Coffee House

As a gay atheist, I want to see the church oppose same-sex marriage

27 May 2015

4:55 PM

27 May 2015

4:55 PM

I see. So now we have the result of the Irish referendum on gay marriage, and now we’ve heard the Roman Catholic Church’s chastened response, we shall have to rewrite Exodus 32, which (you may remember) reports Moses’ (and God’s) furious reaction to the nude dancing and heretical worship of Moloch in the form of a golden calf: the Sin of the Calf in the Hebrew literature. Moses had come down from Mount Sinai bringing God’s commandments written on two tablets of stone.

‘And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot…

‘And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.’

Let me have a crack at the revised version right away:

‘And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the Irish referendum’s huge majority for gay marriage, and the dancing: and Moses’ alarm was palpable…

‘And he took a copy of the Pink Paper and, flourishing it, said, “We have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities.


‘”I appreciate how these naked revellers feel on this day. That they feel this is something that is enriching the way they live. I think it is a social revolution.

‘”We need to find a new language to connect with a whole generation of young people,” the prophet concluded; then, casting off his garments, Moses said, “Hey, lead me to the coolest gay bar in the camp.”’

Don’t laugh. With a couple of adjustments for updated circumstances, I am quoting the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, almost verbatim. The archbishop was responding last Sunday to Irish people’s endorsement of gay marriage by a margin of almost two to one.

Even as a (gay) atheist, I wince to see the philosophical mess that religious conservatives are making of their case. Is there nobody of any intellectual stature left in our English church, or the Roman church, to frame the argument against Christianity’s slide into just going with the flow of social and cultural change? Time was — even in my time — when there were quiet, understated, sometimes quite severe men of the cloth, often wearing bifocal spectacles, who could show us moral relativists a decent fight in that eternal debate. Now there’s only the emotional witness of the ranting evangelicals, most of them pretty dim. How I miss the fine minds of bishops like Joseph Butler, who remarked drily to John Wesley: ‘Sir, the pretending to extraordinary revelations, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, is an horrid thing, a very horrid thing.’

So, wearily and with a reluctance born of not even supporting the argument’s conclusion, let me restate the conservative Catholic’s only proper response to news such as that from Dublin last weekend. It is that 62 per cent in a referendum does not cause a sin in the eyes of God to cease to be a sin.

Can’t these Christians see that the moral basis of their faith cannot be sought in the pollsters’ arithmetic? What has the Irish referendum shown us? It is that a majority of people in the Republic of Ireland in 2015 do not agree with their church’s centuries-old doctrine that sexual relationships between two people of the same gender are a sin. Fine: we cannot doubt that finding. But can a preponderance of public opinion reverse the polarity between virtue and vice? Would it have occurred for a moment to Moses (let alone God) that he’d better defer to Moloch-worship because that’s what most of the Israelites wanted to do?

It must surely be implicit in the claim of any of the world’s great religions that on questions of morality, a majority may be wrong; but this should be vividly evident to Christians in particular: they need only consider the fate of their Messiah, and the persecution of adherents to the Early Church. ‘Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you,’ says Paul. What does the Archbishop of Dublin now have to say to the 743,300 people who voted to uphold what their priests taught them was God’s will? These, and not the gays, are now the reviled ones. Popular revulsion cannot make them wrong.

But maybe I’m the fool, the one who’s missing something. Maybe there’s a deeper truth behind Dr Martin’s willingness to bend to prevailing mood, a flexibility that echoes Pope Francis’s openness to change. Could it be that the reason for both men’s apparent lack of embarrassment at these convenient shifts is that on some half-conscious level neither ever really believed that morality was absolute or objective anyway — or supposed we really thought they were serious?

Have some of us, in short, made the mistake of taking the church at its word? Was it always, anyway, about going with the flow? Was it always secretly about imposing the morals of the majority on the minority — so all that is necessary is to discover which way the preponderance falls?

In which case, when we run out of male celibates we shall adjust a previously absolute doctrine to a more relaxed view of priestly duty. When we run short of male priests altogether (celibate or not) we shall review the teaching on women priests. When we run short of parishioners on their first marriage, we’ll think again about divorce. And when we find we cannot stop heterosexuals using contraceptives or homosexuals coupling, God’s will on these wickednesses will be found to have been revised.

Abortion next, I suppose. Here, too, shall I live to hear the divine ahem? Silly me. And there I was thinking they meant it. As so often in my life, I have missed the big celestial wink.

This is an extract from tomorrow’s issue of The Spectator

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • Facebook User

    I’m glad that Ireland said no to Jesus. He was a believer in the Old Testament and said it was infallible and the word of God. Yet it has God commanding that if two men are caught together they must be stoned to death. I for one take the violence he refused to apologise for in the Old Testament very seriously.

    God is alleged to have declared in and by the Bible, which he supposedly wrote, that a man lying with a man is an abomination and they have nobody to blame but themselves for being stoned to death. There are many others in the line up for barbaric execution such as adulterers and kidnappers and those who gather sticks on the sabbath. That is just naming a few of the offences. And what about the genocide God commanded? And what about males getting their foreskins cut off as babies when they could not speak for themselves and when there was a risk of infection in those disease-ridden perilous times? Jesus took responsibility for writing this bloodletting material for he said he agreed with the Old Testament and that it was God’s infallible word. Jesus if he claimed to be God claimed to be the divine author. Also Jesus said that the Old Testament would not be done away but toughened up and that whoever relaxed its rules would be cursed in the kingdom of Heaven. He never ever said the rules were wrong. There is no evidence that they were only temporary laws and that Jesus did away with them. If he let them fall into disuse that is not doing away with them. We must remember too that evil has to look good to succeed so don’t chip in with, “But the Christian is such a nice person despite his belief in the Bible.” Human nature is notorious for enabling evil with a smile. A truly decent person does not even contemplate honouring an evil book as the word of God. He throws it away. The good bits are a reason for rejecting it not accepting it. Something that advocates good and teaches good and then teaches its opposite is worse than something that means well but does little else but damage. Evil needs to be softened by having lots of good put into the mix. That way it does more harm than shamelessly blatant and undiluted evil.

  • Charles

    As a practicing Catholic, I commend your brilliant piece here. Indeed, where are churchmen–anywhere–who can argue the Catholic position with cogency and learning? You value reason. You value courage. You disbelieve (maybe even despise) the position of the Church in matters of faith and morals. Perfect. I despise the opposite view. But I respect you and thank you and congratulate you for your intellectual honesty. And for your fine writing.

  • CLynch451

    Interesting–thanks. This question has divided me and my wife. I say stand tall right now, and speak the truth with love, take lumps if I have to. My wife advocates withdrawing to a more defensible position, as it were: go along with ‘recognition’, but draw the line at performing SS marriage, standing tall behind the barricades of the parish, as it were. That way, take fewer lumps and have a better chance of not losing the whole enchilada (i.e., having government treat the Roman Catholic Church as an evil blot upon the American landscape, forcing closure of schools, hospitals, and churches with prejudicial use of the tax code and selective enforcement of other laws.) I admire the way you respect people who (a) come to conclusions you disagree with but (b) make principled arguments. That takes a big heart and an honest head.

  • David

    Ravi Zacharias has a number of profound to things to say if you’re looking for a Christian who stands firm and has some powerful things to say about it.

  • Martin Zehnder

    When a homosexual friend excuses his/her lifestyle because s/he says that s/he was born that way, I respond gently, “That is why Jesus said to us that we (all) must be reborn from above.” The Gospel of John, chapter 3.

  • Eric Ashley

    Its not that the moral relatavists are lacking opponents of the proper intellect and seriousness. Because atheists tend toward being mildly bright, but not really all that bright, and as for seriousness, not much at all.

    No, what is lacking is gumption, and faith.

    Mr. Parris, your back patting amusement beside, your arguements are of less value to the world, than that of a well fed chipmunk. At least it plans for the winter ahead.

    You seek to disqualify the arguements of better men than yourself just because they are not Catholic, and pay closer attention to the Bible that whatever fellow dared critique the founder of several Protestant denominations. I’ve never heard of this obscurity, but I have heard of Wesley.

    You sir, are a silly goose.

  • lissa

    Keep the WORLD out of the WORD. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. Read all of John 1 verses 1 to 20 I say the Church must fortify her walls to keep the WORD and stop the WORLD imposing her ideas on the Church. We that are in the WORD are the Light in the WORLD for the WORLD is in darkness. (Light means understanding, knowledge of the Truth of God and darkness means ignorance of the knowledge and truth of God) Christians must obey the WORD not the WORLD, the WORLD loves those who belong to the WORLD and that is why Christians are hated because the Lord has taken them out of the WORLD and they are now in the WORD. So this is what all must accept that there is such a thing as those in the WORLD and those that are in the WORD. The WORD fills you with love, joy and peace but the WORLD gives and then leaves you empty quickly.