Monday, May 25, 2015

Homosexuality and Romans 1

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In this post I’ll be considering the claim that Paul says in Romans 1 that if you are a homosexual you are deserving of death. But first I’d like to start with what inspired this post.

“Sam Harris gets Humiliated on TV by Hugh Hewitt.”

While wasting time on the internet I saw this YouTube video entitled, “Sam Harris gets Humiliated on TV by Hugh Hewitt.”

In the name of rationality I’d like to share my thoughts on this, because although I’m a Christian I don’t agree with the title of the video; by my lights neither side quite humiliated the other.

Hugh Hewitt lambastes Sam Harris's book but tends to be fuzzy on the details of what specific facts he gets wrong. At 2:18 Hewitt says it's "poorly grounded in history" but which specific historical facts does Harris get wrong? Mind you I'm not saying Harris didn't make any mistakes on history, but when you make accusations of this sort it behooves the rational Christian to at least give a specific example. At 2:22 Hewitt says Harris doesn't "deal with most of the evidence that runs counter to his case." Again, a specific example should be cited. When you make accusations without evidence you don't embarrass the other side.

This is not to say Hewitt doesn't make any good points though. At 3:32 Hewitt points out that while some religious beliefs justify cruelty, this is not the case for his faith--but he could also have noted this is not the case for a lot of people's faith (see my article Religion’s Social Influence for more on this), and by my lights Hewitt should have hammered this point more because Harris doesn't seem to quite address it.

At 7:57 Hewitt says Sam's book is an "invitation to religious oppression" as well as intolerance and cruelty--not because the book itself endorses cruelty and religious oppression, but because one could misuse the ideas in that book to justify said oppression. But this, of course, is true of religion! Hewitt seems to be making the same sort of mistake that Harris is guilty of.

In one sense Sam Harris humiliated himself saying at 1:46 that people are "flying planes into our buildings because they think God wrote their book and that they're going to get to paradise by dying in the right circumstances." All Muslims accept "God wrote their book and that they're going to get to paradise by dying in the right circumstances" but the vast majority condemn the 9/11 attacks as evil and believe that God forbids such actions. Harris seems to be committing a gross oversimplification.

Paul and Romans 1

At 10:41 Sam claims that in Romans, Paul says homosexuals deserve to die. He does? Where? Maybe he's thinking of Romans 1, but that would be another oversimplification. Here Paul is speaking of people who are “filled with all manner of unrighteousness” and full of "full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.” These are the people who deserve to die. Paul isn't saying or implying that having a homosexual orientation is sufficient to be deserving of death, though he does say that God let certain evil people (evil in the sense being full of murder, deceit, maliciousness etc.) have dishonorable passions, among them homosexuality. Let’s quote Romans 1:18 to Romans 1:32 for full context:
18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. [My emphasis]
So who does Paul say are deserving of death? Paul says the following group of people, people who are filed with “all manner of unrighteousness” having these characteristics are deserving of death:
  1. Filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice (verse 29); and
  2. full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness (verse 29); and are
  3. gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless (verse 30 to 31); and
  4. they know of God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve to die (verse 32).
Paul implies that those who practice such things mentioned in (1) through (5) are deserving of death, and I think many Christians likewise agree that a person who engages in the practices described in (1) through (5) is thoroughly degenerate enough to be deserving of death. Paul also implies there are a group of unrighteous people who engage in (1) through (5) who are homosexuals, a homosexual orientation being a “dishonorable passion” (verses 26-27), though these particular people Paul is speaking of are also apparently those who worship idols (verse 23) and few homosexuals today fit that category. One might criticize Paul for thinking homosexuality is a dishonorable passion, but Paul having this belief doesn't imply that Paul believes that merely having the orientation is deserving of death even if Paul believes God let some evil people have this orientation. It's as if Harris is reasoning like this:
  1. Paul believes that if you are a member of group X (certain people who are full of murder, maliciousness, etc.), then you are homosexual.
  2. Therefore, Paul believes if you are a homosexual, then you are in group X.
That's just as illogical as thinking:
  1. Bob believes that if you are a Minnesotan murderer, then you are a Minnesotan.
  2. Therefore, Bob believes that if you are a Minnesotan, then you are a Minnesotan murderer.
And then reasoning, “Since Bob believes all Minnesotan murderers deserve death, Bob is saying that all Minnesotans deserve death!” Such reasoning is clearly fallacious, but then we should recognize that the style of reasoning is equally fallacious when applied to Paul in Romans 1.