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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    “Progressive Revelation” was explained to me by a youth leader when I was still impressionable. The basic idea was that the Adames and Eves could not even handle the most basic covenant… once stuff worked out a ways, we got to Noah and pressed reboot and started over with the Noahic Covenant. Then Abraham, then Jesus, then the Catholics, then the Protestants (hurray!) and we now have the best and most up-to-date relationship with God.

    I asked “so what about the Mormons?”

    “That’s different.”Report

  2. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Right, but that’s not what I mean when I say “progressive traditionalism” at all. I’m not talking about a “better” system replacing older ones. I’m talking about the elasticity of faith within institutions, I suppose….

    I’m still not really getting my point across, though – I realize that.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    No, dude. You’re getting your point across well enough. I just ramble sometimes.

    My problem is that progressivism (even the traditional kind) seems to indicate, on one level, that there are shenanigans going on with, at the very least, a Cartesian God.

    It seems to give the game away… any given Cartesian God is a reflection of the culture and does not exist except as an ideal for that culture. Look at the things that were sins once and are now waved away (homosexuality, for example). Look at the things that were once waved away and are sins now. The Cartesian God does not keep an ever-changing list of sins.

    Now, if you go back to the Hebrew Bible, you encounter a very interesting and decidedly *NON*-Cartesian God. You have a God with whom one can argue, wheedle, bargain, and with whom consensus can be reached. You have a God that changes his mind. You have a God that says “man, do I ever regret doing *THAT*!” You have, in one very strange sense, a peer. How I wish I heard the voice of a God like that.

    These Cartesian, distant, sky gods strike me as little more than a particularly insightful description of a rorshach blot. A description of the interior life of the describer, rather than having anything to do with anything of a spiritual nature at all.

    But I say that knowing, in the back of my head, that the above is also my own description of the blot.

    All that to say: Good essay. Thank you for writing it. (I sympathize. )Report

  4. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Now, if you go back to the Hebrew Bible, you encounter a very interesting and decidedly *NON*-Cartesian God. You have a God with whom one can argue, wheedle, bargain, and with whom consensus can be reached. You have a God that changes his mind. You have a God that says “man, do I ever regret doing *THAT*!” You have, in one very strange sense, a peer. How I wish I heard the voice of a God like that.

    Christians have a lot to learn from the Judaic relationship with God – and indeed, there is no reason why we shouldn’t have the same sort of relationship with God as that…

    Thanks…I completely agree, and it’s tricky, no? Damn distant Cartesian sky gods….Report

  5. Avatar paul h.
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    says:

    The Judaic God is interpreted quite differently in the Church Fathers, of course (God isn’t actually ‘angry,’ God doesn’t actually change his mind, etc., that these were all imperfect ways of putting the truth which need to be read in a multi-layered way).

    You write:

    “Traditions have, in some sense, chosen different paths or perhaps different “personally appealing beliefs” over time.”

    And let me say, that’s quite right; different monastic orders with different rules, different political arrangements (from antinomian/proto-anarchist communes to Byzantine empires, etc.), married and unmarried priests, all sorts of things. And yet, those are all trivial and minor. The question of whether two men deciding to commit to each other is to be called “marriage”, by Christians, is not minor. I say this not in the sense of a bloviating conservative culture warrior arguing that this is inevitably going to lead to the downfall of society, etc. (it’s not), and is thus CALLING it ‘not minor’ to get more votes, or something. Purely in the delimited sense of theology and the life of the Church and in the sense of something that can be ‘changed’ or not … no, of course not. This is not in any sense minor. Marriage, it should be emphasized, is a sacrament (quite literally, for Orthodox and Catholics); it’s a sacrament with a very complex and specific theology (as well as nature, 99.9% of human culture, etc.) behind it.

    Again, how this translates into the secular/civil sphere is a much more difficult and complex question; I’m ultimately agnostic on this, as no one can really know what societal effect it will have, and the ‘rules’ of modernity really do imply that I can’t (and further, wouldn’t want to) tell two gay people what to call their relationship. As long as the Truth is maintained outside of the secular sphere, I don’t really care.Report

  6. Avatar Katherine
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    says:

    To put it briefly, no, Christian theology can’t expand to say homosexuality is morally OK because the Bible states very explicitly in several places (not just Leviticus) that homosexuality isn’t morally OK. For the church to change its position on this is not “progressive,” it is a denial of the Bible.

    I believe firmly that Christians should take a stronger part in advocating an alternative lifestyle to the modern one of commercialism, and that we should take a stronger stand against violence and war. Those things are certainly more important to me (and, I think, probably more important Biblically) than the issue of same-sex marriage. But that doesn’t mean Christian should reverse their position on same-sex marriage just because opposing it is becoming socially unacceptable; we cannot retain our faith if we simply disregard any part of the Bible we dislike.Report

  7. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Katherine – the Bible also tells us to stone people to death who skip out on the Sabbath, along with lots and lots of other things of a similarly unwholesome nature.

    Nor do I think that Christians should reverse positions based on what is socially popular or unpopular; but this issue, to me at least, certainly transcends popularity. I believe that sexuality is something we do not choose, but are born with, and as such I cannot believe that it is a sinful thing to be a homosexual.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    That’s the problem with Biblical Literalism, though.

    We know that it’s totally cool to wear mixed fabrics. That was an old law.

    Bacon? Shrimp? Dude. Totally. Peter had a dream.

    Hell, even homosexuality is cool by this point. It wasn’t back then but our hearts were hardened when we were young and now our hearts have been softened.

    Sure.

    But that brings us to the question mentioned earlier of “but what about the Mormons?” or, rephrased, is there a point at which we abandon so much that we cease to be Christian?

    “Jesus didn’t *REALLY* exist, Paul made him up to serve a greater point that Mithraism couldn’t address. But I’m still totally a Christian.”

    “God doesn’t exist. We float through the cosmos alone and, after we die, experience nothing but void. God is a useful anthropological construct. But I’m still totally a Christian.”

    I’m sure that there are those out there who can come up with even more outlandish “But I’m still totally a Christian” formulas. Surely there is a point at which we can say “Naw, dude. Naw.”

    Isn’t there?Report

  9. Avatar William Brafford
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    says:

    E.D.,

    If I’m remembering it right, Richard Hays’s The Moral Vision of the New Testament has a chapter on homosexuality that I found very interesting. If it’s the one I’m thinking of, he worked on it with a gay friend who had spent most of his life moving back and forth between Christian and gay communities. It’s been years since I read it, but I remember thinking that it made some very good points about translation, especially in terms of distinguishing the purely physical act, which I don’t think has changed all that much since Bible times, from the social phenomenon (dare I say “construct”) of homosexuality, which is manifestly different.

    You might want to look up Archbishop Rowan Williams’s now-infamous essay on “The Body’s Grace” to see a serious theologian searching for a path by which the church could speak broaden its view of human sexuality. It’s a subtle article, and probably beyond my ability to really evaluate, but Williams knows Christian tradition inside and out and is positively brilliant.

    On a different note, please don’t repeat the falsehood that Christians were seriously committed to a flat world. It’s not true. Insofar as some Christians might have believed that, it was just standard human assumption. Dante, for one, knew the shape of the earth. Christians were committed to geocentrism—but doesn’t geocentrism imply a round earth?

    -wrbReport

  10. Avatar Cascadian
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    says:

    My last stage, before I got to the “Naw, dude” stage, was red letter and a complete rejection of the Pauline. As far as I’m aware, the only mention of homosexuality in the New Testament is a snippet from Mathew, hardly enough to outweigh the Sermon on the Mount.Report

  11. Avatar Sam M
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    says:

    Regarding the question of “popularity,” I find it interesting that the link for “new findings” takes people to polling data. Apart from society’s changing views, have “the modern world’s revelations in science” really changed the discussion about homosexuality much? Can they? Short of a magical telescope that can let us peer into heaven to get a thumbs up or thumbs down from The Man Above?

    Regardless of your views on gay marriage, all the arguments for and against it remain, the Human Genome Project notwithstanding. Why does it have to be “marriage”? Why not call it something else? If we allow gay people to enjoy the benefits of tradition, why not polygamists? The church expects expects celibacy from lots of people. Why, in the case of gays, does this amount to a “rejection” of their humanity? Are nuns and priets subhuman? Monogamy itself can be considered a rejection of many genetic imperatives. Does that make married men subhuman? Etc. Etc. Ad nauseum.

    That is, I am not sure to what extent modernity’s revelations on these things has changed the answers to these questions. At all. So maybe popularity IS the right measure. Of course, that’s a pretty wide door that will quite likely allow a lot of innovations to enter. Women priests? Married priests?

    Abortion?

    Tradition is a tricky thing. I think some of these things would amount to good changes. Some terrible. But I guess you take the good with the bad. Which leads to a final question: Which is better? A thriving church community with pews full of young couples and children… with a woman on the alter and married gay couples as eucharistic ministers? Or a traditional, hard line church that’s empty?

    I know. I know. This is a false choice. But when I go to church on Sundays, I see an awful lot of gray hair and empty seats. And part of the reason people my age do not go is resentment over being told what (not) to do with their hoo-haws. Maybe those people ought to grow up. But they refuse. So now what?

    I don’t have answers.Report

  12. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Sam – you’re totally correct, the link was a silly one and did not at all illustrate my point. It illustrates that many, many people are buying the mounting biological and psychological case for the “naturalness” if you will, of homosexuality. That’s all.

    I also understand your slippery slope argument – but can we really say that accepting homosexuality will have some direct causal relationship to then accepting abortion? I fail to see how – other than the fact that they are both controversial – the one leads to the other. In fact, should pro-lifers accept gays with love than maybe they would have even an easier time weakening the pro-choice movement. I really think having too many culture war issues makes the important ones less powerful or meaningful.Report

  13. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    You might want to look up Archbishop Rowan Williams’s now-infamous essay on “The Body’s Grace” to see a serious theologian searching for a path by which the church could speak broaden its view of human sexuality.

    William, thanks. I actually like the Archbishop a great deal; he seems to be a very thoughtful, wise, and loving man.Report

  14. Avatar Katherine
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    says:

    E.D. – I do agree that there is a genetic component to homosexual inclinations. But I don’t find it deeply relevant: there is a genetic component to plenty of things that are nonetheless wrong. It doesn’t mean that people are incapable from refraining from having homosexual relationships.

    Citing other, no-longer-followed Levitical statutes is simply not a very strong argument. The other laws you mention are not repeated or treated as important in the New Testament; homosexual behaviour is mentioned several times in the epistles, always as something that is indisputably wrong. It isn’t mentioned directly in the Gospels, but that makes sense given that Jesus was addressing a Jewish audience which already regarded homosexual behaviour as wrong. When the church expanded into the gentile, Greek world, where homosexuality was more accepted, it became an issue and was clearly treated as unacceptable behaviour for a Christian.

    Jaybird – your question of “at what point have we abandoned so much that we cease to be Christian” is precisely my issue here. I feel like the Bible and the world are coming at this issue from different perspectives. The world sees the greatest good as the expansion of human happiness. The Bible sees the greatest good as a humanity finding true fulfillment as doing what is right and in line with what we were created to do, even (or especially) when that isn’t in line with material pleasure. Too many churches seem to be adopting the world’s point of view, whether by tossing out the parts of the Bible that seem inconsistent with with the world’s idea of a fulfilling life, or by adopting the health-and-wealth gospel (which I find deeply pernicious).

    The attitude of “personal happiness as the greatest good” is, I think, why many Christians are adopting the view that Biblically-based opposition to homosexual behaviour is in conflict with loving one’s neighbour. If we actually believe what the Bible says, in the New Testament – that homosexual behaviour is immoral and alienates humans from God – then love is shown by guiding people away from such behaviour, not by commending it, since alienation from God is the worst harm that can come to a person. I can’t help feeling that a prevailing attitude in the Church now is that the best way to gain converts is to make it easier to be a Christian; but Christianity by its nature isn’t supposed to be easy.Report

  15. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    I don’t know that it’s necessarily a “happiness” issue.

    I recently read Niven/Pournelle’s Inferno again (in prep for reading the sequel! ESCAPE FROM HELL!!!!) and could not help but notice how many places there were in Hell that would fit me like a glove.

    As I read and meditated on this, however, the thought that this was probably part of the intent of Dante’s original and it was echoed in the “modernization”. Out of the many things that would cause a person to be sent to hell, it didn’t (and doesn’t) strike me that sodomy, necessarily, would be sufficient to send a person to the flaming sands (or the tempestuous winds, for that matter).

    Cruelty, sure. Treating another as a means to an end, definitely. Most of the stuff that I, to my regret, did between the ages of 17 and 26ish? Absofrigginlutely.

    But the simple act of being a dude and having a relationship with another dude and, on occasion, consumating that relationship?

    That is so very much like wearing mixed fabrics.

    Now if you want to discuss the version of homosexuality practiced by Larry Craig and his fellow travellers, sure. That’s probably a second (if not a seventh!) circle sin there.

    But the ideal relationship of two consenting adults, on an even keel, who love each other?

    That’s not violent against nature. That’s not a seventh circle sin. That is not something that will cut you off from God.

    Assuming there is a God, of course.Report

  16. Avatar Chris Dierkes
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    says:

    Just a clarification since I think it’s relevant here. When we talk about the Bible condemning homosexuality, when Katherine for example mentions that in the Gentile world homosexuality was more accepted than in the Jewish one, we need to understand what was then meant by homosexuality.

    What it was not is the issue in question in our day: namely consenting adults of the same biological sex seeking monogamous committed relationships. There was no such thing in the ancient world. What we would gay/homosexuality sex in the ancient world largely consisted of male rape–e.g. after a battle or in a contemporary setting, the prevalence of male on male rape in prisons. Also the practice of older men taking pubescent/young teenage boys (so-called catamites).

    That’s not to say The Bible is in favor of gay marriage by our understanding. If you want to say that the forms of gay sex that prevailed in the ancient world and are critiqued in The Bible also cover the kinds of sexual relationships we are here discussing, I imagine someone could make that argument. I hold a different view but I imagine someone could make a reasonable case along those lines. But they would have to make that argument rather than simply skip to the conclusion and say the Bible condemns homosexuality point blank as if that were beyond dispute. That’s a point of contention not settled biblical law as it were.

    Most technically speaking The Bible does not have a word on the practice in our day. So arguing either side you have to extend certain passages or make analogies. It’s more in the realm of fallible, moral-juridical application than anything else.Report

  17. Avatar Katherine
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    says:

    Chris – You do make a good point, but I think that the Bible, in the Romans passage, condemns homosexuality in principle and not simply in terms of the ways it was practiced in the Greek world. A lot of people do have disagreements with the apostle Paul, and given that there’s one or two of his passages regarding women that I’m inclined to pass over because I find them distasteful, I may be being rather hypocritical here. But those passages, at least, are countered with other Biblical passages that affirm more pro-active roles for women, so you can see them in perspective. In terms of homosexuality, what we have are several passages condemning it and none suggesting positive or morally acceptable ways of conducting homosexual relationships. The Romans passage very clearly sexual condemns relationships with the same sex as being “unnatural”, contrasted with “natural” sexual relationships between people of the opposite sex. In modern society, that’s not a particularly acceptable thing to say, but it is there in the Bible and in some way we have to deal with it.

    I feel like there’s much too strong of an inclination in the church today to start with what we want the Bible to say and then try to find intelligent, reasonable ways to explain away the parts that don’t say what we want. I think we should be coming at the Bible in a way that asks first what it’s actually saying, and then seek to apply that and modify our mindset to fit it. And if what the Bible says leaves the Church hopelessly out of step with modern society, so be it.Report

  18. Avatar Jaybird
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    But the knowledge of God that any given person has is also important.

    People look within themselves, ask themselves what their experience of “God” is, hold it up against this book written in a different language to a different people, and then say “nope, I know that God would not do such a thing.”

    Now, in my experience, you can encounter people who are spectacularly wacky in their application of this… for example, I’ve met folks who argued that Jesus could not have turned water into wine but instead turned water into grape juice. Why? Because they know, in their hearts, that Jesus would never do such a thing.

    Fair enough.

    I wouldn’t presume to call someone who argued such a “non-Christian”.

    If someone said the same about homosexuality, why kick them in the nuts for it? It’s not dumber than the grape juice crap.Report

  19. Avatar Chris Dierkes
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    says:

    Katherine,

    thanks for the sincere response. I guess I still think you could just move my point back one step and make it again by saying that in Romans homosexuality as such is critiqued–but only as then understood.

    Anyway, that opens up a whole can of worms…namely how we understand revelation, the role of scripture, and so forth. These generally are informed both by the bible and other than the bible elements. on all sides. i appreciate that you are up front about what your hermeneutic principles are. most aren’t in these conversations.

    but back to the issue. if you are right then the outright condemnation say in a Romans is part and parcel of the worldview of the Priestly document of the Hebrew Scriptures. Where everything has its proper place in the universe. Which comes back to ED’s point about picking and choosing with Leviticus. It’s the same theological worldview that says we can’t eat pig (because they have hoofs more properly to animals that climb mountains but live on land) or cross different kinds of fibers in our clothing and the like. It’s also the tradition that says every seventh year the land should lie fallow and slaves should be released from debt (we don’t keep that one for sure).

    The New Testament itself (in the Gospel of Matthew) edits Jesus’ words about divorce and creates an out where the line is pretty clear (no divorce). Our churches do that too. Most of them. Except for RCs who have divorce but then call it something else.

    When Jaybird mentions personal experience I take JB to mean more like meeting a family of gay parents and watching love and care and kindness and support between them and wondering how that would be condemned.Report

  20. Avatar Katherine
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    says:

    if you are right then the outright condemnation say in a Romans is part and parcel of the worldview of the Priestly document of the Hebrew Scriptures. Where everything has its proper place in the universe. Which comes back to ED’s point about picking and choosing with Leviticus.

    I don’t really understand what you’re saying here. The passage in Romans is given as part of a spiritual history showing why redemption is necessary, not as part of a pre-Christian Levitical worldview.

    When you say the New Testament “edits” Jesus’ words in Matthew, are you referring to Mark including the quotation as “whoever divorces his wife commits adultery” while Matthew quotes it as “whoever divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, commits adultery”? If so, it’s a interesting idea. Why do you think it was added to Matthew rather than just being omitted in the Mark passage (a lot of passages in Mark are shorter than in the other Gospels)? At any rate, you are right that the Church is quite willing to break from scripture in terms of its attitude to divorce. I don’t think that is a particularly good thing, though, and repeating the mistake with homosexuality doesn’t seem to be the right response.

    I understand Jaybird’s point of view, but I’m inclined to think that when Scripture goes against our own instincts, it is our instincts and not Scripture that are wrong. There isn’t something inherently wrong with “love and care and kindness and support” between a gay couple, the wrong-ness is the sexual element in that relationship. And there can be very good things about the relationship without removing the fact that the sexual element is wrong. As a comparison, if a woman resorts to prostitution to have the money to care for her children, because she loves them and can find no other way to support them, her love for her children is a good thing but her actions are still wrong. A person can have a strong relationship of love, encouragement and mutual support with someone they are committing adultery with, and have a loveless relationship with their spouse, and feel that the former relationship is a much better and more healthy one and it does not change the fact that the adultery is wrong.

    I want to thank you this discussion. I’ve never had the chance to really talk about the issue in this way, because for most people it’s just seen as intolerance to say homosexuality is wrong, and there’s nothing to discuss. I’d be fine with the church accepting homosexual behaviour if I thought that attitude was scripturally supported, but I simply don’t think it is.Report

  21. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    “I want to thank you this discussion. I’ve never had the chance to really talk about the issue in this way, because for most people it’s just seen as intolerance to say homosexuality is wrong, and there’s nothing to discuss. I’d be fine with the church accepting homosexual behaviour if I thought that attitude was scripturally supported, but I simply don’t think it is.”

    It’s not that the sin is scripturally supported, I don’t think, but that there are bigger fish to fry. Nobody gets in a twist over the mixed fabric thing. Nobody gets in a twist over a married couple consumating when the wife is being visited by the muse. Nobody gets in a twist over divorce for “irreconcilable differences”.

    Why get in a twist over two guys making the beast with one back?

    In a nutshell, it’s the old adage “when I was young I prayed for justice, as I got older, I started praying for mercy.”

    I cannot get preoccupied over the sins of others (where nobody is getting hurt of course) when I am carrying this burden of my own. People hurting others? Sure. Put an end to that crap. People harming children? Get a millstone! Two dudes? Eh.Report

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