There are issues I do not have the wit to sort out. The recent Supreme Court decision in the United States on same sex marriage, and what it portends for society, is one of them. I do not know whether this marks the beginning of state-assisted civilizational suicide, or just a steady retreat from Pauline Christianity into something more tolerant and more tolerable for the human species. I suspect the latter. And I suspect myself for not getting bothered about it, but I have come to the end of my capacity for flogging myself for not thinking the end is nigh. I do not think the end is nigh. Broadly, and with large exceptions such as Islam, I think things are okay.
I think the human species will struggle on, banging its head against stupid ideas for thousands of years, and then, suddenly, abandon the struggle and taking up some new idea against which to bang its head for another two thousand years.
The stupid idea against which we have banged our heads, since Saint Paul got the whip hand over Christianity, was that people of the same sex should not feel or express lust for one another. Possibly this was a healthy reaction to the decadence of the late Roman Empire. In any case, the anti-sexualism of Saint Paul may be shared among many religions, in the sense that the path to God may lie through principled denial of the body. I doubt it, but ascetic self-denial is a sure and true path to the godhead for some. For many such as myself, Saint Paul is as much a stumbling block to the Christian faith and as a path to it.
Monotheistic religions, and religions generally, consider that the man-woman procreative bond must exist and be strongly defended against adultery, homosexuality, and any recreational sexual temptations that undermine the pair bond that is dedicated to raising children. Society has a strong interest in its own perpetuation. Religions are conservative; they have to be. They have to concern themselves with what keeps the species going.
I am not going to bother much with whether the Supreme Court of the United States has just invented law. I assume it has. They do it all the time, just as doctors turn off the taps. You don’t want to know this, but animals are killed to make your steak. Judges make this stuff up. They should do so within careful limits. Conservatives feel that the rigor and certainty of the law is threatened when this is done too obviously, and without careful extraction of new and limited findings from previously existing principles. I agree. But all laws are made up. Some laws are consistent with human nature and with the development of a better society, but nonetheless they are made up.
Christianity was first articulated in the first two or three centuries after Jesus when slavery was common, divorce was an almost certain means of starving one’s ex-wife and children, and cruelty to animals was an everyday sight in the streets.Christ spoke against divorce, and said nothing about slavery, yet today we have divorce and human slavery has been largely abolished outside of Islamic countries.
The idea that people should actually love one another, as the proper expression of their love for God, continues to influence the world for the better. To this day, Christianity makes the world a better place. The circles of our sympathies are wider, and our ideas of rights broader, because of the primal commandments of Jesus to love one another.
I do not buy this notion that Christianity is uniquely or even principally responsible for the world’s ills. That is letting the human species off too easily. Homo homini lupus, and we should never forget our murderous propensities.
Christianity has had a great influence on social movements that ended modern chattel slavery, on reducing cruelty to children and animals, on expanding the rights of prisoners of war and of the state, and in considering the human person to be worthy of dignity and respect. As Nietzsche described it, Christianity was a religion of slaves, and he hated it for that reason. For that very reason, Christians embrace it. We have all at one time or another in our pasts been slaves to various Pharaohs, and today we may well be slaves to new forces that will in time be recognized as the old Pharaoh with a new face.
So I regard the gay-rights thing as an overturning of one part of the message of Christianity for another, more important part, of the same message. It has always been this way, that some will see in the message of love thy neighbour as thyself, broader ideas of who is my neighbour, or deeper ideas of love, or – here is the catch – calls to love ones self a little more so that there is love to go around to one’s neighbour as well as to one’s self.
The message will not die, even as Courts make up new rights.