Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The "God hates shrimp" fallacy

Robert Stacy McCain (HT again to Dad29) preaches that ol' time Bible-thumping religion on homosexuality and gay "marriage" at Cynthia Yockey, who responded at her site "A Newly Conservative Lesbian" by reprinting a letter to Dr. Laura that has been floating around since 2000. Here's an excerpt:
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.
I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them. ...
b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her? ...
d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?
e) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?
f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination (Lev 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?
McCain's rejoinder is here, but I've cut Miss Yockey off at (f) because the rest of the letter, which goes from (a) to (j) is essentially redundant ... all variations on the same point, what I call ... well the title of this post -- the "God hates shrimp" fallacy.

I don't particularly have any desire to specifically rebut Miss Yockey (who at least does come across on her site as a level-headed non-hateful person, i.e., not Amanda Marcotte, though they offer the identical argument), But the fallacy is so common that I guarantee you that there's not ten orthodox Catholic persons in the world who haven't heard it. There's even a would-be-parody-of-Fred-Phelps site called God Hates Shrimp, and some pro-gay types do parody protests like those pictured here at the right.

First of all ... in the discharge of my office as shepherd and teacher of all and by virtue of my supreme food authority, I declare, decree and define that the awesomeness of shrimp scampi as pictured atop and displayed throughout the ages must definitively be held by the whole Church. Hence if anyone, may God forbid, willfully deny or call into doubt that which I hath defined, let him be anathema.

But seriously, folks ...

It's hard to know the amount of seriousness with which "God hates shrimp" is offered. It is such a bad, BAD argument, that it is hard to believe that people knowledgeable about Christian belief (note: not at all the same thing as "devout Christians") could either be making it or be paying it any heed. Ignorant people rationalizing post hoc, prejudiced bigots arguing in bad faith, clowns incapable of turning off the snark ... those people I "get."

Yet this argument seems to be popular ... I've seen that "Note to Dr. Laura" at least twice in other forums, and I believe the "God Hates Shrimp" site people when they say at their photo captions that the two dominant reactions they get at Gay Pride parades are laughter (from those who "get it") and anger (from those who don't) -- both groups actually showing a different sort of ignorance, two riffs off the same chord of religious illiteracy. So at the risk of sounding like a square for taking too seriously something not meant seriously ...

It's often said, "scratch an atheist, find a fundamentalist." I'd go farther -- contemporary atheism and fundamentalism are really two sides of the same coin as far as reading and use of the Bible are concerned. They both see the Bible as a set of proof texts to be simply applied afresh and anew every day as if directly written by God Himself yesterday, i.e., completely independently of either Tradition or any notion of any binding authority. But of course, that atheist-fundamentalist hermeneutic coin has nothing to do with how the Bible has ever been understood (or the OT by Jews, for that matter). From the first century to possibly as late as the mid-19th century, no matter what Fred Phelps says today, nobody had ever conceived the Bible as a set of free-standing proof-texts waiting to be applied aphoristically to the controversies of every day.

Or in a single phrase: Christian teaching on homosexuality has never rested on proof-texting Leviticus 18:22.

Notably, every single example of other Biblical prohibitions mentioned in the note cited in the letter to Dr. Laura is from elsewhere in the early books of the Old Testament. Which hints right away at the problem -- "Old."¹ The ritual and dietary laws of the "Old" Covenant, and even the details of the Hebrew civic code, have never been considered binding by Christians. They have been superceded by the "New" Covenant in Jesus Christ, as explained in the "New" Testament repeatedly, most extensively in Hebrews. That the Old Testament and New Testament interrelate on some schema like this, however it may shake out in the details -- this isn't esoteric knowledge. It's so central to any understanding of Christianity that the person who doesn't know it (and somebody who makes the God Hates Shrimp argument seriously, by definition, doesn't) is incompetent to make any arguments about Christianity.² Indeed, practically the very first controversy in the Church was over this exact matter -- how binding is Jewish ritual law on matters like diet and circumcision. And the Apostles, led by St. Paul, quickly decided that they were not binding.

To some extent, I have done nothing more than state the obvious -- even the most cursory knowledge of Christian practice or, heck, even two good eyes on a Friday during Lent today, will tell you that Christianity has never proscribed eating shrimp. And to be fair, "God Hates Shrimp" isn't really intended to make Christians stop consuming scampi; it's more intended as the first horn of a (supposed) dilemma, the first move in an intellectual two-step ("suspend your morals / do-si-do").³ The real point is the second horn of the "dilemma," the "do-si-do" -- something like "well, if the Leviticus prohibition on eating shrimp has been superseded, why not 'lying with a man as one does with a woman'?"

Offered in the right spirit, it's a legitimate question, to which the answer is "some parts of the Mosaic law are still parts of the New Convenant, others are not." For example, Our Lord said He didn't come to erase the law, but to fulfill it, which, whatever it means in the details, obviously means that some of the specifics will remain and some will not. To which, the secular rebuttal is entirely obvious: "how does one determine which Specific Detailed Prohibition X remains valid (homosexual acts) and which Specific Detailed Prohibition Y (shrimp, mixing cotton and silk) does not?" And to have an intelligent rejoinder, one must abandon fundamentalism because literal proof-texting has no way, even in principle, to answer this question. If one DOES think of Leviticus 18:22 as an eternal proof text of its own per-se free-standing authority, then Leviticus 11:10 also must be, and the God Hates Shrimp argument is correct (or the Ten Commandments would dissolve also).

But back to the main point -- it is plain and manifest that Christians have always followed some parts of the Mosaic code but not others, the serious question always being "which parts and how do we know." And this is where the New Testament comes in, and Tradition and a binding Magisterium do too. Unlike shrimp, the binding quality of the parts of the Mosaic code related to homosexual acts has been held by Christians and the Church since the 1st century, including in the New Testament itself.

Now, to be sure, homosexual acts are only even arguably mentioned about four times in the New Testament, and a condemnation of them is never actually the point being made. Indeed, I could even subscribe to much of this interesting, if ultimately unpersuasive, piece by gay apologist James Allison, the thrust of which is the perfectly sane and well-developed point that the start of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, the principal New Testament cite on the subject, isn't especially concerned with the morality of homosexuality as a topic. Rather, St. Paul uses it as an example of a wrong in the service of the broader point that's really what (that part of) the letter is about -- that there is neither Jew nor Greek in Christ, that sin has affected all equally. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger's 1986 letter on homosexuality uses similar lingo -- that Paul "is at a loss to find a clearer example" of sin.4 The other New Testament verses cited as proof texts (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:9-10; Jude 1:7) are the same, only "more" so -- homosexual acts and/or persons who commit them are merely mentioned en passant in a laundry list of condemnations.

But in some ways, that's exactly the way to discern Tradition -- the That Which Does Not Have To Be Argued For, the Premise So Obvious That It Can Remain Unstated. The very fact that St. Paul and St. Jude don't argue for the immorality of homosexual acts because they don't have to -- the "dropped in" quality of the references, without elaboration or argument or detail, proves they could assume automatic assent to the statement "homosexual acts are condemned" and "those who commit them are damned." And keep in mind, the Apostles weren't shy about changing the details of ritual and practice, if they thought the New Covenant reversed anything in the Old. After all, they even moved the day of Sabbath's observance (one of the Ten Commandments).

Going through Church history, the Fathers and the Tradition, we see something similar. Until historically speaking, five minutes ago, whenever homosexual acts are referred to, it has always been in an unfavorable light or in a context where its condemnation was assumed. Natural-law philosophy has always been invoked against homosexual acts and never until about five minutes ago did any orthodox Christian of prominence argue for the morality of homosexual acts. Whatever may be said about the meaning of those facts; that is itself a fact, which is relevant in understanding Tradition. And in response to the rise of the modern gay movement, the Church's Magisterium has produced a rich battery of response, none of which ever states that homosexual actions are acceptable. It's possible, of course, for new developments to overcome traditions, but not on a subject where there is Scripture (however vague) and a constant Apostolic Tradition, both of which are all on one side of the matter.

There is no doubt that sexual sins, of all kinds and all other sins too, may have had greater prominence and wider practice in some times and places than others. But silence does not equal assent; indeed, in the case a prophetic institution, quite the opposite. To get a sense of this apparent paradox, ask yourself: how often and how vigorously does the Church today condemn cannibalism? It wouldn't seem like much, on the proof-text method. If you go to the Vatican English Web site now and search for the word "cannibalism," you find three references. One is in a laundry list of brutalities. The other two (actually one in English and one in Italian) are attacks on scientific research that uses humans or their parts in a way incompatible with human dignity, and in both cases, the author uses "cannibalism" as a rhetorical weapon against using (or "consuming") human beings this way. In other words -- exactly the senses and contexts of the New Testament's references to homosexuality.

So step back -- would anybody care to defend the proposition that the Church does not now condemn cannibalism? Or be prepared to defend a 28th century revisionist citing the Church's few current words on the topic (along with the relevant news reports and works of art on the practice) as showing that the question was open in the 20th and early 21st century? Or argue in advance that the Church's 27th century flurry of condemnation against the then-rising tide of cannibalism will be ungrounded in Tradition (much less Scripture, which has even less to say about cannibalism than it does about homosexuality)?

To ask these questions this way is to answer them.

Now ... if the New Testament or Tradition/Magisterium had been silent or even sometimes been divided on the matter -- then I would be willing to say "maybe Leviticus 18:22 should be seen as a dead letter" and God no more hates lying with a man as one does with a woman any more than He does shrimp.

But of course, that's not the world we live in.
¹ It should I hope go without saying, as the later paragraphs should show, that I'm not engaged in Marcionism, but rather merely saying that the Old Testament, while also divinely inspired, needs to be read in light of the New (and of Tradition) since it reflects various covenants that have been superceded.
² Indeed, when Christians say "atheists and 'brights' think we are all by definition completely stupid illiterates," it's situations like this that we have in mind: thinking that such an obvious "gotcha" hasn't been noticed for 2,000 years and that the Bright pointing this out in a combox in AD 2009 has some kosmos-shattering argument. One could never make the argument without always already having in the head "Christian = stupid" as a controlling mental template, an "of-course" meme. Or to put it another way, the secularist reaction to the manifest undeniable fact that Christians have never had a problem with eating shrimp or pork or with mixing fabrics, etc., isn't "hmmm ... they must not think these passages aren't binding. I wonder why?" but "bwahahaha ... they don't even KNOW these passages exist. Illiterates!!"
³ Exodus 20:12 to Exodus 20:17 would have to go out the window also on this argument. But again, that assumes "OT is not binding" is being argued in a more rigorous, rational spirit than it really is, rather than just being drafted into the theological equivalent of a lawyer's brief on the specific matter of homosexuality. The prophet Nietzsche famously laughed at "moralistic little English fatheads who think they could have Christian morality without the Christian god.
4 "In Romans 1:18-32, still building on the moral traditions of his forebears, but in the new context of the confrontation between Christianity and the pagan society of his day, Paul uses homosexual behaviour as an example of the blindness which has overcome humankind. Instead of the original harmony between Creator and creatures, the acute distortion of idolatry has led to all kinds of moral excess. Paul is at a loss to find a clearer example of this disharmony than homosexual relations." In other words, homosexuality serves as an example in a broader point about man's rebellion from God and the effects of sin; it isn't "the point" per se. What Cardinal Ratzinger wrote is completely compatible with Allison's reading (though the latter man's "read" does not, cannot, take him where he wants to go).


Anonymous said...

Wow! Excellent post. The "God Hates Shrimp" meme is still going around, and I know few clergy who could sum up the basic fallacies as well as you just did. Glad your posting again.

Clayton said...

You're better than at this stuff. Well done!

Anonymous said...

Can you give me a short version of why God condemns homosexuality? I read through this, but I couldn't really find anything useful to use against my gay friend. (I do think homosexuality is a sin, but I'm not about to break off a friendship I've had for years) While I realize you were pointing out something along the lines of correlation type fallacy, I don't think that argument is really strong enough for me to use. I got the impression it was because homosexuality has always been condemned throughout Christian history, that its bad, but I've used that before, and he responded by asking me to get sources on that information, and referring to things that were considered right but are now wrong. (ie witch burnings)


boinky said...

Shrimp in areas where human waste is dumped carry Hepatitis and enterobacteria.

Kosher like Hindu and Muslim food laws have a health reason behind them.

As for selling your daughter: In poor societies, you might indeed sell your daughter into slavery rather than see her starve to death.

Most of the gay laws in the bible were part of the strict ethos at a time when male and female prostitution was common..and older men in authority would often expect sex from young men.

(that is, it often included sins against charity and involved harming the innocent).

Homosexuality in the US is more commonly just fornication: A mortal sin, but so is heterosexual sleeping around.

Since Catholics consider homosexual orientation a defect (either genetic or from early experiences) that the person cannot help, they stress the idea that one needs to humbly accept their orientation and try to be chaste, and do grant confession for those who fail..., Catholics stress continence rather than cures.

Smiley said...

Hi Courage man

Sexual sins. honestly i feel they are the most visible and affect us directly but in the list of the 10 commandmens the sexual sins are at the end.
There is a hierarchy and the hierarchy indicates the gravity and deadliness of the sin. As you can see false Gods, and sins against the person of God come first followed by respect for authority (in the figure of parents and then the church) make up the second set. them on it own stand anger (which is murder) and then the sexual sin or sins of the flesh make up the last batch.
For some reason we have put cart before horse, most catholics break the first 4 commandments ad infinitum yet we raise a big noise about the last 4.
As catholics we need to state the error about homosexuality but we have the much bigger duty to put right the first 4 commandments in our lives.

Mareczku said...

I actually got a kick out of the "God Hates Shrimp" site. I call it "Fighting hate with humor." But I think Fred Phelps and his followers are scary people. What is scarier to me is that I never knew that there were Catholics like that but sadly some are lurking on the internet.

Anonymous said...

That's quite a claim, don't you think? That the New Testament doesn't need to say anything about homosexuality being wrong because it's implied?
Couldn't you just turn that on its head and say that although the New Testament doesn't explicitly condemn wearing clothes made of animal AND plant fibres interwoven, it's implied?
You're practically basing your entire argument on conjecture here, and it's rather formless.
While we're on the topic, what do you say about the innumerate cases of homosexuality in nature, such as those penguins in the New York zoo, the elephant in Poland and my neighbour's cats? If God finds it so morally abhorrant, I'd question his reasoning behind creating it in the first place. To be perfectly honest, if God "genetically predisposed" me to sin, then I don't think I want to get to know him.
Oh, and to the other poster who heaped homosexuality in with fornication, how can you expect homosexuals to be anything else when the Church refuses to wed us?

Anonymous said...

Wow, that is an amazingly horrible argument. Your entire argument boils down to that it is tradition to condemn homosexuality, and it is tradition to ignore the part about not eating shrimp. That is seriously the only answer you can come up with in reference to which parts of the old covenant to follow? All you really have to say is that it is implied that you follow the anti-homosexual parts of the bible and ignore the other rules. What gets me is that people like you wonder why scientists shake there heads and laugh when arguing with you. Your arguments are so sad and contradictory that it can only be described as pathetic.

Mareczku said...

I actually like that "God Hates Shrimp" site. I call it fighting hate with humor. That Fred Phelps and his crew are scary people and sadly there are some Catholic that think like him when it comes to gay people.

Peace - Mareczku

Anonymous said...

"And to be fair, "God Hates Shrimp" isn't really intended to make Christians stop consuming scampi; it's more intended as the first horn of a (supposed) dilemma, the first move in an intellectual two-step..." ("suspend your morals / do-si-do")."

I think you are right in that it is a moral two-step, but the steps go like this: "the bible contains mistakes / do-si-do / it could all be a big mistake / do-si-do." The more important question is whether it is possible to dismiss any part of the bible as irrelevant without admitting not only that the bible is not infallible, but also that there is a distinct possibility that virtually everything else in the bible could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Of course the entire Christian argument about homosexaulity doesn't come from Leviticus. The point of "God Hates Shrimp" is that this particular text isn't valid because it's part of the Old Testament Holiness Code, which was done away by Jesus Christ.

There are convincing arguments that use the New Testament texts.

Anonymous said...

The fact that you need to account for the lunacy of Old Testament superstition is the point of such humor, not the validity of whether God hates shrimp.

That is, the bible is full of crazy stuff, especially the Old Testament, and the fatuous casuistry needed to account for it is ridiculous.

Joe said...

"Or in a single phrase: Christian teaching on homosexuality has never rested on proof-texting Leviticus 18:22."

For Christian teaching in terms of careful, academic theology, this is true. That teaching rests of layers of complex questions of the questionable correctness translation of the Green in Romans and Corinthians, translations in one case of a word that's only used three times in recorded Greek. Did Paul mean "passive man", or "ritual temple prostitution." Are Paul's edicts really edicts of God? Non-trivial, complex theological questions.

But let us be honest with ourselves. Most Americans have never been formally taught theology or ancient Greek. The weight of most American Christian's beliefs about of homosexuality is more likely to come from societal inertia, marketing claims from organizations linking homosexuality to pedophelia when science points to the opposite, and signs carried by whackjobs like the KKK which *do in fact* rest their case on Levicitus.

The photograph you linked was photoshopped from a KKK (not WBC) protest in Oklahoma City. The only parts that have been changed were the word Sodomites (now "Shrimp" and the chapter and verse. It's crazy to dismiss that the KKK and WBC's invalid argument isn't part of the culture in America, because it clearly is.

In creating the original Photoshopped image you've included here, I picked "shrimp" for the site and the Phelps parody not because it was the most Biblically accurate argument, but merely because it was the argument being offered, and because, well, it was funny. The word shrimp is, well, funny.

So why do people take the argument to heart? I'm not sure, but here's my guess.

I believe that GHS resonates not because people are mislead on the actual teachings of the Bible on shellfish. GHS resonates in America, and has been successful for six years, because people actually understand that there is flim-flammery in the picking and choosing done by the Religious Right in America about the Bible in general.

You want to "take down" GHS, you're going to have to do more than perry a parody straw man. You're going to need to, at the core, make the case to the American public that the forces of political Christianity are wholly consistent with the teachings of, well, y'know, Christ.

Y'know, the guy who taught all about love, peace and charity, and who never once said a word about homosexuality.

Good luck with that.

Lightning Rose said...

Well, it's not just the Old Testament that's full of dietary crazy, is it?

Jesus himself banned the consumption of Fig Newtons.

Leila @ Little Catholic Bubble said...

This is a great post! Thank you! I have bookmarked it.

And, for more on the difference between discipline and doctrine, check this out:

M. Simon said...

For example, Our Lord said He didn't come to erase the law, but to fulfill it, which, whatever it means in the details, obviously means that some of the specifics will remain and some will not.

Which ones? Why is shrimp OK and selling your daughter is not? Aside from modern notions like self ownership for women and children?

What is the rational basis for choosing what to adhere to? What is the law?


I was raised Orthodox Jewish and it was stressed over and over (enough stress for you?) that G-d will forgive your sins against him. It is your sins against your fellow man that require mending. Which is to say I can be a non-believer and still get to Heaven if I'm a mensch.

Which is why Judaism is an ethical religion (see Buddhism) rather than a faith religion.

Christianity and Judaism have very little in common on a fundamental level. Islam (another faith religion) even less so.

There can be Jewish atheists. I have never heard of Christian atheists. i.e. a good Jew treats his fellow man well. With or without faith.

Without faith you are either an aspiring Christian or not a Christian. Faith is immaterial to your Jewishness.

Me? What do I need faith for? The Maker talks to me whenever he has something to say. Or to put it in other terms: experience trumps faith. H/T J. Hendrix.

Anonymous said...

If you're going to pick and choose, then choose love instead of hate. Also, God gave us free will. God will ultimately be the one to judge us, not the lunatics that don't understand the very principles of Jesus' teachings.

Carson said...

Excellent post. I'm a Protestant (Baptist) that recently wrote an article dealing with the same issue in the wake of the whole Chick-fil-A fiasco (ironically, the argument I originally responded to was made (or at least upheld) by a Roman Catholic. Good to hear you didn't fall for the same trap :). I'd love your thoughts on it: I'll be linking your article as additional reading on my post.

Coram Deo,