Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Bible as the Political Foundation of the Democratic State: My Response to Dr. Lively IV

Mr. Chinn,

I did not blame the Rwandan genocide on homosexuals.  Once again, you can't trust these "gay" activists to do anything but misrepresent the facts to their political advantage.  The Box Turtle video is heavily edited in true Hitlerian style.  I used the Rwandan genocide only as an example of conduct of which only certain types of people are capable who have such an lack of "feminine" characteristics in their gender balance (vis a vis the principle of male/female duality in Genesis 1:27) that they can commit horrible atrocities without any sense of shame.  If you want to understand the context, see pages 50-56 of my book, which I was lecturing from during that segment of the seminar.  Even if I had accused the Rwandan killers of homosexuality, which I did not, I clearly stated that homosexuals of this type are fortunately very rare and that most homosexuals are not like this.  I also spoke at length about the necessity of treating homosexuals as fellow human beings who happen to suffer from a behavioral problem that the rest of us don't -- but that we all have challenges in life to address.  No one who attended my lectures and listened attentively could reasonably justify capital punishment for homosexuals based solely on my teachings.

I read Rabbi Sacks' editorial and agree with him.  I think his position is closer to mine that to yours, especially in his affirmation of natural rights as they were understood by the founding fathers.  Locke's Second Treatise of Government is precisely the sort of application of Biblical principles to government that I am recommending.

I only yielded on Shaw to make the greater point that my purpose in contacting you was not to advocate a position, but to refer you to a source that was relevant to your research.  I don't concede re Shaw, but am tabling my original assertion pending an eventual review of the source by either one of us.

I don't think you understood my arguments regarding secularism.  I do not argue for religious tests or rituals in government, but for the necessity of a Biblically-informed worldview in the leadership and culture (to the extent that government actively influences culture. I do not argue that atheists cannot be good citizens, just that their worldview cannot produce a healthy orderly society.

I don't think my discussion of Biblical principles is spiritual in the sense that you meant it.  Yes, I believe Scripture must be the final authority in spiritual matters, and I suspect (though I haven't read them) that Maimonides, et al would agree -- as I believe with some confidence based on my limited readings of Thomas Aquinas and Augustine that they would also agree. Neither do I disregard the physical commandment against homosexuality. I start with the physical commandment and the actions of God as stated in Scripture, and, like the authorities you cite, engage in deductive and inductive reasoning to extrapolate the principles.

True, this is also what the "gay" affirming heretics of the "mainline" protestant denominations have done, but that isn't proof that the method is invalid, but merely that someone is wrong in his analysis.

This method of extrapolating and applying Biblical principles is literally the essence of the common-law jurisprudence that undergirds Western Civilization. And its concept of Stare Decisis is the same philosophical assumption inherent in Catholic and Jewish approach to religious authority i.e. that once a matter has been decided by a learned man under God-granted authority, it needn't be contested the next time that same or closely similar matter arises. Why is Maimonides a great authority? Because he invented his own theology independent of the Torah or because he analyzed the meaning of the Torah so brilliantly that other great minds conceded that he was right?

Protestantism arose when great minds became unwilling to accept the conclusions of the religious authorities of their age and began to offer alternative analyses. Granted, it is a tradition that produces a lot of division, but I think its legacy via men like Locke is a vast improvement over the centralized authority of the Holy Roman Empire and is successors.

As for your final comments regarding "homophobia," I still think you're embracing politically correct assumptions in contradiction to your faith and to good logic.

Dr. Scott Lively

My response:

Dr. Lively,  

I do not trust homosexual activists nor do I trust you. For that matter I do not trust activists in general with any claim that furthers their cause. This is a basic part of the historian's training. We interrogate texts; we can tell when we our sources are being dishonest with us and we can often even make a good guess of what the truth is. Like a good police interrogator, we can take our source and turn his words against him. Your stated position is that you do not blame Rwanda on homosexuals, but simply believe that homosexuality played an important in creating the sort of people who could do such a thing. In an ivory tower of dialectics, I can recognize that between such beliefs. There would even be a distinction if we were to "legally" put homosexuals on trial for causing genocide. That being said, for a lay person on the street there is not going to be a difference. If homosexuality helps create people capable of mass murder then the future safety of the country requires that we round up and imprison homosexuals and if that proves impractical we must kill them. You did not make your arguments in a legal or genocide studies journal. You traveled to Uganda to publically make these statements. I am certainly no gay rights activist, but there is nothing unfair about that video of yours. You cannot play innocent on this one.

As to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, notice that he openly acknowledges that homosexuals were victims of the Holocaust. He does not advocate rounding up homosexuals, putting them in prison, or even trying to cure them. All that he is interested in doing is to prevent gay rights from turning into a right to go on the offense and blackmailing people of faith. In terms of the role of the Bible in government, I acknowledge that historically the rise of democratic political theory in Europe had a lot to do with the Christian, particularly Protestant, theology of the Early Modern period. Much of my efforts in teaching history go into debunking the secularist narrative that assumes that modernity was a secular project. As I often tell my student, "modernity was a Christian project that had interesting unforeseen consequences." John Locke is a very good example of this. One cannot read Locke without coming to terms with the fact that he is engaged in a Christian project to create a reformed Christian society. My friend Michael Makovi has been blogging on this issue. You might enjoy his work. He recommended an article to me by Michael McVicar on R. J. Rushdoony that I think may offer some context as to where someone like you fits into the liberal tradition.

The fact that the Bible has played an important role in the rise of free societies means that it should be a part of the historical and philosophical discussion; it does not mean that we should be trying to implement biblical law or that we need a society of Bible believers. Liberal Democracy seems to work in Japan and South Korea despite the fact that they are not a Bible believing Christian society. I am glad you recognize that atheists can, as individuals, be good citizens. For me that is all that is needed. Good law abiding atheists are welcome to join my religion neutral state. They can vote, hold public office and even attempt to convince people that atheism is the truth and that it will lead to a more ethical society. They may be wrong, but I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and accept that they came by these beliefs honestly and they are not involved in some satanic conspiracy to destroy society.

As to the influence of modern political correctness on my thought, I plead guilty as charged. I am a product of late twentieth and early twenty-first century American culture. Historians of the future who read my writing will have me quickly pegged. My historical context plays a critical role in explaining what issues interest me and what approaches I take to responding to the issues of my day. I am the son of an Orthodox rabbi, who grew up in Columbus OH and is trying to reconcile the religious sensibilities of his youth and the liberal culture that he has spent his life as a spectator of. This sense of being a spectator is reinforced by my Asperger syndrome. The attempted reconciliation has been to turn to the past toward the medieval rationalism of Maimonides and the classical liberalism of John Locke and J. S. Mill. Maybe I will be of interest to historians of the future as someone, in the twenty-first century, who still managed to be a harbinger of future thought.

How might I have thought about homosexuality if I had lived several decades ago? I probably would have thought a lot less about it since it would not have been a major political issue for my historical context. I probably would have a much stronger visceral reaction against it. For example, despite the fact that polygamy is in the Bible, I still have a strong visceral reaction to the very idea of women taking their turn with the man. I stopped reading Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series once you had the main female characters deciding that they all loved Rand and that therefore they would share him. If I spent time in a society where polygamy was accepted I would probably say that, while polygamy is not my thing, people are free to do it in the privacy of their own homes. (By the way I do believe that polygamy should be legal even if I do not support government recognition of it and that polygamous couples have the right to anything that the government chooses to give homosexual couples.) In the end I am guided by principles, principles that have little to do with modern liberalism. If I were really interested in bowing before political correctness I would not be taking the sort of positions that I do. Remember, that within the context of academia, I am what passes for a conservative.

(I think this marks the end of the conversation. It has been fun.)

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