Why we can eat shellfish but same-sex marriage is still wrong
Traditionally, the Old Law is divided into three parts: the ceremonial law, the disciplinary law, and the moral law.
The ceremonial law encompassed all of the ceremonies and sacrifices: what kinds of animals to sacrifice, what parts to burn, what parts belonged to the priest, how often to sacrifice, etc. The most important part of the ceremonial law was the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), described as the Sabbath of Sabbaths. On this day, the high priest would enter the holiest part of the temple and offer animals in atonement for the sins of Israel (see Leviticus 16) The ceremonial law was superseded by Jesus, who is High Priest, Sacrifice, and Altar of the New Covenant. Now, instead of sacrificing animals, which could not take away our sins, Catholic priests, acting in persona Christi, offer the same sacrifice of Calvary to the Father (see the letter to the Hebrews, especially chapter 9).
The disciplinary law encompassed the dietary restrictions, what kind of clothes to wear, and other related things. These things (including the oft-quoted examples of shellfish, mixed fabrics, and shaving) were specific to the Jews, and never applied to the rest of the world. One part of the disciplinary law that was more important was the penalties for breaking other laws; some commonly quoted examples are the death penalty for disobedient children and a simple fine for rapists. Although the moral laws they enforced (obey your parents, don’t rape) are still valid, these particular penalties were intended only for the Jews. The disciplinary laws were abrogated by Jesus (see Mark 7:1-23, especially verse 19), and the early church declared that they didn’t apply to Gentiles (Acts 15).
Unlike the ceremonial and disciplinary laws, the moral law is eternal, and applies for all time to all peoples. It is codified above all in the Ten Commandments, and in such related rules as the Shema or the commandment not to oppress widows and orphans, who were usually the poorest and most oppressed classes. Rather than abrogating these laws, Jesus took these commandments even further when he declared that anyone who was angry with someone else was guilty of transgressing the whole Law.
How do we know that the idea of marriage as one man and one woman is part of the moral law, and not the disciplinary law?
We know what marriage is supposed to be not just because of scripture, but also because of reason. Shortly after talking about the unnaturalness of same-sex sexual relations, Paul tells us that the Law is written in our hearts. The Church calls this the Natural Law, and insists that we can know this Law through reason. This Law tells us that marriage is for the love and mutual betterment of the spouses, but also for the procreation and education of children. Since a same-sex union could never result in a child, it does not qualify as a marriage; whereas an opposite-sex union has that possibility, even if one or both partners is infertile, and so is a true marriage.
So, no, we’re not hypocrites, and we don’t pick and choose which parts of the Bible to follow. Rather, we follow our own logical, millenia-old theology
For those Christians who think that there’s no way your Atheist friends will ever believe in God: your life may be the only Jesus they see. You may not be able to directly bring them to an understanding of God, but you can point them in the right direction. Lee Strobel’s wife helped point him in the right direction.
I’m an impossibly skeptical person. I doubt God almost every single day. It takes a lot of empirical evidence and absolute tangible proof to convince me of anything. This has forced me into a clumsy kind of limbo where I’m always questioning and wandering through faith. It’s still hard. But I’m getting more used to the idea that questions are good, and we need to ask them, and they help us to land on better ground when we’ve stripped away what doesn’t work. Faith is a block of marble that needs continual sculpting, until we find David in all his naked glory.
I get worried when a Christian doesn’t doubt. I worry that when suffering comes, they’ll be so unfamiliar with uncertainty that they’ll throw a middle finger at God and drown in despair. I worry that when someone questions the basics of their faith, those questions will uppercut them in the stomach so hard that they’ll fall into spiritual nausea. I worry that when a Christian has too much certainty, they begin to weaponize the “truth” as “My Right Doctrine” and become too self-assured about their political stance or who’s going to hell or say things like, “Yeah they’ll come around to my point of view.”
My friend, I hate uncertainty. I know the dizzying disorientation of wondering, “Is this all a lie?” But doubt gets us to dig our foundations. It’s like finding another basement of riches in your house. And another. It’s also absolutely painful and debilitating. It’s the cost we pay to investigate what the human story is all about, and some don’t survive the basement digging. Those who do are dirty and grimy – but with bent back fingernails, they’re ever more satisfied.
I sometimes binge-read atheism blogs. I was an atheist before, and I remember the familiar contours of “freedom from religion.” It’s like calling an old ex-girlfriend. And contrary to the church’s opinion, not all atheists are baby-eating heathens. There are many wonderful, lovely, beautiful atheists. I read their blogs because they have so much profound wisdom – and also because I need to go in the places I fear, that I might understand myself and to truly challenge what I believe. It’s hard. It’s also necessary.
Here’s one suggestion. I believe ultimately that the Christian faith has intellectually accommodating answers that account for the reality in which we live. There’s no shortage of them. But for most Christians (and irreligious people), the tough part is finding out how faith integrates in our daily lives, amidst hospital bills and grief and failure and parenting and art and intimacy. This is where faith begins to feel irrelevant. So really, rather than trying to crack at Christianity through the academic lens, it might help to know why the Christian faith is existentially rich. I’ve found that it is.
I have to wonder: if Christianity is about love, how come there has been so much hate, cruelty and murder committed in its name? How many innocents did the Christians torture and murder during the Inquisition, the Crusades, and so forth in the name of their gentle Christ? And if Christianity is about forgiveness and charity, how come so many "Christian" Republican politicians are so opposed to any programs that help the poor? How come "Christians" murder abortion doctors and clinic workers?
Regarding Christian Republicans (note that not all Christians are Republicans, and not all Republicans are Christians), some of them oppose government welfare programs because they believe they are ineffective, or because they believe private charities better accomplish the same goals; others are just plain old hypocrites. Does everyone who claims to hold to your ideology perfectly embody every one of its virtues?
Finally, while Christianity preaches the superiority of love, charity, and forgiveness over hatred and violence, it also teaches that all men are sinners, that every person, Christian or otherwise, is capable of committing great evil, and that this is why we need a Savior in the first place. That some Christians do in fact commit evil acts in no way proves Christianity to be false.
As Psychology Today points out, academic studies have demonstrated that atheist patients are given lower priority on organ donation lists, and atheist parents are more likely to be denied custody rights after a divorce. It is illegal for an atheist to hold public office in seven states, atheists cannot testify as a witness on trial in Arkansas, they aren’t allowed in the Boy Scouts, and Humanist chaplains are barred from serving in the nation’s military.
In a culture in which religiosity remains for many synonymous with morality, atheism is regarded by many Americans as immoral. A 2014 Pew Research Center study found that more than half of Americans (53 percent) believe that belief in God is essential to morality.
This only goes to show that most Americans lack philosophical rigor. Anyone well acquainted with philosophy and ethics, to be more specific, knows better. Not only can one be good without belief in god(s), but morality isn’t contingent on god. Moral behavior and development can be explained despite the fact that the Christian god doesn’t exist. If you want to combat this stigma, you need to be better equipped against such claims. Please consider my ethics tag and ethics page.
The Moral Argument is simply a bad argument and though some Christians assert that god is necessary for moral values, this couldn’t be further from the truth. If their assertions were true, they wouldn’t struggle to defend them when confronted by someone who’s philosophically astute. I’ve yet to meet a Christian who can adequately defend the Moral Argument without either a) straw manning at the onset in order to make it easier to address me, e.g., “you’re a normative relativist”; “you’re a subjectivist”; “you’re a utilitarian. b) depending on Divine Command Theory, as though that doesn’t create more problems for their position c) ignoring my actual views and offering ignoracio elenchis or new assertions in response d) offering blatant red herrings or e) reasserting what they failed to substantiate in the first place, namely that morality is contingent on the Christian god and we cannot explain morality in any other way. This is one of the reasons why I no longer debate wannabe apologists, but given the stigma, whenever I see the Moral Argument or some cheap variant, I’ll remind them that their confidence in the argument is misplaced.
This image doesn’t “bust” anything. The animals could have fit.
1. How many animals were on the Ark?
The Bible says that Noah took two of every kind. Scientifically, a kind would be animals divided by a family. There are about 929 distinct families of land animals, including Amphibians. 2 of each of these would be 1,858 animals on the Ark. You add in the 8 people, and you only get 1,866 biological organisms that would have gone on the Ark, not over 2 million.
2. How big was the Ark?
According with the Bible, it would be 480’ long, 80’ wide, and 48’ high, with 3 floors.
Being those dimensions, each floor would have around 15,000’ of space. The height was 48’, so each floor would have 16’.
Assuming the animals were the same size as they are today, the largest animal would be around 18’. 15,000’ per floor x 3 floors= 45,000’ floor space. 45,000 / 1,866 = 24.12’ per animal. That’s plenty enough room to fit all of the animals.
How would you say Christianity challenges you to think for yourself?
Hello dear sister in Christ! I have to plug you here and recommend your other blog, gothicchristian. I’m a fan!
Contrary to misinformed popular opinion, I would say Christianity challenges us to think for ourselves in several great ways.
1) God first and foremost commands us to think for ourselves.
If God’s commands are a way of describing reality and how it ought to work, then it’s a big deal that God wants us to think through to the bottom of everything. Passages like 1 John 4 and Proverbs 2:9-11 show that God wants us to have discernment and wisdom, and that “knowledge is pleasant to the soul.” Acts 17 is almost entirely about Paul wanting us to dig deep on what we really believe. God is absolutely pro-intellect and pro-science, and anyone who says otherwise hasn’t read the Bible very far.
2) Traditional Christianity had such a profound respect for knowledge that it practically kept libraries open during the so-called “Dark Ages.”
I know that not everyone will see eye-to-eye on this one, but modern scholars have completely dismissed the “Dark Age” myth and how “Christianity set us back for centuries.” This is a terrible misconception and only repeated by the shallowest of college students. Any medieval historian will tell you that early Christians cared so much about knowledge, whether pagan religion or Greek philosophy, that they preserved such teachings until it revitalized academia, to the point that you can link this revival with the scientific method and the Enlightenment. I personally believe the church has really lost their way on this in the twentieth and twenty-first century – but it must never be said that the early Christians tried to snuff out the sciences. It’s the very, very opposite. The purest state of Christianity will always seek knowledge in its purest form, no matter where it comes from, because the Christian believes all information can point us back to the true God (1 Timothy 4:4, Romans 1:20, Psalm 19:1-4).
3) God never demands our unthinking worship.
Most Christians will have a problem with this: but the Bible never once demands us to worship God. I remember learning this in seminary in my Ministry of Worship class, and a few people nearly walked out.
The Bible, in fact, only tells us about God and to seek Him. We’re to freely seek Him of our own will. The Bible then expects that if we truly met God as He really is, then we’ll be knocked over by His infinite glory. Every person in the Bible who actually sought God and met Him nearly fell over dead. Isaiah wept; Ezekiel fell on his head; Moses hid in a mountain; John pretended to die. But God never forced such worship out of them. He didn’t shotgun blast their knees. God gives us reasonable faculties to comprehend the reality of the world around us, and if we so wish, we can discover the glory of God by ascertaining His presence by pure logic and choice. It’s only when we meet Him are we also moved in affection and spirit. This gift of free-will tells me that God allows us to think freely and that He doesn’t want robots nor fear-driven grovelers.
4) The wondrous beauty of God draws us towards a vastly deeper appreciation of our reality.
I’m not sure why Christians today often settle for mediocrity in their art. Maybe it’s because we think the church ought to “show grace” for terrible Christianese music and movies, or that we need to have our own watered down version of secular culture. But there was a time when Christians were making the best art, music, and research, simply because Christians felt they were called to aesthetic excellence in all they did. If we’re empowered by an infinitely holy God, then it would follow that our creative inspiration would reflect an endlessly wondrous, majestic Creator.
Isaac Newton, Sebastian Bach, and Leonardo DaVinci were all Christians of varying faith traditions, yet they produced some of the most amazing work of their times. I think they were pulling not only from natural inspiration, but tapping into a divinity that added a bottomless depth to all they did. They were able to think deeper into a humbled surrender before glory, where imagination abounded. Like C.S. Lewis says, the Christian is not necessarily called to produce the best Christian stuff, but to make such great art and textbooks and music that others would want to pick them first, since nothing else would compare. Or as DC Talk once said, “If it’s Christian, it oughta be better.”
5) God welcomes doubts, questions, and frustration.
One thing in common about the Book of Job, Nahum, Jonah, Ruth, Habakkuk, Jeremiah, and Lamentations is that God hears our venting and anger about His ways. Sometimes God does press us by flexing His glory, but mostly He just understands and walks us through it and stays a friend in our flailing. Mark 9:24 is proof that God hangs close when we feel so far, and that our doubts never disqualify us from knowing Him.
This is in stark contrast to everywhere else. In a certain corner of the blog-world, if you even try to question the way that others think, you’ll be assaulted and shamed and destroyed. There’s no such thing as free-thinking on Facebook or Tumblr or Wordpress; you’ll be killed for questioning your platform. Your college campus and your workplace and your political office are so much more close-minded than you think. Most religious places, including the “Christian church,” are so afraid of questions that you’re called a sinner if you dare to implore or disagree. I’ll even go so far as to say that almost every institution exhibits cult-like behavior, which operate on everyone thinking the same and riding the status quo and being stomped on for dissension.
Christianity never, ever operates this way. If someone says it does, they haven’t even begun to meet the Jesus of the Bible. When you consider every downtrodden person who ever met Jesus, they had questions of suffering and purpose and wealth and death and disbelief – but Jesus always replied with both gentleness and authority. He treated these questions with dignity and worthy of navigating. He was never a step behind or too far ahead. Imagine a friend like that, who knows everything yet never condescends, who is side-by-side and yet in the lead.
I’ve been in places where I was shot down, cut off, and ostracized for the minority opinion. But in Scripture, with the Spirit, in the presence of Christ, I’ve never felt more comfort and conviction, where I was encouraged to float in my darkest questions but gently challenged on my preconceived notions. I could dare to vent my most horrible anger, because He not only handled me, but welcomed me. There is no other safe place where I can truly be myself and truly think for myself. And when I have such confidence in Him, I can freely admit when I’m wrong. I’m not threatened by different platforms or opposing voices, because all such knowledge is inherently valuable and worthwhile to hear. It matters less that we agree, but more that I will welcome you, so we can wrestle through these thoughts like Jesus did with me.
To the young Christian interested in expanding his apologetics what do you recommend?
I think starting with Bible commentaries and C. S. Lewis would be solid. Of course, reading the Bible all the way through a few times would be even better. Teddy Roosevelt says a thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.
There have been 318 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence since 1989. In most of those cases, the eyewitnesses who testified felt confident in their memories when under oath on the stand. Yet eyewitness testimony contributed to 72 percent of those wrongful convictions, according to the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal and public policy group.
Gary Wells, a professor at Iowa State University who has been working on the issue of lineups and eyewitness identifications since the 1970s, says that for a defendant, it used to be, if “you get mistakenly identified by an eyewitness, you’re just going down. There was pretty much nothing definitive enough to trump the eyewitness account.” But when DNA exonerations began seeping into the legal system in the 1990s, more courts began to ask: Why are so many eyewitness accounts misfiring?
That question has prompted some courts to revamp how such evidence is handled. In 2011, the New Jersey Supreme Court released detailed jury instructions, requiring consideration (usually at the end of a trial) of the crime’s duration of time, a witness’s level of stress or distraction, distance from the event, lighting at the time, intoxication, a focus on a distracting weapon, if there were possible racial challenges (since research shows that people make more mistakes trying to identify strangers of races different from their own) and exposure to information that may mislead the memory.
This is why you can’t get your knowledge on law from believers, specifically Christians. Lee Strobel and other apologists exaggerate the role of eyewitness testimony in court. I not only majored in law in high school, but I’ve had the privilege of taking two college courses: philosophy of law; crime and punishment. Both focused heavily on actual court cases and though there were eyewitnesses, their testimonies didn’t decide the cases. As shown here, eyewitness testimony is, in fact, unreliable. It is far more unreliable than Christians would have us believe. Yet this is precisely what the Gospels are founded on: accounts written by purported eyewitnesses. Without including actual facts, e.g., the first Gospel was written about three decades after the fact, even if we assume that they’re accounts written by eyewitnesses, there are problems with testimony: distress, reconstructive memory, leading questioning, etc. Memories can be altered and even deleted. There’s also the issue of memory confabulation.
The simple point to be made here is that courts have moved beyond eyewitness testimony. DNA evidence, as mentioned above, led to the overturning of countless convictions. DNA evidence has also led to cases reopening, new leads, and convictions–sometimes well after the fact. Of course, DNA evidence isn’t perfect, but it is certainly better than eyewitness testimony. Likewise, even under the assumption that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts, skeptics require a stronger line of evidence. Unfortunately, there’s nothing akin to DNA evidence. All lines of evidence have proved problematic in proving the Jesus Christians must believe in–namely the Jesus that performed miracles, cast out demons, walked on water, and so on. Ultimately, the claim that eyewitness testimony bolsters their beliefs is mistaken. Drawing analogies with court cases actually harms their case if one is acquainted with statistics like the one mentioned above. To translate the above statistic, out of 318 wrongful convictions, 229 were based on eyewitness testimony. That’s astoundingly unreliable and cannot be part of the argument you use to convince skeptics. You can’t expect an atheist to accept your reasoning given such dubious grounds. Like many apologetic claims, this is just another claim that has to be abandoned. Eyewitness testimony simply isn’t a reliable epistemic ground.
I'm a Christian that's been reading your blog for a few weeks now and I'm blessed to have found your blog. However, I've read a lot about how Christianity is actually based on ancient Egyptian religion and philosophy and pretty much white people took these ideas and made it into Christianity. So i guess my question is that I am fooling myself for believing in the "white man's religion" cuz to me it doesnt make what's said in the Bible any less true but is the Bible an allegorical text then?
Hey dear friend, thank you so very much for your kind words. Thank you also for the challenging question.
Let’s consider the following three things.
1) The other week, I was reading (once again) that Jesus wasn’t a real person but a concocted amalgamation of different legendary figures conflated into a mascot for a cult of Israelite rejects so they could regain power from the Roman Empire. Then they succeeded by having Constantine pronounce Christianity as the mainline religion of his reign. This is a theory that pops up every few years as a new theory, just like the one about finding Jesus’s grave, finding his wife and kids, and how “the Dark Ages was the fault of the Catholic church and caused a regression of the sciences.”
2) Christianity has a lot ofsimilarities to other religions, which means that either a) Christianity is true and every other religion has a grasp of the truth, or that b) all religions are just a grab-bag pile of fairy-tales. I have a problem with the second option because almost every other religion self-describes as a fairy-tale or a way of life, while Christianity is about the underlying unbending reality of how things really are and self-describes as the zenith of all truth. So if we’re left with the first option, it would mean, for example, that the dozens of flood accounts in other religions shouldn’t be intimidating to Christianity since they’re probably witness accounts of the same event told by different cultures.
3) Christianity, which has made a jump from the Roman Empire to St. Augustine’s Africa to Westernized America and now to modern Asia, is increasing almost everywhere else except white Europe and white America. (I’m not using white as a derogatory term, I promise.) The idea that it was hijacked by “white man” is also anachronistic, since the concept of the “bad white man” is way too modern to creep into the early stirrings of Christianity. In fact, white Westerner sociologists will admit that religion is now deteriorating in mostly white Western societies, and it’s probably because the Gospel is so counter-intuitive to power-plays and personal gain. If
anything, general religion (and admittedly non-religion) is increasing at rapid rates around the world.
I bring these up because
1) you’ll hear about a “new startling expose” on Christianity every now and then that’s already been answered by coherent historical academia,
2) you’ll hear that many religions are quite similar, which is no threat to Christianity, and
3) you’ll find that Christianity is the furthest thing from a “white religion,” and if it was, it would be a terrible one. Westerners prefer God to be a therapeutic, puppet-like, abstract, serve-me, uncle-figure, which is radically different than the God of the Bible. It’s actually more like the ancient Egyptian deities which are falsely touted as a cradle for Christianity.
The best I could say is to thoughtfully investigate all these things for yourself, by diving into the research of those who have followed the truth no matter where it took them. There will still be doubts, questions, stalemates and a constant mist of mystery, but I think that’s okay.
The important thing is to question everything, including our questions, and not to buy into something too fast. If we must discard something, I hope we do it deliberately, carefully, with full engagement down to the bottom. I still wrestle with a ton of unresolved tension about some of the ins-and-outs of the Christian faith, but I’m also learning there’s a lot more coherence and consistency than I give it credit for. In the end, I’ve found Jesus to be the most compelling centerpiece of all that Christianity offers, and I find it harder to believe that anyone could’ve made him up.