Monday, May 15, 2006

Truthiness: 2

The DaVinci Code is an attack on the very foundation of the Christian faith and it threatens to lead millions to believe that Jesus Christ was a fraud.

American Family Association

Martin Luther famously described God as “a mighty fortress,” but Don Wildmon thinks He can be overpowered by a novel.

The Christian faith has survived for nearly two thousand years. It survived Roman oppression, the ignominy of the Crusades, the violence of the Reformation, the injustice of the Inquisition. It survived Galileo and Darwin. It will survive Dan Brown.

I suppose I should not be surprised that the same people who are terrified of Spongebob Squarepants are so intimidated by a novel – openly described as fiction by its author. Still, it is disheartening that the public face of the Christian religion in America is shaped by paranoid fearmongers.

Their complaint is the “claims” made by the novel, especially that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had children. (Hope I didn’t just ruin the movie for you.) They are prepared to respond to the novel with “facts.” Coral Ridge Ministries has even produced an anti-DaVinci Code DVD, endorsed by the American Family Association as being “filled with facts that are factual.”

But the novel doesn’t claim what they say it does. The now infamous “Fact” page at the beginning of the novel says only that all the artwork, locations, architectural details and documents are real and are accurately described, and they are. Opus Dei is a real organization. There really is a document in the National Archives in France stating that the Priory of Sion was founded in 1099 and included Leonardo DaVinci among its members. That document is a fraud, but it exists and says what Brown says it does.

All of those real things form the framework on which Brown hangs his popular thriller. Worrying that the details of the plot are not “true” is a bit like writing an angry letter to the producers of Seinfeld complaining that Elaine, Jerry and George have never been seen eating at the actual restaurant at Broadway and 112th which was prominently shown in every episode.

Brown does get some of the details of early church history wrong, but the big picture is accurate: there were many more than four writings called “gospels,” the majority of which were rejected as inauthentic and suppressed by the early church. Early Christian sects disagreed about a variety of issues, including Christ’s divinity and the role of women in the church. That he manages to spin a fast-paced, entertaining and shocking thriller out of these historical threads testifies only to his cleverness as a writer, not to the invalidity of Scripture.

All of this calls into question how conservatives reconcile the idea of “truth” with “faith.” For them, in order for their faith to be valid, the Bible must be “true,” in a literal sense. This gives rise to nonsense like Creationism, where people worry that if the earth wasn’t really created in six twenty-four hour days maybe the entire Bible is hokum. They misunderstand what the Bible is for; it’s meant to reveal God’s mind and intentions for us, not to be used as a history textbook.


Faith is not a fact-based proposition; it is not possible to have “faith” in something that can be empirically proven. God’s existence is intentionally mysterious and ambiguous. The Bible does not have to be historically accurate for it to be true. For example,

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.
It’s in passages like this where the Bible’s truth lies, and that can never be challenged or threatened. God is not afraid of a novel, and we shouldn’t be either.

34 comments:

Jarred said...

Well said!

It seems to me that these days, everything is a threat to Christianity. It leaves one wondering how much faith some Christians have in their religion. And if it's so easily threatened, one has to eventually wonder why they have faith in it if it's so susceptible to attack.

Having said that, though, I do have to admit that even as a non-Christian, I'm disturbed by the number of people who are ready to uncritically accept the plot elements in Brown's book as "true." It's as if anything that is "new" or "goes against established belief" is embraced immediately, as if the only thing that should ever be criticized is "established belief."

I wish everyone would return to reading Brown's book(s) as fiction. That goes for both the evangelical Christian who finds it a great threat and the teen whose looking for the next "alternate history" to rock the establishment with.

kr pdx said...

Jarred: yes!

Andy, what the freaking-out folks are afraid of is not so much the book or its assertions, it is exactly what Jarred identifies--the post-modern propensity to doubt merely because something is establishment ... and the clear popularity of the book.

Do you think it would be so popular if it didn't knock on establishment religion? It is, after all, more or less a crime-thriller. A very competitive genre, but not usually a cross-over, the entire-world-reads-it genre.

It might seem alarmist, but when large groups of people say things like "it opened my eyes to this history of Christianity," fact-book refutations are a reasonable response. And some screaming seems to have been necessary to draw ANY timely attention from the popular press--to at least put the "fact or fiction" question into our social milleu (which heavily favors Dan Brown).

Related: I saw the best review of the Gospel of Judas from a Jesuit scholar-priest in Rome who was clearly tired of answering questions about the 'revolutionary new document.' Here is the concept (I cannot find the original): "All of these ancient documents that purport to be Gospels were clearly written to build the reputation of someone or some group besides Jesus. True Gospels--The Good News--focus on Jesus." Which I thought was a quick-and-easy measure of legitimacy for our relativist times ;).

Andy said...

KR, you make wonderful points that I plan to address in a future post on the reasons for the book's popularity (which you also touched on in the comments on my Dan Brown spoof post below).

Andy said...

And more to your point, yes, it is appropriate to respond to the book with facts of church history and explanations of why belief in Christ's chastity is central to our faith.

Intelligent Christians cannot allow that response to be hijacked by the anti-intellectual forces like the AFA and Focus on the Family. They don't even have the integrity to be honest about what the book actually says.

Anthony said...

Before it became a publishing phenomenon, The Da Vinci code could be credited with getting people talking about religion, something which no book had done since Salman Rushdie got a fatwa to his name. The recent court case kept things ticking over nicely and now the forthcoming film is only going to kickstart the debate all over again.

Regrettably, it's done nothing to dispel the polarisation to be found among the novel's many, many readers: more than ever, it seems, you either believe every word Dan Brown says or regard the whole matter as mildly entertaining tosh.

I can understand the AFA's desire to speak out against The Da Vinci code (book and film), but they cannot reasonably expect their contribution to have much effect - after all, if the Vatican's intervention only added to the controversy, what hope does anyone else have? It's just preaching to the converted, which remains pretty pointless.

If we can conclude anything, it's that the modern world has yet to find any effective countermeasure for the damaging effects of hype.

little-cicero said...

"Worrying that the details of the plot are not “true” is a bit like writing an angry letter to the producers of Seinfeld..."

But the characters in Seinfeld are not real. Opus Dei is real, and it has real members. Being a liberal who is usually compassionate toward the disaffected, I would think that you would feel compassion toward the members of Opus Dei who have been slandered by this book. If the characters in Seinfeld were accused of murder, I wouldn't think much of it because they are not real, but if you were falsely accused of killing someone, I would feel much compassion for you.

Also, I don't know if, in this world of edgy comics and rebellion against the church the idea of "Blasphemy" is even in use anymore, but it should be. A friend of mine finds it funny to ask me if the Pope masturbates- and I am shocked by the audacity as this borders on blasphemy. Now apply that to Jesus- if I proposed in a fictional tale about the life of Jesus that Jesus Christ masturbated, you would probably be disgusted, because it is basically saying that the divine son of God, part of the Holy Trinity, gratifies himself. That is blasphemy.

So proposing the possibility of Jesus Christ marrying a prostitute does not strike you as blasphemy? Even if it is through fiction, the very thought of it strikes directly at the divinity of the Son of God, and the spotless resistance to the primal urges of man that makes Christ the "True Vine" off of which we the branches are sustained.

Jarred said...

LC:

I find the idea of considering something said about Pope as consituting blasphemny odd. I was under the impression that blasphemy was something directed against God. The Pope -- as important as he might be in the RCC -- is not God to my knowledge.

As for your comments about Mary Magdelene, I feel it necessary to point out that, as I understand it, Mary would have been a former prostitute After all, every mention in the Bible I've seen about her suggests that her encounter with Jesus caused her to become a follower. As many (including you, if memory serves) often point out, Christ usually enjoined his followers to "sin no more." Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that as a follower of Jesus, Mary Magdelene left her sinful past behind her. So in effect, Jesus would have married a former prostitute who had been forgiven and was now a reformed follower. As such, I find your focus on her past sins as "proof" that Jesus would not marry her to be dubious at best, unless you're implying that sexual sin is not truly forgivable. That, however, strikes me as rather anti-Biblical. And if it was true, you'd have to follow that logic to the final conclusion that all people are irrevocably damned (definitely an anti-Biblical stance), considering what Jesus says about even looking at someone lustfully.

Andy said...

Well, a couple of points. I get what you're saying, but Opus Dei is an organization, not a character. And you can't slander someone in a book you publish as fiction.

And no, I am not at all bothered or disgusted by the question of whether Jesus ever masturbated. In fact, it seems like a completely reasonable question to ask, and the only reason you are able to answer it with such resounding certainty is that the church fathers actually did sit down and adopt Christ's chastity as a tenet of our faith, which means they themselves asked the question. And if someone asks you, you shouldn't react in disgust, you should explain to them the theological reasons for why we believe Jesus was celibate.

You know, the Gnostics believed Jesus was divine because he was perfect, not the other way around. They would tell you that Jesus felt sexual urges just like every other human, but that he was in perfect control of baser desires.

I don't feel threatened by this book, and I can't call it "blasphemy" because I don't believe it's intended to replace the Gospel. It's just a story. A risky one, sure.

And furthermore, how dare you insult Mary Magdalene and dismiss her as a "prostitute." She was the one to whom the miracle of Christ's resurrection was first revealed. Far from being someone horrifically beneath consideration as a potential bride of the Savior, she was the one who first beheld the Risen Christ (John 20:14-15). That you decry her as a whore only shows that you yourself have fallen prey to fiction and your theology is not Bible-based. There is no Biblical evidence at all that she was a prostitute, and even if she were, remember that Christ EMBRACED the "woman taken in adultery" and told her "Neither do I condemn you." (John 8)

Robert Bayn said...

I do find the Davinci Code intriguing, factual? No, is it possible the church has lied about things, and not told us the truth, absolutely, they have done it before, as you have pointed out.

I was talking to a friend of mine about it, who happens to be a priest, and i asked him if all this Davinci Code hype and Anti-Davinci code hype makes any sense? He agreed it does not, it's just a book that is now a movie, if you don't like it, don't see the movie, it's pretty simple how things work in America.

The big question was Jesus married to Mary? Or did they have a relationship? That is hard to judge, based on what we have in the bible, we would say no, but based on other writings, including Mary's own book, we have reasons to believe there may have been more to the story, the church hurt their cause by calling her a whore for almost 2,000 years, so now it's hard to even believe them.

The Davinci Code, fact or fiction? I say it's probably no more fiction than most religions, faith in the end is a matter of what people choose to believe, but if one book or one movie can threatening a entire faith, that faith sure does not seem very strong?

kr pdx said...

Andy--I am interested in seeing your explanation of why Christ's chastity is central to our faith. As a Catholic, chastity issues loom large in day-to-day life, but I have never considered this particular question.

Anthony/Tony: If it makes you feel any better, I thought Dan Brown's explorations of the feminine divine were highly resonant with a lot of other godess-type work I've read. (It would have been better if he dropped a bit more authorial male chauvinism, though ;).) I especially thought the explanation for the Star of David was interesting; I can't imagine it was Brown's idea, but I hadn't seen it before, and it also resonated with some fringe Jewish mystical history I've read. I wish that Jews had their own screamers and fact-books so I knew how they were taking it.

LC, I agree with all the rebuttals you've been given, and will add also that a fascination with defining a woman as a "prostitute," as if that defines her entire existence (if it was even true, which it may have been but wasn't stated in the Bible), is a relic of the mysogenistic patriarchal cultures that invaded and took over Mesopotamia and the northern Mediterranean about the time we started having (surviving) recorded history. An extreme focus on "virginity," and especially and intact hymen, are related unfortunate carryovers from that time, when the invader-men were busy establishing their absolute dominance over all aspects of life in the region. Our Church's current focus on Chastity (for everyone in every walk of life) is much more to the point (which is Holiness) and certainly allows more clearly for forgiveness of sins and then a "clean slate."

On the other hand, bully for you for standing up to the "masturbation is OK" mantra! A challenging proposition nowadays; I would guess fewer Catholics are loyal to that than even to the birth control teachings.

Andy said...

KR, I will confess I don't have a fully worked out explanation for Christ's chastity. I know it is the general belief of all Christian denominations, and it's something I sense to be true. That is perhaps also why I am not particularly bothered by speculation that he wasn't chaste.

Tony: well said, you're absolutely right. There is a strange cultural phenomenon among conservative Christians in America, in that they simultaneously believe they are the overwhelming majority and yet insist they are persecuted at every turn by powerful secular forces. This explains why they go on damn fool crusades like this and Brokeback Mountain: they think all they have to do is alert the rest of the like-minded country to the dangers of Spongebob and we will rise up in righteous indignation. Back during l'affair Clinton, the conservative mantra was, "Where is the outrage?" Well, it turned out no one cared much that the President had a blowjob. No one cares much about a gay cowboy movie. No one is worried about a novel destroying a religion. Someday they will learn that they really aren't as powerful and numerous as they believe. If only the Democratic leadership would also realize this.

Travis said...

One has to wonder if the leaders of the Catholic Church who denounce this book - including a comment yesterday that people who read the story of "ignorant", made by the Pope's second in command for cultural affairs - have actually read the book.

I loved the book. I found it a great thriller and in the end, felt no sense that my faith was undermined.

*SPOILER SPOILER* It is not as though the book uncovered the "truth" and showed the Catholic Church in a horrible light - I felt exactly the opposite: as the book ended I felt the Church looked good, though the story was left unaswered, and the old man obsessed with destroying the Church, became the villain.

A survey(http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12815760/from/RS.1/) on MSNBC says that the Da Vinci Code has caused serious damage to the Catholic Church. How ridiculous.

For readers would not take any truth from this book unless they were to suspect the premise may be true itself - in which case that is the Church's own fault for their inability to maintain credibility and the faith of their followers....not the result of some book.

Jarred said...

For readers would not take any truth from this book unless they were to suspect the premise may be true itself - in which case that is the Church's own fault for their inability to maintain credibility and the faith of their followers....not the result of some book.

Actually, I don't feel this can even be laid at the feet of the Catholic Church. As I said previously, too many people are all too ready to buy whatever neat-sounding "alternative history" someone suggests. And responsibility for that lies fully with those people. They've had more than ample opportunity to learn about the importance of reason, critical thinking, and not believing everything you read -- le alone what you read in a fiction book. If they have not taken these truths to heart in spite of those opportunities, responsibility for that fact lies with themselves. Not the Church. Not Dan Brown. Themselves.

You say that it's the fault of the Church for not maintaining its credibility? I ask you, what credibility does Dan Brown have that makes everyone so eager to believe the premise of his fiction book as gospel truth?

kr pdx said...

Jarred and Travis: I think you are both correct.

The Catholic Church in America has had difficulty transitioning from its Old-World self-understanding (its members were culturally Catholic and tended towards comfort and trust of authority in their faith) to New-World reality: our people came here because they were not culturally comfortable ... can we really be surprised that we lost track of the Teachings of the Church in the wilds of a new continent and a new social order? Or that people here question and doubt as a matter of course? (And that's not to mention the crises of faith caused by wars, especially WWI, even in Europe--which crises Church leaders, not generally being in the trenches, also didn't grok.)

The Church didn't figure this propensity to reject unsupported tenets of the faith out until about 1975, I think, and then moved at its normal slow and measured pace to rectify the situation. If we had bothered to really teach the faith from 1915-1975, it seems unlikely that even our questioning American culture would be so condemning. Since we didn't, folks rightly dinged us for being "unthinking" and having "unsupported" beliefs

That said, the culture has gotten into a prejudicial habit that no longer correlates to the development of the American church (although certainly in some other parts of the world simplistic teaching is still the habit--sigh).

Can you imagine living in a time when popular major motion pictures could center on priests (or lay Catholics) loyal to church teachings?!? You couldn't sell that nowadays--because the overarching societal assumption is that Catholicism has nothing useful to contribute; that its teachings are social relics to be (often unthinkingly ;) ) derided.

Dan Brown rode this prejudice to riches. Hopefully the thinking responses being made by American Catholics who understand our national intellectual concerns (which the Vatican often doesn't) will get enough correlated press (ride Dan Brown's wave) to open people's minds to the fact that the Church has 2000 years of hard thinking and prayerful interpretaion as well as 2000 years of human mistakes.

Matthew said...

This is an interesting topic for discussion.

Something that should be kept in mind is that many readers of The DaVinci Code may be able to enjoy it so much precisely because they don't have faith (like myself). To them, the "characters" in the novel -- historical or otherwise -- are like the Seinfeld show.

Religious faith across much of Europe is a dwindling entity, which makes it much different than here in the U.S. (and we see what we're reaping here because of it). That may be another reason folks can enjoy it so much worldwide.

What I also find interesting about this whole debate is the reaction (by some) to the James Frey "Million Little Pieces" debacle. You remember -- that's the book that was first pushed as non-fiction, but then turned out to be mostly made-up.

I can't tell how amazed I was at the number of people I came across who were still in support of that book after it turned out to be fiction. They held very little ill-will toward the author, and said that, fiction or non-fiction, it was still a good read and could still possibly help people out.

Now, of course, we have a completely fictitious book that is drawing the ire of some because they insist on looking upon it as non-fiction!

This curious comparison between the reactions to "DaVinci" and "Pieces" leads to one of two conclusions:

1) The critics of both books are nonsensical

or

2) The fans of both books simply like to read a crackling good story, and don't care if it's real or fiction.

Perhaps it is the critics who need to lighten up?

little-cicero said...

Andy, I have no intention of calling Mary Magdalen a "whore" but it is pretty well agreed upon that she was a prostitute. I guess you could say that it makes little difference whether she was a prostitute or just a promiscuous woman. In any event I believe that his forgiveness of her is a beautiful reminder of his love for all people.

It is not blasphemy if it concerns the Pope, but it borders on blasphemy as he is at least of divine inspiration. Just as it would be bordering on blasphemy to say that Peter masturbated, it would be equally such to say that they Pope masturbates. It might well be simply distasteful, but certainly saying that Jesus masturbated is blasphemy.

I believe that sexual urges are inherently human, and that they exist only when a human is not called to divine service. In other words, if you cannot fulfill yourself with spiritual devotion, you must fulfill yourself with sexual devotion.

kr pdx said...

LC, you've never read about the crazy things male saints have done to distract themselves from sexual urges, I take it? In the early centuries (before cold showers ;) ), more than one is reputed to have leapt into thornbushes near their hermit-caves and rolled around ... I once read a testimony by a priest who left the priesthood because he ejaculated at every consecration (the article also interviewed others who said they got erections) ... the spiritual and the physical are mysteriously intertwined, not increasingly exclusive.

You don't have to believe or understand it now, but please don't shut them into separate mental pockets forever.

little-cicero said...

Hey, I've never been called to Christ, so I don't know if those who have the calling have sexual urges revoked, but that is what I believe. I do know that holy men are men, and they have weaknesses. Of course, if priests were allowed to be married and didn't have to hear a calling from God, I would seriously consider becoming one.

For now, I'm just waiting for a call from God.

By the way, if anyone is interested in replacing Time as a (preferably liberal) recipricol link, just say so and I'll look into it. I need to fill space on my blogroll.

Andy said...

I have no intention of calling Mary Magdalen a "whore" but it is pretty well agreed upon that she was a prostitute.

How can it possibly be "pretty well agreed upon"? This is one of the things that makes Brown's novel so successful, is your willingness to insult the reputation of a woman based on mysoginistic fables you've picked up along the way.

From the Bible-study website Crosswalk, here's what they say about Mary: "Mary Magdalene has become the type of a class of repentant sinners; but there is no authority for identifying her with the "sinner" who anointed the feet of Jesus in (Luke 7:36-50) neither is there any authority for the supposition that Mary Magdalene is the same as the sister of Lazarus. Neither of these theories has the slightest foundation in fact."

little-cicero said...

Andy, her being a prostitute hardly means what it means today. In those days it was common for even the most morally upstanding women to be forced into prostitution because of their economic status.

This was a time and place in history wherein a woman had only two occupational options: marriage or prostitution. That doesn't make prostitution all of the sudden no longer immoral, but it certainly doesn't make Mary Magdalen a whore. In fact, if she was indeed a prostitute, it makes the story of Christ's forgiveness all the more thorough and touching.

little-cicero said...

Oh, the other point I meant to make is that Mary Magdalene was named in both Matthew and Luke as the woman from whom seven demons were cast. Not just any ordinary Jane has seven demons to begin with. Was she a murderer, a thief, a blasphemer, an adultress, or a prostitute. The most likely is the latter. Christ's final gift to the woman he loved the most next to his mother was freedom from the bondage of Satan. It's really quite touching.

kr pdx said...

LC: "I don't know if those who have the calling have sexual urges revoked, but that is what I believe."

Notably, choosing to reject the experiential evidence of others to hold onto a "belief" which I admit would be tidy but you haven't any support. Where is that "put the self aside" stuff?

If you are seriously considering the priesthood, you'd better go talk to several priests about this. They might tell you you are right--but then at least you'd have some evidence to pose against the experiences of those men I read about.

kr pdx said...

LC: "Not just any ordinary Jane has seven demons to begin with."

The experience of Evangelicals and charimatic Catholics would suggest differently--if they were all major demons, sure, that would be extrodinary (and I expect it was, and that's why they mentioned it). If she had seven major demons, her being used by the men of her town was really the least of her worries!

Andy said...

This was a time and place in history wherein a woman had only two occupational options: marriage or prostitution.

Okay everybody, all together now: MORAL RELATIVISM! WOO-HOO!

little-cicero said...

As much as I congratulate you on breaking in my fortress of objective morality, I will quote myself to disprove your claim:

"That doesn't make prostitution all of the sudden no longer immoral, but it certainly doesn't make Mary Magdalen a whore."

I would assume that, along with being cleansed by Christ himself, she payed penance for her sins and acknowledged her actions to have been objectively immoral. Of course, acknowledging immorality is the first step in reversing immorality.

kr pdx said...

LC, question: is a woman morally responsible for her rape?

Is a woman morally responsible if she is raped more than once?

When the man or men in such a situation have power of life or death over her and any children of hers (which at least economically they often did), how exactly is she supposed to get around being used?

AFTER CHRIST, yes, there were virgin martyrs (quite a number of them)--they had the concept of redemption and Heaven to hold onto. Before Christ, that really wasn't part of the mental construct folks operated under, Jewish or pagan. Certainly some OT prophets railed against prostitution as a moral evil--but mostly they railed against society for forcing women into it, I think (but then I may have repressed some of them).

Calling MM "a prostitute," as if that was the defining factor of her life (rather than, say, being an honored early Christian ... or, hey, isn't she a Saint? That would be the appropriate form fo address, then), denigrates her for the sake of denigrating a set of assertions you want to discredit. Just as Dan Brown denigrates Jesus (and all the early witness-disciples who died horrendous martyrdoms for Him) in the process of denigrating and discrediting our beliefs.

I am glad you chose the word you consider somehow less offensive ("prostitute" instead of "whore"), but it is still dehumanizing.

To quote your original misstep: "So proposing the possibility of Jesus Christ marrying a prostitute does not strike you as blasphemy?"

If she is so redeemed etc., as you more recently are saying, why should it be any more blasphemous than Him marrying any other woman? Why did you even use the term "a prostitute"? That is the set of underlying assumptions I am trying to dig out.

Wouldn't we better serve our cause by calling her Saint Mary Magdalene in all of our rejoinders to the Dan Brown legends? Then at least we wouldn't be proving his point about the Catholic Church and its attitudes towards her.

(My apologies to all raped non-women; I know rape occurs in other versions as well, but I'm keeping this simple.)

little-cicero said...

You're right, she should, in our moral judgement, be seen as nothing less than a promiscuous woman who found a straightened path in Christ- but the reason that her being a prostitute should be a defining factor is just that-

Her story would be meaningless without that detail. When people talk about how great and welcoming Christ was, they often include "He invited the outcast- children, tax collectors, drunks, prostitutes- to his side and set them on the right path."

So no, her being a prostitute is hardly a demeaning factor in our knowledge of her- it adds significantly to Christ's glory. I suppose I simply included her being a prostitute in that sentence for propagandic purposes.

Andy said...

LC: my point about so-called "moral relativism" is that I wanted to draw your attention to the fact that you were putting a values judgment in cultural and historical contexts. I don't think you necessarily did a very good job of it in this instance, but obviously on some level you instinctively understand why being able to use these kinds of contexts is essential for accurate understanding of a wide variety of issues. Don't be afraid of the term "moral relativism." It's not necessarily a bad thing.

DJRainDog said...

I've been watching this silently for awhile, now, but finally, my curiosity has gotten to a pitch which I can no longer ignore, so I must ask: WHY are American Christians SO OBSESSED with sexual "sins"? The Christians in the rest of the world are far less interested in these. Andy: I would have no problem with a non-virgin Christ. Why should not the Son also be a Father? LC: On priesthood, IF that's seriously something you're considering, I'd recommend you spend a few more years thinking about it, examining your motivations, etc. I don't know you, so I can't really judge, but based on what I've read, I worry that you'd probably be running away from the world, which should be discouraged. Flight and transcendence are very different. It's an issue with which I've struggled off & on since I was thirteen, and I'm now thirty. And where on Earth did this "masturbation as a sin" concept originate? Can someone give me a scriptural reference? It's simply absurd!

kr pdx said...

LC, your answer does not satisfy. But it sounds like it's as far as we're going to get right now.

DJRD: Why Christians in America are fascinated with sexual sins (and I think you are right, the fascination is with "sexual sins" and not where the focus should be, on sexual morality); I expect we are in a feedback loop with the secular culture, and probably have been since the Puritans used Scarlet As and most of the other colonists were young men forced to work for and obey arbitrary authorities dressed up in religious language. In most cultures, I think sexual mores and marriage-type practices are still fairly agreed upon--here, they are constantly questioned and challenged.

Masturbation: The Catechism of the Catholic Church takes 16 pages to outline sexual morality. The short answer, without all the surrounding theology: masturbation teaches a person (via ALL the input channels--sex is a full-engagement experience) that sexual pleasure is all about the self--about "me," instead of the more beautiful "we." A fuller answer, still without many theological trappings, is at

http://www.pureloveclub.com/chastity/index.php?id=7&entryid=49

pureloveclub.com is the chastity webpage (written mostly for teens and young adults) of catholic.com, a major Catholic apologetics (it means "explanation," not "apology") website. (There are several other more specific FAQs about masturbation if you click around from that page.)

The whole condemnation of masturbation assumes that sex is ideally supposed to be a perfect giving of self between husband-and-wife. Obviously not too many folks reading this blog are going to be very down with that assumption. Perhaps read "life-partner-and-life-partner" to get through the masturbation reasoning without getting stuck on the heterosexuality part. And realize that 2000 years of thought have gone before that reading a couple of webpages really isn't going to do justice to.

kr pdx said...

Oh, and, DJRD: As I here mentioned to Andy, I haven't given a lot of thought to the question of why we care that Jesus was not sexually active. But as to why should not the Son be also Father, traditional Christianity believes there to be something sacred about the Trinity-concept; we belive it is how God has chosen to reveal Himself(/Themself ;) ). Each part separate and yet one whole. Jesus being a Father would be ... repetitive? I sense ... maybe ... spiritual feedback(?) there somewhere. If that makes any sense. If the union was perfect to start, Jesus has other roles to play ... ?

Those are VERY initial thoughts. Anyone else?

DJRainDog said...

kr: I was kind-of playing Devil's Advocate in raising the question of Christ's celibacy. I just don't see it as all that important for JC to have died a virgin. I wouldn't have any less respect or love for him if he'd engaged in a sexual relationship (or a few). I don't believe it's relevant at all to His divinity. As to sexual morality (thank you for noting the difference, though I'm curious as to where you draw the lines), it strikes me that Europeans (admittedly, I've only lived in England and France and visited Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland -- Ireland, I'm sad to say, seems to be the only one of these with the level of "problem" with homosexuality that America seems to have) are much more sexually permissive; the American desire seems to be to emulate a morality rooted in a different culture in a different time without regard for the how or why of that culture and timespace, and without real consideration for what might be psychologically healthy. Briefly: The Jewish distaste for homosexuality (notably absent in the homosexual Jews I know ;-) ) was largely a reaction against the "other-ness" of the Greek, Roman and Egyptian societies which accepted homosexual behaviour (and had coincidentally oppressed the Hebrews). The focus on one-man/one-woman marriage results from the status of women as chattel and was largely for their protection. I'm not saying that marriage is not a fine ideal to which to aspire, but to focus one's life towards finding a partner to make one "complete" seems a sad concept to me. Some people never find "The One", and I don't think they're lesser human beings for it. On the masturbation front, I honestly feel that Catholic doctrine (and the "Pure Love Club"?! That just sounds scary as all hell, even on the surface) is bullshit. This concept of the "more beautiful 'we'" is all well and good, but for the fact that not everybody HAS a "life-partner", and probably, not everybody should. Full disclosure: despite being a liturgically conservative nosebleed-high Anglo-Catholic, I take a rather Wiccan view of sin; I think they've pretty much hit on the nose with, "An it harm none, do what ye will."

Andy said...

Caro mio Regenhund,

To my knowledge, the Biblical basis for calling masturbation a sin has always been rooted in the tale of Onan in Genesis; in fact, in German, the verb "masturbate" is "onanieren." But of course, we all know how much stock I put in Genesis as a guide to morality.

Also, coincidentally, Slacktivist has been doing a series on American Christians' sex obsession. Highly recommended.

kr pdx said...

Andy: the Genesis thing I have never seen used in a serious discussion among Catholics; the overarching theology (using the overall picture of God's sexual teachings) and, nowadays, more direct social and psychological observations about consequences, are the more normal routes to understanding of the "yep, this is uncool" conclusion for masturbation (previously, yes, the focus was on "because God said so").

DJRD:
The difference I would draw: "sexual morality" is focused on finding what one SHOULD do, and "sexual sin" is a focus on what one (or, usually, others) SHOULDN'T do. A healthier focus, same set of topics.

Pure Love Club: this website is all about trying to teach teens to consider sex as (potentially/ideally) holy--and as, "properly," a unique part of a unique love partnership. Yes, they do advocate all the Catholic positions (which scares some folks ;) ), but it is a morality-focused and not sin-focused site: discusses "sins," but talks about what could be better, and how to get there. Aside from most people rampantly disagreeing with it, it's not scary, nor even terribly condemnatory. [If you want to get really riled up, though, try pureintimacy.com, which I found Friday while surfing around: it's the Focus on the Family version of pureloveclub.com, and aimed much more at adults. They have an extensive section on homosexuality.]

Jesus' sexuality: Of course if you think sexual morality--or rather sexual behavior--is properly rooted in time and place (which removes the "morality" question), there would be no reason for you to care if Jesus was sexually active, nor to care in what way he might have been (although of course if he had scandalized the folks at the time they probably would have noted it as one of his revolutionary teachings).

"Harm none:" The Wiccan Rede a great idea--except that, how can you, as a limited person, really know what psychological and spiritual ramifications your actions have on others? If you injure yourself, even unknowingly, you injure those who love you, albeit to a lesser degree. God gave us Revelation (however much we do or don't accept ;) ) to hand us some tools we wouldn't otherwise find (or individuals would only rarely figure out) for making our lives better (ie, closer to God, more holy). You may not agree with tradtional Christian sexual teachings, but this stumbling about in the dark that our society is doing, where we are effectively dissociating "sex" with any natural process (via condoms, birth control, extreme objectification, etc.), makes no rational sense as part of a loving God's plan for us as his creatures and as part of his Creation.

We apparently need some guidance from somewhere outside ourselves ;).

Psychological good: I think you are wrong about there being a lack of concern over the psychological ramifications. We (thinking traditional sexual moralists in America) are very concerned and aware of that--we just think we have better long-term outcomes (and "long-term" is the key--we do expect the transition time to be VERY uncomfortable/painful). The Focus on the Family website had a lot of stuff that spoke directly to psychological concerns, actually; rather than ignoring them they seemed to focus on them. They recognize that they have to talk to readers in language that makes sense to them as modern Americans.

The real question is, is one willing to give all parts of their life to God, even this one? Our place-time tells us that is a ridiculous question, and considering it makes one a fool.

On Jewish homosexuality: Are there really no anti-homosexuality teachings in the OT before the occupations by the Greeks and Romans--and I'm pretty sure even before the Egyptians? (I'd never heard that the Egyptians were notably pro-homosexual or sexuality-neutral? But then mostly I've read about their godess-past and burial practices.) Misc., didn't I read like a month ago that some major Jewish group--and it was a surprising one, like an Orthodox one maybe--was leaning toward allowing same-sex monogamous marriage?

Monogamous marriage: monogamous marriage is not a logical result of chattel-thought. Chattel-thought logically results in multiple wives.

Who are the people who have most fought monogamous marriage, through their actions, for the last 2000 years? Given that, at least up until recently and as far as I know still, most prostitutes (of both sexes and all ages) were servicing men, and most pornography is still aimed at men, and more men get accused of rape than women, and I have seen no front-page groundbreaking studies to suggest that marital infidelity has suddenly become as common among married women as married men, I am just not seeing a lot of evidence that monogamy has fundamentally, historically, been considered such a "problem" by women, or at least not as much of one as men seem to find it to be. (Overall, exceptions of course, blah blah.)

Which returns us to my partly tongue-in-cheek assertion that "Jesus came as a man, and God revealed himself as Father, so that men would f-ing LISTEN to what he had to say." (Yeah, yeah, God wouldn't use "f-ing.") What He had to say ("Revelation") seems, shall we say, less than intuitive(?) in most aspects of life, not just the sexual ones (which are the ones I particulary guess are harder for men) ... hence the reams of apologetical and theological arguments to try to convince or remind people of, or just to explore and try to wrap one's head around, the stuff for 2000 years.

And actually, monogamous marriage as "a finding of The One" is primarily a Romantic (as in, the 1800's European/American humanist philosophy) idea that we have glommed onto as a society (yes, including Christians), probably when we experienced widespread loss of faith in God's guidance in the World Wars. The Romantic assumption creates ridiculous expectations of marriage, partner, and self, espcially to the degree one excludes God. That said, I think following God's guidance as closely as we can will land us in as right a spot as we can get to, including, potentially, if God calls us there, a life partner.

Argh, I wrote too long again, sorry. (I cut a lot--can you imagine?! Sigh.)