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.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 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?
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).