Rick Warren, Gay Marriage, and the Word “Lifestyle”

It turns out that mindless Facebook lurking can uncover some pretty fascinating blogging material. Yesterday I stumbled across a fairly innocuous Rick Warren quote posted by a friend of a friend:

“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

Immediately below this quote, someone had left a scathing comment, accusing Warren and “the Religious Right” of bigotry and homophobia for wanting to ban gay marriage and deprive homosexuals of equal protection under the law. He argued that true compassion would require compromising convictions, since the convictions of people who oppose gay marriage are based in hatred and prejudice akin to that of the Ku Klux Klan.

that escalated quickly

(I should briefly interject to point out that the quote makes no mention of homosexuality, and is applicable to an enormous range of behaviors and lifestyles. But given that this was posted during the Supreme Court hearings on Proposition 8, I think the commenter can be excused for jumping to that conclusion.)

What I found particularly interesting was the problem that this individual had with the phrase “someone’s lifestyle”. He argued that this was a belittling phrase, since it failed to recognize that practicing homosexuals are unique and diverse, and shouldn’t be reduced to a single “lifestyle”.

I found his objection interesting because it’s one that I’ve encountered a couple times before, and I want to take a shot at clearing up the confusion surrounding the word “lifestyle” in the context of homosexuality.

i do not think we mean

I’ll illustrate with an analogy.

Two of my biggest hobbies are backpacking and ultrarunning. At times, my mother is convinced that I’m going to die of exposure, fall off a mountain, or get eaten by a grizzly. One might say that she disapproves of my “outdoors lifestyle”…but this clearly says nothing about her love and acceptance of me as a person. She isn’t defining me by (or reducing me to) my “outdoors lifestyle”, but she does voice her disapproval of what she regards as high-risk behavior.

In the same manner, I think most Christians who express moral disapproval of certain sexual “lifestyles” are trying to delicately affirm Scripture’s moral teachings on sexual ethics. Many Christians might even find the Bible’s teachings on sexual ethics in conflict with their own preconceived ideas, opinions, and desires…but are nonetheless willing to conform their views to Scripture (rather than twisting Scripture to conform to their own views).

Furthermore, since the Bible doesn’t condemn “homosexual orientation” (defined as “being tempted by attraction to the same sex”), it should be noted that the only moral issue at stake here is voluntary sexual thoughts and behaviors, not a person’s innate or acquired predisposition toward same-sex attraction. Ironically, it is the very people who insist on combining sexual orientation and sexual behavior into a single, legally-recognized “identity” who are guilty of pigeonholing.

[Footnote: The legal question of gay marriage goes beyond the scope of this post, but I’ve written on it previously.]

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Jewish vs. Christian Interpretations of Isaiah 53

Christians have been citing Isaiah 53 as an example of fulfilled messianic prophecy since the first century AD (see Matthew 8:17 and Acts 8:26-40).

The passage is remarkable because it was written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus…yet if you were to read it aloud on a street corner, most people would probably assume it was a New Testament passage describing Christ’s crucifixion after-the-fact:

Who has believed our message
   and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
   and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
   nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
   a man suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
   he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
   and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
   stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
   he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
   and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
   each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
   yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
   and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
   so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgement he was taken away.
   Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
   for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
   and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
   nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
   and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
   and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
   he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
   and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
   and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
   and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
   and made intercession for the transgressors.

– Isaiah 53 (NIV)

I think it’s important to be familiar with both the Christian and Jewish interpretations of this passage. Instead of trying to be overtly persuasive, I’ll just report both perspectives with minimal commentary of my own. You can draw your own conclusions.

But first, just to give you a flavor of the controversy, I was kind of amused by the slanted terminology used on Wikipedia (and the one-sided use of citations). The following screenshot was taken on March 20, 2013…but I’m guessing it will be re-worded for neutrality sometime in the future:

isaiah 53 wikipedia

The Jewish commentary that I’ve read concerning this passage isn’t always 100% in agreement, but you can check out some credible resources HERE and HERE. The following excerpt is taken from SimpleToRemember.com, an online resource for information on Judaism:

“Christianity claims that Isaiah chapter 53 refers to Jesus, as the “suffering servant.” In actuality, Isaiah 53 directly follows the theme of chapter 52, describing the exile and redemption of the Jewish people. The prophecies are written in the singular form because the Jews (“Israel”) are regarded as one unit. The Torah is filled with examples of the Jewish nation referred to with a singular pronoun. Ironically, Isaiah’s prophecies of persecution refer in part to the 11th century when Jews were tortured and killed by Crusaders who acted in the name of Jesus.”

You can check out some Christian resources HERE and HERE. Jonathan McLatchie writes:

“Some might point to the fact that contemporary Jews reject this passage as being messianic. However, having read the conventional views among them, I think such a view is untenable. Firstly, if the passage — as most contemporary Jews maintain — is really a personification of the nation of Israel, then the passage makes no sense when it says “…for the transgressions of my people [i.e. Israel] he was striken…though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” The term “the servant” is also used of the messiah in other parts of the Bible, such as in Zechariah 3:8 (“I am going to bring my servant, the Branch”).”

Regardless of where one stands on the religious spectrum, I think we owe it to ourselves to investigate claims of fulfilled prophesy. When considered in light of other evidence, I find that passages like Isaiah 52-53 speak for themselves, and strongly reinforce the larger truth claims of Christianity.

Atheist Survey Results (n=23)

Last summer, I published the responses that I’d received to my “Twelve Questions to Ask an Atheist”. Since that time there have been additional answers submitted on this site, on various other blogs (here and here), on Facebook, and on Reddit.

The number of responses is now up to 23, so I’ve compiled the updated data below. It should go without saying that this is not a scientific poll. I’m sure there’s quite a bit of selection bias here, and the answers are probably more representative of “internet atheists” than they are of the general atheist population.

But I hope you find it interesting, regardless. Some of the results I found really surprising (#6), others less surprising (#3, #5, #7), and others somewhat revealing (#11, #12).

As before, my original questions will be in boldAtheist responses will be italicized, with the # of similar responses in parentheses. If you’re interested in my own reaction to these responses, check out my original summary.

1. Does the universe have a beginning that requires a cause? 

– Yes (4)
– No (3)
– Probably
– Probably not (2)
– Don’t know (9)

– No clear response (3)
– Claims the question is a fallacy

…If so, what was this cause?

– There was no cause (3)
– It was inevitable
– We CAN’T know
– P-Branes/Special Black Hole Hypothesis/Quantum Foam/Penrose Cyclic Universe
– Don’t know, not applicable, or no clear response (17)

2. Is materialistic determinism compatible with the intrinsically probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics?

– Yes (4)
– No (5)

– Don’t know (8)
– Kind of, since laws are still reliable on the macro-level (2)
– Claims the question is a non sequitur
– “Material” is not a coherent concept in the realm of quantum mechanics
– No clear response (2)

3. How do you account for the physical parameters of the universe (the gravitational constant, the strong nuclear force, the mass and charge of a proton, etc.) being finely tuned for the existence of stars, planets, and life?

– Anthropic principle/multiple universes will produce one capable of harboring life (10)
– Conveniently fixed parameters don’t imply that they were fine-tuned…reason unspecified (6)
– The universe isn’t fine-tuned; it’s barely even compatible with life (5)
– The parameters are what they are out of necessity

– Claims this is begging the question

4. Why is the human mind naturally fluent in the language of mathematics, and how do you explain the eerie, seemingly unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in describing the laws of nature?

– Most people aren’t good at math (10)
– Math is merely explanatory (6)

– This fact isn’t unreasonable (2)
– We evolved to have adaptable brains (2)
– Math isn’t that effective

– Claims the question is circular
– No clear response

5. Do you believe that DNA repair mechanisms, catalytically perfect enzymes, and phenomena such as substrate channeling are best explained by naturalism? If so, why are rational human scientists and engineers so woefully incapable of imitating the precision and complexity of cellular machinery that (presumably) arose via strictly irrational processes?

Note: Although not explicitly stated, I infer that virtually all respondents would say “yes” to the first question. Answers to the second question:

– Science is still too young (13)*
– Evolution isn’t irrational (7)*

– Lack of knowledge doesn’t mean God is the answer (2)

– There’s no master design to understand
– Design is inferior to evolution
– Insufficient knowledge of genetics to answer the question

*Two responses included the ideas “science is still too young” as well as “evolution isn’t irrational”.

6. Do you believe free will to be illusory?

– Yes (3)
– No (11)
– Don’t know (3)
– Depends on how one defines “free will” (2)

– Sort of
– Probably not, because of quantum mechanics
– Free will is an incoherent concept

– Claims the question is pointless 

…If so, can the punishment of crimes be ethically justified (and does the word “ethical” have any real meaning)?

– Yes (9)
– No clear response, or not applicable (14)

7. Does objective morality exist?

– Yes (5)
– No (17)
– Don’t know, and it doesn’t matter

…If so, what is its source…and how do you define “objective”?

– It’s simply defined as human well-being (2)
– 
It’s innate and driven by self-interest

– Pluralistic moral reductionism is needed
– There are certain unarguable facts about what is moral

– Not applicable (18)

…If not, do you concede that concepts like “justice”, “fairness”, and “equality” are nothing more than social fads, and that acts of violence and oppression must be regarded merely as differences of opinion?

– No, morality is universal and selected for by evolution and/or social necessity (6)
– No, we can rely on an empathy-based system of morality (3)
– Kind of (3)
No clear answer (5)
– Differences of opinion, yes – but not “merely”

– Not applicable (5)

8. In what terms do you define the value of human life? Is the life of a human child more or less valuable, for example, than that of an endangered species of primate?

– It’s a personal/subjective decision (7)
– Value is based on our ability to “experience” (5)
– Human value is based on empathy for our own species (4)
– No definition is completely logically consistent (2)

– Life is precious, since it’s the only one we get

– Human life transcends value
– Our value is defined as our value to others
– Human value is self-evident
– Unsure how to respond

9. Much attention has been given to alleged cognitive biases and “wishful thinking” contributing to religious belief. Do you believe that similar biases (for example, the desire for moral autonomy) play a role in religious nonbelief? 

– Yes (14)
– No, or mostly no (6)
– Unsure
– No clear response
– Claims the question commits ad hominem and tu quoque fallacies

…If not, what specifically makes atheism immune to these influences?

– Lack of belief is the default (2)
– Morality is inherently autonomous
– Can’t imagine any reason someone would wish for there not to be a God

– No clear response, or not applicable (19)

10. Do you believe religion (speaking generally) has had a net positive or a net negative effect on humanity.

– Net positive (3)
– Net negative (11)
– Depends on the religion; net negative for the Abrahamic religions
– Unsure, or neutral (8)

…If the latter, how do you explain the prevalence of religion in evolutionary terms?

– Religious belief probably isn’t genetic, so it can’t be bred out (2)
– Religion has evolutionary benefits, despite having a net negative effect on humanity

– Religion survives through the intervention of man, particularly those who benefit from religion
– In the past, religion provided a way to preserve cultural memory
– Religion hasn’t been around very long on an evolutionary scale
– Something doesn’t have to be positive to spread through a population
– No explanation offered (5)
– Not applicable (11)

11. Is it rational for you to risk your life to save a stranger?

– Yes (4)
– No (5)

– Depends on the situation and/or level of risk (10)
– It’s not a question of rationality, but of terminal values (2)
– “Depends on how good she looks”
– Unsure

12. How would you begin to follow Jesus if it became clear to you that Christianity was true?

– Would follow (5)
– Wouldn’t follow (6)
Might follow the teachings of Jesus, but that isn’t Christianity (2)
– It would depend on how this truth was revealed (3)
– Christianity can’t be true (3)
– No answer given (4)

…What would be the hardest adjustment you would have to make to live a faithful, public Christian life?

– Adjusting wouldn’t be that difficult; would eagerly welcome knowing that Christianity was true (2)
– Praying, since it seems weird, creepy, and strange
– Trying to figure out how the Bible became so corrupted

– Trying to convince myself that the God of the Bible is deserving of worship (2)
– Don’t think it would be possible to adjust

– No clear response, or not applicable (16)

Ravi Zacharias Quotes

“What we need is not a religion that is right where we are right, but one that is right where we are wrong.”

“The use or abuse of Christianity in contradiction to the very message of the gospel reveals not the gospel for what it is, but the heart of man. That is why atheism is so bankrupt as a view of life, for it miserably fails to deal with the human condition as it really is.”

“I think the reason we sometimes have the false sense that God is so far away is because that is where we have put him. We have kept him at a distance, and then when we are in need and call on him in prayer, we wonder where he is. He is exactly where we left him.”

“Implicit to the secularized world-view is not just the marginalization of any religious idea but its complete eviction from public credence in forming social policy. If an idea or belief is “religiously based”, be it in a matter of sexuality or marriage or education or whatever, then by that very virtue it is deemed unsuitable for public usage.”

Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias

“Unless I understand the Cross, I cannot understand why my commitment to what is right must take precedence over what I prefer.”

“One does not get far in a conversation with a Hindu sage or an unsophisticated follower of Hinduism before one of them offers the familiar illustration of four blind people feeling an elephant in the dark and each one coming out with a different description of what it is he or she is feeling – a rope, a tree or some other object, depending on the tail or leg or whatever is being clasped. This story seems to be the best escape hatch to do away with any interpretive burden that keeps with the facts. Yet the obvious seems to escape the one giving the illustration: that smuggled into the analogy is the idea that it is an elephant that is under discussion and not any of those errant pronouncements made by the ones devoid of light and sight.”

“A man rejects God neither because of intellectual demands nor because of the scarcity of evidence. A man rejects God because of a moral resistance that refuses to admit his need for God.”

“On every university campus I visit, somebody stands up and says that God is an evil God to allow all this evil into our world. This person typically says, ‘A plane crashes: Thirty people die, and twenty people live. What kind of a God would arbitrarily choose some to live and some to die?’ I continued, ‘but when we play God and determine whether a child within a mother’s womb should live, we argue for that as a moral right. So when human beings are given the privilege of playing God, it’s called a moral right. When God plays God, we call it an immoral act. Can you justify this for me?’ That was the end of the conversation.”

“Spirituality with an underpinning of pantheistic beliefs is portrayed as being serene, innocuous, all-embracing, mystical, and wonderful…The world is now being constructed on reclaimed land from the sea of faith in which we seek common values without finding common reasons from which those values stem. Yet the deeper one probes into the reasoning, the more one has to wonder whether this disjunction between values and reasons will sooner or later take away from us the water of life.”

Three Reasonable Tips for Debating Rude Persons on the Internet

I read an article awhile back that resonated with me, because I think it helps explain why the majority of online debates over “deep issues” like religion, politics, and philosophy get so…nasty. (Don’t believe me? Just type the word “religion” into Youtube. Click on any video with 100,000+ views. Read the comments.)

“The problem with smart people is that they like to be right and sometimes will defend ideas to the death rather than admit they’re wrong. This is bad. Worse, if they got away with it when they were young (say, because they were smarter than their parents, their friends, and their parent’s friends) they’ve probably built an ego around being right, and will therefore defend their perfect record of invented righteousness to the death. Smart people often fall into the trap of preferring to be right even if it’s based in delusion, or results in them, or their loved ones, becoming miserable…(continue)”

This problem is particularly bad online, when the “humanness” of one’s adversary is replaced with a keyboard, a computer monitor, and a half-eaten bag of Fritos.

boromir argument internet

I see the pattern all the time in those who initiate debates with me on this blog, and elsewhere. I see it in myself, at times (though I wouldn’t call myself a “smart person”). While I’d like to think I do a decent job of obeying the first half of 1 Peter 3:15-16, I often botch the second half. (So that’s my way of admitting that I’m not 100% qualified to be writing this post.)

I give you, then, Three Reasonable Tips for Debating Rude Persons on the Internet.

1. Don’t Debate Rude Persons on the Internet. Or at the very least, know when to call it quits. If the Rude Person ignores your well-crafted, novel-length rebuttals…don’t keep writing them.

If you’re anything like me, this has probably happened to you. Someone posts an inflammatory 5-sentence comment on an obscure news article, so you respond by pouring two hours into a 50-sentence essay (complete with a half-dozen documented sources) that matter-of-factly explains the problem with his initial comment (because let’s be honest…it’s a “him”). Your adversary then responds with an even more inflammatory 5-sentence comment – one which clearly shows that he didn’t read a word of that thesis you poured your sweat and blood into.

So it’s really tempting to respond like this:

Which brings me to…

2. Be Nice to Rude Persons on the Internet. Throwing a Wonka-tantrum might feel gratifying at the time, but it does nothing for the other guy…or your cause, for that matter. And it only turns you into a bitter person, in the long run.

Instead, if you REALLY want to shake your adversary to his core, try responding like this:

Now granted, it can sometimes be difficult to pull this off without your niceness sounding like tongue-in-cheek snarkiness. But once you’ve decided to be nice, the toughest part becomes choosing your words to avoid being misunderstood.

It’s hard to go wrong by just being nice. Ridiculously nice. Nauseatingly nice. When your adversary begins unloading his vilest insults on your intelligence, your character, your religion, and your pet hamster…just think of Mr. Rogers. Which brings me to…

3. Pause to Think Before Responding to Rude Persons on the InternetIf you find yourself getting angry, go spend a few hours doing something away from the computer.

Last weekend, in response to a post I made on Facebook, an anonymous individual took a swipe at me with a crude innuendo, then claimed that my entire post was “a ginormous example of the argument from ignorance fallacy”. (That’s another thing you’ll notice with Rude Persons on the Internet. They like to remain anonymous, and they like to accuse others (falsely, in most cases) of committing logical fallacies. But by pointing this out, they’ll probably say I’m committing an ad hominem.)

Anyway, my initial reaction was something like this:

Had I responded right away, I probably would have regretted it later. So instead, I grabbed some ice cream from the freezer and spent the rest of the evening watching the Oscars. When I logged on to Facebook the next day, my blood pressure was back down to 120/60. It still ended up turning into a lengthy debate…but by taking time to cool off, I was able to avoid responding to his insults.

So there you have it then.