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Posted by on Dec 27, 2013 in Christianity, Homosexuality, Marriage, Secularism | 27 comments

Solving the same sex marriage problem

 

Michael Bird has posted a blog over at Patheos, entitled My Solution to the Same-Sex Marriage Debate, with an Ecclesiology of Exile.  To be honest, I’m not particularly interested in the Ecclesiology of Exile bit, but I’m definitely interested in his proposed solution to the same-sex marriage “problem”.  Bird starts by stating his two “non-theological arguments” against same sex marriage:

(1) It reduces marriage to a legal fiction.

(2) It paves the way for polygamy.

He later gives his solution to the so-called problem presented by same sex marriage.  Make sure you check out Bird’s blog to see his arguments stated in full.

Bird’s problem

Regarding the first objection, I suppose if marriage is not ordained by some kind of transcendental power, then it probably is a kind of legal fiction, in much the same way that things like property ownership are legal fictions – sure, you have a piece of paper saying you own your house, but do you really own it?  But what exactly is the problem with that?  We humans have simply invented a word to describe a certain kind of publicly declared and recognised relationship.  Allowing same sex relationships to be labelled in the same way is not going to make heterosexual marriages any more or less fictional.  If this objection is supposed to hold any water, Bird needs to show that marriage really is something “higher” than a legal fiction, and that allowing same sex couples to be married would change that in some way.  And keep in mind that this is supposed to be a non-theological argument – no appeal to the divine is allowed.

Bird’s second objection raises a few interesting issues.  First, many people would say “So what?”.  I don’t claim to have a settled opinion on polygamy.  While I certainly have no problem with a few (i.e., more than two) people enjoying each other’s “company”, I think I can see problems with the Donald Trumps of this world having thousands of wives.  We also have to accept that religious polygamy is almost universally polygyny, where a man has multiple wives (here is some information on polygamy in Christianity, Islam and Mormonism).  The imbalance between the number of single men and women this could potentially cause is an issue that would need to be contemplated when considering legislating on polygamy.

Bird’s argument for his second point boils down to his assertion that “the same arguments used for same sex marriage can be used to justify polygamy”.  But, even if it was the case (and I don’t at all think it is) that every single argument that could be put forward for same sex marriage applied equally well to polygamy, one would also have to consider the arguments against both to determine whether the practices should be legalised.  And, as the previous paragraph indicates, there seem to be arguments against polygamy that don’t apply to same sex marriage.  I’m not saying these are decisive arguments, but they are certainly arguments that apply to polygamy and not same sex marriage.  Another argument that could be made against polygamy that does not apply to same sex marriages concerns legal matters such as property settlements upon relationship breakups.  It’s hard enough when a married couple splits up (and would be no more or less difficult if the partners were of the same sex), but one could easily imagine scenarios when large groups go multiple ways.  Sure, this would be an argument from inconvenience, but it is something to be considered, and something that does not apply to same sex marriages.  Please note that I am not here arguing for or against polygamy, but just responding to the claim that “the same arguments used for same sex marriage can be used to justify polygamy”.

And this is all to completely ignore the blatant fact that the Bible portrays Yahweh as supporting polygamy, a fact that Bird dismisses most unsatisfactorily by saying that “[i]t was part of ancient near eastern culture which the patriarchs and Israelites lived in”, even though somehow God never meant it to be that way.  I won’t get bogged down in this debate, but instead refer the reader to Thom Stark’s excellent book, Is God a moral compromiser?, which contains a very thorough treatment of biblical polygamy on pages 116-126.

Bird’s solution

But the main point of Bird’s blog was to offer his solution to the gay marriage problem, and this bears quoting at length:

I say we adopt a European model on civil unions and marriage. Basically, everyone gets a civil union. So on Friday, rock up to town hall with your fiance, see the magistrate, get licensed as a couple, so all the legal bases are covered. Then on Saturday, if you so chose, go to your Cathedral, Synagogue, or Mosque and get sacramentally married with divine blessings. This provides a base level of rights and benefits for everyone and gets government interference out of what has normally been a religious ceremony. As far as the state is concerned, there are only civil unions. Marriage, as a sacramental union, does not exist in the state’s eyes. They only recognize contracts between people … any people and as many people as you like. If you want to be in a civil union with a pretty girl, your biological brother, three Ukrainian women you met on-line, two pet monkeys, a racoon named “bongo,” and a box DVD set of Supertramp, go ahead. If it can [be] physically sighted you can be civilly united. If marriage is just a legal fiction, then there is no legal argument why you cannot do this. You want to throw that bigoted Christian heritage away and discover your inner pagan sexuality, gratify your every lust with state approval, go ahead, fill your boots, throw off the shackles of those perverse Christian values. If you need me, I’ll be on a family picnic with my wife and kids while you’re in law court figuring out who gets the house and kids  in the love dodecahedron you’ve made for yourself.

Let’s just ignore the last few sentences, where Bird seems to think that non-Christian-endorsed marriages are more about “discover[ing] your pagan sexuality” and “gratify[ing] your lust” than a public display of commitment to your partner.  The idea seems to be this:

Everyone can have some kind of no-frills, state-approved relationship, but only religious people can call their relationship “marriage”, whether these people be Christian, Muslim, Jew, or something else.

Well, I think there are a few problems with this.

First, and most obviously, it creates more inequality, not less.  You’re all upset that gays can’t get married?  Well, let’s solve the problem by also banning atheists, agnostics, and the typical apathetic person on the street, too.  If Bird’s solution is only meant to please the more conservative members of his religion, then he may have succeeded in his objective.  But if it is meant to appeal to the broader community, then I doubt too many gay people will be happy simply on account of having more people to share in their plight.

The second problem is that it relies on the erroneous view that you can’t be both gay and religious.  There are loads of deeply committed religious people (whether Christian, Mormon, Hindu, or whatever) who are proud members of the GLBT community, not to mention many more who wish they could openly acknowledge their sexuality but fear rejection (or worse) from their religious friends and family members.  It is a massive slap in the face to such people to tell them they should be happy to have a civil union, just like the pagans, and leave “real marriage” to the real Christians, Jews or Muslims.

But I think the most serious problem concerns religious diversity.  Where did marriage come from, anyway?  Bird thinks marriage is from Yahweh, the God of the Bible, and that marriage is only the real deal if it is Yahweh-endorsed.  But this would mean that Muslim and Hindu marriages are not real.  It’s not just about thinking that some imaginary deity endorses your relationship – it’s about really having the approval of the creator of the universe.  Why the double standard in letting members of false religions pretend to be married, but not atheists and agnostics (and gay Christians)?  On the other hand, if Christianity is not true, then Bird is dead wrong.  Maybe Islam is true, and Christians are only pretending to be married, after all.  But maybe no religion is true, in which case anyone who claims that a marriage is not real unless it is endorsed by their God is actually claiming that no marriage is real.

My solution

Maybe marriage isn’t “real”, after all, at least not in the kind of way that Bird envisages it.  If marriage really is just a kind of “legal fiction”, and I think it probably is, then why should this be withheld from same sex partners?  Two gay men or women in a committed relationship won’t be harming any opposite sex couples simply by having their relationship legally termed a marriage.  After all, they’re already in the relationship, and I don’t think the existence of millions of same sex relationships around the world has led to the downfall of an heterosexual ones.  (Maybe the same could be said of polygamy, but that’s a debate for another day.)

As it turns out, my solution to the “problem” is similar to Bird’s.  Let religious and irreligious couples get legally married, whether they are of the same or opposite sex, and let them call it “marriage”.  Let secular people have a secular ceremony.  And let religious people have a religious ceremony, one that recognises their marriage as “real” according to the deity of their choice.  That way, Christians can be married in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of the church.  If they want, they can feel that non-Christian marriages are not as real as theirs.  Muslims can have real Muslim marriages.  Hindus can have real Hindu marriages.  Mormons can have real Mormon marriages (oh wait, they already do).  This way, everyone can be happy with having a marriage that is as real to them as everyone else’s is to them.  At the end of the day, nobody really cares whether or not their marriage is thought to be real by members of a religion they believe is false.

rainbow flag

  • http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/ Ðavid A. Osorio S

    1. – Money is also a legal fiction.
    2. – Moralistic fallacy.

    Done :)

  • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

    To me, Bird appears to be linking marriage to procreation. He says healthy marriages create healthy families and healthy families create healthy societies. There is no appeal here to a transcendental power. It’s simple biology. This definition of marriage does not rely on a legal fiction because it is a fact that only a man and a woman can reproduce naturally.

    I don’t see how Bird’s solution creates more inequality. Presumably an atheist would not want a religious marriage ceremony. I fail to see how not having a religious marriage ceremony makes the atheist less equal than the fact that he doesn’t take communion makes him less equal. And, from what you quoted from Bird, it seems that a homosexual could have a religious marriage ceremony. Nor is religious diversity a problem. Non-Christian men and women are still capable of marrying because they can reproduce.

    Finally, as can be seen in some recent court rulings concerning bakers and photographers, same-sex marriage can end up hurting those who do not wish partake in the practice.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless Reasonably Faithless

      Linking marriage to procreation is a big mistake. You can be married with kids, married without kids, not married with kids, or not married without kids. Keep in mind there are millions of religious couples with no desire to have kids – these people shouldn’t be prohibited from getting married if that is their desire.

      As for your second paragraph, sure atheists don’t want a religious marriage ceremony – but how does this address anything I’ve said? Marriage is not a religious thing, and I suggested secular people can have secular marriage ceremonies (as they already do). I didn’t say, either, that not having a religious ceremony would make an atheist inferior – only that some Christians would think so, and would be free to have this thought – surely this is exactly what would happen in many cases – even if the word “inferior” is not explicitly used, “not according to God’s plan” or similar does the job just fine.

      But to say “atheists don’t want a religious marriage ceremony” is very different from “atheists don’t want to get married”.

      A homosexual could have a religious ceremony? Well, at the moment they can in some places (and the list is growing). But the whole point of Bird’s post was to change things so that non-religious people can have a no-frills civil union, but not call their relationship “marriage”. And it is pretty obvious that gays are included in the non-religious – or else why would the proposal be considered a solution to the “same-sex marriage problem”?

      Christian bakers and photographers (not to mention police officers, bus drivers, bank tellers, have been providing their services to Muslim/Hindu/atheist/agnostic couples for years – people they fundamentally disagree with. And I absolutely think that people should not be allowed to withhold their services simply because they object to homosexuality. As Bird said, Christendom is over. Just like you would consider it unacceptable for a Muslim shopkeeper to refuse to serve a woman in our society simply because she was not wearing a burka, so too it is unacceptable for a Christian to refuse to serve someone simply because they are gay. How would you feel if secular bakers and photographers stopped serving Christians? If you don’t see a problem with the anti-gay tactics you’re alluding to, I don’t see a problem with this. And, with the increase in secularism in our society, I think the numbers would work against the religious if this were to happen.

      • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

        My point about Bird linking marriage to procreation is that he is not appealing to the transcendent or theological, as you seemed to think. He connects marriage to biology so that it is not just a legal fiction. Your counter-argument seems to be nothing more than “these people shouldn’t be prohibited from getting married if that is their desire.”

        You said that Bird’s solution would create more inequality and I just fail to see that. Everyone with a civil union would be equal before the law. And Bird does not use the phrase “same-sex marriage problem” is his post.

        Near the end of your post you wrote: “Two gay men or women in a committed relationship won’t be harming any opposite sex couples simply by having their relationship legally termed a marriage.” The recent court cases show this is a lie. Moreover, you seem to agree that the government should force someone to provide such services or be punished. At least admit that you do favor punishing those who disagree with you. You don’t seem to be taking a live-and-let-live approach.

        You asserted I “would consider it unacceptable for a Muslim shopkeeper to refuse to serve a woman in our society simply because she was not wearing a burka”, but this is untrue, in the sense that I think a Muslim shopkeeper should legally be able to serve or refuse service to anyone he likes. You also ask: “How would you feel if secular bakers and photographers stopped serving Christians?” My feelings are irrelevant. I think bakers and photographers should be free to associate or not associate with whoever they please. Far better to have a baker who does not serve Christians than a government that tramples on a baker’s liberty.

        • brad lencioni

          Jayman, you appear to be having a very difficult time with comprehending the presented arguments. Read RF again–namely, the first paragraph of his response to you. His argument there is not “nothing more than…[etc.]“, as you claim. You are not even close. To recognize this, consider the argument which would link marriage to biological procreation and prohibit gay marriage:

          1. Two people may get married if and only if their relationship entails their biological procreation.
          2. Homosexual partners cannot biologically procreate.
          3. Therefore, homosexuals cannot get married.

          What RF was arguing is that many heterosexuals either choose not to, or biologically cannot, reproduce, but they can still get married. Therefore, premise one is false, and this is a bad argument which very few people would like to see made sound. (Premise one is entirely bogus!)

          The rest of your arguments are equally mistaken…

          • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless Reasonably Faithless

            That’s a nice way to break it down, Brad.

        • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless Reasonably Faithless

          Connecting marriage to biology is weaker than connecting it to the goals of a deity. As I said, there are loads of marriages where kids are not possible or not wanted. If you define marriage in such a way that it is only for people who in theory, if nature wasn’t against them, and if they so desired, could have kids, then this seems to be entirely begging the question. If a man and woman who don’t want to have kids can nevertheless choose to get married, then why can’t two men (or two women) who don’t want to have kids? It’s one thing to say “I define marriage this way” – it’s another thing entirely to give a justification for why you’re doing that – and it’s quite another thing altogether to do so in a way that society at large will be happy with.

          Bird may or may not use the phrase in his post, but he used it in the title. If I wrote a post called “All Christians are stupid”, but didn’t call any Christian stupid in the text of the post, could I possibly argue that I didn’t think (or mean to imply) that all Christians are stupid? Clearly Bird sees same-sex marriage as a problem.

          As for your failing to see how this proposal would create more inequality, consider this. Let A be the number of religious straight couples that want to get married, let B be the number of religious gay couples that want to get married, and let C and D be the number of corresponding irreligious couples. Currently in most countries, all A+B+C+D people can have a civil union, but only A+C can get married. The inequality is seen in the fact that B+D are not allowed to be married. By also prohibiting the C irreligious straight couples from getting married (by redefining “marriage” into a religious thing), there is very obviously more inequality. As I said above, “marriage” is not the same thing as “religious marriage”.

          When I said “Two gay men or women in a committed relationship won’t be harming any opposite sex couples simply by having their relationship legally termed a marriage”, I think it was pretty obvious that I was saying that your heterosexual marriage (and mine) is in no way adversely affected by a same-sex couple having their relationship termed a “marriage”. If I failed to communicate that clearly, then my apologies, but that is what I meant. It’s another argument whether someone being gay (or Christian, or female without a head covering, or whatever) should be grounds for someone to refuse to serve them.

          As I’ve already stated, I do think that a shop keeper should not be allowed to turn someone away from his/her shop simply because they are gay (or not of the same religious persuasion as the baker). And I do think that in cases in which a shop keeper discriminates in this way, s/he should be punished – in the same way that s/he would be punished if found guilty of sexist or racist hiring practices. I think the model of society you seem to be advocating in your last sentence is a very dangerous one indeed – one in which bakers can have signs saying “no Christians” or “no gays”. It’s a massive step backwards.

          • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

            It’s one thing to say “I define marriage this way” – it’s another thing entirely to give a justification for why you’re doing that – and it’s quite another thing altogether to do so in a way that society at large will be happy with.

            I don’t know Bird’s full views. I’m merely pointing out his argument is not theological on this point. I’ll leave it to him to make his own argument (if he so chooses).

            Bird may or may not use the phrase in his post, but he used it in the title.

            The title of Bird’s post is “My Solution to the Same-Sex Marriage Debate, with an Ecclesiology of Exile”.

            The inequality is seen in the fact that B+D are not allowed to be married.

            On my understanding of Bird’s view there is no legal recognition of marriage. Hence all groups are equal before the law.

            I think it was pretty obvious that I was saying that your heterosexual marriage (and mine) is in no way adversely affected by a same-sex couple having their relationship termed a “marriage”.

            That’s not necessarily true if laws should affect businesses in the manner you support. Bakers and photographers include those in heterosexual marriages. Financial difficulties often lead to marital difficulties. Same-sex marriage plus your political correctness punishments could indirectly adversely affect a heterosexual marriage.

            I think the model of society you seem to be advocating in your last sentence is a very dangerous one indeed – one in which bakers can have signs saying “no Christians” or “no gays”. It’s a massive step backwards.

            I’m not advocating a model of society. I’m saying a businessman should be able to refuse service if he so chooses. And it is you who are saying no Christians are allowed if they don’t toe your line.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless Reasonably Faithless

            I don’t know Bird’s full views. I’m merely pointing out his argument is not theological on this point. I’ll leave it to him to make his own argument (if he so chooses).

            Fair enough, though I think it is clear enough (even just from what he said in the blog) that his reason for thinking same sex marriage (and for coming up with his solution, which prohobits other groups from marriage) is theologically motivated – he clearly believes marriage is a religious thing.

            The title of Bird’s post is “My Solution to the Same-Sex Marriage Debate, with an Ecclesiology of Exile”.

            Fair enough – silly error on my part.

            On my understanding of Bird’s view there is no legal recognition of marriage. Hence all groups are equal before the law.

            Equality before the law is not what we’re talking about here, as should be pretty obvious. Marriage is a secular institution in our society – as Nick’s post above shows, more marriages are performed by civil celebrants than by ministers of religion. At the moment, religious and irreligious (straight) couples are equal in the sense that they both have access to marriage – if this changed so that religious couples were no longer entitled to be married, then this would be an increase in inequality, and it would be the same the other way round. And this is regardless of whether marriage has some kind of legal footing or not.

            That’s not necessarily true if laws should affect businesses in the manner you support. Bakers and photographers include those in heterosexual marriages. Financial difficulties often lead to marital difficulties. Same-sex marriage plus your political correctness punishments could indirectly adversely affect a heterosexual marriage.

            If same sex marriages affect people at a business level, and some of those business people happen to be married, it would be silly to go from there to say that these people’s marriages are affected. You would just be claiming that married people would be affected.

            If Person X experiences financial difficulties directly a result of (illegally) discriminating against Person Y, then X can hardly blame Y for this.

            People are punished for sexist or racist hiring/serving practices, and I’m sure you could say that (eg) “[gender-equality] plus your political correctness punishments could indirectly adversely affect a [sexist person]“. But what is the significance of this? I don’t think a person should be discriminated against on the basis of their sex, race, religion, sexuality. And if some people *want* to discriminate against people on such bases, then why would I feel sorry for them if laws against such behaviour adversely affect them?

            I’m not advocating a model of society. I’m saying a businessman should be able to refuse service if he so chooses. And it is you who are saying no Christians are allowed if they don’t toe your line.

            And in saying so, you are advocating a model of society in which a businessman should be able to act in such a way – that’s just splitting hairs. I’m not saying “no Christians are allowed if they don’t toe [my] line”. I’m saying that Christians would (and should) be subject to the same laws as anyone else in our society. You can’t refuse to serve someone because they’re a different race or sex to you. Why do you think people should be allowed to refuse to serve someone because they are of a different religion to you? Do you think that’s how Jesus would do things?

          • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

            If Person X experiences financial difficulties directly a result of (illegally) discriminating against Person Y, then X can hardly blame Y for this.

            Certainly he can blame supporters of the law in question, such as yourself. It’s disingenuous of you to say your solution won’t harm anyone and then support laws that could harm someone.

            But what is the significance of this? I don’t think a person should be discriminated against on the basis of their sex, race, religion, sexuality. And if some people *want* to discriminate against people on such bases, then why would I feel sorry for them if laws against such behaviour adversely affect them?

            The significance is that you don’t respect other people’s liberty. On the one hand, you want to put forth your solution as harmless. On the other hand, you clearly want to inflict harm on people who don’t follow your solution. You aren’t being straightforward with readers in the OP.

            I’m not saying “no Christians are allowed if they don’t toe [my] line”. I’m saying that Christians would (and should) be subject to the same laws as anyone else in our society.

            But the laws you support have the practical effect of punishing certain Christians and, possibly, making them decide to close their businesses. Your proposal will be harmful.

            Why do you think people should be allowed to refuse to serve someone because they are of a different religion to you?

            Because the U.S. is a free country. That’s the same reason that a business owner should be allowed to serve anyone they want as well.

            Do you think that’s how Jesus would do things?

            Would you like me to support laws that are in conformance with divine laws? More seriously, I leave it to business owners to decide whether they want to follow Jesus and to determine what Jesus would say about a given situation. Unlike you, I don’t intend to force my views upon business owners.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless Reasonably Faithless

            Certainly he can blame supporters of the law in question, such as yourself. It’s disingenuous of you to say your solution won’t harm anyone and then support laws that could harm someone.

            I didn’t say it “won’t harm anyone”. Rather, I said the following:

            “Two gay men or women in a committed relationship won’t be harming any opposite sex couples simply by having their relationship legally termed a marriage. After all, they’re already in the relationship, and I don’t think the existence of millions of same sex relationships around the world has led to the downfall of an heterosexual ones.”

            With the definition of “harm” broadened to include “some people won’t like the law”, it simply becomes a vacuous concept – there will always be people who don’t like any law. But to argue that a particular law should not be allowed simply on the basis that “it harms people”, the concept of “harm” must be far more robust.

            And your example of bakers and photographers just doesn’t address this. How will Bird’s family relationships be hurt directly as a result of a gay couple being allowed to call their relationship a “marriage”? In your previous post, you seem to be saying that they might suffer relationship strains as a result of financial difficulties due to not wanting to serve gay couples. But the same could be said even if the gay couple was just organising a party (not a wedding). The same could be said if the baker didn’t want to serve a Hindu or Muslim. Should Hindu or Muslim marriages be disallowed simply because some intolerant person might get upset at the thought of having to treat them fairly?

            The significance is that you don’t respect other people’s liberty. On the one hand, you want to put forth your solution as harmless. On the other hand, you clearly want to inflict harm on people who don’t follow your solution. You aren’t being straightforward with readers in the OP.

            I have no desire to inflict harm on anyone. That’s quite a claim you’re making. And no, I don’t have an absolute inviolable respect for other people’s liberty (and neither do you). In our society, there are certain things that we have agreed are not to be done. Obvious examples include randomly killing people for the fun of it. For less obvious examples, we debate the ideas in parliament and hopefully come up with a solution that benefits society best. Many such decisions will leave people unhappy. But if faced with choosing between a Christian who wants the right to be a Christian without being persecuted, and a non-Christian who wants the right to persecute Christians, why would I choose in favour of the non-Christian? And a similar question applies for same sex marriage (and, by extension, your idea of allowing shop keepers to refuse to serve gay people).

            You want the right to discriminate based on sexuality. I want to protect the people you wish to discriminate against. You accuse me of wanting to inflict harm, and not respecting other people’s liberty. That just doesn’t add up, I’m afraid.

            But the laws you support have the practical effect of punishing certain Christians and, possibly, making them decide to close their businesses. Your proposal will be harmful.

            We live in a society in which people *are* punished for certain activities. If a bus driver refuses to let black people on his bus, he will be punished. The argument is not just about whether some Christians will be unhappy with certain rules – it’s about whether such rules are fair. There will always be people unhappy with whatever rules we have (eg, gays will be unhappy if they are refused the right to travel on a bus because they are gay). If a Christian really decided to stop being a bus driver simply because he was being punished for refusing to serve gays, then he only has himself to blame.

            Because the U.S. is a free country. That’s the same reason that a business owner should be allowed to serve anyone they want as well.

            “Because the U.S. is a free country” sounds like an equally good answer to the question “Why do you think a Muslim should expect to be served at a baker even though it is owned by a Christian?”. It also sounds like a good answer to the question “Why should gays be allowed to marry?”. You’ve got to try much harder than that. A serial killer might answer “Because the U.S. is a free country” to the question “Why do you think you should be allowed to go around killing people?”. The “free country” answer is just far too vague – you’re not free to do absolutely anything. When deciding who should be free to do what, you can’t just say “Because the U.S. is a free country” to justify *your* position without consideration for the other side.

            I’ll ask my question again, in the hope of getting a better answer:

            “Why do you think people should be allowed to refuse to serve someone because they are of a different religion to you?”

            Would you like me to support laws that are in conformance with divine laws? More seriously, I leave it to business owners to decide whether they want to follow Jesus and to determine what Jesus would say about a given situation. Unlike you, I don’t intend to force my views upon business owners.

            I think you do have views that you think business owners should conform to. For example, you probably think that bakers shouldn’t put dangerous poisons in the bread they sell you. But why not? Isn’t the US a free country? Won’t bakers who want to poison you perhaps feel their liberty is being violated? Mightn’t some of them encounter financial hardship, and even relationship strains as a result of your views?

            I actually asked you a really simple question. What would Jesus do? Imagine Jesus as a carpenter, and a tax collector asked him to make a table. Do you think Jesus would turn him away? What if the tax collector was gay? I think it’s a very simple question to answer. If Jesus was anything like how he is portrayed in the gospels, he would obviously serve the gay man. Quite apart from being just a plain indecent way to behave, I think your proposed legalised-discrimination is completely contrary to the teachings of Jesus.

            I’d be interested to know if you think anything I’ve said here is not true.

          • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

            Should Hindu or Muslim marriages be disallowed simply because some intolerant person might get upset at the thought of having to treat them fairly?

            No, but I haven’t made that argument against SSM. You could support SSM and the right of business owners not to provide their services for a marriage ceremony. I might disagree with your definition of marriage but at least you’d be respecting people’s liberty. But, for some reason, you feel the need to go further.

            I have no desire to inflict harm on anyone.

            Those are empty words when you support punishing a baker for not baking a cake for a same-sex marriage ceremony. “Mr. Baker, I don’t want to inflict harm on you, but if you don’t bake that cake, I’m going to punish you.”

            For less obvious examples, we debate the ideas in parliament and hopefully come up with a solution that benefits society best. Many such decisions will leave people unhappy.

            Which is why, if possible, we leave the government out of it and let people do as they please. Do you believe in actual human rights like freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion? Or are these all legal fictions too?

            If a bus driver refuses to let black people on his bus, he will be punished.

            Note that there is a distinction between a public, government-funded bus service and a private bus service.

            “Because the U.S. is a free country” sounds like an equally good answer to the question “Why do you think a Muslim should expect to be served at a baker even though it is owned by a Christian?”.

            Except it is not an equally good answer. My position prevents one person from imposing a legal duty on another person, while your position allows a person to impose a legal duty on another person.

            I think you do have views that you think business owners should conform to.

            I admit as much. But I keep those to a minimum, while you take it to levels that would be comical if you weren’t serious (i.e., punishing another human being for not baking someone a cake). A baker selling me poisoned bread is violating my right to life. However, a baker refusing to serve me is not violating any of my rights, since I don’t have a right to be served bread by whomever I please.

            What would Jesus do?

            I agree that Jesus would eat with a gay man. But it is my understanding, at least in the case of the baker, that he does serve homosexuals. He just objects to baking a cake for a same-sex marriage.

            Consider another example from NT times. Suppose a Christian butcher was asked to prepare meat for a pagan sacrifice. In this case the Christian should not prepare the meat for he would be participating in sinful behavior (no matter how indirectly). I presume the baker sees himself in a similar situation. He does not want to participate in a same-sex marriage in any degree.

            I think your proposed legalised-discrimination is completely contrary to the teachings of Jesus.

            Jesus did not establish a governmental system. Christians are not called to force others to follow Jesus’ commands.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless Reasonably Faithless

            No, but I haven’t made that argument against SSM. You could support SSM and the right of business owners not to provide their services for a marriage ceremony. I might disagree with your definition of marriage but at least you’d be respecting people’s liberty. But, for some reason, you feel the need to go further.

            I feel I need to restate my point, since it seems not to be clear enough. I originally stated that SSM does not directly harm any heterosexual relationships, and that this therefore counts as a point in favour of SSM. You said that it *does* harm heterosexual relationships (though the example you gave seemed quite contrived and very indirect to me). I took it that this was meant to count as a point against SSM. My point is then that, by the same token, many kinds of marriages will “harm” many kinds of people – for example, Hindu marriages will “harm” some non-Hindus – and so that should, equally, count as a point against those kinds of marriage.

            But let us perhaps move on from this, and consider what you’ve said here. I agree that “[y]ou could support SSM and the right of business owners not to provide their services for a marriage ceremony”. The question is then whether society *should* be based on such a stance (ie, whether such a society would be, generally, more beneficial to its members).

            And, upon quite a bit of further reflection, I still think it is better for society to be organised so that, if you want to be a baker, then you have an obligation to make a cake for anyone who wants one, provided they are using it for legal purposes. A gay wedding will involve far more than just cakes and photographs – there will be venue hire, clothes made/hired, transport, food, etc. And many of these will be provided by people not knowing where their goods will end up, and in some cases, the service providers will not be supportive of SSM. But, just knowing that a person will use a product you make for a purpose you don’t approve of doesn’t seem to be good enough grounds to refuse to serve that person, to me. What, could a mattress salesman refuse to sell a bed to an unmarried couple? Could a baker who happens to be a vegetarian refuse to sell a bread roll to someone they suspected were planning to make a hot dog? Why not require bakers to make bread for all, and not worry about what their customers will do with it? As I said in my previous comment, there are many restrictions placed on service providers that you agree with, and I think that not discriminating against customers is a worthy restriction to place. (And, by the same token, a gay baker should have to sell bread to someone he knows is anti-gay). The only exception would be if the service provider suspected the customer had illegal purposes, in which case they should report the matter to the authorities and let them deal with it (this happens already).

            Those are empty words when you support punishing a baker for not baking a cake for a same-sex marriage ceremony. “Mr. Baker, I don’t want to inflict harm on you, but if you don’t bake that cake, I’m going to punish you.”

            I support punishing people for murder, rape, theft, breaking road rules, smoking in non-smoking zones. So yes, I support the idea of punishing people for breaking the law. Do you? I also support a law that would say that a service provider (such as a baker) ought to provide their services indiscriminately. And, therefore, I support the idea that someone who breaks such a law ought to be punished. It’s a different thing to say I wish to harm people. Of course someone who goes to jail for murder is “harmed” in a certain sense (and obviously the punishment for refusing to serve a gay man or woman would be less than that for a murderer). But this is to equivocate between “causing harm” and “punishing illegal behaviour”.

            Which is why, if possible, we leave the government out of it and let people do as they please.

            Let me just restate what I said, to which you responded in this way:

            “we debate [more controversial than murder] ideas in parliament and hopefully come up with a solution that benefits society best. Many such decisions will leave people unhappy”

            And you think government should just stay out of it and let people do as they please? First, it strikes me as ironic, since you precisely do not want gay people to do as they please (and have a marriage). But second, it is precisely the fact that people please to do things that are at odds with what other people please to do. Some people want to have loud parties, and others want quiet surroundings. Some people want to smoke in restaurants, and others want clear air. Some people want to be allowed not to serve black customers, and some people want the right to be served no matter what their skin colour is. You can’t just let people do what they please or there will be mayhem. Governments debate these kinds of issues and (hopefully) come up with the most congenial solution precisely so that people know their rights and obligations, and so that society will run as smoothly as possible.

            Do you believe in actual human rights like freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion? Or are these all legal fictions too?

            I absolutely believe that these things are “legal fictions”. For example, I don’t believe that it is simply an objective property of the cosmos that a human *must* be allowed to say whatever he or she wants. But I do think that some kind of (well formulated) freedom-of-speech law leads to a much better functioning society than a society in which some views must be suppressed. Obviously various laws will interact, and there are subtleties in trying to make everything work together (I also don’t think someone should be free to harrass someone with vicious verbal attacks – obviously this means a free-speech law will have to be more subtle than “anyone can say whatever they want whenever they want”).

            But whether or not I think these things are “legal fictions” is beside the point. I think they are beneficial to society, and I think most people agree. They lead to testable hypotheses – you can observe societies that work with such laws and those that don’t, and judge for yourself which ones lead to happier citizens (etc).

            Note that there is a distinction between a public, government-funded bus service and a private bus service.

            Sure there’s a difference, but I’m amazed that you’d say this here. Are you advocating that a public bus driver must let anyone get on board, but a private bus driver is allowed to refuse entry to black people?

            Except it is not an equally good answer. My position prevents one person from imposing a legal duty on another person, while your position allows a person to impose a legal duty on another person.

            I’ll quote myself again here, to give the context for your statement here:

            “”Because the U.S. is a free country” sounds like an equally good answer to the question “Why do you think a Muslim should expect to be served at a baker even though it is owned by a Christian?”.”

            If it were the law that a shopkeeper could refuse entry to his shop to Muslims, then yes you would be imposing a law on someone – the Muslim, who would have to respect the law that says he must not go into the shop.

            The difference is not whether you or I are imposing a legal duty on someone – it is whether the legal duty imposed is fair or not. I simply don’t think it is fair for a Muslim to be denied entry to a baker’s shop simply because the baker doesn’t share his religious views.

            But besides, you seem to think there is something wrong with my position *simply because* it imposes a legal duty on another person.

            I admit as much. But I keep those to a minimum, while you take it to levels that would be comical if you weren’t serious (i.e., punishing another human being for not baking someone a cake). A baker selling me poisoned bread is violating my right to life. However, a baker refusing to serve me is not violating any of my rights, since I don’t have a right to be served bread by whomever I please.

            I also agree that such things should be kept to a minimum. But I just think the minimum should include fair treatment of all people, regardless of race, religion, sex, sexuality, age, etc. You can paint my views as comical if you like, but I can do the same to you and point out that you want to respect the right of someone to say “I think men having sex with each other is gross – NO CAKE FOR YOU”. But big deal. We are talking about serious issues here.

            I do actually think that your right to be served by any service provider is a right worth having in law. It is essentially the obligation for a service provider to provide his or her services without discrimination. Just like free speech, there must be exceptions – you shouldn’t have to let someone ride your bus if they have repeatedly vandalised the bus or physically assaulted you. But you should have the right to get on any bus or train (or buy a load of bread from any baker), regardless of your sex, sexuality, race, religion, age, etc.

            I agree that Jesus would eat with a gay man. But it is my understanding, at least in the case of the baker, that he does serve homosexuals. He just objects to baking a cake for a same-sex marriage.

            And why should he? Making the suits (or dresses?) worn by the two grooms in a SSM does not constitute approval of the marriage or homosexuality any more than Jesus eating with tax collectors and prostitutes constitutes approval of their behaviour.

            Consider another example from NT times. Suppose a Christian butcher was asked to prepare meat for a pagan sacrifice. In this case the Christian should not prepare the meat for he would be participating in sinful behavior (no matter how indirectly). I presume the baker sees himself in a similar situation. He does not want to participate in a same-sex marriage in any degree.

            How exactly would the butcher be partaking in that? What if he didn’t know about it? What if pagans always secretly bought meat without telling anyone what they were doing? But the butcher knew that a certain percentage, maybe 1%, of the meat he sold always went to pagan sacrifices? Would he still be partaking in it? The farmer who raises animals would know this too. In any case, what someone does with goods you sell them is none of your business. Think of the mattress salesman example I gave above. Do you think Jesus would have refused to make a bed frame for a (gay or straight) unmarried couple?

            Besides, are you comparing homosexuality with pagan sacrifice?

            Jesus did not establish a governmental system. Christians are not called to force others to follow Jesus’ commands.

            They’re doing a great job of trying to enforce their views in law. The anti-SSM movement is almost entirely dominated by the religious. I think it would be great if Christians agreed with you that they are “not called to force others to follow Jesus’ commands”, but the reality is different.

            I’d also like to know which of Jesus’ commands you’re specifically referring to, here. Particularly, I’d like you to show me something about same sex marriage, or perhaps the idea of being allowed to discriminate against customers based on religion, sex, sexuality, etc.

  • Mike W

    Your “final paragraph” solution is the actual situation in many jurisdictions: the state licenses both secular/”irreligious” and “religious” persons to perform a ceremony which results in a marriage. In Australia, at least two thirds of all marriages are now performed by civil celebrants without reference to a particular religion or denomination.

    For those who believe only in a particular religious form of marriage, the undeclared problem is that they don’t believe in the deities or validity of marriages sanctified in other religious traditions. However if the Christians complain about the Hindus being not really married (or vice versa), then they’ll get shouted down for racism or whatever, whereas nearly every religion can get away with being homophobic.

    A final note is that millions of people have nominally Christian marriages but either do not believe or live in ways contrary to the religion or the “sacred” vows they’ve made. How are these marriages more valid than (say) an atheist’s?

    • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless Reasonably Faithless

      Well my marriage was a Christian marriage. Only problem is that my wife and I are both now atheists. Did something change along the way?

  • http://www.nsewell.com/ Nick Sewell

    James, a few points.

    A federal judge in Utah has dismantled all the arguments against same sex marriage, including the procreation one.
    http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2013/12/21/3098351/utah-marriage-equality/

    The proportion of marriages with civil celebrants has risen sharply since 2000, and in 2011 70.1% of ceremonies were performed by a civil celebrant. The ABS has a more full discussion of how irrelevant religion is to the lives of everyday Australians
    http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features30Nov+2013

    • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless Reasonably Faithless

      Smart judge.

  • Tim Chavura

    …then it probably is a kind of legal fiction, in much the same way that things like property ownership are legal fictions – sure, you have a piece of paper saying you own your house, but do you really own it? But what exactly is the problem with that?

    I understand your point, but I feel that defaulting on a home loan is nothing like breaking marital vowels. I think you may want to rethink your simile (‘like’) in this instance. For example, if children are involved, do you think the generational trauma caused by one individual’s infidelity (for example) is anything like the generational impact of defaulting on a loan for property?

    I’m not arguing that this is proof of the institution’s transcendental origin, rather, I’m questioning your comparison of marriage to property ownership. Whether marriage is just a legal fiction or not, there really is nothing to which it can be reasonably compared.

    Bird needs to show that marriage really is something “higher” than a legal fiction, and that allowing same sex couples to be married would change that in some way.

    If this burden is upon Bird, does this mean you need to ‘show’ that marriage is just a word invented to describe a certain kind of publically declared and recognized relationship? Can you tell us when this happened and what people group did this?

    And, as the previous paragraph indicates, there seem to be arguments against polygamy that don’t apply to same sex marriage. I’m not saying these are decisive arguments, but they are certainly arguments that apply to polygamy and not same sex marriage.

    True, but this is quite different to what Bird seems to be arguing according to you. He states that the same arguments can lead to polygamy. Perhaps he means the right to marry a ‘loved one’, for example.

    And this is all to completely ignore the blatant fact that the Bible portrays Yahweh as supporting polygamy… I won’t get bogged down in this debate, but instead refer the reader to Thom Stark’s excellent book, Is God a moral compromiser?

    Stark offers no convincing proofs that Yahweh supports polygamy. Can you please provide support of the claim that Yahweh supports polygamy? It seems that you often just refer to other works that contain the most important element needed to support your claims, James. I find it surprising that you, on a number of occasions, have even linked to Wikipedia pages – something you do in this particular blog.

    I’ve read Stark’s text dealing with Polygamy. Here are some of Stark’s offerings and my thoughts:

    Stark: Aaron and Miriam opposed Moses when he took this second wife. But Yahweh did not. Yahweh defended Moses, and punished Miriam (though not Aaron) for challenging Moses. I’d say that constitutes Yahweh’s express approval.

    One may be forgiven for assuming Stark has not even read the passage of the Bible in question. Miriam and Aaron were not complaining about a second wife, and thus, God’s punishment was not any kind of tacit condemnation of their rebuke against polygamy. Stark has missed their two complaints: (1) That he married a Cushite and, (2) that they were upset with Moses’ relationship with God and subsequent authority. This passage has nothing to do with polygamy – thus answering Stark’s bewilderment as to why Copan never mentions it.

    Stark: 2 Sam 12:8 says that God blessed David with many wives.

    No, it doesn’t say that at all. It says that when David took over Saul’s kingdom, all that was Saul’s became David’s. The genitive case accords to the word master [Saul], not David. An unfortunately common misreading. More on this later as Stark returns to it.

    Stark’s interpretation of Gen 2:24 is tenuous at best. He argues that because the word ‘monogomany’ wasn’t used, God didn’t mean it. He makes this bold assertion in spite of the fact that the language in question is singular, not plural. Christ’s echoing of these words in the NT is exactly the same in manner – singular, not plural. The word, ἄνθρωπος, being anarthrous is taken as singular. Further, the next part, τῇ γυναικὶ αὐτοῦ, indicates possession by a singular entity (genitive form) thus being linked to the one man, not many.

    Seemingly conceding this point of grammar, Stark moves to make an even bolder assertion that perhaps the passage refers to a man leaving his father and mother and being united to his ‘first’ wife. But this is nowhere found in the passage.

    Further, Stark’s argument that Deut 21:15-17 is not a casuistic law is simply not strong enough. It may not be a casuistic law, but he doesn’t produce anything convincing in this instance.

    However, Stark does make some interesting points concerning Copan’s interpretation of Deuteronomy 18:18. I too find Copan’s argument unconvincing. But there is still no tacit approval of polygamy here.

    Lastly, Stark returns to the 2 Sam 12:8 passage. Unfortunately, Stark does not produce any discussion on the multiple uses of the word חֵיק which can be rendered in a variety of ways (both literally and figuratively). There is no reason to read that David took all of these women as his own wives. Rather, it may just as easily be read that he took these wives to be in his possession, a more sensible interpretation as Saul’s wives are listed among his other ‘possessions’. It follows quite easily that one could render the passage to mean that Saul’s wives were ‘delivered’ into David’s lap or care – equally apt interpretations of the Hebrew חֵיק. Thus rendered are some English translations.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless Reasonably Faithless

      I understand your point, but I feel that defaulting on a home loan is nothing like breaking marital vowels. I think you may want to rethink your simile (‘like’) in this instance. For example, if children are involved, do you think the generational trauma caused by one individual’s infidelity (for example) is anything like the generational impact of defaulting on a loan for property?

      I’m not arguing that this is proof of the institution’s transcendental origin, rather, I’m questioning your comparison of marriage to property ownership. Whether marriage is just a legal fiction or not, there really is nothing to which it can be reasonably compared.

      It should be pretty obvious that the “simile” was only on the level of stating that both are legal fictions. So the entire point is basically irrelevant here, no matter how serious you view “defaulting” on a relationship vs a home loan. It’s worth pointing out that if one wanted to argue in the other direction, one could compare an unfaithful marriage partner to the GFC, but what legitimate conclusion could be drawn here?

      If this burden is upon Bird, does this mean you need to ‘show’ that marriage is just a word invented to describe a certain kind of publically declared and recognized relationship? Can you tell us when this happened and what people group did this?

      I can’t tell you any more when the word “marriage” was first used any more than I can tell you when the word “money” was first used, but that changes nothing. Bird is the one claiming that marriage is something higher than a legal fiction, so he has the burden of proof. All an opponent needs to do is say that *for all we know*, marriage is just a word invented to describe a certain kind of publically declared and recognized relationship. This is just to remind Bird of his burden of proof – ie, there is an assumption here: that marriage *is* more than a legal fiction.

      True, but this is quite different to what Bird seems to be arguing according to you. He states that the same arguments can lead to polygamy. Perhaps he means the right to marry a ‘loved one’, for example.

      I actually contest the claim that the same arguments can lead to polygamy, but I haven’t seen his argumentation in favour of this claim. If you were to stand up in parliament and argue in favour of some practice becoming legal, you’d need to comment on pros and cons (at least perceived ones) – and I think any proper argument for something like gay marriage or polygamy *must* include both.

      It might be the case that (as you have alluded to) some or many single considerations apply to both. But the claim is grander than that. It is that *every* argument for same sex marriage applies to polygamy. And I contend that the most comprehensive arguments will include consideration of cons (as well as pros), and that, therefore, there are arguments for same sex marriage that don’t apply to polygamy.

      Stark offers no convincing proofs that Yahweh supports polygamy. Can you please provide support of the claim that Yahweh supports polygamy? It seems that you often just refer to other works that contain the most important element needed to support your claims, James. I find it surprising that you, on a number of occasions, have even linked to Wikipedia pages – something you do in this particular blog.

      First, I refer to Wikipedia when an extremely basic overview of a topic is all that’s required – I wouldn’t cite Wikipedia as proof of some controversial topic, and I think this article should be evidence enough of that.

      As for Stark, I think he does an extremely good job of taking something as obvious as the fact that Yahweh is portrayed as supportive of polygamy, and conservative scholars attempts at whitewashing it out of the Bible, and showing just how obvious it really is. I challenge anyone not invested in getting Yahweh off the hook (and this applies to slavery, genocide, rape, etc, as well as polygamy – really, polygyny) to read all the biblical passages about polygamy and see if they think Yahweh is actually against the practice.

      One may be forgiven for assuming Stark has not even read the passage of the Bible in question. Miriam and Aaron were not complaining about a second wife, and thus, God’s punishment was not any kind of tacit condemnation of their rebuke against polygamy. Stark has missed their two complaints: (1) That he married a Cushite and, (2) that they were upset with Moses’ relationship with God and subsequent authority. This passage has nothing to do with polygamy – thus answering Stark’s bewilderment as to why Copan never mentions it.

      It would have been a great opportunity for Yahweh to have said “They’re right, Moses. Not only should you not have married a Cushite, but you already have a wife, and polygyny is not acceptable”. But he didn’t, and instead, punished Miriam and Aaron.

      No, it doesn’t say that at all. It says that when David took over Saul’s kingdom, all that was Saul’s became David’s. The genitive case accords to the word master [Saul], not David. An unfortunately common misreading. More on this later as Stark returns to it.

      Here is what 2 Sam 12:8 says: “I [Yahweh] gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms.” That seems obvious enough to me (and every non-Christian I’ve spoken to about it). This book of the Bible was written back in a time where polygyny was common practice – a perfectly natural thing. So it’s no surprise that polygyny is spoken of in the Bible as a perfectly natural thing. It’s only when modern Christians, who are opposed to polygyny, and who want the Bible to be supportive of their view, need to reinterpret it that it becomes silly.

      What does it mean for Saul’s house to be given to David? That’s obvious enough, right? David now owns Saul’s house. And what does it mean for Saul’s wives to be given into your arms? Look it up in loads of different versions – are you claiming that all these (mostly conservative) translators are just guilty of an “unfortunately common misreading”?

      Stark’s interpretation of Gen 2:24 is tenuous at best. He argues that because the word ‘monogomany’ wasn’t used, God didn’t mean it.

      I don’t necessarily agree with this part. However, I will note that in most of my debates with conservative Christians about passages such as Numbers 31 (where, in the story, the virgins were quite obviously kept alive as sex slaves), the Christians say that because the Bible doesn’t explicitly say that the virgins were treated as sex slaves, they probably were not. This is a blatant double standard.

      However, while Gen 2:24 may not be used in support of the idea that Yahweh (as portrayed in the OT) is in favour of polygamy, I think it does show that it is dubious to conclude from it that Yahweh is against it. And, if we’re talking about Jesus quoting this to lend support to an anti-polygamy viewpoint, why not use it to lend support to a zero-tolerance no-divorce viewpoint? After all, that’s what Jesus was specifically saying.

      I’m not going to comment on the grammar issues, as I don’t claim to be an expert. I will note, however, that Stark responds in great detail to scholars who disagree with him. Here is his Facebook website – https://www.facebook.com/thomstark – I’m sure he’d be happy to respond to your claims of dodgy scholarship, and I’d be interested in hearing what he says.

      Further, Stark’s argument that Deut 21:15-17 is not a casuistic law is simply not strong enough. It may not be a casuistic law, but he doesn’t produce anything convincing in this instance.

      Well, it obviously comes as no surprise to me that *many* of Stark’s arguments will fail to convince you. I’m interested to know if (independent of Stark’s arguments) you think this is casuistic law or not, and your reasons.

      However, Stark does make some interesting points concerning Copan’s interpretation of Deuteronomy 18:18. I too find Copan’s argument unconvincing. But there is still no tacit approval of polygamy here.

      Do you mean Leviticus 18:18? Here’s what it says (NIV):

      “And you shall not take a woman as a rival to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.”

      I think it’s obvious enough that this is saying that, while it is fine to have more than one wife, don’t have two sisters as wives (and gives a reason for this – rivalry). By analogy, if I told you I didn’t want you to drink any of my Pepsi Max when I was away, I think this level of specification is probably enough to show that I wouldn’t mind if you drank something else out of the fridge. In particular, I don’t think you could say that I was against you drinking out of my fridge – in fact, I think you *could* say that because I speficially banned only one kind of drink, I was *for* drinking out of my fridge in general, but just not in this special instance.

      Lastly, Stark returns to the 2 Sam 12:8 passage. Unfortunately, Stark does not produce any discussion on the multiple uses of the word חֵיק which can be rendered in a variety of ways (both literally and figuratively). There is no reason to read that David took all of these women as his own wives. Rather, it may just as easily be read that he took these wives to be in his possession, a more sensible interpretation as Saul’s wives are listed among his other ‘possessions’. It follows quite easily that one could render the passage to mean that Saul’s wives were ‘delivered’ into David’s lap or care – equally apt interpretations of the Hebrew חֵיק. Thus rendered are some English translations.

      I don’t know what word you’re referring to there (you didn’t give the English translation/approximation). But to respond to what you’ve said… I think it is rather telling, indeed, that Saul’s wives are listed among “possessions” (and virgin captives among the “booty” in the above-mentioned Numbers 31, and other similar passages). However, “into your arms” or “into your bosom” (just what I found from searching some of the more common translations – NIV, ESV, NRSV, KJV, etc) seem pretty obvious. And what, do you think wives were transferred from owner to owner just as people to look after? I don’t think what you say “follows quite easily” really follows at all. In fact, all you’ve said is that “one could rdner the passage” to say something completely contrary to a face-level reading. Well, one *could* do whatever one wanted – the question is whether one is really justified in doing so, and the standard translations don’t seem to think your suggested translation is warranted.

    • Nerdsamwich

      I would say that property ownership is a great comparison, especially as, in Abrahamic religion, at least, they’re the same thing.

  • Daniel Lin

    I agree with your conclusion. Religious morals is subjective, not objective, at the end of the day, conservative Christians are unable to prove that same sex marriage is bad through objective reasoning. The belief that same sex marriage is wrong is, after all, a belief, not a fact.

    And let’s not forget we do live in a democratic society, not a theocrat. So if the majority of people in the country wants to change the law so homosexual people can get married in the eyes of the law, why shouldn’t they?

    Furthermore, just because homosexual people are getting married, it doesn’t mean conservative Christians have to start practicing homosexuality, no one is forcing them. If they want to steer away from same sex marriage or homosexuality because of their belief, no one is stopping them.

    So yes, let homosexual people get married, and let conservative Christians have their opinion about marriage, and let Muslims get married in the way they want.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless Reasonably Faithless

      Hi Daniel, thanks for posting. You’re right that religious morals are subjective – at least in the way they are understood by humans (which leaves the possibility open that there really is a God who really does have moral requirements). No Christian has access to the objectively true moral requirements of God (if there are any) – they have access to their own interpretations. Sure, in a lot of things, most (if not all) Christians agree on what this interpretation is. But settling the question by such a means seems no less problematic than to settle a question (such as whether same sex marriage should be allowed) democratically in a secular society.

      And you’re absolutely right that a change in the marriage law would not mean Christians have to start acting in ways they consider immoral.

      I agree with your final sentence, too. As well as the right of gay people to get married, I would wish to protect the right of Christians not to support homosexuality, and to voice this opinion, provided that it is not in an oppressive way, etc.

  • KenBrowning

    I’ll turn out the lights and close the doors on my way out.

    Seriously, conservative Christians are in for some real heartburn. If they can’t deal with homosexuality how will they ever deal with polyamory? What will Mom and Dad think when we don’t show up with that “special someone” for Thanksgiving but with those special four someones?

  • Tim Chavura

    Tim: You stated the following, ‘And this is all to completely ignore the blatant fact that the Bible portrays Yahweh as supporting polygamy’.

    How is this fact ‘blatant’? Where is it explicitly taught?

    Reasonably faithless: I can’t tell you
    any more when the word “marriage” was first used any more than I can tell you when the word “money” was first used, but that changes
    nothing.

    Tim: Then why did you make the following statement, “We humans have simply invented a
    word to describe a certain kind of publicly declared and recognised relationship.” If you can’t show that this is actually true, aren’t you just as
    guilty of ignoring your burden of proof as Bird?

    Reasonably faithless Bird is the one
    claiming that marriage is something higher than a legal fiction, so he has the
    burden of proof. All an opponent needs to do is say that *for all we know*,
    marriage is just a word invented to describe a certain kind of publically
    declared and recognized relationship.

    Tim: Yes, but you took one further step
    and *asserted it* as part of your discussion. There was no ‘for all we know’.
    Would you let me get away with the following statement: ‘For all we know, God
    instituted marriage’?

    (On Numbers 12)

    Tim: One may be forgiven for assuming Stark has not even
    read the passage of the Bible in question. Miriam and Aaron were not
    complaining about a second wife, and thus, God’s punishment was not any kind of
    tacit condemnation of their rebuke against polygamy. Stark has missed their two
    complaints: (1) That he married a Cushite and, (2) that they were upset with
    Moses’ relationship with God and subsequent authority. This passage has nothing
    to do with polygamy – thus answering Stark’s bewilderment as to why Copan never
    mentions it.

    Reasonably faithless: It would have
    been a great opportunity for Yahweh to have said “They’re right, Moses.
    Not only should you not have married a Cushite, but you already have a wife,
    and polygyny is not acceptable”. But he didn’t, and instead, punished
    Miriam and Aaron.

    Tim: The issue of polygamy wasn’t even in question here.
    Yahweh was answering the concerns of Miriam and Aaron – their concerns were not
    about polygamy. You are basically saying that ‘polygamy wasn’t mentioned, but
    it should have been’. Thus there is no support for your claim that it is a blatant fact that the Bible portrays
    Yahweh as supporting polygamy. There is nothing blatant here at all. Rather,
    the concept is not even mentioned!

    Reasonable faithless: What does it mean
    for Saul’s house to be given to David? That’s obvious enough, right? David now
    owns Saul’s house. And what does it mean for Saul’s wives to be given into your
    arms?

    Tim: I would prefer to dig a little
    deeper into the Hebrew language and grammar (to which I am limitedly able) rather than
    just assert ‘read it, it’s obvious enough, right?’

    Reasonably faithless: Look it up in
    loads of different versions – are you claiming that all these (mostly
    conservative) translators are just guilty of an “unfortunately common
    misreading”?

    Tim: Not at all! Rather, I’m stating
    that you, who have approached the scriptures looking for a decree on the
    acceptance of polygamy have misunderstood passages. This is what you have done
    here.

    Reasonably faithless: However, while
    Gen 2:24 may not be used in support of the idea that Yahweh (as portrayed in
    the OT) is in favour of polygamy, I think it does show that it is dubious to
    conclude from it that Yahweh is against it.

    Tim: As you have said, Gen 2:24 may not
    be used in support of the idea that Yahweh supports polygamy. My discussion of
    the grammar utilised by Christ as he quotes this passage is not dubious. If you
    feel it is, you should explain this.

    Reasonably faithless: And, if we’re
    talking about Jesus quoting this to lend support to an anti-polygamy viewpoint,
    why not use it to lend support to a zero-tolerance no-divorce viewpoint? After
    all, that’s what Jesus was specifically saying.

    Anonymous: Perhaps there’s more to it
    than that. One would also need to look at the other instances of this teaching.

    Reasonably faithless: Do you mean
    Leviticus 18:18? (…) I think it’s obvious enough that this is saying that,
    while it is fine to have more than one wife, don’t have two sisters as wives
    (and gives a reason for this – rivalry).

    Tim: Yes, sorry I meant Leviticus.
    Again, you’re reading more into this than what it says. Do you acknowledge that
    it doesn’t actually say, ‘while it’s fine to have more than one wife’? The only
    description of a polygamous relationship outlined here is that of a man, his
    wife and his wife’s sister and this is prohibited. How do you get a reading
    that polygamy is ‘blatantly’ taught in the OT from a law of prohibition? I
    accept that one could read this passage to mean that other forms of polygamous
    relationships may be acceptable – but such teaching is not here (nor anywhere
    else). Thus, it cannot be asserted. And one cannot utilise the word ‘blatant’
    with such a piece of evidence.

    Tim: I said the following, “ Lastly, Stark returns to the 2
    Sam 12:8 passage. Unfortunately, Stark does not produce any discussion on the
    multiple uses of the word ‘חֵיק’ which can be rendered in a variety
    of ways (both literally and figuratively).”

    Reasonably faithless: I don’t think
    what you say “follows quite easily” really follows at all. In fact,
    all you’ve said is that “one could render the passage” to say
    something completely contrary to a face-level reading. Well, one *could* do
    whatever one wanted – the question is whether one is really justified in doing
    so, and the standard translations don’t seem to think your suggested
    translation is warranted.

    Tim: You actually haven’t provided any evidence whatsoever
    that Yahweh is supporting polygamy here. You seem to feel that I am guilty of
    doing ‘whatever I want’ to the passage, but this is not what I have done.
    Rather, I have examined the word ‘חֵיק’ which can be
    translated as arms, bosom, base, care, lap (and other words). Thus it proceeds
    that the passage is stating that what was Saul’s became David’s. The wives of
    Saul are specifically mentioned here (along with everything in Judah and
    Israel) to emphasise the point in question, namely that David took another
    man’s wife when he really didn’t need to. Now in this context, Yahweh is
    concerned that David chose to take another man’s wife when he had the
    opportunity to choose from the women whom he adopted through his ascension.
    This fits perfectly with Nathan’s analogy given earlier in the passage. Why
    take what is someone else’s when you have plenty to choose from of your own?

    I asked you the following question: Can
    you please provide support of the claim that Yahweh supports polygamy?

    I must say that you haven’t been able to do this. Instead,
    you’ve taken small fragments of scripture and stated that one ‘could read it
    this way’. You, along with Stark, have even
    argued your point from the absence of evidence. You’ve stated, ‘It
    would have been a great opportunity for Yahweh to have said…’ This is simply
    not good enough.

    Examining the word you chose to use (IE. ‘blatant’) to
    describe the support of polygamy one finds that it means ‘openly’, or ‘lacking
    in subtlety’. I see none of your arguments containing anything carrying such
    weight as would warrant the use of such an adjective.

    Rather, with my argument into the use of the singular
    personal pronoun ‘αὐτοῦ’ in
    Christ’s teaching (which you chose not to respond to) I
    have shown that the marriage of a man to one woman was Christ’s ideal form of
    marriage relationship. There are other points I could raise. For example,
    Paul’s discussion of a man’s duty to his wife and vice versa clearly indicates
    to his audience his ideal form of marriage relationship as being one man and
    one woman. For example, where Paul states, ‘τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γυναῖκα οὕτως ἀγαπάτω
    ὡς ἑαυτόν’ the use of the singular for
    all cases indicates that Paul is discussing monogamous marriages – not
    polygamous.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless Reasonably Faithless

      Thanks for your reply, Tim.

      You stated the following, ‘And this is all to completely ignore the blatant fact that the Bible portrays Yahweh as supporting polygamy’.

      How is this fact ‘blatant’? Where is it explicitly taught?

      When you look at what the Old Testament has to say about polygamy, you don’t find a single instance of it being condemned, even though all kinds of things (some seemingly trivial) are condemned in no uncertain terms, often with extremely harsh punishments. This kind of argument from silence is perfectly valid – if you’d expect to find something if it existed, but it is glaringly absent, then that is good grounds to suppose that it might not exist – in this case, “something” is evidence in the Bible (in the form of a prohibitive law) that Yahweh is against polygamy if he really is.

      When people were discovered to be working on the Sabbath, or not killing enough enemies, Yahweh is recorded as punishing them, sometimes very harshly. When he is confronted with polygamy, he interacts with the person as if polygamy is the most natural thing in the world (which it would have been to the OT authors, as that was the style at the time). In at least one case, it seems that Yahweh even provided numerous wives for a person (King David – see below).

      I think that all this, and more, is far more consistent with the hypothesis “Yahweh supports polygamy” than “Yahweh doesn’t support polygamy”.

      I know you don’t like the word “blatant”, but it seems perfectly obvious to me, and everyone I’ve talked to about it that doesn’t have a *need* to distance Yahweh from support of polygamy.

      Then why did you make the following statement, “We humans have simply invented a

      word to describe a certain kind of publicly declared and recognised relationship.” If you can’t show that this is actually true, aren’t you just as

      guilty of ignoring your burden of proof as Bird?

      I think money is a legal fiction, even though I can’t tell you when it was first used (etc). And I also think marriage is a legal fiction, even though I can’t tell you when it was first used (etc). However…

      If I were simply making a standalone statement, then I probably should have added “For all we know” to the beginning. However, the context for that sentence is the following:

      “I suppose if marriage is not ordained by some kind of transcendental power, then it probably is a kind of legal fiction, in much the same way that things like property ownership are legal fictions – sure, you have a piece of paper saying you own your house, but do you really own it? But what exactly is the problem with that? We humans have simply invented a word to describe a certain kind of publicly declared and recognised relationship…”

      Perhaps I should have said “would be” rather than “is” to make it clearer that all I was saying is that I don’t see there being any problem with marriage being a legal fiction (if it indeed is).

      Yes, but you took one further step

      and *asserted it* as part of your discussion. There was no ‘for all we know’.

      Would you let me get away with the following statement: ‘For all we know, God

      instituted marriage’?

      If I claimed without a shadow of doubt that marriage was invented by humans, then I suppose you could say ‘For all we know, God instituted marriage’ in order to remind me of my burden of proof. I apologise if sloppiness on my part caused you to think I was making an absolute claim.

      The issue of polygamy wasn’t even in question here.

      Yahweh was answering the concerns of Miriam and Aaron – their concerns were not

      about polygamy. You are basically saying that ‘polygamy wasn’t mentioned, but

      it should have been’. Thus there is no support for your claim that it is a blatant fact that the Bible portrays

      Yahweh as supporting polygamy. There is nothing blatant here at all. Rather,

      the concept is not even mentioned!

      Well, I certainly acknowledge that Numbers 12 is a strange passage. However, it does start off with the following verse:

      “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite” (Num 12:1)

      When they actually spoke to God, they said “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” (Num 12:2)

      But the context of verse 1 seems to indicate that the issue was the wife Moses had taken, and surely God would have known this. God simply punished them (or at least Miriam) for speaking against Moses. Surely this means he approved of Moses’ marriage, or do you think God disapproved of it?

      This is an example of something that seems blatantly obvious to me, and other people I’ve spoken to. We’re not just looking for stuff to confirm some view we have – we just can’t help but see what is obviously there. (And I’m happy to accept that, just like the Bible seems obviously to contain passages that seem immoral to me, so too do some atheists and agnostics have views I would not hesitate to say I dislike.)

      I would prefer to dig a little

      deeper into the Hebrew language and grammar (to which I am limitedly able) rather than

      just assert ‘read it, it’s obvious enough, right?’

      In some things, it just seems completely clear. God is said to have given Saul’s house to David – we don’t look for different ways to interpret these words, because it’s clear what is meant. Right after, it says God also gave Saul’s wives to David (into his bosom, even) – nobody who was comfortable with polygamy would see the need to reinterpret this.

      The Bible translators looked into the Hebrew words and grammar and decided that this was the appropriate way to translate the passage. The vast majority of the English speaking world has access to the Bible through English translations and, from my search of half a dozen of the most popular translations, it seems they all agree this is the appropriate way to word things. Where a passage might be difficult to grasp even in English, I can see the need to get technical with the Hebrew, but in such an obvious case, it seems it’s more a case of doing it because one doesn’t like the obvious surface level meaning.

      Obviously, biblical perspicuity is a different matter, but I think it’s important.

      Not at all! Rather, I’m stating

      that you, who have approached the scriptures looking for a decree on the

      acceptance of polygamy have misunderstood passages. This is what you have done

      here.

      As I said above, no, we don’t look for passages to support the idea that God favours polygamy. We come to that conclusion after having observed the existence of such passages. Of course, later on when we wish to demonstrate this to someone, we *do* go looking for the passages (just like you would if you wished to show that God was against homosexuality). But thanks for clearing up what you meant. Do I take it that you think that it is an “unfortunately common misreading” for the typical person who sees a sentence like “I [Yahweh] gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms” as meaning that Yahweh gave Saul’s wives to David *to be his wives*?

      As you have said, Gen 2:24 may not

      be used in support of the idea that Yahweh supports polygamy. My discussion of

      the grammar utilised by Christ as he quotes this passage is not dubious. If you

      feel it is, you should explain this.

      Slight clarification, I meant “may” as in “might” (ie, it might not be useful for that purpose). I think you are guilty of a double standard here, though. Consider your complaint of the Numbers 12 point. You said that, because God was (supposedly) addressing the issue of Aaron and Miriam’s complaint of God somehow favouring Moses, rather than directly speaking to polygamy, it couldn’t be taken as saying something about polygamy. Well, here Jesus is speaking about divorce. He seems to be using the Genesis passage to say that married people should not be separated – “one flesh”, etc. Since he is not speaking about polygamy, if we followed your advice re Numbers 12, I think we would have to say that Jesus did not mean his words to say anything about polygamy here.

      I’m certainly not an expert on Greek, but I just don’t see why it couldn’t be the case that Jesus was speaking to someone about them divorcing their wife, and so, therefore, didn’t overcomplicate things by speaking about multiple wives. Besides, if what he said was true about one of your wives, surely it’s true about all of them.

      But, in any case, I don’t feel that this is an entirely relevant discussion, since I don’t think that Jesus’ interpretation of the Old Testament is *necessarily* true. I don’t think the OT authors need to be interpreted in light of Jesus any more than I think my writing needs to be interpreted in light of Richard Dawkins’ books.

      Perhaps there’s more to it

      than that. One would also need to look at the other instances of this teaching.

      This kind of approach seems very problematic to me. Whatever Jesus *might* have been implying about polygamy, it is very clear what he is *actually* saying about divorce. Why be so willing to go completely against his explicit statements here? If other passages say it’s OK to divorce your wife, then wouldn’t this simply *contradict* Jesus’ words, rather than just make us think “there’s more to it”?

      Yes, sorry I meant Leviticus.

      Again, you’re reading more into this than what it says. Do you acknowledge that

      it doesn’t actually say, ‘while it’s fine to have more than one wife’? The only

      description of a polygamous relationship outlined here is that of a man, his

      wife and his wife’s sister and this is prohibited. How do you get a reading

      that polygamy is ‘blatantly’ taught in the OT from a law of prohibition? I

      accept that one could read this passage to mean that other forms of polygamous

      relationships may be acceptable – but such teaching is not here (nor anywhere

      else). Thus, it cannot be asserted. And one cannot utilise the word ‘blatant’

      with such a piece of evidence.

      Yes, I acknowledge that words that aren’t on the page are not, in fact, on the page. However, I pointed out why this was irrelevant, and gave another analogy to make the point even clearer. If I said “Please don’t wear your red hat with the blue stripes”, surely I’m not implying that you shouldn’t wear any hat at all. I’m probably implicitly saying that I don’t mind if you wear a hat – at worst, you could be forgiven for thinking I was implicitly saying this, and it would have to be said that my level of specificity should lead people to think it.

      Also, please note that you are (unintentionally, I think) distorting my words. I didn’t say that “polygamy is ‘blatantly’ taught in the OT” – rather, I refered to the “the blatant fact that the Bible portrays Yahweh as supporting polygamy”. Bird himself did not dispute this, but just said “[i]t was part of ancient near eastern culture which the patriarchs and Israelites lived in”.

      Having said that, for the reasons I’ve given above, I think it is abundantly obvious that someone who would specifically command a man not to marry two *sisters* rather than not to marry two *women*, would *never* issue a command not to marry two women, and would give numerous rules about how to relate to more than one wife, quite clearly is perfectly happy with polygamy in general, but just not certain forms of it.

      Another analogy would be laws that we have against marriages between a brother and a sister. If the Bible said “A man must not marry his sister”, should this be taken as speaking against a man marrying *any* woman? Surely not. Surely it would be obvious that marriage was an acceptable thing, but that God wanted to ban *this* form of it.

      You actually haven’t provided any evidence whatsoever

      that Yahweh is supporting polygamy here. You seem to feel that I am guilty of

      doing ‘whatever I want’ to the passage, but this is not what I have done.

      Rather, I have examined the word ‘חֵיק’ which can be

      translated as arms, bosom, base, care, lap (and other words). Thus it proceeds

      that the passage is stating that what was Saul’s became David’s. The wives of

      Saul are specifically mentioned here (along with everything in Judah and

      Israel) to emphasise the point in question, namely that David took another

      man’s wife when he really didn’t need to. Now in this context, Yahweh is

      concerned that David chose to take another man’s wife when he had the

      opportunity to choose from the women whom he adopted through his ascension.

      This fits perfectly with Nathan’s analogy given earlier in the passage. Why

      take what is someone else’s when you have plenty to choose from of your own?

      I’ve provided *so much* evidence that Yahweh is (said to) support polygamy, here and elsewhere…

      I’m not saying you are doing whatever you want. I’m just saying that your choice of words sound suspicious. I’ll repeat my point: By saying “one could render the passage”, you’re not saying “one really should render the passage” – you *could* render the passage to say anything, so just saying that you *could* render it to say a particular thing is not a particularly informative thing to say. But I am just commenting on your wording here. Maybe you meant “one really should render the passage” in the way you thought?

      Everything you said there about the interpretation of the passage seems to indicate that God did, indeed, give all of Saul’s wives to David to be his wives. You’re even saying that David didn’t need to take another wife because he already had a lot of wives, who “he adopted through his ascention”. Or do you mean to say you think God gave Saul’s wives (some or most of which would have been around Saul’s age, and therefore older than David) as adopted children? (Just checking your wording.)

      By the way, I don’t see anything in the passage to support your claim that “Yahweh is concerned that David chose to take another man’s wife [when he already had access to other wives]“. Rather, Yahweh seems more concerned that David killed a man to take his wife, and has no problem with the fact that it would result in him having more than one. (You again seem to be reading this passage with a double standard.)

      I asked you the following question: Can

      you please provide support of the claim that Yahweh supports polygamy?

      I must say that you haven’t been able to do this. Instead,

      you’ve taken small fragments of scripture and stated that one ‘could read it

      this way’. You, along with Stark, have even

      argued your point from the absence of evidence. You’ve stated, ‘It

      would have been a great opportunity for Yahweh to have said…’ This is simply

      not good enough.

      You can say as many times as you want that I haven’t given you any support of the claim that Yahweh supports polygamy (reportedly, according to OT authors). But I have given loads of support. With no personal insult intended (for I used to do the same thing, and know that honest and intelligent people can do this), I think you are guilty of reading these passages with your mind made up that they *couldn’t* support polygamy. So it comes as no real surprise to me that you don’t find anything I could say satisfactory.

      But I do find it baffling that you’d say I’ve “taken small fragments of scripture and stated that one ‘could read it this way’”. By “small fragments of scripture”, do you mean the parts of scripture that refer to polygamy? I’m happy to look at each passage that talks about polygamy, together with their surrounding context, and evaluate them as a whole. There are no passages I need to cover up because of obviously teaching against polygamy. And I don’t recall ever basing anything on the claim that one “could read [a certain passage] this way”. I do recall taking issue at *you* doing that!

      And, as I said above, some arguments from silence are completely valid. If I claimed that a million elephants walk past my office window every lunch time, then you could deduce I was wrong if you watched one lunch time and didn’t see any elephants. As I said, there are loads of prohibitions in the Bible, even some for certain kinds of polygamy. You definitely get the idea that if God really was against polygamy, he’d say so – he could have saved all the effort of banning those specific kinds of polygamy by just a blanket ban. *However*, this is far from my whole case, as the above discussion should make very clear.

      Examining the word you chose to use (IE. ‘blatant’) to

      describe the support of polygamy one finds that it means ‘openly’, or ‘lacking

      in subtlety’. I see none of your arguments containing anything carrying such

      weight as would warrant the use of such an adjective.

      Well, you don’t think the Bible portrays Yahweh as supportive of polygamy, so I’m sure you don’t think it is blatantly obvious that it does. But I think it is. When you examine every single passage around polygamy, I think it is pretty clear that support is there.

      Rather, with my argument into the use of the singular

      personal pronoun ‘αὐτοῦ’ in

      Christ’s teaching (which you chose not to respond to) I

      have shown that the marriage of a man to one woman was Christ’s ideal form of

      marriage relationship.

      I don’t think anything you said reveals what “Christ’s ideal form of marriage relationship” is, not at all. I discussed this above, so won’t repeat it. I hope you are happy that I addressed your point in this message even if I may not have last time. I also don’t think this has any bearing on how Yahweh is portrayed as having felt about polygamy by the OT authors (unless you can demonstrate that Jesus’ view is automatically Yahweh’s view, so that the OT needs to be reinterpreted in light of Jesus’ views).

      There are other points I could raise. For example,

      Paul’s discussion of a man’s duty to his wife and vice versa clearly indicates

      to his audience his ideal form of marriage relationship as being one man and

      one woman. For example, where Paul states, ‘τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γυναῖκα οὕτως ἀγαπάτω

      ὡς ἑαυτόν’ the use of the singular for

      all cases indicates that Paul is discussing monogamous marriages – not

      polygamous.

      Again, I don’t see why Paul’s views need make me change my mind that the OT portrays Yahweh as being supportive of polygamy. Can you give me a reason to do so? I’m not claiming that every single time polygamy is raised in the Bible (including the NT), it is to praise it. But, even if there were clear teachings against polygamy in some part of the Bible (and it seems there isn’t, or you and/or apologists would have provided it), this would not mean we should deduce God is against it – all it would show is that there was a massive contradiction.

      • Tim Chavura

        James:
        When you look at what the Old Testament has to say about polygamy, you don’t
        find a single instance of it being condemned, …This kind of argument from
        silence is perfectly valid – if you’d expect to find something if it existed,
        but it is glaringly absent, then that is good grounds to suppose that it might
        not exist – in this case, “something” is evidence in the Bible (in
        the form of a prohibitive law) that Yahweh is against polygamy if he really is.

        Tim: This type
        of argument is actually not “perfectly valid” given the fact that there are
        stronger passages which speak against polygamy (Gen 2, Deut 17, Matt 19, 1 Cor
        6, Eph 5, 1 Tim 3, Tit 1) than the passages ‘of silence’ you’re using to
        support your argument. Further, to argue that prohibitions against polygamy are
        ‘glaringly absent’ begs the question. You presuppose that there ought to be
        strong prohibitions on the matter. Not only have you maintained an argument
        from silence, you’ve stated what ‘ought to have happened’ if…

        James:
        (on Miriam and Aaron) But the context of verse 1 seems to indicate that the
        issue was the wife Moses had taken, and surely God would have known this. God
        simply punished them (or at least Miriam) for speaking against Moses. Surely
        this means he approved of Moses’ marriage, or do you think God disapproved of
        it?

        Tim: You’ve
        established a false dichotomy here, James. It’s not either 1) God approved of
        it or, 2) God disapproved. Rather, as I’ve already stated: God said nothing on
        the issue. Thus, we should look at other passages which will shed more light on
        this topic. This passage does nothing for either of our

        James:
        In some things, it just seems completely clear. God is said to have given
        Saul’s house to David – we don’t look for different ways to interpret these
        words, because it’s clear what is meant. Right after, it says God also gave
        Saul’s wives to David (into his bosom, even) – nobody who was comfortable with
        polygamy would see the need to reinterpret this.

        Tim: When you say, ‘It’s clear what he meant’, you may
        be in a better position to claim this if you actually interacted with the
        biblical Hebrew. I have given a valid explanation of the passage in question.
        Namely:

        1. David has
        murdered a man so he could take his wife as his own

        2. Nathan is sent
        by God to tell David that he has committed sin

        3. Nathan uses a
        parable of a man with plenty taking something from someone with little

        4. David agrees
        that this is wrong

        5. Nathan (using
        God’s words) convicts David of his sin

        6. God says I gave
        to you Saul’s house and Saul’s wives, yet you struck down Uriah the Hittite and
        took his wife.

        God had already expressed to Israel that a King
        ‘multiplying’ his wives is not a good idea and thus, shouldn’t be done (Deut
        17:14-20). This, of course is not a command demanding monogamy as some may read
        into it. Rather, it’s an acknowledgement that having multiple wives leads a
        husband away from God (cf. David, Solomon, Saul). Even though God had
        instituted marriage between two people (Gen 2), following the fall and the
        entry of rebellion into the world, plural relationships began.

        Tim: (on reading into the scriptures) Not at all!
        Rather, I’m stating that you, who have approached the scriptures looking for a
        decree on the acceptance of polygamy have misunderstood passages. This is what
        you have done here.

        James:
        As I said above, no, we don’t look for passages to support the idea that God
        favours polygamy. We come to that conclusion after having observed the
        existence of such passages.

        Tim: You have still yet to produce one passage which
        indicates (blatantly) that Yahweh supports polygamy. Of course, I agree with
        you that polygamy was present in Israel and in the broader Middle Eastern
        community at the time. But there is no passage in scripture which indicates
        that Yahweh supported this practice. If there was, I’m sure you would simply
        produce the passage and that would be that. End of discussion. Rather, I have
        produced passages to the contrary – passages both in the Old Testament and in
        the New which either allude or explicitly point to the idea that Yahweh did in
        fact not support polygamy.

        James: But thanks for clearing up what you
        meant. Do I take it that you think that it is an “unfortunately common
        misreading” for the typical person who sees a sentence like “I
        [Yahweh] gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your
        arms” as meaning that Yahweh gave Saul’s wives to David *to be his wives*?

        Tim: Yes.

        James:
        I think you are guilty of a double standard here, though. Consider your
        complaint of the Numbers 12 point. You said that, because God was (supposedly)
        addressing the issue of Aaron and Miriam’s complaint of God somehow favouring
        Moses, rather than directly speaking to polygamy, it couldn’t be taken as
        saying something about polygamy. Well, here Jesus is speaking about divorce. He
        seems to be using the Genesis passage to say that married people should not be
        separated – “one flesh”, etc. Since he is not speaking about
        polygamy, if we followed your advice re Numbers 12, I think we would have to
        say that Jesus did not mean his words to say anything about polygamy here.

        Tim: No double
        standard here, James. Jesus, in his discussions on divorce, needed to present
        marriage as a God-ordained relationship with spiritual significance. IN other
        words, Jesus talks about both marriage and divorce. Thus there is no problem
        with me gleaning from his more minor points.

        Once Jesus had
        made this point (two shall become one flesh), he moved on to his chief point
        about divorce. Within his short discourse of God-ordained marriage, one easily
        gathers that Jesus taught that two people become one, spiritually. Thus
        rendered in Greek, ‘ὥστε οὐκέτι εἰσὶν δύο ἀλλὰ
        μία σάρξ’. The word ‘δύο’ meaning
        ‘two’ precedes the word ‘ἀλλὰ’ meaning ‘but’. The sentence ends with ‘μία
        σάρξ’ meaning ‘one flesh’. So here, Christ says this is a
        marriage relationship – two people. Now I shall talk about divorce etc…

        Your
        notion that I am guilty of a double standard is unfounded. Instead, you should
        actually interact with my argument. Why won’t you do this?

        James:
        I’m certainly not an expert on Greek, but I just don’t see why it couldn’t be
        the case that Jesus was speaking to someone about them divorcing their wife,
        and so, therefore, didn’t overcomplicate things by speaking about multiple
        wives. Besides, if what he said was true about one of your wives, surely it’s
        true about all of them.

        Tim: Evidence, please?

        James:
        But, in any case, I don’t feel that this is an entirely relevant discussion,
        since I don’t think that Jesus’ interpretation of the Old Testament is
        *necessarily* true. I don’t think the OT authors need to be interpreted in
        light of Jesus any more than I think my writing needs to be interpreted in
        light of Richard Dawkins’ books.

        Tim: Can you tell me how Jesus interpreted the Old
        Testament? If Jesus taught polygamy, would you still argue that his teaching is
        not relevant?

        James:
        I think you are guilty of reading these passages with your mind made up that
        they *couldn’t* support polygamy. So it comes as no real surprise to me that
        you don’t find anything I could say satisfactory.

        Tim: Not at all. I’ve already conceded that the
        Leviticus passage could be used to support other forms of polygamy (just not
        incestuous forms). One could easily render the passage to mean – as you engage
        in polygamy, don’t do this…

        But My point on this was as follows – there is nothing
        to support the argument that Yahweh approved of, supported or endorsed
        polygamous relationships. Thus, one could just as easily read the Leviticus
        passage (in it’s proper context of incestuous relationships) that all forms of
        incestuous relationships are prohibited – even this type of polygamous one, but
        that it is silent on all other forms of polygamy given that the context is not
        on polygamy but rather, on incest, and as such, no explicit teaching on polygamy
        (general) can be inferred.

        Given the clearer passages on monogamy and polygamy in
        the Old and New testaments, it’s seems a safer interpretation of the words of
        Yahweh to take that 1) sexual sin existed, 2) Yahweh was patient with offenders
        (Matt 19, Mark 10), 3) Jesus reminded his followers of Yahweh’s original,
        proper plan for marriage relationships which was disobeyed.

        James: You definitely get the idea that
        if God really was against polygamy, he’d say so…

        Tim: I have demonstrated this in both the Old and New
        testaments. How would you render Gen 2 as Yahweh advocating polygamous
        relationships?

        James:
        Well, you don’t think the Bible portrays Yahweh as supportive of polygamy, so
        I’m sure you don’t think it is blatantly obvious that it does. But I think it
        is. When you examine every single passage around polygamy, I think it is pretty
        clear that support is there.

        Tim: I get the impression here that you are accusing
        me of making up my mind before I read the Bible. I don’t believe this is
        evident in my daily life, nor in my discussion here. Rather, I have (and
        continue to) exegetically engaged with the scriptures so as to understand the
        proper context and read from them their meaning and message. This is something
        I take very seriously and I remain unconvinced of your argument.

        If I were to argue that monogomous marriage was
        Yahweh’s ideal, could I find blatant passages to support it? I believe the
        answer is ‘yes’.

        1. Gen 2:24 – That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united
        to his wife, and they become one flesh.

        2. 1 Tim 3:12 – A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his
        children and his household well.

        3. Ephesians 5:28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as
        their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

        There are more passages I could quote but I don’t think I need to. It is clearly
        more reasonable to believe that the Bible, in both the Old and New
        testaments does not portray Yahweh as supporting polygamy, but rather, that the Bible, both Old and New testaments portrays Yahweh as supporting monogamous relationships.

        • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless Reasonably Faithless

          Tell you what, Tim. This conversation has ventured completely into one about polygamy, even though the original blog post was about same sex marriage. I really don’t mind that at all, but (as would be no surprise to you at all) I do plan one day to write a whole blog about polygamy. I could keep replying here, but how about we continue this conversation when I make that post? I’ll keep your comments from this discussion in mind to make sure I address what you consider the most important points.