Responding to Christian moderates at Think Christian about the gays and morality [re-edited]

May 13, 2012

[Writer’s note:  As of May 17, 2012, this piece has been re-edited. The main reason is that due to the great length of my comment on Think Christian, they politely asked me to condense it down to 250 words or less and graciously agreed to link to this longer-form article on their Facebook page to create a larger discussion. So I’ve modified the second half of this piece featuring the comment and moved some of the material as to distinguish my comment from my additional points that didn’t make it into that 250-word cut. But also, rereading this piece, I wasn’t proud of how I phrased a few things, so I also modified the earlier section. My main points, however, have not been changed. With that, I’d like to welcome any readers who have been referred here by Think Christian as well as thank Think Christian for facilitating this sharing of ideas]

My love of the podcast Filmspotting recently led me to discover that the new co-host on the podcast also contributes to a website called Think Christian, a site run by Christian moderates. Think Christian is a Christianity I can kinda get behind. They are quite different from the ultra-Right-Wing fundamentalists and evangelicals I typically encounter from those who wear their Christianity on their sleeves. In my opinion (though I haven’t followed the site for long and they might disagree), Think Christian seems to wisely ignore much of the actual content of the Bible and form their own progressive moral viewpoints.  Though, while I rather like these guys, my one main complaint is I feel they somewhat misguidedly try to attribute their progressive humanist values to Christianity.

Politically, I think we share many of the same values. Again, they’re infinitely better than evangelicals and they’re living in the right century. But while I find this mutation of Christianity useful to progressive causes in the short-term, I think it becomes problematic to reinforce a system that needs to first re-brand any particular civil or human right as a “Christian value” before defending it, and doing so only on the grounds that its considered god’s will to do so rather than as a good on its own, independent of the opinions of any alleged higher power.

A perfect recent example of this was Barack Obama’s announcement that he personally supports same-sex marriage. Obama didn’t defend marriage equality as a civil rights issue. Instead, he dressed it up in Christian language, declaring it merely his personal feelings on the matter based on his interpretation of Christianity that places fairness and The Golden Rule above the actual text of the Bible. Despite the Bible denouncing gay sex repeatedly, Obama actually defended gay marriage on Christian grounds. And when the Bible was used to defend slavery, many abolitionists pulled the same trick of ignoring the Bible’s unmistakably pro-slavery content and presenting it as being somehow Christian to oppose slavery, defying what their god allegedly actually said in favor of their own human sense of righteousness.  Martin Luther King invoked alleged Christian values when making his case for civil rights as well.

In my opinion, re-branding  secular humanist values as somehow Christian when they categorically oppose what is actually written in scripture is just not the right or honest way to go about positive social change in the world. Far better is just accepting that the Bible and Christianity are largely archaic mythologies held originally by mostly barbarians from a barbaric age with a few decent ideas sprinkled in, while fighting to end social wrongs simply on the grounds that they are social wrongs and cause unnecessary human suffering. Isn’t that enough of a reason? Why must we add “my god also said it’s wrong” to the list before it becomes a worthwhile cause?

Now since I constantly get asked by religious individuals to explain how one can even objectively and rationally ground morality without the presence of a divine third-party, I just completed a separate, lengthy article ambitiously titled, “The basis of all morality“. I very briefly touch on some of it below, but I get much more in depth on my central thesis in that article.

But anyway, here’s the very interesting piece from Think Christian on the issue of marriage equality and the following is my response:

Ideologues do exploit science, twisting it to rationalize their biases when science can only inform our decisions. But ethics belongs to philosophy, not religion. Religion too is easily manipulated when religions stress tradition, obedience, blind faith, and submission, while reducing morality to the proclamations of a dictator.

You’re right that whether homosexuality is a natural part of the human condition or simply preference is wholly irrelevant to any moral discussion. Homosexuality naturally exists across countless species. Being a particularly social species, our factors for pair bonding are more nuanced, though research finds human same-sex pair bonding largely biological. But it’s irrelevant to ethics because, as you said, one can’t form an ought from an is. If homosexuality (or heterosexuality) were 100% natural, that wouldn’t make it right or wrong and if it were 100% preference, it still wouldn’t.

There’s insufficient evidence of societal or individual harm from homosexuality while we observe benefits such as providing parent-less children an opportunity grow up in a loving bi-parent environment, creating less overall human suffering.

Morality boils down to what’s good or bad for us, society. It’s the trial and error process of figuring out and weighing what’s most advantageous to society with the least suffering to or infringement on the individual. Traffic laws make a perfect microcosm of all morality in that we just do our best as a cooperative society to determine how to keep society and the individuals within thriving and as free of suffering as possible.

Now what didn’t make it into my 250-word comment but I wanted to bring up anyway:

I further agree with you about choices never being fully free. But this “we’re all children of god” and “we’re in the image of god” stuff seems to me to be all just shallow, empty platitudes. I don’t give a fig if a creature were the exact opposite of the image of the Christian god. If rats worshiped a god, it’d look remarkably just like them too. This just seems like rhetorical gibberish to take credit away from philosophy for secular progressive values. While some notable moral philosophers have been religious, it wasn’t their religion that led to their contribution to ethics. And as long as religion roots its moral positions in the uncritical worship of creatures that may or may not even exist, it will never make any significant contribution to ethics. And as for gaining “perfection through Christ,” he can keep it. What an dreadful existence perfection would be!

But the part of your piece where I couldn’t disagree more on is when the authors seem to suggest humans are only valuable because we were “made in God’s image.” They appear to me to be suggesting humans have no value on our own as unique individuals who think and feel and create and discover? Are they suggesting our human value is that we’re just lucky to be monuments to the vanity of a supremely vain and egotistical deity? Humans are valuable in and of themselves regardless of whether or not there is a god or a creator or whatever. We don’t need a deity to give us value. Shakespeare, Tennyson–greater poets than those who wrote the Bible have demonstrated man’s self-worth far more eloquently than I ever could.

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Ireland breaks up with the Catholic Church

July 27, 2011

Ireland seems to have had it with the Catholic Church’s child rape scandals and now are giving the Vatican the it’s not me, it’s youdefinitely you routine:

The airwaves are full of bitter remarks supporting Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s attack on the “disgraceful” Vatican, and recommending every anti-church measure from the dissolution of the monasteries to the expulsion of the Papal Nuncio and the severing of all links with the Holy See. (The recall of the Papal Nuncio this week marks the lowest point of relations between Ireland and Rome.)

One correspondent wrote that it was his ardent hope that the Catholic Church would follow the example of the News of the World, and hold a “last Mass” before shutting down.

The Taoiseach, meanwhile, has been met with standing ovations for his salvo against the Vatican for failing to respond with sufficient concern to the clerical sex abuse scandals as described in the Cloyne report.

This is a far cry from two decades ago when Sinead O’Connor was almost universally hated for declaring the previous Pope “the real enemy” while ripping up his picture on Saturday Night Live.

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Al Franken demolishes anti-gay witness’ pseudo-scientific claim

July 20, 2011

I love All Franken…in a completely non-gay way…maybe. Just tell me how we can get this guy elected president cause he’s good enough, he’s smart enough, and dogonit, people like him.

 


Commitment to vocabulary sanctity is not a virtue

June 25, 2011

One of my sister’s Facebook friends had a very interesting response to her status applauding the New York Senate’s  decision to legalize gay marriage. He opposed the decision, not on any moral or religious grounds, but purely on the grounds that it changes the definition of a word.

Now normally I might remove names to protect the innocent, as they say on Filmspotting. But since bigotry is a sensitive subject for me, I’m feeling  in an LT. Aldo Raine kind of mood and so I don’t care if people know his name.

So after my brother commented that religion is the primary motivation in opposing same-sex marriage and  there really is no sane reason why anyone should be against allowing other people to marry, here’s what Mr. Leonard Wilder said:

Sure there is a sane reason, and it’s not based on religion. No where in the written recorded history of any western or European based society will you find that the definition of marriage was anything but the union of a man and woman, irr…espective of religion, class or wealth. This definition was as firm as the fact that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Now, all of a sudden, because of political jockeying , I am now being told by the government that our way of thinking is wrong and that marriage also includes the union of same sex couples. If same sex couples wish to live together, etc that is their business. I see no reason why the government has to put the title of “marriage” to that arrangement. The definition remained unchanged for thousands of years and should remain as such. With that said, we will have to agree to disagree.

To which I responded thusly:

And nowhere in the recorded history of any western or European based society will you find that the definition of marriage was anything but a property agreement for exclusive sexual access to the woman until about 200 years ago. And no where in the written recorded history of any western or European based society will you find that the definition of marriage was anything but the union of a white man and white woman or black man and black woman until the 20th century. You don’t know what you’re talking about and the fact that you value traditional definitions of words over civil rights and human happiness says little of your character. The U.S. Constitution defines black Americans as 3/5 of a white American. You think we should maintain that definition too? And nowhere in the recorded history of any western or European based society will you find that the definition of “web” was anything other than the thing that spiders make until the birth of the World Wide Web in the 1990’s. I guess we can’t allow that either. I’m sorry you have such a problem with the fact that the English language evolves over time. I suggest you stick to Latin then because the English language will continue to change without your personal consent whether you like it or not.
Then came Leonard Wilder’s rebuttal:
I did not know that Perez Hilton was “in the house”. Good thing I’m not running for Miss USA! Oh wait, I cannot; I’m a guy. I would not be allowed to chase that dream so maybe I should mount a constitutional challenge or better yet, contribute to the campaign of those NY Senators who were forced to vote against their conscience. Whatever the rationale, the two of you have inadvertently proved my point: for whatever reason the marriage was entered into (political, financial, religious or love) , MARRIAGE has been the union of one man and …one woman (excepting polygomy). Now I agree that the role of race, especially in the US determined who can marry who. However, the fundamental definition of marriage always remained the same. Now various states are calling the union of same sex couples a marriage. That is a sham. Let me ask, if the NY Legislature passed a resolution that said the moon Landing never occurred should I believe them? Of course not. In addition I do not look at this as a civil rights issue. I’m not advocating taking away human rights. If homosexuals wish to enter into formal arrangements, legal or otherwise that is their business. I’m just not sure why such an arrangement needs to be called a marriage.
So how did I respond to this load of total bullshit?
Let’s see. There’s false analogies, red herring arguments, non-sequiturs. The whole package. Not a single analogy you made even comes close to resembling the actual thing you’re criticizing. Broadening a term to expand a civil right to a marginalized class is not even in the same ball park as denying a historical event. They’re nothing alike and your arguments are as incoherent as saying that if Chewbacca came from Endor, gay marriage must be morally wrong. To call your comparisons apples and oranges would be the understatement of the eon. It’s more like comparing apples and neutrons.If you have a serious objection to marriage equality, I’m open to hearing it. But if all you’re going to do is try to mask bigoted insecurities with preposterously childish justifications like valuing vocabulary sanctity over human prosperity, you make it impossible for me to take you seriously. This nation was founded on notion that everyone…EVERYONE has a fundamental right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, not on the principle of maintaining the purity of the master race of words. As I’ve already explained (and by all means fact-check me to your heart’s content), the definition of marriage you embrace is not much older than the one that includes unions of same-sex couples…which incidentally was added to the Merriam Websters Dictionary almost a decade ago. Further, it doesn’t take someone like myself who has actually studied the history of language and media to recognize the frequency in which the modern languages grow and change over time. Hell, this month alone, the Oxford English Dictionary added almost 2,000 new or revised entries.

Honestly, did you throw this much of a hissy fit when they they added the word, “D’oh” to the dictionary, spitting in the face of centuries of bakery tradition, or is your righteous indignation merely reserved for those cases where those words lead to real world public policies that benefit classes of people you personally dislike?

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New York sixth U.S. state to legalize gay marriage

June 25, 2011

In a 33-29 decision, the New York State Senate voted to legalize marriage equality in Albany tonight with the help of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who introduced the measure. This makes New York the sixth and most populous U.S. state to allow gay marriage.

This means that same-sex weddings can start taking place in New York as early as thirty days from now. The biggest holdup on the Senate vote concerned the demand to change the language to firmly establish that any religious institution has the right to refuse to officiate at such ceremonies. This proved to be a no-brainer not even worth fighting about but once those provisions were added, they had all but one promised vote to pass the bill. That last vote ultimately came from Stephen Saland, who after killing an enormous amount of time yammering on and on on the senate floor, finally agreed as a “matter of conscience” to vote in favor of marriage equality…cause up till now he somehow managed to remain the last man on Earth to be undecided on this issue. “I have to define doing the right thing as treating all persons with equality and that equality includes within the definition of marriage,” Republican Senator Stephen Saland said. He was one of four Republicans to vote for the legislation.

Even the Westboro Baptist Church expressed their support via Twitter. Megan Phelps tweeted: “@NYSenate @BarackObama This nation is cursed & w/o hope. Give them fag marriage so USA can finish destruction-sprint. God’s done w you!”

Congratulations New York!


News From Around The Blogosphere 6.9.11

June 10, 2011

I’ve been away for almost a week, so I’m going to have to play catch-up for the next few days.

1. New Pew Poll suggests atheists still unelectable – If the poll is accurate, atheists are less electable than a candidate who is Mormon, gay, divorced, or even an adulterer.

2. ‘Psychic’ leads Texas Rangers and FBI down dead end  – Police followed a tip by an alleged psychic who told them where to find a supposed mass grave containing dozens of dismembered bodies. Now Craig McNair, head of the county commissioners, is looking to hold her responsible for giving a false tip and creating havoc.

3. ‘Expelled’ production company expelled from existence – Premise Media Holdings LP has gone bankrupt and its shitty creationist propaganda film starring Ben Stein is going up for auction:

The high bidder will become the owner of the movie that The New York Times (2008 Apr 18) described as “[o]ne of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time … a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry … an unprincipled propaganda piece that insults believers and nonbelievers alike” and that was denounced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for its “profound dishonesty” and condemned by the Anti-Defamation League for its “outrageous” misuse of the Holocaust to “tarnish those who promote the theory of evolution.” (NCSE’s Expelled Exposed provides a collection of reviews, commentary, and resources documenting the extensive problems with Expelled.)

4. Tennessee passes law banning images that “cause emotional distress” – Though it remains to be seen if anyone will actually try to enforce this new law signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, it’s hard to imagine a greater offense to the First Amendment.

5. Hot nun fired over lap-dancing past – Wasn’t there something in Christian mythology about turning the other cheek? Which cheeks the passage was talking about is unclear.

And on a related note…

6. Pole dancing for Jesus causes controversy – There’s a pole dancing class that allegedly is intended to help women stay in shape while simultaneously bringing them closer to God:

Set to Christian music, church-going women spin and slither around poles. But the instructor and the students say it’s not about sex.

7. South Carolina prison insist lingerie ads lead to “deviant behavior”

But the organization says the jail has gone even further in its screening of mail to inmates by banning publications that contain any level of nudity, including beachwear and underwear.

Oh, and there’s a video in the link above.

 

And finally…

8. Congratulations to my friend Page Van Meter, who’s been named the new president of the NYC Skeptics!

 

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News From Around The Blogosphere 5.29.11

May 29, 2011

1. Murdering teen escapes punishment because she was possessed by evil spirits

Lorraine Mbulawa, 19, escaped jail after judge Mr Justice Keith accepted the girl had such strong beliefs in witchcraft and evil that she was acting upon what she was told to do by spirits.

2. Anti-vaxxers forcefully remove peaceful protester from their convention – Ken Reibel and Jamie Bernstein were both ejected from the anti-vaccine “Autism One” conference by 3 security guards and 4 police officers. Their crime: being recognized as dissenters of the movement’s ideology. This speaks volumes about the intellectual integrity of their movement. If anti-vaxxers attended TAM or NECSS, no one would kick them out unless they were actually disrupting the conference.

3. Catholic adoption agency shuts down rather than let gays adopt – Finally, a charity that has its priorities in place. Better a child grow up in an institution than risk that child being infected by evil, gay cooties. Good thinking there, Catholic Charities of Rockford! You guys are a class act all the way!

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