I received an email from someone who I assume would prefer to remain anonymous, in response to some of what I've said about homosexuality. His basic thrust was that he couldn't understand how I could take passages about homosexuality literally to conclude that there's something bad about homosexuality despite all the evidence against that view, especially when I wouldn't take other passages literally, e.g. Joshua with the sun standing still in the sky and Genesis 9 with its once-common interpretation that the curse on Canaan justified slavery of all blacks. There are so many things with this argument that I find mistaken that it wasn't easy to work through it step-by-step, but here's my response.
Update: I've added the response into the extended entry now that I'm on Movable Type and can do such things.
First off, I should say that I don't think this is a huge issue, which was why I wanted to get my fellow Christians to tone down their rhetoric and seek to love rather than hate people who are gay. I see homosexuality as a bad thing, but I don't see the state of being homosexuality as a sin. I do think homosexual sex is wrong, and I think it's wrong to pursue homosexual relationships, just to be clear. I don't think the wrongness of this is any worse by any great degree than the wrongness of anything else that I would believe to be sexual sin (except rape, which includes pederasty), e.g. adultery, premarital sex, divorce. This means my attitude toward someone who is gay and sexually active in a homosexual relationship isn't going to be any different from my attitude toward someone who is straight and is sexually active outside the context of marriage. This affects none of how I relate to someone. I don't go around trying to stop gay people from doing anything. I've got a bisexual friend who I'd trust with my kids. I don't see why gay couples can't adopt. I even think civil unions are a good idea. I say this just to make sure you didn't read only parts of what I've said on my blog and thought I was literally homophobic, as too many people who complain about the wrongness of homosexuality are.
As for the stuff I wrote, I appreciate your comments, but I don't think you understand very well how most conservative biblical scholars take these passages. I think you were assuming that I hadn't thought about these issues. That's not true. I've spent a lot of time thinking about all these issues, bringing even very recent philosophical work to bear on some of them, and I don't think your argument will end up working.
Jeremy, I've read your comments on homosexuality, and I think you have erred by adopting a paradigm that doesn't allow for an honest inquiry. You've also been highly selective in your application of your paradigm by insisting on a literal interpretation of the text on gay issues even though you wouldn't dream of adopting a literal interpretation of the text in almost any other context.
Well, we'll see. I don't think that's even close to true.
A literal reading of the story of Joshua commanding the sun to stand still would compel the conclusion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it. In fact, Joshua was invoked against Galileo.
Even today we say the sun rises, and what that statement means is phenomenological. Saying it stood still in the air is just explaining how the appearance is relative to the earth. Philosophers at this point don't have a consensus on whether that counts as being true but not literally true or whether they take it as literally false but useful to say. It depends on whether the semantics or pragmatics is doing the work. On one view, the semantics really works it out that it means something true, because the sun rises as we see it, and that's what the sentence means as we use it. After all, meaning is determined by use. It's like when I say there's no milk in the fridge, and someone points out a tiny puddle in the crisper. I'd respond by saying that I didn't mean milk in general but milk in a carton that I can pour into my cup and drink. On the semantics view, my sentence had all that built into the meaning, and so what I said was literally true. On the other view, pragmatics does the work, since the sentence is literally ok, but on our rules of conversation it's as appropriate (but false) to say that the sun rises even as it's appropriate to say that there's no milk in the fridge despite the little puddle at the bottom. For the record, I lean toward the semantics view. Philosophers seem evenly split on this, as far as I can tell. Either way this passage works out fine, because on the semantics view what the passage says is literally true, and on the pragmatics view what the passage says communicates what it intended (and on that view biblical inerrancy isn't about literal truth anyway, since God doesn't have literal arms, but about accurate communication of what was intended).
A literal reading of Genesis 9 compels the conclusion that Black people should be slaves. During the Civil War, Southern slaveholders invoked Genesis 9 to justify slavery.
But they misinterpreted what it was saying. First, it's a curse and a prediction. It never endorses the actions of the people who would fulfill it, just as Isaiah 10 never endorses the evil of the king of Assyria who carries out God's wrath on God's people but actually condemns him for it. Second, it's a curse on Canaan, and as far as I know Genesis never traces black people back to Canaan but to Ham's other sons. The literal interpretation here gives nothing of the sort.
In both cases, a literal interpretation of the text was abandoned when that literal interpretation became untenable.
I just don't agree with that. There are passages about homosexual sex that are clear descriptions that were certainly intended in a literal way. There are no metaphors that can be taken non-literally in Romans 1 or I Corinthians 6. I Romans 1 Paul simply describes homosexual sex as a bad result of the fall (though some people misinterpret it to be saying that homosexuality is a cause of bad things -- for Paul it is a bad effect of rebellion against God, just as sickness, death, and other things that we do consider unfortunate). In I Corinthians 6 he uses two words, one for the penetrating partner, the other for the penetrated party, in homosexual sex in a long line of kinds of behavior that would be sufficient on its own for counting as rebellion against God and therefore being unworthy of eternal life (though he considers Christians who have repented washed of it and no longer guilty before God). To take it non-literally, you would have to see it as somehow a metaphor for something else, and I just can't see how that would work. I don't intend to get into the epistemology of Christianity at this point, so I won't give you the reasons why I think the Bible is trustworthy, though I could if you wanted me to. I don't expect that you would.
So there's a clear difference between how I see the passages above, which don't have to be taken the way some people have taken them in the past, and the passages I mentioned about homosexual issues, which I think do have to be taken the way I interpret them. This isn't really about literalness. It's about whether the scripture can be taken authoritatively in exactly the ways I've done with all the passages I've discussed, and I don't see any inconsistency in the interpretations as I've given them. The reasons for the interpretations I've given in the passages you mentioned that happen to be old covenant aren't the same sort of reason that gives any wiggle room in the Pauline passages. I realize that there are issues with the Sodom and Gomorrah stuff and with the Leviticus passage, but the ways out for those passages won't work with Paul.
The same will happen with homosexuality. The notion that homosexuality is a bad thing is just as absurd as the notion that the earth is flat or that black people should be slaves. The only people who honestly can't see that are people who, like you, have adopted a paradigm that won't allow them to. The crushing weight of evidence is against your position, and some day even the most conservative of Christian churches will be forced to acknowledge that fact.
I'm not sure what this evidence is supposed to be. How can evidence tell you whether something is wrong? That doesn't seem to be the sort of thing that evidence can tell you. If a moral argument has premises that need to be supported, then evidence can come in there if one such premise is non-moral. For instance, if you have a principle that the only thing that could make something wrong is that it's harmful, then you could dispute whether something is harmful, and you can use evidence to support that claim. That won't necessarily work, though, because some people think something is harmful simply because it's wrong, even if it cause no other harm, and I tend to agree with that. So even if you could give all sorts of evidence to show that homosexuality is not harmful, it wouldn't prove that there's no moral wrongness involved.
When that day comes, Romans 1 will take its place next to Genesis 9 and Joshua, passages whose literal interpretation has been abandoned. Someone as intelligent as you obviously are should be able to see that.
I'm just not sure how a non-literal reading of Romans can be squared with Paul's intentions. If you don't care about Paul's intentions, I see no reason to bother with the Bible at all, but again I'm not going to defend the Bible at this point. I have done that, and if you do care to read it I can give you the link.
There's a lot about hermeneutics that you just don't seem very familiar with, and this is all basic stuff that an introductory course would cover. These sorts of arguments just assume a lot that's false about how people who see the Bible as authoritative will look at things, and since the passages really aren't the same kind of passage there's no reason to have to take them in exactly the same way, and this need have little to do with literalness. So I just don't see how your inevitability argument works.
Update 2: The conversation continues.