Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Religious Defense of a Secular State Not Enforcing Biblical Punishment: My Response to Dr. Lively II

We have a second exchange of more series emails between Dr. Scott Lively and me. Dr. Lively continues his challenge to my commitment to biblical law in that I seem to be willing to let certain verses in Leviticus slide when they do not suit my liberal beliefs. There is a certain irony to this in that, as the Orthodox Jew, I take all of Leviticus very seriously, including the passages that deal with pork. I counter by using Augustine's model of two cities to formulate a religious argument for a secular state.

Mr. Chinn,

Regarding Igra's take on Shaw, I was quite clear that I don't know enough about the subject to hold a firm opinion.  It is fair to assume that you have not read the book or investigated its claims in which case it is unfair if not unscholarly to dismiss them out-of-hand.  Regarding Igra himself, if you are basing your opinion of him on Germany's National Vice, I can assure you that I have independently validated most of his assertions using mainstream sources of the period and overtly "gay" sources.  He was sensationalistic in style, but not factually wrong on most points. 

Regarding your claim to be a classic liberal, I must disagree.  Your correspondence leans much closer to the snide arrogance of the New Left than the dignified civility of classic liberalism.  

Regarding your claim to be a faithful Orthodox Jew, I believe my Orthodox friends would disagree.  By the standard you have articulated G-d Himself should be considered a "homophobe" for singling out the Sodomites of Canaan for special punishment not meted out to any other group.   In my observation, the Orthodox position acknowledges Scripture's repeated characterization of this lifestyle as an abomination, whereas your uninformed position, obviously influenced by popular culture, minimizes what G-d specially emphasized.  As for my specialization in this field of study, you should know from my writings that I oppose all forms of sex outside of marriage equally, but I focus on homosexuality because it is the only form with a global advocacy movement demanding political power and control for its practitioners.    
Regarding Uganda, my advice to the Ugandan Parliament was to go pro-active in support of marriage and the natural family to inoculate the population against promiscuity in all of its forms, and regarding homosexuality specifically I urged an emphasis on therapy, not punishment.  I did not advocate for the death penalty, nor did any of my teachings provide a reasonable rationalization for it.  The "gay" and leftist press are misrepresenting the facts for political advantage as they always do.  As for Proposition 8, your investment in its importance as a bulwark against "gay" power shows a gross misreading of the state of the culture.  Prop 8 will not stop their agenda, even if it is upheld by the 9th Circuit (a highly unlikely event in any case -- I have personally argued a pro-family case before this court and learned just how fully it is committed to the "gay" cause).  Absent a dramatic political shift of national power into the hands of people who believe like I do, you will suffer persecution for your view that homosexuality is a sin, as will I to a likely much greater extent. 
It seems rather odd that you can foresee the real possibility of persecution from them for your tepid opposition, while at the same time arguing that they do not represent a serious threat to society. That's a rather bizarre disconnect, don't you think?  They're seeking fascistic control over the speech of others but they're not really dangerous?  Sort of reminiscent of the attitude of the German Jews in the 20s, isn't it?  You really should read The Pink Swastika
Regarding your claim to be consistent in your principles, I don't know enough about you to say.  I suspect, however, based on our short exchange, the degree to which your ideas accommodate the politically correct sensibilities of the day (despite your claim to orthodoxy), and the "show-offish" way you've treated me on your blog that you are not. Nevertheless, as a Christian I am willing, within reason, to tolerate both your erroneous views and your demeaning tone to show you that I care about you as a person. 
I do happen to agree with some of what you wrote in your next-to-last paragraph, which I concede does reflect a more classic liberal perspective.  I also believe in freedom of choice (within reason) and would be happy to tolerate a "gay" subculture so long as it does not work to mainstream itself at the expense of family-centered society.  I also support religious freedom, but only as the concept was known by the Founders i.e. tolerance for all who acknowledge the existence of G-d.  Inclusion of atheism as a "religion" toward which government must be neutral is a 20th century concept that breaks the entire model.  Scott Lively

My Response:

Dr. Lively,

You are correct in assuming that I have not done a thorough scholarly investigation of Ingra's work nor of the claim that George Bernard Shaw wrote the Protocols. He may very well have had some evidence up his sleeve that I am unaware of. There are lots of claims that I have not given serious consideration to. For example, that it was a body double of Julius Caesar, who was assassinated and that Caesar and Cleopatra fled to the new world where they met up with the ten lost tribes and founded a race of uber-Indians, whose history was written on gold tablets buried in a hill in upstate New York. I may very well be the victim of an Augustian conspiracy to cover up this truth. The historical method upon which I rest my sanity requires that I dismiss any person making such claims as insane and be willing to sign them over to a padded cell and a lifetime supply of happy pills.

The Old Testament outlines a set of personal practices and a theocratic form of government designed to foster a community of people who keep God's law. The God of the Old Testament has 365 prohibitions, one of which happens to be against homosexuality. This biblical theocracy has many rules with extreme punishments for those who violate them. A priest who violates the most minor rule of the Temple cult is guilty of blasphemy. In a theocracy, blasphemy is, by definition, treason against the state and therefore possibly subject to the death penalty. Similarly, sexuality is a type of religious ritual subject to "Temple cult" stringencies. As such someone who goes outside the transcribed forms of sexuality, regardless of whether there is anything bad per se about this action, commits an act of blasphemy and therefore is potentially subject to the death penalty. Just as it is logically conceivable that God would have commanded us to sacrifice a cow for the paschal lamb, God could have also decided to permit us to engage in homosexual relations. In the universe we live in we testify to following God's command in our sexual activity by engaging in heterosexual sex within marriage and refraining from homosexual sex. (Whether homosexuality goes against "nature" or not is irrelevant.)

We do not live under a biblical theocracy and therefore lack the ability to punish people for violating biblical prohibitions, whether it is eating pork chops or homosexual sex. Personally, I think it is a good thing that we are not living under a theocracy and I have no intention, in practice, of trying to bring one about. On the contrary, I seek to live under a government that is completely "secular." By this I mean a government that does nothing to promote or prohibit any religious activity and devotes itself solely to protecting people from direct physical harm. We must recognize that, to go back to the Augustinian political model that is at the foundation of much of my thought, we live in a "fallen" world. As the Old Testament provides ample testimony for, people as a whole are not capable of living up to God's law. Furthermore, I would be hard-pressed to find "men of God" whom I would trust to tend his flock. All the people that I might conceivably trust would laugh at me and tell me to stop bothering them if I ever asked them to step up to the task. This leaves us with limiting the political state to building the earthly city. A properly functioning earthly city would create a large supply of virtuous and rational citizens. It is from this group of citizens that we can hope to recruit a flock of citizens for the heavenly city.
I am glad you are consistent about opposing all forms of extra-marital sex. Would you not agree that any church or synagogue that chooses to wink and nod at the transgressions of heterosexual teenagers should be consistent and look the other way at what the committed homosexual couple may or may not be doing in the privacy of their own home? We should not have a "forgive me father, I slept with my girlfriend this week again."

As of now the government of Uganda engages in coercive behavior to stop people from engaging in homosexual activity and is posed to implement even greater levels of coercion. Even to force homosexuals to undergo therapy would be physical coercion. It should be noted that I understand physical coercion fairly narrowly. For example, I would have no problem if a public school teacher put up a cross in her classroom and told her students about accepting Jesus as her personal savior over vacation.

I certainly do not see Proposition 8 as a cure-all. I do believe though that if we cannot win even on this issue then we are in serious trouble. While I believe that the modern left fully intends to persecute people like you and eventually maybe even me and do not trust them, I do not trust people like you to allow people like me to openly live our non-Jesus lifestyles and negatively influence society. My money is on trying to create a strong political center of classical liberals whose religious values support a secular government; this is what Izgad is all about. We offer a consistent set of principles that will allow our entire political spectrum to live together in peace.

To be clear, I do not view homosexuals even proactive ones as a threat. I see arrayed before me the full might of the modern left, who have destroyed the concept of rights and have reduced it to political spoils for chosen useful groups. In essence, they are armed with a checkbook full of blank checks for persecution. Homosexual activists are simply a group that has managed to end up as one of the privileged groups. It could just have easily been Mormon polygamists as the privileged group and homosexuals having their children snatched by government agents. (I do fear a right-wing theocracy, but I believe that the left is culturally in a better position to stop this than the right is for the reverse. As such I see the left as the more immediate threat.)

You say that you are willing to tolerate a gay subculture as long as it does not challenge mainstream culture. Part of tolerance is the willingness to allow groups you dislike to compete in the public arena and even win. For example, I oppose Israel's anti-missionary laws. Christians should be allowed to travel to Israel and try to convince people to believe in Jesus to their heart's content. Similarly, I support homosexuals not only being allowed to practice their chosen lifestyles with other consenting adults, but they should be allowed to take part in the public sphere and make their case to society at large. I have no problem with gay pride parades as long as they do not violate any local profanity laws. Gay advocacy groups are fine. I do not object to anyone making the case to me or my adult children that homosexuality should not be considered a sin or even that sodomy is a pleasurable activity that I should try some time. (Yes I believe in the right to offer people drugs.)

As I often point out to people, the Enlightenment model of tolerance was tolerance for all people who belonged to an established faith community or believed in a supreme being. I follow John Stuart Mill and offer tolerance for everyone as long as they can live within the law and not cause any physical harm. I am willing to give individual atheists the benefit of the doubt and assume they are moral individuals, even if I have my doubts about the ability of an atheist society to remain moral. There is also the experience of Orthodox Jews in Germany in the 19th century. German law insisted that everyone belong to established religious communities. This was a problem for the Orthodox who desired to break away from the Reform. In the 1870s the law was changed to allow secularists to not belong to any community. This created the channel for the Orthodox to also gain the right to dissent.

Benzion N. Chinn

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