Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Last week, while speaking with fellow Fox personality Megyn Kelly, Bill O’Reilly catapulted himself into the center of controversy when he asserted that the opponents of “gay marriage” do nothing but “thump the Bible.” 

O’Reilly said that “the compelling argument was on the side of homosexuals [.]” The latter make “the compelling argument” that “‘We’re Americans.  We just want to be treated like everybody else.”  In meeting this tour de force, O’Reilly continued, “the other side hasn’t been able to do anything but thump the Bible.” Kelly agreed.

With lightning quick speed, O’Reilly’s remarks raised the ire of “the conservative movement”—both that of its base as well as that of some of its most notable representatives.

Admittedly, I am among those who O’Reilly rattled.  But this has less to do with his use of the expression “thump the Bible” and more to do with his claim that the opponents of so-called “gay marriage” do nothing but thump the Bible.  The latter just simply isn’t true.

O’Reilly must know this, in which case he speaks dishonestly.  On the other hand, if, by some remote chance, he doesn’t know this, then he is woefully unqualified to even weigh in on the marriage issue, much less hold down a position as a very visible, and very audible, commentator.

In short, with respect to this issue, at any rate, it is either dishonesty or ignorance from which O’Reilly’s judgment springs.  

I suspect that it is true that most (American) opponents of “gay marriage” are moved by biblical considerations.  However, contra O’Reilly, it is most certainly not the case that they “thump the Bible.”  While conscripting Fox News colleagues, Megyn Kelly, Laura Ingraham, and Charles Krauthammer in the service of damage control, O’Reilly explained that, in his estimation, to “thump” the Bible is to cite it without further ado. 

Unfortunately for O’Reilly, by his own lights, there has been little to no Bible thumping on the part of the defenders of marriage.

The enemies of “gay marriage” have insisted that never in the history of the human race has “the definition” of marriage referred to the union of members of the same sex.  They have leveled the slippery slope argument that once we “redefine” marriage to include homosexuals, we will then have no option but to permit polygamy and other morally troublesome marital arrangements.  They have argued that “gay marriage” will divest “traditional marriage” of its time-honored position of privilege by reducing it to just another alternative. 

Granted, (as this opponent of “gay marriage” has noted on more than one occasion) these are indeed bad arguments.  But they are arguments. No Bible thumping here.  In fact, there isn’t even any referencing of the Bible to be found in these lines of reason.

Anyone who is in the slightest informed about this marriage issue must know that O’Reilly’s remark about the argumentative strategy of the forces for “traditional marriage” is emphatically false. 

So, why did he say it?  I submit two theories that might answer this question.

First, O’Reilly may very well actually favor “gay marriage.”  For all of his talk of the evils of “secular progressivism” and the virtues of “traditionalism”—i.e. “the folks”—this is not at all a stretch.  After all, he did say that the proponents of “gay marriage” have, not just the stronger argument on their side, but “the compelling argument.”  A compelling argument is impossible to intellectually resist.

O’Reilly may have had some other idea of “compelling” in mind.  Yet he seemed to have been awfully impressed with the argument in question.  Is it so unreasonable to think that it got to him?  If it did, then perhaps he was engaging here in an all too common political strategy whereby one advances one’s own team by reducing its competitor to a one-dimensional straw man.

Second, to anyone who has watched O’Reilly for any length of time, it is painfully obvious that he aches to be viewed as a “respectable” journalist by the left. Toward this end, he not infrequently says things about those on the right that sound at once stupid and dishonest. It isn’t that the right, to say nothing of “the conservative movement,” is immune to legitimate criticism.  Yet O’Reilly’s criticisms, far from sounding legitimate, almost always strike the ear as thoughtless. 

His latest Bible thumping remarks dovetail seamlessly into this pattern.

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t much matter why O’Reilly said what he did.  What matters is that his conservative critics understand why O’Reilly deserves their anger.  What matters is that they understand that it isn’t his allegation that they “thump the Bible” that should upset them, but the wildly false allegation that they do nothing but thump the Bible while debating “gay marriage.” 

Advertisement

Easter is upon us.

From the time I was a child until the present day, I have always been amazed by how differently Americans generally and Christians particularly respond to Easter and Christmas. 

Christmas is impossible to avoid. Regardless of who you are, if you are a resident of the Western world, you have no choice but to reckon with Christmas.  The bonanza of films and television specials, the decorations, the festivities, the music—Christmas is ubiquitous. 

Easter, on the other hand, is not nearly so.  A person stands a better chance of sleeping his way through Easter than he does Thanksgiving or even, perhaps, Independence Day.  If your average Christian American wasn’t already habituated to this state of affairs, it could only strike him as bizarre.

By far and away, Easter Sunday is the most significant of holidays for the Christian.  Even Christmas assumes importance only in light of Easter.  After all, it is for the sake of the Resurrection that Christmas—the Birth of Christ—took place at all. 

By now, there is scarcely a soul, Christian or non-Christian, who isn’t familiar with the story of Easter.  Ironically, it is in no small measure because of this familiarity that we have become desensitized to what a truly marvelous story it is.  To appreciate it to the extent that it deserves, we must become reacquainted with Easter.  And to this end, we must approach it through new eyes.

According to the story of Easter, God, the Unconditioned Condition of all that is subjected Himself to the conditions of human existence.  The Impassable became passable, the Invulnerable vulnerable, the Incorruptible corruptible. Upon becoming a human being, the Ground and Author of all being voluntarily suffered and died.  And He suffered and died for the sake of the same love by which He created humanity (and everything else, for that matter). 

Yet while God loves us, it is crucial to recall that, as St. John tells us, God is Love.  The Easter story is the story of how Love—Infinite, Eternal Love—became a finite, temporal human being in order to teach other human beings how to perfect their own loving.  Through His Passion and Death Love made it unmistakable that the will to love is nothing more or less than the will to sacrifice all for the sake of one’s beloved.  When it is considered that there isn’t a single person for whom Christ did not offer His life as a sacrifice, we recognize that the formidability of love’s demand to give one’s life for the object of one’s love is even greater than previously thought, for Jesus’ example beckons us to love everyone: the world must be each person’s beloved.

Believe it or not, for as tall an order as this demand undoubtedly is, it is not insurmountable.  In fact, if we think about it for just a moment, we will recognize both that it resonates with us as well as why it resonates.

The experience of love is as familiar—and universal—a human experience as any.  Not everyone loves equally well but we are all equal in having loved. Now, regardless of who or even what we have loved, there can be no denying that love comes at the cost of pain. To love anything is to turn oneself over to it—and this means that the lover exposes him or herself to the inescapability of being hurt.

There is a real sense in which each time we dare to love we will to give up our lives for the objects of our love.  Lovers invest their resources in time, labor, and energy—in short, their lives—in their beloved—in spite of the losses that they know they will inevitably suffer.  It isn’t just that, as Robert Frost said, “nothing gold can stay;” even in the midst of their love there will be pain.  There are moments when we feel more alone in the presence of our loved ones than when they are no longer with us.  Those who we love disappoint, anger, and sadden us, and with each of these experiences, there is the experience of having been betrayed—the experience of suffering a small death.  

Yet still, we continue to love.   

The Christian is heartened because he believes in Easter. He knows that his Lord, his God, has experienced what he has been experiencing his whole life.  “No servant is greater than his master,” Jesus declared.  The Christian is inspired to continue loving in the face of pain because Christ did the same.  The Passion narrative brings into crystal clear focus the brute fact that whatever injustices we think we have endured, Christ willingly endured them, but many times over. 

He was betrayed, and not just by Judas: His own family members and all of his Apostles, including and particularly those with whom He was closest, denied Him.  The legions of people to whose needs and hopes He attended throughout the duration of His ministry turned violently against Him in His hour of trial.  He was unjustly sentenced to be executed as a common criminal, but even as He was being hammered to a cross, He forgave His accusers and betrayers, and asked His heavenly Father to do the same.

While Jesus’ Passion and Death reveal love at its finest, it is really His Resurrection upon which Christian faith hinges, for it is through the Resurrection that Love’s indomitable character is unveiled.  Real, abiding love, God tells us through the Resurrection, is redemptive. Yes, the greatest lovers are those who suffer the greatest heartache, but all of the loss and suffering with which love is met, God reassures us, will be redeemed.  Even death has been rendered impotent by Love.

This is the promise of the Resurrection. 

Happy Easter!

 

 

Advertisement

By now, there are few people who are not familiar with talk of the “War on Christmas.”  The hyperbolic nature of this nomenclature aside, it springs from the observation of two undeniable facts: first, there is a sustained, concerted effort to marginalize, if not eradicate, the religious significance of this most celebrated of Christian—and American—holidays; second, this assault on Christmas belongs to a larger campaign to undermine the influence of Christianity over our popular culture. 

Nationally speaking, Easter isn’t nearly as grand a holiday as Christmas.  Christmas is a season that, from beginning to end, imbues everything it touches.  As a priest from my church once put it, it is impossible to escape Christmas.  Easter, though, devoid, as it is, of the endless supply of music, decorations, movies, and television shows characteristic of the Christmas season, has none of the latter’s ubiquity.  Indeed, a person could conceivably pass right through Easter Sunday without knowing it.  Such simply cannot be said of Christmas.

In spite of all of this, Easter is no less safe than Christmas vis-à-vis the project to dislodge our culture from the Christian traditions that have always informed it. 

Recently, my wife and I took our two year-old son to visit with the Easter Bunny—or so we thought.  When we arrived at the local mall, we discovered that it wasn’t the Easter Bunny with whom parents could have their children’s pictures taken; it was The Bunny who was the center of attraction.  And from what I have been able to gather, in substituting The Bunny for the Easter Bunny, our mall is not indulging its idiosyncrasies. 

There is more.  

My wife is a kindergarten teacher at a public school here in New Jersey.  As is the case in public schools throughout the nation, she and her colleagues are permitted to distribute goodies to their students on the occasion of Easter—as long as they do not mention Easter.  “Happy Springtime!” is now the acceptable salutation for this holiday. 

That for the better part of the last two millennia Western civilization has been virtually indistinguishable from Christianity will be denied only by either those who are ignorant of their inheritance or those who resent it.  The attempt to purge Easter of every last vestige of its religious character is a function of this larger enterprise to purge the West of all remaining traces of its Christian character.

In one sense, say, a symbolic sense, the popularity and the grandiosity of Christmas renders it a much larger obstacle than Easter to the achievement of the militant secularist’s aims.  Yet there is another sense, a psychological sense perhaps, in which Easter is more pivotal in this regard.

While Christians believe that Christmas commemorates the birth of God Himself, those who reject the doctrine of the Incarnation can still view Jesus’ birth as something worth celebrating.  All that is needed for this purpose is a belief, not in His divinity, but in his greatness.  Thus, in either discussing Christmas with one’s peers or teaching it to children, a reference to the birth of this wonderful man could for all practical intents suffice.

Such is not the case with Easter. 

Easter is nothing less than Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It is this event upon which Christianity hinges.  To paraphrase Saint Paul, if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, then there is no justification for our faith.  Ultimately, Christmas and Easter are inseparable episodes in The Greatest Story Ever Told; we can’t have one without the other.  But considered abstractly, Easter is by far the most religiously significant.  It is at that moment that the life and work of Christ reach their climax.  It is on Easter Sunday that the tides of world history are forever turned.  It is then that humanity receives its new lease on life, its liberation from both death and, thus, the fear of death.

This Easter we will serve ourselves and our world well by reminding ourselves and others of the reason for our celebration. 

Happy Easter!

 

Advertisement

So-called “same sex marriage” is the issue of the week.  The Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling on its constitutionality in the month of June.

My prediction: “same-sex marriage” will soon become the law of the land.

My reason for this is simple: Conservatives who claim to favor “traditional marriage,” “disbelieve” in “same sex marriage,” and oppose “the redefining” of marriage have ceded too much ground to their opponents.

And they have ceded this ground by speaking of traditional marriage (as if there was any other kind), their belief that marriage is between a man and a woman (as if this was a question of belief), and their opposition to the act of redefining marriage (as if it was within anyone’s power to define or redefine marriage).

In short, by way of their arguments (or non-arguments) against “same sex marriage,” conservatives actually reinforce the idea—long championed on the left—that institutions are “social constructs,” artifacts that government, or “society,” can create and destroy at will.

The problem with this reasoning is that if institutions, like marriage, really have been arbitrarily constructed by government, then there is no reason that they shouldn’t be deconstructed in the event that Equality or some other ideal demands this course.    

With an eye toward ascending from the mire of confusion in which far too many of us have been wading for far too long, I offer the following comments.

First, homosexuality may be the most moral, most natural, most divine-like activity in which human beings are capable of engaging.  No matter. The fact remains that marriage can no more accommodate homosexuals than bachelorhood can accommodate those who are married.

Just as bachelorhood is a state of being that inherently excludes the married, so too is marriage a state of being that inherently excludes homosexuals.  Thus, the language of “same sex marriage” is as self-contradictory, as ridiculous, as that of “married bachelorhood.”

To put it another way, “same sex marriage” is no marriage at all.   

Inseparable from this first point is another: This issue is not now, nor has it ever been, about “the redefinition” of marriage.  It is as impossible for you or I or the Supreme Court to redefine marriage as it would be for any of us to redefine bachelorhood. 

Human beings invent words, it is true, but our words are pointers, vehicles by which we express and relay concepts or ideas. This is crucial, for internal to each idea is its own logic that makes it the idea that it is.  So, for example, whatever word we choose to affix to the concept of a bachelor, the concept of a bachelor has always been and will always be the concept of an unmarried man.  Even if there are no bachelors, even if we somehow managed to drop the word “bachelor” from our vocabulary, never to use it again, the logic of the concept once denoted by this word would remain forever in tact: a bachelor could never be anything other than an unmarried man.

The case is much the same with the concept of marriage.  The government can choose to allow homosexual unions and endow them with the term “marriage.” And, in theory, the government can allow married people to regard themselves as “bachelors.”  In reality, however, the government can no more allow “same sex marriage” or “married bachelorhood” than it can decree that the world started yesterday.

Third, as points one and two make clear, it makes about as much sense to say that one “believes” that marriage is between a man and a woman as it does to say that one “believes” that only single men should be considered bachelors.  Marriage is what it is, an essentially heterosexual union.  It is not an object of belief; it is an object of knowledge.  

Finally, the supporters of “traditional marriage” must stop their talk of “traditional marriage.”  Besides lending legitimacy to the proposition that there are forms of marriage other than the heterosexual variety, the term “traditional marriage” is meaningless by reason of redundancy.  There is no traditional marriage.  There is only marriage.   

Like I said, these considerations aside, in all likelihood the government will eventually ascribe the label of “marriage” to those homosexuals who want for their unions to be recognized as such.  An ever growing number of people fail to see why anyone would or should have a problem with this.  But there is a problem.

Every change, however great or small, is purchased at a cost.  The loss of the familiar and the uncertainty regarding the new situation produced by a change are costs common to all changes.  Because of this, the prudent have always preferred changes that are small and gradual to those that are grand and transformative. 

Yet the kind of change in our marital arrangements that the Supreme Court is presently contemplating is a change of the latter kind: never in the history of the world has anything like it been conceived, much less seriously considered.  Only fools and liars would have us believe that there won’t be a substantial price to be paid for legalizing “same sex marriage.” 

Admittedly, I don’t think that marriage will suffer as a consequence of this.  Marriage is far more threatened by a hyper-sexualized popular culture, the ease with which divorces are pursued and granted, etc. Still, while marriage may be no worse off as a result of the legalization of “same sex marriage,” our liberty just may be. 

American liberty consists of all of the liberties laid out in our Constitution.  If any one of these liberties is threatened, the entire system is imperiled.  Now, freedom of religion is a fundamental liberty.  If it becomes unconstitutional to prevent homosexuals from “marrying” other homosexuals, then religious organizations that refuse to accommodate homosexuals along these lines may very well become convicted of acting unconstitutionally.  Hence, freedom of religion, along with freedom of conscience, will be forever lost.

This is anything but a far-fetched scenario.  Consider that the vast majority of the proponents of “same-sex marriage,” and virtually all of its most militant supporters, are located solidly on the left.  Then consider that for at least a couple of centuries, leftist revolutionaries and radicals have recognized religion to be the most formidable obstacle to their designs, for the religious insist upon deferring to an authority higher than that of the government.

What better way to weaken religion than to coerce its practitioners to submit to the state?  And what better way to coerce its practitioners than by threatening them with, not only legal penalties, but the threat of branding them for acting disreputably?

Thoughtful people, regardless of their religious, political, or sexual orientations, will realize that the issue of “same sex marriage” is not just, and not even primarily, about marriage.

Previous Posts