About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Sex, the biblical way

This morning the Italian public tv reported that the Pope is welcoming the members of an association formed to help and "protect" large families (defined as those having four or more children). Protect them from what, especially in a country so family-friendly as Italy, isn't clear. What's ironic, of course, is that the papal encouragement to "go and multiply" comes from a man who heads a vast organization whose members are, in fact, prohibited from having a family. Nobody featured on the news segment seemed to see the irony in that.

On the other side of the Atlantic, according to an article by John Leland in the New York Times, an organization called "New Life Ministries" is preparing to distribute "kits" to US soldiers to promote "Bible-based" abstinence from pornography, adultery, nonmarital sex and masturbation. "Your goal is sexual purity," the authors write, "you are sexually pure when no sexual gratification comes from anyone or anything but your wife." Or from nowhere, if you don't have a wife.

Bible-based abstinence, eh? So, how come that according to the Bible keeping a mistress isn't considered adultery (Genesis 25:1-6), only women need be tested for fidelity (Numbers 5:11-31), childbirth is actually called a sin (Leviticus 12:1-8), sperm and intercourse aren't "clean" (duh!, Leviticus 15:16-18), men can be forgiven, but slave girls get flogged (Leviticus 19:1,20-22), God says it's ok to keep captured women as trial wives (Deuteronomy, 3:1-7; I wonder if we can do that with the terrorists), it's customary to have several wives and concubines (Judges 8:30), and it's fine to sleep with a man if it is for the purpose of getting married (Ruth 3:6-9)?

The "good book" indeed! It would make more sense to label the Bible as a dangerous book that can corrupt natural human decency and ethical standards, and to put it away from the reach of children in public libraries.


  1. Our poor guys are over there in Iraq in horrible conditions, fighting an unnecessary war with their lives on the line every day. I don't imagine there are any whores available and probably not nearly enough service women that are interested in doing the nasty with them and yet these bible thumpers are telling them they can't check out some porno on the net and/or jack off? All I can say is "JESUS H. CHRIST!"

  2. You had me agreeing with you right up until that last paragraph. I'm not comfortable with the idea of putting any book, even one as dangerous as the Bible, in a position where it cannot be freely accessed by library users. It simply sets too dangerous a precedent.

    Besides, as near as I can see, the Bible is the most powerful recruitment tool ever employed by non-Christians. Even a quick glance at the first few chapters by a reasonably critical person shows it to be unworthly of further consideration.

  3. Rob, I'm sorry, I should have had a :) to indicate that the last line of the post was in jest (it was a tongue-in-cheek response to the fact that a lot of conservatives often pester librarians to get books they consider "objectionable" moved out of reach of their children).

  4. "Besides, as near as I can see, the Bible is the most powerful recruitment tool ever employed by non-Christians. Even a quick glance at the first few chapters by a reasonably critical person shows it to be unworthly of further consideration."

    I have to admit. Nothing clinched atheism more for for me than actually reading the Bible.


  5. "Every Christian sect gives a great handle to Atheism by their general dogma that, without a revelation, there would not be sufficient proof of the being of god."

    -- Thomas Jefferson, arguing that Chrisian exclusivism (via the idea of an exclusive revelation) degrades the credibility of the Christian religion, in a letter to John Adams, 11 April 1823

    Though technically the Bible probably should have only clinched your athiesm with respect to Yahweh. It should not have had any other bearing on your athiesm in general except perhaps kick-starting you in that direction.

  6. "Though technically the Bible probably should have only clinched your athiesm with respect to Yahweh. It should not have had any other bearing on your athiesm in general except perhaps kick-starting you in that direction."

    Granted. I should have specified.

  7. "God says it's ok to keep captured women as trial wives"

    Where do I sign up? ;-)

    Really, I don't think we have to worry too much. There are several web sites out there that encourage armed forces members stationed in Iraq to post pictures. Most of the pics are very "biblical" in nature although not very religious.

  8. Ruth did not "sleep" with Boaz. If she had, I think the text would have said they "knew" one another, and so on and so forth. And Lot was obviously not a "righteous" man by the time he wound up drunk and really "sleeping" with his daughters. And I'd be surprised if there were not equally interesting and understandable explanations for the rest of the scriptures you quoted.

    What sets these types of chronologies apart from many others of that time was that the Hebrews where willing to write about both the good and the bad things that occurred in their midst. Historical accuracy would naturally depend on being able to tell about both.

    If it seems simple and obvious to you, it wasn't so much to many of the other nations that were their contemporaries. Many cultures around those periods were committed to telling about mainly of their successes.

    And don't you think that the truthfulness of the "reader" is more important to interpretation than what the text says, anyway?

    The Greeks clearly didn't know everything. Try thinking "Hebrew" for awhile.


  9. Cal, are you saying you actually read the Bible in Aramaic (not Hebrew)?

  10. Aramaic is a base language, not unlike Spanish might be and has been to a great number of countries and cultures. The explanation of the relationship between the Hellenistic Jews and the Aramaic language is contained in one of the links below this comment.

    I think this is what you really want to know.

    Doing vs. Knowing

    William Barrett, quoted above, explains that one of the most fundamental differences between the Western, Hellenistic mind and the Hebrew mind is found in the area of knowing vs. doing. Says Barrett, "The distinction…arises from the difference between doing and knowing. The Hebrew is concerned with practice, the Greek with knowledge. Right conduct is the ultimate concern of the Hebrew, right thinking that of the Greek. Duty and strictness of conscience are the paramount things in life for the Hebrew; for the Greek, the spontaneous and luminous play of the intelligence. The Hebrew thus extols the moral virtues as the substance and meaning of life; the Greek subordinates them to the intellectual virtues…the contrast is between practice and theory, between the moral man and the theoretical or intellectual man."

    This helps explain why so many Christian churches are focused on the issues of doctrinal orthodoxy (however they may define it) -- often at the expense of godly living. In many Christian circles, what one believes or espouses is treated as more important than how one lives – i.e. how one treats his or her neighbor.

    In Biblical Judaism, it is precisely the opposite. Christians are inclined to subject each other to litmus tests of orthodoxy, while Jews are concerned mainly with behavior. As Dennis Prager writes, "…belief in God and acting ethically must be inextricably linked…God demands right behavior more than anything else, including right ritual and right belief."

    http://www.godward.org/Hebrew Roots/hebrew_mind_vs__the_western




  11. http://abstractfactory.blogspot.com/2005/10/violence-religion-and-double-standards.html

    Is another recent blog talking about the double standard between religion and non-religion. You might find his other posts interesting as well.

  12. "Is another recent blog talking about the double standard between religion and non-religion."

    I'm not actually anti-church or religion. Come to think of it,(in relation to "knowing vs doing) my husband taught in the NT book of Mark yesterday. This uncovers basically the increasingly complex issues that we face when we will not balance our traditions and knowledge with the truth.

    This is Mark’s account of Christ’s exchange with the Pharisees:

    5) "So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?" 6) He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: " 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7) They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' 8) You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men. 9) And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!" Mark 7:5-9

    Most reading this, whether you happen to be "religious" or not, will likely understand what this has to with "knowing vs doing". But what does it have to do with Christians or conservatives?

    As my husband stated in our services yesterday, tho there is nothing wrong with understanding the issues, and it would be preferable that anyone would keep themselves informed, "God is REALLY not a "Republican" ".

    What we mean by this is that "Republicanism" is just another tradition of man.

    It seem that there are often areas where Christians and conservatives, with the best of intentions, set up their own traditions and teachings that are not directly required in God's word. But what if I follow such "hand washing" traditions, but cannot see the need to keep my heart right before God? In the end, my "works" are self-inspired, and as Christ said to the Pharisees,those activities only exist to please me and not God.

    I.E. Peripherals such as political activism, and even evolution and creation related controversies, can be an issue of upholding matters that are secondary to what Christ is really asking “us” for.

    I'd rather live for more than just than giving “lip service” to good causes. Wouldn't you?



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