Strange Doctrine

In my previous post, I rather crudely described a painful experience I had with Christianity early on. As a divorced man, I was invited by my Christian friends to become a totally non-sexual being. I apologize for my rude language on that post. Generally, I try to keep things nice here, but of course that one got the better of me.

In this post, I would like to more thoroughly explore why it is that many Christians (including myself, in times past) believe some manifestly ridiculous and absurd notions, including the whole sex / divorce thing. I need to nuance this though: I have readily admitted on this blog that Christianity also probably saved my life. Certainly, I received lots of love and support from other Christians during my early Christian experience. (Later on, not so much.) So my experience with religion has not been completely negative. OK, let’s move on.

Why is it that Christians often believe very unlikely things? Simple: It comes from an obstructed view of the bible. I will use myself as an example. While I was enmeshed into the system of Christianity, I viewed the bible entirely through the lens of Christian theology, as shown in the following graphic:

Strange Doctrine 1

Note that I unified my approach to the entire bible: Like any other Christian, when I was is reading the bible, I attempted to reconcile the various books of the bible with each other. Thus, I approached the bible as a single work by a single author, because that is what I believed it was.

Also, notice that I looked at the bible alone. If I read anything other than the bible (and there were many years when I read nothing else), they were works by Christian authors that basically trumpeted the Christian point of view, quoting heavily from the bible in the process. Not very helpful in other words. I certainly did not consider the bible in the context of the culture in which it was written. (Heaven forbid!)

This approach worked for me for a while, but eventually I found it very frustrating. The contradictions were simply too numerous to count. I also found myself believing propositions which frankly are mind boggling. More on this later. Once I became aware of these issues, I considered the following idea: Whatever else the bible is, it is certainly a work of human culture. So why not simply approach the bible in that manner? This required me to remove the lens of Christian theology from my view of the bible.

In the process, the bible became deconstructed into its various books. Of course, once I ceased to approach the bible as a single unified work, I became aware that the bible is simply a collection of ancient documents, nothing more. I ceased trying to reconcile the author of the Gospel of Matthew (who was undoubtedly a Jewish Christian who believed that you must follow the Law of Moses and be circumcised in order to be saved) with the author of the Gospel of John (a gentile believer who was deeply influenced by pagan Greek philosophy). The following graphic illustrates this approach:

Strange Doctrine 2

Now for the final step. Once I had deconstructed the books of the bible, and approached them individually, and simply as works of human culture, I then began to investigate the other works of human culture (especially literature) which were contemporaneous with and adjacent geographically to the books of the bible. These works amplify and illustrate the books of the bible in a manner than simply cannot be replaced any other way. The final graphic shows this approach:

Strange Doctrine 3

This is, of course, the exact approach used by academics who study the bible and other ancient documents as their profession. Eventually, I discovered academics like Richard Elliott Freidman, Karen Armstrong, and the like, and those have certainly helped me on my way.

Now, let’s examine the process whereby my Christian friends concluded that I, as a divorced man, would never be allowed to marry or have sex ever again. This is based upon a very literal and restrictive reading of several passages in the New Testament, such as 1 Timothy 3:2 which reads:

Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,…

This passage describes the qualifications for an overseer (Greek: episcopas), which includes the injunction that he must be the husband of one wife. Given that Christians hold a theological position that God’s plan for marriage is for one woman to be married to one man, and to remain faithful to each other their entire lives, their interpretation of this passage is colored by this doctrine. It is manifestly obvious, once you look at the context of the culture of the times, that what was being referred to here was that the overseer could not be the husband of more than one wife simultaneously. That is, he could not be a polygamist. Before you react, bear in mind that polygamy has been by far the most common form of marriage in human history. To this day, many cultures are polygamous. Only in the former Roman Empire and colonies of powers which were previously part of the Roman Empire (such as the US), did monogamy prevail as the norm. In the case of 1st century Palestine, of course there was widespread polygamy, including among Christians. What the writer of this passage is saying (it is rather unlikely that the author of this passage was Paul, so instead he is generally referred to as pseudo-Paul) is that an overseer must be a monogamist. That is not to say that polygamists were not welcome in Christian churches. They were, and we know this from abundant contemporaneous literature from that time. But pseudo-Paul was simply expressing the prevailing Christian view that monogamy was best (as a result of the influence of Roman paganism, from which monogamy emerged).

Now, in my case, this very restrictive reading (again in the light of the Christian theology regarding marriage) meant that we had to read polygamy out of the passage: That is not what that passage could possibly mean, because we know that God would never countenance polygamy! (Never mind that every single patriarch in the Old Testament with the possible exception of Isaac was a polygamist, including Adam.) If we read the passage in the light (or darkness!) of this strange doctrine then the reading becomes obvious: In order to be an overseer, you must be the husband of only one wife in your entire life.

Now, how do we get from this to an injunction against anyone becoming married for the second (or third) time. Simple: God must want us all to be able to qualify as overseers. It is therefore God’s will that we maintain the highest standards of excellence, especially in the area of sex. Thus, I was told: You can get married if you want, but that’s not God’s will for you. If you pray hard enough, you will eventually learn to live as a eunuch for God.

Never mind that I am aggressively and stubbornly heterosexual, and deeply passionate. No problem. God will give you grace. Eventually, you will become able to bear this burden.

Hence my FtS reaction in my previous post. I simply refused to go along with this absurd notion. In the process I was attacked physically once, and was pretty roundly persecuted for a while. But eventually, I found my amazing and wonderful wife, Ruth, and we discovered each other. The rest is blessed history.

This is not the only ridiculous notion that I allowed myself to believe for many years while living as a Christian. Others included:

  • Evolution is a theory, nothing more.
  • The earth is only a few thousand years old.
  • We all descended from two individual humans who were miraculously created by God.
  • The entire universe was created by God in seven days.

You get the idea. Once you remove the lens of Christian theology, these will eventually fall away. At least they did for me.

More later.

One thought on “Strange Doctrine

  1. A familiar story. It’s very interesting to hear it from a male perspective; as a recovering fundamentalist myself, I’ve come to realize how men’s sexuality was (and is) vilified by many evangelical churches, in the context of divorce and otherwise.

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