Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sex, Mom, and God

I've recently read Sex, Mom, and God by Frank Schaeffer. Although I highly recommend the book, I would suggest that if you haven't read Crazy for God you read that first. Crazy is autobiographical, tracing Frank's life as the son of evangelical Christian leaders, and Sex fleshes out a few developments that were left uncovered in the first book.

One of the things I like about Frank's writings is that he and I have followed similar spiritual and intellectual  paths. As a gifted and professional author, however, he has more time and skill to articulate his thoughts than I do. Things that I fleetingly think about find full expression in his paragraphs, and I find myself in agreement with much of what he has to say.

One particular example of this is his view of the Bible in general and the Old Testament in particular. As a critic of Islam as expressed and practiced by Muhammad, I've found myself looking more judgmentally at objectionable parts of early Islamic history than I have at objectionable parts of early Hebrew history. I criticize Muhammad for slaughtering 800 Jewish boys and men at Medina for not accepting him as a Prophet but gloss over Joshua and Saul slaughtering the populations of entire towns including newborn infants for not worshipping the God of the Jews. I condemn Muhammad for stoning to death an adulterous couple in Medina, but ignore the fact that the God of Moses ordered the stoning of married brides who were found to not be virgins. I scorn Muhammad for initiating a sexual relationship with a nine-year-old child (Aisha) that could only be described in today's terms as rape, as well as marrying his own daughter-in-law (Zaynab) and raping another wife (Sofiya) after torturing, robbing, and beheading her husband (Kinana of Khaybar), but skip right over Soloman's Biblical sexual conquest of not dozens but hundreds of women.

What I've done is simply use the excuses Christians have always used and continue to use. It's true that Joshua slaughtered children, they argue, but we don't do that anymore. Besides, maybe those people were so evil their babies needed to be sliced through with those swords. That was for a special time, they argue, only temporary whereas the injunctions of the Koran are for all time and all people everywhere. Jesus has taken us beyond the law of Moses, they argue, and now Muhammad wants to take us back to the law.

All of the above might be true, but they miss the main point which is that the Jehovah of Moses and the Allah of Muhammad both commanded the slaughter of innocents, allowed the sexual conquest of women as the property of men, and ordered the stoning of women who did not abide by the rules.

Maybe it's time for Christians to think a little more clearly, and be a lot more honest. If we are going to argue that their book is flawed and human, is it time for us to admit the same about ours? That's not saying both books are the same, or communicate the same basic message (which I don't think they do). It's just looking at our book with the same critical stance that we use when we look at theirs.

15 comments:

Susanne said...

Hmmm, good idea. I've long found parts of the OT questionable, but I've excused some of it probably using the same things you noted in this post. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

Sara said...

Excellent post!

Anonymous said...

In the 21st century it is not dishonest to treat the Bible and the Koran differently. The Bible is a description of a flawed people. The Koran is a prescription of a flawed ideology. Christians and Jews following the teachings of the Bible can say truthfully that the violent injunctions you mentioned do not apply to them in this present age. Muslims following the teachings of the Koran cannot truthfully say the injuctions to jihad and to spread Islam by force if necessary do not apply to them.

A fuller discussion of violence in the Bible vs in the Koran can be found here:

http://www.meforum.org/2159/are-judaism-and-christianity-as-violent-as-islam

jcl said...

Nice post. Important subject. Thanks.

Allow me to suggest that you're reading the Bible like a modern Evangelical. What I mean is this: In earlier centuries, Christians were quite comfortable saying that there's absolutely _nothing_ Christian about the religion of the OT. It's theology is wrong. Its tribalism is wrong. Its ethics are wrong. They can say this because they have a very different understanding of revelation than do modern evangelicals. The topic was much discussed by early Christian Arabic authors, in the context of polemic with Islam, as they saw little or nothing to distinguish Judaism and Islam.

The Orthodox Theodore Abu Qurrah, for instance, in the 8th century, wrote a beautiful little book in which he subjects the claims of Islam to the intellect and what it can discover about God's nature and human nature. He concludes that natural religion and Islam are opposed on nearly every point. Islam, in fact, appeals to different inclinations of the soul: it is a religion made specifically for base human passions, those that in the Aristotelian tripartite soul we share with animals.

Theodore must then explain how, if at all, the religion of the OT is different fromm Islam. He concludes that it is not. Reason, he argues, demands that we _reject_ it most vigorously. It's no different than Islam in its appeal to the base passions. What then, he continues, is a Christian to make of the opposition between the OT and NT. His answer is forceful: If it were not for Christ and his acceptance of the Moses, we Christians would reject Moses entirely, in the same way we reject Muhammad entirely. (It's the argument from prophecy, but in reverse. Christians don't believe in Christ because of Moses. They believe in Moses only because of Christ.) [cont]

jcl said...

[cont] What then was the reason why God was content to reveal such a defective religion? Theodore argues that revelation is progressive and slow, and because humans are what they are, it is _very_ difficult for God, that he can only manifest certain things when humans are ready to accept them or are not going to be harmed by them. Judaism, he concludes, was the lesser of two evils, but still an evil in that it wasn't the full truth.

To believe that God is one, one person (hypostasis), was better than polytheism. It was nonetheless still false, no less so than Islam's belief in tawhid. Because of the difficulty even of believing that God exists and that he has one nature (physis), God couldn't reveal the truth about his being three Persons. To do so prematurely would, Theodore argues, drag humans back into polytheism.

We tell the child that the baby is just kinda in mommy's tummy. How did it get there? Well, daddy loves mommy, and the baby is the love.... For their own good, we omit the details. To do otherwise would harm the child, and probably gross it out. Yuuucccckkkk.... Same holds re Triune nature of God.

Theodore aside, it's not unusual for patristic authors to discuss the lives of the patriarchs and condemn them for their utterly immoral lives. Same re Joshua. Or again, they will often dismiss large parts of the historical narrative as so irrational and contrary to good morals and doctrine that it must be rejected as even being an historical text. Doesn't mean it's false. Just that it's not history. That's how Job was often read, for instance.

One doesn't often find modern Evangelicals reading the Bible in this manner. I know my church doesn't. In fact, the tendency is to gloss over -- dishonestly -- the very real differences between the Testaments. We ought not do so. There's much in the OT that not just 'not-quite-Christian' -- rather, it's utterly contrary to Christian doctrine and morals. I think that without recognizing this, there's no way to grasp the full import of something like the Sermon on the Mount.

(Imagine it's not Jews being address but Muslims. The point's the same....)

Muhammad told you to do the proper paperwork if you want to get a divorce. Rubbish, Jesus says. That's wrong. In fact, Muhammad only said that because he was trying to please you. He wasn't speaking for God. When the Koran says this is revealed by God it's lying. That's Muhammad talking. Not God. Now, listen to me instead. I'll tell you the truth. God hates divorce. Utterly. Totally. You can't do it. It's impossible. When a man and a woman have sex they become one individual, one flesh. This is what God says. Not that stuff Muhammad was saying. (Paul continues: Thinking about having sex with a prostitute? You need to understand what will happen if you do. You'll become her, and she'll become you....)

There's no continuity here. At all. Jesus is saying: What was claimed to be revelation is not from God. It is, in fact, utterly contrary to God's purpose.

C.S. Lewis' Reflections on Psalms is one of the few attempts I know to speak to this issue in a way accessible to Evangelicals. Excellent book, too, and highly recommended.

Glad to see you back.

Best,
John

aemish said...

Bravo! I am sorry I have missed much of your blog as of late but am pleased I now have much interesting reading and reflection of my own in the days ahead. Truly, you never fail to deliver :)

aemish said...

PS I look forward to reading Frank's books that you mentioned. I remember seeing him interviewed after Crazy For God was published and must have forgotten to order it. Thanks for the reminder.. both are available with free shipping on Amazon for the interested.

I may have mentioned it before but author, theologian and former nun Karen Armstrong's book, 'A History of God', seems timely in light of your recent epiphany.

Quotable Quotes: said...

Aemish, I love your comments - you keep me on my toes.

Quotable Quotes: said...

JCL,you are correct in saying that I read the Bible "like an evangelical", because that is all I've ever known. As Frank Schaeffer correctly notes in his books, the religious stuff we learned as kids becomes a part of our spiritual DNA, and it is really difficult to get beyond it.

aemish said...

Too bad you didn't grow up Catholic... it's superly duperly easy to get beyond that one as an adult :p

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm late for the party, but since you left the door open...

While I have had an epiphany recently about how events of the NT that I wholeheartedly accept as "The will of God," are at first glance, similar to 7th century, and even modern actions on the part of Mohammedans, as one who believes I am a follower of the "One True God," I have done my best to place them in proper context. To start out supersimplistic- The Nation of Israel did what it did to pave the way for the program of God's redemption of mankind through Jesus Christ, in early, barbarous humanity. Conversely, Mohammed was an upstart who created a religion and wars, to foist his personal desires.
In some sense it's trying to compare abortion with capital punishment.

To address a specific remark; Nowhere in the OT does God condone Soloman's conquests, or, more to the point, codify them into The Law.

It is ridiculous for the author to compare OT Judaism with Islam. One has given us the Christ, while the other has given us the Anti-Christ.

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