Saturday, July 17, 2010

The role of God in moral discourse

The salient role of God in moral discourse is to operate as a completely trumping moral authority against whom no human claims have standing.

The standard use of this trumping moral authority is to justify stripping categories of people of their moral protections.

The standard form of this justification is to declare the existence of that category of persons is a moral flaw in the order of the universe which is the fault of the members of that category.

So, Islam claims that everyone is obligated to accept that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His Prophet: failure to do so is a grievous error which can only be fully resolved by submitting to these revealed truths. Hence Christians, Jews and other “people of the book” have accepted the truth of the One God but not the truth that Muhammad is His Prophet. That makes them worse than Muslims (who have accepted both) but better than polytheists, atheists and so forth who have accepted neither declared truth: they have not even acknowledged the One God.

The existence of full infidels is a moral flaw, the existence of partial infidels is also a moral flaw (though not as bad and it is better if they are under the rule of Islam, and so have submitted to the rule of the laws of God) but, in both cases, the flaw is in the people themselves for failing to acknowledge these revealed truths. The obligation of Muslims is to work towards a future where these flaws no longer exist. (Which means, of course, that apostasy—rejection of either or both of the previously accepted two truths—is treason against the fundamental purpose of Islam, the aim of history itself, and the sovereignty of God, so punishable by death.)

Islam may have incorporated this logic in its fundamental principles, but it did not even come close to inventing the basic structure.

Centuries before Muhammad was born, Christians had developed the same logic against Jews and pagans. Jews were the Chosen People who had produced the Messiah but failed to follow Him. That was a profound failure on their part—indeed, not merely a rejection of God’s purpose, but of their reason for being the Chosen People. Worse, in order to not force Christians to face the embarrassment of—when the Empire became officially Christian—accepting allegiance to, and responsibility for, a Deicide State (given Jesus was killed by Roman soldiers according to a Roman style of execution under the authority of a Roman official), Jews were held to be guilty of killing the Messiah, the Son of God, and thus of Deicide.

Jews were, however, treated better than pagans, for they did at least accept the One God. Jews may have been a repressed and despised morality, but paganism was utterly illegitimate and increasingly treated as such.

Nevertheless, the failure of God’s Chosen People to accept the Messiah they had produced was a profound flaw in the cosmic order, one that was the fault of the Jews themselves. It also provided an explanation for the embarrassing failure of God’s Chosen People to follow the Messiah they had produced: it was their wilful moral perversity in refusing to follow the revealed truth. It was all their fault, a fault they could assuage only by accepting the truth of Christ.

In just the same way that Muslims later claimed that the embarrassing failure of Jews and Christians to follow the Prophet who was the completion of their tradition was all their fault, a fault they could only assuage by accepting the truth of the Prophet being the seal of the Prophets. Indeed, Islam took the principle further than Christians did, since Christians at least acknowledge that the Jews had it basically correct until Christ came along and provided a new Covenant. Islam, by contrast, claims that God’s message has always been the same, the Jews and the Christians just wilfully distorted it. Which made the failure of Jews and Christian to become Muslims all the more egregious.

In both cases, the principle was drawn that it was clearly outrageous to treat those who did accept God’s revealed truth as morally or otherwise equal to do those who did not. Hence the Muslim notion of dhimmis being derived from the Christian treatment of Jews under the Christian Roman Empire.

One can see the structure of the argument clearly. God is the absolutely trumping moral authority against Whom no moral claims can be made; God has purposes revealed in the universe; failure to follow those purposes is a wilful failure which is the fault of those who so fail; it reveals their profoundly flawed moral character; a flaw that can only be assuaged by repenting of their error. In the absence of such repentance, it is outrageous to treat those who conform to God’s purposes as the moral, social or legal equal of those who wilfully fail to do so.

So, the Muslims applied the argument to Christians and Jews, the Christians applied the argument to Jews. Who did the Jews apply the argument to?

The queers. (I.e. those who fail to conform to the strictly binary conception of sex and gender.)
And everyone hates the queers
The classic version of this structure of reasoning, later adopted by the Christians, was Philo of Alexandria’s marriage of Platonic natural law theory with scriptural Revelation. It was built into the structure of the universe created by God that the purpose of sex was reproduction, that sex was legitimate only between males and females, a purpose confirmed by scriptural Revelation. To have erotic desire for one’s own sex was a profound flaw, a failure to conform to the natural order and binding scriptural injunctions. To act upon such erotic desires was an abomination, a profound betrayal of God’s purposes (as manifested in the natural order and scriptural injunctions). So clearly, the scriptural punishment should be followed and they should be put to death.

To put it another way, God really, really cares about the mechanics of sex so the mechanics of sex is not merely a religious issue, it is a profound moral issue and so should be a legal issue—indeed, a capital crime: as it was for centuries in Latin Christendom and still is in much of the Muslim world.

The connection between this argument and its application to the Jews is not merely some reasonable inference. We can see it operating quite directly in, for example, the preaching of St John Chrysostom, who takes Philo’s reasoning against queers and then applies to the Jews.

So, the pattern is that the Jews apply the reasoning using God to strip a category of person (the queers) of their moral protections on the grounds that it is their fault for failing to adhere to God’s purposes, the Christians then apply the take reasoning and apply it to the Jews themselves (and the queers). The Muslims then take the same reasoning and apply it to the Christians, the Jews, and the queers.

So, the one thing that can unite the Abrahamic religions in Jerusalem itself, is that they all hate the queers: they all claim that God finds their aspirations—and any acting upon those aspirations—hateful. The Jews then apparently do not notice that the Christians and Muslims apply the logic to them, the Christians apparently do not notice that the Muslims apply it to them.

The queers, they’re different.

Actually, no, really, they are not.

The dynamics of vulnerability
Indeed, not only does one get exactly the same accusations being mounted against the queers as against the Jews (they betray God’s purposes, they prey on children, they corrupt any institution they touch, they are engage in conspiracies against the righteous and God-fearing, they are agents of the evil one, to treat them as equals is an insult and a betrayal of basic traditions of society) but, across history, Jew-hatred and queer-hatred display similar intensities in hatred because they share two essential characteristics.

In both cases God—the ultimate trumping authority against whom no claims can be made—is used to justify stripping them of moral protections. And they are a small minority, so very vulnerable: the cost of engaging in hatred of them is low. The combination of vulnerability and that the moral authority being cited is absolute in its authority leads to range of hatred from the casual to the intense.

Both the Jews and the queers fall foul of the dynamics of picking on small and vulnerable minorities. For who, after all, is more vulnerable than people who are a few percentage points of society? This vulnerability is even more intense for those who come into their sexuality and gender identity as isolated individuals in an overwhelmingly heterosexual family and social milieus—Jews are at least raised in Jewish families, and, until the Holocaust, being Jew was never an explicit capital crime.

In both cases, a small and vulnerable minority has to be characterised as profoundly corrupting, otherwise it is just a very large majority monstrously bullying a small and vulnerable minority.

They also both fall foul of the dynamics of monotheism. In the case of the Jews, the dynamics of hijacking a revelatory tradition (particularly given its notion of a single, authoritative view of reality): in the case of the queers, the sexual and gender dynamics of monotheism.

With the One God, sex is not part of the divine except in its creative (i.e. reproductive) aspect. So sex—except as reproduction—does not connect us to the divine, it separates us from the divine. So, the mechanics of sex becomes a Very Big Issue that gender exists to manifest. Hence sex that is explicitly not reproductive, indeed fails to conform to the purpose of having the two genders, does not merely separates us from the divine, it defies the divine. One is “betraying” both one’s sexual nature and one’s gender nature. Hence Zoroastrianism (as a proto-monotheism) also anathematises same-sex activity (indeed, classes it as demonic), despite not sharing any scriptural tradition with the Abrahamic religions.

By defining gender and sex purely in terms of reproductive role, monotheism thus designates categories of people who should not exist (those whose sexual orientation or gender identification does not conform to the notion one’s psyche is properly defined by one’s genitals). Clearly, the defining of gender in terms of reproductive role is false: in particular, same-sex attraction and orientation is part of the human. But a theory with the authority of God is taken to completely trump the mere existence of queers. No human testimony counts against God. Their existence becomes defiance, and thus their fault. Monotheists become possessors of a theory of human nature whose “obvious truth” is much more important that other people’s mere existence, for it is a theory with the authority of God.

As for the dynamics of hijacking a revelatory tradition, both Christians and Muslims claim to represent the completion of the prophetic tradition of the Jews. So, the failure of the Jews to follow along in said completions is embarrassing and only explicable—given the “obvious” truth that they do represent the completion of said tradition—in terms of wilful failure. There is nothing wrong with the Christian or Muslim revelations, only the Jews for not following them.

But, here’s the thing about the wilful-failure-to-adhere-to-absolutely-trumping-moral-authority argument. It is perfectly able to be secularised.

The secularisation of excluding flaws
Jew-hatred and queer-hatred have obviously been directly secularised, with spurious “science” used to justify hatreds derived from religion.

But this notion of wilful failure to conform to the proper structure of reality is, after all, precisely the grounds on which Leninists claim the right to tyrannise, appropriate and kill. The completion of history is the absolutely trumping moral authority against which no human moral claims are permissible. Failure to adhere to the clear truth of the Marxist revelation (sorry, “scientific analysis”) of the underlying dynamics and purpose of history is clearly a wilful failure. Hence …

In particular, the labour theory of value, and its concomitant theory of exploitation, creates classes of economic agents who shouldn’t exist. Now the labour theory of value is false and the theory of exploitation a product of a false theory of value and a conceptual shift game. But that just increases its parallel with the monotheist theories of sex and gender.

And the grounds on which the Nazis operated. The Aryan race is the pinnacle of humanity, there are no moral claims to be made against its profound authority. Anything which frustrates the success of the Aryan race (the achievement of necessary lebensraum, the preservation and intensification of its purity) is a wickedness with no standing. Hence …

Now, it is true that Nazism had categories from which no redemption was possible, while Leninism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism all permitted the possibility of exiting from your grievous failings. But, in practice, that made much less difference than is often claimed for it. It all still justified stripping categories of people of their moral protections up to, and including, mass murder. (In the case of queers, since they are scattered throughout human populations—which makes them particularly vulnerable to profound isolation—the most “mass” the murdering gets is homicidal moral panics, but that is a result of the dynamics of scattering, not some difference in the dynamic of hate: as the concentrating effort of the death camps illustrated.)

Contesting humanity
It is all still about contesting people’s basic humanity and claim that their failure to conform to “proper” humanity is their fault: either for wilfully “betraying” their humanity or being deeply inherently flawed in their humanity—or even not being “really” human in the first place. You can tell where a society is on the bigotry scale by which groups it is acceptable to contest the basic humanity of, and to what degree.

So, in modern Western society, it is no longer acceptable to contest the humanity of blacks, Jews or women: to imply they have betrayed their humanity or are some lesser form of the human. But it is still widely acceptable (though increasingly less so) to contest the “proper” humanity of the queers.

Sometimes this is done explicitly, as in the Vatican’s categorisation of homosexuals as metaphysically flawed (“objectively disordered” due to being oriented to an “intrinsic moral evil”). Sometimes, it does in a way that is only implicit, or even entirely unconscious.

“You are different, why should you be included?” is the argument for maintaining various exclusions. The more contestable the existence as “proper” versions of the human, the weaker the arguments have to be to “satisfy”. If the ordinary humanity of queers was uncontested, the argument would be “we are human, why should we be excluded?” and excluding people on the basis of their sexuality would seem as outrageous as doing in on the basis of religion, skin colour or hair colour.

The claims of queers are discounted because they are taken to be outside some defined notion of how humans are, or “properly” are. The presumption of illegitimacy is so traditional, it is invisible, as is the harm it causes.

For example, the way it is taken as perfectly reasonable to make same-sex acts morally problematic. That this then requires the same-sex attracted and oriented to be at war with their own nature is taken to be beside the point. That is just an unfortunate consequence that they have to deal with (and is their fault for being that way in the first place). Their nature and aspirations are secondary to worrying about the mechanics of sex.

Yet the mechanics of sex is not a moral issue: it is a religious taboo issue, but it is not a moral issue, for it does not violate life or property, it does not interfere in how other people live their lives: so it does not violate people’s moral protections.

Issues of rape, consent, adultery, infection, protection of minors, integrity and so on apply to sexual behaviour generally, but not to same-sex behaviour specifically. Same-sex activity violates certain claims about how people ought to be, but that is a different matter. Same-sex activity is simply part of what it is to be human, given that humans are sexually diverse.

The notion that, for example, government policy can change human sexuality is deeply silly. Government can punish people for being different: that it is very good at. But it cannot change human sexuality. In particular, it cannot change the reality that humans are sexually diverse.

But, if that sexual diversity is taken to be illegitimate, if society is taken to require adherence to a norm of how “real” humans are, then the difference is taken to outweigh being human, because one is not human in the “proper” sense, and so can be excluded.

Hence, letting same-sex oriented people serve openly in the military is taken to be “social engineering” when it is the exclusion that is social engineering: attempting policy that is at war with how people are.

The notion that marriage has to be “defended” from the queers is precisely a notion that they are an improper, illegitimate, corrupting force: on the “outside” of “proper humanity”. But what is being defended are notions of masculinity, femininity and sexuality which are false: for it is precisely because they are false that the contrary cases which prove they do not, in fact, define the human have to be excluded, belittled, de-legitimised.

Same-sex marriage is taken to be an “experiment in human nature”, when it is insistence that law ignore the fact that same-sex couples exist, build lives together and even raise children which is the “experiment”. A longstanding one that has clearly failed: people remain sexually diverse. A failure that imposes all sorts of costs on families: alienating parents from their children, making adolescence for an isolated and vulnerable group much more traumatic than it needs to be, encouraging people to hide from their own sexuality in cover or desperation (or simply forced) marriages. But these are failure and costs that have been traditionally hidden, because the harm to people whose existence is illegitimate is hidden, or massively discounted, harm. That only occurs because of the people who “should not exist” and so is their fault. Just as that this “natural” option of presuming heterosexuality while repressing, denying or excluding same-sex relationships rests on brutal repression of preceding traditions is equally invisible.

When the Hawaiian governor recently vetoed a civil unions bill because it was creating civil unions an equivalent of marriage and therefore should be decided at referendum by the voters of Hawaii, she was explicitly—by the example she cited of opposing views—stating the legitimacy of the notion that heterosexuals should have more rights than homosexuals: that to treat them as equal was offensive. Since this view is taken as legitimate, deciding whether to treat queers as proper versions of the human, thus full citizens, and so entitled to equal protection of the law was contentious, hence the voters at large needed to do it. (Just as, not all that many decades ago, treating Jews as the legal equals of Christians was regarded as outrageous and offensive.)

Taking it that institutions should legitimately acting as if queers do not exist, as if their existence is illegitimate, is the default option, the “natural” option. Operating off a (false) theory of what defines gender and which treats the existence of millions of people who are living proof it is false as a unfortunate reality to be repressed.

What has changed is the ability to repress and discount. The traditional ancien regime used judicial (and private) violence to make sure such burdens remained socially invisible. As that repression recedes, the claims for status as ordinary human beings steadily work to the surface. But that is hardly an unfamiliar pattern. It is also an interactive one. The tradition of exclusion was imposed by brutality, maintained by brutality and is collapsing as the necessary enforcing brutality is being withdrawn.

To put it another way, the previous withdrawal of moral protections is now itself being withdrawn.

The function of morality
We have morality so we can live together. The underlying issue is not how people ought to be (that cannot be established pre-moral judgement), but how people ought to act given how people actually are. Given how people actually are, how should we behave towards each other? Morality exists to provide us with moral protections: constraints on behaviour so we can live together. Stripping people of moral protections attacks the function of morality, since it casts people outside the moral community.

Which, we can presume, is not likely to be done to the powerful, but only the (relatively) powerless, since we particularly want the powerful to be bound by moral protections. (Back to Jews and queers being small minorities.) But it is also what makes the authority of God so perilous: absolutely trumping authority must trample those of mere people, mere mortals. A morality that takes human claims as central—that starts with how people actually are, rather than taking their existence as contestable—that is more likely to be humane, in all senses. It is also more likely to be a morality based on how people actually are, rather than a theory of how they ought to be. Conversely, the absolutely trumping authority of God makes is so much easier to authorise discounting of people as they are, since the authority of God is so trumping.

Since morality is about moral protections, what offense against moral protections does people being homosexual do? Particularly given that sexual orientation is established either at birth or very early in infancy (so we are talking literally about human nature as it actually is)? None, that is specific to same-sex acts. That some people are same-sex attracted and oriented violates certain claims about how people ought to be, but that is a different matter.

What harm does anathematising homosexuality do? A great deal. It alienates parents from their children, makes adolescence much more traumatic than it needs to be, drives people to undertake various destructive actions to hide from, or deny, their own sexuality, creates a miasma of fear and dishonesty. This without even considering the horrific punishments periodically imposed on individuals for engaging in homosexual acts. (How many same-sex acts is one person being burnt alive “worth”?)

There is no “homosexual problem” just as there was no “Jewish problem” or “black problem” or whatever. It is entirely a construct of certain theories about people and society, not how things actually are.

But if your existence is illegitimate then the notion that it is anathematising homosexuality—the denying of moral protections—which is the moral problem is invisible since any problems with flow from an illegitimate existence are “those people’s” problems for existing.

Signalling “virtue”
What anathematising homosexual acts and homosexuality does do is that it signals one’s sense of virtue: that one is one of God’s people, a defender of “decency” against those people. All the things that anathematising Jews did for Christians (or still do for many Muslims). Virtue, identity, status: all in one package and without actually having to give anything up.

It is a potent brew for preachers, clerics and priests to sell. So they do. That organised religion has a tendency to anathematise homosexual acts just proves the same-sex oriented are an easy (i.e. isolated and vulnerable small minority) target for clerics and priests to pick on to act as moral gatekeepers and sell effortless virtue against.

Just as it was easy to do so against the Jews. Hence one gets anti-gay activists selling effortless virtue parading themselves as “heroic” defenders of “moral decency” against the nefarious corruption of the queers, just as there were anti-Jewish activists who sold themselves as exposing and opposing the malevolent conspiracies of the Jews.

With “what God wants” as the ultimate trump card, authorising it all and discounting any human misery caused on the way through. Misery that is the fault of those who have failed to conform to “God’s purposes”, the purposes of the absolutely trumping authority against which no human claims count.

ADDENDA One way to read the second principle of Gospel Christianity—love thy neighbour as thyself—is that it bars using God to deprive people of their moral protections. Hence the utility of Philo of Alexandria's exclusory logic to priests and preachers acting as "gatekeepers of righteousness" in justifying denying people the status of being moral neighbours. It is precisely when the love-thy-neighbour principle is subverted (as has obviously been the case with Jews and queers) that the behaviour of organised Christianity converges with that of Islam—as I noted here—because then the authority of God is not balanced by anything that gives human claims effective standing.


  1. “With “what God wants” as the ultimate trump card.”
    A big part of the problem is that there are so many interpretations of what god wants. Just last year there was an international meeting of the faithful here in Melbourne, all different faiths, some incompatible, many mutually exclusive: but by some strange reasoning all deserve equal respect, “as if” all were equally valid. As they were all together it would have been nice if He/She/It had sent a messenger to put the story straight!
    If it wasn’t so frightening it would be amusing.

    When queried about how so many sinful and immoral things can be allowed to happen we are told that god gave us FREEWILL, and that if we exercise the implied ability to choose to believe, but elect not to, he will punish us by rejection. But for so many religious groups to leave it to god to punish sinners is not enough, it is their (self imposed) duty to punish the evildoers. In this they commit at least three of the seven deadly sins; PRIDE, we are the only truly human people; WRATH; GREED, how often is the property of the sub-human confiscated.
    More, as the story of the flood tells of gods attempt to rid the world of sinners and unbelievers; to think that they can succeed were god failed is the ultimate blasphemy.

    Sorry if this was a bit of a rant.


  2. Lorenzo's brotherJuly 18, 2010 at 12:39 AM

    Religion (in whatever form) is a purely human construct so that a smaller group of people can have power (self-appointed power no less) over a larger group of people.

    Once you have that understanding, everything else is mere detail. The Devil in this detail though is that it can lead to horrendous acts of inhumanity, violence and persecution when taken to extremes.

  3. I think it is necessary to make some distinctions:

    I agree with you that the religious and self-proclaimed virtuous have focused in recent years on gays as a less-human group in a similar way to the way it was done to Jews in the past.

    In fact, it could be argued that gays are an actual substitute because it has become less legitimate to focus on other 'evils' in society that could have been targeted in the past (including but not only Jews.)

    However, I think it is important to remember that viewing gays as a people, instead of as a sexual act, is a new idea. I think that historically the attitude of religions toward homosexuality cannot be compared to an attitude toward people, but as an attitude toward a human behavior that needs to be controlled. In other words, whereas in the case of people the issue was one of isolation/humiliation/elimination, in the case of behavior the will to 'purify' is turned inward into 'our' society. Or at least that was the logic of these religions' attitude toward homosexuality originally.

    However, there is an exception that might apply to Philo and Judaism, and then by extension to the other religions. It's possible that for Jews, especially in the Hellenistic world, homosexuality was not only viewed as a sexual behavior, but as a behavior that an alien non-Jewish custom. Now, it is necessary to admit that although Judaism does not see non-believers as flawed sinners in the same way that Christianity and Islam do, it does sometime view non-Jews as possessing customs that are not only alien to Judaism, and threatening the integrity of Jewish customs, but also probably as inferior to Jewish customs. So since homosexuality was tolerated among the Greeks it was possibly viewed by Jews as representative of a people's alien and threatening customs as well as a behavior.

    Fast forward to the present and homosexuality is viewed by all 3 religions as an alien custom typical of the people who are not the faithful, i.e. non-religious Jews, secular-liberals in the Christian world, non-Muslims from the POV of the Muslim world.

    Another counter argument to what I said above could be the phenomenon of prostitution, which is viewed both as an internal sexual behavior (when referring to the clients) and as a people who are flawed (prostitutes).

    Another point is that although religious political groups present their political position as representing god's will, and use this to galvanize their supporters, they also make sure to add other arguments that will be more palatable to audiences that are not as committed to god's will as they are.

  4. When you wander into the Roman experience and Marxism you come closest to the truth. Political power requires winners and losers in a way that 'pure' religion doesn't. Therefore organised religion, and most particularly religion that is tied to secular power needs, requires 'them and us' definitions that allow both posturing and repression.

    For me the interesting point is that the unofficial religions within states are often relatively free and easy going, but that this changes once they become official. The less stable and secure the official religion is, the more repressive its definitions become. See Pagan Rome versus early Christians; Christian Rome versus holdout Pagans; Medieval Christians under siege from Muslims... (who as conquoring overlords STARTED with a light reign on their subjects); and Muslims now - after their subjects are exposed to the same corruptions that brought down the Communist states!

    As you correctly point out, it is not the basis of the Christian religion to persecute they neighbour. (And the adoption of Old Testament bits by the early Christian fathers instead of starting clean with their new religion allows much opportunity for those wanting to play silly buggars here... pun intended) The power and control issues of the organised version of the religion are quite distinct from what the religion itself requires of its followers.

    But religion is hardly the only human concern that gets buggarised by power politics, is it?

  5. Entech: "judged not lest ye be judged" does not seem to have much resonance with many folk. The notion of being of the virtuous is very powerful. And one shows how very virtuous one is by the strength of one's rejection of the non-virtuous.

    Lorenzo's brother: bit hard on (for example) the Quakers.

    Micha: being Jewish or pagan was a behaviour that could be "cured" by becoming Christian (or Muslim, as the case may be).

    Claiming that it is all about acts has always been a problematic exercise. First, it was always clear that orientations differed. The law, however, generally regulates acts. Second, the acts flow from an orientation. The modern acceptance of that is a matter of taking what people say seriously. Those who refuse to do so are engaged in an exercise of saying "I don't care what you feel or aspire to, or what you report, or the costs to you".

    Nigel: It is simply not true it is about state power. Imans in Muslim communities within contemporary Western society engage in the same "gatekeepers of righteousness" role, as do preachers in the US. It is about claiming moral authority. Having political power to back it up increases the effect (and the temptation), but does not create it.

  6. Lorenzo's brotherJuly 19, 2010 at 6:42 PM

    Good point about the Quakers, but it is the exception that proves the rule in this case. Besides, I am not aware of the Quakers persecuting anyone or any group, but I am prepared to be corrected on that point.

  7. This is a very good and very thought-provoking post, especially the material about Zoroastrians, who I'd always billed as 'reasonable monotheists'. Looks like they are into 'hating on TEH GAY' as well...

    I suppose they (like the Jews) do get a tick for not forcing it down other people's throats.

  8. Thanks :)

    Judaism and Zoroastrianism are particularist monotheisms (or proto-monotheisms in the Zoroastrian case), Christianity and Islam are universalist monotheisms. This affects the comparative dynamics.

    Christianity stands out somewhat from the other three in that its conception of law is that it is man-made, however much law was thought to properly contain, or be congruent with, religious principles.

    But it was discovering that Zoroastrianism had similar views of homosexuality as the other monotheisms that was striking to me. Though it has long been known: Plato mentions it, for example (in The Symposium I believe), though more in the context of freedom versus autocracy.

  9. Just on Islam and apostasy. How is determined that one is a Muslim? Is it as biological as Judaism or ritualistic as Christianity?

  10. Lorenzo

    I was not raised by Christians nor attend religious schools. I learnt Religion through university History courses. But from that relatively "objective" perspective, NOWHERE can I find theological or scriptural evidence for a moralizing, judgmental, or exclusionary Christianity. From my secularist take, the whole deal is about the INDIVIDUAL's relationship with god.

    Christisnity - unlike Judaism and Islam - absolutely does provide for and validate temporal rule, rulers, and law. So from that perspective I can understand Christian societies institutionalizing homophobia and other forms of oppression and exclusion. But they cannot cite Christianity as authority for any of these. They need to look into themselves and take responsibility.

  11. Peter: one becomes a Muslim by stating that one accepts that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His Prophet. So, ritualistic. Rather has to be, to be universalist.

    Gospel Christianity does not give the exclusionists much wriggle room. That's why they rely so much on St Paul, particularly in Romans. St Paul's writings, do, however, show distinct signs of the influence of Philo of Alexandria, hence the use of Philo's natural law arguments.

  12. My theory on Paul is that he was either schizophrenic or bipolar 1.

  13. "Micha: being Jewish or pagan was a behaviour that could be "cured" by becoming Christian (or Muslim, as the case may be).

    Claiming that it is all about acts has always been a problematic exercise. First, it was always clear that orientations differed. The law, however, generally regulates acts. Second, the acts flow from an orientation. The modern acceptance of that is a matter of taking what people say seriously. Those who refuse to do so are engaged in an exercise of saying "I don't care what you feel or aspire to, or what you report, or the costs to you"."

    Lorenzo, I have to clarify. I completely agree with you on the moral level. When someone today focuses on the act instead of the orientation of gays, it is clear that by trying to view sexual orientation as an issue of lack of individual control, he is trying to deny the legitimacy of the sexual identity.

    However, I think if you look at it from the historical point of view, i.e. not how people should see gays, but how they have seen them at he point when monotheistic religions were forming, I'm not sure it would be historically correct to say that the way they saw gays was analogous to the way they saw infidels (Jews or otherwise), i.e. as a group. And I think the distinction is important from a historical point of view, even if it is ultimately irrelevant from a moral point of view.

    However, it might be possible to argue that although people in the past did not have an articulated concept of orientation and sexual identity in the same way that they had concepts of a nationalistic/religious and gender identities (though even that was not in the same sense as in modern times), they nevertheless did deep down think of homosexuals as 'they', i.e. as a group with an orientation.

    In any case, It seems to me that it should be obvious to anyone that same sex sexual orientation is not a matter of choice, since opposite sex sexual orientation isn't. However, ultimately it doesn't matter. A person can choose to be a Jew or not to be (except as far as Nazis are concerned), but he can't choose to be black or white. Yet from a moral standpoint it would be equally immoral to persecute someone for being Jewish or for being black.

  14. "Peter Patton said...

    How is determined that one is a Muslim? Is it as biological as Judaism or ritualistic as Christianity? "

    From a orthodox religious point of view a person is a Jew if his mother is Jewish (biological) or if he converts (ritualistic). Orthodox Judaism does not seek converts but it does accept them.

    In Islam a person is Muslim if he has a Muslim father or if he converts. But since Islam does seek converts it is very easy to become Muslim. I think all you have to do is say (in Arabic): there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet. This phrase has a name, but I don't remember it.

    In Christianity there is no biological component per se, but there is infant baptism in most denominations.

    Of course Judaism today has become more complicated with many Jews being secular, intermarriage, reform Judaism and non-Jews discovering long lost Jewish heritage. So now you have people who define themselves as half-Jewish, although this concept does not exist from an Orthodox religious point of view, while others say that they are of the Jewish faith, but don't identify themselves as part of the Jewish nation, which is also not very Orthodox.And you have Jews who want entry into the Jewish people to become much easier, and Orthodox Judaism is not happy about that either. Jews have a lot of identity issues :)

  15. I'm not sure it would be historically correct to say that the way they saw gays was analogous to the way they saw infidels (Jews or otherwise), i.e. as a group. And I think the distinction is important from a historical point of view, even if it is ultimately irrelevant from a moral point of view. Yes, I am inclined to think you are correct (though the point is disputed in the scholarly literature). My point would have to be recast, in that the anathematisation of same-sex activity established the notion that one could "betray" your humanity (and your gender nature) in a way that cast you out of the moral community.

  16. Micha

    Yes, it can get quite tricky. I suppose my question was how do the fatwa-declarers KNOW someone (eg Salman Rushdie) is an apostate?

    Now, despite being raised and schooled by heathens, I was nevertheless baptized in a Christian church. It was just what people did. Even in 2010, I get invited to the occasional christening of the young'n of friends/family who are just as heathen as my parents were! :)

    So I guess that somewhere there is probably documentation attesting to this scandalous waste of holy-water, which might on the one hand sneak me past St. Peter on Judgment Day OR get me blown up, if I found myself in anti-Christian waters, which had washed up my baptism certificate.

    But what about the Muslims? Do they individually at some stage in their development have to commit publicly to their submission to Allah, just as a local priest publicly tried to drown me? :)

  17. Peter,

    I'm not sure Salman Rushdie is an apostate. He was born Muslim and he didn't stop being a Muslim any more than I stopped being Jewish by being secular.

    In Judaism (male) circumcision could be considered similar to baptism, but even without it a person with a Jewish mother is still Jewish. I don't know if Muslim male circumcision has the same meaning of entering the covenant that the Jewish one has.

    In any case, Muslims don't have something like parish records with a list of every Muslim. I don't know if Jewish communities had something like that in the past, but they don't now. So there is not record of Jews per se.

  18. Apostasy in Islam is denying one or both of either that Allah is the One God or that Muhammad is His Prophet. If Salman Rushdie became an atheist or a Christian, he would be an apostate.

    The fatwa was for expressing disrespect to the Prophet. Not necessarily the same thing.

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