Daily Archives: February 28, 2010

Text and Subtext of the “The Bible Told Me So”

I have just finished watching “The Bible told me so” on Geraldine’s Compass programme on the ABC. If you missed it, the whole program is on Youtube in a number of separate clips (see this search query here). What can I say? Only that if this program is really about how people read the bible in relation to homosexuality, then we are dealing with a veritable Sare Lee danish pastry: Subtext upon subtext upon subtext of the text itself.

It is interesting that while the program deals primarily with Evangelical and Liberal Protestants, and tangentially with Judaism, not one word (as far as I heard) is mentioned of the Catholic Church, the biggest homophobic bogey man on the block according to many commentatosrs. Why was that?

Well, for one thing this program was entirely about America (except for a couple of cameo appearances of Archbishop Desmond Tutu), and I guess that Catholicism still isn’t an authentic form of American religion. Secondly, this program was about “the bible” and “what the bible says” – or doesn’t say – about homosexuality. Catholic doctrines regarding sexual morality are a little more complex than the Protestant (or Jewish?) “because the bible tells me so”. Same conclusion, admittedly, but that conclusion stands on more legs than one or two passages in Scripture. Just as the Church’s opposition to abortion is not based upon any single biblical passage, neither is the Church’s evaluation of the morality or otherwise of homosexual activity. Thirdly, the Catholic approach to sexuality is somewhat alien to that of Protestantism and Judaism – stop to think for a moment of the role of celibacy in Catholicism, and on the other hand the sensuousness of an art form such as the baroque.

A Catholic watching “The Bible told me so” is likely find himself in a confused muddle by the end of the program, because the picture which the documentary paints is alien to the picture that most Catholics (at least, outside the States) will be familiar with. At so many points one whats to stop the tape and say “Hold on a moment!”, but the ideological merry go round keeps going round and round and faster and faster. The program starts from the simple and thoroughly understandable premise that loving parents always love and accept their children no matter what, and ends up with nothing less than a religious ideology in support of the morality of homosexual behaviour entirely comparable and equally if not more strident than the “homophobic” religious ideology which the documentary sets out to condemn.

It is not “the bible” which one hears speaking in this documentary – still less any thing of which one could say “The Word of the Lord” and express a heartfelt “Thanks be to God” in response. What one hears is the subtext of all the unhappiness currently afflicting American religion and morality, and the complete inability of the self-appointed spokesmen for God – on either side of the argument – to say anything with any authority on the subject of homosexuality and homosexual activity.

All in all, usual Compass fare. Watch out for the new series starting next week on Compass on the history of the Church. At first I thought it might be the BBC series based on the excellent History of Christianity by Dairmaid MacCulloch, but no such luck. Instead it seems like it will be the usual unhistorical, cynical anti-Christian propaganda we have come to expect from this program.

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Actually, the probability is that there IS a God


While Cathnews is reporting the story that “Organisers of The Atheist Bus Campaign in New Zealand are considering taking legal action after their ads were rejected by the national bus company”, the A2 in yesterday’s Saturday Age was running a story on Richard Dawkins “Keeping the Faith” using a picture of the walking edition of the Atheist Manifesto with just such a bus in question. (not online).

In her article, Stephanie Bunbury writes:

What is beyond doubt, at least for me, is that you would think twice about starting any kind of argument with “Darwin’s rottweiler”, a man of gimlet eye, rapier tongue adan armoury of intelectual weaponry, no matter how much evidence you thought you had.

Well, we have given a couple examples on this blog, that more than one (ie. at least two) interviewers have had no such fear, one being Hugh Hewitt and the other Andrew Denton, in which Dawkins had his “rapier tongue” rather tied…

In any case, back to that bus ad campaign. It is questionable at just about every level. Pascal, author of the idea now known simply as “Pascal’s wager”, would say: How can you be so sure that “there’s probably no God” in the first place and secondly, are you willing to bet your eternal life on it? Apart from any Christian claim (and, in my book, the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ rather weights the probability toward the opposite conclusion), from the perspective of pure logic, can one ever say that there “probably isn’t” something? Evidence can point to the fact that something “probably” exists, and clear evidence can also point to the fact that something “probably” does not exist, but lack of evidence cannot justifiably lead one to conclude that there “probaby isn’t” something. The best example of this fallacy can be seen if we were to ask a 17th Century Englishman if there is any such thing as a “black swan”. The lack of evidence – ie. no Englishman before that date had ever seen a black swan – would not have been grounds for concluding that black swans “probably” don’t exist – for even in the 17th Century, black swans really did exist here in Australia. In other words, black swans not only “probably” but “really” existed, despite the lack of any positive evidence available to 17th Century Englishmen.

On the other hand, even if this statement were true – that God “probably” does not exist – Pascal’s logic would answer that even if there is only a remote possibility that God did exist, it would be worth living “as if God existed” because of the outcome of such a belief not only for the afterlife but for this life also.

That is the guts of what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said the day before Pope John Paul II died:

The attempt, carried to the extreme, to manage human affairs disdaining God completely leads us increasingly to the edge of the abyss, to man’s ever greater isolation from reality. We must reverse the axiom of the Enlightenment and say: Even one who does not succeed in finding the way of accepting God, should, nevertheless, seek to live and to direct his life “veluti si Deus daretur,” as if God existed. This is the advice Pascal gave to his friends who did not believe. In this way, no one is limited in his freedom, but all our affairs find the support and criterion of which they are in urgent need.

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Something that Muhammad and I have in common

After all that rather tedious business with Steve Kellmeyer, I would like to add that on a lighter note, I have just discovered something that I have in common with the Prophet (PBUH, as they say – at least for this opinion):

Reported cultivated around 4000BC in the western Asian region, figs were revered by the prophet Muhammad, who said: “If I had to mention a fruit that descended from paradise, I would say this is it.” (The A2, Saturday Age, page 6)

Amen to that, Brother! I have just come back from the local Knox Festival, with a couple of bags of pot plants for which I paid $3. I also entered a free lottery (the only sort I ever enter!) for a box of seedlings, in which the question was “What is your favourite plant?” I thought for only a few seconds before putting down “Fig tree”.

The figs on our (neighbour’s) tree will be ripe in a week or two. I’m looking forward to trying out the A2’s suggestion that I stew them up with powdered ginger to make a sauce to go on roast beef… Yum, yum and drool drool. As the good book says “Every man ‘neath his vine and fig tree should live in peace and unafraid.”

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