian virtues, ethics of war and violence have always been, and will continue to be seen in light of what true love is.
In his groundbreaking 1980 article “Crusading as an Act of Love” in the journal History, Jonathan Riley-Smith noted that the pious idealism that motivated the preachers and crusaders included both love for God and love for neighbor. When Urban II preached the 1st Crusade in the Italian City of Bologna, he observed that the crusaders “committed their property and their persons out of love of God and their neighbor.” The great St. Bernard of Clairvaux, honored throughout the different traditions of Western Christianity, responded to the Muslim victories of the 1140’s by asking, “If we harden our hearts and pay little attention, where is our love for God, where is our love for our neighbor?” Many of the crusaders honestly believed that they were following the command of Christ literally when he said to “take up the cross and follow me” as found in the gospels. Urban II is also said to have preached on Matthew 10:37 and 19:29 at the Council of Clermont, in which Christ says that those who love their families more than Him are not worthy, and that those who left family and land for His sake would receive a hundredfold in return. This preaching by Urban seems to have caused and outpouring of fervent devotion. As an anonymous poet says:
You who love with true love
Awake! Do not Sleep!
The lark brings us day
And tells us in this hideaway
That the day of peace has come
That God, by his very great kindness,
Will give to those who for love of him
Take the cross and on account of what they do
Suffer pain night and day
So that he will see who truly loves him.
This line of thinking was often juxtaposed by what Christ did for humanity, demonstrating how little the crusading act was in comparison. As Innocent III wrote in 1208 to Leopold of Austria, “You receive a soft and gentle cross; He bore one that was sharp and hard. You were it superficially on your clothing; He endured it reality in His flesh. You sew on yours with linen and silk threads; He was nailed to His with iron and hard nails.” By taking the cross on an armed pilgrimage in the context of a war of defense and restoration, the crusader was demonstrating in action his love for Christ.
It is also important to realize that for both the Lords and commoners of the medieval era, the bond between vassals and lords was so close, so emotional, and so honorable, that proponents of courtly love often borrowed feudal terminology to describe the ideal lover. Because Christ was considered the ultimate Lord of Lords and King of kings, Christians felt duty-bound to reclaim what was rightfully Christ’s earthly domain. Innocent III sums up this belief well when he says,
“Consider most dear sons, consider carefully that if any temporal king was thrown out of his domain and perhaps captured, would he not, when he was restored to his pristine liberty and the time had come for dispensing justice, look on his vassals as unfaithful l and traitors against the crown and guilty of ‘injured majesty’ unless they had committed not only their property but also their persons to the task of freeing him?…And similarly will not Jesus Christ, the king of kings and lord of lords, whose servant you cannot deny being, who joined your soul to your body, who redeemed you with his precious blood, who conceded to you the kingdom, who enables you to live and move and gave you all the good things you have…condemn you for the vice of ingratitude and, as it were, the crime of infidelity if you neglect to help him?”
While some preachers were quick to note that the relationship to Christ was not the same as earthly feudalism, the idea of expressing love, honor, and loyalty by righting and injustice done to Christ and his Church was the height of spiritual devotion and love for the average Christian warrior on crusade.
In addition to demonstrating one’s love of God, Crusaders also believed that they were acting out of brotherly love. It must be remembered that the initial call for the 1st Crusade was closely linked to a cry for help from the Byzantine Emperor who was besieged by the continuing advances of Islam. Here was a Christian Empire with Christian subjects, who had been dishonored and done an injustice, and was facing a real and imminent threat. Acting out of love for their Christian brothers in the east was considered quite noble and just. Those who preached the Crusade were quick to point out that it was ludicrous for Christian knights to fight amongst themselves when their Christian brothers in the east were suffering and facing persecution. Innocent III again provides a good example of how brotherly love was a prime motivator for the Crusader in his work Quia Maior:
“How does a man love according to divine precept his neighbor as himself when knowing that his Christian brothers in faith and in name are held by the perfidious Muslims in strict confinement and weighed down by the yoke of heaviest servitude, he cannot devote himself to the efficacious work of liberating them? In this he transgresses the command of that natural law which the Lord declared in the Gospels, ‘whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them.’ Is it by chance that you do not know that among them (the Muslims) many thousands of Christians are held in servitude and in jail, tortured with innumerable torments?”
In the Middle Ages, the system of vassalage and honor also applied to one’s family. This idea of kinship provided a sense of place and was a source of strength to each individual. Crusading was portrayed in these terms, with the war against the forces of Islam seen as an expression of family love. Urban II at the council of Clermont noted that the Christians of the east were, “your full brothers, your comrades, your brothers born of the same mother, for you are sons of the same Christ and the same Church.” This sense of kinship and place led many to believe that Christ was being threatened his rightful inheritance as the great patriarch or family head of all Christians. This of course was also couched in the language of love, in this case, love for family.
So whether it be for the love of God, the love of one’s brothers in the faith, or the idea of family loyalty and honor, for the average Crusading knight, reclaiming the East was a multi-faceted act of love.
It is no secret that those who hold to the traditional classic Christian consensus on issues involving human sexuality, marriage, and family life are extremely unpopular these days, especially in the media and political arenas, in which the biblical, patristic, and orthodox consensus is frequently demonized and ostracized. Faithful Christians (and others who hold to other traditional worldviews/ethics) are considered to be “bigots” or “purveyors of hatred” for not compromising with the modernist and politically correct definitions of love and freedom. So how does this take place and what does it mean? How should faithful Christians respond?
These ideas are usually couched in high-sounding language of “equality,” “tolerance,” and certain libertarian ideas (it doesn’t hurt anyone right?). Those who oppose are immediately labeled as “homophobic” (implying that one has a psychological disorder), “intolerant” (with tolerant = endorsement), or “anti-progress” (progress is inherently good). As discussed in several other places on this site, this tactic is a favorite for the modern chauvinist, and involves even deeper philosophical assumptions that come out of late modernity. Two articles that have recently been published from different orthodox Christian traditions help shed light on this, and should help those struggling with how to articulate why this is important, and also help those who think the historic-living church is wrong.
The first article is by Reformed Baptist pastor Jonathan Leeman who specializes in political theology, and discusses the nature of what it means to be human, and how those who argue for “marriage equality” are actually making a dehumanizing argument. Those who argue for it are actually at root arguing for a sort of determinism, in which one’s behavior or tendencies define what it means to be human. The Christian worldview offers something much deeper, and much more liberating than this sort of behavioristic naturalism:
“There are several assumptions behind the idea that a person with same-sex attraction might say “I am a homosexual” in the same way someone might say “I am a male” or “I am black.” First, one assumes that homosexual desires are rooted in biology and therefore a natural part of being human. Second, one assumes that our natural desires are basically good, so long as they don’t hurt others. Third, one assumes that fulfilling such basic and good desires are part of being fully human.
All the talk about “equality” depends upon these foundational assumptions about what it means to be human.
Marriage then becomes an important prize to be won for people with same-sex attraction because, as the oldest and most human of institutions, marriage publicly affirms these deep desires. Everybody who participates in a wedding—from the father who walks a bride down an aisle, to the company of friends, to the pastor leading the ceremony, to the state who licenses the certificate—participates in a positive and formal affirmation of a couple’s union. It is hard to think of a better way to affirm same-sex desire as good and part of being fully human than to leverage the celebratory power of a wedding ceremony and a marriage.
Make no mistake: The fundamental issue at stake in the same-sex marriage debate is not visitation rights, adoption rights, inheritance laws, or all the stuff of “civil unions.” Those are derivative. It is fundamentally about being publicly recognized as fully human.
Biblically minded Christians, of course, have no problem recognizing people with same-sex attraction as fully human. There are members of my church who experience same-sex attraction. We worship with them, vacation with them, love them. What Christianity does not do, however, is grant that fulfilling every natural desire is what makes us human.
Christianity in fact offers a more mature and deeper concept of humanity, more mature and deep than the person engaged in a homosexual lifestyle has of him or herself.”
The full article is well worth the read, and also discusses why faithful Christians cannot participate in this sort of revisionism: “Love and the Inhumanity of Same-Sex Marriage”
The second article is by a Roman Catholic priest, Rev. Marcel Guarnizo in response to a famous media personality, who discusses the sort of argument in the public sphere involving reason and law and those who claim “I don’t care” or “it doesn’t hurt anyone.” One of the most dangerous things about this cultural debate is the inherently subjective nature of creating classes and categories based on behavior and tendencies, rather than actual objective realities. In other words:
“The problem here is that if non-normative tendencies become the criteria for constitutional or state law, law itself will become biographical. This atomization of law, culminates in the inability for us to have fundamental rights, as human beings. Things are institutionalized after centuries in law and custom, because they are recognized as normative, and, in the case of marriage, as a good for society. The legal institution of marriage is the normalization of that which is de facto normative in man. Marriage institutionalized in law and by religion is the proper effect the fruit of a normative tendency in man. Heterosexual, monogamous unions were not simply admitted into the marriage franchise (to which others now seek entry), it is rather the author that produced marriage as we know it. They have as it were, authorship rights over marriage since they produced the institution.”
“Creating institutions in law and possibly at a constitutional level, using non-normative tendencies (which are many and vary greatly in our society), as the justification is unreasonable and theoretically unsound. Equality under the law in this sense is already being assaulted by post-modern philosophy, as unfair. Precisely for this reason, “the notion of “equality under the law,” is now seen by many as failing to address the biographical preferences and tendencies of all kinds of biographical groups in society. If we continue down that path, there will be no end, except the end of what we now know as the rule of law. It is unreasonable to legislate on constitutional order in this fashion.” Full article: A Response to Bill O’Reilly on Homosexuality and Marriage
It is important to note that both the Baptist and the Roman Catholic are passionate about (and the articles include this) reaching those who struggle with this in love, and that the church should not simply “shut out” those for which this is a real struggle. In fact, it is love and concern for those struggling on this, and society as a whole, why these were written (and why I am writing).
After reading both articles (please don’t comment without doing so), what should the Christian response be? How active in the public sphere should Christians be in contending for the Christian worldview in love?