In a conversation with a professional colleague recently, I was discussing what might happen to ethics when sex with machines becomes common. That statement might seem a little bizarre out of context, so let me widen the net a bit. We were discussing the Bible and sexual ethics. This led to the question of how those who apply the Bible straight from antiquity might apply their beliefs to a world vastly different than first century Palestine. In biblical times, in other words, sexual options were limited and people didn’t understand the whole issue of human sperm and eggs, neither of which can be seen without a microscope. Applying their outlook directly to today is problematic, and so how do we apply a book without outdated views to a world vastly more complicated?
Someone recently paid me a small debt via PayPal. If sex is complicated, then let’s not even get started on Bitcoin or Apple Pay—for some of us money is money and even getting paid electronically is somewhat suspicious. I sometimes buy things online with PayPal. It goes straight onto one of my credit cards and then I write an old-fashioned check to pay for it. So I had to approach the altar of PayPal itself to figure out what it meant to have money in my account. What am I to do with it? Then I found the FAQ—TFIA (The Future Is Acronyms). One of the questions: “What is PayPal’s policy on transactions that involve sexually oriented goods and services?” Now, here’s a question of biblical proportions.
Paying for sexual “goods and services” goes all the way back to the book of Genesis when none other than the ancestor of David and later progeny did so. This is nothing new. But the question of ethics now looms extra large. For those who pay for such things, a new layer of complexity has apparently been added—can you pay with PayPal? My transaction had to do with tickets purchased for a concert online, where we wanted seats together so someone had to do the buying for everyone. What if the purchase had involved a somewhat more intimate setting? Who needs paper or plastic when a string of 16-digits, or even a username and password, will do? That’s to say nothing regarding the ethics of the transaction—this is, as it were, purely mechanical. What would Moses say? Surely this is a question of appropriate tips, for Tamar veiling herself by the side of the road had the moral high ground over her father-in-law who was simply looking for a good time. A staff and seal, however, were no less complicated that paying for goods and services online.
Posted in Bible, Genesis, Just for Fun, Popular Culture, Posts, Robotics
Tagged biblical ethics, biblical sexuality, Genesis, Judah and Tamar, morality, PayPal
Maybe you’ve felt it too. The insecurity of liking something other people don’t. Having grown up an Evangelical, I had to try to explain myself at multiple points for liking scary stuff. I love Halloween. I spent my young Saturday afternoons watching monster movies on our black-and-white television. After losing a long-term job at a decidedly gothic seminary, I began consoling myself with horror films. I don’t know why. I also don’t know why other people shun those of us with this particular habit. It’s not like I’m going to make you sit down and watch them with me if you don’t want to. You don’t even need to buy my book, and if you do (thank you!) you don’t have to read it.
One of the issues I’ve often grappled with is why “Christians” dislike horror. Reading the accounts of the martyrs is way worse than almost anything I’ve seen on screen. Revelation, let’s face it, is a horror show of Schadenfreude and ultra-violence. The Calvinistic idea that God would create the vast majority of people to burn in an eternal Hell of fire for reasons best kept to himself (yup, he’s a guy) is hardly charitable. So why do Christians say you shouldn’t watch horror? One of the observations from this lowbrow viewer is that the message behind horror is often good. Moral. Ethical even. We have trouble getting around the form of the message to see its substance.
I seldom talk about horror movies. Maybe that’s why I write about them so much. But the fear of judgment remains strong, even with maturity. The lurking Evangelical fear is that watching horror will entice the young to become interested in evil. I think it’s fair to say that all Christians are somewhat fascinated by evil—where does it come from? Why doesn’t God stop it? Horror films seldom glorify the monster. The protagonists, often flawed, fight evil and sometimes succeed. Do I really need to justify this interest at all? It’s no exaggeration to say that, although no longer an Evangelical I still feel the weight of both their stares and those of others who can’t understand why a nice guy watches such unbecoming things. My book doesn’t answer those kinds of questions, but it may contain implicit answers within. Of course, you’ll only know that if you read it. Not that I’m asking you to do so—it doesn’t even have a title yet.
Posted in American Religion, Bibliolatry, Memoirs, Movies, Popular Culture, Posts, Sects
Tagged evangelicalism, horror movies, martyrdom, morality, Revelation
Nothing used to make you feel smarter than being in a British bookstore. With that curious blend of proper, insane, and bawdy, books are displayed that you might find surprising. Alarming, even. Last year as I strolled around Blackwells in Oxford, I spied Why is Sex Fun?, by Jared Diamond. I mean, it was sitting right there, face-up, on a table with perfectly respectable, straight-laced books. Curious, but not curious enough to pick it up in a public place, I remembered the title so that I might find it on Amazon, where it could arrive in a nice, safe, opaque box. I finally stored up enough points on Amazon to get it, but then the problem was how to read it. I do a great deal of my reading on public transit—a place where you inordinately care what others might think of you. Finally, planning a seating strategy that would hide the cover by sitting on the left-hand side, next to the window, I took the book along, hoping it would keep me interested to and from work.
Subtitled The Evolution of Human Sexuality, the book isn’t salacious at all. It is scientific, but not clinical. I’ve mentioned before that all religions have something—quite a lot, usually—to say about sex. While religion doesn’t play into Diamond’s book, morality does. What I found interesting is his use of the phrase “God or Darwin,” which comes up a few places in the book. Diamond is a witty writer, and he explains that not all his phraseology is to be taken literally, but I appreciated his hedging his bets, nevertheless.
This book isn’t really titillating. In fact, it’s somewhat depressing. Perhaps it’s just phrasing again, but the production of offspring is described in economic terms. Resources, investment, efficiency, and the like. I think back to being a child. My family life wasn’t ideal, but I never thought of myself as anyone’s resource or investment. I was just me. That delusion stayed with me until I started working in the corporate world. I quickly discovered that others considered me a resource. “Human resources,” we call it. An investment. My efficiency was valued. Was it God or was it Darwin? Although I learned a lot from this little book, I wonder if it was worth the effort of having to hide the cover on the commute. After all, we’re all stuck together on this bus, units of investment, born to yield a profit. Why not have a little fun on the way?
Posted in Books, Britannia, Evolution, Just for Fun, Posts, Science
Tagged Amazon, Blackwells, Jared Diamond, morality, Oxford, The Evolution of Human Sexuality, Why is Sex Fun?