It’s odd. As an Atheist I seem to spend a lot more time reading the Bible now than I did when I was a Christian. I also read the Quran, and even have a copy of the Book of Mormon that I glance at from time to time; but it is the Bible that keeps pulling me back in for more study, probably because I read it so seriously as a Christian. It’s a lot more FUN to read now that I realize that its just another book of mythology, as relevant as Greek and Roman mythology.
What isn’t so fun is when I see Biblical mythology being applied toward the real world. Like when religious-based legislation is created in order to force me to fund, with my tax dollars, religious programs that I find immoral, like forcing me to subsidize private clubs that practice discrimination.
It is almost worthwhile when I hear elaborate explanations of why some Biblical rules must be applied to certain groups of people, while other Biblical rules should not be applied to Christians.
For example, my reading list includes Christian groups like the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, the ACLJ, and others. I often get alerts from these groups saying that Gay Marriage will destroy traditional marriages and increase the rate of divorce.
Ah, divorce. Even though all these groups condemn divorce, few of them mention the biblical consequences of marrying a divorced person. But before I get into the details of divorce, let me speak briefly on the consequences of sin.
The consequences of sin, according to the Bible, are death – death in the spirit, eternal damnation, or whatever your particular denomination believes about Hell. In order to receive salvation a person must repent of his or her sin. This means they must confess their sins to God, ask forgiveness for them, turn away from them and turn towards God. For their sincere, imperfect effort, God rewards them with salvation through Christ.
Repentance is key here. In order to receive eternal life Christians must turn away from their sins. If a Christian does not turn away from sin then he or she has not truly repented and will not be saved.
So what does this have to do with divorce?
Jesus had some very specific things to say about divorce.
5:31 “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document.’
5:32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
19:8 Jesus said to them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of your hard hearts, but from the beginning it was not this way.
19:9 Now I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”
19:10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the case of a husband with a wife, it is better not to marry!”
19:11 He said to them, “Not everyone can accept this statement, except those to whom it has been given.
19:12 For there are some eunuchs who were that way from birth, and some who were made eunuchs by others, and some who became eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who is able to accept this should accept it.”
10:11 So he told them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. 10:12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
16:18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
Mark and Luke are pretty harsh about divorce, but Matthew offers a bit of an out. If a woman is immoral (which implies she’s an adulteress) then it is legal for a man to divorce her and marry another woman. His ex-wife remains an adulteress. If his wife is NOT immoral, then divorcing her to marry another results in the husband being an adulterer. (The wife seems fine in this case, as long as she remains faithful to her ex-husband. It seems to me that if she were to remarry she would then become an adulteress.)
This also seems to be weighted pretty heavily against the woman here, but I would guess that most Christian denominations would say that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander – in other words the rules would still apply if the genders were reversed.
There is another part of the Bible that speaks about divorce. From Saint Paul the Apostle:
7:10 To the married I give this command – not I, but the Lord – a wife should not divorce a husband
7:11 (but if she does, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband), and a husband should not divorce his wife.
7:12 To the rest I say – I, not the Lord – if a brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is happy to live with him, he should not divorce her.
7:13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is happy to live with her, she should not divorce him.
7:14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified because of the wife, and the unbelieving wife because of her husband. Otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.
7:15 But if the unbeliever wants a divorce, let it take place. In these circumstances the brother or sister is not bound. God has called you in peace.
7:16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will bring your husband to salvation? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will bring your wife to salvation?
Paul is saying that Jesus taught that a husband or wife should not divorce each other. And going with my thought that the gender roles should be reversible, Jesus wants the divorced couple to remain faithful to their ex-spouses. Paul then goes on a bit about how it’s okay to divorce a non-believer, and why you really shouldn’t. But this is Paul’s words, not Jesus’ teaching.
It is interesting to see that Paul doesn’t mention adultery in 7:10-11, but according to my Amplified Bible:
7:10But to the married people I give charge–not I but the Lord–that the wife is not to separate from her husband.
7:11But if she does [separate from and divorce him], let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband. And [I charge] the husband [also] that he should not put away or divorce his wife.
This is easier to understand. Jesus, through John, isn’t saying that a women can divorce if she must. No he is saying that a women shouldn’t divorce, but if her husband divorces her anyway she is to continue to act as if they were still married. The idea that divorce is adultery isn’t overturned.
So, here’s the problem. Adultery is a big sin, one of the Ten Commandments. If you marry a divorced person, except under very narrow circumstances, you not only commit a sin, but you continue in your act of sinning. How can you repent if you will not give up your sin?
When I was a Christian I received very wishy-washy answers to this question. And even now when I read about divorce from the web sites of different churches I get answers about divorce that are all over the map. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16 ), and remarriage seems to make adulterers out of the divorced, but even so – many denominations assert that even this ongoing sin is forgivable, even if it seems (to me) that this is not true repentance.
Worse, where do the remarried go to get married anyway? Often they go to a church, of course, with a Pastor bestowing God’s blessing upon them! This leads to another question – if I help someone sin, aren’t I also a sinner? If I assist someone in committing murder, I’m an accomplice and no better than the murderer. If the church blesses a second marriage, then the church is an accomplice in adultery. The Church is no better than an adulterer.
Can a whole Church sin? I’m not talking about the congregation melting down their Zales jewelery to make a Golden Calf – this sin is much more insidious because it seems like the Church is unaware that it is assisting in the breaking of a commandment. Every approving voice in the congregation becomes an accomplice to the newlywed’s sin. The only “out” to this that I can see is if the “once saved / always saved” doctrine is true (I’ll talk about that another time) in which case most of the congregation is out of danger. Even so, should they be so approving of other people’s sins?
And if a church does approve of the sin of remarriage, then isn’t it hypocritical of them to disapprove of same-sex marriage? The circumstances here seem to be identical – for if a remarried couple can be forgiven for living in a state of sin, then so can a same-sex couple. If a same-sex couple can not be forgiven, then neither can a remarried couple. If a church can bestow its approval on a second marriage, then why should it refuse to bestow its approval for a same-sex marriage?
This isn’t even a matter of judging between the lesser of two evils. There are a heck of a lot more religious couples who have divorced and remarried than there are same-sex couples, so it stands to reason that the damage to the Christian institution of marriage is due mostly to the Christian acceptance of remarriage, and not to the Secular acceptance of same-sex marriage. But Christians don’t seem to think so since the amount of religion – originated legislation against same-sex marriage is far greater than the amount of legislation against divorce or remarriage.
But then I’m not claiming that the Christian religion is very logical. Like I said at the beginning, the Bible makes a lot more sense if you read it as mere mythology.