Keith Sharpe responds to Andrew Goddard

Over on the Changing Attitude website, Keith Sharpe has responded to a recent column by Andrew Goddard on the Fulcrum website. Keith’s blog post is an absolute text book example of eisegesis, so let’s take it apart piece by piece shall we?

For Christians the essence of marriage is made plain in the story of Adam and Eve recounted in Genesis.

And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.

1.  God created the first man, Adam, and then realised there was a problem. It does not look even as if God intended to create another human being, let alone a full blown heterosexual family. It looks much more like God created Adam in his own image and only then realised that there was a problem.

Keith begins with a huge presumption, namely that God didn’t know what he was doing! But read the text carefully. Keith claims “God created the first man … and then realised there was a problem”. However, the text of Genesis 2 doesn’t say that. God intends to make an help meet for Adam, Adam goes through the animals and decides for himself that none of them will do. The Hebrew is perfectly clear, it is not God who has a problem – the text simply states the simple fact that no helper was available for Adam. This is clearer in better English translations.

NIV – But for Adam no suitable helper was found.
ESV – But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.
NASB – but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.

The emphasis is simply that none of the animals presented to Adam were appropriate as a help-meet. To load that with an assumption that this implies a lack of fore-thought on the side of God is eisegesis of the first order. The animals are paraded in front of Adam not as a desperate divine attempt to fix a problem, but rather as a theological tool to demonstrate Adam’s uniqueness in comparison to these other creatures.

2. The rest of Creation is intended to help humankind thrive and flourish.  God tries to find a soulmate for Adam by creating the animals. And he lets Adam name them, perhaps in the hope that one of them will provide that relational bond that will fill the yearning emptiness inside him.  But it is all to no avail. For Adam ‘there was not found an help meet’ for him.  What is clear however, is that all God’s subsequent creative efforts are aimed at helping Adam to thrive.

God tries to find a soulmate for Adam by creating the animals. – Pure and baseless eisegeis. Firstly, the correct translation is “help meet” not “soulmate”. Secondly, the text states that God intends to make a help meet for Adam, but that does not imply that he intends one of the creatures to be that help meet. Once again we are pushed back to the text. The animals are named by Adam (implying his superiority to them), but it is evident to him that they will not do as an equal. The very fact that he names each and every one indicates that God does not intend any of them to be the help meet that Adam requires.

Where we see the English phrase “fit for him”, the literal translation of the Hebrew is “in front of him” or “opposite him”. The idea in the text is of a being that can stand in horizontal relationship to Adam – eye to eye as it were. The fact that none of the animals meet this criteria (their inferiority to Adam is indicated by his sovereignty over them in naming them) means that God has created them as such (or we are left with a less than omnipotent God who doesn’t know what he is doing).

None of this takes away from the fact that yes, God’s creation is intended to help Adam thrive. But the text does not support the notion that the animals are created in order to find one which will work as a help meet.

3. God realises that Adam has to have someone like himself as a companion.  He makes Eve out of Adam’s rib:

And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof.

So the essential point about Eve is not that she is female but that she is human.  Only a human can meet the needs of another human for real companionship. The comparison being made is not that between a male/female pair and a male/male pair, but between a human/animal relationship and the deep mutual commitment which can occur between two human beings.

So the essential point about Eve is not that she is female but that she is human. – Keith here displays the usual tool of a liberal reading of Scripture, which is to ignore all other passages which might contradict his position. Only a few verses later Genesis makes specific reference to the differing sexes of the human pair to demonstrate a point of complementarity.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
(Genesis 2:24-25 ESV)

Later on in Scripture, Paul refers back to Genesis 2 to make a deep theological point about the union of man and wife in their specific sexes as the comparison to the union of Christ and the Church.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
(Ephesians 5:25-32 ESV)

It is the very difference of the sexes that is key to the metaphor – husband and wife take on differing roles and obligations because Christ and his Church are different. There is a specific act of “taking in” of the Church that is conducted by Christ here, mirroring how in the Genesis 2 picture the wife is held fast by her husband (and not the other way round).

4. This implies that the principal divine purpose of human pair unions is a loving purpose – it is for the mutual happiness and fulfilment of two human beings.  Notice here that we have got a long way through this story and there has not yet been any reference whatsoever to the purpose of marriage being procreation. The whole focus in this all-important creation story has been on companionship.

If this were the only reference to marriage in the Bible Keith might have a point. But step back a chapter – the command is to human beings to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen 1:28). This command is fulfilled through the sexual union of the pair, and it indicates very clearly that although the divine purpose of two humans coming together is mutual happiness and fulfilment, it is also equally procreative. This command is recognised by Jesus as a fundamental building block of marriage when he points to the sexual union of husband and wife as inviolable (Matt 19:6). A same-sex couple cannot ever fulfil one of the principal divine purposes for mankind which is to “multiply and fill the earth”.

I find it fascinating that both Mark and Matthew choose to place the blessing of the children straight after this event (Matt 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16). Coincidence that Jesus blesses children straight after affirming the sexual union of husband and wife? I don’t think so.

5. Procreation comes only as an afterthought.  The absence of any reference to childbearing continues right on until chapter three of the Book of Genesis. And even then, it only occurs as a sort of incidental afterthought, and merely as a minor detail in the story of God’s punishment of Eve for eating the apple and leading Adam astray.  It is worth noting en passant also of course that we are left with real uncertainty about how Adam and Eve’s offspring then sired the rest of the human race. What manner of marriage did they have?

Wrong, wrong, wrong! The first command in Scripture given to humans is NOT to “leave that tree alone” but “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). Yes, this is the Genesis 1 account as opposed to the Genesis 2-3 narrative, but it’s location as the theological underpinning of the creation of humanity is utterly undermining of the point Keith is trying to make. Procreation is the first-thought, not the afterthought, of a creative God. It’s explicit centrality as laid out in the final few verses of Genesis 1 overshadows the reading of Genesis 2. When we read the words “help meet” in the second chapter we implicitly understand what one function of this help meet is to be. And we are correct, because the marriage imagery is picked up once again at the end of chapter two, reaffirming the procreative mandate. Indeed, Gen 2:25 positively reeks of the understanding of Adam and Eve as sexual beings, a sexual being together which has been clearly laid out a few verses previously as instrumental in the mission of humanity to expand over the earth.

Thus the whole Biblical story which is so often used to justify the ‘one man-one woman’ policy is actually driven by a concern with human wellbeing, not the procreation of children.  Steve would have done just as well as Eve had Adam been gay.  Eve was not a wife; she was a lifelong companion.

This is just nonsense. Genesis 2 explicitly refers to Adam and Eve as husband and wife at the end of the chapter. That labelling is explicitly referenced by Jesus and Paul in their usage of this passage. Furthermore, the whole pathway of Genesis 1 to 3 lays out the primary function of the sexual pair is to have children. Nothing could be further from the truth to claim that “ Eve was not a wife” and that “the whole Biblical story which is so often used to justify the ‘one man-one woman’ policy is actually driven by a concern with human wellbeing, not the procreation of children”. Such a reading can only be undertaken by ripping individual verses of Genesis 2 from the chapter that contains them, the chapters that surround them and the way that the New Testament consistently refers to them.

To be honest, this is a classic example of seeing what you want to see. If you want the Bible to make sexual unions simply about the two people involved in that union, then you will jump at Keith’s eisegesis (as several commentators on the CA blog have done). However, if you’re interested in seeing what the full picture of the Bible is on this issue, you’ll very quickly understand that Genesis 2 is not about the happiness of the two human beings being examined, but rather about how that happiness integrates into God’s purposes for the world and humanity.

43 Comments on “Keith Sharpe responds to Andrew Goddard

  1. Thanks for painstakingly going through Keith Sharpe’s article and pointing out how deeply wrong it is on all it’s points. As you say, it’s a classic example of eisegesis. I’ve just gone through the article and it’s embarrassing in it’s blatant attempt to read what the author wants to read into every text. It’s polemics rather than any serious treatment of scripture. Thanks for your consistent work showing how gay readings of scripture are, indeed, eisegesis.

  2. The animals are named by Adam (implying his superiority to them), but it
    is evident to him that they will not do as an equal. The very fact that
    he names each and every one indicates that God does not intend any of them to be the help meet that Adam requires.

    But Adam names Eve too – first as “woman”, in 2:23, and then as Eve in 3:20…

    • Good point,

      However, whereas in Genesis 2:19 there is the naming of those distinct from Adam, the naming in Genesis 2:23 comes after a recognition of her equal humanity – “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”. So the naming of “woman” and then “Eve” implies authority, but it doesn’t imply that are not equal to his humanity.

      Perhaps I should have phrased it better in my original post!

    • There is an essay that I believe could help in the exegesis of the traditional Christian division of humanity into male and female. It is by Rev Dr John Hare, who is a former consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist and now an Anglican priest in St Edmundsbury and fellow of a Cambridge college, “‘Neither male nor female’: the case of intersexuality”*. Such conditions are commoner than people think, affecting up to 2% of the population. This is as much or more than gay people in the population according to some sources. He lists some problems for theological reflection:

      1. Can the rigid division of humanity into male and female still be upheld?

      2. If the Church is to make certain gender roles dependent, and declare that those who cross these barriers commit sin, how are these genders to be determined?

      3. If a person has an ambiguous gender should that person be permitted to choose waht gender to adopt, or to remain ambiguous?

      4. Do these factors have any relevance to the debate over same-sex relatinships?

      In the light of this knowledge that was not available to the the authors of Genesis can the story there still be used so uncompromisingly to assert answers to contemporary questions?

      * in Duncan Dormor and Jeremy Morris _An Acceptable Sacrifice? SPCK, 2007.

      I apologise that I have mentioned article this before on previous posts but I think it is worth repeating.

      • I’ve read it.

        The problem with Hare’s approach is not that his is incorrect about the existence of intersex people (and other forms of gender abnormality) but that he doesn’t root it sufficiently in a sense that that is a consequence of the Fall. By doing this he undermines the basic BIblical ideas of the normativeness of the male/female complementarity in creation.
        So the answers, from the more sophisticted conservative approach that we try to take here is (IMHO),

        1) Yes
        2) Normatively chromosomally, and then where there are ambiguities in the chromosomes, by discernment. It be necessary to accept that there are some people for who “gender” is not an easy category to be placed within.
        3) That is a VERY good question, but the answer to that does not undermine the normative nature of male/female.
        4) Once again a VERY good question – any answers?

        I know one person who is genuinely intersex. She is a Christian, has chosen to identify as female, but has also decided that since the Fall has affected her in this way she is a natural eunuch and therefore does not seek to enter romantic relationship in order not to provide any
        ambiguity. That’s a great sacrifice but one that I think is the right one.

        • In what sense do you use the word “abnormality” – atypical, uncommon, rare, or deviant, freakish, wrong?

            • Well, left like that, with a loaded word like abnormality, your readers can either be offended or not, dependent on the way they choose to construe the word, all in the light of what they know about you (or another commentator). Rowan’s use of the word would mean something quite other than Akinola’s, for example. So my point is, if you were going to ask, that abnormality is a risky word perhaps best avoided.

  3. I would just like to make a couple of observations on your comments about my text, Peter.

    1. you focus only on the scriptural analysis and do not address the main arguments, notably:
    a) marriage has been constantly redefined throughout history – so redefinition is nothing new
    b) evangelical ideas about the nuclear family are of recent origin and are culturally specific
    c) Biblical descriptions of marital and sexual conduct apparently approved of by God, especially in the Old Testament, are shockingly immoral and no basis for condemning faithful loving same-sex unions
    d) Jesus was no advocate of so-called ‘family values’.
    d) the biggest threat to the future of marriage is heterosexual promiscuity and serial monogamy

    2. I do not begin with ‘a huge presumption’ that God did not know what he was doing.  I simply read the text in which God appears not to have anticipated Adam’s loneliness.  It is God himself who says Adam’s solitude is ‘not good’. He simply appears not to have foreseen this. 

    3. In trying to wriggle out of this obvious conclusion, and also to deal with the contradictions between the two accounts of creation, you engage in exactly the sin of which you accuse me: subjective interpretation and ‘seeing what you want to see’.  The difference between us however is that I accept that interpretation is necessary because the Bible is a fallible human product albeit inspired by God.  Because you believe in inerrancy you are forced to engage in the most tortuous, almost jesuitical, linguistic contortions to defend the indefensible, all the while pretending that you are simply reading what is there.  

    4. The business of marriage reflecting Christ and the Church is all highly symbolic. Nobody surely takes this literally in terms of penises and vaginas.  Becoming ‘one flesh’ means losing yourself in the beloved at the level of the person.  It is a commonplace that when one of a couple dies the other feels ‘only half a person’.  Thus this symbolic allusion works whether the couple is opposite sex or same sex.

    5. A similar observation can be made about all the stuff on complementarity. Evangelicals seem to me to put too much emphasis on difference – ‘flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones’ appears to highlight sameness. If difference were so important bestiality would be approved instead of anathematised. Complementarity in terms of ‘fitting together well’ can also gain from the mutual understanding that comes from being the same.  Again it is a commonplace that men and women do not understand each other  – the from Mars and from Venus phenomenon. Two men or two women, however, do understand each other, and this can provide the basis for deeply committed love, as you yourself have argued on this blog many times.

    Thanks nevertheless for your comments, which are always a joy to read!

    • Hi Keith,

      Yes, I’ve only dealt with the Biblical side of your argument. If I find time I’ll try and respond to the rest of it, but I wanted to get right into your Scriptural argument first.

      Let’s me answer your points where they bear upon Scripture.

      1(c) – Can you give me an example. I don’t see anything in the Bible that doesn’t constantly point towards the desirable inviolability of the sexual union between a man and a woman committed for life.
      1(d) – I’m really not sure what you mean by that.
      1(e) – Absolutely, but it has no bearing on the argument whether we should move to gender-neutral marriage.

      2 – You presume the text means that God didn’t know what he was doing, that he didn’t anticipate Adam’s loneliness. There is nothing in the text that indicates that. The fact that God says that Adam’s solitude is “not good” does not mean he has not anticipated it.

      3 – I don’t think there’s anything tortuous about what I’ve written. Perhaps you could be specific.

      4 – Actually, there’s huge theological ground to be explored in taking the symbolism very literally. Male (Christ) places that which only he can provide in female (Church) and brings new life. That’s just for starters. There’s also the way that Genesis 2 very clearly sees male with female as the full expression of humanity.

      5 – Complementarity is about the coming together of differences. By their very nature, two Mars or two Venuses cannot express that, their genuine love for each other regardless.

  4. ‘a) marriage has been constantly redefined throughout history – so redefinition is nothing new’

    No, it was in response to the 1866 case of Hyde vs. Hyde, in which the husband petitioned for dissolution of his previous Mormon marriage on the ground of adultery that the Judge Ordinary defined marriage. Admittedly, multiculturalists may balk at his references to Christendom, but here’s an excerpt of what the Judge actually declared:

    ‘Marriage has been well said to be something more than a contract, either
    religious or civil – to be an Institution. It creates mutual rights and
    obligations, as all contracts do, but beyond that it confers a status. The
    position or status of “husband” and “wife” is a recognised one throughout
    Christendom: the laws of all Christian nations throw about that status a variety
    of legal incidents during the lives of the parties, and induce definite lights
    upon their offspring. What, then, is the nature of this institution as
    understood in Christendom? Its incidents vary in different countries, but what
    are its essential elements and invariable features? If it be of common
    acceptance and existence, it must needs (however varied in different countries
    in its minor incidents) have some pervading identity and universal basis. I
    conceive that marriage, as understood in Christendom, may for this purpose be
    defined as the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the
    exclusion of all others.’

    Pertinent to this discussion, he also said:

    ‘It may be, and probably is, the case that the women there pass by some word or
    name which corresponds to our word “wife.” But there is no magic in a name; and,
    if the relation there existing between men and women is not the relation which
    in Christendom we recognise and intend by the words “husband” or “wife,” but
    another and altogether different relation, the use of a common term to express
    these two separate relations will not make them one and the same, though it may
    tend to confuse them to a superficial observer’

    This is what this attempt to re-define marriage does.

      • Sorry, Peter, have I missed something? The judgement of Hyde vs. Hyde was declared in an English court by Lord Penzance in respect of an Englishman ex-Mormon whose wife remarried another Mormon in Utah.

        • Sorry – my bad. Hasty response when rushed for time. Thrown by the use of “Supreme Court”.

          You’re asolutely right. Hyde vs Hyde is the clear understanding in English Law that Marriage is defined as Lord Penzance defined it.

      • Does the very use of “Christendom” in a manner that *most* people getting married would find anachronistic not in itself reflective of societal changes that have indeed changed both marriage and people’s understanding of it?

        • I think you have a point. I’m getting the impression during this marriage debate that many people – especially young people – don’t believe in marriage anymore. They get married because that’s the only option if they want the financial benefits etc. Unfortunately, the PM claiming that he supports gay marriage as a conservative has put all the onus on the traditionalists to explain why marriage shouldn’t include homosexuals. Instead, I’d like to ask people, ‘if you don’t want marriage, what DO you want?’.

          This is my problem with deconstruction in general. All it does is just that – deconstruct. What I’d like to know is what people want to put in place of the structure being deconstructed. When I ask that question, instead of listening to the deconstructionist sophistry, I almost always come to the conclusion that we were right in the first place.

  5. All very interesting, as a spectator, but your initial assumptions are completely at odds with contemporary evidence.

    Namely, that “Adam and Eve” and all consequential speculation from that assumption are at complete odds with genetics, biology, palaeontology, physics etc etc etc.

    Of course, you probably have a Bible verse to prove me wrong.

    (at which point, revert to the start of my comment; and repeat as many times as necessary).

  6. Just briefly in response to your points above, Peter.  I don’t want to hog this.

    1. Examples of God standing idly by or even approving sexual immorality far from the 1 man 1 woman ideal are littered all over the Biblical text.  Solomon’s hundreds of wives and hundreds of concubines, and the incest of Lot with his own daughters are just two of many.

    2. Jesus repeatedly speaks negatively of family institutions. See for example Luke 14 26-27 where he says unless you hate your wife and children and other family members you cannot be his disciple.

    3. Either God failed to anticipate Adam’s loneliness or he created something deliberately which by his own admission was ‘not good’.  Either way it’s a problem for your inerrancy beliefs.

    4. Tortuousness: my point is that you find yourself forced to engage in interpretation beyond the simple meaning of the text to try to explain why it does not say what it seems to say, (that God expected to find a companion for Adam amongst the animals). This is a general point about all your Biblical reading.  I acknowledge interpretation to be necessary.  You do not, but you still engage in it while claiming you are simply reading what it there.

    5. Christ and the Church – if we’re being as literal about it as you seem to want, I have to observe that you seem to forget that half of the church membership are male and have penises. So quite what the male Christ is doing with his penis and depositing what only a male can is a bit of a mystery!  I would venture that the only sensible reading of this imagery is one which recognises the high symbolism intended, relating to the next life in heaven where there will be no messy biology, no gender and no giving in marriage.

    6.My point here is that complementarity is not necessarily about difference, and that in fact differences between the sexes in many cases make achieving complementarity very challenging.  A dismal lack of understanding of women by some men and vice-versa is what underpins the failure of so many heterosexual marriages.

  7. I’ve added this as a new comment, rather than interrupting Peter’s conversation thread with Keith.

    1. ‘Examples of God standing idly by or even approving sexual immorality far from the 1 man 1 woman ideal are littered all over the Biblical text’.

    Indeed, other examples of this kind of ‘approval’ include God acceding to Israel’s demand for a king (although it was a rejection of the divine theocracy), saying to Samuel: ‘Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them…Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.’ (1 Sam. 8:7 – 9).

    Christ indicates that divorce for reasons other than unfaithfulness was also ‘approved’ under Moses on account of human intransigence. Nevertheless, He further said: ‘It was not so from the beginning’ and held forth the Genesis account is presented as the authoritative prototype of marriage.

    So, what is the New Testament response to provisional OT ‘approval’ in forbearance? Paul says, ‘In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.’ (Acts 17:30)

    2. Christ does not speak negatively of family, neither does Paul. Both Jesus and Paul indicate that family is a provision for this present world, which they both saw as rapidly crumbling away. The primary claims of service to God and the opportunity to immediately respond to Him may conflict with family expectations and demands. A man wishing to bury his father before responding to the call of the gospel is told to leave everything immediately: ‘Let the dead bury their dead’. God’s call must always have the highest claim on our lives which explains Luke 14:26 – 27.

    Family responsibility, although acknowledged as restricting our availability for ministry towards others, is still a requirement: ‘Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.’ (Heb. 13:4)

    3. This is a false dichotomy, given that the process of human creation was not complete. Within the context of a process, ‘not good’ relates to the incompleteness of our species, rather than Adam as an individual. Otherwise, we begin to see individuals as incomplete beings without a partner. Those who choose to be single are not incomplete beings. However, as a species, mankind is incomplete without conjugal partnership.

    6. ‘My point here is that complementarity is not necessarily about difference, and that in fact differences between the sexes in many cases make achieving complementarity very challenging.’ In fact, that’s the whole point. Complementarity that involves differences is also the challenge to the church. Both marriage and the church need to embrace the differences in the parties of which they are comprised: ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”‘

    Equally in marriage, in spite of the complementarity of differences, its lifelong bond and purpose should mean that the man cannot say to the woman, ‘I don’t need you’.

  8. “6.My point here is that complementarity is not necessarily about difference, and that in fact differences between the sexes in many cases make achieving complementarity very challenging. A dismal lack of understanding of women by some men and vice-versa is what underpins the failure of so many heterosexual marriages.”

    Yes, this is a result of sin. And one of the most beautiful ways that men and women grow and overcome sin is when we repent of our hardness, selfishness and distrust, forgive the hurt, and learn to love and support one another in marriage – not nagging, dominating or giving in to temper and violence. That’s when we realise (however imperfectly) God’s original plan in creating Adam and Eve for one another – when we see that the differences that often make it hard to understand one another actually make us better able to support one another.

    Who are we going to trust? God and his design (which can be seen in creation and in scripture), or the intellectual elite behind the ‘gender theory’ experiments?

    • Those are fine-sounding sentiments nowconcerned, but I think a case could made that those churches who still maintain the traditional line on homosexuality have, still, essentially capitulated to feminism. A related problem is the fact that the church, to say, the least does not have a great record on arguments from design aka arguments from plumbing. Those who proclaim on the intrinsic unnaturalness of homosexual sex say (not to be vulgar, but sex positions associated associated with lesbianism are arguably more reflective of the biological realities of female bodies, particularly the primacy of clitoral stimulation to female orgasm than traditional, heterosexist missionary position ‘natural’ sex acts) are arguably the modern equivalents of those Christians who claimed that masturbation leads to insanity and hairy palms. I’d be wary of using ‘intellectual elite’ in the pejorative sense too – surely one of the reason that this blog gets so many hits is because Oxford-educated Peter makes, as a host, a nice change from the foam-flecked willfully stupid demagogues that some view as his ideological bedfellows!

      • 1) ” I think a case could made that those churches who still maintain the traditional line on homosexuality have, still, essentially capitulated to feminism.”
        Could you be more specific? Your point is interesting, but feminism is quite a wide concept.

        2) I’m afraid you’ve lost me a bit on the ‘plumbing’. I think it’s clear that the penis and vagina were designed to fit together. Some of us might wish orgasm was a bit easier, but another woman can’t plant her seed inside you and I think that the popularity of fisting in some circles suggests that we desire penetration, even if it isn’t always the easiest way to orgasm. Does that answer your concerns?

        3) As one of the ‘intellectual elite’ myself I had no intention of being pejorative! However, if I had to choose between what I could come up with using my own limited intellectual capacities and God’s wisdom, I’d go for God’s wisdom every time.

        • i) Although conceding that gender equality (as concept) is not the same thing as gender interchangeability (or,worse, the women-are-equal-to-men-except-for-the-many-ways-they-are-superior guff that gets promulgated by today’s feminists in the interests of ‘equality’) I do think that – if one takes a long enough perspective – the contemporary evangelical view on women (including the ‘can’t live without em!’ all-too-common devaluing of singleness and celibacy) jars with the historical Christian understanding of gender roles. Abortion is not, whatever else one may think of it, an abberational result of feminist logical and pressupositions.

          2) Yes, but does that mean that the mouth (say) was not ‘designed’ for the penis? Were our backs ‘designed’ to sit at desks all day? Were our noses ‘designed’ to hold glasses? And so on. The amount of sperm the human male produces hardly ‘naturally’ suggests that the penis is designed to ejaculate sperm only for the creation of 2.4 children within monogamous Christian marriage. The fisting analogy doesn’t work either. Orgasm is, I hope most Christians would agree, a central/natural aspect of the sex act (was it CS Lewis or some other Wesley Owen posterboy who viewed it as potentially analogous to Creation itself?) so there is something unconvincing in positing the sex act most likely to lead to female orgasm as less ‘natural’ than the kind that does. Unless, that is, one is privileging the male orgasm over the female – which patriachal ideologies (the Church included) have historically been prone to do and which hardly accord with the actual biological realities of our bodies, objectively appraised. I’m not sure what your point on penetration is getting at – i.e. is the desire for penetration A Good Thing, reflective of Design, or, as with a taste for fisting, a fallen desire that is not actually in accord with correct perception of God’s plan for sexuality?

          3) Most expressions of ‘Natural Law’ are entirely man-made and demonstrably unconvincing, and conflating them with a proposed infallible deity and His revelation in Scripture only serves to do a disservice to the latter.

          • 1) Well, feminism is a huge topic, and there’s lots of different kinds – there’s the abortion/contraception/sexual freedom kind and its troubling relationship with eugenics; there’s the germaine greer essentialist/matriarchal/testosterone-is-the-root-of-all-evil kind; there’s the evangelical ‘different but equal’ kind that was behind a lot of the improvements in conditions for women, children and families in the nineteenth century. Then there’s twentieth century reactionary evangelical anti-feminism with its (in my opinion) not very biblical view that women should be at home and shouldn’t have careers. How does any of this undermine my argument?

            2) I don’t think there’s much point wasting any more ink over this. To me, it’s pretty clear what sex is for. Some people find happiness in same-sex relationships, but the ideology that sex is irrelevant to marriage and love is the only thing just ignores the biological facts.

            • 1) It might be a huge topic, but there are certain comment presuppositions (I’d cite Dworkin rather than Greer as emblematic of the man-hating strain of feminism, and even then there’s some overlap with the right-wing view of, e.g, pornography). It is also disengenous to speak of pro-abortion feminism as if it is merely one, abberational expression of the central philosophy. If you accept that women ‘own’ and have autonomy over their bodies then that extends logically to allowing abortion. I think history will show that the Church was disastrously naive in pretending that there’s no disconnect between pew-filling “Of course we’re all feminists now! Jesus and St.Paul were feminists!” rhetoric and “of course abortion is evil” moral positions. You might make a distinction between gender complemetariaism and gender equality. If the former, however, involves ultimately saying that there are certain vocations roles that, women, because of their sex, can not do (which the historicaly has) then you are at odds with some of the central ideological views of feminism, across all its expressions. This undermines your argument because you presented a clear divide between God’s revelations on the correct relationship between the sexes and the experiments of gender theorists. If, the church included, we’re all, broadly speaking, feminists now, then I’m not sure that such a distinction is valid (whereas it may well have been prior to the cultural acceptance of feminism in the 70s and 80s)

              2) It might be clear to you, but that’s just a statement of opinion. Not an argument. You invoke ‘biological facts’; let’s discuss them. I suspect that many a Natural Law drum-banger expresses distaste over ‘explicit’ discussions to cover the fact that their rhetoric (like the ‘masturbation makes you mad’ 19C equivalent) has a historic pedigree but doesn’t stand up to analysis (penis-in-vagina sex is indeed usually necessary for procreation – although I’m guessing that you wouldn’t regard heterosexual couples who have to resort to other methods as being necessarily engaged in the ‘unnatural’? – but the vast majority of sex acts – including those in the conservative Christian evangelical world – are recreational, not procreational).

              • I don’t really know how this argument got so complicated. I’m not wary of all gender theory, just the very radical gender theory that suggests that over-emphasises the irrelevance of biology with respect to gender identity – I thought that would have been clear from the context.

                “It is also disengenous to speak of pro-abortion feminism as if it is merely one, abberational expression of the central philosophy. If you accept that women ‘own’ and have autonomy over their bodies then that extends logically to allowing abortion.”

                I don’t know how we got onto abortion, but I don’t see how that follows at all. Anyway, I’m not sure I’m very into the ‘pew filling’ type of evangelism that leaves out everything that people might feel uncomfortable with, but I’m not very into the preaching that seems to measure its success by how many people it can offend either.

                I’m not sure that basing a marriage on recreational sex is such a good thing – especially if it involves risky or demeaning sex. On the other hand, I think the point in all those hormones is to help keep a marriage, and therefore a family, together, so I think a married couple having a good time is very different from sex outside marriage.

                • It’s quite exhausting arguing with deconstructionists. It’s like trying to make your way through a hall of mirrors all designed to deflect you from reaching any positive conclusion.

                  • And I’m a decostructionist how exactly? We’re having a very 101/meat-and-potatoes discussion about biological ‘meaning’ and what feminism (say) does and does not say, not living wild at the radical edge of Theory. Aside from which I’d agree with those academics who say that deconstruction (in the Derridean sense; am assuming,or at least hoping, that you’re not just using the term as a pejorative catch-all buzzword) , contrary to popular misunderstandings, really says that *everything* is contextual (commensensical, no?) not, noxiously, that *nothing* is.

                    • I think trying to argue that procreation isn’t quite an important part of sex, or that all sex acts are equal is quite deconstructionist.

                      It’s so long since I studied Derrida, I can’t remember much of what he said. I think there can be some positive aspects to deconstruction in terms of recognising the peripheral and the liminal, the questions that we don’t quite have answers for. I’ve sometimes felt that Christian apologists can be too quick to dimiss it. However, the kind of deconstructionism that takes things out of context and implies that anybody who sees some kind of pattern or design (such as a design for sex) is just not very intelligent or thoughtful – this extreme relativising that takes peripheral things (like the enjoyment aspect of sex) out of context and makes them central. That can actually be quite destructive of meaning and value.

                      The other negative effect is that it sets in a reaction by those trying to disprove the relativisers – like the expectation that homsexuals can become 100% heterosexual, as if all ‘heterosexuals’ were 100% heterosexual. Trying to argue against these two extreme positions at once leaves me feeling quite exhausted!

                    • Given that I’m often accused of being a Pink News Guardianista, I was frankly appalled the other day when I read a piece and subsequent thread (linked to by the Telegraph’s Damian Thompson) on feminism, the jist of which is that today’s modern feminism is too cuddly and that women need to declare war on the enemy (i.e:men) and be more like Andrea “all heterosexual sex is rape” Dworkin. The man-hating in the comments (replace ‘man’ in some of them with ‘black’ or ‘Jew’ and you’d have the police round at the door) was usefully revealing. So too was lists of all the evils that men have done and the triumphant, sneering request of ‘what have women ever done to compare with that?’. To which the Orthodox should say ‘abortion’, but so often lack the courage to do. I would maintain that a church that capitulates to such ideology that pretends to be ‘Orthodox’ because it disapproves of gender-queering *acts* is deluding itself. .Tangent over…

                      I’m not sure if your criticising deconstructionism or any kind of reductionism? I agree completely that ad hom dressed up as something else gets us nowhere, but there’s surely an irony in that you called me a deconstructionism without cause whereas I engaged with your points. Also, it is wrong to say that people refuse to listen to arguments from design out of hand. Rather it is that the thesis simply doesn’t stand up. And flat assertions get us nowhere. You can argue perhaps biblical for the correct role of pleasure in the meaning of sex, but simply stating that you believe it to be something other than what others regard it as is not very convincing. I’m not even sure that describing pleasure-in-sex as ‘peripheral’ IS the orthodox Christian position (it certainly, as mentioned above, hardly accords with the reality in most evangelical churches, where most sex acts are recreational, not procreational)

        • You’re welcome to use “a nice change from the foam-flecked willfully stupid demagogues” in advertising ;-)!

  9. Hey, Ryan, I just made an interesting discovery today – apparently Karl Marx used your ‘plumbing’ argument (or rather, rejection of ‘plumbing’ as of great significance of human identity). Did you get it from Marx? I’ve been wondering what your obsession with waterworks was. No criticism. Just interested.

    • It’s not an obsession. Never read Marx (unless we covered him in literary theory) and the only comment of his I can recall liking is the one about the smallest human unit being two, not one (and even then I only like it because it was quoted in the preface to the mighty Angels in America!). Gore Vidal did point out that talking of ONE function for each body part is demonstrable nonsense when we consider that genitals have multiple natural functions.

      I think you could also say (albeit that generalisations of this scale are hardly perfectly accurate) that most post-feminist sociology – i.e. 40 years + worth – is closer to a rejection of the “biology is destiny” school than it is an acceptance of Natural Law arguments. Let’s note that, to take feminism, biological facts (in the case of the primacy of the clitoris to female arousal and sexual satisfaction) supported their case and undermined patriarchal cant (which most ‘Natural Law’ arguments are forms of) . As I’ve also mentioned elsewhere, if people didn’t invoke arguments-from-plumbing then I would have no need to refer to the biological facts that undermine them.

      • Hey, Ryan. Lighten up! I wasn’t criticising. So, you and Karl Marx both came up with the ‘plumbing’ analogy independently, then. I think his argument was that men and women have slightly different plumbing, but are essentially the same – so part of the feminist rejection of essential biological difference.

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