If you don’t approve of same-sex marriage, don’t marry someone of the same sex

I found this image while reading an interesting piece about same-sex marriages in the early Christian era. Here’s an excerpt:

In the famous St. Catherine’s monastery on Mount Sinai, there is an icon which shows two robed Christian saints getting married. Their ‘pronubus’ (official witness, or “best man”) is none other than Jesus Christ.

The happy couple are 4th Century Christian martyrs, Saint Serge and Saint Bacchus — both men.

Severus of Antioch in the sixth century explained that “we should not separate in speech [Serge and Bacchus] who were joined in life.” More bluntly, in the definitive 10th century Greek account of their lives, Saint Serge is described as the “sweet companion and lover (erastai)” of St. Bacchus.

It’s interesting how religious conservatives keep going on about how legal recognition of same-sex relationships would destroy the “traditional” view of marriage. What tradition would that be, then? The tradition that gave us the Spanish Inquisition? Clearly not the tradition of the early Christian church.

I’m not a Christian and wouldn’t dream of telling Christians what they should think about same-sex marriage. I actually don’t mind if heterosexual people – Christian or otherwise – disapprove. They’re welcome to, in fact. They don’t have to marry a person of the same sex if they don’t want to. That’s not the same as allowing them to deny that right to others who feel differently.

And what’s this tripe about same-sex marriage “threatening” of “devaluing” traditional marriage? Is the function of marriage simply to make married people feel superior to those who aren’t allowed to be married? That’s what that argument sounds like to me. If that’s what it’s for I think the state should withdraw legal recognition from all forms of marriage and let us all be treated equally by the law, as individuals.

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81 Responses to “If you don’t approve of same-sex marriage, don’t marry someone of the same sex”

  1. While I agree with your sentiment, the whole idea of Christianity is based on guilt and saving others from their sins. One English church official compared your argument to the government re-introducing slavery but not requiring anyone to actually own a slave. That really is the level they see it on. Consider that in many countries certain sexual practices are forbidden even among married consenting adult heterosexual couples in private. The only motivation is “because they are wrong”.

    It is difficult to argue rationally with a belief system which is not based on rationality.

    While I agree with you that the best solution is that marriage have no legal status at all, many people work for same-sex marriage even if they would rather have no legal status for marriage since they see it as a more attainable goal which would reduce discrimination, which might be true. However, there is something to the argument that if same-sex marriage is allowed, then so to must marriage to more than one person. I agree with this, but my response is not that this is a reason to disallow same-sex marriage but rather to allow any sort of marriage involving consenting adults, with the attendant benefits. If society doesn’t want this, then it should not give any legal benefit to marriage, just as there is no legal benefit to belonging to a specific religion anymore in sensible countries.

    • telescoper Says:

      Another idiotic argument was produced by a Conservative politician who said that the idea of gay marriage would require Shakespeare to be re-written so as to expunge heterosexual couples. The “logic” (such as it is) appears to be that same-sex marriage would invalidate the orthodox variety, which of course it wouldn’t. Allowing people of the same sex to wed in no way devalues or threatens heterosexual marriage. It just means taking one small step to a more inclusive society, which is something to which some people are fundamentally opposed.

      • My (opposite-sex) wife and I have spent considerable time in US states where same-sex marriage is legal. Interestingly, our marriage was not destroyed by the proximity to legally-married same-sex couples.

      • This is particularly ironic since in Shakespeare’s time all female roles were played by males.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Phillip, I must protest against your comment that “the whole idea of Christianity is based on guilt and saving others from their sins”. Presenting a half-truth, as in this statement, is a lot more misleading than talking unmitigated nonsense. IF you believe that the universe didn’t get here on its own, and that the anthropic principle and the beauty of the laws of physics constitute good evidence for an intelligent and aesthetic designer, then unless you are confident that you have never sinned in any way in your life then you are going to need forgiveness from the creator, because sin messes up his creation and he is unhappy about that. The good news is that he provides a way – and in doing so actually helps you to behave better; he doesn’t just bark “Stop it!”

      Where the church has behaved coercively it has behaved differently from its founder, Jesus of Nazareth, who is the exemplar for Christians and the one whose behaviour we are helped to model our own on. I believe that the mediaeval era was mainly a culture in which people believed that the Bible was true, rather than a culture in which most people were deeply personally committed to Christ. That is why science grew up in a Christian milieu wherein it was accepted that the universe was created real and ordered, and that all differentiation was not an illusion (as Eastern monism held); yet it was not necessary for scientists to be men of piety themselves.

      • Certainly guilt is important, since where there is no guilt there is no need for salvation. The idea of original sin automatically makes everyone a sinner by birth—how convenient.

        (I also don’t see why the crucifixion was necessary for forgiveness to occur. If God wants to forgive sinners, surely he could just forgive them without any need to have Christ suffer for the sins. Also, it wasn’t that much suffering: many people have suffered much more, without the knowledge that they would soon rise from the dead and live happily ever after.)

        If anything, the anthropic principle provides evidence against the need for a creator. Even if science doesn’t understand everything now, that doesn’t mean that some things are necessarily forever beyond its reach. Science is a method of thinking, not a collection of dogma. A few hundred years ago, science didn’t know about gorillas, but this was not some essential incompleteness of science, but just a reflection of the fact that the journey wasn’t over (and it might never be over). However, even if I could be convinced that there is evidence for a creator, or for the fact that we are part of a computer simulation (which I think Lord Rees believes now), I see no reason to equate this with the God of the Bible.

        As for needing forgiveness, I believe Pascal wagered about that. But there are so many gods so that to be on the safe side one would have to follow all religions to be sure. However, many religions prohibit one from following others as well, so it is just a bet which one is right. But if I have to bet, I feel more confident betting that none of them are right.

        I agree with you that many so-called followers of Christ don’t actually follow his teachings. (Just yesterday, I was reading about the Catholic Church castrating victims of sexual abuse by priests as a “cure” for their (the victims’) homosexuality. This was in the 1950s.) However, what did he teach? There are many contradictions between the gospels—they can’t even agree on his last words on the cross. And the 4 gospels in the Bible were essentially voted in, and others voted out, in the middle ages. But even if I agree with his teachings (my personal behaviour is probably more Christian that that of many Christians in this sense), I see no need to be saved. The basic tenets which all sensible people can agree on are so general that many atheists can (and do) follow them.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Phillip,

        You wrote: “guilt is important, since where there is no guilt there is no need for salvation.” Plenty of people who get convicted in court don’t believe they did anything wrong. But they don’t set the law.

        “I also don’t see why the crucifixion was necessary for forgiveness to occur.” It’s not vindictiveness. People aren’t reformed by being forgiven if no price is paid; they just go off and do it again. But if they can see that it costs someone pretty senior, and who also offers them guidance to reform, then some of them take it seriously and change their lives.

        Anthropic principle: the values of the fundamental constants are those that permitted intelligent life to evolve. Given the range of values they could take, that is altogether remarkable. Even if those values turn out to be determined by a deeper theory, why that theory and not another?

        We are part of a computer simulation? If Martin Rees really believes that then he has been watching too much entertaining crap on DVDs. He should stick to what he is world-class at, rather than amateur metaphysics and politicising the Royal Society.

        Pascal was actually saying the opposite of what most secular people suppose, if you read the “Infiny-rien” section of his Pensees in which the famous wager appears. And while ancient Greece, India etc have hordes of gods, you don’t have many options if you want an intelligent creator, as the anthropic principle and the beauty of the laws of physics suggest.

        I see no inconsistency over the gospels regarding Christ’s last words on the cross, just differing editorial selection of what he did say (maybe more than once in differing ways). The four gospels that made it into the New Testament were written down within a lifetime of the events they describe, whereas there is no trace of the gospels that were rejected until several hundred years later – and they came out of a Grecian culture that had a tradition of putting words into people’s mouths. That is how a minor war got turned into Homer’s epic, for instance. The New Testament canon was settled quite quickly and formalised when the church developed a formal structure and in response to a small minority of dissenters on the subject (eg Marcion).

      • With regard to feeling guilty, the question is whether the law, in the case of Christianity, actually exists. So I’m not like a prisoner saying I have no guilt because I disagree with the law, I’m like a prisoner saying I have no guilt because no law in fact exists.

        The anthropic principle probably makes sense only within the context of the multiverse. Whether or not the multiverse really exists is a topic of current investigation.

        Rees on the multiverse: http://people.pwf.cam.ac.uk/dhm11/MultiverseRees.html

        Rees on being in a simulation: http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/rees03/rees_print.html

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        The multiverse issue is only a subset of the anthropic issue; please remember that the probabilistic calculations involved are doing nothing more than formalising (and hopefully extending) human intuition, ie acting as inductive logic. *Why* (in your own words) do you think the multiverse invalidates the reasoning in my previous contribution to this thread?

        “I’m not like a prisoner saying I have no guilt because I disagree with the law, I’m like a prisoner saying I have no guilt because no law in fact exists.”

        That wouldn’t have washed in ancient Israel, where the Law of Moses was enforced. As for the relevance of its moral components today, I can only say: I am not condemning you, but I am warning you that God will. If you reject the warning then there is no reason for us to fall out, but I shall regret your choice for your sake.

      • I think the idea of a multiverse gives a completely different spin to the anthropic principle. Basically, the anthropic principle without the multiverse says that we find the universe as it is because if it were different we wouldn’t be here. (This is a blog-level simplification, of course; I have read Barrow & Tipler.) This still leaves open the question of why things are as they are, and if you like leaves a gap for a Creator. Tegmark distinguishes 4 levels of multiverses (I wouldn’t call his Level I multiverse a multiverse at all, but he does define his terms and is consistent). In the sense that anything with finite probability exists infinitely often, then in some sense nothing requires an explanation, though some things might be much more common than others. In the more restricted sense of multiverses in the context of inflation, one can ask what the probable values of certain things are, given an inflationary scenario (which, of course, should have some independent justification).

        “That wouldn’t have washed in ancient Israel, where the Law of Moses was enforced.”

        I am glad I didn’t live there and then. It also wouldn’t wash in the theocracies of today, and I’m glad I don’t live there today either.

        “As for the relevance of its moral components today, I can only say: I am not condemning you, but I am warning you that God will. If you reject the warning then there is no reason for us to fall out, but I shall regret your choice for your sake.”

        I genuinely appreciate your concern. I do find it hard to believe, though, in a God who condemns someone not because of his evil nature (the question whether that exists and to what extent one is responsible for it is a completely different issue, of course) but because he made an honest mistake, weighing up the possibilities with his (presumably) God-given mind and for some reason or another coming to the wrong conclusion.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Phillip,

        I confess to not having a full understanding of the multiverse, but you will know that I am an expert on probabilistic inference and have a doctorate in physics, so I am hoping that you can outline to me in a para or two why the multiverse supposedly gets round my scepticism phrased as “What a staggering coincidence, if there is no creator who intended intelligent life, that the universe is such as to facilitate it!”

        What honest mistake are you suggesting God made? I’m confused by what you say.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Sorry Phillip, I’ve just twigged that you mean an honest mistake made by someone who transgresses God’s moral laws without knowing it. The answer is that moral laws are written on the hearts of human beings – it is called a conscience. So there is no such thing as an “honest” mistake.

      • “I confess to not having a full understanding of the multiverse, but you will know that I am an expert on probabilistic inference and have a doctorate in physics, so I am hoping that you can outline to me in a para or two why the multiverse supposedly gets round my scepticism phrased as “What a staggering coincidence, if there is no creator who intended intelligent life, that the universe is such as to facilitate it!”

        There are two points. One is that if everything with finite probability exists infinitely often (what Tegmark calls his “mathematical universe hypothesis”), then in some sense no explanation is needed. In a more restricted multiverse, the question is what is the probability distribution of physical constants, cosmological parameters and thus how probable is our universe. I’m not saying that the issue is solved, but it is a current area of serious research.

        Still, even if there were some evidence for design, creation etc I don’t see how that this implies that the stories about Moses and Jesus are true and those about Zeus and Odin are not.

        “What honest mistake are you suggesting God made? I’m confused by what you say.”

        No, I meant that I (or some other non-believer) makes an honest mistake and ends up in Hell—not because of his evil nature, but because he made an honest mistake.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Peter, I don’t get it. could you fulfil your promise to post on Bayesianism, the anthropic principle and and the multiverse sometime soon?
        Anton

      • telescoper Says:

        Yes, I want to post something on this – and have been making notes for a long time – but it’s not an easy issue and it will have to wait until I have time (a) to figure out a few technical issues and (b) have time to write something sufficiently careful.

        All I can say at the moment is that there is a lot of non-sequitur in most writings on this subject…

      • Didn’t you also want to write a Dialogue on world systems, with Anthropo, Inflatio etc as characters?

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Phillip,

        I don’t know about a Galilean Dialogue, but Peter and I already have the cast list for Mozart’s next opera, including Cappucino and Fettucine, lovers; Marscapone, the baddie; Aceto and Olio, the dressers, Espresso, the messenger; and quite a few others.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        I don’t see that what Tegmark is saying here is any different from people holding the frequentist view of probability when they talk about an ensemble. Such people invariably talk about the ensemble as if it were real unless asked (by Bayesians!) a direct question about whether it is.

        If there is a difference between Tegmark and frequentism that is rooted in cosmology, rather than in ideology of probability theory, what is it?

      • “Express” and related terms are interesting. The original meaning is “press”, which is where the coffee gets its name (not because it is fast, nor because one expressly orders it, both of which improbable explanations I have actually heard). This leads to “expression” and so on, since one presses something (air, an opinion) out of one’s mouth. Express in the sense of fast comes from the idea of a fast messenger (queue Benny Hill as the mediaeval footman) sent to bring the expressed wishes of the King or whatever.

        The essential difference with Tegmark’s idea is the reality of the ensemble, based on ideas from eternal inflation etc.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Can we interact with the ensemble? If not, what does it mean to say it is real, please?

      • To believe in a creator does not automatically make someone believe in an afterlife where “sins” must be atoned for. This is the Santa Claus affect which tells people to be good people not for the sake of being good people…but because you will be punished otherwise.

        I believe in an original creator, I do not believe in sin nor an afterlife. What we are given is what we are given, and the important thing is to live in the “now” and be a good person because this is all we have…it is all we will ever have, and we will never have it again.

  2. One particularly striking thing about the way this question is discussed, at least in the US: the opponents of equal marriage rights can’t come up with anything that even has the superficial appearance of an argument. The most common statement is of the form “I oppose same-sex marriage because I believe marriage is between one man and one woman,” which even a small child can see is simply “I oppose it because I oppose it.”

    I don’t expect my people who disagree with me to come up with *valid* arguments. Obviously that’s impossible: by virtue of the fact that they disagree with me, their positions are insupportable. But I do think they could make the effort to disguise their fallacious reasoning a bit better.

  3. telescoper Says:

    Of course the idea that something might have value for no other reason than its unavailability to other people is not unknown in other contexts. People pay big money to join exclusive private clubs for just such a reason. I’m sure there are also people who enjoy fine wine simply because others can’t afford it.

    Personally I do like good claret, but I wouldn’t feel threatened if suddenly became popular with people who didn’t previously drink it.

    • How much of wine-tasting is voodoo? I recently read a scientific study where, under controlled conditions and more than enough time to do anything they wanted to do, professional violinists were a) not able to distinguish between expensive (and generally perceived good) instruments by Stradivari, Guaneri etc and reasonably good modern instruments for a fraction of the price and b) while they were consistent in which instruments they preferred, there was no correlation with price (the old masters being expensive, of course). I suspect that the same might be true of wine.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        And expensive sound systems. I’ll bet that double-blind tests would embarrass a few experts regarding such matters as gold-plated contacts.

      • Definitely. This has been scientifically tested. Most of the stuff is voodoo. There are people who deep-freeze CDs. There are also people who believe that colouring the edge of a CD improves the sound quality (green is best)—this belief is documented as having arisen from an April Fool’s joke, a satirical article in Der Spiegel (German weekly news magazine) which the aficionados took at face value.

    • telescoper Says:

      I can’t really answer your question, but I am very fortunate when it comes to wine. My palette seems to saturate at about the £20 quid a bottle mark, so there’s no point in me spending more than that, and I’m usually perfectly satisfied after spending a tenner.

    • And even if you did, you wouldn’t expect the power of the state to protect you by preventing other people from drinking it.

  4. regalize Says:

    Oh dear, homophobia still rules OK. That, I feel, is still the problem. Fundamentalists of all persuasions can find (spurious) scripture to propound their prejudices.
    Even more serious, my local supermarkets have drawn a metal screen over the tobacco kiosks in advance of the governments ruling on fag sales. (sorry) . Fortunately, I can tell the staff exactly where my addiction lies. Is it only a matter of time until my Rioja is kept under the counter? Is it only a matter of time when homosexuality is made illegal again?

    • “Fundamentalists of all persuasions can find (spurious) scripture to propound their prejudices.”

      I wouldn’t call them spurious. Yes, I don’t think Jesus mentioned homosexuality, but the Old Testament does. If it is no longer relevant, why is it still part of the Bible? If Jesus updated some things, then presumably only the things he is mentioned to have updated should be considered invalid in the Old Testament. Of course Paul, in the New Testament, also mentions (negatively) homosexuality, and most other religions aren’t much better, if at all.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        To clarify… the standard Christian view is that the Law of Moses in the Old Testament was a socio-legal system for ancient Israel specifically. It is not a constitution for the church since the church is not a nation but a voluntary society. (That is something that got forgotten in the Middle Ages, although the true church back then consisted of dissenting groups like the Lollards and the Waldenses, not the politicised hierarchies that ‘church historians’ write about.) Jesus lived his life under the Law of Moses to which he was willingly obedient. Believers today follow him, not Moses. Nevertheless, Christians believe that what God decreed was morally wrong in the OT did not change at the crucifixion.

      • “Nevertheless, Christians believe that what God decreed was morally wrong in the OT did not change at the crucifixion.”

        That is a clear statement.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Yes it is, Phillip. To clarify, Christians do not believe they have authority to change what God has decreed, and the biblical course of action is to give people a loving warning that they are getting into trouble; not with them but with God, which is not a good place to be. There is no room for condemnation or coercion, because Christians do not believe that they are saved by their own merits. Where the church has condemned and coerced it is because it has had political power which it has abused. But I’ve already said elsewhere that politicised churches are inauthentic compared to the nonconformist movements that tend to spring up around them (and even be persecuted by them).

      • There are many passages in the Bible which condone or even urge the killing of people who have violated some rule. Why are they invalid?

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Phillip,

        Those passages are not ‘invalid,’ but their scope was never universal. They were restricted to ancient Israel, a land where the people had voted by acclamation to accept the laws that God gave. You will not find in the New Testament any passage saying that a Christian should kill or execute anybody outside of the local law. In fact Christians are told to obey local laws unless they involve direct personal denial of God, eg as in Emperor-worship in the ancient Roman Empire.

        Of course you find that God commands capital punishment in ancient Israel. Capital punishment is a separate debate, and while I am not ashamed of it I don’t think that this thread is the place to discuss it.

      • But who decides what was local custom in ancient Israel and what is valid today, what is meant literally and what is meant as a metaphor (and, in such cases, as a metaphor for what?), what from the Old Testament was updated by the New Testament and what not?

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Phillip,

        You asked: “who decides what was local custom in ancient Israel and what is valid today, what is meant literally and what is meant as a metaphor (and, in such cases, as a metaphor for what?), what from the Old Testament was updated by the New Testament and what not?”

        Good questions. First, the Law of Moses was outdated even for Israel as a nation once the crucifixion had taken place, because all of the (animal) sacrifices in it were superseded. That was obvious, but was stated formally in the “Epistle to the Hebrews” (ie, a letter written to a mainly ethnic Jewish congregation of Christians) in the New Testament within a few decades. Nobody knows who wrote it – for a long time it was thought to be St Paul, but the style does not match his other letters, which are reasonably consistent with each other in style.

        If you are a Christian then you area obviously supposed to do what Jesus directed his followers to do. You are not supposed to follow the Law of Moses though, and that is why I have reservations about the slogan popular within the church today, “Do What Jesus Did”. (The people who say this are not actually advocating the Law of Moses; they simply haven’t thought through the implications of their catchphrase.)

        Some people in the 1st-generation church were telling the new gentile converts that they had to do what Moses said as well as what Jesus said. The issue was settled at a council held in Jerusalem and recorded in the New Testament (Acts of the Apostles chapter 15.) A small number of things from the Law of Moses were added to what Jesus said. One, incidentally, is not to eat animals with the blood still in them, and since I came to understand all this (about a decade after my conversion) I have had to refrain from eating shot game birds.

        Jesus repeated 9 of the 10 Commandments to his followers but not the Sabbath one. Happy is the land that gives its workers a day off each week, but I am not sinning if I do some editing (my day job) over a weekend.

        Metaphor? Moses and Jesus were both addressing everyday people, not university professors, and with a little knowledge of ancient Near Eastern culture it is very obvious what is what.

        NB Apart from my comments about the Sabbath, and about nonconformists being the true church in mediaeval times, my explanations on this thread are those held by the great majority of committed Christians.

      • telescoper Says:

        I believe it’s the case that there is nothing about homosexuality in the New Testament that is directly attributable to Jesus. While this doesn’t imply that he approved, it does suggest at least to me that it wasn’t an issue that he felt as strongly about as many modern Christians seem to!

      • “Metaphor? Moses and Jesus were both addressing everyday people, not university professors, and with a little knowledge of ancient Near Eastern culture it is very obvious what is what.”

        It might be obvious to you, but a huge amount of current debate centers around such issues. Were Adam and Eve literally true? The Garden of Eden? The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Original Sin? Virgin birth? Miracles? Resurrection?

      • “I believe it’s the case that there is nothing about homosexuality in the New Testament that is directly attributable to Jesus. While this doesn’t imply that he approved, it does suggest at least to me that it wasn’t an issue that he felt as strongly about as many modern Christians seem to!”

        Indeed. I’ll have to look it up, but IIRC homosexuality is in the same class of sins as greed. It would be nice if modern-day Christians, especially rich televangelists, would address this sin with the same intensity. (I’ll have to check as well on where coveting thy neighbour’s ass fits into the severity ranking.)

        As an aside, note that Jesus is sometimes addressed as “Rabbi” and that the custom was that Rabbis were married, so presumably Jesus was, though most Christians probably disagree, even though his own wedding is described in the Bible. (It is the occasion of his first miracle. It is often assumed that he is a guest at a wedding, but a) he acts if he is responsible for the guests and b) his mother “just happens” to be present. The passage makes more sense if the wedding is in fact Jesus’s own, and of course Mary Magdalene was his wife.)

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Phillip, Peter,

        You say that the church is loud in its condemnation but in fact Christians are being reactive, not pro-active, in this debate, which is not so much about what goes on in bedrooms (where adultery is without doubt the worst thing in our society) as about freedom of speech, and about what children are taught in schools. Peter shares my view that free speech is a higher good and I only wish more of the gay lobby did. As for children, if you advocate the privatisation of marriage, I hope you will be consistent enough to advocate the privatisation of sex education.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Phillip: Paul was a rabbi and unmarried. Moreover the word meant wise teacher and was often used as a courtesy title – it does not invariably mean a graduate of the Jerusalem school of Pharisees. As for the wedding at Cana in John 2, Jesus turns the water into wine and then the emcee, who does not realise that a mirtacle has been performed, commends *the bridegroom* for keeping the better wine back a while. There is no suggestion that the bridegroom, who is mentioned explicitly, is Jesus – and John is not such a man as to write elliptically. Probably this was a wedding of someone in Jesus’ extended family – five or so of his disciples were from his et4enced family, explaining the mass invitation.

        No wife of Jesus is mentioned in any of the gospels, nor in any contemporary account; the idea is traceable only as far back as the era of the gnostic gospels some centuries later. It is about as historically reliable as fine details of historical novels written today about the English Civil War.

        Although I admit I would dearly like to know what Jesus’ Y-chromosome looked like…

        I am talking about the Law of Moses, not Genesis 1. Check out for yourself whether you find it hard to understand. The ancient Israelites didn’t – they found it hard to *obey*.

      • “You say that the church is loud in its condemnation but in fact Christians are being reactive, not pro-active, in this debate, which is not so much about what goes on in bedrooms (where adultery is without doubt the worst thing in our society) as about freedom of speech, and about what children are taught in schools.” [emphasis added]

        Dissenting voices have only been capable of being raised since homosexual people have stopped being jailed, castrated or executed; in many countries, one or more of these punishments are still regularly carried out. Someone dares to speak against some religious sentiment now that it is legal to do so (some did so before it was and suffered for it), the religious folks want to turn the clock back and you call that reactive? Reactionary is the word.

        One could go further, but a minimum is: What two sane adult people do in private (thus by definition not affecting anyone else) is their own business and no-one else’s. If adultery is without a doubt the worst thing in our society in your view, then you can be sure that my pity of you is much greater than your pity of me because I shall go to hell. This minimum requirement is essentially the definition of a sensible society. Rejecting this puts one in line with the Taliban.

        “Peter shares my view that free speech is a higher good and I only wish more of the gay lobby did.”

        At least we can agree on free speech being a higher good.

        “As for children, if you advocate the privatisation of marriage, I hope you will be consistent enough to advocate the privatisation of sex education.”

        Why stop there? What is special about sex education? Why not give parents the right to cut off their children completely from society? This exists in the USA, where fundamentalist homeschoolers can teach anything they want to their children and completely cut them off from society.

        If one believes in any sort of responsibilities of the state at all, surely one of them is to make sure that people have at least a chance to experience a variety of lifestyles which harm no-one and provide an alternative to indoctrination via hate-speech.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Phillip,

        I meant that adultery is the worst thing that goes on in bedrooms in our society.

        We live in a democracy and all I ask is that evangelical Christians and militant gays have equal right to freedom of speech and freedom to lobby. You are entitled to your opinion that the former group are reactionary, but I don’t see what good is done by your saying so.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Phillip,

        You are the one generalising the discussion to talk about education in general. I will not be drawn; all I am talking about is sex education.

      • How do you know what goes on in bedrooms? In any case, I maintain (at least) that whatever two sane adults do in private is no-one’s business but their own.

        The original thread was about same-sex marriage (presumably, of adults), not about sex education (presumably, of children). Of course, these being blog comments, you are free to extend the discussion as far as you want and no further.

        I don’t detect any lack of freedom of speech regarding objections to homosexuality in relation to marriage or education. Quite the opposite in some places, with Russia enacting laws to prohibit discussion of homosexuality.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        “whatever two sane adults do in private is no-one’s business but their own.”

        Not if one of them has taken a pledge to a marital partner not to engage in sexual relations with anybody else. That is why adultery is so bad.

        “I don’t detect any lack of freedom of speech regarding objections to homosexuality in relation to marriage or education. Quite the opposite in some places, with Russia enacting laws to prohibit discussion of homosexuality.”

        Then you are better informed about Russia than about Britain, where the police behave like fascist thugs toward street preachers who touch on the subject. One man’s hate speech is another man’s free speech.

      • OK, add the cuckold to those affected. It’s still none of your business. Also, there can be other promises which are broken which, from the point of view of those concerned, are more important.

        I think there is a difference of emphasis. I haven’t met any gay activists claiming that heterosexual relations are bad, which is presumably what the street preachers claim about homosexual relations. Rather, they say that homosexual relations are good for those who want to have them, which is what (non-celibate) street preachers presumably believe about their own heterosexual relations.

        I’m sure you agree that free speech cannot be absolute (shouting “theatre” in a crowded firehouse etc); the question is whether there is any difference in treatment under the law if one swaps the terms “hetero” and “homo” in relation to the activists and/or what they are campaigning for or against. (Of course, the way in which the law is enforced is a different topic, independent of whether the law should be enforced at all.)

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        “OK, add the cuckold to those affected. It’s still none of your business.”

        None of my personal business if I don’t know the persons involved, but that goes for murder too. I am a member of society and society is plagued by rampant family breakdown which has social consequences. That is why adultery is a social issue.

      • I think there are at least three important differences between murder and adultery. First, in the case of murder, the victim is certainly better off if the murder is stopped before it happens. Since adultery (assuming the cuckold objects to it) is more a symptom than a cause of a bad relationship, it is questionable whether the victim would be better off if the adultery were stopped before it happens. Second, once murder is committed the victim is dead and there is no possibility of any sort of compensation, apology, reconciliation etc. Third, it is clear to everyone what murder is so it makes sense for society as a whole to prevent it (assuming society as a whole disapproves of it). Since there are married couples who voluntarily engage in extramarital sexual relationships, with or without the corresponding spouse, it cannot be clear to an outsider what is adultery and what is not. This can be done only if the state couples the status of marriage to a promise of fidelity, with two options: married and no extramarital sex or not married. IIRC, you are against the state defining marriage at all. In a democratic and pluralistic society (whether secular or not), you cannot expect everyone to conform to your definition of marriage. You are free to suggest to people that it is wrong for married couples to engage in extramarital sex, and, in the tradition of free speech, others should be free to suggest such activities to married couples should the latter so desire them and remind them that they are not against the law (at least in any country in which I would live).

        Note that adultery was not part of the original thread, but rather same-sex marriage. However, many people against adultery are also against same-sex marriage.

        “I am a member of society and society is plagued by rampant family breakdown which has social consequences. That is why adultery is a social issue.”

        Whether society is plagued by rampant family breakdown and if so what consequences it has is not a question with an objective yes/no answer (it isn’t even clear what is the cause and what is the symptom) and even if it were it is not clear if the consequences are good or bad. Note that anyone could use the same argument to justify state control of any type of behaviour, and indeed this is the case in many places and in even more places at earlier times.

        I once saw a chat show where among the guests were a young recently married couple, head scarf and all, who belonged to a fundamentalist Christian religion (one of the “old-fashioned” ones in the style of the Amish etc) and also “Oswalt Kolle (much more information on the German Wikipedia page) and his wife who at the time (shortly before his wife’s death) had been married for almost 50 years in an “open marriage” (and the fact that it was open was also open). When the host mentioned how long they had been married, the young woman with the head scarf immediately blurted out “I really hope that our marriage lasts that long”.

        Finally, a bit of humour. After having sex in an extramarital affair, the television character Archie Bunker (U.S. counterpart to Alf Garnett) justified things to his mistress by pointing out that he was an adult and she was an adulteress. :-)

      • Typo in the link. Maybe Peter can fix it. When I am rich, I will buy him a WordPress upgrade so that users can edit their own posts for a few minutes after they have been submitted. :-|

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oswalt_Kolle

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Phillip,

        I was, as is fairly obvious, using the case of murder to make a specific point relevant to the adultery issue. I was not claiming that they were comparable in every way, as your exhaustive analysis reveals. The German academic ethos is influencing you…

        You don’t need expensive academic studies to see that adultery harms families, often splits rthem up with consequences for the taxpayer in countries with extensive social security systems, and causes extensive misery.

      • Again, what is cause and what is effect? Does the correlation even apply causation?

        If adultery causes costs to the taxpayer which are not justified, then the social-security system can be changed without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

        In response to the claim that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, some wit replied that no, it was begging, since someone had to ask for the service first. Similarly, adultery presupposes a reason for the deed. You could argue that counselling or something else is an alternative, and indeed anyone (even the state) could offer this, but legally imposed counselling probably doesn’t have the intended effect.

        It certainly is possible for married couples to get divorced with the result being better than the alternative for all involved, including children and society. I think I have more experience in this area than you. :-)

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        I knew that Till Death Us Do Part spawned a US version called All In The Family. I don’t know how similar they are is relative to their own cultures. Has anybody seen both?

        After the success of the first few series of Till Death Us Do Part, a film was made which was in fact a prequel. The first part showed Alf Garnett (already bigoted) and his London East End community getting through the Blitz. I found it a moving depiction of the lives of ordinary Londoners at that time. The latter part, in which Garnett rails against the dislocating of his community into high-rise blocks, today shows the joke on the utopian scriptwriter.

        I understand that House Of Cards, which starred the late great Ian Richardson as a particularly Machiavellian politician who knifes his way to be Prime minister, is under production in an American version with Kevin Spacey. But I couldn’t possibly comment further…

      • All in the Family is one of the best things to come out of the States. I’ve probably seen every episode several times. (Note that the son-in-law was played by Rob Reiner, later much more famous as a film director). I think anyone can follow the basic stories (which were “recorded on tape before a live audience”, as one was reminded during every episode’s credits, i.e. filmed theatre performances), but one needs to be familiar with the States in the 1970s to fully appreciate everything.

        Till Death Us Do Part was also acknowledged in the credits.

        There was also a German version (with the anti-hero named Alfred); even though I can appreciate the references just as well, it is not near as good as the U.S. series. I’ve seen an episode or two of Till Death Us Do Part but really can’t make a fair comparison a) because I haven’t seen enough and b) probably won’t get all the references (assuming that there are similar references to contemporary political discussion).

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Phillip,

        I would be very much against laws that have the effect of criminalising the shouting of “Fire” in a crowded theatre. You can bet that such laws would soon be used to muzzle free speech in other settings. All that is necesssary is for people to be aware of the manslaughter and criminal responsibility laws.

  5. Monica Grady Says:

    A joint mortgage is a much more legally-binding contract between a couple.

    M
    x.

  6. Anton Garrett Says:

    We are proud to declare ourselves a multifaith multicultural society nowadays, I think. Of the 80 or so distinct human cultures that have existed over geography and history, one only has advocated State recognition of homosexual relationships as marriage should the couple desire it. This is not an argument for or against it; but to those who are using the issue to sound off against the church I wish to point out that modern secular culture is in a minority of one – a fact that has nothing whatsoever to do with the church.

    As I’ve said before, this is about *recognition* by the State. The State can no more redefine marriage than it can redefine the number of arms and legs people customarily have. Groups may differ over what that definition is, of course.

    As for Sts Serge and Bacchus, the notion existed of “spiritual marriage”; this could be between a man and a woman, who never touched each other. It was IMHO as strange (and unbiblical) a concept then as now. Ascetism was all the rage in the church at that time. I am unfamiliar with these two saints and I shall look into the story more. But in view of the early church’s clear teaching about homosexual relations I suspect that a spiritual marriage is portrayed here. Historians nowadays universally regard a ‘definitive’ account of *any* event written six centuries afterwards as worthless.

    Frankly, since marriage is financially discriminated against by the (British) State, it might indeed be better to derecognise it:

    http://www.care.org.uk/advocacy/family/family-fiscal-policy

    • telescoper Says:

      On your first paragraph I’d say that few societies had democracy, votes for women, or absence of slavery. I think an old-fashioned word is “progress”.

      Of course the state *can* redefine “marriage”, just as it can the voting age or the threshold for higher-rate tax. It’s not a constant of physics, just a social convention. It can’t redefine human affection and the need for companionship, but it can decide whether to make it easier or harder for people to realise these in practice.

      I wonder what the timescale is after which accounts become so unreliable as to be worthless. How long after the event were the Gospels written?

      Finally, I basically agree with your point, although for a different reason. Although the married person’s tax allowance has been withdrawn there are still advantages in capital gains and inheritance tax, particularly for wealthy married couples.

      I think we should all be treated equally by the state as individuals, which is the way the tax system is going, so it is fairer to withdraw state recognition of a privileged status than to extend it to a small number of extra people.

      I feel much the same way as with the old blasphemy laws, for example: better to have none at all than to extend them to more religions.

      Anyway, should people *really* get married because it’s a tax benefit? Aren’t there supposed to be other reasons?

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Peter,

      Re definition and recognition, I’m sorry but I stand by my 2nd para. I haven’t stated what I regard the definition as.

      Historians generally accept that, for reliability, events have to be written down pretty much by eye witnesses or by people who have systematically interviewed them. The four gospels in the New Testament pass that criterion, and the liberal church scholarship of a generation ago which stated that they were written down several generation later, and represented the efforts of four schools, is increasingly discredited – not least because there was a a tradition of fidelity among Jews which was lacking in the ancient Greek world.

      Here is a review of the book which is behind your blog post above; the reviewer is a prof of church history and the review takes cultural context into account:

      http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/pwh/bosrev-wilken.asp

      Even I knew that Delphos – a component of the word at the centre of the question – meant “brother”…

      I too am against blasphemy laws.

    • “to those who are using the issue to sound off against the church I wish to point out that modern secular culture is in a minority of one – a fact that has nothing whatsoever to do with the church”

      The fact is that the most vocal opposition to same-sex marriage comes from people who are motivated by their faith. Of course, you might say that their faith is wrong, they don’t represent the true church etc but of course all religious people regard their own religion as the true one.

      In most countries, there is some sort of benefit to married couples, usually quite substantial ones. As Peter points out, while there might be some disadvantages in the UK, there are still some advantages.

      A different question is whether the state should support children. Presumably, it should if there are too few and should discourage them if there are too many. When many laws were written in support of marriage, this was sometimes (but not always) the intent: at the time, being married, living together and having children together were such that one usually implied the other two. This is no longer the case. Laws giving advantages to those raising children, if they exist and are deemed necessary, can of course be independent of the marital status of the parents (and are in many places).

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Phillip,

        Setting aside the religous debate (see elsewhere on this thread), did you know that the debate about State support of children and therefore implicitly of marriage is far from a novel debate? The Emperor Caesar Augustus (formerly Octavian), around the time of Christ, was concerned that ethnic Romans, having conquered an Empire, were too busy enjoying its fruits to have enough children to propagate their values, and he enacted the Lex Julia de maritandis ordinibus. Marriage was obligatory on all men under 60 and women under 50. Bequests conditional on the legatee remaining unmarried were voided. One could not inherit anything from non-relatives unless one got married within 100 days of the death of the person making the bequest in his will. The unmarried could not attend public festivals or games. Widows and divorcees could inherit only if remarried within 6 months of divorce or of death of a spouse. Spinsters and childless wives could not inherit after 50. Women owning more than 20000 sesterces had to pay a 1% annual wealth tax until married, then pay on a sliding scale until they had given birth three times. The senior of the two consuls was to be the one with more (legitimate) children. Etcetera…

        I do think that Peter underestimates the legal consequences of the change he is advocating. This debate is taking place in a democracy and needs to be better informed and conducted more courteously on both sides. (That is not aimed at Peter.)

      • I don’t see the point of your last paragraph. Marriage and children are about as disjoint as some people believe science and religion to be. :-) There are married couples who voluntarily remain childless, and children born to unmarried parents (who in some cases remain in a relationship longer than many married people)—in some countries a majority of the children. What are the wide-reaching implications?

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Phillip,

        “I don’t see the point of your last paragraph. Marriage and children are about as disjoint as some people believe science and religion to be”

        I hope you agree that debate should be well informed and courteous. Also, I have never stated that science and religion are disjoint, having repeatedly asserted that they clash over miracles. The idea that marriage and children are disjoint is as recent as the Pill, because for most of history a woman would not have sex with a man she was not married to – who else would provide financial support for the child she could conceive? I am not against marital contraception, but it is far too soon for any reliable evaluation of the effects of unilateral reliable contraception.

      • Consider “marriage and children being disjoint” as an observation, not a judgement. That is certainly an objective fact in some countries.

        I agree that easy, safe, effective and cheap contraception has changed many things, but I don’t see any adverse effects of it. It also has little if anything to do with same-sex marriage.

    • On “spiritual marriage”: I take your point that the “definitive” account from six centuries later may not be accurate, so it may be that the original marriage was spiritual. Nonetheless, the use of the word “erastai” (from the same root as “eros”) certainly indicates that the 10th-century author thought of the couple as more than spiritual partners. If, as the link suggests, this author was writing approvingly of the two, then it says something about the way such relationships were regarded in the 10th century (even if it’s inaccurate about what happened in the 4th).

      I’ll stop saying that Republicans in the US have “medieval” attitudes about sexuality — apparently it’s a slander against the medieval.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        It is a common mistake that ‘eros’ in ancient writings refers invariably to sexual love. See

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_words_for_love

      • telescoper Says:

        It’s interesting that even with this expanded set of basis states, I still think love is a superposition…

      • I’m not a classicist, but I did study Greek some time ago. As far as I can tell, the word erastes usually means “lover” in the sense of passionate love. Liddell and Scott (which has been on my bookshelf, rarerly opened, since the 1980s) says that it can mean “partisan” in a metaphorical sense, but all the examples they give of this usage refer to someone being a lover of an idea or abstraction, not a person (lover of tyranny, war, etc.)

        I spot-checked some (by no means all) of the usages of the word in the literature — you can find 1236 of them here: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/searchresults?all_words=e)rasth/s&all_words_expand=yes&la=greek . It certainly appears to me like the “passionate love” sense is the usual if not the only one. In the absence of persuasive evidence to the contrary, the most likely reading seems to me to take erastai at its face value.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        I’m not a classicist either, but bear in mind that Liddell and Scott (which I have occasionally consulted online where it resides as part of the Perseus project) give all occurrences of Greek words in the ancient world. Where their cutoff date is, or whether they corrrespond to the Loeb hard copies of the Greek classics, I don’t know, but it doesn’t include the Septuagint (the Hebrew-to-Greek translation of the Old Testament from just before Jesus’ time). The word EROS might well have changed in meaning in the ten centuries from Liddell-Scott’s sources to the writer about Serge and Bacchus, and since a central theme in Christianity is love then this is not unlikely. Plenty of words have changed in meaning in English on a shorter timescale (suffer little children?)

        Another thing to bear in mind is that these guys were recognised as saints. I’ll spare the grumble about the change in meaning of the word from the New Testament (where it refers to all committed believers, not just a subset promoted posthumously by a church hierarchy); but, given the early church’s view of homosexuality, it is inconceivable that they would be promoted if they were homosexual lovers.

  7. Anton Garrett Says:

    Some background: St Catharine’s monastery is the oldest continuously inhabited monastery in the world (not that I am in favour of monasticism), and it is where the Codex Sinaiticus, one of the three oldest complete New Testaments in existence, was taken from. This can now be seen in the British Library permanent exhibition gallery. It was taken from the monastery on a pretext more than a century ago and never returned, and it was eventually purchased in good faith and ended up in the Bitish Library; not surprisingly the monks want it back. As to whether age = authenticity, debate rages. It is possible to reconstruct the text of the New Testament from fragments that are dated considerably earlier, and the result is slightly different. There are also slight differences between texts that went out clockwise and anticlockwise around the Mediterranean from the Holy Land. No differences are greate enough to disturb any significant doctrine, though, and the great majority are over things like an added “and”.

    I also very much doubt that the mountain nowadays named Sinai at the foot of which the monastery stands, is the Mt Sinai of the Exodus story. Mine is a minority view, but in many ways it does not fit and a complelling argument has been presented by Prof Colin Humphreys, a Cambridge University applied scientist (and evangelical Christian).

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      I am happy to debate politely with secular people about these issues and to accept that I live in a democracy with people of other views. Those who profess to be Christian yet ignore what the founding document of the faith says are, however, hypocrites.

      • Is there any objective criterion for determining whether anyone is a true Christian? I think it is a safe assumption that all Christians think they are true Christians. See my other comment about who determines how what is to be interpreted.

    • telescoper Says:

      I’m not a Christian so I’m in no position to comment on the varieties of Christian belief, but clearly, like most documents, the Bible is open to interpretation on a variety of levels. It may well be hypocritical for a Chrstian to ignore what the Bible says about homosexuality, but is it also hypocritical for a Christian ignore some of the Old Testament proscriptions, e.g. eating pork?

      I’m also not a Quaker, but I have in the past attended Quaker meetings (at which agnostics and atheists are welcome); I’ll be attending another meeting in a week or so. I find the inclusivity of their approach to spirituality most appealing (and indeed inspiring). A core Quaker belief is that God reveals himself to each person on an individual basis through experience, not necessarily through the written or spoken word. This is from their website

      There is a great diversity within the Quakers on conceptions of God, and we use different kinds of language to describe religious experience. Some Quakers have a conception of God which is similar to that of orthodox Christians, and would use similar language. Others are happy to use God-centred language, but would conceive of God in very different terms to the traditional Christian trinity. Some describe themselves as agnostics, or humanists, or non-theists and describe their experiences in ways that avoid the use of the word God entirely. Quaker faith is built on experience and Quakers would generally hold that it is the spiritual experience which is central to Quaker worship, and not the use of a particular form of words (whether that be “God” or anything else).

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Peter,

        (and in reply to Phillip at 2:19pm): The notion of ‘interpetation’ is greatly overdone in studying the Bible. It enters only when a passage is hard to understand, and such passages are the exception rather than the rule. That is because the Bible was written for everyday people not philosophers/professors. A knowledge of the human culture of the Ancient Near East almost always sorts out problem passages. When people talk to me about interpetation I often reply: What do you not understand about Thou shalt not commit adultery?

        I am willing to repeat: those who profess to be Christian yet ignore what the founding document of the faith says are hypocrites.

        Well Phillip, if you want an objective definition of a Christian it is someone who would end up in the New Jerusalem rather than the lake of fire (heaven and hell are misunderstood terms) if a bomb fell on them right now. As to who they are: God alone knows with certainty, because only he can see everything about a person, although wwe can get a pretty good idea from the Bible.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Peter,

        You wrote: “It may well be hypocritical for a Christian to ignore what the Bible says about homosexuality, but is it also hypocritical for a Christian ignore some of the Old Testament proscriptions, e.g. eating pork?”

        No; that is part of the Law of Moses that is nowhere repeated in the New Testament; and as mentioned the Law of Moses is not binding on Christians – only the New Testament is. Pork sausages are on the menu (although black pudding – blood – isn’t). Words against sexual immorality appear in the New Testament, and in context that would mean the specific forms of sexual behaviour that are prohibited in the Law of Moses.

      • telescoper Says:

        I’m very partial to black pudding, although I’ve never previously thought of it as sinful. Now I’ll probably enjoy it even more!

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Yes, I liked it too. I would never try the “God says don’t eat it” approach to someone who doesn’t believe in God; that’s just stupid. But we are a long way from the food we eat today. Have you ever killed and bled an animal? It’s not only in the Bible that the phrase “life blood” is used – it’s all through Homer when someone gets speared, for example. If life is in some sense sacred, and life is in the blood, then blood is special too – and arguably too special to be used simply to satisfy human hunger.

        I learned this lesson when I found a relative dead; she had bled from a wound caused by her fall, in turn caused by (the autopsy found) a stroke of fatal magnitude. Blood is special.

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