Love vs. The Bible

October 29, 2012 in Theology · 0 comments

I’d like to take a more focused look at one of the criticisms I discussed in my post All You Need Is Love. Specifically, progressive Christians are often accused of overlooking, ignoring, tolerating and even accepting clearly sinful behavior because of their infatuation with love. This is perhaps no more evident than in the ongoing debate within Christianity regarding homosexuality. Those on the conservative side say that homosexuality is clearly a sin and that an inordinate desire to simply love one another leads liberals to condone this sinful behavior. Those on the liberal side say that conservatives misunderstand and misapply the Bible and that this flawed hermeneutic results in discrimination and oppression.

The liberal might make this sort of argument:

  1. All expressions of love are morally right.
  2. Homosexuality is an expression of love.
  3. Therefore, homosexuality is morally right.

While the conservative argument might look like this:

  1. If the Bible says something is morally wrong then it is morally wrong.
  2. The Bible says homosexuality is morally wrong.
  3. Therefore, homosexuality is morally wrong.

The conclusions of each argument are clearly contradictory — both arguments are valid, but they cannot both be sound. At least one of the premises in one of the arguments is false (I’ll let you decide which ones). But just because there are one or more false premises doesn’t mean that love itself or the Bible itself are at fault. This is not a zero-sum game — it is not a simply a matter of choosing love or the Bible, there are considerably more possibilities.

But instead of considering those possibilities, what often happens is that both sides end up further entrenching themselves with arguments like these:

  1. All expressions of love are morally right.
  2. Homosexuality is morally right.
  3. Therefore, homosexuality is an expression of love.
  1. If the Bible says something is morally wrong then it is morally wrong.
  2. Homosexuality is morally wrong.
  3. Therefore, the Bible says that homosexuality is morally wrong.

These arguments are both invalid — they don’t logically hold up. But they have appeal because the conclusions of these flawed arguments can be conveniently plugged into the valid arguments above (to support each second premise), thus perpetuating an illogical and unproductive circle of dogmatism.

Insulating our positions with arguments like these might make us feel secure, but it does little to resolve such a contentious issue. Accusations of flawed foundations, whether against the Bible or against love, are merely rhetorical red herrings designed to distract, confuse and diminish the opposition. Unless we are able to openly and honestly examine the grounds for our beliefs, dismissing the foundations of an argument because we don’t like the conclusion is the height of intellectual arrogance.

We must try and understand what love is and isn’t and what the Bible is and isn’t and what each tells us about our world. We must recognize that our interpretations and understandings are fallible and we must be willing to continually reassess our positions. Love should inform our hermeneutics and the Bible should inform our understanding of morality. When they lead us to opposing conclusions, we must engage in the difficult work of chipping away at our preconceptions with the understanding that we rarely face binary choices and that a definitive answer may be unattainable.

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