Friday, August 3, 2012

"According to the Bible" Polemic

Here, again, is a further example of "Facebook-polemic."

As many of the deficiencies present in this instance are shared with another recently circulated picture, and as I have already been dealt with them in a previous post, I will try to keep the present text brief. As with the example remarked upon previously, one should notice immediately the inconsistency with respect to citation method. Only two of the six bullet-pointed statements have had any citations offered at all. Presumably, the intended audience for this piece will not require documentation of the allegations.

The "men of God" reference betrays a failure to make the elementary distinction between prescription (i.e., roughly, what the Bible advances as normative for marriage) and description (i.e., again roughly, what the Bible merely reports as matters of historical or biographical fact).

Additionally, the picture's mention of Solomon is instructive. The scattered commentary seems to me to give the impression that Solomon's dalliances go unremarked upon Biblically, or that Solomon was the recipient of unconditional favors, when in fact even a cursory reading of 1 Kings 11 shows clearly that Solomon is remembered as having turned from God and "fallen from grace," as it were. His having had carnal knowledge of roughly 1,000 women is related in the Biblical text to his having done "what was evil in the sight of the Lord" and the fact that he "did not wholly follow the Lord" (1 Kings 11:6).

Moreover, the reference to a woman marrying her husband's brother is misleading, for the command is not issued in the first place to the relevant woman, but to the relevant man (i.e., the deceased husband's brother, or "levir"). The idea was to keep the deceased husband's Promised Land share in the family as well as to provide for the woman (and any female children she may have had). For it would have been probable during some periods, given the socio-cultural realities, that apart from the criticized legal provision, the passing of her husband would have rendered the widow destitute. Furthermore, the reference to "levirate marriage" in Mark 12:18ff is apparently primary historical and is mentioned in the context of a set up for a question, posed to Jesus by the group of religious leaders known as the Sadducees, regarding the general Resurrection (in which the Sadducees disbelieved). In any case, the passage cited by the picture does not set down levirate marriage as a law, it merely quotes Moses to facilitate a sort of academic point. Levirate law is a difficult and obscure matter. It is arguable that such a law was repealed during a later period in Biblical history (as hinted by passages such as Leviticus 20:21, etc.), it is important to bear in mind that the Bible itself places conditions on when the law applies (for the relevant passage begins with "If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son..." Deuteronomy 25:5, italics added), and the Bible itself provides for a dispensation (cf.: the passage beginning "However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife..." Loc. Cit., vv.7ff). If anything, concerned readers should present this sort of consideration to adherents of Rabbinic Judaism. Somehow, denouncing Christianity is usually foremost in the minds of Deuteronomical critics, when Christians often hold that many of the civil and ceremonial laws are no longer even binding. It is Rabbinic Judaism, as the heirs of the Pharisaism that Jesus himself criticized, that preserves the tapestry of (what anti-Christians usually consider) tired legalism and, in fact, has labored extensively expanding the casuistry.

Another constellation of difficulties lies in the assertion (as the text stands) that "God frequently blessed polygamists...". For one thing, there is an underlying ambiguity. The statement that:

1. God blessed (presumably, in some specific way, W) Person X, who was a polygamist

is ambiguous between (at the very least):

2. God blessed (presumably, in some specific way, W) Person X BECAUSE he was a polygamist


3. God blessed (presumably, in some specific way, W) Person X DESPITE his being a polygamist

And, in general, God "causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45). So, one can expect that sinners do frequently (even daily) receive God's blessing. Although this by no means suggests that God sends his blessings because of (let alone as a reward for) a person's sins. It rather seems to indicate that God, in his mercy, routinely blesses people despite their sin, and for the purpose of giving them time and motivation to repent. "He is patient with [us], not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

But admittedly, these are merely scattered criticisms of an already haphazard Facebook polemic. Frankly, it is ultimately unclear what the point of the original picture-post is even supposed to be. For the author simply ends with a sarcastic appeal for "forgiveness" on the basis of his or her lack of "interest" in what he or she has very sloppily termed "Traditional Family Values", despite the author's utter disregard or ignorance of the actual *tradition* that he or she purports to designate.

Therefore, the entire enterprise seems in the end to collapse into a point about the author's psychology. Truly, I have no idea what might "interest" the author. And, with all due respect, I don't care. Although, I think any careful reader, Christian or not, can surmise what does *not* interest the author - beyond the ersatz "Tradition" (which seems more a product of the author's mind than of historical Christianity). Namely, the author also seems uninterested in careful and sober argument, seeming to prefer instead to rely on unsystematic bluster. There is very little of substance in this, and I see no credible threat to the genuine, historical Christian (or even Western) tradition regarding the institution of marriage. I will happily review any careful and relevant argument. In the meantime, I hope Christians (in specific) may then be forgiven by the author for not being much interested in his or her little text-image.

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