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jensen’s submissionary position

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I suppose I come across in these posts as a fairly reasonable, analytical sort of bloke, but I actually have to suppress quite an upwelling of emotion, especially angry emotion, from time to time. For example when I witness bullying behaviour, even if only in a movie, I become agitated, unable to keep still. If I’m alone I’ll start pacing up and down, I’ll change the channel, but too late, I’ll remonstrate with the bully, I’ll expose him, humiliate him, perhaps even murder him, or her. And then I’ll tell myself to calm down, why do I over-react like this, where does all this anger come from, almost with the flick of a switch, is there something really wrong with me, etc etc. I’ve gone through this little cycle – the flaring up of anger, followed by the calming-down, the wondering at my semi-unhingedness, the concern about my sanity – literally a thousand times. It can be brought on by stories told to me by third or fourth or fifth persons, or by something I’ve witnessed or been subjected to, or unreliable memories, or my reading of ancient history. But no matter how much I admonish myself, like Beckett’s Krapp telling himself to stop eating bananas, I’m unlikely to change.

Certain benighted characters, from Josef Stalin to Gordon Ramsay, can trigger this cycle in me through the mere mention of their names, and some of them, like the current Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, don’t even seem to fit the general profile of a bully. It’s a puzzlement. But while I can’t expect to cure myself, I can perhaps reduce the symptoms by a little tried-and-true analysis.

So, to Jensen.

My most recent sighting of him was on ABC-TV [I think]  the other day, in relation to a quirky little piece on a recent marriage ceremony in which the female party chose to submit to her husband. This ceremonial wording, apparently deliberately chosen by the devout couple, has caused a bit of a stir, apparently. Switch to Jensen’s smiling dial as he ‘explains’ that men and women are different and need to have different roles within a marriage, because a man, you see, is a man, and a woman is a woman, and therefore, well, the conclusion is obvious, surely, and it’s so good that we’re having this debate at last.

Jensen is, of course, a staunch conservative, who’s totally opposed to the ordination of female clergy in the Anglican church, as well as gay marriage and homosexuality generally. The CNNNN team did a great job of questioning the Biblical basis of his views here, and though you could argue that the man was ambushed, he did a notably poor job of defending himself. For this reason I’m a bit uncertain of the value of this post. The fellow seems so feeble-minded, and his views so laughable, that I’m really not sure he’s worth expending energy on, or that his views should be given even the tiny piece of promotion my blog can offer.

However, for my own equanimity’s sake, I will continue. Jensen expands on his views in this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, and that’s what I’ll focus on.

Marriage really matters. Thank God we are talking about it. As Professor Patrick Parkinson said in these pages last week, marriage is ”by far the most stable, safe and nurturing relationship in which to raise children”. However, fewer people are choosing marriage as a way of relating to someone of the opposite sex and fewer people are nurturing children in a family with marriage at its heart.

I can understand that. Individualism leaves us with little reason to join our life to that of someone else. Apart from that, for many marriage has become an arena of suffering, exploitation and disappointment. We choose to bypass it. Yet I would say that we need to go back to biblical principles and understand, improve and support marriage rather than abandon it.

First, I don’t think we’ve ever stopped talking about marriage, which is the main reason it has changed so much over the past century, with both first and second wave feminism being at the forefront of these analyses and debates and changes. The quote from Professor Parkinson doesn’t really get us anywhere, because marriages are so diverse. You really have to look at each particular relationship in which children are reared to determine whether that relationship – or environment, in the case of single-parent child-rearing – is stable, safe and nurturing. The variations are so enormous that no statistical analysis is likely to be helpful.
Marriage isn’t exactly dying as an institution, as the above quote seems to be suggesting. I don’t have any particular investment in it myself, and my observation of the institution’s continued strength is quite a rueful one. The gay marriage push is yet another testament to that strength, and I note it with some ambivalence, but ultimately with the view that gay couples should be just as free to indulge in solemn vows, funny speeches, fancy outfits and horrendous catering bills as heterosexuals.
As to biblical principles, my reading of the Bible has uncovered no such entities, the Bible being as full of contradictory claims on the subject as you would expect from a work written over nearly a millenium by scores of authors. More importantly, the Bible reflects the attitudes of its various authors from about the eighth century BCE to the second century CE, who operated out of largely tribal, patriarchal societies which bear little resemblance to our own.

 

I freely admit that for me, the earthly title and vocation I cherish most is ”husband”. It all began with promises, and each day I try to live out the commitment I made. Marriage is not always easy and I know that for some it proves painfully impossible. But, mostly, making our promises before witnesses and trying to keep them is what works best.

Public promises make a marriage. Marriages are founded on promises of lifelong, exclusive bonding. Provided that the promises commit both man and woman in good times and in bad ”till death do us part”, and that both intend to relate only to each other, the promises are effective in creating the marriage. Husband and wife can certainly make identical promises.

None of the above is particularly objectionable to me, though I can take or leave the terms ‘husband’ and ‘wife’. Preferably leave. They sound quaint and overly domesticated, tamed. In fact, ‘husband’ comes from Old Norse, meaning ‘master of a house’, with the second part, ‘bondi’ meaning someone with land and stock . To husband our resources means, basically, to be careful and thrifty with them. Jensen, hasn’t, so far, explained why he cherishes the term ‘husband’ or prefers it to, say, the term ‘partner’, assuming he does. In this passage he focuses on commitment and the usefulness of making promises in a public and ceremonial way, none of which seems problematic. What does seem problematic, and we await an explanation, is the term ‘husband’ and its patriarchal origins, given how far we’ve moved towards more equal relations between men and women.

 

But promises can reflect something even more profound. Since they unite not simply two people but a man and a woman – two different bodies for whom marriage holds different consequences, needs, expectations and emotions – the promises can express these differences, and traditionally have done so.

Many of our young people want to be ”wives and husbands” rather than simply ”partners” and in their weddings they come as ”bride and groom” rather than simply two individuals. They believe that expressing these differences, including different responsibilities, makes for a better marriage.

Here’s where Jensen’s views really start to reveal themselves, though the language continues to be slippery and evasive. For example, what is this ‘more profound’ thing that wedding vows can reflect? Well, apparently it’s that men and women are different and this means different ‘consequences, needs, expectations and emotions’. None of this is spelled out, and again I would argue for a great diversity of needs and hopes being tied up with marital decisions, without our being able to sort them neatly into gender divisions. What both feminism and a mountain of scientific research can agree on is that, whatever essential differences there are between men and women, they aren’t so great as to stop women being excellent doctors, lawyers, academics, business leaders and even Prime Ministers. In other words, men and women are not so dissimilar as previously accepted. This realization, quite recent but hugely transformational, has naturally had a big impact on marriage and the domestic sphere. When Jensen says that marriage vows traditionally expressed major differences between the sexes, he’s clearly harking back to the times when women were not allowed to attend universities, to pursue particular careers, or to have a drink in the front bar, and when men were ‘naturally’ the heads of households.
The vast majority of Australians already find these prohibitions, even though they were dispensed with only recently, quite quaint and bizarre, even primitive. This was brought home to me the other day, when as a community educator I was teaching someone [aged 91!] to find her way around the internet. She wanted to visit ancestry.com, one of those tricksy sites that offer a tiny glimpse of records that may or may not relate to your great grandcestor, then ask for money to take you further. What we did see was a scan of some census records from early in the twentieth century, in which the head of the family wrote his name and details first, followed by wife, and then sons and daughters. I can’t remember whether the title ‘head’ was actually printed on the form, but I did notice that each husband/father identified himself as ‘head’, clearly showing that this was an expectation of the form, and of society as it was constructed at that time. I wonder when this title became démodé?
It becomes increasingly clear what Jensen is on about. He makes the surely dubious claim that many of our young want to be ‘husbands and wives’ rather than ‘partners’, and it’s increasingly clear that he’s talking about a dominant-submissive relationship of the type most people now find quaint, or worse. His claim about the ‘many’ probably means that many young people who come to him want this type of relationship and these types of vows, because he’s a magnet for arch-conservative attitudes. This is called confirmation bias.
But note the slipperyness of Jensen’s language. He emphasises ‘different responsibilities’ and the difference between ‘husband/wife’ and ‘partner’, but is quite keen to avoid spelling out what those differences are. You have to wonder, if he’s so enamoured of the traditional husband/wife, dominant/submissive roles, why doesn’t he proclaim the fact in a loud, clear, unambiguous voice?

 

Both kinds of promise are provided for in the Sydney Anglican diocese’s proposed Prayer Book, which has been the subject of commentary this week.

There is nothing new in this – it is the same as the Australian Prayer Book which has been used for decades.

Where different promises are made, the man undertakes great responsibility and this is also the wording of the book, as it has always been. The biblical teaching is that the promise made voluntarily by the bride to submit to her husband is matched by the even more onerous obligation which the husband must undertake to act towards his wife as Christ has loved the church. The Bible says that this obligation is ultimately measured by the self-sacrifice of Christ in dying on the cross.

So apparently there’s some disquiet about a proposed new prayer-book for this arch-conservative diocese, which Jensen dismisses because it’s the same as the old one. If that’s so, why are they proposing a new one? Jensen just leaves us more confused with his slippery, evasive language.
More importantly, Jensen finally comes out here with the ‘submit’ word for females, which is ‘balanced’ by the male role term, ‘great responsibility’. This great responsibility comes with being the ‘head’ or the dominant member of the family. Note that the title of Jensen’s piece is ‘men and women are different and so should be their marriage vows’, from which it’s surely reasonable to infer that Jensen is advocating this dominance/submission marriage arrangement, this ‘great responsibility’, which he personally feels, about being Lord and Master in his own personal household. The references to Jesus are bizarre, and irrelevant to marriage in general. The last sentence from the above quote, in particular, has been received with great good humour on various netspaces. Who in the Bible says that a hubbie’s onerous responsibility is akin to Jesus’s death on the cross? Sounds like that ole feminist Paul of Tarsus to me. Better, marginally, to be crucified than to burn.

 

This is not an invitation to bossiness, let alone abuse. A husband who uses the wife’s promise in this way stands condemned for betraying his own sworn obligations. The husband is to take responsibility for his wife and family in a Christ-like way. Her ”submission” is her voluntary acceptance of this pattern of living together, her glad recognition that this is what he intends to bring to the marriage and that it is for her good, his good and the good of children born to them. She is going to accept him as a man who has chosen the self-discipline and commitment of marriage for her sake and for their children. At a time when women rightly complain that they cannot get men to commit, here is a pattern which demands real commitment all the way.

Secular views of marriage are driven by a destructive individualism and libertarianism. This philosophy is inconsistent with the reality of long-term relationships such as marriage and family life.

Actually, it is an invitation to bossiness and abuse. Domestic violence is most prevalent, unsurprisingly, in the conservative Christian heartland of the USA, and in highly patriarchal societies everywhere, not to mention rape, ‘honour’ murders and other forms of ‘control’ of insufficiently submissive women. I note that submission, generally regarded as the English translation of Islam, is a hugely popular concept among the fanatically religious. Humans are in the image of their god, but the gods of all the monotheistic religions are all male, so males must be more godlike, more Lord-and-Masterish, and boy are these gods Lord-and-Masterish. Men need a respite from this constant grovelling to their god, and that’s where women find their role. That given, I wonder why Jensen puts ‘submission’ in quotes here? It seems to be a pattern with him, trying to worm out of saying what he’s really saying – well it’s not really submission, girls, it’s, well it’s just a word…
Well, the obvious question, apart from the one about why I’m taking this seriously enough to write about it, is where does this submission begin and end in a world of female heads of corporations, heads of law firms, heads of academic institutions and heads of state? For Jensen, who’s implacably opposed to females playing any ‘head’ role in the Anglican church, at least in the Sydney diocese, the only place where he has any power, the answer is plain – a woman’s role is to be submissive in every sphere of life. Any other position would be incoherent – you can’t expect a female CEO to come home and serve her husband, accepting his ‘responsibility’ over her. And if she can’t be responsible in the home then obviously she can’t take on major responsibilities outside of it either.
Jensen’s remarks about secular marriage are just gratuitous, non-evidence based opinion, the only value of which is to reveal his own shallowness, as if that wasn’t already abundantly clear.
Okay, there’s little point in analyzing the rest of this article, it’s too silly and too depressing. The remark by somebody that Jensen wants to turn back the clock is quite precise, given the census data quoted earlier. We’ve virtually forgotten that, only decades ago, it was taken for granted that males were regarded as the heads of households. There’s no doubt in my mind  that society is much better for that no longer being the case. Jensen’s obsession with masculinity and submission does seem rather kinky, but unfortunately not in a fun way. It just strikes me as adolescent, as well as creepy.
While I accept that Jensen is hardly your typical Anglican, and that they’re by and large a fairly liberal lot, I still find it satisfying to note that that particular denomination is declining faster than any other Christian denomination in Australia [and they’re all in decline]. It’s hard to know when or if it will level out, but I suspect there’s still a fair bit of falling to do , but there’s absolutely no chance that the trend will reverse.
A note to end. While writing this piece and trawling for other responses, I came upon this delicious and highly recommendable website , at which I also found links to this piece, and another nice piece by a journalist named Catherine, I think, but I’ve lost the link. Anyway I was so enamoured of the above-mentioned website, loon pond by name, and written by the fabulously-resurrected Dorothy Parker, that I tried to leave a comment, but was defeated by the ‘prove you’re not a robot’ screening thingy, after a dozen attempts. Please Dorothy, let me into your heart!
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Written by stewart henderson

September 3, 2012 at 9:00 am

6 Responses

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  1. Hi – interesting read. I’m curious to know where you got your statistics/trend information from?

    I guess first of all, while a Christian, I’m not a ‘Sydney Anglican’ (i dont’ even live in Sydney!) but from my point of view, I saw things radically different on that night. I’ve attempted to provide further consideration of what Jensen was trying to say on QandA (when he wasn’t interrupted) on my own blog. You can find that here:

    http://davedeane.wordpress.com/2012/10/07/to-submit-or-not-to-submit/

    In anycase, thanks for providing your thoughts on the evening.

    David.

    davedeane

    October 9, 2012 at 8:48 am

    • Hello, thanks for your comments. I’m not sure which statistics or trends you’re referring to so I can’t provide specific information. Also, my response wasn’t to ‘that night’ – I didn’t watch the Q and A program, and only read part of a transcipt of it. My response was to an interview with him, perhaps on the 7.30 report, but mostly to his article in the SMH, which no doubt led to the interview, and the later appearance on Q and A.
      I’ll read your piece, though if it’s just based on the Q and A session that might be a problem. Better to look at what he had to say in the SMH [linked to in my post], when he had a pressure-free environment in which to say it.

      luigifun

      October 9, 2012 at 12:52 pm

      • My apologies for assuming you’d viewed the Q&A screening. I’ve read Jensen’s article as you referred to in your post, and while my blog refer’s to the Q&A evening, it’s still relevant to the topic at hand. I guess i really just have one question. If possible, forgetting the many ways people live this out in practice, if you take the Biblical concept of submission at face value (as i’ve explored in my blog) – if this is what Jensen is advocating for, can you really “infer that Jensen is advocating this dominance/submission marriage arrangement?”

        davedeane

        October 9, 2012 at 1:52 pm

  2. Hello Dave
    I began to read your long piece but I admit I couldn’t finish it, it made me too angry and irritated. I don’t believe in supernatural beings of any kind, and of course there have been thousands of them. When Akhnaten, the Egyptian pharoah, tried to create the first monotheistic religion [based on Aten, the sun god], he had to suppress more than a hundred gods, but he was unsuccessful, and all those gods returned. When the Phoenicians, those wonderfully accomplished sailors, travelled through the Mediterranean and arrived at the western island of Sardinia [many years before the first Bible books were written], they discovered more than fifty gods never heard of before….
    Humans, in these early stages of civilization,were incredibly productive creators of gods. Why? Well, we are lovers of narrative, we love, and need, to make sense of the world through stories. How did the world come to be? We have to have a story to make sense of it, So and so made the world in six days. In another part of the world, so and so and such and such had a fight, and this created Chaos, but then their children got together and created Order… the number and variety of these creator stories is as illimitable as human imagination. In those days, gods were part of families, and the families of gods were as competitive and sometimes dysfunctional as the human families on which they were based..
    The later development of monotheism seems to have conveniently gotten rid of a family. I don’t know too much of the history of your little yahweh, the nasty minor war god who grew to became the god called God – surely one of the most repugnant fictional characters ever to have been developed – but he conveniently seems to have been stripped of a mummy and daddy, and thus begins a much more simplified lord/master and slave relationship, together with the endless grovelling to this mass-murdering, capricious creator-being that continues to this day..
    Fortunately there are plenty of people who reject, or are largely unaware of this dysfunctional view of our world. They’re more interested in the real world, and how it works. This involves finding out how we evolved, and also how we compare with closely related species – matters of great interest to me.
    Our planet is the tiniest speck within an unremarkable galaxy among the millions of galaxies that we’re vaguely aware of – far from the number that could be known. We are not significant, and our pursuit of greater understanding of our cosmos has consistently reduced our significance. I personally find this exciting. Anything that undermines the fundamentally religious idea of human centrality delights me.
    As to your concern about marriage, I have no interest in marriage as an institution. Two of my closest friends are still together, having brought up three children, all of them university-educated with lucrative jobs, and they never bothered to marry. The fact is that people are still reproducing, and if if you think that children are suffering more today because of the ‘breakdown of marriage’, then you obviously haven’t read much history.
    Children [in the west] are better off today because children are far more valued these days than they were historically. This is because of our greater knowledge of, and respect for, children, and the psychology of childhood. Today we are disgusted at ‘the stolen generation’, at the sexual abuse of children, and of the way children were treated, not only in orphanages but in traditional marriages. We hear from our parents, or our grandparents, at the way their parents treated them, and our jaws drop.
    Marriage isn’t necessarily a wonderful institution. Historically, it has often been a prison. To be honest, as a person born into a disastrously destructive marriage, I’ve always looked forward to its dissolution, and I’ve been continually disappointed at its endurance. I’ve always hoped that this artificial arrangement would fade away, to be replaced by real, honest, non-contractual relationships, based on fellow-feeling, amity, and love. My many years’ experience as a foster-carer, looking after the children of wrecked relationships and dysfunctional parents, have simply reinforced my scepticism of marriage as an institution. Of course, some marriages are wonderful, I accept that, but the key to success is the relationship, and that has nothing to do with marriage.
    Anyway, I’ve blethered on enough. Say hello to your profoundly male supernatural being, and please don’t imagine there’s such a thing as a Biblical concept of submission. The Bible was written by scores of people [almost all men], the Ecclesiastes author being just one of them, but the concept of submission is the concept we agree upon today, not the one promulgated in previous ages. That’s the way language works.
    Stewart

    luigifun

    October 12, 2012 at 12:21 am

    • Stewart,
      I’m sorry you felt you couldn’t finish reading the post, I certainly didn’t want to make any reader “angry and irritated” – but if we are to have a discussion here, as I laid out in this blog, I believe we need to 1. Consider the foundation of our own worldview 2. Consider the foundation of the alternate worldview and 3. Be willing to change our worldview. By not being able to ‘lay down our spears’ and presuppositions we can’t sincerely consider point 2. and therefore any opportunity for an enlightening discussion has already been thrown out the window.
      You said that as people “we love”. I agree – but I honestly struggle to comprehend; as a naturalist yourself, what is your foundation for loving so? It’s a classic argument, but I just can’t seem to get past it. If everything is just matter in motion, then it follows that our opinions and actions are also just matter in motion. If that is true though, then objectively you and I aren’t even disagreeing here on this matter of submission, after all what is the standard which differentiates between our options here? We’re just two pieces of matter groovin’ to the motion! What makes one right and the other wrong if we’re just chemical reaction? I’m not saying naturalists don’t make value judgments or seek values, of course they do – indeed that’s exactly why you have an opinion here on submission, you see it as de-valuing to women. All I’m simply wondering is what is your warrant for doing so? It seems to me at this point that the naturalist is borrowing from some objective moral standard, rooted outside their subjective experience while at the same time denying its source. How does that work?! Seriously, I don’t get it! How can you justify relative opinions by absolute standards which you deny exist?
      You’ve shared your own negative experiences of marriage, thank you, and I while I haven’t experienced that personally to the degree it appears you have, it doesn’t come as a surprise to me that your natural disposition towards marriage is therefore negative. But I would say you’re attacking a straw-man when you describe as an “artificial arrangement”. That couldn’t be further from the Biblical design of marriage. Essentially what you’re describing is the imperfect examples of people who don’t get it right (both Christian AND non-Christian) and attacking that as the standard – but it’s not! The whole purpose of the Bible is recognition of this – humans don’t get it right, that’s why we have a Jesus. To impute his ‘perfectness’ onto us spiritually (not literally at this stage). The Biblical concept of marriage, as I discussed in my post, is derived from Jesus and his selfless sacrifice for His people on the cross, and I would argue Biblically, historically, philosophically that is anything but artificial. I believe there was a literal historical Jesus, who literally died, and who physically rose to life and will one day literally, physically return to earth. I have read much, and I still can’t find any credible historian (both secular and Christian) who denies the historical Jesus or can disprove His resurrection with any form of certitude. Human marriage is but an imperfect, fragile illustration of this union, and when you call for “real, honest, non-contractual relationships” I’m right with you! I just believe that call for value and equality that is an absolute value that is actually derived from an absolute source – God. (If you can find in your Bible where marriage fits your definition, please do share with me).
      Finally, I believe there is a concept of submission in the Bible (Eph 5) just like I believe there is gravity acting at 9.81m/s/s on this earth. Meaning, purpose and relevance are all derived from context – without it we are hopelessly lost. What kind of God would God be if ‘His Word’ could be manipulated and molded to conform to the constantly changing cultural standards of today? None at all. As you succinctly commented “the key to success is the relationship”. My worldview says that relationship is with Christ, who’s marriage with His people forged at Calvary, we are commissioned to represent in our imperfect human marriages. Unfortunately more often than not we get it hopelessly wrong…but that’s the beauty of Christianity, it’s the only single religion in the entire world that has a grace narrative – it’s not about what we don’t do. It’s about what Jesus did do.

      Thanks mate,
      Dave.

      davedeane

      October 12, 2012 at 11:28 am

      • Hmmm
        So Dave, why are you a Christian? Did you objectively evaluate – or at least try to – all the religio-political systems available in the modern world and decide that Christianity was the most ‘correct’ according to some ineffable but objective measure? My educated guess is that you didn’t and that you were born into the religion like the vast majority of Christians – as with Hindus, Moslems and traditional Aborigines. Had you been born in Riyadh, Kandahar or Periclean Athens you might be just as fervently religious as you are now, but Jesus wouldn’t form any part of your world-view.
        I very much recognize that religion forms part of most people’s identity, and that makes it a very very delicate subject. I actually think and write a lot about these matters, and particularly about how to reconcile my own non-compatibilist views [that’s to say, my view that our current understanding of the world has no need of supernatural explanation or agency, and is essentially incompatible with that kind of thinking] with my understanding of how deeply embedded religious thinking is in some cultures, and how dangerous – from a cultural perspective – it can be to seek to undermine that kind of identity. I’m thinking particularly of Aboriginal culture and mythology, which is essential to Aboriginal identity, so closely woven into it that to call it religion would be to misunderstand that essentiality. I suspect that is how all religions began. I think it was Kierkegaard who wrote that the death of religion begins with the birth of theology.
        It’s an interesting point. The most religious societies are, it seems to me, the least theological, and theology, which tries, inter alia, to take the measure of supernatural entities, marks the entry of something like science into religion. And science is terribly corrosive of unreflective belief.
        I’m sorry I can’t pretend that your Christian reflections are of any interest to me. I’ve read the Bible, and I’ve read the gospels many times. I’ve also done some investigating into the writing of these texts, and I also have a more than passing interest in the Graeco-Roman world that Christianity emerged into. When I compare the gospels with the work of Plato and Aristotle, the ideas of Epicurus and Democritus, and the later texts of Seneca, Plutarch and Lucretius, I find them singularly unimpressive, and it has long irritated me that we use the term ‘gospels’ for a collection of narratives so riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions and outright falsehoods. Jesus may well have existed, but the gospels are largely confabulation, written some time after the man’s untimely death. The claims of miracles and resurrection are obvious propagandist myths, the two contradictory birth stories are obvious concoctions about a probably charismatic individual who rose from obscurity, and the two contradictory genealogies are obvious attempts to link him, via the male line, to a ‘glorious’ Jewish past which, as archaeological evidence [or the complete lack of it] suggests, is pure fantasy. Of course this impressive male lineage, stretching back to Adam, conveniently forgets that Jesus is supposedly the son of the creator of the universe, making his actual male lineage the shortest in human history!
        These genealogies, though, are useful in pointing up the central dilemma at the heart of all the gospels [though essentially resolved by the time that the last gospel, John, was written]. The dilemma is whether to represent Jesus as ‘the Messiah’, the inheritor of David’s kingdom, the charismatic figure who will lead the Jews out of Roman thralldom, or the son of the once-Jewish but soon-to-be universal god. And of course this question of the rightful status of Jesus plagued Christian theology for centuries afterwards.
        But enough of this, let me now turn to your first and central question – a very familiar one to me. How do we ‘naturalists’ go on living reasonably ethical lives when there’s no ultimate ‘warrant’, presumably provided by some super-ethical creator being? It’s a line furiously pedalled, no doubt sincerely, by William Lane Craig, for example in his debate with Yale philosopher Shelly Kagan, which I highly recommend because Kagan gives a better response to your, and Craig’s, concerns than I could:

        I would, however, add to Kagan’s arguments, an evolutionary one. Morality is, to me, about our survival and thriving as individual members of the most socially oriented mammalian species on the planet.
        I think it’s fair to say that modern western society, with its extraordinary dynamism and diversity, has allowed its members to thrive and survive as never before – almost too successfully considering the huge population explosion of the twentieth century. That population explosion has forced a new element into our moral thinking, for we now now have to consider not only our relations with our neighbours and other humans generally, but other species and the whole biosphere, threatened as it by our increasing power to effect and damage it. Ultimately, though, I believe our moral systems are self-serving. The aim, for us as for every other species, is simply to keep on keeping on. There is no higher purpose. No doubt you can’t fathom this, just as I can’t fathom how people can create human-obsessed supernatural beings to live in constant fear of.

        luigifun

        October 15, 2012 at 12:33 am


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