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Some quick thoughts on liberal Christianity and polyamory September 28, 2010

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: , , ,

Here are some thoughts I just sent to someone I’m corresponding with via email.  The conversation originated from an argument on a polyamory email list about religion and polyamory.  I will not quote any of what anyone else said, as this email group is intended to be private, but I feel comfortable sharing my own thoughts, especially since they are relevant to this blog.

My interlocutor had asked my to clarify a position of mine concerning internal logical consistency and justification when it comes to churches and the acceptance of polyamory.

The issue I was discussing, concerning consistency, has to do with a religious group being consistent to the ideas in the sources of their beliefs.  For Christians, that is the Bible.  The reason is that without that source, they cannot have any basis for knowing (not to mention justifying) the story of Jesus.  If the Bible is not authoritative, then they cannot have any basis for believing that Jesus said anything, resurrected, or even existed in the first place.  There is little to no historical justification for the historical Jesus’ existence outside of scripture, whether canonical or not.

A church that does not accept some of the Bible must admit, in order to be logically respectable, that they must then justify why they accept some of what the scripture says but not all.  And if they say they are just reading it differently, then they need to justify how the institution that is responsible for the very existence of those books to be included in the Bible interpreted them wrongly for so long.  When a group shapes a message and their descendants say that their ancestors got it wrong, my skeptical dander goes up.

A modern church, accepting polyamory, has to justify how they do so while still accepting the Bible which, along with the tradition in which it grew, rejects such ideas and practices.

I’m not expecting a religion to justify itself to my point of view, I’m expecting it to justify itself to it’s own sources, tradition, etc.

I understand that churches promote messages that will bring people in.  It’s called pandering.  The way I see it, liberal churches orient their messages such that they can attract parishioners, so that it can keep pastors employed.  Church growing is a business, in many ways.

The other aspect of this, as I said before, is that the liberal churches have people that really believe they are being truly Christian.  They don’t like the fundamentalist conservative doctrines, but they still are emotionally attached to their relationship with God and like some of the Biblical messages.  So they ignore the rest, explain them away, or claim they are no longer relevant.  AKA cherry-picking

I, personally, respect the consistency of fundamentalists over liberal theology any day of the week (and twice on Sunday–HA!).  While I disagree with both, I at least respect the fundamentalists’ consistency.  In other words, I am more annoyed by liberal and moderate religious people than the conservatives.

I’m glad that churches are willing to accept such things as polyamory and homosexuality, despite what christian tradition and scripture says.  I just think it’s fair to point out that such churches do so despite these things, not because of them.



1. Gaylen Moore - October 3, 2010

Just for the record: there is really no clear and direct statement about momogamy in the Bible. The clearest evidence favoring monogamy is from Christ’s teaching on marriage in Matt. 19:3–6. In this passage, he cites the Genesis creation account (Gen. 1:27 and 2:24), saying “the two will become one flesh.” From this people assume that he had monogamy in mind as the only valid form of marriage, but this is only an assumption. Jesus never directly opposes non-monogamy.

Another assumption about monogamy emerges from the parallel of husband and wife with Christ and the Church in Eph. 5:22–33. This only seems to make sense if we assume monogamy, but again it’s only an assumption. Just thought I’d point this out.

2. Jenny - October 5, 2010

There are many polyamorous people in the Bible – King Solomon, King David, and whatizname who laboured 7 years to marry Leah and another 7 years to marry her sister Rachael as well.

Not to mention the requirement that a man marry his brother’s widow and impregnate her (Leviticus).

Quoting the Bible to support monogamy is cherry-picking of the highest order!

shaunphilly - October 5, 2010

Ummm, but those people were doing something that God commanded them not to do. The fact that characters did such things does not imply that it is condoned. Look at Leviticus chapter 18, for God’s rules about sexuality.

David was loved despite his flaws. Solomon was considered wise despite his many women. The Bible gives examples of ploygamy, and possibly polyamory, but that is not the same as condoning it.

I am not cherry picking, calling Solomon and David (among others) examples of polyamory is, however.

3. Gaylen Moore (Cleveland Open Relationships Examiner) - October 5, 2010

Given that polygamy was well-known before and during the time of Jesus, and granted that no obvious direct harm comes to anyone merely on account of being in a polygamous marriage, I think we can justifiably interpret the absence of any direct commandment against polygamy as good evidence that there is no direct commandment against polygamy. Yes, I think it really and truly is that simple.

But, being a philosopher, I am obliged to explain things in more complicated ways, so here is something else to consider:

The examples of marriage found in the Bible are always a man (singular) to a woman (singular) but this does not explicitly prohibit multiple-partner marriages. What it does clearly suggest is that any group of people can be analyzed in terms of dyadic relations. This follows from sheer logic. If X loves both Y and Z, then later X stops loving Y, it does not follow that X also stops loving Z. The point is that even in a group, each person must forge some sort of individual relationship with each member of the group, and each of these relationships is a dyadic relationship.

Even if the group as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts – or greater than the sum of its dyadic relationships (and thus cannot be analytically reduced to its dyadic relationships) this does not mean that the dyadic relationships are not essential components of the group. Thus, saying that a person cleaves unto his or her spouse and becomes one does NOT exclude the possibility that he or she might also cleave unto another and become one with them, thus naturally forming a group of dyadic relationships.

Bottom line: Being consistent with the Bible does not mean that governments have to prohibit poly-marriages. It might suggest, however, that governments should recognize each dyadic marriage within the group as legally distinct, and perhaps restrict marriages to dyadic relationships. Thus marriage between Chris and Pat, and marriage between Chris and Francis does not necessarily imply marriage between Pat and Francis. Similarly, divorce between Chris and Pat does not imply divorce between Chris and Francis.

The alternative would be to allow all-to-all types of marriages, in which the unity of Chris and Pat (let’s give this “corporate being” the name “CP”) to marry Francis. According to this arrangement, if CP gets divorced from Francis, then both Christ and Pat are necessarily divorced from Francis (since CP is takes as a single legal entity). This, I would suggest, is what governments might be well-advised to prevent, due to the sheer legalistic nightmares that might arise when trying to deal with groups of private individuals as if they are holistic corporate entities. Government might have a valid community concern in not allowing individuals to lose their legal identity as individuals in marital arrangements. By this way of thinking, marriages should always be legally dyadic, even if they compose a larger group.

Hmmm…I may have to turn this into and Examiner.com article. Thanks for the inspiration!

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