If it’s your fate in life to be dismissed or hated, it’s reassuring to take the flack due to your support of good causes and so be able to protest with Jesus “they hated me without a cause (Joh 15:25). Today when in many places Christians are increasingly opposed or just left out in the cold and ignored, they need to ask whether they are not at least partly to blame for what has happened. They need to ask whether even Jesus might not remind them that in their generation the children of this world are wiser than the children of light ( Luk 16:8) and also that what Christians in the West are experiencing is less a straightforward “suffering for righteousness sake” than a type of judgement on the church through long insufficiently unexamined policies and beliefs (1 Pet 4:17).
For example, it is clear enough that recourse to secular courts was apostolically disfavoured (1 Cor 6:1).Yet today the main image of Christianity is not as any source of a preached gospel that cures souls but too often a political party or institution in constant legal war with the secular world to defend or impose rights and principles deemed old fashioned, unscientific or an interference in personal rights, a rear guard attempt almost to make society Christian by legal fiat than divine persuasion.
It’s not that some issues in contention like the right to die aren’t significant and complex, or that Christians should have nothing to say on them or that only secularist progressives are right about them; but too often what believers stand for is not as Christian or supportive of justice as they imagine….They may even serve little more than to stymie wider conversation around the faith and making persons, especially the unchurched young, hate God or feel excommunicated in advance as when a Pope (who has anyway controversially discouraged claims by believers to any personal relation with Jesus) compares abortion to Nazi crime.
Anyone would think such things as miscarriages (medically called “spontaneous abortion”) and stillbirths didn’t happen all the time, that God has not stopped them and has never pronounced about them, unless as mentioned presently. They are just a phenomenon of (fallen) nature. In the past leading Christians have rightly or wrongly pragmatically justified everything from war to prostitution but now they can’t allow an abortion for the most pressing reason.
Practically, the hard or traditional religious line that reaches the law courts (or plebiscite as in Ireland) on controversial themes too often serves to make do-gooders feel good or even pile up some other serious wrongs. Thus, when abortions are too strictly limited they only go to the back streets where they may occasion deaths of the mother, or they may, as in El Salvador, cause innocent women who have undergone still births or miscarriages to be imprisoned for years accused of murder. In Ireland until the recent plebiscite, the archaic penalty for abortion was fourteen years jail. Where did any pro-lifers protest this sword of Damocles over the heads of women and doctors?
It’s the likes of Amnesty International, not protesting Christian right- to- lifers, who are left to protest such scandals like El Salvador’s. Meanwhile few today will anyway listen to pro-lifers from churches that have turned up such high levels of child abuse, itself a proof of just how biblically illiterate or plain unbiblical some churches now are. Whereas some biblical scholars have long accepted there can be some wiggle room over matters from divorce to homosexuality, there really is none when it comes to Jesus and child abuse (Luk 17:4). The condemnation is made so strongly there never was any case for not dismissing a priest on the spot or defending the sanctity of the confessional in such cases.
Whole books could be written on sexual issues across time and culture for the churches, and some of my articles have now and again tried to tackle difficulties involved (like Issues of Sex, Love and Biblical ‘Incoherence’ “ https://wp.me/p2v96G-111, but briefly let’s look at four main areas of contention. 1) Right to life and abortion, 2) Preservation of Life and Euthanasia, 3) Gay Rights and 4) the question of what is the occult.
ABORTION AND PRO-LIFE
If formerly unbelievers might be viewed as sinners, now some Christians have found a reason to either call or consider them murderers or unacknowledged worshippers of Molech (a god to whom live infants were sacrificed). Christians can agree that life must be respected and abortion as just alternative birth control, a lifestyle option in say, service of a career or dislike of the sex of a foetus, is wrong (as is likewise secular pressure to abort when a pregnant woman doesn’t want it). However, to deny that some abortion can fall into this world’s ‘necessary evil” category and thus opposing abortion unequivocally, including in cases of rape, incest, danger to the mother’s life or awareness of extreme deformity and handicap such as could render the rest of a parent and child’s life an unrelieved burden, is controversial. Failure to make concession, especially to non believers, places Christian belief into the too hard (or plain silly) basket and most people will be left thinking those Christians who wanted especially extreme handicap spared should themselves volunteer for a lifetime of personally caring for it. Anything else could be deemed hypocrisy.
It is so not least because (despite the ritually repeated verse that God knew Jeremiah in the womb Jer 1:5), the modern Christian line has little biblical basis but is grounded instead in absolutist, abstract medieval doctrine influenced by the pagan Aristotle. Taken to the extreme – as matters long were as regards contraception – with this line of thought one could finish relative to the Jains who preserve life to the point of carrying a strainer to preserve ants ….in fact it almost was so taken in the days when such as masturbation was considered next to murder because it killed supposed miniature homunculi, not seed constantly and automatically expelled.
The reality is that even one of the biblical prophets, Hosea, declares death in the womb upon the godless (Hos 9:15). The laws of Moses if taken literally (they weren’t necessarily and always so understood) would have been the death of many foetuses in the womb if the adulterous wife was executed, while the notorious Law of Jealousy if literally adhered to would induce abortion.
Even if one discounted all this, the bible, especially the OT, is very concerned with objective and subjective states of purity and then purging impurity. Clearly any woman raped is liable and entitled to feel impurified and as such should be permitted if she wishes to seek the kind of purgation which in many cases only abortion could supply. Yet for the height of irony, those same conservative Christians, evangelical and charismatic, who in an age of ecumenism have followed a Catholic line (formerly American Baptists lent qualified support to abortion and Methodists still do) are the same who will write books on exorcism, associating possession states very often with the result of sexual impurity, not least through rape. Why then preserve impurified life that will need special treatment to avoid many other evils manifesting?
The bible respects life, but just not infinitely – if the bible and not abstract ideals counted, there would still be capital punishment for serial killers. And the pro-life campaigner ignores the extent to which the ideal that would preserve life under all and any circumstance is anyway simply a luxury of modern medicine. Not only under modern medicine does still birth and miscarriage still occur, but the mortality rate for women and their offspring in childbirth before modern times was enormous. Formerly godly persons accepted this as the will of God. Abortion should likewise be accepted as at least sometimes appropriate.
Failing reasonable compromise in this grey area, the churches have raised whirlwinds of secular demands for abortion for almost anything and often as just woman’s right to choose as though two persons weren’t involved. (Even that pre Christian advocate of free love, the poet Ovid, expressed shock at his lover’s blasé recourse to abortion).
The role of modern medicine also affects the question of the termination of life and has led to increased pressure towards voluntary euthanasia. Here is obviously the most difficult of questions and not just for Christians. The possibility of misuse and exploitation of freer laws is patent and the average doctor doesn’t want to become as in Holland a Dr Death to people depressed or just tired with life. Moreover suicide under almost any conditions is deeply disturbing to relatives.
This said, not only is it controversial if religious beliefs rule the lives and choices of those who don’t believe, but modern medicine increasingly has the power to keep people in existence who are only existing, not living. Helped by medicine and advanced care, nature no longer always takes its natural course in ending lives as it has across history. In special if rare cases, it is controversially able to keep people in existence if they suffer locked in syndrome which cuts off all effective communications with the world beyond perhaps what a finger or eyelid can convey.
I recall the horror and disgust I felt a few years ago when the Catholic church in Italy refused Christian burial in the case of life support removed from a patient with locked in syndrome. This was treated as though murder while everything from ecclesiastical sympathy to representatives went to the Christian funeral of the popular but lifelong adulterous opera tenor, Pavarotti, a man so self indulgent in later years he could barely stand up. Where’s the charity or godly insight? This sort of thing creates doubt and cynicism about the faith whose modern starting point is once again an intransigence so marked it is merely an invitation to secularist dismissal of religious and legalistic quibbling outright in favour of alternative policies of often radical licence.
GAYS AND THEIR RIGHTS
Although due a certain understanding of religious rights I personally believe Christians and independent businesses have a right to refuse to bake cakes or photograph for gay celebrations they don’t believe in, I don’t approve the Christian attitudes which have caused this to become an issue on the scale it has.
Much could be written and has been on what the Bible states or implies, theologically, psychologically and culturally as regards the “homosexuality” word it doesn’t use. Here I would only emphasize one thing which I think is a hinge to much else and which I would maintain conservative Christians wrongly ignore and at the risk of offending people’s integrity and denying the same scriptures they seek to defend.
No matter how you interpret Jesus on eunuchs in Matt 19 (and it’s claimed that by Jesus’ times its reference could include a wider range than just castrates and include the same sex attracted ) the fact is Jesus accepts that some people are born a certain way out of the norm. Conservative Christians of the cure party deny and ignore this vital point. Their assumption is that all persons are naturally born one way and can be re-directed into it and they may back this up with reference to rare cases of claimed cures (which may be real in the case of those sexually abused in childhood or the drug addicted whose sensibilities became blurred). And because they believe no one is born a certain way they make the further mistake of failing to realize how gay is more than just sex and the “lifestyle” they call it, but a whole outlook, psychology, even spirituality, (For some different views and approaches see https://goo.gl/A8M4VV )
Scripturally, conservatives will further back their position with reference to St Paul on those who are contra naturam in Romans 1, implicitly rating Paul over Jesus as regards character fixity and thus any change and character issues. They will assume that the same apostle, (whom I’m sure they don’t really believe was right when in a weak, self-contradictory moment he declared women gain salvation through childbearing!), is the last word on the nature of sexuality. It follows that everything psychologists might claim and gays assert about themselves must then be wrong and even wicked lies. What can one say, and where is even common sense?
Although most homosexuals are not effeminate, some plainly are and nothing could ever make them he-men. If Christians are foolish enough to trust some translations and accept from St Paul a doctrine that “effeminates” will not inherit the kingdom of God, why not believe that say, on another plain, any obviously fixed condition, like say mongoloid children, will be damned for the original sin of being who they are? Sometimes there are grey areas in life, ethics and bible and this must be acknowledged and worked with. The expression “Gay Pride” which some Christians are dead set against as in itself another sin and a manifestation of a last days return of Sodom, is merely a reaction to attitudes long bent on shaming and persecuting anyone gay (in Russia you can still be dragged off the street by gangs and tortured if you merely look as though you might be gay, “effeminate” Some idiotic Christians like Franklin Graham are favourable to Russia because of its treatment of the gay question).
The charge of “pervert” that conservatives still too easily use (amid new, more self-defensive talk about loving the sinner but hating the sin), has always been around. Biblically King Saul directs it at the mutual attraction of David and Jonathan calling his son offspring of a perverse rebellious woman (1 Sam 20: 30) but the meaning is quite clear except to the conservative blind and deaf who to this day deny despite all the signs, that there was anything special in the relation of David and Jonathan whose lives are joined by a berith (covenant or marriage).
“Difference” stares out of the face of the Bible for those with eyes to see and not just In the case of David and Jonathan (consider my poem “Jeremiah’s Loincloth” https://wp.me/p2v96G-Hm , but there are none so blind as those who do not wish to see.
The behaviour of lunatic Portuguese missionaries to Japan abusing courtiers as lower than dogs and worse than Sodom because of homosexuality, was a major cause Christianity never progressed in Japan. The gay subject has always been divisive but it would be hard to describe the degree of damage (conservative) churches have done to modern Christianity via their approach to homosexuality. It succeeds to whole unrepented eras of outright, unchecked bullying and discrimination through (in America) what is often a kind of hill-billy theology of which the likes of the at least sometimes intelligent and interesting Perry Stone is representative. (Perry will sometimes mince and screech in imitation of – presumably – the drag queens he imagines all gays are, as he declares horror at all and any homosexuality whose toleration is a sure promise of America’s coming downfall and judgement).
Not only is this situation harmful to the churches now seen as merely unsympathetic and uninformed, but it’s unhelpful to gays themselves because it has largely or wholly prevented pastoral work, addressing questions like what are gays for, how should they live and so on.
And as in any community, wrongs and abuses are found in the gay community – one thinks especially of how youths from the country or thrown out of homes, instead of finding proper community acceptance and support have found instead exploitation. But nowadays the threat of charges of homophobia has virtually shut down the possibility of discussing or condemning corruption and any specific ills of the gay scene. Outside of conservative thought ghettoes, in secular society gay is now only ever good; it is not possible to state some of it may have a dark side or be soul damagingly misdirected.
Gays are perfectly entitled to protest, why pick on them to moralize or save souls when so many heterosexuals live in irregular unions, some Christians several times divorced? Where are the Christians who protest the legal right to attend gay events to witness outside churches protesting some marriages?
When Gay Lib began the struggle was to deny gays new rights and the accusation was that they were just fornicators. When unions and marriage came into view that was as bad, another form of abomination. The message is clear and it’s homophobic. Gays are not meant to exist in even democracies. Gays have finally returned the compliment with the secularists among them wanting Christians dragged before the courts and denied their businesses and their rights. I don’t approve but can appreciate why it has happened and if one reads histories of homosexuality and the record of the church in relation to it, Christians can’t expect God’s favour on them short of some repentance and changed attitudes.
DEMONIZING ALMOST ANYTHING THAT MIGHT BE THOUGHT ESOTERIC OR OCCULT
Religion is often seen as at variance with science, but in one area Christian conservatives might as well join the scientists and rationalists and unattractively so for the many today who still desire and perceive a few mysteries.
A fourth Christian image problem attaches to extremist treatment of “the occult”, a term those using it often don’t understand but are convinced is damnable in any form they imagine it exists. Granted Christians can and must agree that certain activities like the Ouija board and fortune telling cards are verboten, they constitute the biblical “divination’ which ultimately depends for its effects upon chance or the intervention of real or imagined familiar spirits which may trigger obsession or possession. Exorcists have been surprised at how much possession problems have their roots in this kind of dabbling.
There is however a distinction to be made between inspired dreams and what is more empirically grounded and requires neither pure intuition nor external forces to arrive at, chief of these being the astrology which features strongly in the Talmud of the rabbis. (Elements of numerology which also feature in rabbinic thought and possibly some principles of palmistry, some of it with medical support, could also be included). The rabbis understood astrology be the study of cycles and phenomena and on the basis of the astrologically implicit theories of Ecclesiastes for which “what has been will be”, what happens under one pattern can occur again and this is not fortune telling. (It is true the prophets can be construed as disapproving astrology – unless and until one realizes they are not talking about mathematical astrology as we know it since the Greeks, but a more primitive, oracular stargazing that functioned much like fortune cards).
Astrology is also not a damnable doctrine of “fate” when applied to nations and individuals – if you try to understand how it works. Astrological patterns in most instances include free will, there are various possibilities and attitudes under them. It is nevertheless true, and hardly unbiblical if astrology points out, that the life pattern of a person is involved with root traits and that thus Saturn may symbolize and apply differently in the life of a politician as opposed to an artist. It is perfectly biblical to recognize shape in a life or even a day – the outlines are present from the first as Ps 139: 16 indicates. Study of diurnals are the nearest thing to proving the Psalmist correct in the matter of every person’s day being forewritten and known.
Jung hoped the time would come when basic astrology was taught in schools. According to the late Catholic seeress Jeane Dixon this will happen. Both believed that there is a basic psychology and wisdom that should bed known. Although it is foolishness to think individuals can learn their futures from sun sign forecasts (and foolish of Christians to treat the entertainment of reading them monstrous error) it is useful to social interaction and toleration of difference to have a basic grasp of difference as revealed by astrology. It even colours very accurately the kind of things and philosophies people assume (see my The Astrology of Beliefs).
In this respect let it be said that failure to acknowledge and assimilate some astrology is almost as great a problem for the churches as their attitudes to homosexuality. Christians today need to realize the significance of living at the end of the (Piscean) era that began near to Jesus’s birth. They need to understand the symbolism of Pisces and its opposite/complementary sign Virgo as it runs through the whole New Testament and how the OT and NT difference with the elements of violence and extreme patriarchy of the OT are involved with traits and themes of the previous Arien age. Many things fall into place and are quickly explained if only this simple fact is recognized. But it isn’t with many unfortunate consequences. And with the esoteric repressed it re-emerges in eccentric forms like trying to obtain “Christian” numerological messages and clues to the times by looking up the number of Greek and Hebrew words in the lists of Strong’s Concordance.
A PROBLEM OF AUTHORITY
According to the demonized system of astrology, the chart for the foundation of Christianity in AD 30 reveals a sun in Gemini, the dual sign. This bespeaks a dark/light, saints and sinners type organization. That sun is in (fortunately) very wide conjunction to Saturn. This is a promise the community will be bedevilled by the shackles of Saturnian “tradition” (not least in languages that hamper Geminian communication – Latin, Church Slavonic etc) and proper understanding and use of “authority” in everything from politics to management of religious affairs.
Much of the foregoing covered here can be traced to current problems, especially American, around authority in religion. Arguably, and not least from the astrological standpoint, we do stand at the end of the Christian aion (era) itself. It’s a time even Christ identifies with lack and loss of faith ( Luk 18:8) and undeniably some clergy and theologians do now seem virtual atheists for sheer doubt (as Douglas Murray, author of The Strange Death of Europe has stated). But opposed to the doubt trend is an attachment to a radical concept of authority in its turn inconsistent with a religion that places so much emphasis upon not just belief, but faith so that not everything can and should be clear in all cases.
Among conservative Protestants there is almost a fetish of the Bible as “God’s Word”, totally inerrant. While it’s reasonable to call the bible inspired, it cannot and must not be deemed some kind of Paper Pope deemed inerrant. And one doesn’t need to be a trained philosopher or theologian to know why it can’t. Commonsense dictates that when the Psalmists give voice to their complaints or St Paul talks about wanting some books he has left behind, plainly this is not “God’s Word” dictated from heaven. Anyone should be able to recognize that when Ps 137 suggests it’s blessed to smash the heads of children of enemies against the rocks, this is outside the meaning and tenor of the bible as a whole.
Quite simply, there are degrees and levels of inspiration (in Corinthians Paul says the thinks he has the Spirit of God 1 Cor 7:40) on a subject, and there are a few glaring errors and low moments scattered about – much of Ecclesiastes is obviously weak. If there weren’t these moments, everything would be so clear there would never have been need for any biblical commentary past or present. If everything were perfectly clear there would also be no need for the Spirit to lead into all truth (Joh 16:30), or indeed for the Spirit to speak to the churches (Rev 3:22) at all because everything could be deduced from the scriptures anyway.
The bible is a guide and often a teacher to be dialogued with. A measure of doubt and argument should be almost fundamental to spiritual development. Truth is to be learned and acquired (Jesus says to go and make disciples teaching them). “To love God is to argue with him” is a rabbinic saying. There must be a modicum of wiggle room because there will be a few places where as even Jesus concedes to his disciples, “not everyone can accept this saying”. The bible is not something to hit people over the head with and to cut off all dialogue as so often happens in American religion where “The Bible says” or, “God’s Word says” is used as a kind of ex cathedra, papal style authority to cut off all question and argument. The essential authority of scriptures is something to be learned and felt over time, not announced ahead of or in opposition to all questions put to it.
WHY ALL THIS REALLY MATTERS
Currently the churches are everywhere in trouble. Religious freedom and opinion are in danger from everything from political correctness in the West to outright persecution outside it as when last week thousands of Christians were slaughtered in Nigeria by Muslim fanatics and the fact scarcely reached the news. The relative silence was likely due to the fact secular liberal media cares little nowadays what happens to Christians anywhere but cares a lot about never offending Muslims and pleasing offended women whose problems count for far more than believers tortured, imprisoned or murdered.
In these circumstances it is not however for Christians to cease from proper self criticism which if practiced would show how it became too easy for secular forces to dismiss believers. Nor is it for Christians today almost degradingly to plead they ought to be tolerated because of all the good works they do through charities and hospitals etc. It’s no good calling the charity card, however true, when otherwise justice and common-sense in the direction of some policies have been (as most notoriously in the treatment of child abuse scandals) too obviously lacking. Apart from which, and as should be remembered first and last, good works alone anyway never quite count. Christians should demonstrate good works as the natural expression of their belief in a gospel it was Christ’s parting command to go and preach. This preaching is now scarcely in evidence, but the right to be able to declare it (but without confusion and prejudice against whole classes of people from raped women to gays) is what needs to be understood and preserved as the Christian programme and the human law. Freedom of religious conscience and belief are the virtual basis of all human rights and freedom and this is ignored at our peril. So, to conclude……being, and still more important the decision to become Christian today, should never involve a commitment to be
1) unequivocally opposed to abortion on all and any grounds
2) unequivocally opposed to all and every right to die
3) automatically opposed to all gay rights
4) automatically, uncritically opposed to every possible form of the so-called “occult”, especially astrology (some converts are even persuaded to burn all books relating to that subject of the original Magi)
The religion that takes this line scarcely deserves the name of Christianity; it borders on a cult and is enemy to the very democracy that the struggle for Christian freedoms helped much to form.