Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, October 20, 2008

In Search of the Historical Yahweh

The idea came to me while in the shower. What if we went through the Hebrew Scriptures and determined what sayings attributed to YHWH could be historical (belonging to the original, historical YHWH) and what belonged to the communities that put their words on his lips? Would everything be voted black (definitely not YHWH)? We could do the same for YHWH's deeds. The historical YHWH might have done this, definitely not that, and so on.

My guess is that historians would give the sayings and deeds of YHWH black votes on everything. The reason, I suppose, is that YHWH is a god. It would be easy to vote on the sayings and deeds of YHWH. YHWH never claims to be an historical person. He wasn't a person who became a god, like Caesar Augustus.
He was always a god. According to the literature, YHWH intervenes in historical events and does stuff to people. Sure, we could date a text or an inscription from people who claimed YHWH said or did something. But that wouldn't be evidence that YHWH really said or did it. Gods are not historical. All literature about the gods is legend or myth.

So what about Jesus? The project since the Enlightenment has been to strip away the divinity of Jesus to find the guy. He is a teacher, a sage, or an unfortunate soul who got in the way of a crucifixion. It could be that Christian orthodoxy has been right about this all along (in this sense, that is): Jesus was a god from day one. Therefore, he is not historical. Everything he did and said should be voted black as we would do for YHWH. Unlike Augustus, he wasn't a guy who became a god, he was a god from the beginning. Gods are the product of literature, legend, and myth.

The gospels are stories of the god-like Jesus set in the 1st century; but, like the stories of YHWH in the Hebrew scriptures, they are theological legend--every word. Searching for the historical Jesus is like searching for the historical YHWH. They are to be found in our ancestors' theo-mythical imagination.

That, at least, is my thought as of this moment. I could change my mind soon. Really, I could!


31 comments:

  1. So are you saying that your thought at the moment is that the historical Jesus never existed? He is simply a figment of "our ancestors' theo-mythical imagination" and that the New Testament is "theological legend--every word."

    If you do believe that, why should it matter?

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  2. That isn't what I really meant. But that is how it came across, didn't it? It is much more complex.

    Truth is, Rachel. I don't know what I think. I really am in a nowhere zone with all of this. I don't know enough to say for sure what these gospel stories are about--or the New Testament for that matter.

    I don't know. I am exploring and I tend to explore out loud. If people are relying on me the minister to "believe for them" forget it. It is like chasing the wind.

    I do think there was a Jesus and there seem to be a number of traditions about him. That said, the gospels seem to me to be theological narratives in which Jesus functions as a character. These narratives are told in order to get the readers to do something--perhaps different things. What I mean is that the point of the gospels is not Jesus, really, but what the gospels think people should do.

    I tend to think that Jesus is more of a literary character. We have no problem understanding him in this way in the gospels that didn't make it into the Bible.

    But that really isn't the important point. It is how he is a literary character and what the gospel writers proclaim is what I think is important.

    I think I am changing there. I have been thinking that the guy behind the gospels is the important thing. I am not so sure if that "guy" exists independently of the stories all woven in, around, and through him.

    By the way, when I say theological legend, I don't mean to slight it. That is simply a label for type.

    I don't mean to dismiss Jesus or YHWH by saying that. The things that are the most true can come to us in parable.

    We know that, right? The parable of the Good Samaritan is fiction and yet we name hospitals Good Samaritan Hospital and use that story as an ethical standard.

    Thanks for asking. It does matter. To me at least. This matters a lot.

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  3. I should add, Rachel that this revelation I received in the shower is really lame. The stories about YHWH and the gospels are different. It isn't as simple as I suggest.

    Jesus in the gospels really isn't "a god" exactly. He is different in different gospels.

    I am playing more than anything. Don't take me literally!

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  4. I found Jesus yesterday. He was hiding in our basement.

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  5. I found Jesus yesterday. He was hiding in our basement.

    Some days he just needs to get away from all of his fans.

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  6. John, you still didn't answer my question--why should it matter if you or others believe that the stories are mythical or not? Even if they are not historically verifiable, one can still believe they are the true word of God. I don't believe that the Nephites and Lamenites in the Book of Mormon actually existed and I really don't believe that Jesus Christ visited the ancient South American Indians, but I do believe that the stories are representative of the same battles that we are fighting today and that are repeated throughout the Bible.

    Hey Shuck, off topic, you once said that you thought the Bible has hate language in it when it talks about gays. Well, would you call this hate literature about the wealthy from the BOM:

    "Alma 5: 55 (54-56).
    55 Yea, and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?
    D&C 56: 16.
    16 Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved! "

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  7. Oh dear Lord, we have a preacher saying that,

    "I don't know enough to say for sure what these gospel stories are about--or the New Testament for that matter. "

    Do we have any preachers who do know what the stories are about?

    John you say,

    "What I mean is that the point of the gospels is not Jesus, really, but what the gospels think people should do. "

    Well do you like what the gospels teach? Do you like what the gospels think people should do? Do you think we should listen to what the Prophets are saying?

    Don't you think we should teach high standards and conduct of morality? Or do you like the garbage that the boob-tube teaches our kids, like Hannah Montana, High School Musical, and other (bad word) Disney crap?

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  8. Do we have any preachers who do know what the stories are about?

    Um, Rachel, the preachers who tend to proclaim that they have the REAL scoop on what the Gospels (or any part of the Bible) really mean tend to be fundamentalists, cult leaders or both.

    Our John's being intellectually honest, which is one of the many things we love about him.

    BTW, I've never watched "High School Musical" or its Hydra-like manifestations (mainly because once Rachel Maddow said she thought the "We're alllll in thiiiiiis togeeeeeether" song sounded like a tampon ad sung by a chorus of women in white sweaters), but I wasn't aware it taught such unbiblical things as reaching out to the outcast and warning about the danger of peer pressure.

    Good Lord, I'm defending the super schmaltzy Disney crap!

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  9. Oh, I didn't know you liked Rachel Maddow, flycandler.

    Guess who her favorite Republican is?
    Here she said that
    "I like the congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, because I understand what he believes, and he is fearless and civic-minded in his beliefs, rather than personally zealous".



    Flycandler, I don't have a problem with John admitting that he doesn't know what the Gospels is about. I was being serious when I said does any preacher know and sarcastic when I said Oh Lord we have a preacher....

    So you believe that those shows teach, "things as reaching out to the outcast and warning about the danger of peer pressure."

    That's bullcrap. They teach materialism, slutiness, and you don't fit in unless you have the cool stuff and boyfriends they have. I think the shows are stooooopid. The poor kids will never be like the stars in those shows so why do they worship them?

    I soo dread being a teacher with this generation of Hannah Montana watching dumbed down, tecno gadgets, no thinking kids.

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  10. why should it matter if you or others believe that the stories are mythical or not? Even if they are not historically verifiable, one can still believe they are the true word of God.

    True enough. God should be able to write fiction and bad history.

    you once said that you thought the Bible has hate language in it when it talks about gays.

    It wasn't the Bible. It was the 1978 Authoritative Interpretation of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

    Well, would you call this hate literature about the wealthy from the BOM:

    No. Sounds like typical writings from the prophets or Jesus.

    Do we have any preachers who do know what the stories are about?

    I would guess that Adel would know.

    Well do you like what the gospels teach? Do you like what the gospels think people should do? Do you think we should listen to what the Prophets are saying?

    Don't you think we should teach high standards and conduct of morality?


    Rachel, you are missing the point. The discussion is in regards to the type of literature. The whole point of the discussion is that I obviously care. I have devoted my career to this. Just because someone claims that they know all about the Bible and that it is the Word of God in capital letters and shouts their favorite Bible verses at you doesn't mean they have high ethical or moral standards. The Bible is a complex collection of writings that says many things on many different topics, including different things on the same topic. If anyone tells you that it is easy or simple or clear, they are probably trying to sell you their opinion on something.

    As far as kids are concerned. Certainly there are plenty of stories in the Bible that can be simplified and edited for children. The Family Story Bible that is on the sidebar is a good one. I even added discussion questions that you can have with your children as you go through the stories. You should check it out. It is a great resource.

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  11. Rachel,

    Here is the link to the workbook I made on the Family Story Bible. It is in pdf. You can download it and print it. I even have them bound in a folder and a free Family Story Bible for all kids and their parents who come attend our church. If you stop by some time I will give you one! : )

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  12. Do we have any preachers who do know what the stories are about?

    Rachel, I gave a snarky answer to that. Let me try again. Preachers from all stripes care and try to understand the Bible and how we can apply it to life. Even though there are many things we disagree on regarding its type of literature, what it says, and how to apply it, there are many things we do agree upon. The blogging world tends to emphasize disagreements, but on the basic ethical questions such as caring for those who suffer, doing the right thing, loving others as we love ourselves, and on and on, we do agree (even as we falter in applying these ethical principles). This is why we also trust in forgiveness and the grace to start again.

    Even Adel and I probably hold at least 90% of our ministry in common. There is a funny tendency among humans to emphasize disagreements.

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  13. Thanks John,

    I was a little worried. I don't like how the world is. I don't like that there are people with estates worth 60 billion and 16,000kids dying daily from starvation. I also really don't like the Disney channel and the values they teach are kids. Others can argue with me, but I believe they teach our kids that material and physical things bring happiness. I know I was very confused until about the age of 24. I think if we as a society cared about the moral issues facing us we would drop our differences and change the world.


    P.S. I'll check the book out. The reason I don't go to church is because I'm not married and I don't have a testimony on paying tithing.

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  14. Hey Rachel,

    Others can argue with me, but I believe they teach our kids that material and physical things bring happiness. I know I was very confused until about the age of 24. I think if we as a society cared about the moral issues facing us we would drop our differences and change the world.

    I tend to agree with you about this. I wouldn't necessarily single out the Disney Channel, but I would say that the whole entertainment industry that targets children as a market for products is troublesome. Have you seen the film, "Corporation?" Wow. Talk about the manipulation of children. Scary stuff.

    P.S. I'll check the book out. The reason I don't go to church is because I'm not married and I don't have a testimony on paying tithing.

    Do know I wasn't trying to make you feel obligated to attend church! However, your comment here is interesting. We have unmarried people who attend (both straight and gay), so that is no big deal. We have families of all kinds. We treat tithing differently than in say the LDS church. What people give is a matter of individual conscience. Again, not trying to sell you on the church, but I say that to address what may seem to be a roadblock.

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  15. Then I will assume you've never heard what Maddow says about Paul on her radio or TV shows. Heh heh heh.


    Like I said, I have never watched "High School Musical" or its many manifestations because it is schmaltzy. From what I've gathered from it, however, it does have some "love thy neighbor" messaging in it. Why do you object to something that is after all in the Gospel?

    As far as Miley Ray Cyrus, I couldn't care less. I fear that she's plunging headfirst into a system that will chew her up and spit her out, but hopefully her dad can remember life after his 15 minutes were up and protect his daughter from it the way that Lynne Spears couldn't protect hers.

    Hey, if you don't like consumer television for kids, I recommend good old PBS!!! The only advertising is a series of brief announcements that tell kids if you make a lot of money in your lifetime, the best thing to do is to give it to worthy causes.

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  16. I like PBS and it is the only tv station I let my three year old watch right now. It's funded by a grant from the Dept. of Education so I guess there is some evidence that they can get something right.

    Can you send me a link to Maddow's show where she bashed Paul? I would like to read it.

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  17. Hey, why would it be awful to take the witness of the gospel writers in general, pretty much at face value? Here is what the writer of Luke claims he is about.

    "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who were eyewitnesses, and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. LK. 1:1-4.

    Does this sound like this guy thought he was embarking on a work of theological fiction, here?

    At the risk of sounding very simplistic, who probably knows more about the historical Jesus, the lst. century gospel writers, or the radical scholars sharing their conflicting, and often changing opinion literally thousands of years after the fact? :)

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  18. At the risk of sounding very simplistic, who probably knows more about the historical Jesus, the lst. century gospel writers, or the radical scholars sharing their conflicting, and often changing opinion literally thousands of years after the fact? :)

    That doesn't sound like a question. It sounds like a statement, and a snarky one at that.

    Signed,
    "RADICAL"

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  19. Does this sound like this guy thought he was embarking on a work of theological fiction, here?

    When you read it and read volume 2 (Acts), it becomes obvious (to me at least) that it is theological fiction. So would you have rather have Luke be a liar or dumb?

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  20. Well, I don't want to sound snarky, and wicked. How can I phrase this better, to sound more kindly, yet honest??:)

    So, beloved Radical, how is it you think Luke is dumb or a liar? Why is Acts nothing more than theological fiction to you?

    Granted, I'm willing to agree that the gospel writers also have their own theological emphasis, interest. I don't think the gospels are written to be complete biographies, or histories of the life of Jesus in the way that we could think of that today. (There are some variations in the accounts.)

    And, I mean no one was following Jesus around ancient Palestine with a microphone, and a tape recorder taking word for word dictation. :)

    But, I don't feel this means that the gospel writers had no concern for history, or accuracy at all either, that they were all just composing theological fiction. This isn't what Luke seems to indicate.

    Why can't there be a real continuity between the Jesus of history, and the Christ of faith?

    Umm!! (Munch, munch, I'm typing this on my lunch break.)

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  21. Hey Grace,

    Do you believe in the Book of Mormon?

    I read your comments on here all the time talking about John's beliefs with him, but I have never read one where you talk about your own personal beliefs without quoting stuff from the Bible.

    I would really like you to answer my opening question. I think that could get us into a very interesting conversation.

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  22. Hey Grace,

    I'm responding to your last email, which was very graphical I might add.

    Grace I never said that I did not believe in Jesus. I do believe that he could have been a real man. I have a picture of Him hanging at the end of my hallway. The look of him is like no other. He looks at me like I am guilty of sin. But that is probably just my own conscience talking to me.

    Hey Grace, I believe in the Bible and Jesus's words, and I'm looking forward to the day when somebody like jesus comes back. I think there will be another messiah. Yes I do. He's coming. He's going to save us all right.

    Ron Paul is someone who's ideas I support politically in the now, that is in the here and now. So who is your leader, besides Christ, your Spiritual Guider. Who is someone that represents your ideological points of views?

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  23. Why is Acts nothing more than theological fiction to you?

    First, the phrase "nothing more" is dismissive. I don't use the phrase "nothing more" as if Luke's work is a dried turd. I don't think I have used that phrase "nothing more" at all.

    Second, I don't think theological fiction is the best descriptor. It is more complicated but I don't know the best word or phrase to use.

    I did say they were theological legend--every word. That may be hyperbole, but I think I could make a case for it.

    I do think in using terms that are familiar to us, that fiction or legend is closer than history for Luke-Acts.

    I also don't think Luke thought in those terms of history and fiction the way we do.

    I think that Luke thought he was telling the truth. His truth was proclamation and message.

    He wanted folks to get the story "right" about Jesus, the apostles, and Paul and he thought he had it right.

    But telling the truth for Luke-Acts and getting it right makes us ask how? Is truth for Luke the kind of truth that says "George Washington was the 1st president" or is it like "baby, you make my heart sing?" Or is it something else altogether?

    When we read Luke from our perspective as history it is bad history. A star--a sun--did not stop over the house where the baby Jesus was. If we require Luke to be right and historical, then he is wrong at least on that one point. There was no census that would require people to travel all over to their ancestors' homes. We can go through the text where we can see that kind of stuff coming up all through it.

    What was he thinking when he wrote that kind of stuff? He could be dumb and credulous. He could be writing fantasies to purposely dupe people like those who write internet hoaxes. Or perhaps he could be writing "truth" in a very different manner than what we think of as truth.

    When we look through his stories we find themes, literary antecedents, symbols, metaphors, plot lines, that are familiar in other literature throughout the Ancient Near East. He was soaked in it in a way that we are not.

    I also think we don't give these authors (or their audiences) enough credit for appreciating a good story. The Walk to Emmaus story, I don't think has an historical bone in it, but I think it is a marvelous parable--and as such true--the Christ walks along beside us unrecognized.

    In answer to your original question, I think theological legend (and I am open to a better word) is more accurate than history to describe this literature and I think we can get more mileage and appreciation from this literature by reading it that way then by forcing it into our own "history is truth" box.

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  24. I've been listening to Rachel Maddow for four years and watching her show ever since I finally convinced the Evil Komkast to provide the channels I pay them for.

    I unfortunately do not have the time to go though the archives to search for neatly edited sound bites for you.

    I can tell you that Rachel's basic attitude toward Ron Paul is that she is impressed by the conservative backlash movement that coalesced around him and his willingness to stand up to the Republican establishment on one or two issues. She used her Rhodes Scholarship to get a doctorate in political science and appreciates a good mass movement, after all. She points out that his supporters tend to project their values onto him and that he is not a true libertarian (particularly on social issues) and that his economic ideas (particularly going back onto the gold standard) are impractical at best.

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  25. I've never read or studied the Book of Mormon, Rachel.

    I think the historical Jesus is the Christ of faith. I don't draw a distinction in the way that John would here.

    I think that the gospel writers were not composing complete biographies, or histories of the life, and ministry of Jesus.

    But, I think that they were concerned for the truth, and reality of what they wrote. I would not see the gospel accounts simply as merely legend or theological fiction. That doesn't seem to me to be the internal witness of the gospels at all. (You read my quote from Luke.)


    I also cannot agree that the origins of the Christian faith are to be found in pagan myth such as the cult of Isis, or Mithra. I've actually studied this, so could talk about it.

    The NT in another place bears witness:

    2Peter 1:16

    We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty..

    Rachel, outside of the Scripture, and Jesus, I greatly admire people like Martin Luther King, Ghandi, and Mother Teresa.

    I'm also a great lover of all things Celtic, and of Celtic Christianity, the connection, and emphasis in the natural world. I'm this Christian tree-hugger. (laughing)

    I do lean toward the libertarians, but as a social worker, I think we also need a basic safety net, and some govt. help, and regulation.

    I'm not always sure where the parameters should be drawn. I am concerned that an increased tax on small business owners may in the long run slow the economy even more, and result in more folks out of work, less job creation, less opportunities for folks caught in poverty. I also struggle with the morality, and justice of a forced redistribution of wealth.

    But, people need help now, too. So, I'm up in the air, uncertain, with this election, and am not entirely happy with either primary candidate. It seems to me that both are speaking out of both sides of their mouths to gain as many votes as possible.

    I probably will not make my final decision until I am right there in front of the voting machine.

    Prayers ascending!!

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  26. Flycandler,

    There are more than two issues that Ron Paul stands up against the Neocons on. The two most important issues are foreign policy and economic policy because they cause the most suffering. It is beyond me why anyone would truly support either of the two major party candidates this election season since they both support the same ideology on these two issues. They both supported the Wallstreet Bailout and they both want to occupy the Middle East and bully Iran and agitate Russia.

    Even if Rachel Maddow has bad-mouthed Paul in the past, you can't ignore what she said the other day--her favorite Republican is Ron Paul. So flycandler, who is your favorite Republican?

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  27. Flycandler,

    It's like carma, deja vu, fate, or whatever you call it. There is a special connection between our conversation. The Universe has connected at the atomic level via the Internet Blogosphere. I bring you this article out of the American Conservative by Justin Raimondo that describes the type of Libertarian Conservative that Ron Paul is.

    It says,

    "For some libertarians, however, a fusion with conservatism has become impossible. Today, one of the modern Right’s fiercest critics is Lew Rockwell, Rothbard’s student and colleague, a proponent of paleo alliances in the 1990s, a friend of bourgeois values and the Old Right. Last month, Rockwell spoke at Ron Paul’s Rally for the Republic in Minneapolis. “I for one no longer believe that Bush has betrayed conservatives,” he said. “In fact, he has fulfilled conservatism, by completing the redefinition ... that began many decades ago with Bill Buckley. ... What does conservatism today stand for? It stands for war. It stands for power. It stands for spying, jailing without trial, torture, counterfeiting without limit, and lying from morning to night.” "

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  28. Here is another good quote by Anthony Gregory.

    “Conservatism today is not too ideological or insufficiently traditional. Rather, it is ideologically devoted to the wrong traditions. It sees the U.S. empire, the police state, the Republican Party, and other right-wing symbols as proxies for freedom, as institutions worth more than liberty. It has adopted coercive nationalism and utilitarian collectivism and cast away the traditions of constitutionalism, freedom, and natural law on which bourgeois values depend”.

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  29. All right, Rachel, you completely missed Rachel Maddow's (and my) point. She has stated publicly that she agrees with Paul on almost nothing aside from ending the war and opposition to the Patriot Act. What she says she admires is his populism and the movement that attached itself to him.

    My favorite Republican would be Teddy Roosevelt (or possibly Bob La Follette). I've not been impressed by any since.

    The fact is that we have a two-party system for better or worse in this country. The names of the players change (Federalist, Anti-Federalist, Democratic-Republican, Whig, Democratic, Republican), but the Constitution makes it near impossible for third parties. Sad but true.

    Add to that the fact that you cannot vote for Ron Paul in 2008 (and he doesn't want your vote anyway). In Georgia, he neither petitioned to get on the ballot, nor has he petitioned to be a write-in candidate (which always seemed silly to me, but it's the law here). If you write in RON PAUL on a ballot in Georgia, it will be counted as if you had left it blank.

    Ron Paul scares me, mainly because his libertarianism ends abruptly when it comes to legislating morality (God, gays and abortion). If you fear the financial establishment, remember that Ayn Rand's biggest fan (and a favorite pet of Rand herself) was Alan Greenspan.

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  30. Flycandler,

    What is wrong with having gay marriage and abortion decided on the state level? Don't you think those are two important issues for states to decide? We did start out as a Constitutional Republic, you know?

    Here is a good review by Kent Snyder, Paul's campaign manager who died last year. It says that your interpretation of the Constitution is not based on the traditional constitutional republic our founding fathers intended for us to have.

    You are wrong about your fears on religion too. In a Ron Paul presidency, you obey the Constitution therefore you have freedom of religion. I don't see anything wrong with letting people debate about God in public.

    It boils down to the fact that your interpretation of the Constitution is different than mine.

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  31. "What is wrong with having gay marriage and abortion decided on the state level?"

    Because there are over 1000 federal rights given to married couples that are not decided by state law.

    For example, there Social Security. If a spouse dies, the surviving spouse gets certain benefits. That is decided by the federal government, not the state governments.

    There's immigration, which is regulated by the federal government.

    Etc., etc., etc.

    I know shouting "States Rights" at every single issue may sound like it's actually a stand for something, but I'm sorry, it's nothing but meaningless bumpersticker sloganeering. Abortion and gay marriage aren't even remotely related, nor are they even remotely similar in their underlying issues.

    Oh, and BTW, we're not a confederacy.

    Also, let's not forget the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution, which says that marriages in one state should be recognized in any other. I'm still waiting, Rachel, for you to address that question, which I've posed about a half dozen times now.

    Not to mention the fact that marriage has been a federal issue for years. Claiming now that LGBT people are demanding it that it is a "states rights" issue is nothing but passing the buck and clear discrimination.

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