One of my Facebook friends posted a news article about the Westboro Baptist Church protesting Billy Graham. Someone (one of my friend’s friends) made the following comment:
Jesus never opened his mouth on controversial topics like abortion or gay marriage. They start from a fallacious premise that silence equals acceptance.
This comment points out what I’ve been saying for years (and something that anyone really ought to be able to recognize as bad logic). The problem is this: They argue that because Jesus (or Moses, or Paul) didn’t talk about something or talk about something very much, such silence equals tacit approval.
The biggest problem with this logic is that it is nothing more than an argument from silence, arguments which are notoriously weak. In the case of the two examples cited above, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Jesus would have been silent on these matters. Abortion was known in the Roman Empire (it was illegal but rarely prosecuted unless the husband did not know or had objected to it; it also carried little shame with it) but it was forbidden among the Jews because the Mosaic Law forbade it (though not as murder). Gay marriage is a phenomenon unknown until the 21st century so expecting Jesus and Paul to issue prohibitions against it would be like expecting them to talk about TV or pirating digital media. There was no such thing as “healthcare” as we know it in the first century so expecting a statement from the NT on this is also anachronistic.
I realize that the Bible may very well speak in principle to these and other issues. But arguing from principle is not the same as being able to say, “The Bible says _____ about ______.”
I note here that Christians (especially what have been termed “progressive Christians”) combine such arguments from silence with positive statements in Scripture that seem, to them at least, to solidify their arguments.
Jesus never said anything about gay marriage but he did talk about loving one’s enemies and the Bible says, “God is love, so you have no foundation for denying them the right to marry except that you’re narrow-minded and bigoted.
See what happened there? It started with an argument from silence and then shifted to two truths that have little (if anything) to do with the issue at hand. “God is love” must mean that we simply approve any behavior that someone claims to be innate and therefore not responsible for. (Funny how they don’t apply this argument across the board. Equally funny how the command to love one’s enemies doesn’t apply to those who are “narrow-minded and bigoted.”)
I used to think that people who reasoned this way just weren’t that smart but this kind of reasoning is so common that there must be something else going on since there can’t possibly be that many less-than-smart people in the world.
Apparently first-century Jesus should have been so concerned about the issue that concerns me today in the 21st century that he should have spoken to crowds that had no inkling that one day gay marriage would be an issue in a country on the other side of the world and thus spoken on it definitively, leaving no room for wondering whether he was for it or against it.
But he actually did one better: like a magic 8-ball, he issues pronouncements that we can feel free to apply anytime, anywhere, to any situation, regardless of what Jesus might or might not really think about the issue.