Pastor Rick Warren recently appeared on Piers Morgan’s show and discussed his stand on gay marriage.
Warren claimed that he believes in equality, but admitted he cannot support same-sex marriage because, he said, “I don’t get to change what God says.”
I’ve pulled out just this one quote because I think it exemplifies one of the most fundamental and unresolvable problems with religions like Christianity. They’re based on “revealed” authority, the idea that “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” You never have to learn anything new or adapt to anything that changes, because nothing is allowed to change. Once God speaks, that’s the way things are and must be, always and forever after.
But what happens when God is wrong?
Gay marriage is a prime example. According to the Bible, God has condemned homosexuality and has restricted marriage to heterosexuals only. Granted, they had trouble counting to two in the Old Testament, so King Solomon, for instance, shared his “union of one man and one woman” with 300 wives (and 600 concubines). But that’s kosher because they were all heterosexual. Gays are singled out for persecution, and denied to right to marry one another because God decided that sex is sin when gay people do it.
Fortunately, society is growing up and realizing that persecution and demonization of gays is the real sin here. To be gay just means that you fall in love differently than heterosexuals do. That’s it. Homosexual love does not harm anyone. It does not break into anyone’s house and steal their jewelry. It does not shoot anyone with a gun. It’s just falling in love, in a way that’s different from how heterosexuals fall in love. God is simply wrong on this one.
But how do you deal with that in a religion? When you have a reality-based worldview, you’re allowed to learn new things, and to admit that you made a mistake. Finding out you’re wrong doesn’t call your whole worldview into question. Your authority is reality itself, and that authority is secure, because reality is always there to refer to and learn from. But Bible-based religions don’t have that luxury. God does not show up in the real world, so the believer’s only connection to God’s authority is through the stories that were written down thousands of years ago. To admit that the Scriptures could be wrong about something is to admit that God could be wrong. And if you can’t trust God’s moral judgment, why be a Christian at all?
God’s moral principles, as defined and preached by believers, have changed over the years. Polygamy isn’t the divine blessing it used to be in King Solomon’s day. Incest isn’t as well-received today as it was when Adam and Eve’s children (and Noah’s grandchildren) married their brothers and sisters (and possibly first cousins). Genital mutilation of boys, aka circumcision, used to be mandatory, then it was forbidden, and now it’s pretty much taken for granted (despite official prohibition). Even non-sexual things like slavery and blood sacrifice are no longer perfectly in tune with God’s will, as understood by modern believers.
God today forbids things He used to have no problem with, despite the harm they did. Would it really be so terrible if, for once, He decided to stop forbidding something that does no harm? But He can’t, because believers can’t. Believers are the sole source of information regarding what God does or does not say, and like Rick Warren says, they don’t get to change what [ancient believers told us] God says.
So they’re stuck. Having decided that homophobia is what God says, they have forever locked themselves into an unjust and unreasonable opposition to the basic human rights of those who fall in love differently. The believer’s only available options are either to embrace bigotry as their blueprint for society, or else to reject their religion’s whole foundation. Their God is wrong, and they cannot reject the wrong without rejecting their God.
Kinda sucks for them, right? But that’s the price you pay when you build your worldview out of the primitive superstitions of the prejudiced “patriarchs.”