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On Tradition, Or, Same-Sex Marriage, Seen Through A Telescope April 10, 2009

Dangerous Things are happening in America these days, we are told, and the once-innocent citizens of Iowa and Vermont have already been exposed to the hazard…and now it looks as though the contagion might spread to States across New England.

But lucky for us, our friends on the Right are here again to save to save us from…(insert horror film music here)…

…The Gay.

The Gay, it turns out, want the opportunity to marry.

Among other complaints, our friends on the Right feel this will destroy religious tradition, which will ultimately destroy first Christianity, then the Nation. Therefore, religious tradition must be protected at all costs.

Well as it turns out, there are some people from our past who know a few things about religious traditions and how they distort reality—and today, we’ll examine the lessons they have to teach us.

The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

“The King James Bible”, Ecclesiastes 1:5

“…I wish, my dear Kepler, that we could have a good laugh together at the extraordinary stupidity of the mob. What do you think of the foremost philosophers of this University? In spite of my oft-repeated efforts and invitations, they have refused, with the obstinacy of a glutted adder, to look at the planets or Moon or my telescope.”

Through which the satellites of Jupiter were visible, Galileo Galilei

“The proposition that the sun is in the center of the world and immovable from its place is absurd, philosophically false, and formally heretical; because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scriptures.”

–From the Catholic Church’s indictment of Galileo Galilei, 1633

So you get up every day and look up at the sky, and it’s obvious that the sun starts out over here…and at the end of the day it ends up over there.

Aristotle and Ptolemy figured it all out: each planet was placed on its own “sphere”, the earth in the center, and everything rotating around it; each planet (and the sun) inside the other, with the stars on the outside, in a Celestial Sphere”…all of this resembling Russian “Matryoshka” dolls.

And it’s no surprise that this interpretation of the motion of planets and the sun became not just “common sense”, but the official position of the Roman Catholic Church. After all, it was in the Bible, it was something you could see every day, and as the Greeks would have told you, it was logically “beautiful”—and who could want better proof than that?

To make a long story short, a Polish-born Church Canon named Nicolas Copernicus did. In 1543, near the end of his life, he released the book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (“On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres”), which suggested that all the planets, including the Earth, actually orbit the Sun.

It took another 40 years before someone would challenge Dogma on this point in a “threatening” way, but by 1584 Giordano Bruno’s The Ash Wednesday Supper was considered challenging enough to earn him the Heretic’s Fork…just before he was burned alive on the order of the Church.

By 1616 Galileo Galilei was being warned by the Catholic Church to stop talking about what he was seeing through his telescopes; a moon that was not a perfect sphere and the viewing of the phases of Venus being just two of his problematic observations.

Of course, the real reason all this was so problematic was because there were those in the Church who felt that the Word of God was to be interpreted literally…which meant that anyone who challenged either the text of the Bible or Church Dogma in any way had to be both factually wrong…and an enemy of the Faith.

Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?

–Groucho Marx, from the movie Duck Soup

Despite the warning, Galileo wouldn’t let it go. He kept observing, and he kept writing, which led to his attempt, in 1632, to obtain a license to publish the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems…which led to his being hauled before the Inquisition…which led, in June of 1633, to him forswearing any of his previous beliefs, presumably to avoid the Heretic’s Fork himself.

The Church was able to hold all this together for another half-century—but Isaac Newton essentially “won the argument” with the publication of his three editions of the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica from 1686 to 1742.

Many of you will recall that the Catholic Church was in fact destroyed by this chink in the armor of Biblical literalism, with the Church actually ceasing operations in 1802.

Obviously, I’m kidding—but the fact that nothing terrible happened hasn’t stopped any number of religious leaders in this country (and their followers, for that matter) from claiming that allowing same-sex marriages will have the same impact on faith in America today.

Which brings us to the moral of today’s story: the next time someone tells you that same-sex marriages will destroy religious traditions…that the world as we know it will come to a horrible end…and that anyone with any “common sense” can see that for themselves…tell ‘em to go get a telescope and get over it.


4 Responses to “On Tradition, Or, Same-Sex Marriage, Seen Through A Telescope”

  1. Jake Says:

    Do you really believe what you write or are you just attempting to churn random words and thoughts into something meaningful? Keep trying. I know plenty of people from the camp of “your friends on the right” who aren’t the least bit ‘afraid’ of the Gay or afraid of religious tradition being harmed or destroyed… but are pretty clear about what they believe which is marriage can only be defined as between a man and a woman. Why try to change it? You can’t. God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow…marriage isn’t something that man invented for the pure enjoyment of it, if you think it is then you’ve never been married. Marriage is difficult, hence our increasing divorce rates… but marriage is much more than that, it is also a pattern of things to come; Jesus (the Son of God) is known as the ‘bridegroom’ who is coming soon to take His bride (the church) out of this world to be united with her forever … research THAT.

  2. while you make an interesting point as related to a specific type of christianity, it would appear that you haven’t thought through either the way other religions view marraige, or the concept that church and state are not the same in the us.

    we can view this one of two ways: either the laws of religion should control who can or can’t be married…or they should not.

    let’s start with the first proposition.

    if religion is to be the guide, what do you say to islamic citizens of the usa, who believe that god has defined marraige as between a man and as many as four women?

    since the first amendment says congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, it would appear their view of how god defines marraige should hold exactly the same legal weight as yours.

    same with mormons who say god has defined marraige as between a man and many women. are they to be denied the right to practice their religion just because yours defines marraige differently from theirs?

    hindus believe that weddings between humans and animals are permitted by their gods. will you support the rights of american hindus to wed as the precepts of their religion dictates?

    there are other christians who also do not believe god has defined marraige as you have…so what about them? why should your perception of god’s word carry more legal weight than a unitarian’s, just to give one example?

    american citizens also have a constitutional right to believe in no god at all.

    if you do not believe in god, then your religion, by definition, has no objection to same-sex marraige–because you have no religion.

    have you come before us to suggest that these citizens must obey the precepts of your religion, no matter what they believe?

    by what legal authority would you make that claim, and how would it override the first amendment?

    i do support a compromise: no religion should be forced to perform same-sex weddings.

    the state should conduct such weddings as they would any other civil ceremony, and any religious group that sees fit to conduct them may do the same.

    such a compromise preserves the right of religions to follow their beliefs, creates a legal circumstance that makes more citizens equal before the law…and gets government out of the business of trying to figure out which version of bible literalism is the “right” one, which is what the separation of church and state was designed to prevent in the first place.

  3. Jake Says:

    Your opinions are clearly shaped by the shifting tides of moral relativism in our country. Our founding fathers were respecters of religion, specifically the Christian brand. Any law student will acknowledge that our country’s laws are based the Judeo-Christian law of the Torah (Old Testament) and the New Testament. If morality is based on truth, then truth can not be relative, it must be absolute…otherwise we can all make our own laws and cry discrimination if anyone criticizes our way of thinking and living. Relative morality is equivalent to social anarchy. Relative morality would allow pedophiles to do what they want with young children… Are you going to condone that? Or are you going to make a judgment that there is a distinction between right and wrong? If you’re going to be judgmental, what is your standard for comparison? You have to have a standard when measuring or judging something, that’s what rulers are for. Otherwise you don’t know what you think you know…like a sea anemone you’re alive, but you just react to stimuli within your small world. So, what is your standard and by whose authority is it a standard?

    There’s a Biblical prophecy you might find to be fascinating, it takes some concentration to finally ‘get it’, but it’s pertinent to the discussion here. The prophecy concerns ‘The 70 Weeks of Daniel’ … in one part, the revived Roman empire (EU perhaps?) is symbolized by clay… clay can be hardened, but over time it weakens until it reaches the crumbling point. Democracy in America is no different. The laws which our country’s forefathers crafted were based on their knowledge of right and wrong from the standard given by God in the Bible, and were reflective of their recent experience of state religion in England. No thought was given to Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism, etc. as there were no people of such faiths in our country in the mid 1700s.

    A large part of the liberal agenda is to secularize our country, re-write history and teach today’s youth ideas that no one would have even thought of less than a generation ago (50-60 years) all in the name of tolerance.

    Some random thread responses to things you’ve said above:

    To come to America, people need to learn the language and live by the country’s existing laws, otherwise stay out.

    Anyone can claim to be a ‘Christian’, Unitatians included, but by what standard are they defining themselves as Christians? Is someone a Christian just because they say they are? If the God of the Bible says that sex between 2 men or 2 women is unnatural and a perversion but they disagree then they have become a law unto themselves.

    Everyone is free to choose to believe in God or not, bu come Judgment Day everyone will be a believer, but sadly it’ll be too late for too many. People are not free to define their own personal moral code in a country of laws. Our prisons would be empty if this were not the case.

    Sadly, our great country is in a state of steep moral decline, right has become wrong and wrong has become right. Immorality has often been attributed to the decay of great civilizations past. Historically, great empires on average only last about 200 years. It’s looking more and more like it’s time for the sun to set on the United States of America, which is more divided than its been since the Civil War. While Majority rules, your friends on the Left are getting their way more and more often.

  4. since you’ve brought up the founding fathers and religion…let’s ask benjamin franklin how he felt about the issue:

    “To the author of the New England Courant.


    It has been for some Time a Question with me, Whether a Common-wealth suffers more by hypocritical Pretenders to Religion, or by the openly Profane? But some late Thoughts of this Nature, have inclined me to think, that the Hypocrite is the most dangerous Person of the Two, especially if he sustains a Post in the Government, and we consider his Conduct as it regards the Publick. The first Artifice of a State Hypocrite is, by a few savoury Expressions which cost him Nothing, to betray the best Men in his Country into an Opinion of his Goodness; and if the Country wherein he lives is noted for the Purity of Religion, he the more easily gains his End, and consequently may more justly be expos’d and detested. A notoriously profane Person in a private Capacity, ruins himself, and perhaps forwards the Destruction of a few of his Equals; but a publick Hypocrite every day deceives his betters, and makes them the Ignorant Trumpeters of his supposed Godliness: They take him for a Saint, and pass him for one, without considering that they are (as it were) the Instruments of publick Mischief out of Conscince, and ruin their Country for God’s sake.

    This Political Description of a Hypocrite, may (for ought I know) be taken for a new Doctrine by some of your Readers; but let them consider, that a little Religion, and a little Honesty, goes a great way in Courts. ‘Tis not inconsistent with Charity to distrust a Religious Man in Power, tho’ he may be a good Man; he has many Temptations “to propagate publick Destruction for Personal Advantages and Security:” And if his Natural Temper be covetous, and his Actions often contradict his pious Discourse, we may with great Reason conclude, that he has some other Design in his Religion besides barely getting to Heaven. But the most dangerous Hypocrite in a Common-Wealth, is one who leaves the Gospel for the sake of the Law: A Man compounded of Law and Gospel, is able to cheat a whole Country with his Religion, and then destroy them under Colour of Law: And here the Clergy are in great Danger of being deceiv’d, and the People of being deceiv’d by the Clergy, until the Monster arrives to such Power and Wealth, that he is out of the reach of both, and can oppress the People without their own blind Assistance. And it is a sad Observation, that when the People too late see their Error, yet the Clergy still persist in their Encomiums on the Hypocrite; and when he happens to die for the Good of his Country, without leaving behind him the Memory of one good Action, he shall be sure to have his Funeral Sermon stuff’d with Pious Expressions which he dropt at such a Time, and at such a Place, and on such an Occasion; than which nothing can be more prejudicial to the Interest of Religion, nor indeed to the Memory of the Person deceas’d. The Reason of this Blindness in the Clergy is, because they are honourably supported (as they ought to be) by their People, and see nor feel nothing of the Oppression which is obvious and burdensome to every one else.”

    you believe that the founding fathers were christians, who founded a christian nation. tom paine (famous founding father), could not disagree with you more, as he writes in the very first paragraphs of age of reason:

    “As several of my colleagues, and others of my fellow-citizens of France, have given me the example of making their voluntary and individual profession of faith, I also will make mine; and I do this with all that sincerity and frankness with which the mind of man communicates with itself.

    I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

    I believe the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.

    But, lest it should be supposed that I believe many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.

    I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

    All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

    I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.

    (you’ll note that paine specifically mentions islam and the greek orthodox church–the state church of the ottoman empire–in his writing, suggesting that you may be incorrect in assuming that they were not considering other religions at the time of the nation’s founding.)

    see, the thing is, the reason we have separation of church and state is for the very reasons you touch on in your response–and, of course, for the reasons franklin and paine note in the quotes above.

    you have dismissed those who you do not see as fitting your definition of christianity, presumably ignoring any constitutional rights they may have to worship as they see fit…and you have denied out of hand the rights of any who don’t practice “judeo-christianity”…and you apparently see no place in our society or system of constitutional protections for those who see no reason to believe in any religion.

    while you have the right to believe anything you want regarding religion (or nothing at all), government is not allowed to favor any sect or belief…and that’s the problem with the arguments in favor of banning same-sex marriages.

    without exception, they are based on the religious beliefs of specific sects that might, in fact, be in conflict with other sects and nonbelievers–and as we have noted, government is not allowed to favor one religion over another, nor is it allowed to favor religion over atheism.

    you have noted that people are required to learn english when immigrating to the usa. was that meant to imply that immigrants should also leave their “foreign” religions back home and adopt jesus like all other good americans do? that seems to be a dead argument for most of us, and clearly contrary to the constitution.

    another historical note: empires end in 200 years?

    perhaps you’re not familiar with the ottoman empire (600 years), or the holy roman empire (1000 years), or the persian empire (2000 years), or the mongol empire, which only lasted 80 years. the fact is, a “200-year empire” is an abberation, not the historical rule.

    america is more divided now that at any time since the civil war?

    again, you might want to consult your history: the great depression, the “long hot summers” during the civil rights movement, the protests surrounding vietnam, and the “troubles” following world war I were far more significant in terms of damaging national cohesion than what we see today.

    a final note: your comments imply that the only way humans can create “moral codes” is with the assistance of religion.


    is there some country that you can point to that is perfectly “moral” due to the efforts of that country’s religious laws?

    are all “judeo-christian” societies equally “moral”, with the other religions following behind? if the answer is no, then how do you demonstrate a cause and effect relationship between religion and morality, as opposed to belief without proof?

    as far as i can tell, the countries with the “best behaved” citizens seem to be places like singapore, japan, iceland, new zealand, and scandinavia.

    i can see no connection that would suggest religion is what’s creating that “morality” in those countries–in fact, in the asian examples we know christianity is not a factor; and we presume the desire to avoid shaming family is more of a driver of behavior than christian morality.

    the countries with the closest associations between religion and government, on the other hand (the “religious theocracies”), seem to do poorly when measured on a “morality scale” that would look familiar here. iran might be one of those examples, syria or yemen, others.

    to sum it all up: i see no evidence to suggest the founding fathers were either christian or interested in supporting a state religion–in fact, they wrote extensively about the separation of church and state–and i presume that was to avoid government getting involved in the arguments you have brought to this page regarding the proper application of morality as you believe god would see it.

    you do not seem to have a clear understanding of history as it applies to the formation and duration of empires, nor to the dergree to which this country has been challenged in the past by events that affected our citizens.

    you do not seem to acknowledge the rights of those who do not share your beliefs, despite the fact that the constitution does indeed guarantee those rights.

    we have numerous examples of theocracies that do not work for their citizens, and i can’t think of one that works for its citizens (with the possible exception of the uk).

    add all of that up, and it leaves me unwillng to seek more religious influence in law and government, and it leaves me convinced that same-sex marriage will not lead to the end of morality–any more than discovering that the earth was not the center of the universe did–and that it is more constitutionally supportable than a ban on such marraiges.

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