Bullshit is no longer a term of abuse but a philosophical category. It has been popularised in Harry G Frankfurt’s bestseller aptly titled On Bullshit. The author is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University.
Prof Frankfurt distinguishes between lying and bullshitting. The liar refuses to meet the demands of truth. ‘The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether.’ Like bluffing, bullshitting is a matter ‘not of falsity, but of fakery.’ The ‘essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony,’ writes the guru of bovine faeces.
‘One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit,’ claims Prof Frankfurt. As a test case let’s examine Archbishop Barry Morgan’s address to the Church of Wales, delivered on the eve of his retirement. Does it come under the category of bullshit?
This week “Bible-basher” Barry argued that the bishops have moved towards affirming same-sex marriage because ‘far from ignoring Holy Scripture,’ ‘we took seriously what the Bible has to say.’ There are many ways you can interpret the biblical texts on homosexuality, he said.
Is Barry bullshitting his audience? Either he is blissfully ignorant of recent biblical scholarship or he deliberately ignores it altogether. As someone with a PhD in Old Testament from the University of Cambridge, I have explored every conceivable avenue for an exegetical get-out clause on the issue of homosexuality. For over 10 years I have considered every major publication on the issue. Quite honestly, I wish we could interpret the Bible with academic integrity in a manner that would permit rather than prohibit gay relationships.
One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.
Archliberal Barry does not cite a single biblical scholar. Why am I not surprised? When the Church of England’s General Synod met for its round of ‘Shared Conversations’, it did not invite a single distinguished biblical scholar to Archbishop Welby’s charade. In fact, according to the Rev Dr Ian Paul, the ‘worst plenary session’ was the one on Scripture. Dr Paul, who is Honorary Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham, described the biblical session as ‘an absolute travesty of process.’ According to Frankfurt, ‘Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.’
But why do the mitred mafia plaster the issues with cow dung? Not so much because the intellectual calibre of the House of Bishops is at its lowest since the Reformation, but because the evidence is against their agenda. The damning truth is that after years of painstaking research there is now an academic consensus on what the Bible has to say regarding homosexuality. Biblical scholars who are liberal or conservative, believing or atheist, Jewish or Christian, gay or straight—agree that the Bible unequivocally prohibits homosexuality!
The well-known liberal scholar Dan O Via agrees with illustrious conservative scholar Robert Gagnon. ‘Professor Gagnon and I are in substantial agreement that the biblical texts that deal specifically with homosexual practice condemn it unconditionally,’ he writes. The get-out clause for Via is ‘what the church might or should make of this.’ This is honesty, not fakery, and Via should be applauded. Louis Crompton, a self-identified homosexual, pioneer of gay studies and Emeritus Professor at the University of Nebraska, debunks Barry Morgan’s spiel that the biblical texts ‘are not about committed, loving, faithful monogamous relationships with persons of the same sex.’ ‘Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstance,’ he writes.
The intellectual calibre of the House of Bishops is at its lowest since the Reformation.
Lesbian Prof Bernadette Brooten of Brandeis University pronounces her verdict. ‘I see Paul as condemning all forms of homoeroticism as the unnatural acts of people who had turned away from God.’ Prof Martti Nissinen from the University of Helsinki agrees that ‘nothing would have made Paul approve homoerotic behaviour.’ Nissinen is author of one of the best academic books on the Bible and homosexuality from a pro-gay perspective. Gay Professor Pim Pronk at the Free University in Amsterdam is emphatic: ‘To sum up: wherever homosexual intercourse is mentioned in Scripture, it is condemned. …the New Testament adds no arguments to those of the Old. Rejection is a foregone conclusion.’
Archbishop Barry goes on to associate texts on matters like violence where the Bible speaks with many voices to prove that it does the same on homosexuality. Just because ‘there is no one settled understanding of what the Bible says about a number of subjects,’ it does not mean that there is no one settled understanding of what the Bible says about all subjects. Barry Morgan’s last throw of the dice in proposing a progression in the Bible from a ‘conservative’ to ‘liberal’ position on issues like slavery and therefore on the issue of homosexuality is a complete non sequitur. William J Webb’s book Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis demolished this non-argument ages ago.
Webb demonstrates that while the Bible does demonstrate a progression in its attitude to women and slaves as it moves from Old to New Testament, the issue of homosexuality is decided and closed from beginning to end. That is why for Archbishop Morgan to use Jesus as his trump card is simply dishonest. Jesus did not say anything about homosexuality, but neither did Jesus say anything about the church having archbishops and synods!
Honesty is the best policy even in a culture of moral relativism. The Archbishop of Wales and his fellow bishops can decide to reject the biblical teaching on homosexuality. That would be a position of integrity. But to claim that they can interpret the Bible in a manner that condones and blesses what it explicitly and unambiguously forbids and prohibits is bullshit par excellence. That is why you need a bishop or an archbishop to deliver it in bucketfuls of blessed thoughts.
(Originally published in The Conservative Woman)