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The Answers that Atheists Hope No One Has? (Chapter Seven)
Thus far in this series the questions that Christian apologist Mark Mittelberg has been answering have been general ones. He has answered questions relating to the existence of God, the validity of evolution, the reliability of the Bible, the identity of Jesus and given us his take on the Problem of Evil. In the last chapter, however, we saw a transition out of the very general case for theism and Christianity and into the realm of much more specific issues relating to moral values and law when Mark laid out why abortion is so important to some Christians.
In chapter seven the trend of taking a look at a specific topic continues when the Christians surveyed ask Mark a question about homosexuality. If God created gays why would he hate them or have a problem with their sexual preferences? Jesus never said a word about homosexuality – so why is their such a big deal about homosexuals in some sects of Christianity?
Mark believes he has provided good evidence and reasoning, or at least good talking points, establishing everything he's been talking about so far. So he proceeds as if the audience reading the book, if they weren't already Christian, has seen the error of their ways and begun to believe that there is probably a God and that the Bible is a reliable source of information about that God. With that in mind we will delve into chapter seven of The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask (With Answers).
(As always all excerpts are used for critique and criticism and fall under Fair Use. The book was written by Mark Mittelberg and published by Tyndale House Publishers.)
Christians Should Love Homosexuals
For the first seven pages of the chapter there is actually very little for me to disagree with Mark on, surprisingly. Sure I could nit pick but I can't help but feel that would be pointless. He spends these first seven or so pages laying out the reasons why Christians, despite their objections to homosexuality, should still be friends with gay people and love them just the same as they would love anyone. All people all sinners, Mark explains, even Christians still sin sometimes, so why would we treat gays differently than any one else? Jesus wasn't an intolerant hateful bigot, so Christians should follow Christ's loving example.
WWJD? Hang out with Gays of course!
Jesus, Mark points out, hangs out with a lot of outcasts on the fringes of society and even painted Samaritans in a good light in his famous parable about the Good Samaritan – something unheard of in that time and place. So naturally Christians shouldn't shy away from gay friends or family members, they should embrace them and try to show them the love of Christ, because that's what Jesus would do.
Transformation from Within
Mark even cautions his readers, wisely, from attempting to bully or argue homosexuals out of their “sin” because we all struggle with negative aspects of who we are. Rather, he says, Christians should act as Christ did, and love all people and hopefully by showing others this Christ-like love sinners will give up their sins willingly to follow Jesus. Mark's support of this internal and natural reformation of gays is actually somewhat refreshing. A stark contrast to those who seem willing to kidnap kids and force them to “pray the gay away”. For examples of what I'm talking about see the documentary Kidnapped for Christ.
Obviously I disagree with categorizing homosexuality as sinful, unnatural or evil and naturally because of that I don't think gays have any reason to try to become straight - but Mark's version of things seems quite loving and liberal all things considered:
While I obviously don't believe that Jesus was God and the Jesus of the Gospels said plenty of things that don't seem loving or completely peaceful I have to say it is hard to argue against Mark here. He is preaching a more tolerant and understanding form of Christianity. Not that he is arguing that God is tolerant of sin but that he is arguing Christians should be patient and loving and let homosexuals sort themselves out. The idea seems to be that once you get a homosexual man or woman to convert to Christianity the “sin” of their sexual orientation will go away gradually due to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Now personally I don't think homosexuality is a choice any more than heterosexuality is (and I think the science on the subject backs me up) but at least Mark is staying true to the forgiveness and love message that Christians are always talking about but hardly ever practicing. The problem is that love and goodness aren't the only messages the Bible delivers, for every loving and merciful passage I can point to a handful of barbaric and evil ones.
God's "Model" for Human Sexuality
We finally get to the disagreeable stuff on page 197 (Kindle Edition, so page numbers will vary) when Mark begins laying out God's model for human sexuality. When I say God's model, of course, I mean that Mark smashes together a bunch of disparate Bible verses many of which are centuries apart and reflect the scientifically and morally ignorant and narrow minded time they were written in.
Mark opens this sections by recounting part of the interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Earlier in the chapter Mark had brought up the story of Jesus going through Samaria to make a point about how Jesus wasn't prejudiced against the Samaritans the way many other Jews were. But here he uses this interaction to show how Jesus calls into question the woman's lifestyle by pointing out that she had been married five times and was currently shacked up with someone she wasn't even married to. Divorce is something Jesus talked about quite a bit even making stricter pronouncements than those in the mosaic law.
Mark makes a massive leap in logic however assuming that Jesus was referring to the so-called “Biblical Model” of marriage by bringing up this ladies multiple marriages. Could it be, instead, that Jesus was merely condemning her lifestyle because he personally didn't like it?
Jesus' Personal Opinion?
I mentioned earlier that Mark believes he has successfully set up the evidence for there being a God and for the Bible being an excellent source of information about that God. But what about scripture in which it isn't God speaking, what about stories where it's clear that someone else's point of view is being expressed. Take, for a quick example, the story of Job and the laments that Job pours out to his friends and all of the various opinions his friends interject. There are ideas at work here that do not come directly from God, even if we concede for the moment that, as 2 Thessalonians says, all scripture is inspired by God (or “God breathed”).
Even if we are dealing with a situation where all scripture ultimately fulfills God's purpose or carries over his ultimate meaning surely Christians would admit that at times the opinions of the human authors are not the same as those of God. Now they may not like it but this also could apply to the things Jesus says because Jesus isn't the same as God. Jesus never directly claims to be God, at least not until the Gospel of John (written 90-100 CE) and even if Jesus was divine and did rise from the dead that doesn't automatically prove his honesty and more importantly it does not prove the honesty of the dialogue put into his mouth by authors decades later.
It's not as though Jesus ever backs up what he says with facts. He never lays out the how and why on why divorce is bad and homosexuality isn't part of the model God has for human sex. I'm sure Mark would argue that Jesus is speaking from divine authority but that remains to be seen AND, given the other pronouncements made with "divine authority' in the Bible, QUESTIONED.
Now a Christian may argue that Jesus is God in human form and so he came to set a few things straight, set an example on how to live and then die for the sins of humanity so every word he said came from the Father. But this raises another issue, being the issue of whether the things that Jesus said are absolute and stand for all times and all places. In many verses of scripture Jesus seems to be addressing only his disciples or only the Jewish people.
In these very passages Mark references Jesus claims that God only allowed divorce to begin with because of the stubbornness of the Jews and really God wishes there was no divorce. That sounds pretty specifically aimed at the Jews, as much of the Mosaic Law often is whenever it is mentioned in scripture.
What of the passage where Jesus tells his followers not to worry about what they will eat or where they will live tomorrow? Or to sell all their valuables and follow him. Or in Matthew after the sermon on the mount where he tells them that they must love him more than they love their families which in some translations is actually rendered as having to HATE your family and your own life. This is far from the 'pro-family' attitude that modern Christians paint Christ as having. Are these pieces of advice Christians should follow? Or do they not count today? And if they don't count why should I care what Jesus has to say about marriage?
How the Ancients Explained Things
Genesis 2:24 supposedly offers us God's model on what a marriage should be, according to Mark, but one look at what the scripture actually says should raise an eyebrow or two. The problem with taking Genesis as literal truth is that you miss out on the subtleties of the text. Here Mark misses that this part of Genesis is taking a stab at explaining something using these religious stories to do so.
Most people in the ancient world couldn't read or write, they had little understanding of the intricacies of society and why and how something like marriage came to be. They didn't have scientists or anthropologists to explore the nuances and history of human relationships. So they did their best to make sense of why the institution of marriage was a thing by giving it a foundation on something they all shared, faith in the Jewish God.
Another example of this occurs a little later in Genesis when God curses the snake to crawl on his belly. God takes away the snake's LEGS, so that's why snakes don't have legs! It is a use of mythology to explain something about the world, essentially a fable. Surely Mark does not believe that modern day snakes don't have legs because of a supernatural curse, I credit him with more intelligence than to believe something so absurd.
Take the tower of Babel is yet another example, something tells me that Mark would also reject a literalist interpretation of the tower of Babel, it's a preposterous and obviously allegorical story that helps explain where all the languages of the world came from. The people of that time couldn't have known about the human species descending from apes and migrating out of Africa only to become geographically separated and thus develop all sorts of different languages.
Genesis 2:24 shows that they were answering the question of WHY men and women get married, not whether or not same sex couples SHOULD be granted - by us in this day and age - the right to marry one another.
Mark wants to argue that because Genesis mentions male and female, and Jesus again mentions it elsewhere, that God has designed marriage to be between a man and a woman. Fair enough - according to the Biblical tradition written down in the Bible, God created men and women to marry only each other.
But why should we take what the Bible has to say on this subject seriously? As I've said before Mark believes he has established the reliability of the Bible back in chapter three, but in reality he has given skeptics and non-believers no reason to accept the Bible as an authority on anything other than the beliefs of ancient Jews and Christians.
We now live in a world of seven billion people only 2 billion of which identify as Christian and only a portion of that 2 billion of which consider homosexuality to be a sin. Marriage has existed in many cultures and no matter how much Mark and Christians like him want to take possession of marriage it is not an institution which belongs to them – or their God.
The Bible's Insane Stance on Sex
Mark's passages of scripture do one thing, they give us insight into why Christians don't consider gay marriage to be a valid form of marriage under God's design. In fact Mark soon gives us the narrow criteria under which sexual activity of any kind can occur.
Morality Has to Make Sense
Again there are no reasons given as to why homosexuality and fornication (sex before marriage) should be considered equal offenses with horrific crimes like sexual abuse of animals or children. There's not even an explanation as to why sex before marriage or homosexual relationships should be considered sins at all other than God's direct commands.
I won't go into the Euthyphro dilemma here simply because this hub is going to be long enough all ready but suffice it to say that I, as an atheist and skeptic, prefer there to be some reasoning behind my morality. Simply saying that something is wrong isn't good enough, there has to be some explanation of what makes it wrong, either because it hurts some victim or hurts the person.
I assume that here homosexuality hurts the gay person because it counts as a sin. That only begs the question, is God the one who decided, when drawing up his plan for sexuality, that any deviation from that plan was going to be punishable by hellfire? I assume God is the one who decided homosexuality would be harmful then.
If so I submit that God is a sadistic and evil being. Why? For creating human beings with powerful needs and desires, creating ways of expressing those desires that harm no one in real world terms (consenting parties engaged in homosexual sex or sex before marriage) but which still damn the person doing them for eternity. In the case of sex before marriage the only criteria on whether it is a sin is apparently a mere ceremony, an arbitrary ritual binding two people together.
Small-Minded God Obsessed with Our Sex Lives?
I don't know what human being would want to live under a system where any sex outside of marriage is just as evil as pedophilia. We should strive to live in a world where consenting adults, be they gay, straight or bi-sexual, are able to form the parameters of their relationship as long as they aren't hurting anyone or violating anyone's rights.
Throwing in horrible things like pedophilia and beastiality under the same umbrella as two unmarried college students hooking up is absurd. Of course this is the absolutist and completely unjust system that Christianity proposes. As the Bible says, the wages of sin is death, it doesn't matter how minor the offense, it doesn't matter if both parties were consenting adults, the one and only time it is okay to have sex is when you are married – FOR LIFE – to one person. That is the ONLY option.
I don't know about you but to me this, and the Old Testament rule about bacon and pork being an abomination, are grounds in and of themselves to reject Christianity and the Bible outright. It is absurd to think the creator of an entire Universe cares who you sleep with and whether you've done some silly ritual of bonding at a Church before you sleep with them.
The human expression of sexual desire is too beautiful a thing, and too natural a thing, and too powerful a thing to forbid sex before marriage, or orgies, or same sex relationships or bisexual relationships and maybe even polygamous relationships as long as the parties are all consenting adults who agree to the terms of the relationship. As long as all parties are of age and are consenting I don't see what the problem could possibly be, other than arbitrary puritanical nonsense. Of course Mark does go on to talk about purity.
What a petty and small minded God to design human beings with these powerful sexual desires and deny them the expression of it for no good reason. To design human beings with the capacity and desire to love multiple partners, be they spread out in a series of monogamous relationships or all at once, and then to demand that they spend their lives with only one person. This may not have seemed like a big issue back in Bible days when people married and were considered adults in their early teens but it's a fairly big problem now-a-days when the age of consent is 16-18 in most Western countries.
Asking teenage kids not to have sex at all, and demanding that they get married first, is a disastrously bad idea. It's no wonder the divorce rate among Christians is so high, they are getting married before they have a chance to explore each other and know whether or not the other person can satisfy their needs. Young Christians are rushing into lifelong commitments because their religion forbids them from having sex until after marriage.
Mark even says at a later point that love isn't good enough, that two people have to have undergone the ritual of marriage (although he doesn't call it a ritual that's what it is) in order to have sex. Being in love isn't enough? You have to engage in a superstitious ritual first? WHY? Why would God design marriage that way? Why isn't it obvious to Mark that this is superstitious hogwash?
50 Biblical Shades of Grey
I'm surprised that, in his list, Mark didn't mention two of the more immediate sexual no-nos that come to mind for most people – incest and rape. I'm not sure if this was a conscious omission or a simple mistake or if it was intentional. Of course the Bible has very confusing things to say about both of these things. While there are restrictions in the Old Testament against incest the story of Adam and Eve and again of Noah and his family would have involved more than a little bending of those rules if it were to be taken as literal truth.
Mark seems willing to take Genesis rather literally, although his position on the subject is hard to pin down. But if Genesis were literally true than Adam's sons would have had to either marry their own Mother or marry their own siblings in order to get the human race started.
Of course if this story isn't meant to be taken fully literally. But if we do take it literally we are faced with the unavoidable fact that there was some serious inbreeding going on. Such a genetic bottleneck would have caused our species to go extinct.
The Bible is equally conflicted about rape. After all an unmarried virgin who is raped, in Deuteronomy, then marries the rapist after the rapist pays her Father a sum of money. Some argue that this scripture is referring to consensual sex between the young woman and a man, since a woman was not allowed to lose her virginity outside of marriage.
Either way it is a horrible verse since it reveals the backwards attitude towards female sexuality that the Bible has. Women are property, that's why their Fathers can sell them as permanent slaves in Exodus 21 and their FATHERS are the ones compensated when their daughter's precious commodity of virginity is taken away. The Father might have married her off or sold his daughter for power and now he can't use her to further his status or family, so she must marry the man who raped her.
There are also verses in the Bible which talk about forcing captive women to marry, or have sex with, those who conquer foreign lands. If you see a woman during an attack on a city and you like her you can marry her, with no mention of her getting any sort of say in the matter and the implication being that she is little more than a spoil of war.
“When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.”
All Natural Homosexuality
Mark delves into the often raised issue of the fact that homosexual desires are natural and that God is the one who created all things which are natural, so shouldn't God be okay with homosexuality? Not so fast. Mark points out that some people have desires which they have little or no control over that we all condemn. Some people have a family history of alcoholism that makes them more prone to becoming alcoholics. Some find themselves attracted to young children through no fault of their own, but rather they are mentally disturbed in some way.
Believe it or not Mark is actually making a good point, although I obviously disagree with lumping homosexuality in with these other tendencies, he is pointing out the fallacy of believing that anything natural must therefore be good. Just because something occurs in nature doesn't mean it is morally right and just because a desire might be beyond a person's control doesn't mean they should be allowed to fulfill that desire.
What is the Harm?
The area of disagreement here is that homosexuality hurts no one. Two consenting adults engaged in homosexual behavior, or even marrying one another, does nothing to harm anyone else. Now Mark would probably disagree with this because he sees homosexuality as sinful and aberrant and therefore obviously harmful. But I can't see the harm in letting gay folks love who they want to love and who they are naturally inclined to love.
Mark even admits in the next section that there might well be a natural sexual orientation that makes gay people attracted to people of the same sex. He openly admits that the nature vs. nurture debate isn't one for Christians to pretend they have an answer to. But this idea, that gays are naturally attracted to people of the same sex, is at odds with the part of the Bible that says homosexual activity is an abomination – is disobedience against the very specific criteria God gave for sex.
Mark's opinion reflects the small-minded and petty thinking of those who wrote the passages he quotes and references, they allowed their opinions of homosexuality to prevent loving relationships from developing between homosexual couples.
In the Old Testament this prevention involved stoning people to death, a fact that Mark doesn't even bring up. In this day and age it involves standing in the way of two consenting adults and their right to get married. Now luckily the Supreme Court has decided that enough is enough and put a stop to the obstruction of other people's rights perpetrated by some Christians, mostly Evangelicals. We live in a society of many religions with many opinions on love and where the narrow Biblical view Mark is proposing is no longer favored.
If it is not our right as human beings to morally reason for ourselves and to come together and come to an agreement on what we will and will not allow in our societies than I don't understand why this God has given us the ability to reason at all. This is why the Christian worldview is so scary, because in order for Mark to get his way and apply the Bible to everyone and everything we would have to be living in a theocracy where everyone was Christian.
Why would God grant us desire, empathy, understanding and reason if he knew they would lead to conclusions he disapproved of and behaviors he considered worthy of damnation? Especially when so many of those behaviors hurt no one and violate rules that there is no explanation for other than the divine dictator supposedly disapproves. If God disapproves of so much of what we spend our time doing, including any form of sex outside of married sex, why allow us free will at all? Or why hold us to such obviously impossible and unfair standards of "purity".
Christianity makes no sense and luckily there's also no empirical evidence for any of it being even remotely true and plenty of reason to think it's mostly false.
God is Looking for True Sycophants
Mark Mittelberg believes that God is looking for true worshipers and that part of forming a healthy relationship with God is “sexual purity”.
Unfortunately for Mark I've Read the Bible
Now perhaps Mark is relying on readers of his book to have never actually read the Bible all the way through. After all he leaves out any mention of rape and incest, at one point the chapter laughably makes excuses for why Jesus doesn't talk about slavery (while never admitting that the Bible openly endorses and never once condemns slavery) and he of course doesn't mention that gays deserve to be stoned to death.
The other concept he skirts around is that of sin and I can only guess he does that because coming up in chapter nine he is going to talk about Heaven and Hell. Homosexuality, and any sex outside of a heterosexual marriage, is a sin. In the Old Testament it would get you killed by your fellow Jews through the barbaric act of stoning.
In the New Testament however a new concept was introduced called HELL. Prior to the New Testament the realm of the dead was usually referred to as Sheol, a place where both sinner and righteous were sent. Jesus, meek and mild, was the one who introduced us to the concept of Hell – a place everlasting flame and gnashing teeth.
God would tell those who were unworthy to depart from him into everlasting fire on the day of judgment and that made God, rather than any demon or devil, the true one to be feared.
So who would want to have a relationship with this God let alone WORSHIP this God? What gay person would want to have a relationship with Yahweh? A God who is so controlling of your behavior that you can't even have sex with the person you love without being labeled an abomination. A God so evil he will send you into everlasting fire because you had sex before your marriage ceremony. A God who will burn you in Hell because you didn't put a ring on it before you “tapped that”. What petty superstitious nonsense.
It is astounding to me that people believe the God who forged the stars, who shaped the planets, who mapped the endless galaxies across trillions of lightyears of empty space, also cares whether or not you're gay. In this vast Cosmos God wants you to know it's not okay for you lick a vagina if you're a woman or put your penis in another man's mouth.
And not only does he care, but he hates homosexual behavior so much that he will send you to Hell, to burn in agony, because you weren't a pure and precious Christian snowflake. This brand of religion isn't a pathway to truth, it's mental abuse, often perpetrated on children. Often looking into the eyes of a child and telling them they deserve to burn because of what? White lies? The sexual desires that crop up within them during puberty? Taking God's name in vain? How utterly evil.
Mark has done his best in this chapter to make Christianity out to be loving forgiving and accepting of homosexuals. For that, I guess, he deserves some small amount of credit. But at the end of the day you can't hide from the horrible things the Bible says and from the obvious brainwashing at work in making people believe it.
The thought that the creator of the Universe cares whether you have gone through a marriage ceremony before you have sex is quite simply delusional. I don't think saying that should be controversial but somehow it might be taken that way.
Science has uncovered homosexual activity in dozens of species on this planet and is working to uncover the evolutionary history of why homosexuality happens as well as the genetic basis for it. But even if some element of it is a choice or an environmental factor does push people towards it – so what. Love between consenting adults is fine by me as long as their activities or fetishes don't hurt anyone or infringe on someone else's rights.
And therein lies the problem with the stance of many Christians regarding homosexuality, they used their religion as a shield to stand in the way of equality. We don't live in a theocracy, we live in a democracy, and thankfully gays finally have the right to marry who they choose. Love has won, not because of the superstitions of Christianity, but in spite of them.
If you've made it to the end I thank you, as always, for reading and hope you will be here next week for chapter eight where Mark addresses a question about hypocritical and judgmental Christians.