Tag Archives: religion

Review ~ When the chains of dogma keep us from seeking truthfulness.

The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity, by William Paul Young. Available for $7-18 (movie released this month).

Th Shack

There was such a hullabaloo about the whole thing. There were people excited it was finally going to be on the big screen, as well as people resurrecting the battles over the theology and doctrine portrayed in the original book. As I attempt to do with at least some controversies, I let most of it flow on by. I am, after all, still an avid fan of Oh, God, a movie some evangelicals considered downright blasphemous. I was finally enticed to view the trailer; and I fell instantly in love. I had to have the book, sooner rather than later (and will watch the movie). Every spare moment this week, Kindle in hand, I devoured Young’s tale. Then, I spent a bit of time poking around on the Internet attempting to determine what all the fuss was about. You would have thought the story was a Doctorate Thesis, submitted to the public for vetting. On second thought, maybe it should be. Here is my take on the emotional and spiritual punch, and theological challenge, delivered by this lovely little book.

As a reference point for most of the criticism, I used a fairly prominent Christian blog, www.boundless.org. The article was articulate, and summarized most of the points others were making at various levels of ability and understanding. I found the criticism telling.

First there is the accusation that the story as presented seeks, in many subtle ways, to undermine The Faith. In my opinion, what the author is gently pushing against is the dogmatic doctrine of the church. A structure that believes, somehow, that the interpretations of the early Church Fathers are every bit as holy as the original text penned who knows how many millennia ago. The author points to a particular passage where the character of Jesus states that he is not Christian. Well, as it happens he was not. He was Jewish. Subversion of the “orthodox” view started a couple of millennia ago, I seem to recall the image of Jesus turning over tables in the temple courts.

Since folks like to quote things, let’s look at Proverbs 2:1-5 (ESV). “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” As far as I can tell, scripture here, and in other places, encourages us to seek insight and understanding – not to accept it as a God-wrapped treasure from those who declare themselves our leaders and sole interpreters of ancient manuscripts.

There is also the issue of how we know God. Many Christians look to scripture as the beginning – and the end – of the discussion. They feel that messages, commands, and admonitions written for people in a different time, different country, and under far different circumstances, should be adhered to without fail today. There are two problems with this approach.

First, it is okay to hold tight to the letter of the law as long as it fits within preconceived notions. Many Christians have problems with the idea of an adulteress being stoned in a Muslim country – and yet that is scripture. Scripture indicates that we should not divorce and that if we do remarry, we are committing adultery. These may sound like old, worn-out arguments, but at the core is this issue: understanding what scripture is trying to impart about the duties of a person that follows the first and foremost command – to love – often comes to blows with modern science, understanding, and culture. The Bible is a living breathing text and should, by all accounts, serve us well whatever the century or however advanced the culture. Look for the message – not the letter – of the law. This is something that The Shack tries to drive home.

And while we’re on the subject, as much as the reader may wish that the Bible was God breathed in every syllable and comma – that is just not a possibility. We do not have access to the original, inspired texts, and we have pushed what we do have through centuries of cultural, personal, and faith driven interpretations. This, of course, it the purpose of the reference to the King James Bible in the book. The challenge to see beyond a specific translation, or interpretation, of scripture and to look for the message that sings the whole way through.

It seems hardly right to devote a short paragraph to the subject of Salvation and what, precisely, it was we see accomplished on the Cross. I keep it short because this is a subject which has been debated since the nascent church began to spread throughout the population of the early Middle East. All the more reason to ponder the thoughts suggested by Young. After centuries of having the hell-fire of sinners pounded into our heads and our souls (a vision we owe more to Dante than the Bible), it is difficult for Christians to see beyond that vision into the conundrum they have created. Simply labeling something a “mystery” is no more than a cop out. We cannot reconcile a loving Creator with an eternal fire – a really eternal fire – for the least of the possible infractions against a code. A code, by the way, we are quick to say was done away with on the cross. If we continue to lock ourselves away in these labyrinths of theological conundrums, we will awaken one day to find we have not done the most important thing we were commanded to do – love. The possibilities discussed by The Shack are thoughts and theories presented by many outstanding scholars within the field. Why would God expect us, no – command us – to forgive whatever the response from the target of our forgiveness – if He was not prepared to do the same?

Oh, and last but certainly not least – how do we portray God? This was a point well brandished in the article I read. According to that author, scripture tells us not to make images of God. Except – scripture does provide images of God and it is those images we defend the most. One is of God as some grandfatherly figure in long robes. And we read that as a white male. When was the last time you saw a portrait of Christ in a church that actually looked like a native of the Middle East? Personally, I was delighted at the portrayal of a functioning, interactive, personification of the multiple aspects of God as defined in scripture – including that of Sophia. I was delighted because that presentation challenges us to break our preconceptions down into the ludicrous assumptions that we defend. Who are we to describe what God would look like as He spoke from the burning bush? Can we really grasp what Daniel, John, or any other author saw in their visions? Would those visions not be based on the people and culture they knew? Do you know without a single doubt, how the Creating force of this universe operates and relates? If The Shack does nothing else – maybe it will break that fragile shell of how we perceive something which we can only grasp in brief and finite thoughts.

Did I agree with everything in the book? Of course not. But I found the story a real attempt to reach people where they are, in the middle of their pain, and carrying years of baggage, some of which they have nothing to do with. One of the most telling bits within the story for me was that Mack never realized that his older daughter blamed herself for the loss of her sister. He was so wrapped up in his own pain, he never thought that someone else may be suffering from the same burden. If you take anything away from this book – know these things. Creation meets us where, and when we are. Our pain is a part of an evolving universe, we are neither the worms beneath our feet, nor lords of the universe. Sharing our pain is how we love one another, and how we help those who also suffer, while healing our own hurt.

Before you attempt to doctrinalize (like that word?) this story into Gahanna – see if you can find some small bit of insight you can work into your own inquiring soul. Or use it to open your eyes to the vast, creative force behind and throughout the universe in which we live.

3 Comments

Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Fiction

The God Box ~ Part the Fourth

I was getting far more serious in my search for a shape to my faith. As part of my degree, I attended a few introductory classes in Old and New Testament studies. These classes were designed, and taught, within the evangelical theological structure. I found the material interesting, but much of it was no deeper than many Sunday School lesson plans. What I did find was an aroused interest in digging further. Was learning my true faith?

Gift 2

Initially, my quest for a congregation of seekers led me to a small, non-affiliated church in the upper desert of California. The study groups were attended by serious explorers, and questions were not viewed as doubt. The pastor was a man who taught rather than preached. It was a refreshing experience.

It was the kind of church that knew it did not have all the answers, and the members felt seeking was an act of worship. When I approached the pastor with a conflict between my own convictions and the lesson assigned to my 6th grade Sunday School class, he was understanding. He gave me the freedom to arrive at a focus point that expressed the desired theme, but did not force me into a personal conflict. The instance that started this arrangement occurred one spring when I realized I was teaching the story of Easter a full month before Passover.

Most Christian churches never visit the disconnect between Easter and Passover, partly because there is shamefully little attention paid to the underlying history of our celebrations. Once a holiday becomes Christian, it always has been from the beginning of time. Easter is a good example. I go into detail here because it is symptomatic of the attitudes that drove me from institutional religion.

The “delivered word” is that Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. But it’s not. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. It is a holiday derived from ancient, spring fertility rites. The symbolism is still there. Easter bunnies, because they go forth and multiply, eggs as the symbol of birth, and feasts with all kinds of spring bounty. Even ham. Have you ever wondered how ham came to be served on a holiday celebrating the resurrection of the Lamb of God? A man who considered pigs unclean animals?

In contrast, we have the celebration of Passover. An observance that celebrates the release from captivity, and a reminder of the mighty power of God. If we are, indeed, celebrating the resurrection of the ultimate sacrifice—God’s Passover Lamb—well, shouldn’t that occur on the third day after the crucifixion? Shouldn’t the two observances at least superficially relate to each other?

I was not prepared to teach a fertility rite of spring. I wished to focus on the celebration of the central theme of Christianity: the risen Lamb of God. My understanding pastor told me to teach it as I saw it. Even with all the Easter festivities going on throughout the church, he freed me to find a path to the message I wanted to give.

I was again lulled into a comfortable box that allowed me some latitude for my need to study and learn. It gave me a forum to share my faith as a teacher. There were Bible studies where I could express my thoughts and not feel out of place. But as the church grew, things changed, and the nature of the communion I enjoyed with that church changed with it. By that time, though, I had already begun to make the connections that led me to my next spiritual encounter.

This series began a bit ago, so here are links to the other articles.

The God Box ~ Part the First
The God Box ~ Part the Second
The God Box ~ Part the Third
The God Box ~ Part the Fifth
The God Box ~ Part the Sixth

6 Comments

Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Journey with Job, Personal Journeys

The God Box ~ Part the Third

The next stop along my journey was a similar denomination but one with a slightly different point of view. You did not fall from grace with every odd transgression. Oh, no! You were safe and secure for all eternity regardless of the choices you made. Of course, you had to be a member. A baptized member.

“That’s very nice that you were baptized by immersion, but that church doesn’t believe the same things we do.”

Isn’t that interesting?

Gift 3

Here was another box. As long as you were a member of this club, you were safe for eternity. There was protocol to follow to become a member, of course. It required an obligatory walk down the aisle during the church service and an agreement to undergo the ceremonial baptism into the church. Yes, that was my interpretation, and I openly shared that thought with the kind lady who was supposed to lead me into my “new life.” The poor soul became perplexed and worried about the requirements of man versus the requirements of God. Not a good start for a supposedly new convert. I tried to put her at ease, and silently vowed to watch my tongue in order to avoid unwanted controversy. Who wants to be kicked out before you’re even a member?

A weary sense of apathy crept in. This was an extremely trying time in my life, for a number of reasons. Not only was my personal and business life in a major tangle, I suffered the church’s opinion of divorced women. A professional woman in Texas working in commercial real estate. Living alone. Could I possibly be any more immodest?

How I could be safe in the arms of Jesus forever and yet, well, be a yet-to-be-defined fallen woman, was a bit of a quandary for me. Who I was and what my needs might be appeared to be the farthest thing from anyone’s mind.

As long as I presented myself as a modest professional woman, one who was not on the prowl for eligible, upstanding bachelors in the church, then my contributions to choir, school buses, and refinancing of the church property, where accepted gracefully. I was tolerated as a business person of some influence, but not as a woman who might be interested in friendship or companionship. It was a church attended by a number of influential business people, and eventually I viewed the organization as little more than a service club with a cross on the door.

Resisting the tide was beyond my strength at that time. It was easier to “go through the motions” of being a good Christian. I attended church, sang in the choir, offered professional services at huge discounts, or for free when appropriate. The only place anyone wanted my opinion was in the Sunday School class. I sought some blend of honesty, and non-confrontation. Now and then, I run across notes from that teacher in my old files and realize that someone was listening, and that I did have some small bit to contribute. All without realizing the influence I did have.

I managed to tolerate this state of affairs for several years. The church demanded little of me at a time in my life when I had little to give. Eventually, I looked inside this new box, and I found no God. In fact, I had a hard time finding me. I needed more. A great deal more.

That box had to go.

The God Box ~ Part the First
The God Box ~ Part the Second
The God Box ~ Part the Fourth
The God Box ~ Part the Fifth
The God Box ~ Part the Sixth

6 Comments

Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Journey with Job, Personal Journeys

The God Box ~ Part the Second

Gift 2

Picking up where we left off, why was it so hard for me to follow the “delivered word?” Peer pressure was not part of my lexicon, and rebellion was not part of my thought process. Due to the circumstances of my childhood I was a loner, and I did not engage with people my own age. I was an observer, a patient planner towards the day I would be on my own. Somehow I was able to hide from the deeper impact of childhood abuse. Certainly, once I was grown up, I would be able to avoid these sorts of things. I just had to wait it out. That thought process was part of what made me question the theology I was being taught.

The problem began with the God of Job. Or, perhaps, the popular interpretation of Job. In the book of Job we see a man that God himself declares righteous, and without fault. Then all hell rains down on the man, and his so-called friends spend the majority of the book trying to discover what horrible sin he committed in deed or in thought. Toward the end, God steps in and tells them they are full of hot air. The debate about the real meaning of the text has gone on for centuries, but the vast majority of interpretations lean toward figuring out what evil thing Job did, what higher level of spirituality he obtained, or what lesson God was trying to teach him. My problem was that God said Job was righteous. There was nothing to “punish.”

Something simply did not add up.

If I were to take church doctrine at face value, God was something like a Santa Claus, watching my every thought. If I was a very good girl, good things would happen. If I was a bad girl, God would punish me. The trick, though, was that I might not always know what I had done that was bad. Just like Job, I felt there was something really important being left out of the debate. Was I being punished for something I didn’t know I had done wrong?

That didn’t make sense. God had time to watch my every thought? A personal God is one thing, but one that follows you around and pokes you for every wrong—real or perceived, acknowledged or unknown—seems to be a tragic waste of creative power. If we are supposed to receive undeserved grace, then how could my being good influence the outcome one way or the other? Wouldn’t that be a reward system? Ask these questions of a church leader and they would smile, with a knowing look, and tell you that you just don’t understand.

Yes! I get that. So, please, explain it to me.

Silence.

Was it valid to pray for success? Perfect health? Or, say, healing when you refused to give up what was making you sick? Was is fair to accuse a dying patient of not praying hard enough? After all, “God wants to heal you.” Then bring it on, brother! Let’s get the show on the road! Was I subjected to years of mind twisting childhood abuse because I didn’t pray enough? Does an entire state or country deserve to suffer massive devastation because of the perceived infractions of a few? Is it fair or right that some people could tell lies in the presence of those who knew they were lying, and still be allowed to bear witness against another person?

Try as I might, I could not worship a sovereign that plagued His creation with constant earned, and unearned trials, and tribulations. Try the same program on a human teenager (or anyone except a fanatic) and watch the results. It just doesn’t fit with human nature. If a Sovereign Creator should know anything, it should be the nature of His created beings.

I had no choice. Even freed from a specific church body, the theology just did not fit. This God Box had to go.

Part the first can be found here.
The God Box ~ Part the Third
The God Box ~ Part the Fourth
The God Box ~ Part the Fifth
The God Box ~ Part the Sixth

6 Comments

Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Journey with Job, Personal Journeys

The God Box ~ Part the First

gift-1015691_960_720

Have you ever received a present that was wrapped up in ever larger boxes? Each time you unwrapped a box there was a smaller box inside until you finally reached the tiny, probably very precious, or very expensive, gift in the middle? That is how my spiritual journey unfolded. My perception of what God should be was the tiny, precious gift I thought lived in the smallest box. I struggled to set Him free, especially from the institutional constraints imposed on Him. It took me a long time to learn that the best box is no box at all.

I was raised in two opposite, and sometimes conflicting worlds. In one world, my family attended an evangelical church three times a week. The denomination was hierarchical, and authority rested with the church leaders. They were supposed to know how to interpret scripture as it applied to every facet of our lives. I attended the church school for a few years and became further indoctrinated into the “delivered word.” This was the church of my father’s youth.

In the other world, my mother taught me to read at an early age. My questions were answered with, “Go look it up.” “Think about it.” “Learn what we know for sure and why.” “Know when opinion is appropriate and useful.” My mother was a saboteur of religious conformity if ever there was one. She had been raised in an entirely different atmosphere than my father was.

I didn’t bother myself too much with the contradictions between what I was taught in church and what was evident to me in my own world. I believed these older, wiser people knew something I did not, and that I must read more; think more. By my mid-teens, all that reading and thinking began to make a substantial impact. In my world, those adults lost their firm grip on the “delivered word.”

At the age of 16, as a voting member of the congregation, I formally resigned from the church. The move was initiated by a squabble over the alleged behavior of our pastor. To this day, I have no idea what was true and what was not. What bothered me was that much of what was said about the man from behind the pulpit of our church was pure fabrication. I knew the sons and daughters of these leaders, and I knew what was going on in their homes. Throughout the debacle I would often watch the sons of these so-called leaders break down in tears and leave the sanctuary. How dare these so-called leaders use the pulpit to create the illusion of holiness, on a foundation of lies, while they massacred the reputation of another person?

My two-page resignation letter stated that I did not believe I knew it all, and that I was painfully aware of how much I still had to learn. I had, however, lost faith in the leadership of that church to show me the way. It was a letter that gained infamy. When my parents asked the new pastor for advice regarding a trip I wanted to take a few years later, the letter was used to defame me. Both of my parents rejected the assault on my morals, and ethics, and told me to do what I felt was right for me.

There was no going back after that. I was off on an adventure that would lead me through several Christian denominations in search of those who, like me, were less certain of the details but still firmly rooted in their faith.

Throughout my journey I have never lost faith. Faith is a quiet, warm campfire deep in my soul that lights the night around me, and occasionally retreats into glowing embers so I can see the brilliance of the night sky above. It has been my guide, my own personal Philosopher’s Stone.

Although blatant hypocrisy played a role in my initial decision to become a seeker, it was not the driving force. For me, the number-one problem with the faith of my youth was that God, as described within that faith, did not fit with my perception of the universe around me. In my opinion, the God of that faith was little more than a cosmic Santa Claus.

Join me, over the next few weeks, as I take you on my journey. It is a journey that may resemble yours, or maybe not. It is, however, a journey that might give you thought. At least I sincerely hope so. Just what kind of God do you believe in?

The God Box ~ Part the Second
The God Box ~ Part the Third
The God Box ~ Part the Fourth
The God Box ~ Part the Fifth
The God Box ~ Part the Sixth

6 Comments

Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Journey with Job, Personal Journeys

Guest Post ~ Faith in Fiction

I’ve been really, really busy trying to push through a major portion of my manuscript on Job. It is going quite well. That means, of course, less time to spend here. But I have a plan! This week I have a guest blogger, Cindy Keopp. She is an author of science fiction/fantasy. As it happens, I am one of her beta readers. Recently, one of her novels has become available for preorder, Like Herding the Wind, Urushalon I. It is a lovely tale and I highly recommend it.

Faith is something that winds its way throughout Cindy’s tales. It is a part of her and her journey, and so it finds its way into her novels. I asked her to tell us about that.

Like Herding

Cindy Koepp:

I was tempted to write an analysis of all the reasons why writers are told to avoid explicit mentions of Christianity in their writing followed by an explanation of why I ignore those suggestions. The prohibition of faith in writing would have made an interesting addition to my blog series on the Hugo and Nebula winners, but I’ll keep that topic for another time.

Instead, I’d rather have a look at the reasons why faith features so prominently in so many of my stories. The most overtly Christian of my books, Remnant in the Stars, even has a character convert to Christianity partway through the tale.

Leaving out the matters of faith would have made some things much easier. I’ve gotten into intense “discussions” with a publishing expert on the issue, been accused of trying to shove my religion up everyone’s nose, and had folks who offered to review the book later refuse because of the religion issue. Had I kept religion out of it, I would have avoided that mess altogether, but I can’t do that.

Some writers eschew the anti-religion advice because they “write for the audience of One.” In other words, they say that they don’t care what other people think because they’re writing only to please God. That’s not me. I’m not half arrogant enough to think a perfect God is interested in what I wrote. The best I can do is hope He’s not majorly offended.

Likewise, I don’t believe my writing is inspired by God. I’m not simply His scribe, and this isn’t a new Gospel I’m working on. If God were writing these tales, they’d be much more perfect than anything I come up with on my own. I wouldn’t need an editor because God doesn’t make mistakes. Trust me. I need an editor.

I write to communicate what I think and feel. Often these stories help me work through difficult things I’ve had to face. Sometimes the stories help me relate funny things that have happened. My tales contain goofy jokes and a weird sense of humor because I have a weird sense of humor and tell goofy jokes. The stories deal with complex characters and situations because life is rarely simple. All the characters are dealing with their own problems and their own joys. They have their own goals, so most of the characters in my stories have their own character arcs.

Most importantly, they have their own beliefs. People are predisposed to believe in something. In my own personal adventures, I’ve found that people put their faith and confidence in something or someone, even if that someone is found in the mirror every morning. To leave faith out of the story is to create a character that is woefully lacking in a critical element.

That’s not to say that all my stories have strong religious tendencies. One, Mindstorm: Parley at Ologo, has only one reference to God in passing toward the end. Are those characters missing something critical? No, but the details about their personal beliefs were not necessary, so rather than clutter up the work with unneeded detail, I kept the info about the characters’ religions in my notes along with other factoids. At critical points in the story, though, the religious background of the character influenced the choices the character made even if the reader never got to know the motivation for the choice.

More frequently, though, the characters’ religion plays a more active role in the story. For some characters, their faith becomes a source of strength for them in adversity, a cause for hope when practical answers are elusive, a solace in the maelstrom of family and international politics, and a comfort in times of grief.

In my personal life, faith is all these things, and I’ve only just begun to explore what faith in God can bring.

Like Herding the Wind — A Mystery. A wounded path. An alien society with centuries of work to coexistent with humans, but someone isn’t happy with the progress made. Will the human-alien team find those responsible before another human dies? In the 1600s, an Eshuvani generation ship crash-landed in a farmer’s field in Germany. Unable to find the resources on Earth to fix their ship, the Eshuvani built enclaves and tried to let the humans develop without interference. Three hundred fifty years later, Eshuvani criminals start a crime wave in the Texas coastal town of Las Palomas. With police officers being injured and killed in the efforts to stop them, Sergeant Ed Osborn attempts to use his ties to the Eshuvani community to get help for his men, but the local leadership wants nothing to do with humans. Ed contacts his urushalon, Amaya Ulonya, the Eshuvani mother he adopted when he was a boy, and seeks her help. After the death of her partner, Amaya, the captain of a police and rescue team, finds more grief than joy in her current assignment. Amidst controversy, she arranges to spearhead the new Buffer Zone station between Las Palomas and the nearby Eshuvani enclave of Woran Oldue. She hopes the opportunity to help Ed train his people will help her bury the past. The indifference of the local administration leaves her with Ill-functioning equipment and inexperienced staff. It only gets worse when the attacks of an Eshuvani criminal grow personal. Amaya must get control of her grief to help Las Palomas or risk losing someone even more dear to her than her last partner.

Cindy Koepp is originally from Michigan. She moved to Texas as a child and later received a degree in Wildlife Sciences and teaching certification in Elementary Education from rival universities. Her recently concluded adventures in education involved pursuing a master’s degree in Adult Learning with a specialization in Training and Performance Improvement. Cindy has three published science fiction and fantasy novels, a serial published online, short stories in five anthologies, and a few self-published teacher resource books. When she isn’t reading or writing, Cindy spends time whistling with a crazy African Grey. Cindy is currently an editor with PDMI Publishing and Barking Rain Press as well as an optician at monster-sized retail store.

Cindy can be found — and further enjoyed at:

http://ckoepp.com
http://cindykoepp.wordpress.com
http://www.amazon.com/Cindy-Koepp/e/B008QXR2QI

Leave a comment

Filed under Stuff about Writing

Reflections ~ SCOTUS and Equality Under the Law

Courtesy Creative Commons.org

Courtesy Creative Commons.org

 

Some time ago I wrote an article to be shared on a friend’s website. Patrick was kind enough to invite me as a guest blogger so that I could discuss something near to my heart that I was not prepared to share on my own site. Silly me, I thought it didn’t really fit. But it does. It fits very well. Why? Because I am a student of anthropology, philosophy, history and religion. I see in history and in literature so many facets of the human condition and one thing is clear: division destroys. Hatred destroys. Respect, equal access to law, genuine concern for fellow man – that builds. This rather long article is about the cultural approach to the union of two people (and ever so rarely more) into an emotional, physical and legal entity for mutual success and support.

Let’s start with a bit of history. Marriage, as defined by anthropologists, is a broad subject and the more we try to describe it the fuzzier things get. At the most basic level of understanding marriage was developed as an institution to provide two things: sexual monopoly (which may be with more than one individual), and some kind of birth-status rights for any offspring. This second issue also involves inheritance rights and rights to property. Some anthropologists feel that the marital status in some of these cultures did not actually protect the birthright of any offspring; it was simply a definition of status. What we do know is that marriage apparently developed as a way to (hopefully) ensure exclusive access to one’s partner and therefore grant some guarantee of the linage of offspring and to link kinsmen together in some bond. Cultures from the beginning of time have developed and supported various forms of this institution which included monogamy, polygamy, and polyandry (more than one husband). Group marriage is very, very rare; however marriage between two persons of the same sex is not.

In ancient Greece, no civil ceremony was required. Their tradition was something like modern day common-law arrangements where mutual agreement and public acknowledgement were sufficient to create the relationship. In Rome, a woman’s whole heritage transferred from the family of her birth to that of her husband’s. The only way a woman could keep her rights of inheritance was through something called a “free marriage” where she stayed under the authority of her father. However, she did not share in any rights to her husband’s family fortunes. Sounds more like a “friends with benefits” than some kind of commitment.

During the first century CE, Christian marriages were considered to be a private matter between the couple and their families with no specific religious or civil ceremony required. Around 110 CE, Ignatius of Antioch introduced the idea that marriages should be performed within the church under the authority of the bishop to ensure that things were going according to God and not the lust of the couple. By the 12th century women were made to take the name of their husband and such unions required the permission of a parent as well as the church. During the middle ages the churches registered marriages (this was not obligatory) and the mere mutual statement by each member of a union in the presence of a witness was sufficient to form a union. As the middle ages progressed and the Protestant faith began to expand, the Roman Catholic Church determined that offspring of a Protestant marriage (i.e., one not performed in a Roman Catholic Church) were bastards and could not inherit the fortunes of their parents. I’ll let you guess who did collect those fortunes.

History is just as rich in traditions and records of relationships involving people of the same gender. Anthropological studies have indicated that pre-industrial cultures were split fairly equally between those who didn’t care one way or the other and those who had some social taboo against it. Native American peoples considered homosexual or bi-sexual individuals as being of “two spirits” and really didn’t get overly stressed over the matter. In fact, if parents determined that their child was a “Two Spirit” the child was given the choice of which path they would choose to follow and he/she was raised accordingly. Many became shamans.

In Asia, recorded history for same-sex relationships goes back as far as 600 BCE. In fact, in the Thai culture these persons were treated as a third gender. They were and are generally accepted by at least some of the Asian societies. Records show that it was not unusual for Thai royalty to keep consorts of both sexes.

And, the list goes on. Every culture since mankind has had anything that could be called a culture has developed ways and means to deal with relationships between its individual members. In almost every case those traditions, rules and practices were meant to accomplish two things:

  1. A cleaving together in some form to indicate that these particular individuals are committed to each other emotionally and physically; and,
  2. The formation of a legal relationship that protected inheritance, lineage and legal status.

Even in modern times the arrangement of common law unions may start without religious or civil affirmation; but quite frequently end up with some sort of input from an official party to determine what obligations, rights and privileges belong with whom. In the least it generally requires a legal document filed somewhere that says the union is no more.

Why, say you, did I go into such great lengths to explain all this “relationship” stuff? Because it appears that our society has become terribly embroiled in a debate about relationships without really understanding what the issues are. Perhaps it is a bit understandable that after centuries of being bombarded with the terrible consequences of “forbidden love” some persons in our society may feel it is their duty to squelch even the appearance of such relationships, let alone any legal acknowledgement. They are entitled to their opinion. The scripture they quote, however, was directed to a people that wished to be “apart,” that wished to be “different,” and, consequently, to follow a certain set of rules. Scripture does NOT tell the Hebrews to march out into the world and destroy every homosexual that they find; it tells them how to conduct themselves if they choose to accept a certain way of life, if they want to commit to a certain covenant. As far as the fate of the infamous Sodom and Gomorrah, those two cities had problems that went far beyond the mere issue of homosexuality. For instance, there was human trafficking (Lot offered his virgin daughters to the crowd to avoid surrendering his guests), and kidnapping (people had to lock themselves in at night to avoid rampaging mobs), to mention a few. This was not a nice place to live by any civilized standards. And in the end? The cities would have been spared if only 12 righteous persons could be found. Think of that the next time someone says a whole state or country has suffered great loss due to “sexual orientation” or whatever.

So, we are back to who has the authority to tell a person how he or she should live his or her life (as long as said person is not causing injury to others). As it happens, the person that grants that authority is the individual. The authority over any life is granted to a leadership in a group by the members of the group. If you want to start a club where only people with green eyes and purple hair can join; then that is your prerogative. It is NOT your right to tell the rest of the world they must purchase green contacts and dye their hair. You are not permitted to insist that the whole population performs these requirements even if they are excluded from your group for some reason, or have no interest in joining in the first place. Yes, I know. The choice of one’s partner(s) in life is far more serious than this silly scenario, it is far more personal. And so, the choice should remain with the persons involved.

If you choose to adhere to a tradition that marriage is between one man and one woman and you feel that marriage should be blessed by a church; then by all means follow that path. Please be sure you do not run to the nearest steeple. Understand that if you accept the blessings of a priest, minister, rabbi or whatever that you are saying publically that you agree with their point of view regarding your union and what it means. The Catholic Church has this part down pat. Some denominations accept the validity of same-sex marriages and will respond accordingly. Some, obviously, do not. In any event this type of commitment is a spiritual one, one made based on the beliefs, dogmas and requirements of that particular institution. The adherents of any one belief system, however, do not have the right or obligation to enforce their point of view on the rest of the population.

If, however, a couple wishes to announce to the world that they have formed an emotional and intimate relationship, that they intend to go forward in the world building financial security and mutual support, and that they wish to have the legal protections and obligations available for such unions under the state in which they reside; then they should have that right, regardless of their gender or choice of mate. There is no requirement that any religion accept this union, many of them don’t even ask for that. These people simply want the ability to have the person in the world most important to them able to share financially, emotionally and legally with their successes and failures. They want the person closest to their heart in the hospital room with them at moments of life and death decisions. How dare we as a society deny an individual the comfort of a loved one in an hour of need? And yet by saying their relationship is not valid in some way that is precisely what we do.

I truly fail to understand why persons normally so committed to keeping “government” out of their own lives can be so insistent on using government to interfere in the lives of others. Yes, the country was founded by “god-fearing” men (and women). Those men, however, were deist who believed in the basic good in the heart of humanity. They were not evangelist trying to save the world. Perhaps they misplaced their faith in our ability to build a country based on the common good of people and blinded themselves to what seems to be our mutual drive to divide and destroy. Allowing committed individuals the legal protections and rights granted under civil or even religious unions is a matter of human rights and deserves the support of a civil authority. All citizens have an equal right of protection under law and in justice. Such a policy will not destroy the country. Really, it won’t.

One final word so that the record is complete and I ask that if I am quoted that it should be in context. One can at least hope. As it happens I am a Christian. Not a member of any particular institution, but, nonetheless, a Christian in thought process. The man attributed to the founding of that particular branch of human belief was quite different, in my eyes, than often described. He loved to feast with prostitutes and tax collectors. He was clearly able to display anger at the sight of bankers and merchants doing business in the heart of temple courts. He conversed with the outcast and never asked someone how they managed to get themselves in such a fix when they needed help. He chose to love, He chose to help. This is the one I choose to follow.

1 Comment

Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind