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What Christians Can Learn From Orthodox Jews

That’s the question my friend David Goldman, an observant Orthodox Jew, asks in his essay on Jody Bottum’s Commonweal piece [1]. Excerpts:

Gay marriage was political poison just a decade ago, but has triumphed today because of the sudden shrinkage in conservative Christian ranks. The gay marriage issue is a lightning-rod for the gathering storm of secularism, and for an obvious reason: sexual liberty has been the most effective adversary of biblical religion since Pinchas killed Zimri and his Midianite mistress. From the Temple prostitutes of Ishtar to the pederasty of classical Greece, paganism has offered sexual license while biblical religion restricted sex to marriage. Anyone who came of age during the 1960s remembers why traditional culture cratered in the handful of years before 1968: my generation was the first that was told that we could have all the sex we wanted without having to get married. The sexualized ambient culture has eaten the young of the Christian conservatives.

Goldman says the traditional Jewish view is that sexual license is part of the paganization of society. Coming at it from a very different perspective, the late sociologist Philip Rieff identified the collapse of the Christian sexual ethic (which for all intents and purposes is that of Orthodox Judaism) as a sign that Christianity itself was collapsing. I recently wrote about Rieff and his view, first offered in 1966, that the Sexual Revolution was a sign that the West was undergoing a “deconversion.” [2] When Christians cease to believe in the Biblical standard of marriage and sexuality, they find it hard to continue believing in Christianity, or at least practicing Christianity. Rieff, who was not a religious man, believe it had to do with a loss of the “sacred order” that holds a culture together.

Goldman continues:

The Church (like the Evangelical movement) is in trouble because the sexual revolution already has re-enchanted the world with a wicked sort of magic. Nothing is more uplifting in the setting of a faith community and nothing is so corrupting when set loose. It is Dante’s She-Wolf in the first Canto of the Divine Comedy, the predator whom Dante could not pass, che mai non empie la bramosa voglia, e dopo ’l pasto ha più fame che pria (who never satisfies her greedy will, and after eating is hungrier than before). There can be no conservative religion where sexual morality has unraveled.

… There are some concessions that traditional religion cannot make without sacrificing its authority, and the character of the human family is one of these. Orthodox Judaism survived decades of cultural isolation when conventional wisdom predicted that it shrink to the status of an irrelevant sect. Orthodoxy has thrived, on the contrary, precisely because it refused to abandon Torah values, while progressive Jewish denominations are shrinking. Christians should take encouragement from the Orthodox example and remain true to their principles. And Jews should continue to set an example of faithfulness to Torah values in the public square as well as the synagogue. The robust growth of Torah-observant Judaism has a radiating effect on the culture around us, most of all through our influence on traditionally-minded Christians. That is why the Orthodox organizations are right to take a public stand against official sanction of gay marriage, even if the stance is unpopular.

Goldman, contra Bottum, says believing Catholics (and other orthodox Christians, I presume) should give up on the idea that they can meaningfully influence the wider culture by silencing themselves on Biblical sexual morality, and instead learn from Orthodox Jews how to live and to thrive as a cohesive religious minority in an alien culture. I think he’s right. Read his entire essay. [1]

If my church compromised it’s teaching on sexual morality for gays and straights alike, or my parish refused in a significant way to observe the teachings of the Church, I would walk, if only to be out of the way when the thing collapses. There is also the matter of Neuhaus’s Law [3]: “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” With Dante, I agree that there are many worse sins than sins of the flesh, but it is becoming clear from observing the decline of Christianity over the past 50 years that there is no solvent more effective against Christianity than baptizing sexual license. Rieff was an agnostic, but he got this right, I think: Once Christians (and Jews?) throw out the Biblical teachings on sex, there is nothing they won’t ultimately accept. Why this is true I don’t know, but it certainly seems to be the case.

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138 Comments To "What Christians Can Learn From Orthodox Jews"

#1 Comment By David J. White On August 28, 2013 @ 8:14 pm

Should grounds like abuse or adultery be required? Would mutual agreement be sufficient, but unilateral divorce (one-partner-wants-out-the-other-partner-doesn’t) divorces not be available without specific grounds?

A few years ago I was reading Simon Callow’s biography of Charles Laughton. His wife, Elsa Lanchester (best remembered as the star of The Bride of Frankenstein used to make money when younger posing as “the other woman” in divorce proceedings. In Britain at the time, divorce required grounds such as adultery. Evidently, sometimes when couples simply wanted to divorce, they would allege adultery on the husband’s part (of course, an allegation of adultery would be less injurious to his reputation than to the wife’s), and young women such as Elsa Lanchester would be hired to play the part of the homewrecker and testify at the hearing, thus satisfying the formal grounds required.

#2 Comment By Bobby On August 28, 2013 @ 8:30 pm

“Goldman, contra Bottum, says believing Catholics (and other orthodox Christians, I presume) should give up on the idea that they can meaningfully influence the wider culture by silencing themselves on Biblical sexual morality, and instead learn from Orthodox Jews how to live and to thrive as a cohesive religious minority in an alien culture. I think he’s right. I think he’s right.” -RD

I agree too. Much of the tension of the “culture wars” comes from the fact that we Christians have become obsessed with cultural dominance.

Until recently, we have generally capitulated, and sought to modify Christian values to fit the culture’s values. In that way, we could ensure that the church would be an attractive option for a majority of citizens.

So, we compromised on birth control, on marriage as an exclusively procreative institution, on remarriage after divorce, etc. We justified these departures from orthodoxy under the broad banner of “family values.”

But there’s no easy way to conclude that orthodoxy Christianity can make room for same-sex marriage. We finally found a compromise we weren’t willing to make.

Let’s be honest, though. Most orthodox Christians practice a form of family life that has more to do with Americana than it does with Paul the Apostle. Maybe it’s time that we embrace our minority status, take seriously Paul’s prescriptions for marriage and family, and start thinning out the church rolls. In other words, perhaps it’s time that we choose Christ over a desire to influence the culture.

Further, if we adopt such an approach, I suspect that orthodox Christians can finally make peace with the gay rights movement. Or we’ll become so small that no one will even worry about us.

Frankly, it’s probably time for about 85% of American “Christianity” to go away. It’s nothing but a namby-pamby social reform movement that makes use of Christian theological terms and phrases. But it’s a far cry from the orthodox Christianity I learned in my Catechism class as a child.

#3 Comment By ginger On August 28, 2013 @ 9:25 pm

Erin–couldn’t agree more regarding NFP.

ANY form of birth control, which is, after all, an attempt by humans to circumvent Mother Nature in order to have intimate relations without the ensuing result of pregnancy, is likely going to have some disadvantages. It’s silly for anybody to believe otherwise. I tend to think NFP has fewer disadvantages than many other forms of birth control, but disadvantages it definitely has. I do think more and more faithful Catholics are starting to realize there was a reason the Church herself has never recommended it as some wonderful end-all and be-all for marriages. However, that thinking is still out there, and I’ve seen the harmful effects first-hand.

More importantly, though, I’d say there is still a lot of naivete out there insofar as I know a lot of faithful Catholics who still seem to be bowled over by a man or woman who says the Rosary and goes to daily Mass, no matter what other gross deficiences of character they may exhibit. These can all too easily be excused and swept under the carpet when appearances are oh-so-holy and a person says and does all the seemingly right Catholic things.

I’ve been around the block enough to know that I will take kind over “holy” and even “Catholic” any day of the week. I was lucky enough to find a man both kind and Catholic, but I have plenty of
Catholic friends who married orthodox “Catholic” but ended up having to live a lifetime of misery with a real jerk.

In the end, it’s their children (and usually, there are a LOT of them in these marriages) who end up paying the heaviest price.

#4 Comment By surly On August 28, 2013 @ 9:44 pm

Ginger–I was part of one of those shiny happy Catholic communities you speak of. Some marriages and families radiated a joy that was almost tangible. Some seemed OK. But after a few years I couldn’t help noticing how much alcohol seemed to be required at social events. It was predominantly Irish-Catholic parish, and I come from a family on my mother’s side that before 1950 or so involved teetotalling women and hard-drinking men (loggers). My mom’s generation, who came of age in the 1950’s rebelled by drinking, smoking and having sex with their fiances.

I know everything wasn’t as it seemed, but I’ll take the Catholics over the neo-Puritans any day.

#5 Comment By PeterH On August 28, 2013 @ 9:44 pm

Once Christians (and Jews?) throw out the Biblical teachings on sex, there is nothing they won’t ultimately accept.

Throw? I think the sentence needs to be written in the past tense. This culture threw out the Biblical teachings on sex and marriage more than thirty years ago.

The conflict you see brewing over same-sex marriage already happened with the widespread acceptance of divorce and remarriage. No-fault paved the way for all you fear will be brought about by same-sex marriage. But it already happened. Same-sex marriage doesn’t alter our moral foundations; it merely makes it clear that the moral foundation has already shifted.

No-fault altered marriage, past, present, and future. It was a policy change enacted by “we, the people” in one legislature after another, not imposed by court order or some bureaucratic maneuvering. With the exception of New York, no-fault spread across the U.S. in a relatively short time. Twenty years later, the guy who signed the nation’s first no-fault law was the standard-bearer for the religious right.

Collectively, we decided that promises made before God — the “’til death do us part” part of the wedding vows — were simply insignificant, even as those words remained a part of most religious wedding ceremonies. This could only have happened if we (as a culture) had already sort of figured out that God, as revealed through scripture, was not the ultimate moral authority.

#6 Comment By Erin Manning On August 28, 2013 @ 10:10 pm

“More importantly, though, I’d say there is still a lot of naivete out there insofar as I know a lot of faithful Catholics who still seem to be bowled over by a man or woman who says the Rosary and goes to daily Mass, no matter what other gross deficiences of character they may exhibit.”

Oh, AMEN, sister. I’m loving your comments on this.

But isn’t that just like us human beings, to mistake outward signs for inward realities? The Church, in her wisdom, tells us we have to have both (e.g.: matter + form = sacramental/spiritual reality) but we keep thinking the outward sign is enough without any evidence of the inward grace. And after St. Paul went through all that trouble in 1 Corinthians 13 to tell us otherwise in detail!

But I’ve heard the lament sometimes from Catholic women: We did everything right. We prayed the rosary every night before bed and we went to daily Mass and Sunday Mass and homeschooled and made our kids dress modestly, so what went wrong for this kid or that one (or the husband)? There’s almost a magical, superstitious thinking going on that says so long as you do all the right stuff you and your kids are guaranteed holiness.

But then you learn that the husband left the wife stuck with all the chores on a regular basis so he could hang out with the guys, or the wife was obsessed with mommy blogs or home improvement magazines or other sources of recreational anxiety designed to deplete her self-esteem, or that the kids were allowed to watch all the TV shows their friends watched regardless of how inappropriate the content was, or were handed smartphones at 13, etc. ad infinitum (et in saecula saeculorum)–yet the lament remains: “But we did everything right!”

[NFR: An orthodox Catholic friend of mine, a family man, once told me that he gets so sick and tired of single orthodox young Catholic men in their twenties who think the thing to do is to sit around discussing and debating theology all day while leaving the hard work of household economy to women; meanwhile, they themselves aren’t fit for paying work, the kind of work that would actually make them attractive marriage partners and good providers for the wife and family that they idealize. — RD]

#7 Comment By Jonathan On August 28, 2013 @ 10:39 pm

I don’t actually think it matters what small “o” orthodox Christians do. Oppose gay marriage, or fall silent on the issue… it doesn’t matter. Orthodoxy isn’t relevant to the vast majority of people in the modern west. I’m constantly reminded how, from my perspective and experience, bizarre orthodox beliefs are when I visit this blog. At the most basic level of fundamental axioms, there is a disagreement. Small “o” orthodox beliefs honestly (and I don’t mean this insultingly) are absurd to me. Again, I don’t mean that to be offensive, but it’s true. Take the Catholic stance on gays. “It’s ok have sexual attractions to the same sex, just don’t act on those desires, because that’s a sin.” Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounds to someone like me and most of my generation? My girlfriend shouldn’t use contraceptives because it denies a woman’s fertility and it deviates from god’s intention? Again, this is ridiculous to me. It’s proscribing rules for a universe that doesn’t exist and is therefore irrelevant.

Bottum is wrong; the Catholic Church won’t be engaged with society if it drops it’s opposition to SSM. The rest of us really don’t care, despite the hyperventilating of the media. All the gnashing of teeth and despair means nothing if the public forum isn’t listening. The path of orthodox Jews seems very much like the Benedict Option, but that changes nothing in terms of engagement with society. We really don’t care what Orthodox Jews believe either.

#8 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On August 28, 2013 @ 10:41 pm

Re: It was predominantly Irish-Catholic parish, and I come from a family on my mother’s side that before 1950 or so involved teetotalling women and hard-drinking men (loggers). My mom’s generation, who came of age in the 1950′s rebelled by drinking, smoking and having sex with their fiances.

I don’t think Catholicism has much to do with it: more likely it’s (broadly speaking) Celtic genetics. England today is an almost thoroughly secularized society, yet they have a national drinking problem like you wouldn’t believe.

#9 Comment By Ann Olivier On August 28, 2013 @ 10:44 pm

Mr. Evans —
You might be right that adultery was more common among the greatest generation than during their parents’ generation. I don’t know of any figures, but I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if it was somewhat more common. Anthropologists tell us that after a war the surviving males feel impelled to replace the lost children, and that might have been a factor, though there might have been others. The pill probably had something to do with it, if it was actually so.

However, Church Lady said of the boomers that “their parents, and society at large, was very immature, sexually and morally and emotionally”. What this clearly states is that the boomers’ parents were not only sexually very immature, but they were also morally and emotionally “very immature”.

Buy there is no reason to think this is so, and there is strong evidence to make us think it wasn’t so. That particular generation of men would not have been tagged “the greatest” if they were, as CL puts it “morally and emotionally very immature”. On the contrary. If this was what the boomers thought of their fathers, then it was very myopic of them, to put it mildly.

#10 Comment By Carlo On August 28, 2013 @ 10:53 pm

JohnE_o:

“So the reason – the apparent reason – for civil marriage is that enough of the populace likes those benefits and wants them to continue.”

Yeah, sure. Enjoy the benefits. Just don’t think that culture does not matter. You will get to live in a society where fewer and fewer children grow up in intact families, and fewer and fewer people have any children at all. That’s the European model, it’s coming tho these shores, let’s se how it works out over a few decades.

#11 Comment By J DeSales On August 28, 2013 @ 11:08 pm

Rod, are you sure you’re actually Orthodox and not still Protestant? Your view on the Church’s teachings reminds me more of a Protestant view. It’s essentially, “If a church council says something I disagree with, I’m going to find a church that thinks what I think” rather than “Church councils have the authority of an unbroken apostolic succession going back to Christ and are moved to their decisions by the Holy Spirit and thus their teachings are orthodox.” Is your theology/ecclesiology truly Orthodox if you hold the teachings of Church councils in such low esteem that you can say now that if this Rubicon is crossed you will break with the Church? Perhaps you have more in common with Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin than you would like to admit.

[NFR: If the Orthodox Church had a valid council and changed the teaching, that would be one thing. That’s not going to happen, and I cannot imagine it happening. If they did, and if the Catholics did, I have a hard time seeing how it’s not a serious apostasy. — RD]

#12 Comment By Bernie On August 29, 2013 @ 1:08 am

@Joe the Plutocrat

I’m just now seeing your comment to me; hence, my delay in answering. Joe, you don’t understand Scripture. How many references do you require regarding the condemnation of homosexual acts…five, ten, twenty? One would be sufficient. There are, in addition to the four Gospels, 23 other books in the New Testament. Would you discount all of them as opinion divorced from Christ’s teaching? They ARE Christ’s teaching! They constitute the *New Testament*.

#13 Comment By Rombald On August 29, 2013 @ 2:59 am

For what it’s worth, I would sort of prefer sexual behaviour to be kind. I think the kindness/unkindness axis is at right angles to the permissive/conservative axis.

#14 Comment By k On August 29, 2013 @ 5:23 am

Once Christians decided that, in desperation of having children, any form of surgical body alteration, drug treatment, or laboratory procedure of egg/sperm donations, surrogate wombs, etc was open for consideration and practice in this quest, it has become much more difficult to be biased against same sex marriages that are also in fact sterile/childless situations, but rather to see these also as loving couples who deserve every right to circumvent present facts of biology and nature to make their families. OF COURSE to many faithful Christians this is not the same thing, but it was not gay people who led the way in changing these methods and definitions of having children and forming families.

#15 Comment By Devinicus On August 29, 2013 @ 9:56 am

Carlo, if you’re still checking this thread … could you post the original Italian and translated English titles? I want to make sure to put it on my list of books to read when your translation comes out.

#16 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On August 29, 2013 @ 10:03 am

Re: The history of the 4th century would suggest precisely the opposite: Where orthodoxy is optional, sooner or later heresy and paganism will be proscribed. (From the Edict of Milan to Theodosius, in other words.) Neuhaus’s law isn’t much of a law if it fails to address (and indeed is directly contradicted by) the West’s prior great experiment with religious toleration

You raise a good point here. Rod, what would a world in which orthodoxy was *not* optional even look like? I’m having a hard time seeing exactly what you mean. In a world with freedom of religion, someone who disagrees with the reigning orthodoxy is always welcome to join another church or religion with which they do agree. Orthodoxy always should be optional in that sense. The alternative is living in a society which not only has an established religion, but demands adherence by force or coercion.

Someone else made the point above, but the big elephant in the room here is modern methods of birth control. Which are not limited to the Pill: natural family planning nowadays is much more effective than in the past, and only slightly less than the pill. We know how to control fertility and to separate sex from reproduction now, and that horse isn’t going back in the barn. Once it became possible to have sex with a minimal risk of conception, it rapidly becomes very difficult to make a case that premarital sex is wrong, and once *that’s* granted it becomes more difficult to argue the same about gay sex as well. This is certainly true psychologically, if not logically.

There have always been plenty of Christians who dissented from the Catholic/Orthodox teachings about sexual ethics, but at least back in the thirteenth century, when Aquinas was trying to refute the Albigensians, Brethren of the Free Spirit and other sects who said that sex outside of marriage was not necessarily a sin, he could (and did) appeal to the fact that it risked producing a child, in unfavourable circumstances. (Various other societies had ways to deal with that, of course, Shia Islam had one solution and the Trobriand Islanders another, but let’s set that aside for the moment). That was at least a reasonable case *for* the teaching. Nowadays, with modern methods of birth control, people increasingly look at the traditional Catholic teaching and just say, “no, that’s not true, sex just *isn’t* necessarily directed towards procreation, we can reduce the risks to a minimum, etc.”

I really do think this battle was definitively lost as far as the broader society goes, once modern contraception was invented.

And for the record, Hasidic Jewish culture is an almost entirely negative influence on any society in which it exists, whether in New Jersey or Israel. Right-wing nationalism, exclusivism, tribalism, dependency on the welfare state, unsustainably large families, men choosing to drop out of work and education to read the Old Testament, women and men covering themselves up lest they show a bit of hair….seriously, what’s not to like?

#17 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 29, 2013 @ 10:46 am

I’ve harped on this many times — begged, cajoled, waxed sarcastic, waxed humble, etc. — and this is what I believe could be the most important place in which to raise it again because others allude to or mention it in this thread.

I believe it is the fulcrum of the entire issue.

Christians and their institutions are losing their easy access — taken for granted since before the American Revolution even while being a key motivation for it — to the hearts and minds of the masses. They are no longer automatically permitted to fulfill the “Great Commission” in any manner they see fit, and indeed the social matrix has already shifted from passivity to hostility.

I submit the strongest possible evidence: Christians are fighting their battles piecemeal, one issue at a time, and losing more often than not.

I recommend with the strongest urgency and the deepest humility that Christianity is long overdue for a long soul-searching to distinguish between the divine voice’s meaning and how their human institutions express and promote it. You have not been the underdog in many centuries, you do not have any external value left in the sacrifices you believe necessary — including martyrdom.

Others on this thread have used phrases like “Christianity is just no longer popular.” It goes beyond that. For me, it starts with the definitional hostility Christianity has faced since the ratification of the First Amendment. Christian institutions, nearly always abetted by government support, have avoided the consequences of that hostility or simply ignored its potential. That luxury (as it were) has disappeared over the last few decades.

My claim to humility is complex. I am representative of the chosen “enemy” in the “culture war” of those last few decades. I can take the stance of strength, object and oppose Christian hegemony at every turn in keeping with my self- and group-interests, and I can still acknowledge how integral the Christian mindset has been to western civilization and the American experiment in democracy. I assert without hesitation that its place there is not threatened, its integration will not disappear unless your fight to retain secular control replaces your obligations to your faith and its continuity in our world.

I will not second-guess those who simply want to take refuge. I will not take sides in your intra-faith debates and disputes over the particulars (like divorce). I will simply remind you that I am your neighbor, your fellow citizen, and unlike some whose past injuries compel them to seek redress or even revenge, I will continue to see you as neighbors and fellow citizens whose liberties are my liberties, whose obligations are my obligations, and whose voices must be heard as much as mine.

#18 Comment By ginger On August 29, 2013 @ 12:33 pm

[NFR: An orthodox Catholic friend of mine, a family man, once told me that he gets so sick and tired of single orthodox young Catholic men in their twenties who think the thing to do is to sit around discussing and debating theology all day while leaving the hard work of household economy to women; meanwhile, they themselves aren’t fit for paying work, the kind of work that would actually make them attractive marriage partners and good providers for the wife and family that they idealize. — RD]

Hoo boy, could I tell you some stories–the results of this experiment 25 years later are not pretty.

Sitting around shooting the breeze about theology and philosophy is a leisure pursuit that was long understood to be an option only for the rich man or perhaps the celibate class.

When the working man decides he has a right to the same kind of leisure–all while still somehow supporting a Catholic family—the results are predictably ugly.

I graduated with a bunch of people who thought they’d be able to support a family on a teacher’s or philosopher’s salary alone. I was as bad as everybody else. Anybody who thought it was going to take a significant amount of money to raise a large family was obviously materialistic, lacking in frugality, and clearly not trusting enough in God.

So many of us are laughing at how stupid and naive we all were. Most of us paid a pretty high price for that stupidity, too.

Anybody who tells you it doesn’t take a significant amount of cash to raise a large family nowadays is either extremely lucky in their particular set of life circumstances or still drinking the Kool-Aid.

Those who want large families need to make plans to get into careers that make significant salaries, or plan to have both parents working. Or both.

Spending a lot of time reading and debating Thomas is not likely to fit into the picture unless you happen to win the lottery.

#19 Comment By Shawn On August 29, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

Bobby said: “Maybe it’s time that we embrace our minority status, take seriously Paul’s prescriptions for marriage and family, and start thinning out the church rolls.”

You sure you want to follow Paul’s prescriptions? He says (I Cor 7) that (i) being single is preferable to being married and (ii) each person should remain in whatever marital state he/she was in when called and (iii) the primary reason to get married is to release the passions in a legitimate manner and keep from more serious sin.

None of this “marital sex as a sacramental symbol of God/Church” stuff for him. It was an inferior state that is not quite sinful but that stood in the way of greater things.

Which is probably why Paul’s writings on marriage are never actually read at weddings.

The Christian Churches have fundamentally changed their views on sex and marriage a bunch of time and Rod’s quite lovely view of marriage as a symbol of the Divine-Human love represents a relatively recent revolution in that thought. (Off the top of my head I’d guess dating in the early modern period, and was heresy before that). That doesn’t mean that conservative Christians have to accept SS Marriage. Do whatever you want. But you might want to pay closer attention to the history and theology you claim to be defending.

#20 Comment By Carlo On August 29, 2013 @ 1:03 pm

Deviticus:

thanks for your interest. The original Italian was an essay (“L’erotismo alla conquista della societa`”) from a collection called “Rivoluzione, Risorgimento, Tradizione.” I translated it as “The Ascendance of Eroticism” and it will appear in a volume titled “The Crisis of Modernity.”

#21 Comment By Bernie On August 29, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

Shawn,

Please see my response above to Joe the Plutocrat. You can try all you want, but you cannot dismiss the three explicit condemnations of homosexual acts in the New Testament. Also, you might want to do some research regarding the off-the-top-of-your head-guessing about when the Church first taught about the analogy of marriage and the relationship of God to the Church. Your rather flip opinion of how often the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have changed their attitudes on marriage is not only inaccurate but explains your optimism that these will change their central doctrine on marriage. Don’t hold your breath.

#22 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On August 29, 2013 @ 1:34 pm

Also, why am I not surprised that some of the peanut gallery are out in force defending the Vietnam War. For the record, ‘most Vietnamese’ absolutely didn’t want the Americans there. It was clear to everyone in the early 1950s that Ho Chi Minh and his boys would have won a nationwide election, which is why we didn’t allow our Southern clients to have one.

#23 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On August 29, 2013 @ 1:36 pm

Re: Which is probably why Paul’s writings on marriage are never actually read at weddings.

Uh, Ephesians 5 is absolutely read at weddings, and does contain some of the divine/human relationship analogy to marriage stuff. I don’t know if the hip religious studies-majors nowadays consider Ephesians to be pseudo-Pauline or genuine, not that I really care, but while you’re not wholly wrong, youre very far from being right.

#24 Comment By Shawn On August 29, 2013 @ 2:00 pm

Bernie

“Please see my response above to Joe the Plutocrat. You can try all you want, but you cannot dismiss the three explicit condemnations of homosexual acts in the New Testament.”

I realize that these discussions can get complicated to follow, but please read what I said. I never said that Paul supported SSM or that the NT did. I actually didn’t say a word about SSM in the tradition. I said that Paul’s view of marriage are very different from what was implied in the original comment. Going back to Paul’s view of marriage means going back to the idea that marriage should be avoided and is an impediment to finding God. “Those who marry in this life face troubles and I want to spare you from that” (I Cor 7:28b).

As for my being glib, it was only regarding the date that Christianity rethought it’s view on marriage. Dale Martin (of Yale) has done excellent work on this topic. In the patristic era, it’s clear that it too did not see marriage in any way approximating what Rod repeatedly embraced. The debate was whether sex within marriage was always sinful or only sinful if it was for any purpose other than procreation. The idea that marital sex was symbolic of God’s love (which is a-historical AND central to Rod’s argument) was rejected as heresy. The shift towards marital sex as as spiritually positive in its own right occurred in the modern era. I don’t remember exactly when. That was the part off the top of my head.

Marital sex as symbol of God’s love for humanity would have been out of place in the Torah, in the Davidic era, in the writings of Paul, in the Gospels, in the patristic era, etc.

Just so I’m clear, I’m not arguing that the bible supports SSM. It also doesn’t support Rod’s quite moving theology, or lots of other things that are claimed in its name. It’s a complex text worthy of careful attention.

#25 Comment By Shawn On August 29, 2013 @ 2:02 pm

Hector

“Uh, Ephesians 5 is absolutely read at weddings, and does contain some of the divine/human relationship analogy to marriage stuff. I don’t know if the hip religious studies-majors nowadays consider Ephesians to be pseudo-Pauline or genuine”

Ephesians has been considered Deutero-Pauline for more than a century. So rejecting Biblical scholarship is essential to understanding the Bible? Good to know.

#26 Comment By Shawn On August 29, 2013 @ 2:21 pm

Hector, which is read more often at weddings? I Cor 7, when Paul explicitly talks about marriage? Or I Corinthians 13, where Paul talks about non-romantic love in the context of division between community over spiritual gifts at the meal?

I hear I Cor 13 at almost every wedding I’ve ever been to, and it’s not about marriage, sex or love. But I’ve never heard I Cor 7, where Paul actually talks about marriage.

#27 Comment By Church Lady On August 29, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

Church Lady said of the boomers that “their parents, and society at large, was very immature, sexually and morally and emotionally”. What this clearly states is that the boomers’ parents were not only sexually very immature, but they were also morally and emotionally “very immature”.

Let me clarify that somewhat. What I’m talking about is the cultural mechanism for producing mature people, emotionally, sexually, morally, and ethically. That was lacking in the generation before the “greatest generation”. The old order had collapsed, and there was nothing new to take its place. Thus rose nihilism, in the form of consumer-based materialism, mindless social conformity, mass-produced humanity, worker-fantasies of “every man a king”, and a kind of inner deadness to the culture. All of that was not the invention of the Baby Boomers, it was their inheritance, created by their parents’ and grandparents’ generation.

That nihilism was what the 60’s rebellion noticed and blindly rebelled against. The problem was, they didn’t have a cultural mechanism to produce human maturity either, for precisely the reason that their parents had none to give them. So they tried to create a patchwork of “alternative culture” with no unifying intelligence. It has almost been like starting from square one.

The “greatest generation” label was invented by Baby Boomer Tom Brokaw to sell his paen to his father, and his father’s generation. It’s a fantasy label, not the reality. Like much of the Baby Boomer mindset, the emphasis is always on image rather than content. That’s because the center of our culture was lost long ago, and there is no source or focus anymore, no cultural mechanism for producing maturity, so people devote themselves to commercially-produced ideas and images. People are on their own, having to find some sort of maturity for themselves, often in spite of the general culture than because of it.

That’s how our cultural narcissism has come about. The results aren’t pretty, and they aren’t made any better by indulging in fantasies about the previous generations’ accomplishments, which pale in comparison to the collapse of the cultural mechanisms that produce human maturity, which they have not replaced with anything real. Hence, the culture is adrift, and we have to find ways to grow up on our own. That’s not what anyone’s “greatest generation” would leave as a legacy.

#28 Comment By Annek On August 29, 2013 @ 2:56 pm

ginger:

“Anybody who tells you it doesn’t take a significant amount of cash to raise a large family nowadays is either extremely lucky in their particular set of life circumstances or still drinking the Kool-Aid.”

It’s always taken a lot of cash to raise a large family. I remember growing up, I’d complain to my mother that a friend had something I didn’t, and my mother would tell me that it was less expensive to raise two children (as in the case of my friend’s family) than to raise three (as in the case of mine). My parents made saving money for college a top priority, so money was always tight for us. They wanted to be able to afford to send us to any school we could get in to and wished to attend.

#29 Comment By Bernie On August 29, 2013 @ 5:23 pm

Shawn,

Ephesians 5:22-32 speaks to Christian wives and husbands. Eph. 5:25 says:”Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church.” The “Catholic Catechism”, in #1616 and #1617 elaborates and states in part: “Christian marriage in its turn becomes an efficacious sign, the sacrament of the covenant of Christ and the Church.”

I will leave to you and others the endless debate about Paul’s views of sexuality. I’ve been listening to this exchange since I was in graduate school in the 70’s. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches view marriage as a holy, noble vocation. They do not view sexual intercourse between a married man and woman in a negative light at all. On the contrary. I ask your forgiveness for whatever points you’re making that I don’t get.

#30 Comment By JonF On August 29, 2013 @ 7:18 pm

Re: Ephesians has been considered Deutero-Pauline for more than a century.

It’s also been included in the canon of Scripture for many times longer than that, and whether it was written by St Paul or St Anonymous it’s a valid window into what Christians in the earliest era thought– and considered Holy Writ.

It’s perfectly valid to point out that the ancient and medieval Church had some very negative attitudes when it came to the body, sex, and marriage. Much of that (as I have noted before) came from the Neo-platonists and the Stoics, either directly or via the Gnostics. And yes, modern Christianity has gotten over much of that old Gnostic hangover and generally affirms marriage and physical love therein– but that is a modern development. However, passages like the one in Ephesians shows that at least some Christians had that modern idea long before higher criticism came into vogue.

#31 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 29, 2013 @ 10:52 pm

Let’s keep it simple: gay marriage is increasingly accepted today because more and more people really don’t see any reason why not. I’ve been fighting a sort of left-libertarian rearguard action that the social space of people who sincerely believe otherwise should be respected, but if an overwhelming majority saw a serious problem with issuing marriage licenses to two individuals of the same sex, it wouldn’t be happening.

Yes, there have been some unfortunately glib judicial rulings, but they wouldn’t be nearly as influential or pervasive if public opinion wasn’t ready to accept it.

#32 Comment By J DeSales On August 29, 2013 @ 11:56 pm

[NFR: If the Orthodox Church had a valid council and changed the teaching, that would be one thing. That’s not going to happen, and I cannot imagine it happening. If they did, and if the Catholics did, I have a hard time seeing how it’s not a serious apostasy. — RD]

So let me understand. You say “That is not going to happen,” then “I don’t think it’ll happen,” and finally, “If it happens, they will no longer be Christian” since apostasy means the renunciation of one’s religion. This seems to be more extreme than your previous position. Here, you seem to be asserting that if a church council alters its view on homosexuality that you will no longer consider that church to be Christian, but rather a group of apostates. If you would declare the Orthodox apostates if a council accepted homosexuality, how is this different from your previous statement that you would leave your Church (except, of course, that your previous statement did not assert that you would no longer consider the Orthodox to be Christian, just that you would seek another Church)?

This also raises the question: do you consider the Episcopal Church to be Christians or are they also apostates?

#33 Comment By PM On August 30, 2013 @ 7:00 pm

If my church compromised it’s teaching on sexual morality for gays and straights alike, or my parish refused in a significant way to observe the teachings of the Church, I would walk, if only to be out of the way when the thing collapses.

With respect, it appears you’ve elevated homosexuality to *the* defining factor of your faith. The Son of God Himself said zippo about homosexuality (and if it were truly the axis upon which the universe depends, you’d expect *something* more than what we’ve got). However anti-gay theologians or other church figures have been, Tradition in Catholicism, Orthodoxy or Protestantism has *never* elevated homosexuality to the position of absolute transcendent importance that you appear to be advocating.

I’m trying very hard to understand your position, I really am. I see the words on the screen, and I can intellectually understand them, but there’s a – what, emotion? passion? anger? – behind your position that I simply can’t relate to. What is it about gay marriage that affects you so deeply? I’d really appreciate your thoughts on that – not the gay marriage story of the week, not today’s Dreher-bait, but simply why does it matter to you, Rod Dreher, so intensely?

#34 Comment By Turmarion On August 31, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

Rod: If the Orthodox Church had a valid council and changed the teaching, that would be one thing. That’s not going to happen, and I cannot imagine it happening. If they did, and if the Catholics did, I have a hard time seeing how it’s not a serious apostasy.

But every schism in Church history has resulted because some group or other thought the Church at large had lapsed into “serious apostasy”. The Nestorians and Monphysites believed the Council of Chalcedon was “serious apostasy” or at least heresy; the Arians thought the same about the Council of Nicea; the Orthodox thought that way about the filioque; the Old Believers thought that way about the Russian Orthodox Church; and the Old Calendrists feel thus about the majority of Orthodox who use the New Calendar. Apostasy is sometimes in the eye of the beholder.

Are you saying, assuming the thought experiment that the Orthodox and Catholic Churches accepted SSM (and I don’t think that’ll happen, either, but for the sake of argument) that you’d consider they’d all become apostates and heretics? Would you then join a breakaway group?

#35 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On August 31, 2013 @ 4:01 pm

Turmarion,

Re: The Nestorians and Monphysites believed the Council of Chalcedon was “serious apostasy” or at least heresy;

More specificially, the Monophysites believed the Council of Chalcedon had lapsed *into Nestorianism*, and that by denying of the unity of the natures they were denying the unity of the person that had been established at the last council.

Your general point is right on, of course: that an ecumenical council decided something, doesn’t necessarily mean they were *right*. (If you’re Catholic or Orthodox, maybe it does, but that’s part of why I’m neither).

#36 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On August 31, 2013 @ 4:06 pm

Re: This also raises the question: do you consider the Episcopal Church to be Christians or are they also apostates?

I think Rod answered that question in one of these innumerable threads. He said (Rod, correct me if I’m wrong) that the Episcopal Church was “Christian, but not ‘orthodox’ Christian”.

I think the definition of ‘orthodox’ here is a bit slippery, and inevitably value laden, but in general I’m fine with that description. My church has a different approach to this whole question of authority than Rod’s does, and I’m up front and open about the fact I would probably have disagreed with the various ecumenical councils about a number of things. I think there’s space for those kind of disagreements within the broader Christian tent.

#37 Comment By J DeSales On August 31, 2013 @ 10:49 pm

I think Rod answered that question in one of these innumerable threads. He said (Rod, correct me if I’m wrong) that the Episcopal Church was “Christian, but not ‘orthodox’ Christian”.

I think the definition of ‘orthodox’ here is a bit slippery, and inevitably value laden, but in general I’m fine with that description. My church has a different approach to this whole question of authority than Rod’s does, and I’m up front and open about the fact I would probably have disagreed with the various ecumenical councils about a number of things. I think there’s space for those kind of disagreements within the broader Christian tent.

I’m not saying there isn’t space for this and I actually do know what Rod has said on the issue of Episcopalians being not orthodox Christians. What confused me is that he thinks that if the Orthodox or Catholics accepted SSM that they would be apostates, not imply “not ‘orthodox’ Christians.”

So, I’m curious as to why the Orthodox and Christians would be apostates and not the Episcopalians, in Rod’s view. Of course, there’s always the option that Mr. Dreher truly believes that the Episcopalians are apostates and thus have actually renounced their faith in Christ by accepting homosexuality, but that he feels that such an extreme view would not play well to his primary audience.

[NFR: “Apostate” was too strong a word. I’ll back down on that. — RD]

#38 Comment By Turmarion On August 31, 2013 @ 11:36 pm

It’s interesting, Hector, that the Nestorian and Monophysite Churches (the preferred term for them is Oriental Orthodox, collectively) have come to agreement with Rome (and I think Constantinople) on Christology and are no longer considered heretical (though for various ecclesiological reasons there’s been no reunion yet). What’s interesting is that the argument put forth is that the terminology was misunderstood in the translation among Greek, Latin, Syriac, and so forth, and that at the most only the first generation of schismatics were reeealy heretical; for the Churches, the belief has been the same, only expressed in different terms.

Now I think this is a reasonably accurate assessment. What’s funny about this, though, is that Rome and Constantinople are always arguing based on Tradition and the decisions of Councils; and one would assume the people at the time had a better knowledge of what the Monophysites and Nestorians believed (even allowing for communication problems) than we do now. One assumes the Council Fathers knew what they were anathematizing! Essentially it’s a slippery way of disavowing the ruling of an Ecumenical Council, the teachings of which are purportedly infallible.

Once more, I do think the Oriental Orthodox have always believed pretty much what we do and that it is different philosophical and theological languages and different mindsets that have caused the problems; but everybody is using what boil down to “workarounds” in order to make nice and get the desired result. That’s why I think there needs to be a serious re-thinking of how “infallibility” and “Tradition” are to be understood so that things like this can be more honest. In other words, it would be nice if the Church could just say sometimes, “Gee, WE sure messed up! Sorry about that!” instead of doing elaborate, kabuki-like productions to explain why x, in fact, is actually y.