Ten Miles Square

Blog

March 25, 2013 9:39 AM Claire McCaskill’s Very Creative Christian Justification for Gay Marriage

By Mark Kleiman

Claire McCaskill endorses gay marriage. That’s an important sign. McCaskill knows Missouri, and if this is a winning position in Missouri it’s “game over.”

The partisan Democrat in me hopes the Supremes figure out a way to duck, and force the battle to be fought out, state-by-state, in referenda that will split the Republican coalition and alienate even right-leaning independents. If we were looking for a way to generate Presidential-level turnout in an off year, a bunch of referenda on gay marriage would be a good start. (However, that partisan Democrat isn’t all of me; on balance, I hope they do the right thing.)

But what you can’t make up is that McCaskill quotes First Corinthians 13:13 (“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love”) to justify her position. Yes, I know that the same passage gets used in lots of wedding ceremonies, ever since the Bible translators started translating αγαπη agape as “love” rather than the KJV “charity.” But that doesn’t make it any less silly.

I don’t say “love” is a bad translation; there isn’t a short English word that means what agape means, which as I understand it is a generalized goodwill. “Lovingkindness” seems more or less right, but as poetry it just doesn’t fit with “faith” and “hope.” But what it doesn’t mean is romantic love; the closest thing to that concept in Greek would be ερωζ “eros” (= desire).

If Saul of Tarsus was still thinking in Hebrew even as he was writing in Greek, perhaps the word he had in mind was “ahavah,” הנהא, which has the same ambiguity as “love” in English, being used both of religious devotion (“and you will love HaShem your god with all your heart) and of sexual desire (“Isaac loved Rebecca”). But since the word he actually wrote has no sexual connotation – and since Saul/Paul wasn’t actually much in favor of marriage, regardless of the gender identities of those being married – the quotation is far from apposite, both here and in the wedding ceremony.

Of course what’s really silly is the pretense that the Senior Senator from Missouri has been reading the Bible rather than the polls. St. Paul, after all, was just as strong on the virtue of “love” ten years ago. Yes, it makes sense to try to soften the blow for the churchgoers who will be dismayed by McCaskill’s new stance by acknowledging the authority of the Christian tradition. But the combination of bad Greek and bad faith is just a little bit hard to swallow.

[Originally posted at The Reality-based Community]

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the University of California Los Angeles.