Rick Warren sets his standards

In an interview defending himself against justified charges of homophobia, Rick Warren insisted:

For 5,000 years, every single culture and every single religion has defined marriage as a man and a woman.

Not quite. As the polygamous founder of the polygamy-espousing Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints noted, “ancient patriarchs and prophets like Abraham, Moses, Isaac, Jacob, David, and so on were permitted to have more than one wife,” and “the Mosaic Law, which both Jews and Christians believe to have been inspired by God, makes provisions for polygamy (see Exodus 21:10 and Deuteronomy 21:15).”

This gives us polygamy not only among Mormons (some of whom still practice it), but among Jews within at least the last 5,000 years. Furthermore, polygamy is entirely acceptable in Islam. As the linked site observes:

It is notable that most of the Old Testament Prophets are polygamous. According to the Old Testament, Abraham “the friend of God” had more than one wife, David had one hundred wives, and Solomon is even said to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines.

If polygamy is immoral per se, then these and other leading figures in the Biblical traditions are immoral. In this case, there would be no sanctity attached to the Bible, its Prophets, or it teachings! No sincere Jew, Christian or Muslim would regard God?s chosen Messengers as immoral persons!

This is all simply to point out that we do, in fact, redefine marriage. It used to be a contract between one man and several women, but at some point people decided that monogamy was a better idea. I’m tempted to agree with that assessment, and I certainly don’t think we should reverse that decision. But it’s worth noting that it was an explicit choice, and that the decision to adopt monogamy in the first place, or to reject it today, would have to be justified on some sort of empirical, intersubjective basis. “People used to do it this way” is never a good argument. “People have always done it this way” is an even worse argument, especially when people didn’t always do it that way!

I will set aside historical practice of child marriage, a practice abandoned in Kansas only within the last few years, and defended by one conservative legislator on the grounds that Mary was only a child when she married Joseph, so and if it was good enough 2000 years ago, it was good enough for kids today.

Of course, marriage in many states and nations throughout history has also been defined to be between members of the same race, a fact ignored by Warren and others. We redefine marriage all the time, updating it to reflect contemporary understandings of liberty and consent.

This is the quality of American Christianity’s leadership. Bigoted and willing to retreat into dishonest gibberish when called on their lies. (“It’s all dishonest gibberish,” my atheist readers reply. No, even if it were all gibberish, some of it is very honest gibberish. One might say the same of Gerard Manley Hopkins, James Joyce, and many other marvelous poets. The technical term for Rick Warren’s willful disregard for the truth is bullshit. Honest religious writing is poetry.)

In any event, the selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at Obama’s inaugural hasn’t just peeved lefties. Wingnuts are whining to Pat Robertson that Warren is a sell-out and apparently a genocidaire.

Meanwhile, the fact that the left is attacking this choice as extreme has several benefits. First, there’s some hope that Warren will get replaced by someone a lot better. Second, it allows Obama to position himself as a moderate, even as he makes it clear that “I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans. It is something that I have been consistent on and something that I intend to continue to be consistent on during my presidency.” Naming an openly gay Secretary of the Navy will seem moderate in this light also, and Obama will be able to redefine the center on this issue in ways that will actually help gay people. As The Editors point out (and do click the links for context),

give it a month. Barack Obama will then sit down with, and promote at state events, a parade of very non-metaphorical racists, anti-Semites, murders, tyrants, torturers, and worse, many of whom are our very great friends. He will do it for these essentially the same reason that he has, and will again, court Rick Warren – because they are players in the international sphere much as I gather Mr. Warren is in the domestic. And so they will be offered these symbolic concessions in the hope that they are stupid enough to trade them for material concessions. And it often works: you?d be surprised how many people expect politics to validate their identity, and for whom the ultimate prize is to win meaningless symbolic triumphs over their rivals. It?s called ?politics?, the business of negotiating the world of humans, most of whom are scorching assholes and insecure idiots. There are ways of avoiding this unpleasantness, but they all involve not being a politician. The Game is the Game.

Is this smart politics? Will courting Warren indeed weaken the Republican stranglehold on white evangelicals? I don?t know, and neither do you. Warren is being given a symbolic victory in exchange for the possibility of material political gain for a liberal agenda. That?s a trade you take every single time.

I don’t know if that’s quite right, since symbolism matters a lot, but it’s a very good point. Michael Bérube makes an excellent counterargument, that the fact this is only symbolic makes it worse:

Well, that?s true?this is purely symbolic. But that?s my point: because Warren?s appearance is purely symbolic, the insult here is completely gratuitous. Or worse: because it?s not pegged to any specific policy, and because there is no ?common ground? to be found here (see above), the symbolism speaks all the more clearly. Think of Ronald Reagan kicking off his 1980 campaign by invoking ?states? rights? in Philadelphia, Mississippi. A purely symbolic gesture?and all the clearer because purely symbolic.

The analogy strikes me as inapt, since I don’t think this is actually a dog whistle to the anti-gay bigots as much as it’s a dog whistle to people who think of themselves as mainstream Christians, think of Warren (wrongly) as representative of mainstream Christianity, and believe that Warren’s invocation grants them permission to like Obama.

And speaking of inapt analogies, Martin Cothran, logic teacher, Discovery Institute blogger, and staffer for the Kentucky affiliate of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family claims that:

The gay left is out to silence Rick Warren, partly because Warren is propagating the myth that the gay left is out to, … uh, silence people like Rick Warren.

Except that no one is trying to silence Rick Warren (he has his own church, a best-selling book and many related tchotchkes, television specials, etc., etc. which no one wants to take away). I don’t think anyone is silencing me, even though I haven’t been invited to say anything at all at the inauguration.

Comments

  1. #1 NoAstronomer
    December 19, 2008

    It used to be a contract between one man and several women,

    And before that it was a contract between one man and some other men with daughters they needed to get rid of; Women not being allowed to make contracts and stuff.

  2. #2 dean
    December 19, 2008

    “This is the quality of American Christianity’s leadership. Bigoted and willing to retreat into dishonest gibberish when called on their lies.”

    Heavy on the bigoted part: I think the one thing that these ‘leaders’ leave is a new way for racists and others to express their hatred without using the old extreme language. It has probably always been this way, but Billy Graham seems to have perfected it and shown the others the way.

    There is one other theme with the heads of these big churches: it makes them rich. My grandfather, who despised Graham, used to say that “He’s the same as the missionaries who went to Hawaii to do good and ended up doing very well.” The same statement can be applied to each and every one of these wankers.

  3. #3 Ed
    December 19, 2008

    Genesis 16:9 tells the story of God commanding Abraham’s concubine to return to the polygamous situation that she was fleeing from. Further, in the 23rd chapter of the biblical book of Ezekiel, God describes himself as having been married to two sisters, Aholah and Aholibah (allegorically Jerusalem and Samaria) at the same time – thus, God apparently considers himself to be a polygamist. Also, in I Kings 15:5, God clearly indicates that he had absolutely no moral issues with King David’s polygamy. Evangelicals who fear same-sex marriage based on the ironic argument that it might lead to polygamy need to get their Bibles off the shelf and actually read them for once.

  4. #4 abb3w
    December 19, 2008

    As an straight American infidel generally‡ in favor of Gay Marriage, I’m not too bothered by Warren being allowed to give the prayer.

    1) Evangelicals want to pray. Let them pray. I just want to keep from relying on them anything where real results matter.
    2) From the news reports, Warren invited Obama to speak at his church fairly early on. This seems an appropriate repayment for that favor.

    ‡I think marriage is a religious sacrament, and thus that states should ONLY recognize civil unions, whether the participants be straight OR gay. I also think that the movement should mirror the Suffrage movement and use the argument of military necessity to push for the Federal government to (a) require military Chaplains or Senior Officers perform a ceremony for such (straight or gay) Unions on request, provided one individual in said Union is enlisted and (b) mandate states recognize all Unions resulting from such military ceremony, both as being “necessary and proper” (as Article I puts it) “To raise and support armies”. Banning gays in the military costs us people we need, especially among translators; and one thing we all can be fairly confident of: if he’s screwing him, they’re not the usual strain of Islamic Fundie nutjobs. Despite the obvious sense of this, people I suggest this to think I’m odd….

  5. #5 Lloyd on Maui
    December 19, 2008

    Some whistles (plastic if required, due to metal detectors) at the inauguration piercing Warren’s speech, might be nice to hear as I watch it on TV. Got a ticket? Bring a whistle.