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Friday, August 29, 2003

I really don't want to write this. Not right now.

The Friday Five
The Five Most Profound Moments In My Life

I'm going to follow others' lead and except my wedding and the birth of my son. They're just completely off the charts.

1. My near-complete nervous breakdown shortly after Jonah was born.
2. The death of one of my closest friends, which made me feel like I had completely wasted my life
3. Standing up to a bully in seventh grade
4. Meeting Shannon and immediately knowing that we were meant for each other
5. The drive back to Florida in 1996

Other Friday 5 participants: Will, Merideth, Dave, Melissa, Gina and Colleen.

 12:37 PM

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Today's "Tom The Dancing Bug" takes a good swipe at bloggers. Have a look.

"Tom the Dancing Bug" is not about Tom, a bug, or dancing. But it's the best comic being drawn today -- no, it's the best artistic expression, in any media, of all time, except for "Garfield." Archives are here.

 9:17 AM

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Merideth has an entry that you should certainly read if you were at all interested in my overlong theological essays a couple of weeks ago. Her words were firm, but I found them extremely thought-provoking and rewarding.

As for her "rescinded concession," I can only suggest that the interested reader should read Romans and Hebrews -- in particular, Romans 7 -- and decide for yourself what the status of the Law is under the New Covenant. I think that Merideth and I probably don't actually disagree; it's all in the shades of meaning. The law was necessary once (Romans), because it showed us what God thinks is right and wrong (Romans). But the Law only taught us what was wrong, it couldn't actually deliver salvation from sin (Hebrews), which meant that the only real way to overcome sin was through the promised Messiah (both), who came so that we would not have to live by the Law in the vain hope of salvation (both). And certain aspects of the Law were never meant to apply after the Messiah arrived (Acts et al.). Regardless, the Law is solely for our own reference, because we should never judge others for their acts (Romans, Gospels, et al.), but the law can nevertheless help us evaluate others' acts in deciding what we should do ourselves (passim, e.g. Timothy). At the same time, the Holy Spirit guides us as well (passim). It's a tangled web. Individual verses can be taken to mean various propositions, but I think that it all makes sense in the context of the whole. At least, that's my take on it, and I'm fairly sure that it harmonizes with Christian orthodoxy. Your mileage may vary.

But it's all irrelevant to the original question. The Law doesn't matter if Paul was even a little bit correct, because Paul unequivocally and without cultural hedging explains that homosexual acts are sinful and must be avoided. Paul set out that rule in light of the New Covenant, not the Old. So why was Paul wrong?

Certainly, everyone picks and chooses in the Bible. And I admit that once again, terminology gets in the way, because "buffet Christian" can become as meaningless as "judicial activism" or any other slogan. But there's a genuine distinction here, and I think that it's wrong to dismiss it as hypocrisy. I think that I meant "buffet Christian" as "one who believes in most of the Bible, but who nevertheless rejects an explicit command of the Bible for an extra-Biblical reason," and I am indebted to Merideth for helping me understand the true underpinning of my argument.

Of course, none of this matters if you think that the Bible is not divinely inspired, that is, that it is superior to other enduring literature that we generally consider to be "inspired" in the sense of human brilliance. None of us purport to live our lives by The Odyssey, for instance.

But if you think that there's special about the Bible, you have to figure out some way to understand it. It's a difficult document, and hard to harmonize. People of good faith can work to understand the text and the doctrines therein, without any greater struggle than the fight between the Presbyterians and the Methodists at Luby's. The issues with Leviticus and Deuteronomy can be resolved without stepping outside of the Bible, because a significant part of the New Covenant is the rejection of circumcision, dietary laws, and other doctrines of the Law. This isn't picking and choosing, this is harmonizing. It's not a buffet, its a stew.

But what if you have a problem with something in the Bible, and there's nothing in the Bible to supersede or modify it? Paul's statements about homosexuality cannot be explained away as "old covenant," nor does any other Biblical doctrine provide a basis for rejecting them. Thus, if your ethics, culture and faith are opposed to that dogmatic declaration, one must simply choose between the Bible and one's own ethics, culture and faith.

Merideth accurately notes that it elevates the Bible to choose the Bible in that circumstance, but I don't agree that it constitutes "Bibliolatry." It doesn't elevate the Bible over God, because it's not a duality. Instead, it's a three-way struggle between God, the Bible, and our own ethics and faith. Thus, choosing the Bible in the situation above elevates the Bible over our own opinions, but it does so as part of the search to yield to God. That is: (1) God, (2) Biblical Doctrine, (3) Man's Faith. (Of course, the conservative would say that the question is irrational in the first place, because obeying the Bible is itself a glorification of God, because Biblical teachings are inherently holy teachings.) Merideth's choice, that of ethics and faith, is to arrange them (1) God, (2) Man's Faith, (3) Biblical Doctrine.

A related issue is this: what role does the Bible play if it is subordinate to our own faith? That is, we understand God because we have faith and the Holy Spirit, but we also understand God because the Bible tells us about Him. Without the Bible, we would lack a great deal of information about the faith -- in fact, everything we currently know about Christ himself comes from the Bible. But we also have to admit that without the Spirit, the Bible would be a dead letter.

So, I suppose that we have to ask these questions:

1. Would the Holy Spirit ask us to contradict the Bible? How do you know when it's the Spirit and not just your own ethics? Does that distinction even matter? Is the Bible important enough to supersede deeply held beliefs? Carefully considered ethics? Personal preference? Where do you draw the line?
2. If one departs from the Bible as a source of authority, how far can one go before becoming completely unmoored? How do you draw the line? Why do you believe in part of it and not in other parts?

And my point is only this: these questions can be answered in various ways, none of which deserve ridicule.

In the end, I think I just wanted to plead for greater understanding. Conservative views, in which personal belief cannot contradict the Bible, are not irrational or deserving of calumny. I just want the liberal branch of the faith to have more understanding of the conservative branch. Of course, the conservative branch sometimes spits back bile. It's irrational to remain tolerant in the face of that response, but then again, so is turning the other cheek.

Wow. I didn't mean to go this long. But Merideth had some very interesting points, and she did a good job of helping me to see what I was really saying. Many thanks -- but it's tiring.

Can I just go back to calling Dubya a "whistle-ass"?


 11:47 AM

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Random stuff

For those who might still be interested in the Prop. 12 fight, there was another good article in the Houston Chronicle today: Valley at center of debate on malpractice caps. If you have no idea what the truth is, welcome to the club. Tomorrow's Chronicle article features the argument that the insurance crisis was caused by insurers' own fiscal mismanagement, which should make for an interesting read. That's been Molly Ivins's point all along.

Oh, and by the way... a billion dollars a week apparently won't buy enough rifles for all of our soldiers to have one. Given the massive supply shortages caused by Rumsfeld's out-sourcing to private contractors, this shouldn't surprise me. But as a kid raised on the best that Reagan-era propaganda had to offer, the thought of our soldiers defending themselves with AK-47s is absolutely astonishing.

And the capper is today's Krugman column, which begins this way:

"Last week a quietly scathing report by the inspector general of the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed what some have long suspected: in the aftermath of the World Trade Center's collapse, the agency systematically misled New Yorkers about the risks the resulting air pollution posed to their health. And it did so under pressure from the White House."

Sigh.

I've been reading the other blogs, and I still don't know of any song from the 80's that remains "underappreciated." Will's reference to "Begin the Begin" got me thinking -- about "These Days," actually, which I think is even better -- but I still can't say that it's "underappreciated." Perhaps I lack any understanding of the current "appreciation" of 80's music, which is one-half of the necessary knowledge to even answer the question. It's much easier for me to tear down than to build up:

Five Songs of the Eighties That Should Make You Cringe
1. The theme from "Ghostbusters."
2. "When I'm With You" by Sheriff
3. "In the Air Tonight," by Phil Collins, which I'm pretty sure he made up as he went along in that "Choppin' Broccoli" way.
4. "Let's Hear It For The Boy" by Denise Williams, from the Footloose soundtrack.
5. Let's all sing along with Swayze...

"She's like the wind
Through my tree..."

 8:31 AM

Monday, August 25, 2003

That's President Whistle-Ass To You

Read this. A recently deceased woman asked that any funds donated in memoriam be used for the defeat of Dubya in 2004... but that's not the good part.

"Her family described how their mother - a waitress, cook and factory assembly worker - was furious with Bush for what she saw as a stolen election and dishonest statements. Baron's favorite nickname for Bush, which she used to shout at the TV, was 'whistle ass.'"

That slang term has been repeated on the Net, and has the feel of a meme that just might catch on. I'm looking for "whistle ass" T-shirts to start popping up soon. Personally, I can't stop giggling, and people are starting to wonder what's up.

BTW: According to a poll in the Guardian, 49% of Americans do not want "whistle-ass" re-elected, while 44% are ready to blow the whistle one more time.

 12:39 PM
Issues of Critical Importance

What is the best way to pluralize "steer"? Is it like "deer"? The OED lists usages of "steer" in literature that pluralize it as "steers," but those are antiquated.

Merriam-Webster says that you can do either "steer" or "steers," but their opinion is suspect because they take no position on "beef," "beefs," and "beeves." A group that has no problem with "beeves" is to be regarded with grave suspicion.

Hmm. I think I need to stew over this for a few hours.

P.S. Comments that include puns like "steer you in the right direction" will be summarily deleted.

 11:48 AM

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Random Thoughts

It's Sunday morning, and I'm at the office because I'm drastically running short of time to work on a pleading. Once again, the core question of my life is pushed front and center: what do you do when you love your work, but your work is giving you an ulcer? So, I'm taking a brief break to throw out some random thoughts:

More on 12

Much to my surprise, there was a good discussion of Prop. 12 today in the Houston Chronicle. Janet Elliott does a good job of summarizing the issues and allegations flying around, though it concerns me a little bit that the anti-12 material gets top billing. Nevertheless, a person reading the entire article would have a good idea of the key arguments and issues. It isn't as good as mine, of course, but it's a start.

More on Connections

I mentioned James Burke's 1978 series "Connections" a couple of posts ago, and I've been fondly reminiscing about it ever since. (Apparently, Colleen shares my fondness for the series.) It's an amazing piece of thinking, presented as an amazing piece of television. Burke's trick is to take critical moments of history (usually inventions) and follow the consequences of that moment to the modern day, by showing how each development of history created its own problems. The first episode, "The Trigger Effect," sets the stage for this cause-and-effect relationship by showing how a single relay tripped at the Niagra power station, causing a massive blackout in New York.

Ironically, I much preferred the television series over the book, because the television series seemed to create a sense of immediacy that the book couldn't quite convey. Also, it's just cooler when you can actually see how a "touchstone" works, or a Jacquard loom, or a nuclear bomber. Each of the following series ("The Day The Universe Changed," "After the Warming," "Connections 2," "Connections 3") developed the same idea through different stories. They were also good, but decreasingly so, because I couldn't get away from the feeling that Burke was milking the idea a bit. Burke's book "The Axemaker's Gift" is a good twist on the theme; it traces the effects of the specialized "toolmaker" class of humanity, and urges the rest of us to use the tools to restrain the toolmakers. It's uneven, but thought-provoking. His more recent books ("The Pinball Effect," "Circles," "The Knowledge Web") have tried to show the interconnectedness of knowledge, to lesser effect.

The original ten-episode series "Connections" is available on DVD, though not easily. You can get it for the amazing sale price of $150 at Ambrose Video. (It's a Time Life production, so it's pretty pricey.) I haven't seen it turn up on television in many years, though Connections 2 and Connections 3 have. And it's not even available at Vulcan Video, the world's greatest video store, though you might have luck at your local library. I have the series on decrepit VHS tapes, recorded off of PBS who-knows-how-long-ago.

 10:06 AM

Friday, August 22, 2003

Woo hoo! It was always an easy case, but the daunting and oppressive overtones makes me glad to see it come to a pleasant conclusion:

CNN.com - Fox lose over Franken's 'Lies' book - Aug. 22, 2003


 5:22 PM
Friday Five
Five Commandments That Were Almost Included in the Big Ten
I started writing this before Gina sent the topic, so I decided to post it anyway.

1. Thou shalt not stop walking just because you're on an escalator. For the LORD thy God hath given thee relief, as when the LORD didst part the Red Sea that thou couldst pass. Yet, thou still hadst to walk across the parted sea, didn't thee? What, thinkest thou that the LORD hath nothing better to do than to carry thee? Cripes, it's not like thou couldn't useth the exercise.
2. Thou shalt not eat pork. Not one little bit. No bacon, no ham, no sweet and sour pork, even when eating at Chinese restaurants. Absolutely, positively no pork. Wait -- I don't mean "pork," I mean "hate." Thou shalt not hate.
3. Thou shalt not make movies in which the comic relief is an ape, nor a monkey, nor an ourang-outan, nor a baboon, nor a gorilla, nor Ben Affleck, nor any other thing that belongeth in the jungle.
4. Thou shalt not text-message, neither shall you blog.
5. Thou shalt stop being so formal. Call me Herb.

As for the official Friday Five, I honestly do not know of any song from the 80s that is "underappreciated." It all gets about the praise that it deserves. But, then again, I despise the music of the '80s and am deeply ashamed of my high-school complicity in it.

 4:28 PM

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Oh, yeah... the Ten Commandments are Wrong.

There is one interesting thing about the 2 1/2 ton monument to the Ten Commandments that Chief Justice Moore is vociferously defending. From the picture of the monument on CNN.com, you can see that it lists the Ten Commandments incorrectly. It leaves out all of the details and particulars, and gives the utterly false impression that God issued a set of ten homilies.

Here is the King James version of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), with the rest of God's words in italics.

I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. (verse 2)
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. (verse 3)
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. (verses 4-6)
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. (verse 7)
4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (verses 8-11)
5. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. (verse 12)
6. Thou shalt not kill. (verse 13)
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery. (verse 14)
8. Thou shalt not steal. (verse 15)
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. (verse 16)
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's. (verse 17)

(The monument is not numbered, so I added the numbering that is implicit from the arrangement of the phrases. The numbering is the Reform Protestant version; Jews and Catholics number these nineteen commands differently -- it really depends on whether you think "I am the LORD your God" is a "commandment" or a "preamble," and whether "covet your neighbor's wife" deserves its own line.)

I'll ask the obvious question: Who is Roy Moore to edit God?

 4:27 PM
Too Much, Too Much

It seems that there are a lot of things swirling around right now, and I'm finding them all overwhelming. For instance:

1. The most recent estimate of the death toll in France is 10,000. Yes, ten thousand dead -- three 9/11s -- most of them senior citizens or handicapped people who were unable to find relief from the heat, and unable to get in touch with families who were on vacation. The Washington Post recently mocked the European heat wave ("To listen to the fuss Europeans are making about their weather, anyone would think that it was actually hot over there."), and I can't wait to see whether they attempt to express any sort of pity. After all, France must be punished! They refused to join our "coalition of the willing," because we rejected their plan to let the UN inspectors have a few more months -- cowardly bastards!

2. Arnold Schwartzenegger claims that he became a Republican in 1968, when he watched the Nixon-Humphrey debate on television while a friend translated it. He claims he was disturbed because Humphrey's politics reminded him of the Socialism he had hated in Austria. The only problem is that Nixon refused to debate Humphrey. And this is on top of the many reports now surfacing that Schwartzenegger feels no compunction against fondling any woman he happens to find attractive. Schwartzenegger is the favorite to win the California governor's race.

3. A couple of good op-ed pieces here and here in the Times state the obvious: we're trapped in Iraq, without the will to commit the forces and the staggering sums it will take to truly bring peace to that bitter region. Maureen Dowd said it best: "The Bush team has now created the very monster that it conjured up to alarm Americans into backing a war on Iraq." We're currently paying $4 billion a month in Iraq -- which doesn't even include the cost of rebuilding infrastructure -- and it simply isn't enough to even protect our own troops. We got into a fight that we didn't need, that had nothing to do with 9-11 or our national security, and the result is a massive drain on our economy, our international status, and most of all, our troops.

4. President Bush recently noted that there are 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, "which is down from, obviously, major combat operations." The Post explains that 10,000 is the highest number of soldiers ever, and is double the number that were in Afghanistan for the actual invasion. This comes just as Salon does a heartbreaking story about how Afghanistan is sinking into total anarchy -- even in the supposedly secure city of Kabul. The Commander In Chief simply has no clue.

5. The Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court snuck a 2 1/2 ton marble Ten Commandments into the Supreme Court building in the dead of night, and supporters spent last night around the monument to make sure that no one "snuck in" and took it away. Refreshingly, Chief Justice Moore makes no attempt to argue that the monument is constitutional, and the other eight justices have now unanimously ordered Court officials to remove the eyesore. This story was a hollow flash because there was no "there" there -- it is not even debatable whether the monument was permissible in the first place, because Moore made it clear that his intent was completely religious. It's not even interesting from a legal point of view, except to pose the curious problem of how the judicial branch enforces its will through other branches of government. (The better example was the burning question of whether Eisenhower would call out the Guard to enforce the school segregation decisions, or ignore the decree of the Supreme Court.) But it gets news coverage as if it matters -- as if it were a referendum on God himself.

6. Speaking of which, there's a massive battle brewing in Texas over whether textbooks should have to present "alternatives" to evolution in science textbooks, even though there are no "alternatives" that are based on science. Of course, as Kristof noted last week, only 28% of Americans believe in evolution.

7. The accusations are flying after last week's massive blackout. (Don't even get me started about the parallels to "The Trigger Effect," the first episode of "Connections" and the best hour of television ever made. Here's the chapter on which it was based.) Republicans blame Democrats for blocking Dick Cheney's energy plan, which was hatched in secret meetings with Ken Lay and other energy executives, and which focused on adding production capability instead of upgrading the grid itself. Democrats attempted to upgrade the grid in 2001, but Rep. Farr's bill was opposed by Bush and shot down by Republicans. Of course, under Republican deregulation, there's no motivation to spend money on the grid, which is falling into disrepair. So, naturally, Bush opposes a new plan to fix the problem through FERC regulation, even going so far as to oppose his own FERC chairman. And, of course, we're all about to pay the $50 billion needed to improve the grid beyond third-world-nation level. At least we're not in our newest colony, where temperatures are above 120 degrees, and electrical service won't be completely restored for another two years.

8. After a Hamas bomber killed 20 people in Israel, including children, Israel assassinated a Hamas leader in retaliation. In a perfect case of the pot calling the kettle, Hamas declared that Ariel Sharon had "ended the truce and announced its death." I keep thinking about the Oresteia trilogy, which purported to be about the evolution of civilization from "an eye for an eye" to true justice from a neutral arbiter. I wonder whether we'll ever reach that "primitive" level.

9. The OED just added "bootylicious" to its list of defined words.

I think that perhaps I need to go sit in the meadow for a while.


 12:59 PM
Aha! Proof!

I would like to note for posterity that the message below from Brendan's dad is the first incontrovertible proof that someone I have never met has read my blog. And Shannon made a comment yesterday that implied that she had attempted to read my blog. I think we're really off to the races now! At any moment, the cognoscenti will bombard me with e-mails seeking my opinion on weighty matters of politics and religion.

So.

Any time you want to start the bombardment, go right ahead. I'm ready.

 11:39 AM

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

If you're not reading Perplexing Times, you should be. It's the news, delivered by Brendan, an eight-month old. Recent headlines:

Long Lost Twin Found At Day Spa (Brendan sitting in the sink, looking in a mirror)
Woman 160x My Age Alleges Great-Grandma Status
I May Be Small Boy; Airplane

Great stuff.

 11:00 AM

Monday, August 18, 2003

Comments seem to be temperamental this morning; I think that the comments server is having problems.

 11:16 AM
More Prop. 12 Argument

The Houston Chronicle's Sunday edition went full-bore into the Prop. 12 issue, with a pro-12 editorial by Rep. Joe Nixon (author of House Bill 4) and an anti-12 editorial by former Justice Deborah Hankinson (of "Save Texas Courts"). The Chronicle itself came down against Prop. 12, arguing that the 17% decrease in malpractice insurance rates isn't worth it.

All three editorials are worth reading, but all three should be taken with an immense grain of salt. I feel that there are significant errors and omissions in each, but you should come to your own conclusion.

Finally, I have updated my prior post on Proposition 12 (scroll down) to include some new research I have done.

 11:06 AM

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Long Day's Journey Into Blog

We've been in San Antonio all weekend, so the blogging has been delayed. Which is fine, as far as I'm concerned, because I have had an incredibly hard time answering my own damn Friday Five question. It certainly doesn't help that I've been in the dumps all day today, gazing into my own navel and stewing over what I find there.

The problem, as I see it, is that it requires that you (1) understand yourself, and (2) understand how others see you. Well, #1 is completely lost on me, and #2 is pretty hard for me to grasp as well. In fact, when I was in high school and college, I had a recurring daydream about finally getting the chance to really understand how other people saw me. It never occurred to me to actually ask anyone. So, the question seems calibrated to test whether your personal issues are as well hidden as you think you are.

Hmm. I have no idea, but I might as well try, since I came up with the damned question.

The Friday Five
Five Things That Are Often Misunderstood About Me

1. My Thinking Is Very Muddy. Sometimes I think that people get the impression that I think clearly, but I don't, even when I'm being a lawyer. My mind is very soupy. I put in a question and stir it around, and see if anything comes to the surface. At its best, this mode of thinking can be very creative. At its worst, it can be slow, unreliable and irritating. The worst is my difficulty with remembering names -- faces pop right to the top of the "soup," but names get stuck to the bottom.

2. Anger. For a brief moment, I would like to contrast myself with Adam. Adam freely comments on his anger and disdain for certain people, theories and credos, such as when he noted that he was ready to kill someone by removing his liver with a spoon. I laughed, but at the same time, I know Adam well enough to know that his actions are based on principles far deeper than what he says to be entertaining, and trust him completely. I think the fact that he is willing to say these things is a good sign of his deeper character.

I do not comment on my very substantial reserve of pent-up anger, and that may be a bad sign.

3. Theology is a smoke screen. I understand complicated subjects far more easily than I understand simple ones, because I understand rules better than I understand truths. As a result, I write about theology because I don't understand faith. I can spend seven hours writing about the status of homosexuality in Pauline Greek, but I can't really accept the idea that God wants the best for me -- or even cares whether I exist.

4. Every single aspect of my relationship with my father. After a series of misunderstandings, miscues and misadventures, I feel completely misunderstood by my father. The whole experience makes me gun-shy. And tired. Just tired.

5. Ambition. I am not ambitious, I am obsessive. At certain points of my life, I get obsessed in a way that coincides with ambition (such as was the case in law school). But the point of my drive is not to achieve some sort of status vis-a-vis other people, it is to completely master and conquer the subject of my obsession. Of course, there is a contrary principle at work: I am motivated by a fear of failure, or of falling behind. So I tend to wait until the last minute, when I realize that failure is a real possibility, and then get motivated.

 9:07 PM

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Judgment Math

I started to write a response to Will in the feedback section, but I decided it might as well go in the main body of the blog.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages come from Chapter 41 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code, so the full details could best be gleaned by trying to read the statute itself. Punitive damages are a form of damages imposed by a jury not to compensate the plaintiff, but to deter the defendant and others like him from engaging in such activities in the future. Despite the lack of a compensation rationale, they're paid to the plaintiff -- though several commentators have suggested that punitives should be paid to the State instead.

Juries can only award punitive damages when they find clear and convincing evidence (i.e. without a doubt) that the defendant acted with "malice," which is a term of art meaning "knew of the dangers yet still wanted the result to occur." Because of that limitation, punitive damages can only be awarded in certain egregious tort situations, and are not an everyday occurrence.

Punitive damages are capped in Texas, as in the majority of states. If the defendant didn't commit a serious crime (such as murder or assault), the cap is the greater of (a) $200,000 or (b) 2 x (economic damages) + (non-economic damages up to $750,000). Prop. 12 and House Bill 4 didn't add a new cap on punitive damages, therefore, but they were already capped.

Doing the Math

Will also asks about the way that a judgment is calculated, and the actual take-home amount.

First, a plaintiffs' lawyer will be hired (almost always) on a contingent fee basis. This means that a plaintiff doesn't have to pay $150-300 an hour for at least a hundred hours, plus several thousand dollars up front for expert witness fees. (Medical malpractice cases are especially expensive to try.) The plaintiffs' attorneys agree to shoulder this burden -- and to get nothing if they lose -- because the reward is so great. The typical contract these days is for 40% of the gross return, though 30 or 33% is also negotiable. (Sometimes, attorneys use a sliding scale -- 30% if we settle, 35% if we go to trial, 40% if I have to defend the case on appeal.) And this is gross -- so if you only recover your out of pocket expenses, you have really only recovered 60% of your out-of-pocket expenses. If you don't like it, feel free to pay by the hour.

Second, damages are partially taxable. Physical injury damages are not taxable, because they are compensation for the loss of bodily integrity -- which isn't "income." Similarly, damages for emotional distress caused by physical injury are not taxable, nor are wages lost because of physical injury. But punitive damages and interest are always taxable. Non-physical injuries -- like harassment -- are taxable, except for money spent on medical treatment (such as for mental health providers). And legal fees are not deductible unless they can be seen as a "business expense."

So, to examine Will's hypothetical physical injury: $2M for past and future medical expenses, $2M for past and future lost wages, $250,000 for pain and suffering. $4.25M. You would also get prejudgment interest of 10%, or $4.68M. Your attorney takes 40%, leaving $2.8M. Uncle Sam only takes tax on the prejudgment interest, because it was all caused by physical injury, so that's another $125,000 gone. If you invested the remainder at a 5% rate of return -- which is generous in the current market -- that would make about $135,000 per year without touching the principal. But you should also remember that some of that money goes to compensate you for your out-of-pocket expenses, so it's not like it's a new windfall for you. And to the extent that your medical expenses were paid by your insurance company, your insurer has the right to be paid back out of your judgment. (They're the ones who are out of pocket, after all.)

I'm not sure what this all shows, except that there are a lot of issues going on in a judgment. It gets even more fearsome when there are multiple defendants with varying levels of risk, or defendants who have already settled, or other plaintiffs, or...

 11:35 PM

Friday, August 15, 2003

One of the most interesting columns I have read in weeks is Nicholas Kristof's column today about the increasing role of religion in American society.

For instance, here's his opener:

"Today marks the Roman Catholics' Feast of the Assumption, honoring the moment that they believe God brought the Virgin Mary into Heaven. So here's a fact appropriate for the day: Americans are three times as likely to believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus (83 percent) as in evolution (28 percent)."

Good, good stuff. I wish that I could blog half as well.

 11:22 AM

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Proposition 12

A fight is brewing in Texas legal circles. On the one side is "Save Texas Courts," a group dedicated to stopping the passage of "Proposition 12," a constitutional amendment on the Sept. 13 ballot. On the other side are those that fought to get that initiative on the ballot, and who are certain to start their own campaign. Based on the materials I have already seen, including the glossy mailer sent out by Save Texas Courts, I fear that the actual merits of the dispute are about to get lost in an ocean of rhetoric. Unfortunately, the real issue requires a bit of explanation, and cannot be boiled down to allegations of "saving courts" or "judicial activism."

I've been working on something related to Prop. 12 here in the office, and I wanted to have a place to dump the results of my own investigation. It's long, but (unlike every other thing written about Prop. 12 thus far) it's right. This is my own opinion, and not the opinion of my firm or anyone else I work with.

So here's the real deal:

1. The Open Courts Provision

Article I, section 13 of the Texas Constitution says:

"All courts shall be open, and every person for an injury done him, in his lands, goods, person or reputation, shall have remedy by due course of law."

This is a provision that derives directly from Magna Carta, and appears in nearly all of the state constitutions (but not the federal). As in the other states, the "open courts" provision has come to be seen as creating three different protections. In the early days of the Republic, had its most obvious meaning: government has to ensure that the courts stay open. Most memorably, it was used in 1932 to rebuff Gov. Sterling's outrageous attempt to declare martial law over the East Texas oilfields--the wildcatters' refusal to obey conservation laws was not an "insurrection" because the courts were open and available. The next logical step in the development of the "open courts" provision was a series of cases that decided whether various forms of filing fees were an impermissible restriction on the availability of the courts. It stretched the idea of an "open court" further, but didn't do violence to it.

But most recently, the "open courts" provision came to be understood as a protection of the right to sue. This flows naturally from the last clause, which explains that "every person for an injury done him ... shall have a remedy by due course of law." But this leads to some serious questioning about the proper role of the Texas Legislature and the nature of the law itself. Texas inherited the British common-law system, rather than the Spanish code system, which meant that "the law" was a series of principles that had been "discovered" by judges over hundreds of years. Judges didn' t believe that they were "passing laws"; rather, they were discovering the outlines of the "natural law" created by God and inherent in the entire Universe. This persistent search for the "natural" rules that should govern human society led to some basic principles that could be asserted in a court to resolve disputes between the common folk of England. Thus, it was the "common law," as opposed to the edicts of the King or the Acts of Parliament. For what it's worth, the process of "discovering" the common law stopped some time at the beginning of this century, and courts have more or less enforced the rules as they have been already established.

But how do the Acts of Parliament relate to the "common law"?

The Texas Supreme Court, like all other courts to address the issue, quickly established that the Texas Legislature, as the legislative body of the government, could add to the common law of Texas by passing its own laws and restrictions. The Legislature giveth, and the Legislature taketh away, so the Lege could also limit or destroy its own laws at its pleasure. But the "open courts" provision has to have some sort of meaning to justify its place in the Texas Bill of Rights, so the Court decided that the provision's protection of "redress for injury" means that the common law is protected against encroachment, at least to some ill-defined degree. Texas was in harmony with most American jurisprudence on this point. Thus, the Legislature has boundaries when it comes to the common law.

The Court soon held that the Legislature couldn't take away a person's right to sue entirely -- that is, the Legislature had to give an adequate alternative. Thus, workers' compensation took away a worker's right to sue for the negligence of his employer, but that was acceptable under the "open courts" provision because it gave back a no-fault compensation system. That made sense, because the loss of an entire cause of action was drastic.

But the lingering question was whether the Legislature could pass a law that merely limited the remedies available under the common law, without giving something in return. After all, the plaintiff would get the right to sue, and would get the right to receive damages -- which pretty much takes the literal terms of the Texas Constitution out of the picture. What would be the applicable standard in deciding whether some damages was "enough"
for the "open courts" provision?

As late as 1982, the Texas Supreme Court speculated that the Legislature could limit a common law remedy in two circumstances: (1) when it gave another remedy in return, as with workers' compensation, or (2) when the Legislature was reasonably acting to protect the health and welfare of Texas. This second alternative came from the U.S. Supreme Court's recognition that the states have the "police power"; that is, the state legislatures always have the power to pass laws that govern everyday life and provide for the health, welfare, morals, and education of their citizens, so long as those laws are reasonable and are aimed at a legitimate governmental goal. That is the purpose of a Legislature, and the very meaning of "legislative" power. Thus, the "police power" of the states has become a completely accepted part of all jurisprudence in America. But because the federal constitution doesn't have an "open courts" provision, there was no need to examine whether the "police power" allowed a legislature to modify the common law.

2. The Lucas Decision

In 1988, the issue finally came to a head in Texas in Lucas v. United States. The Legislature had responded to a perceived medical malpractice crisis by passing a law that capped damages in medical malpractice cases at $400,000 plus medical expenses. When the law was finally considered by the Texas Supreme Court, the Court divided and wrote a remarkable set of opinions. It's outside the scope of this post, but the Court in 1988 was considered by some to be bought-and-paid-for by the plaintiff's lawyers, a perception that may have been augmented by the Justices' willingness to accept all-expense-paid trips to Las Vegas paid by the plaintiff's bar. Others thought that the Court received a bad rap because they were more willing to stand up for the rights of people that had been grievously injured. At any rate, I don't think anyone would contest the assertion that the 1984-88 Supreme Court is persona non grata in Texas right now.

The Lucas majority held that the cap could not stand because it was "irrational" and thus violated the "open courts" provision. That is, the Legislature had no power to limit a remedy that existed in 1876 without offering an alternative in its place. The majority, shockingly, did not address the "police power" argument, but one can gather that they would have rejected that argument as well. Justice Kilgarlin's opinion suggests that it was "irrational" for the Legislature to have passed the cap. This was startling, because courts very seldom dare to say that the decision of the Legislature was "irrational" -- that is, an entire branch of government collectively lost its senses. But their reasoning has some interesting tones: the majority says it was wrong to put the burden of solving the medical malpractice crisis solely on those plaintiffs seeking in excess of $400,000. Thus, they indicated that some sort of compensation fund would be constitutional. The majority mentioned that Indiana had such a fund, though Indiana remains the only state to create one. (In Indiana, non-economic damage awards in excess of $1,250,000 are paid by the state.)

Two separate dissenting opinions were written, by Justice Raul Gonzalez and new Chief Justice Tom Phillips. The opinions are very similar: both would have applied the "police power" rule to state that the Legislature has the power to pass laws to respond to Texas's needs, regardless of whether the common law had allowed or disallowed it. In doing so, they argued that "the common law should not be elevated to constitutional stature" and emphasized the role of the Legislature as the source of lawmaking power. That is, the Legislature is the voice of the people, so if you don't like the laws passed by your own Legislature, then you should vote the bastards out. Though judges are elected in Texas, they are certainly not as dependent upon the whims of the populace as are the legislators--judicial elections are almost always down-ballot and ignored.

The result of Lucas was the principle that the Legislature could not limit or "cap" a remedy that was available in 1876, the year that we adopted the Texas Constitution. For those who had opposed the law, this was a vindication of Texans' most cherished rights against a clumsy governmental incursion. For those who had supported the law, the Court had "enshrined" the law of 1876 such that it could not be modified (even in times of crisis) by the people who were elected to write the laws.

3. What Does a Legislature Do?

Note that the phrase "judicial activism" or "legislating from the bench" does not help when describing what happened. The majority believed it was merely interpreting the plain terms of the Texas Constitution, and was ensuring that the Legislature did not go beyond its proper bounds. The dissent believed that the majority had intruded into the proper role of the Legislature by insisting that the Legislature didn't have the power to pass laws. To the majority, the dissent was acquiescing in a violation of the Constitution; to the dissent, the majority was acquiescing in a violation of the Constitution.

This brings us to the present problem. Another medical malpractice "crisis" has arisen, such that an overwhelming majority of the Legislature just passed a new cap on medical malpractice damages. There is no cap on "economic" damages such as medical expenses or lost wages, and there is no cap on punitive damages. But "non-economic" damages such as pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and mental anguish are capped at $250,000 for the doctors and an additional $250,000 for each of up to two hospitals, making a total cap of $750,000. The Legislature believed that this was justified by the fact that nearly all of the medical malpractice insurers have fled Texas, that there are 150 counties in Texas without an obstetrician, and by the fact that non-economic damage awards doubled in the last ten years. The argument is that these non-economic damage awards are raising rates to a level that has driven doctors out of Texas altogether. 24 states have passed such laws already.

The effect of this law is that juries will still hear medical malpractice cases, and will still be asked to award damages to the plaintiff if they find malpractice. But any award of non-economic damages above the cap will be disregarded. And the courts will still have their traditional role of reviewing jury damages. This role has been fairly limited in the past: they can review damages to determine if they are "supported by the evidence," and order a "remittitur" (refund) if they are not. The judge cannot directly order a reduction in the verdict; a "remittitur" says that the plaintiff must either accept the lesser amount or go through a completely new trial. The judge can order up to three new trials before the jury verdict must stand, so the "remittitur" power cannot be easily ignored. Some Texas judges are known to use the power generously to impose their own opinions on the case. That power remains undimmed by the medical malpractice law -- it merely means that the jury has no power to award damages above the cap.

But because of Lucas, that law may be thrown out in two or three years, when it would probably arrive at the Supreme Court. It's anybody's guess whether the current Court will follow Lucas or will reverse it; though the present Court is a great deal more supportive of tort reform, it is hard to overturn a case that was fairly recently decided. But that can happen -- just look at Lawrence v. Texas, which overruled the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick.

The Legislature decided to solve this uncertainty by passing House Joint Resolution 3, which puts a constitutional amendment on the ballot (Prop. 12). Do not depend on any person's explanation of the meaning of this document -- read it yourself. The document has four parts. First, it immediately reiterates the Legislature's power to pass laws capping non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases, and supersedes all other provisions of the Constitution that would prevent the Legislature from doing so -- especially the open courts provision. Second, starting Jan. 1, 2005, the Legislature will be able to pass such caps in all cases, not merely medical malpractice. Third, the Legislature must pass such a law by a three-fifths majority in order to enact it. Fourth, the provision states the language that shall be used on the ballot.

There is some cause for consternation at the ballot language:

"The constitutional amendment concerning civil
lawsuits against doctors and health care providers, and other
actions, authorizing the legislature to determine limitations on
non-economic damages."

"And other actions" is a clumsy way of stating the second part of the amendment, which frees the Legislature to cap all non-economic damages starting in 2005. It seems somewhat sneaky, because that phrase has the effect of erasing the narrower "medical" portion of the previous clause. But you should also be aware that this aspect of the bill was well-discussed in the Legislature, and appears this way because the larger scope of the amendment was added after the previous debate about medical malpractice. You should decide for yourself if this is an attempt to "sneak something past" the voters.

You should also know that this is not the first time that an issue like this one has been resolved by amendment. In 1987, the voters approved Art. XI, Section 13 of the Texas Constitution, which allows the Legislature to decide whether certain functions of a municipality are "governmental" or "proprietary." This is significant because it determines whether a municipality can be sued for doing those functions. The Legislature had been held back by the common-law definitions of those terms, and the voters chose to allow the Legislature to overcome the common law and decide municipal liability for themselves. The Supreme Court held that the amendment superseded the open courts provision (the amendment said "notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution") and gave that power to the Legislature. But it isn't clear whether the voters in 1987 knew the significance of what they were passing.

So, here's what I think it boils down to:

If you vote for Proposition 12:
1. The medical malpractice bill will definitely be constitutional.
2. Despite the common law, the Legislature will have the power to pass laws capping any non-economic damages at any amount -- absolutely any amount at all. Even $0. There will be no other provision of the Constitution to tell them otherwise, because this amendment grants power "notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution." But consider also that only three-fifths of the Legislature could do such an act, and that the Legislature is accountable to the people.
3. As to any cause of action that has been capped, the jury will not be permitted to award non-economic damages above that cap. The courts have the same power to review the jury verdict as before.

If you vote against Proposition 12:
1. The medical malpractice bill may be constitutional, or may not, depending on what the Supreme Court decides.
2. If the Supreme Court reaffirms Lucas, juries will be able to award non-economic damages in excess of $250,000.
3. The "common law" may be affirmed as a central storehouse of rights that cannot be taken away from the people. But it may not.

So, with all that in mind, consider these questions:
1. Who gains from the amendment? Who loses?
2. Is it correct to say that a vote against Prop. 12 "Saves Texas Courts"?
3. Should the Legislature have the power to change the "common law," or did the "open courts" provision enshrine the common law as a "core of rights" that all Texans can look to?

Most of all, do not accept anyone else's answer to the above questions. Investigate. Decide for yourself.

Addendum, August 18

In the course of my research, I have made another discovery that caused me to delete a sentence from the above post. Despite what has been argued by Rep. Joe Nixon, "pain and suffering" damages were available at common law in 1876, for both physical and mental suffering. See Hays v. Houston G. N. R.R. Co., 46 Tex. 272 (1876); March v. Walker, 48 Tex. 372 (1877). So, under Lucas, the "open courts" provision definitely protects "non-economic damages." The question remains this: should the Legislature have the power to impose caps on non-economic damages?

 6:57 PM

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried...

Jeb Bush, commenting on the Gary Coleman candidacy for Governor:

"I'm glad that Gary Coleman lives in California," Bush said, referring to the diminutive former child actor. "A guy like me that believes in limited government probably would have a tough time against a fellow like that because he probably symbolizes smaller government."


 2:10 PM
I'm Hard At Work...

...trying to do a "mash-up" of Dave's song "For Erin" with "Cameltoe" by Fannypack. I think it will be a big, big hit, if I can ever figure out how to do it.

 11:02 AM

Monday, August 11, 2003

A Gently Worded Response, Part III

I have been especially rewarded by the response to my earlier post regarding homosexuality and the Christian faith. There is a lot to think about in Melissa's post in response, and Will sent me a marvelous and heartfelt e-mail that he really should post on his blog. I find it heartening that even though I get very frustrated with the way that issues of faith and religion are portrayed in the media, I can find a circle of friends with whom I can discuss emotional issues with good will.

Melissa's and Will's responses brought to mind several thoughts over the last few days.

1. "Buffet" Christians vs. "Eat Your Vegetables" Christians

Melissa finds unfair my dichotomy of "buffet" Christians vs. "eat your vegetables" Christians, because she believes that all Christianity requires a certain amount of sampling and choosing. I think that she is correct generally, but incorrect as to the point I was making. I would like to elaborate.

I think that Melissa is correct in that there are two areas of genuine uncertainty in modern Christian faith, even among those who take an inerrantist view of Scripture. These areas give every believer genuine concern, and require a great deal of thought and insight to resolve.

A. The One Percent Problem. The first problem is that there are certain inconsistencies in the text of the Bible itself. I am not referencing the belief that the Bible should not be taken literally because of the circumstances of its writing (various authors, languages, histories, etc.), which was present to a greater or lesser degree in both Melissa and Will's responses. Instead, for the moment, I am talking about completely irreconcilable statements, such that even inerrantist Christians have a hard time reconciling them. For instance:
1. When Jesus cursed the fig tree, did the apostles watch it die (Matt. 21:18-19) or discover the next day that it had died? (Mark 11:13-14, 20)
2. Why do Matthew and Mark incorrectly quote the Old Testament? (e.g. Mark 1:2; Matt. 27:9)
3. How did Judas Iscariot die -- suicide (Matt. 27:5) or an accidental fall (Acts 1:18)?
4. Should the post-resurrection portion of Mark be considered authentic? (Mark 16:9-20)
5. Why do 2 Kings and 1 Chronicles not match in those places where they overlap? (numerous)

These possibly irreconcilable portions of Scripture create a grave concern for Christians who wish to take the Bible literally. They can take comfort, however, that these areas of concern are minor, are a miniscule portion of the overall text, and do not implicate the core aspects of the faith.

Similarly, there are differences in the various texts of Scripture, and any attempt to make a "definitive" translation must attempt to decide which version should be taken to be "correct." Yet these variations make up no more than one percent of the entire Bible, and again do not affect the core doctrines. Most interestingly, Dr. Phillip Comfort noted that the Law itself was lost for a time, 2 Kings 22:8-13, and thus finds it unremarkable that we would have to struggle to piece together that which was almost lost. In that sense, we are modern-day Josiahs. I find this proposition to be very, very interesting in its implications for all of theology.

At any rate, I agree with Melissa that there are certain textual issues of which every Christian should be aware, and which require a certain amount of picking and choosing.

2. The Problem of Emphasis. The second issue that every Christian must confront is the fact that Christianity is based on a number of paradoxes. Christ was entirely divine, yet entirely human. God is three people, but is one person. God controls everything, yet humans have free will. God is everywhere, yet he is separate from us. The truth lies in keeping these paradoxes in tension by having faith that both are true at the same time, a notion that is somewhat like a Zen koan. The proper reconciliation of these two issues is simply beyond us, requiring us to have faith in both propositions.

These tensions have led to certain differences of focus and emphasis. For instance, Presbyterians focus intently on the sovereign nature of God, while Methodists focus instead on the free will of man. Episcopals believe that baptism is an act performed by God, while Baptists believe that baptism commemorates an act performed by Man.

Moreover, there are other differences between the denominations. Lutherans and Episcopals believe in ceremony and hierarchy much more than Baptists or Presbyterians. And churches are all over the map in their understanding of the manifestation of spiritual gifts.

Thus, to this extent, Melissa is correct that all Christians choose a "flavor" of Christianity, in that they select a style of worship, church structure, and doctrinal emphasis. Yet each of these faiths arises from Biblical teaching, and returns to Biblical teaching. The brilliance of the Council of Nicea, and the creed that came out of it, was the insistence that there are certain doctrines that cannot be believed without contradicting a critical, undebatable portion of the Bible. So it is possible for Christians to select among these various choices without being forced to reject or ignore a particular passage of the Bible.

3. My Point, And I Do Have A Point. My point is simply this: though there is variation in the Biblical text itself, and though there is variation between the denominations of Christianity, there is nevertheless a body of Scripture that necessarily gives rise to a set of principles. On the one side are people that are unwilling to disregard an unequivocal command of the Bible, and on the other side are people that are willing to do so. Will and Melissa both defend the latter viewpoint with elegance and grace. For instance, Will is unwilling to accord the writings of Paul the same deference as the Gospels themselves, which is (perhaps not coincidentally) a viewpoint that I once shared. His reasons for doing so are heartfelt and well-reasoned, and his rejection of Paul consequently accords him greater latitude in his doctrinal conclusions.

The point of my earlier post was not to say that this latter view was wrong. Instead, I wanted to defend the former viewpoint against what I felt were depictions of ignorance and irrationality. If a person chooses to take some of the Bible as true, then it is not necessarily irrational for a person to take the entirety of the Bible as true. And it is not unreasonable for a person to choose to subjugate his own desires to an unequivocal statement contained therein.

Seen in that way, I hope that my distinction between "buffet" Christians and "vegetable" Christians takes form. Setting aside the one percent of the Bible that can be fairly disputed, ninety-nine percent of the Bible is spread out before us like a Luby's buffet. Some people feel free to pass up certain items on the buffet, because faith should be a matter to be reinterpreted by each believer as she lives her life in faith. Others feel that they must take the entire buffet as a whole -- the vegetables with the meat, the unpalatable with the tasty, the hard with the easy -- because God is the same God He was ten thousand years ago, and His declarations of the eternal verities cannot change in that time.

That is why I emphasize the fact that Paul depicts homosexuality as a sin, a violation of God's eternal nature, instead of a cultural issue that could conceivably change as the Church grows and develops. It makes the problem much harder than "culture" or "tradition," either of which I would happily eject.

And that is why I am discussing the view that "faith" might reasonably require more than "love" or "fellowship," and instead requires the believer to yield to God by trusting that God knows better than we do. That is, if we don't like what the Bible has to say about a certain practice, it may be arrogance for us to think that we know better than God. It certainly wouldn't be the first time; the Corinthians had rationalized themselves into accepting sex with a stepmother as acceptable (1 Cor. 5:1), and the Catholic Church had developed an entanglement of theology that rationalized the sale of salvation for cash on the barrelhead. I'm not saying that everyone must give such deference, but merely that it is not unreasonable for Christians to insist on such deference in their own lives. My issue with the media was the implicit criticism of that deference as unreasonable and ignorant.

Actually, I disagree with what I just wrote. Frankly, I do believe that it is simply incorrect for a person to disregard an unequivocal command of Scripture, but at the same time, I will not "insist that people be right" by imposing my view on my brothers and sisters. That is, I fiercely believe that people who do not defer to the Bible can do so reasonably, in good will, in faith, and in love. Indeed, my friends have illustrated this point perfectly. And I take great comfort in the fact that homosexuality is nowhere in the Nicene Creed, which represents the "irreducible minimum" of the Christian faith. I write to insist that my own view deserves the same respect that I accord to others.

This is the core of the "tolerance" problem I wrote about earlier, in which the modern view is that all viewpoints are to be tolerated except those that are dogmatic. Will believes it is simply wrong to accept Biblical rules over one's own wishes. I believe it is wrong to accept one's own wishes over Biblical rules. We can agree to disagree, and can cheerfully discuss our faith over a pint of Shiner Bock. But my concern is that for all its claims of "tolerance" and "acceptance," the Left is creeping toward the belief that Will's view is self-evidently right, and that my view is self-evidently wrong -- just as it has come to pass that most consider it self-evident that truth is not absolute.

Of course, the Right has long had the same problem, and I certainly don't want to ignore that fact. But the Right has not spent quite so much time proclaiming its "openness" and "willingness to consider new things." Thus, I don't sense the same feeling of hypocrisy that I do when "South Park" blasts people like me. And even the most "faith"-inspired films and movies fail to acknowledge the "eat your vegetables" point of view. That is, the "faith" of "Touched By An Angel" is nevertheless the "buffet" faith that would be the most palatable to the most people.

2. Why It Matters That He's A Bishop

I also disagree with Melissa's opinion that the real question is the blessing of same-sex unions. The primary defining characteristic of the Episcopal faith, vis a vis other Christian denominations, is its absolute insistence on a hierarchy of the clergy that runs unbroken back to Peter himself. There is nothing quite like a visit from the Bishop to clarify matters in an Episcopal church, because your rector must get on his knees in deference to his Bishop. It certainly illustrates the church's premises and priorities.

After this vote, if an Episcopal in New Hampshire believes that Christians must defer to the unequivocal commands of the Bible, he or she is now forced to choose between the Bible and the Church leadership. If the question were merely the union of same-sex couples, the New Hampshire Christian could ignore it, because the hierarchy problem would not remain. But it is awfully hard to remain subject to the authority of a Bishop who disregards an unequivocal statement of doctrine, if you believe that humanity must take the faith in its entirety without picking and choosing.

That, to me, is why the confirmation of Bishop Robinson has brought the issue squarely to the forefront. In another denomination it wouldn't create such a problem.

The attempt to smear Bishop Robinson was transparently shameful, but I don't feel that it proves the real issues in this matter one way or the other.

3. Translations of Greek

Will raises another point that deserves mention. He protests that some scholars believe that the reference in 1 Corinthians is to "male prostitutes," not all homosexuals, and that the reference in Romans is to the fact that the practices were pagan. These are certainly the viewpoints of those that seek to explain the New Testament in a way that would remove all barriers to Biblical acceptance of gays and lesbians, such as Bishop John Shelby Spong. I can only urge every person with an interest in the subject to investigate it for him- or herself, and to do so with an open mind.

A couple of years ago, I turned to those very arguments with great hope that they would provide a solution to this problem, which continues to grieve me greatly. Unfortunately, I was unpersuaded. Worse, I came to the conclusion that the only way to reach those conclusions was to twist the language unnaturally in order to fit a preconcieved notion of what you wanted the verse to say, because the weight of evidence tilted far more in favor of the "traditional" interpretation. I concluded by being dismayed and embarrassed for the liberal theologians. Better to honestly reject the verse altogether than to strain credulity.

For instance, the critical word in 1 Corinthians is arsenokoites. "Arsen-" is a prefix that means "male," and "koites" is the same word as "coitus." The word is quite forceful in its coarseness and means either "f*cker of men" or "man who f*cks," if you get the distinction. The latter construction is the one that gives rise to liberal theologians' interpretation that it must mean "prostitute." But why would one interpret "man who f*cks" to be prostitution? One has to read extra terms into the word, or else fall into the nonsensical interpretation that Paul was condemning all men who engage in the generative act. "F*cker of men" is the clearest meaning, and requires no careful side-stepping. Add to that argument the fact that the word is preceded immediately by malakos, which means "soft" or "effeminate" and which has been documented to have been used to refer to the partner who is penetrated during gay male anal sex. Given that arsenokoites is immediately preceded by malakos, I conclude that Paul is referring to the act of homosexual male sex, and is being particularly sure to get rid of any "loopholes" by specifying that both partners are committing a sin by doing it. That is, it's a sin to be the butch or the femme. And this doesn't even get into an analysis of similar Greek words and their use of "arsen-."

I am not sure that this argument is even necessary. For "buffet" Christians, it's like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, because no amount of interpretation and translation is going to change the end result. But I strongly recommend that "eat your vegetables" Christians should research the issue for themselves. When I did so, I was dismayed to find that I came to the conclusion that it would be intellectually dishonest to "explain away" Romans and 1 Corinthians in order to find an acceptable answer to this problem. Because this conclusion caused me great grief, I sincerely hope that others reach a different result.

Conclusion

In the end, this was never about Will or Melissa or any of my own friends, with whom I feel I can discuss matters of great import or great meaninglessness. It was a way to express my concern that my way of looking at the world is increasingly falling into disdain, and to defend the reasonableness and intelligence of those men and women whose deference to the Bible brings them into painful conflict with their desire to reject all criticism of gays and lesbians. The most curious thing of all is that even now, after having spent a total of about seven hours writing on the subject, I still find that I am unable to embrace the view that I have defended. It is easy to accept the sovereignty and superiority of God in the abstract; it is very hard indeed to put that belief into action in a world that is very different from Paul's, or Augustine's, or even Billy Graham's.

 10:53 PM
Howdy!

And a great big "howdy" to young Deny-sin Zestpoole Lipscomb, a healthy nine-pound, eight-ounce baby boy. We're sure glad to have ya around.

You know, when your older brother was born, I made a point of smoking a cigar in honor of his birth. I almost retched right there on the steps of my office building. So I hope that you'll forgive me for forgoing that particular tradition this time around.

 4:02 PM
Crack Rentals

I have been meaning to post this for a while now; it's an e-mail sent by a friend's brother. I've posted it "as is," because it has a certain charm to it, as well as an interesting look at the "wild side" for all of us who have no idea what 50 Cent is talking about.

Beware of the “Crack (cocaine) Rental”

If you have the time, I encourage you to read the following story. It is the disturbing, frustrating, and somewhat funny story of how my car was stolen and rented out in exchange for crack cocaine.

A week ago tomorrow I invited a friend of mine, Keith, to come over to my house and hang out. My parent’s were out of town, not that they don’t allow me to have friends over, it just meant I had free run of the TVs, food, etc.

Keith came over and had his girlfriend’s brother named Louis with him. Keith is more of a business associate of mine, than a friend, as he and I both sell sports memorabilia. I know Louis and know him as a military dropout who bounced around from job to job.

We decided to drink some beer and eat some pizza and eventually decided to go to a nightclub. Most of you know that I hate cheesy clubs and usually avoid any place where the clientele have gelled hair and multiple piercings. I however conceded to go to this trashy bar called “Hurricane Hut” on the outskirts of Houston to appease Keith.

We drove out to this terrible club where Keith proceeded to get outrageously drunk while Louis and I drank in somewhat more moderation. I didn’t realize that the only reason Louis wasn’t drinking heavily was because he literally had no money.

After escaping the degenerates at the Hurricane Hut we drove back to my house. Keith literally fell out of my car and crawled towards his car and climbed in. Since my parent’s weren’t home I begged he and Louis to stay at my place and leave in the morning. This may seem somewhat outrageous to some of you that I was coherent (not drunk) enough to discourage someone from drunk driving. My pleading with Keith didn’t work so I told Louis that he didn’t have to ride with Keith if he didn’t want to and I would take him home in the morning. One less drunk driving related death was my goal…keith made it home safely

So Louis and I go inside and finish off some more beers before I fall asleep.

At 9:30 in the morning I get a call from my Bank informing me that someone named Louis attempted to cash a check of mine, they declined the check as he had no real ID. I immediately look outside and realize that my car is gone.

I am very surprised by this situation because it doesn’t seem as if I had been robbed. My wallet was left untouched, my parents’ Jaguar and Mercedes were still in the garage, and there was no sign of anything else missing during a cursory glance through my house.

While searching my home for loss, I was calling Keith who told me to immediately call the police and he would be at my house soon, he told me he probably knew what happened.

The police showed up and I told the story of the bank calling and Keith gave a description of Louis and told a story of how 2 years ago Louis stole his car.

One night almost exactly two years ago Keith, his girlfriend Michelle and Louis went out. They went back to Keith’s and passed out. When they woke up Keith realized that Louis was missing and so was his car. Michelle then revealed to Keith the family secret that Louis had a Crack problem and she probably knew where his car was.

Keith drove out to a crack neighborhood here in Houston and found Louis stumbling in the street stark naked and his car was parked not far behind.

After the police left, Keith and I left to explore this neighborhood. No luck in finding the car.

While in the area We looked into a few pawn shops hoping to find my watch, golf clubs, or CD’s, all of which were in my car. I was totaling up the stuff in my car and realized I had over $2000 worth of possessions in it…for future reference DON’T EVER LEAVE ANYTHING IN YOUR CAR…it is not covered by auto insurance, and I doubt you have a low enough deductible on your home owner’s to claim it.

Keith and I return to my house and start calling the few people Louis associated with (an ex girlfriend, one friend, and his mom). Louis was a very detached person and really didn’t have any connections or even a bank account or cell phone.

In the meanwhile I call my best friend Aaron and explain the situation and he comes over to my house so that we can go out at night to cruise the crack neighborhood again for a sign of Louis or my jeep grand Cherokee.

DON’T EVER TRAVEL INTO A KNOWN CRACK NEIGHBORHOOD AFTER THE SUNSETS…I’m not kidding, 50 cent isn’t lying when he says that “in the hood summer time is the killing season” All of the residents are roaming the streets trying to “hustle.” If you are white and cruise their block you are either a potential customer (so they approach your car if you drive too slow), if they don’t think you are a customer they stare at you with their hands in the pants (gripping a gun I assume).

I cannot emphasize enough how real these neighborhoods are, these rappers aren’t making these places up.

Anyway, we don’t find the car.

The next morning I call my sister and she has a friend with HPD and we explain the situation and he says nonchalantly that this is a common case and HPD calls it a “crack rental” and that the police don’t even consider the car stolen because we know who took it.

Our family friend was kind enough to elevate the situation to being a stolen car so that it would be registered in the national database.

Later that afternoon I get a call from my car insurance agent and I assume they are discussing the theft. They are in fact reporting that the car had been in an accident. In a fit of panic Aaron and I drive to the scene where the accident happened (the police were never contacted by the people in the accident).

On the way to the scene of the accident, which by coincidence is in the same crack neighborhood we had been searching, I am franticly calling the police and they are not helpful at all, saying they cannot send out an officer. I was appalled by this because I was explaining to the dispatcher that we had a legitimate lead on the case of my stolen car and I was about to go into the neighborhood to retrieve it renegade style (unfortunately my bulletproof Escalade, bulletproof vest, and Mack 10 were all being borrowed by a family friend, so Aaron and I were going to be forced into the neighborhood unarmed and unprotected).

We search the neighborhood again and find nothing. On our way home Keith calls me and tells me that Louis just showed up at his mom’s house…without my car.

While we wait for Keith to meet us to go to Louis’ house, Louis is meanwhile calling the police turning himself in.

Later that night the detective that Louis spoke to called me and explained the story.

Basically when I fell asleep, Louis got a crack urge (his first in years I’m told) and decided to take my car and go to his favorite crack neighborhood. He didn’t steal anything from my wallet because he knew he could loan my car to a crack dealer in exchange for some rock.

I was shocked. Apparently the economy is so bad that crack dealers will actually give you some rock simply for the use of your car. They won’t steal it or take anything out of it, they just want to borrow it to run errands and “slang” dope in neighborhoods they can’t otherwise get to.

This is called a “Crack Rental”…I wish I were making this up.

Anyway Lewis said that his plan was to rent my car out smoke some crack and get the car back to me before I wake up. Well, damn Louis’ bad luck, because his damn crack urge was so strong that he wanted some more crack.

The crack dealer said no problem and proceeded to borrow my car for a little while longer. Well, when he returns to Louis is in informed by one of his crack-dealing cohorts that Louis’ dumb ass smoked a little more crack than he was allowed.

Well, the crack dealer had run his errands for the day (I can’t even fathom what they were) and has no real use for my car and this is when he informs Louis that he better come up with some cash.

This is when they went to my bank. Since Louis couldn’t get the money the crack dealer ditched him.

Louis claims he stumbled around the crack neighborhood for a little while looking for the car before giving up and walking home.

After speaking with the detective he asks me if I want to press charges, which I do. He assures me that the car will turn up, probably not with my $2000 worth of stuff in it, but it will show up.

He explains how these crack dealers are smarter than one might think and know they don’t want to get thrown in jail for driving a stolen car so they just pawn it off in another neighborhood for more drugs. The cars are usually just abandoned and police come and get them.

Well my car hadn’t turned up by the time my parent’s returned from their trip, so they got to hear the story. They didn’t react with anger, just in disbelief that such a thing as a crack rental existed, and that I didn’t exhibit enough judgement and allowed a former crack head to stay at our house. Basically they felt that it was my problem, hence my loss, and my headache. Fair response.

In my defense, however, I would like it to be noted that Louis in no way resembles a crack head. My friend Aaron would even agree that Louis is very clean cut looking and actually looks more like a model than anything else….I don’t mean to be racist, but I didn’t know that crack was a white man’s drug.

So over the past few days I’ve been dealing with police, insurance agents, car dealerships, car rentals, etc. A real headache.

Today I got a call saying my car had been recovered. Aaron and I drove out to the lot it was being stored in, but it was closed. The gate was surprisingly open so we walked in to inspect my car.

Well, there was some pretty serious body damage to the car and a broken window, in addition to the fact that all of my stuff had in fact been stolen.

BUT, whoever was last to drive my car left me some kind parting gifts including….10 black and mild cigar butts, marijuana residue in the cup holders, a half a pack of Kool cigarettes, a one gallon jug of “pink flavored” drink, a burned CD which was titled “Niggaz and Hoez,” a minnie mouse umbrella, a Playstation 1, a straw hat, and a magazine titled “Black Hair Designs.”….I figure all that stuff is a fair trade for my Titleist DCI clubs and my David Yurman watch.

There are a few lessons to be learned here, but ultimately I just encourage you all to be well aware of the crack rentals.

 12:19 PM
I am touched by the Lipscombs' continuing confusion over a name for baby Dumpling, and would like to offer a suggestion. I just finished reading "God's Secretaries," about the story behind the King James translation of the Bible, and was particularly interested in the names used by hardcore Puritans during the Jacobean period. The Puritans took the Old Testament very seriously, especially the parts that explained the meanings of the names given to various personages. (For instance, "Immanuel" means "God-With-Us.") Thus, they insisted that a proper English translation of the Bible would use the translations instead of the name itself.

Unfortunately, this caught on in the naming of children. We're talking about names that go far beyond "Charity," "Hope," "Faith" and so on. These are actual names of Puritan children:

Deny-sin
Hate-evil
God-reward
Jesus-Christ-came-into-the-world-to-save
Zeal-for-the-Lord
Job-raked-out-of-the-ashes

and my favorite,

If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-hadst-been-damned, which apparently resulted in the interesting nickname "Damned."

I think that last one would make an excellent name for lil' Dumpling. It certainly makes for an interesting time on the playground.


 10:29 AM
And an exemplary piece of reporting yesterday from the Washington Post. Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus took the Bush administration's claims about Iraq's nuclear capability, compared the claims to the facts and analysis available, and put the results in a clear and readable timeline. It should be required reading by every American.

 8:42 AM
Things I Know This Morning That I Didn't Know Last Night

1. That the British pronunciation of "miscellany" is "miss-SELL-a-knee"
From NPR's interview with Jon Schott, author of "Schott's Original Miscellany," heard during my morning commute.

2. What a "primrose" is.
From my wife's copy of "Southern Living," read while in the bathroom this morning.

3. It's going to be a long day.
Estimated based on levels of coffee intake as of 8:14 a.m.

 8:18 AM

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Just a quick post to say a sad farewell to Gregory Hines, who died today of cancer. Two of my favorite movies of the '80s were White Nights and Running Scared -- which isn't to say that they were the "best" movies of that decade, but I watched them an awful lot on HBO. And Hines was definitely the best thing in "Waiting to Exhale."

It's a shame that the world has lost his exciting sense of style. But 57 is too damn young for anyone to go.

 10:37 PM
A Strongly Worded Response, Part II

Next, I feel like I should respond to Melissa's challenge to answer Dave's challenge and defend my criticism of Howard Dean by pointing to the Democratic candidate that I feel has a better chance of beating Bush. I had discussed this with Dave at the time, via e-mail, but I suppose it's interesting enough to merit a blog entry. After all, my audience is clamboring for more of my incisive political analysis!

So, here it is: none. I don't think that any of the Democratic candidates currently running will beat Bush. But I still stand by my point that support for Dean should not be based on the notion that he will beat Bush; rather, it seems like a particularly defiant kind of fatalism, and it's too early to be so fatalistic.

Ultimately, it comes down to this, I think:
1. The Democrats need to focus on a candidate that can win, not merely one that will allow the party to vent its spleen.
2. Dean is not it.
3. But no one seems to have a better chance.
4. Thus, it may seem sensible to support Dean -- not because he can win, but because he will lose with the most panache.

But I have a hard time resigning myself to that, because I still have hope that something will change on the campaign trail. Again, it's a long time until the caucuses get under way, and a lot of things can change. Kerry could come on stronger and make himself a semi-plausible candidate, such that his service in Vietnam overcomes the "Massachusetts liberal" label. The party could draft Gen. Wesley Clark, who would be a very interesting foil. And Al Sharpton could suddenly develop the power to fly, walk through walls, and bilocate, which would give him the crucial "second coming" vote and push him to victory in '04.

And I stand by my comment that you're just not playing for the varsity if your state has fewer people than Austin does. Will Wynn may be a good politician for all I know, and he might balance the city budget, but he's simply not ready for The Show.

 8:42 PM
Thanks to Will's fine legwork, I think that I have a comment feature up and running. This post is more or less to test the waters and make sure that it's all working properly.

 8:25 PM

Saturday, August 09, 2003

It's the damndest thing. I have a way of saying things that cause a miniature furor among prominent Internet commentators, all of whom (coincidentally) happen to be the four or maybe five people who ever read my blog. (Seriously -- Shannon asked me for the URL again today, because she had lost it. Clearly I can't be all that compelling if my own wife isn't numbered among my readers. And the main reason I haven't added a hit counter is fear of embarrassment.)

So. I feel that a strongly worded response to this raging battle is entirely called for.

A Strongly Worded Response, Part I

Despite Melissa's harsh condemnation, I have not "refused" to add a comment feature to my blog. Such scurrilous attacks are typical of her type, and illustrate just how far out of the mainstream the Melissaites have gone. Treason, I tell you. Treason!

No, rather, I have tried to add a comment feature to my blog and have utterly failed. I tried to use the very same service as Melissa, but their "ready-made" HTML didn't work, and I finally gave up after a couple of hours of trying.

I have not "refused" to do anything. So there. I trust this will clear up any misunderstandings.

 5:01 PM

Friday, August 08, 2003

Five Life Goals That No One Knows About
Well, Five Life Goals That Few People Know About

1. To hike the trail to Angel's Landing in Zion Canyon, Utah. Zion Canyon was one of the most remarkable places I've ever seen, and I have long regretted that I didn't make this hike when I had the chance.

2. To dive the Great Barrier Reef. In 1996, I solemly swore that in the year 2000 I would see the Great Barrier Reef and finish my trip by seeing the U.S. Men's Volleyball team compete in the Sydney Olympics. In fact, I can vividly remember where I was when I made that promise, and the way I gritted my teeth when I did it. I kept thinking about that moment while I spent the summer of 2000 in a hermetically sealed skyscraper in Houston.

3. To argue in front of the United States Supreme Court. Of course, it's harder than it looks. One of my favorite law professors wants to argue before the Supremes so badly that he offers to do the whole thing -- research, writing, everything -- for free if he can argue before the Court. Of course, he charges a King's ransom for his expertise otherwise.

4. To raise a son with whom I have a close relationship.

5. To like myself. To achieve perfection -- or to finally give up the painful pursuit of perfection. To achieve Buddha nature. To get to the point where I can recollect my past experiences without wincing. To transcend.

 7:23 PM
Just to throw out a bit of trivia and tweak my friends a bit, I notice with some interest that Howard Dean was the governor of the least populous state in the Union; a state with significantly fewer residents than Austin, Texas. So, Dean balanced the budget, but it's not exactly like he was playing for the varsity.

I encourage you to spend a little time sifting through the census statistics, if you aren't familiar with them. I had no idea how unevenly America was populated. It certainly puts the Red and Blue states in a different light. Or, as Wanda Sikes put it so well after the 2000 election, when she claimed that America had actually elected Gore:

CHRIS ROCK: But Wanda, there's an awful lot of red states on that map.

WANDA: Chris, ain't nobody live there. See that one? (gestures vaguely to the heartland) That's one guy named Ed.

She's not far from right.

 11:26 AM

Thursday, August 07, 2003

I have been very bothered by some recent discourse about the nature of religion generally, and regarding the recent decision of the United States Episcopal church specifically. The most startling to me was last night's "South Park," which concluded with a Catholic priest berating the Vatican for failing to understand that Christianity is merely a series of aspirational aphorisms, not any sort of a code or dogma. It's not that I disagree with the view -- though I do -- but rather that I am dismayed by its intolerant tone and Kindergarten logic. That view is, in its own way, every bit as sneeringly dismissive as the religious intolerance that it purportedly criticizes, because it is necessarily based on the notion that it is incorrect for a human to yield his own understanding to a truth greater than one's self. But on what basis does "South Park" arrive at that conclusion? By what basis does "tolerance" choose to be reject this view as unacceptable? Because it is inconvenient? Societally unacceptable? Self-evident? For those who believe that God is bigger than humanity, it is not self-evident that egotism is the proper measure of faith.

One of the most difficult, and most rewarding, aspects of faith is the very fact that one cannot pick and choose from its elements. It is a relationship that involves give and take between the worshipper and the divine. Humanity gives by acknowledging that our own vision can be shortsighted and own desires can be foolish. And it receives clarity of insight and communion with God Himself. But without the obligations, the rewards are hollow and selfish. The obligations of faith train us, strengthen us, and ultimately lift us to a place higher than we even knew we could aim. In this way, the glory of faith comes through the understanding that one cannot lose weight without abstinence; that one cannot become strong without exercise; that one cannot truly find one's self without losing one's self. Faith trusts that God has figured it out better than you have.

And I submit that a person is free to believe that, or to reject it, but it is arrogant to demean another for believing it. Yet that is exactly what seems to be happening on the "tolerant" Left. As was so well-explained by David Brin, the Left paradoxically tolerates any viewpoint except "intolerance." All religious insight is equal, except for the insight that this particular religion is correct and that others are false -- an insight inherent in each of the world's religions to a greater or lesser degree. In pursuing this paradoxical demand for bland uniformity, purported tolerance becomes intolerance -- like the Unitarians on a jihad. What most inflames me is the snide, condescending tone of it all. "Don't these ignorant rubes get it? You take what you want and leave the rest. You make your own faith." But what if you don't think that you are the final arbiter of truth? What if adherence to Christianity necessarily requires an indivisible bundle of beliefs?

Or, to stretch a metaphor to the breaking point, some treat faith like a buffet that should be picked over according to one's own personal standards, while others believe that it's important to eat the vegetables because Mom says they're good for you.

This paradoxical rejection of a faith-centered worldview in the name of "tolerance" has led to a growing rift in American society. Anyone wanting to understand the embattled position of the Christian Right would do well to look at current depictions of Christianity in the popular media. Even the most overtly Christian show on television--"Touched By An Angel"--refers to God and not Jesus, treats Judaism and Christianity interchangeably, and never once says anything that would indicate an exclusive claim on truth. Despite the fact that angels come from three faith traditions that have some very serious claims on absolute truth and non-negotiable dogmas, the show divorces the messengers of God from the rest of God's context. But why should angels be any more "acceptable" than the fact that Christ was resurrected from the dead? The implicit understanding is that Christians are idiots whose simplistic faith has a certain gut-level appeal, but shouldn't be taken seriously by adults. I am sure that Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas More, Isaac Newton, and the thousands of great Christian thinkers and scientists would be sorely tempted into an apoplectic fit.

Worse, I can count the number of Hollywood films depicting a positive Christian conversion experience on one hand. (Curiously, they often star Christian actor Robert Duvall.) Salvation is an embarrassment, not something to celebrate.

I believe this persistent depiction is prejudicial and ignorant. It is not necessarily foolish, obstinate, or ignorant to yield to something you believe to be greater than yourself. Nor must the unique and irreconcilable aspects of Christianity be cast aside in the name of our postmodern bronze calf, "irony."

Which leads me to the recent decision of the Episcopal church. They have chosen to elect a homosexual as a Bishop, which necessarily required them to analyze the status of homosexuals in the Bible. In offering their opinion of this issue, some have chosen to treat the answer as self-evident, and treat those that have difficulty with the decision as obstinate or ignorant. But just as I feel it is intolerant and ignorant to insist that a person must pick and choose her faith as if she were the final arbiter of truth, it is also intolerant and ignorant to insist that a voluntary association of Christians must reject certain dogmas.

Viewed respectfully and openly, the question is agonizingly difficult and the answer is not self-evident.

The problem with our modern understanding of the New Testament, at least as I inadequately understand it, is that Biblical doctrines can have one of three different statuses. And the real question here is where to place the Bible's criticisms of homosexual behavior.

1. The Old Testament

The first status is "Old Testament," and it is not so easy to disregard this portion of the Bible in this debate. The relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament is the subject of the weightiest portions of the New Testament: the Epistle to the Romans, and the Epistle to the Hebrews. Briefly and inadequately summarized, they explain that the Law was necessary in order that humanity would realize that God was perfect and that humanity could never do enough to be like God, or to deserve Him. In fact, the inevitable result of humanity's reliance on its own efforts was death -- physically, to be sure, but much more important was the spiritual death that arose because our inability to follow the Law kept us from communion with God. Even the atonements offered by the Old Testament were fleeting, because the pervasive nature of our own shortcomings would drive a wedge between ourselves and the Divine shortly after the atonement was offered.

But the bitter realization of humanity's inevitable failing was tempered by the joyous promise that God would make all things right in His own time, by providing a method to reach His presence and glory. This "bridge to God" was to be the Messiah, who was described by Jeremiah as a perfect man whose death would be the first truly undeserved death in the history of the world, but whose death would suffice to pay the debt owed by each and every fallible human. Jesus was that perfect man, God made flesh to achieve what we could not, descended to our world so that he could lift us up to heaven.

And while here, Jesus did not come to break the Law or get rid of it -- He kept every word of it. Instead, Christ came to provide an alternative to the Law. Each person can choose to do his or her best to achieve perfection, and will be judged by the divine standard of absolute and utter perfection demanded by God's very nature. Each person will be fairly judged by that standard, and will get exactly what he or she has earned. Or, each of us can choose to eschew justice and seek an unearned grace, which comes through Christ alone. That is, we can be sentenced fairly, or we can get clemency from the Governor.

Romans and Hebrews, therefore, explain that the Law was necessary so that we would truly understand exactly how hard it is to earn our way into heaven. The Law is still the legal system applied to each and every person in the world, and each person is justly treated. Under the New Testament, the Law still applies to Christians as the measure of righteousness, but the reason they can commune with God is not their adherence to the Law, but their acceptance of Christ's gift. In Romans and Hebrews the authors acknowledge that a very reasonable and human response to the free gift of salvation would be to attempt to live our lives in a way that pleases God. We would honor God by doing so, and should thus strive toward perfection. But our salvation comes through Christ's gift, not any effort of our own, because our own fallibility inevitably interferes.

But that doesn't mean living our lives under every jot and tittle of the Law. Paul, Peter and the early Church quickly established that it was unnecessary to become Jewish to become Christian. That is, one could follow Christ and still eat "unclean" foods, or be circumcised, or wear forelocks. This, of course, creates a great question as to how much of the Law was "forgiven" under these doctrines, and how much of the Law would still be "sin" when committed by Gentiles. It is a subject of great scholarship, and I freely admit that I do not fully understand it.

But I will set aside that question for the moment, because the Old Testament need not even be at issue in the Episcopal debate. It is not necessary to look to Deuteronomy or Sodom in order to find a Biblical criticism of homosexuality. The Sodom story may in fact be about the ancient belief that visitors under one's roof must be protected. It is enough, for purposes of this discussion, to distinguish the Old Testament and to note that it has a different role in New Testament theology than it did before Christ's resurrection. It is not enough to say that the Law no longer applies to Christians, for that much is well-established, and is believed even by those who take issue with the confirmation of Bishop Robinson.

2. Societal Issues

The New Testament is made up primarily of the epistles of various writers, mostly Paul, who were attempting to answer the hundreds of questions that arose in the early church. In doing so, the writers' focus was on (1) correcting doctrinal errors, and (2) fostering a greater cooperation among a diverse membership. The former were simply issues of error, not open to debate. No person who engaged in this behavior (such as the denial of Christ's divinity) would be correct, because he would necessarily be ignoring an important part of the testimony.

The second focus arose out of the need to keep the church harmonious, and out of the fact (explained in 1 Timothy) that it is a sin to cause a brother or sister to lose faith and become disheartened. Certain people are weak in their faith, he explained, and would be misled if you do something proper that they (incorrectly) think is improper. So Paul counseled the Church to be servant-like and to abstain from those actions that would cause the brother or sister to stumble.

It isn't always easy to distinguish the first from the second. The entire book of 1 Corinthians is a passionate criticism of a church that had rationalized itself into gluttony and promiscuity, and could arguably either be a reassertion of sin as a normative matter or an imposition of cultural norms in an effort to keep the Corinthian church from flying apart and creating a bad witness for the world. I personally believe that it is some of both. For instance, I am personally persuaded that Paul's criticism of women's leadership in the Church was based solely on a need to foster cooperation, not on a belief that it is actually sinful for women to do so. For instance, Paul poses this question: "Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?" 1 Cor. 11:13. Well, fine. I judge for myself, and I conclude that there's nothing wrong with it. Paul takes pains to distinguish the law from the cultural norms (see also 1 Cor. 14) and apply only the cultural norms. So, the question is one of cooperation. The weakest member of today's church would not actually be led into error by female leadership, so there is no need for the church to take a servant-like position that defers to the sexists. I hardly need to add that the letters of Paul are replete with examples of vibrant female leaders in the early Church.

But there is another level of analysis that can be applied.

3. Actions That Are Explicitly Called "Sin" In the New Testament

There is a third category of items, however, that very well may not be subject to this "cooperation" argument, because they are explicitly and repeatedly called "sin" in the New Testament. For instance, adultery is a sin. It is a sin because Christ flatly called it a sin, as did Paul. One can choose to commit adultery, but one cannot believe that adultery is not sinful unless one chooses to impose one's one beliefs on the Bible by editing out the unpleasant parts. The adulterer must adopt a position in which she picks and chooses from the "buffet" of Christianity, instead of eating her vegetables. But if a person chooses not to disregard that portion of the text, I think that decision would not be unreasonable, dishonorable, or ignorant. The very nature of faith very well may demand it.

So, here's the rub. Paul explicitly, unequivocally, undoubtedly says homosexual sex is a sin. In 1 Cor. 6:9, he goes out of his way to explain that gay male sex is sin as to both partners, and in Romans 1:26-27 he explicitly adds lesbian sex to the list of sins. And he isn't using the more "soft" cultural-normative language that he used with regard to women, either. He calls these acts a sin. It's a sin on par with other sins, to be sure, and it is surely curious that Paul includes homosexual sex with sins of excess. (See 1 Cor. 6:9-11) And it would be wildly inappropriate to apply a greater level of criticism to homosexual acts than to acts of theft, gluttony, or adultery. But the fact remains: homosexual sex is called "sin" and "error" and "unrighteousness" that should not be done by Christians. Moreover, this isn't part of Paul's more general advice that celibacy makes for a less complicated life, which is often unfairly construed as a disapproval of all non-procreative sex. See Romans 7. This is an explicit choice to call out homosexual sex in particular as sinful, on par with adultery and theft.

Thus, people of good will and faith are forced into a very, very difficult position. On the one hand is the belief that it is proper to submit to a faith that is greater than one's self, that God's will is greater than one's own, and that the greatest reward can come from yielding one's own will to a greater cause. On the other hand is the present cultural belief that homosexuality should not be considered shameful or inappropriate. Such people can approve of measures that defend the rights of gays and lesbians under American law, and they can demand that gays and lesbians be treated with the honor and respect they are due. But those beliefs do not answer the Biblical question at hand.

And that is why these people of good will and faith must not be imperiously expected to ignore an explicit command of the Bible, as if they were children who have embarrassed the adults by failing to understand that the fairy tale was just a pleasant lie. The issue is intellectually rigorous and grievously divisive, because the only way to reconcile one's beliefs with one's homosexual friends and loved ones is to conclude that Paul was wrong on a point of Christian dogma. This is not a simple conclusion, nor a self-evident one, and it does not deserve a breezy and dismissive treatment. And it is far too facile to suggest that Paul be excised from the New Testament--an error I have made in the past. Paul can be infuriating at times, but he correctly expounded the great weight of the Christian doctrine by which we live our everyday lives. Without Paul's guidance, for instance, a Christian would have to slowly deduce the great explanations of Romans, the great encouragement of Phillipians, and the great joy of 1 Corinthians 13.

Postscript

So far I have railed against what I perceive to be the condescending portrayal of the issue from the Left, which serves me right for only reading and watching the more liberal news sources. (And does "The Daily Show" really count as a "news source"?) I haven't offered my own answer, because I have none. I currently hold in tension the deeply held belief that the Bible is true and the deeply held belief that homosexuality should not be criticisized, much less characterized as "sin." In particular, I think that homosexuality is different in kind from the other sexual sins listed by Paul, because the other sins are balanced by the fact that there is a non-sinful way to satisfy the heterosexual sexual urge. They are merely a sort of gluttony. In contrast, gays and lesbians have no God-sanctioned way to satisfy their natural passions. (That's really the issue, isn't it? I disagree with Paul's characterization of homosexual sex as "unnatural." Romans 1.)

And when confronted by this sense of unfairness, I have been sorely tempted to explain away the tension through elaborate sophistry or willful ignorance, but have stopped short. What is the point of "fudging" one's most deeply held beliefs?

So.

Hmm.

When I make my decision, I'll be sure to let God know. I'm sure He's on pins and needles.



 5:21 PM

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