Tag Archives: bigotry

Why the arguments for gay marriage ARE persuasive

The words upon which we place emphasis are important, aren’t they? An article by the same title appeared in the Gospel Coalition blogs today, and it was anything but supportive of marriage equality. Pastor Kevin DeYoung attempted to break down the arguments for gay marriage in his post; here I will return the favor.

With two landmark gay marriage cases before the Supreme Court we are already seeing a flurry of articles, posts, tweets, and status updates about the triumph it will be when America finally embraces equality for all and allows homosexuals to love each other.

First of all, homosexuals already love each other. No laws will change that. Gay people are already dating, having sex, celebrating Valentine’s Day, supporting each other, and more. Don’t presume that anything can affect their ability to love.

These tweets and posts and articles perfectly capture the reason why the arguments for gay marriage have become so persuasive so fast. Given the assumptions and patterns of thinking our culture has embraced in the last fifty years, the case for gay marriage is relatively easy to make and the case against it makes increasingly little sense.

Well, you’re off to an OK start. Your position makes zero sense, but let’s not quarrel over these details.

I don’t think the arguments or gay marriage are biblically faithfully, logically persuasive, or good for human flourishing in the long run, but they are almost impossible to overcome with most Americans, especially in younger generations.

Whether or not gay marriage adheres to biblical principals is inconsequential in a legal debate in the United States. If there are logical or humanitarian argument against gay marriage, let’s hear it (but I’m not going to hold my breath). That last sentence just makes me proud of my generation.

By and large, people don’t support gay marriage because they’ve done a lot of reading and soul searching, just like people didn’t oppose it on high flying intellectual grounds either. For a long time, homosexuality seemed weird or gross.

…and most people arguing against it still find it that way.

Now it seems normal. More than that, it fits in perfectly with the dominant themes and narratives shared in our culture. Gay marriage is the logical conclusion to a long argument, which means convincing people it’s a bad idea requires overturning some of our most cherished values and most powerful ideologies.

Stop! Quit while you’re ahead! If DeYoung ended it right here, his article would kind of make sense.

Think of all the ways gay marriage fits in with our cultural mood and assumptions.

Here we go…

1. It’s about progress. Linking the pro-gay agenda with civil rights and women’s rights was very intentional, and it was a masterstroke. To be against gay marriage, therefore, is to be against enlightenment and progress. It puts you on the “wrong side of history.” Of course, most people forget that lots of discarded ideas were once hailed as the inevitable march of progress. Just look at Communism or eugenics or phrenology or the Volt. But people aren’t interested in the complexities of history. We only know we don’t want to be like the nincompoops who thought the sun revolved around the earth and that slavery was okay.

You hear that gays? This isn’t about equal rights – like it was with civil rights and women’s rights – this is just another bad idea like Communism and eugenics! This is about where DeYoung becomes a senseless blowhard. DeYoung is the one not paying attention to the complexities of history – he’s equating gay marriage to these things without evaluating the arguments for any of them. Civil rights and Communism were both considered instruments of progress and change – take the time to explore why one was accepted and the other rejected.

2. It’s about love. When gay marriage is presented as nothing but the open embrace of human love, it’s hard to mount a defense. Who could possibly be against love? But hidden in this simple reasoning is the cultural assumption that sexual intercourse is necessarily the highest, and perhaps the only truly fulfilling, expression of love.

Again, DeYoung makes the baffling assumption that gay people aren’t already engaged in loving each other and having sex. It’s as though he believes that by banning gay marriage we can somehow deter gay people from having sex.

It’s assumed that love is always self-affirming and never self-denying. It’s assumed that our loves never require redirection. Most damagingly, our culture (largely because of heterosexual sins) has come to understand marriage as nothing but the state sanctioning of romantic love. The propagation and rearing of children do not come into play. The role in incentivizing socially beneficial behavior is not in the public eye. People think of marriage as nothing more than the commitment (of whatever duration) which romantic couples make to each other.

Not to mention the legal benefits of being married. Not to mention the symbolism of making that commitment to another person. Not to mention the pursuit of happiness to which all Americans are supposedly entitled. Furthermore, the rearing of children does come into play, and making the argument that having gay parents harms a child is a very difficult position indeed. When it comes to “incentivizing socially beneficial behavior,” we’re going to need more information. On the surface this little phrase sounds nice; but if it means “promoting strictly Christian ideals,” I won’t concede them to be socially beneficial.

3. It’s about rights. It’s not by accident the movement is called the gay rights movement. And I don’t deny that many gays and lesbians feel their fundamental human rights are at stake in the controversy over marriage. But the lofty talk of rights blurs an important distinction. Do consenting adults have the right to enter a contract of their choosing? It depends. Businesses don’t have a right to contract for collusion. Adults don’t have a right to enter into a contract that harms the public good. And even if you think these examples are beside the point, the fact remains that no law prohibits homosexuals (or any two adults) from making promises to each other, from holding a ceremony, from entering into a covenant with each other. The question is whether the government should bestow upon that contract the name of marriage with all the rights and privileges thereto.

Let me summarize DeYoung’s argument in a clearer, more concise manner: “Proponents of marriage have framed their argument as one about rights. Here are some false comparisons to throw you off the scent. Even though those equivalencies don’t make any sense, we still have to question whether gay people should have rights. So, I guess it is about rights.” People are actually buying this crap?

4. It’s about equality. Recently, I saw a prominent Christian blogger tweet that she was for gay marriage because part of loving our neighbor is desiring they get equal justice under the law. Few words in the American lexicon elicit such broad support as “equality.” No one wants to be for unequal treatment under the law. But the issue before the Supreme Court is not equality, but whether two laws–one voted in by the people of California and the other approved by our democratically elected officials–should be struck down.

Here’s the thing: It is about equality. You see, Prop 8 and DOMA unfairly target one group of people, in much the same way laws once discriminated against black people. The law was voted into existence and approved by democratically elected officials, and the point of the Supreme Court is to determine whether or not it is constitutional. They do that all the time – in fact, that’s their job.

Equal treatment under the law means the law is applied the same to everyone. Gay marriage proponents desire to change the law so that marriage becomes something entirely different.

If I’m not mistaken, this is the Michele Bachmann argument for gay marriage bans: gay people can get married as long as it’s to a person of the opposite sex, so it’s a fair law. If the law were reversed, and heterosexual and homosexual people were both banned from marrying people of the opposite sex, would it make sense?

Surveys often pose the question “Should it be legal or illegal for gay and lesbian couples to marry?” That makes it sound like we are criminalizing people for commitments they make. The real issue, however, is whether the state has a vested interest in sanctioning, promoting, and privileging certain relational arrangements. Is it unjust for the state not to recognize as marriage your group of four friends, close cousins, or an office suite just because they want their commitments to be called marriage?

On a long enough time scale, all arguments against gay marriage revert to incest, polygamy or bestiality (or in the weird case of DeYoung, office suites). He really likes this tactic of making comparisons to things that share no real commonalities to marriage equality and then acting like his point is obvious. When considering such things as gay marriage, incest, polygamy, bestiality, marrying office suites (seriously, WTF?), we need to consider the intricacies and details of each. It is irresponsible to simply group them all together.

5. It’s about tolerance. Increasingly, those who oppose gay marriage are not just considered wrong or mistaken or even benighted. They are anti-gay haters. As one minister put it, gay marriage will eventually triumph because love is stronger than hate. Another headline rang out that “discrimination is on trial” as the Supreme Court hears arguments on Proposition 8 and DOMA. The stark contrast is clear: either you support gay marriage or you are a bigot and a hater. It’s not wonder young people are tacking hard to left on this issue. They don’t want to be insensitive, close-minded, or intolerant. The notion that thoughtful, sincere, well-meaning, compassionate people might oppose gay marriage is a fleeting thought.

I’m sure that there are plenty of thoughtful, sincere, well-meaning, compassionate people who oppose gay marriage. But opposing gay marriage is not thoughtful, well-meaning, or compassionate. (I don’t doubt that it’s sincere.) Nothing about denying people equal rights screams compassion. Relying on an antiquated book is not thoughtful. It is because your arguments lack these necessary qualities that you are losing support; not because you lack them.

So what can be done? The momentum, the media, the slogans, the meta-stories all seem to be on the other side. Now what?

For starters, churches and pastors and Christian parents can prepare their families both intellectually and psychologically for the opposition that is sure to come. Conservative Christians have more kids; make sure they know what the Bible says and know how to think.

That last line should make you cringe. Make sure kids “know how to think”? How about empowering kids to think for themselves?

We should also remember that the church’s mission in life is not to defeat gay marriage. While too many Christians have already retreated, there may be others who reckon that everything hangs in the balance on this one issue. Let’s keep preaching, persevering, pursuing joy, and praying for conversions. Christians should care about the issue, and then carry on.

It is curious how they fixate though, is it not?

And if we are interested in being persuasive outside of our own churches, we’ll have to do several things better.

1) We need to go back several steps in each argument. We’ll never get a hearing on this issue, or a dozen others issues, unless we trace out the assumptions behind the assumptions behind the arguments behind the conclusions.

2) We need more courage. The days of social acceptability for evangelicals, let alone privilege, are fading fast in many parts of the country. If we aren’t prepared to be counter-cultural we aren’t ready to be Christians. And we need courage not to just say what the Bible says, but to dare say what almost no one will say–that gay sex is unnatural and harmful to the body, that abandoning gender distinctions will be catastrophic for our society and for children, and that monogamy and exclusivity is often understood differently in the gay community.

If DeYoung’s argument hasn’t made your skin crawl yet, this ought to do it. Be counter-cultural, spew the vitriol of the Bible, by all means preach your nastiness from a mountain top – but don’t expect it to appeal to an increasingly enlightened culture.

3) We need more creativity. Statements and petitions and manifestos have their place, but what we really need is more than words and documents. We need artists and journalists and movie makers and story tellers and spoken word artists and comedians and actors and rappers and musicians who are galvanized by the truth to sing and speak and share in such a way that makes sin look strange and righteousness look normal.

Nothing cooler than homophobic Christian rock.

4) We need a both-and approach. In the months ahead I imagine we’ll see Christians wrestle with whether the best way forward is to form new arguments that appeal to people where they’re at, or whether we simply need to keep preaching the truth and trust God to give some people the ears to hear. I’m convinced we need to do both. Let’s keep preaching, teaching, and laboring for faithful churches. Let’s be fruitful and multiply. Let’s train our kids in the way they should go. Let’s keep sharing the good news and praying for revival. And let’s also find ways to make the truth plausible in a lost world. Not only the truth about marriage, but the truth about life and sex and creation and beauty and family and freedom and a hundred other things humans tend to forget on this side of Adam. The cultural assumptions in our day are not on our side, but if the last 50 years has shown us anything, it’s that those assumptions can change more quickly than we think.

I agree: keep up the circle-jerk and innovate new ways to lose relevancy among those to whom you wish to appeal. I look forward to watching your voice become quieter and quieter by your own devices.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I’d never seen one in real life

Before Sunday, I had only heard of sermons explicitly preaching strict rules regarding sexuality and marriage. I had seen YouTube videos, and I had heard stories of people affected by these sermons; but I had never actually witnessed one myself.

That all changed on Sunday. I was invited to attend a church service in town by a reader of this blog. I originally had planned to attend three weeks ago, but an emergency made that visit impossible, and last Sunday was my next available date. Funnily, the person who invited me thought I might just be pulling her leg all along.

Nonetheless, I showed up at the evangelical church at 11 a.m. on Sunday, found my host, and sat in the pews. After the obligatory worship music (how I loathe worship music), the sermon began.

The lesson of the day was the second installment of a two-part series on marriage, and it focused primarily on Hebrews 13:4, which reads:

4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

Pastor Jason McConahy also invoked 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which reads:

9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

As you can imagine, the service was really about guilt. How the topic of sex is muddled by guilt. How we all feel guilty about our past sexual sin. McConahy adamantly reminded us that sex was to be regarded as positive and beautiful, but the real message was clear: if you stray outside of the Bible’s restrictive views on sexual morality, you should feel guilty.

After the service, my host asked me what I thought. I tried to explain that I base my morality not on the words of an antiquated book but on shared values, considerations of harmed, and learned norms; and that therefore I strongly disagreed with the message preached. We discussed these ideas and more – why believing in the Big Bang Theory is not equivalent to believing in God; how I distinguish between atheism and agnosticism; the absurdity of the cosmological argument; even a debate in which I participated last year (apparently a debater on my side committed an “argument fallacy” when he equated belief in gods to belief in magic). I wasn’t surprised by her questions, and I don’t believe that she was really very interested in my answers.

What I did notice was a strong disconnect when it came to the burden of proof. I let her lead the conversation where she wanted it to go, making sure to challenge her point-by-point, but my host constantly demanded that I provide evidence for my lack of belief. No matter how many times I highlighted holes in her belief system, it was obvious that she wanted me to prove to her that her god didn’t exist – an obviously impossible task.

I used to attend church services weekly as a non-believer. The reason why I stopped was pure boredom above everything else. Most church services are remarkably similar to each other – rarely does a pastor introduce anything new. Repetitive close-mindedness is burdensome, and this service was a harsh reminder of just that.

1 Comment

Filed under Atheism/Religion

Another hair-brained reason to keep homosexuals out of the Boy Scouts

Boy Scouts of America Image credit: Wikipedia

If there is a privileged group crying oppression, you can count on the Family Research Council and its cronies to come to the rescue. That the conservative Christian organization is urging the Boy Scouts to keep gays from infiltrating their ranks is not news. But the vitriol coming from FRC’s highest ranking members is just so astoundingly incoherent, it begs to be ridiculed.

Take this recent op-ed piece by Rob Schwarzwalder, Senior VP of the FRC, which appeared in The Arizona Republic on Feb. 13. Why shouldn’t gays be granted positions within the Boy Scouts, according to Schwarzwalder? Because, of course, it’s going to keep his boys from becoming Eagle Scouts:

My sons have been involved in Scouting since they were boys. Now teens, they are active Scouts, and one is a member of the Order of the Arrow, the Boy Scouts of America’s honor society. We have long looked forward to the day they will become Eagle Scouts.

Now we are wondering if that dream will ever come to pass, not because of any lack of effort on their part, but because of the tentative decision by the BSA national executive board to allow open homosexuals to serve as leaders or members of Scout troops.

Strange thing about Schwarzwalder’s article – he never explains how in the world homosexuals will hinder the ability of his children to become Eagle Scouts. The only conclusion I can fathom is that Schwarzwalder plans to pull his kids from the Boy Scouts should homosexuals be allowed…which means Schwarzwalder is just a raging homophobic asshole. I feel bad for his children, but I don’t feel bad for him just because he finds gays to be icky. Grow up.

Oh, but wait. Schwarzwalder assures us, “This is not a matter of bigotry.”

Race and ethnicity are benign qualities that have nothing to do with a person’s character. Homosexuality is, by definition, about sexual attraction and conduct, things about which most Scout parents have serious moral concerns.

Translation: My antiquated and unscientific views on homosexuality will not change (lest my church friends realize that I myself have visions of penises dancing in my head!). He follows with the obligatory separate-but-equal argument, to which bigots apparently still cling.

People who join Scouts know what the rules are. They also know there are many alternative organizations for their boys in which prohibitions against homosexuality do not exist. If homosexual activists and their allies want to form their own Scout-type group, they are free to do so. Just don’t ask the 2.7 million boys in the BSA, including my sons, to compromise their moral convictions and permanently alter the very nature of Scouting.

Compromise their moral convictions? Jesus Christ. Nobody’s asking that your boys suckle dicks. You know what having gay members and leaders in the Boy Scouts will do to your children? Nothing. It’ll mean that gay children will be able to learn about camping and survival skills from a national organization. If altering the very nature of Scouting means becoming an accepting organization that doesn’t subscribe to the backward thinking of our ancient relatives, then hell yes it’s time for a change.

P.S. May I suggest you contact Mr. Schwarzwalder?

4 Comments

Filed under Atheism/Religion

Distinguishing Sincere from Opportunstic

Brother Jed

An old man putting his insanity on display.
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Brother Jed is batshit crazy. There’s no doubt about it. A man who has spent 38 years of his life traveling the country in order to tell college students that they are doomed to an eternity in Hell lest they accept Jesus as their lord and savior is certifiably bonkers. I have my suspicions that as he fades into old age his condition has grown worse, but I can’t confirm that.

When Brother Jed made an appearance at a local university, the resident skeptic organization politely invited him to speak to their group. I attended the meeting and listened to what Jed had to say. There was plenty of the anticipated petulant condemnations, but Brother Jed did have some personal insight that I did not expect. Describing his experiences on various campuses, he recalled a time when a nonbeliever had come to his defense amid the onslaught of chastisement from Christian college students. The secular student argued that despite his disagreements with Brother Jed, he did not doubt that Jed was sincere in his lunacy. The student continued that he was skeptical of the sincerity of the “Christian” students berating Brother Jed – for if they truly believed what they claimed, they would be doing the exact same as Jed.

I have come to the same conclusion. During my extensive interaction with the religious, it is quite clear that the ones who dedicate their lives to their faith are the ones who are most convicted in their belief. It is a point that has also been made by Sam Harris: he has said often that indeed the most fervent believers on September 11, 2001 were the hijackers. It is then here that a clear line must be drawn – between the fervent believers and the ruthless opportunists.

Fundamentalists – henceforth deemed “sincere believers” – range in the amount of threat they pose to civil, peaceful living. On one end of the spectrum you have Brother Jed, whose lunatic rantings are essentially harmless. In fact, people like Brother Jed and others of the mentally-ill evangelical variety probably do a great deal of good for the secular community. (When a psychotic slimeball vomits putrid messages of intolerance and hostility upon passerby on college campuses, the group that stands up and tells students to be themselves seems quite welcoming.) On the other end, there are the violent faithful – the jihadists and abortion clinic bombers – who have no reservations about harming others to advance their beliefs.

Opportunists, on the other hand, are almost universally harmful, some more than others. The level of conviction among this vile segment of the religious community is often unclear. In this category I place such groups as the Westboro Baptist Church, the Family Research Council, and the Catholic Church. The goal of these groups is completely self-serving (whereas the sincere believers are genuinely concerned with continuing what they believe to be a God-ordained mission). The opportunists seek money, power, recognition. Those desires are not in and of themselves harmful, but opportunistic religious groups rarely seek means to their ends that don’t lay to waste certain segments of the population on the way. In the case of Westboro, it’s American soldiers. For the Family Research Council, it’s homosexuals. The Catholic Church’s primary victims may be its very adherents!

The point I am trying to make is not that the attention of the nonreligious community should be focused more on one group or the other – sincere believers and opportunists both present the potential for tangible harm to others. Rather, I think that it is important to make the distinction because the approach to be made in defeating these groups is necessarily different.

In the case of the believers, one must argue with the intention of dismantling the belief. Because this group is so committed to what they believe, the only thing that can shake them from continuing their wretched crusades is to crumble the foundation upon which they stand. By no means is this an easy task. Such deeply held beliefs are difficult to shake; and in cases such as Brother Jed, it may indeed be too late to teach an old dog new tricks. There are, however, some who are not beyond hope – and I don’t believe our efforts are wasted in discussion with them.

Tactics to dismantle the opportunists may not be based in arguments against their belief. After all, it is difficult sometimes to understand specifically what their beliefs are, and they are unlikely to be affected by reasonable arguments against such beliefs. There’s a reason that the Family Research Council doesn’t care about current scientific understanding of homosexuality and that the Catholic Church maintains antiquated beliefs about contraceptives and abortion. To abandon such premises would be to forfeit their positions of power, so they are not interested in updating their principles. Instead, the plan of attack against these groups must be legal. Keep the sickness of Catholicism from influencing health care law. Thrash and shred attempts by anti-gay groups to legalize “gay therapy.” By all means continue to expose their nonsense for what it is for the benefit of onlookers, but understand that truly defeating these forces of evil cannot be accomplished by debate alone.

Leave a comment

Filed under Atheism/Religion