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R-Rated Theology

November 23, 2005

I’ve been told that the original language of the Bible can be rather rough in places- a feature lost in most modern translations. I’ve hit a couple especially rough patches this week that I’d thought I’d share. This R-Rated Theology seems to have more truth in them than the gentle inter-personal spirituality that I usually respond to. From Rusty Shackleford:

All this defeatist talk of early withdrawal from Iraq brings to mind the story, out of Genesis,
of the sons of Judah. Onan was condemned in the Bible for, excuse the
metaphor, pulling out too early as well. The sin, commonly
misunderstood by Christians to be masturbation, was actually that Onan
was under obligation to raise children to his dead brother. By spilling his seed
on the ground, rather than impregnating his brother’s widow, Onan did
not finish the job he had started. Onan failed to live up to his
obligation to his dead brother, so "What [Onan] did was wicked in the
LORD’s sight; so [the Lord] put him to death."

It appears that the LORD was more than a bit pissed at Onan’s
premature withdrawal. I am a bit pissed myself at the far more serious
prospect of withdrawing from Iraq before we have crushed our enemies
and left a legacy to that country that we can be proud of.

We are under obligation to our dead comrades in Iraq. If we do not
finish the job, they will have died in vain. There are worse things
than dying in war, dying in a lost war is one of them.

I’d love to see that on a Church marquee: "Onanism For Our Times". I understand why it can’t happen, but it disturbs me that the approach of every Pastor I know is to sit out the debate or walk a fine line of equivocations and evasions so no one can tell what the heck he or she actually thinks, or should think about the greatest moral issue our Nation faces.

How about this screed from one of our soldiers, directed at extremist anti-war types:

inability to understand the gravity of the situation in which we, as a
nation, are embroiled is appalling. In my eyes, you do not understand
what dangers this country faces from these terrorists, nor do you
understand what it takes to protect you from this peril.

think back to the Jews who were led out of Egypt whined that they were
tired of eating manna, trekking through the desert, facing the danger
of wild animals, desert heat, and uncertainty as to what the next mile
in the sand might bring. They longed to be back in bondage, slaves to
the Egyptians, with full stomachs, roofs over their heads, and a place
to call home. They would have rather been forced to perform manual
labor by Draconian task-masters rather have their freedom. They knew
that they would be fed, have a permanent house, regardless of the way
they were treated, as slaves doing forced HARD labor.They
were not willing to travel the hard road, to fight for their freedoms.
It was easier to go back and be oppressed by the Egyptians rather than
press forward and fight for their own nation, for their own freedom. I
use the word fight. I mean the term both militarily and in simple
reference to the struggle to maintain resilience of spirit.

This 24-year old gunner is putting his life on the line for what he believes is right. It’s been a transformative experience for me to hear the perspective of guys like this and consider what a soldier’s role is in God’s will. That’s dangerous and fascinating territory for theological inquiry, and it’s being avoided at all costs for risk of upsetting the faithful.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 5, 2006 12:12 pm

    Comparing a contemplated change of course of the conduct of the Iraq war to Onan’s sin is interesting, but is it apt?

    Genesis 38:6-10 (New International Version)

    Per the law, Onan was supposed to take on the responsibility of ensuring that his dead brother had an heir; there were both benefits (the obvious) and hardships (effort raising a child who would not support you in your old age, but rather his mother; potentially reduced inheritance of brother’s estate) associated with the so-called “levirate” marriage he enjoyed with his erstwhile sister-in-law.

    It seems to me that Onan’s responsibility was private and familial — you only undertook this with your brother’s widow. The institution of levirate marriage was part of the OT social order, one way to provide within the system for those who might otherwise do without. See Ruth’s marriage to Boaz for a lovely example. It was a “positive” responsibility, a “thou shalt” as opposed to a “thou shalt not”; and his sin was a sin of omission, of selfishness, of immaturity, of disobedience to God (but disloyalty to his dead brother seems like a stretch to me). Onan wanted the benefits without any of the costs.

    I think Rusty and the Count would both agree that viewing this account through sexual lenses, per the classic Christian take, has dulled its prick to our conscience.

    I’d argue it’s tough to characterize the Iraq war pullout situation along the same lines as Onan’s little escapade. To the degree that the war was to ensure our own self-preservation (WMD, etc), there is a huge mismatch. Obviously, our war is public and corporate. Even hawks would agree that the precendents for preventive war are few and far between, so it’s hard to see our action as “within the system.” The soldiers whose sacrifices we would be honoring by continuing the conflict didn’t choose to enter into war but followed orders; in contrast, presumably Onan’s brother Er entered into marriage to Tamar of his own accord. Moreover, “Er was wicked in the LORD’s sight,” and was put to death, but I don’t think Rusty wants to imply that our fallen were judged and executed by God (yikes!). Finally many (most?) opponents of the war would not agree that they want the purported benefits of the war (oil and influence as well as democracy and stability — but are the latter two authentic and sustainable?) sans the costs; they simply want out of a war they see as unnecessary and self-defeating, costly and un-American. In other words, war opponents don’t want dessert without their vegetables, they simply don’t see this meal as belonging to them at all.

    As a final note, the entirety of Gen 38 is mostly about Judah and his interventions in and manipulations of the lives of his sons and daughter-in-law, with very mixed results. Perhaps this is an object lesson we could also ponder.

  2. Count Grecula permalink
    January 6, 2006 4:18 pm

    Readers please note that Andrew P has assured me that “dulled the prick” was an unfortunate Fruedian slip, not an example of his droll wit. I did not ask him if he thought I was a dull prick.

    Thanks Andrew for a really meaty comment. The aptness of any scripture to reality should certainly be undertaking with extreme caution and humility (unlike Pat Robertson’s latest groaner) My ultimate point was that if we don’t get good teaching about this in our Churches, we’ll learn it on the street corner from the likes of Rusty Shackleford. But maybe that’s not a bad thing.

    A metaphor, especially a detailed one, can fall apart if pressed too hard. Heck, anything can fall apart if pressed to hard with postmodern, Deconstructive analysis. Held lightly, I think the metaphor is apt.

    The point of the metaphor, I think, is not the cost/benefit of the war, but rather the cost/benefit of a pullout . Advocates of an immediate pullout (of which there were only a handful when it came time to vote) want the advantages of removing all troops (i.e. bringing the troops home, not killing anyone, defeating the President, etc. ) without the costs (plunging Iraq into chaos and civil war, losing the war, emboldening terrorists and evil regimes everywhere). Not to mention saying to our troops, those that have died, and their families that their sacrifice was decisively in vain. Whatever the wisdom of entering the War, we are there and the only moral thing to do is to leave as victors.

    I think subsequent events (another successful election with far less recourse to violence afterward than predicted) show that the prospect of leaving victoriously is not only possible, but probable.

    Finally, I wish to point out that the Military is all voluntary. They are there because they chose to. Many soldiers that have been there have chosen to go back several times. Moreover I’m not sure that self-preservation aspect of the War makes the metaphor a “huge mismatch”. Onan himself was not in jeapordy, but the legacy of his brother was. Onan needed to act to save the family from further destruction.

    Perhaps a better way to see this story is to se Er as the Hussein regime. Er was evil, so we have been asked to assume his place. Since the resultant offspring will be “not ours” with “mixed results” there is a desire to avoid our obligations. We must resist that temptation and be responsible.

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