Psychopathology of Homophobia

by Samuel Dock, Clinical Psychologist (Paris)

Translated by Doughlas Remy from “Psychopathologie de l’homophobie,” Huffpost C’est la Vie, 6/2/13

[Doughlas Remy notes: I thought this article was provocative and deserved inclusion on The Bent Angle. I don’t necessarily agree with, nor can I defend, everything that the author has written. It is simply a window into the current debates about marriage equality in France, and I believe it is a valuable contribution to the discussions.]

mariagegayIn France, homosexual marriage and adoption are the burning issues of the day. It’s now up to the French Assemblée to cull through 5367 proposed amendments to its draft law legalizing same-sex marriages. Professionals of every stripe—sociologists, psychologists, experts on love (if any exist), educators, theologians and clergy, hot-shot lawyers—all have delivered their opinions “for” and “against,” often resorting to wildly improbable arguments and hyperbolic rhetoric. While no one has risked appearing indifferent to the outcome, everyone has carefully avoided expressing any affect, as if there was never any emotion involved but only concern for equality, the law, institutions, religion, children, morality, others— in short, for everything except oneself.

How strange that people have recently become so personally “detached” from this issue. But whatever our good citizens may say, gay marriage has shone a light into dark areas of our unconscious, overcoming resistance better than a nation-sized Rorschach. Whom do you see in the face of France? Whom do you not see there? Remarkably, in the midst of all the brouhaha,—despite the public’s transparent pretense of “objectivity,” despite the impossibility of remaining as cool as marble over any issue involving sexuality, and despite the most astonishing political strategies and the reactionary maneuverings of an astonished religion—an affect has been exhumed! It is the very essence of homophobia. In our country we now have proof that hatred can be stirred up even without Sarkozy.

A phobia?

How are we to understand homophobia? The very word seems inadequate to convey any idea of the hostile behavior that it denotes. Let’s abandon the old idea that the homophobe is a repressed homosexual trying to distance himself from his desires. For once, let’s grant desire the respect that it deserves and protect it from the unspeakable.

Current thinking

Researchers Marty, de M’Uzan, and David have investigated a type of mental functioning in which a subject is literally cut off from his unconscious. His mental life, though socially functional, is essentially frozen and mechanical; it is deficient in emotional connections. The past is a dead zone, allowing only low-affect relations with others. In a clinical setting, this disorder resembles Mazerolle asking Bertinotti the same questions a hundred times. [The author is referring to a recent incident in the Assemblée). She responds, he ignores her and inappropriately starts up a video from a priest. He cannot listen. And for good reason: his problem is not about repression (as in phobia, properly speaking) but about foreclosure, a cavity in his psyche where affects disappear without his being able to re-present them to his conscious mind. This is the meaning of the repetition that one observes among a great many bloggers whose discourse does not evolve over long periods of time. They endlessly repeat the same reasonings in a denatured, devitalized language stripped of affect.

Even while warning against the objectivication of children raised by homosexual parents, these bloggers’ own treatment of the subject is emotionally alienated. They don’t acknowledge the lived psychological reality of children already in such arrangements, much less that of their homosexual parents. These incarnate realities are just “data” kept in the file labeled “unthinkable.” But behind their façade of conventional wisdom there lies a zombified psyche. Its ideological elaborations are only a defense against libidinous and aggressive impulses that they cannot metabolize. Unimpressed by the breadth and depth of current scientific understanding of homosexuality, they react like robots, because inertia is always preferable to discomfort. With this type of homophobia, we must understand that “otherness” does not inspire fear. It is not threatening. It is simply not recognized or acknowledged.

Narcissistic perversion

This term designates another even more dangerous clinical condition. The “perverted” narcissist (PN), in an effort to compensate for an weak ego, uses another’s narcissism to shore up his own. His behavioral objective is to achieve an omnipotent mastery over the Other. To this end, the PN must dehumanize the Other, deny his autonomy, undermine his narcissism, and eradicate his desires so that he may implant his own in their place. The process of mental disintegration is relentless but effective. The Other, reduced to the status of an object, finally accedes to the demands of his tyrant. The PN sees in his victim’s abdication of identity a proof of his own power. His object, the Other, exists only to serve the the PN’s project of completing his own ego. If the Other then attempts to step out of this role, he risks feeling inadequate and incomplete, and the PN may reject and abuse him.  This situation can become very dangerous.

We can observe such narcissistic perversity in certain homophobic behaviors. Worse, in our current political context, where the rights and responsibilities of homosexuals are up for debate, such patterns of perversity can fold themselves into the general debate and avoid scrutiny of the law. Not surprisingly, since many of those exhibiting such patterns represent the law.

To successfully take control, the PN must first use seduction. This was the “demonstration” phase of early January [when 380,000 opponents of marriage equality gathered on the Champ de Mars in Paris]. To judge from Frigide Barjot’s campy behavior, the compassionate prayers of the faithful, the mothers and the fathers, the candles, the proverbs and homilies, one would think the demonstrators were on the side of homosexuals and that François Hollande is a monster, Hitler himself. But cold and calculating rationality follows quickly on the heels of protest. Opponents of same-sex marriage begin brandishing their scientific studies and their Bibles, they infantilize and belittle homosexuals while spewing dogma at them. Then comes violence.

For the PN, respect for others is in the end only an idea without any substance, and he does not hesitate to mercilessly attack his opponents on the Internet. “I wish they’d all get AIDS,” says one. “They kiss in public. They’re not civilized!” complains another.

So there’s dehumanization. The homosexual is a being who surrenders to his basest instincts, who is maladapted to civilization or to the rearing of children, and who should just be thankful that he is at last tolerated. Some bloggers will go so far as to regret that “no treatment has yet been invented.” But what is it that must be treated and overcome? What else are they fighting but something that is within themselves? They’ll use any means to denounce this reflection where they see only difference and defect. Devoid of self-criticism in their conduct toward their victims, they feel no remorse.

Homosexuals have left the shadows and the narrow confines of their minority status. Having taken on form and contours, they have now become highly visible targets where the PNs may project affects and impulses that they cannot countenance in themselves. At the pinnacle of their perversity, they even deny homosexuals victim status, instead accusing them of bullying, anti-Catholicism, predation, and heterophobia. All this is done with the best intentions in the world, those that delineate the Hell where the dioceses have promised to dispatch the gays. The perverted narcissist deforms the Other. In his own image.

There’s more: There’s the paranoia, the obsessivity, and the coprolalia* of the extreme psychopaths. But at least Oedipus is safe, because this is not so much about sexuality as it is about primitive affects, anger and repugnance, a cavity in language, and a fundamental violence. The last gasp of Narcissus.

_________________________

*coprolalia: involuntary and obsessive use of obscene language

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33 Responses to “Psychopathology of Homophobia”

  1. yan Says:

    Ah, my brother Douglas. Can the aggressive psychoanalysis of those with whom you disagree be any more ironic, when you refuse to accept the dicta of psychoanalysis in regard to homosexuality?

    • thebentangle Says:

      What dicta of psychoanalysis? I hope you’re not referring to Freud? Check out the American Psychoanalytical Association’s website for an update.

  2. yan Says:

    And so ‘French’ in the tradition of the deconstructionists. Everything which is obvious, to them, has another meaning. It is astonishing that after we connect the dots of the revealed meanings, how they inevitably lead to a particular political agenda.

    The Anglo-German writers [excepting perhaps Schopenhauer and Nietzsche], on the other hand, are always naive about their lack of disinterestedness. The French are so conscious of their biases that they must disavow every step they take.

    Good work on the translation. It certainly captures the usual French feeling.

    • thebentangle Says:

      “Revealed” meanings? Revealed by whom?

      There’s nothing wrong with having a political agenda. That’s the way we participate in our government.

  3. thebentangle Says:

    Hi Yan, thanks for visiting my site, and I hope you will return.

    Here is a recent reply (to you) that didn’t get through moderation on First Things:

    Yan, you said that the “reasoning process” used by both Freud and the Church was “the same, obvious, and eminently undeniable.” Do you mean that their reasoning was undeniably correct? Why do you say this in face of so much evidence to the contrary? The WHO does not agree. I do not agree. Many or most Christians do not agree. Whence the absolute certainty? What’s obvious to you is, I’m afraid, not obvious to everyone. Are you perhaps living in a monastery?

    You say that the science about homosexuality is incomplete. It’s also incomplete about cancer, the genome, epigenetics, evolutionary theory, the brain, climate change, and nearly everything else. This does not mean that science cannot establish certain operational baselines of knowledge for policy purposes. What is already known about homosexuality is indeed sufficient to warrant our discarding traditional ideas about it. They are simply wrong. We know that as surely as we know that Phlogiston theory, astrology, alchemy, geocentrism, young-earth creationism, and phrenology were wrong. Some of these were the coin of the realm for many centuries, and they are now discarded. What happened when dinosaur bones were first discovered and carbon dating was developed? Answer: Everything changed. Millennia-old theories had to be set aside, and people’s minds were not easily changed. About 45% of Americans still believe the earth is only 6000 years old and that dinosaurs walked the earth with humans.

    You seem very invested in the “logic and insight” that lead you to conclude homosexual acts are unnatural and immoral, and you believe, in spite of what is happening around you, that they will “remain completely untouched.” So they may, in some pockets of our culture. Maybe among the 45%.

  4. yan Says:

    Douglas my friend, we are going over the same old ground.

    The only ‘baseline’ science has arguably been able to establish which perhaps contradicts formerly held ideas is that homosexual physiology and development tends to result in a higher rate of certain observable traits than in heterosexuals. This observation gives rise to the inference that the homosexual inclination is largely not chosen.

    We know that just because a man or woman has one of these particular traits is not a guarantee of their orientation. As I have said before, the etiology of homosexuality still remains largely unexplained. In time we will probably learn more.

    What other conclusion than that homosexual inclination may have a physiological basis would you like to draw from the information we have? What additional conclusions do you think are warranted? Certainly, it is too early to determine that any of this would have any effect on whether the DSM classifies homosexuality as a disorder or not. The DSM does not even use physiological traits in its definition of what constitutes a disorder.

    The WHO does not take issue with the Church or with Freud. Or at least, it should not, because the DSM has different criteria for determining whether something is a disorder. We established this fact at the beginning of our discussion. The Church reasons that since the act is disordered, the inclination to commit the act is disordered. The DSM does not even consider the fact of the act when coming to its definition of a disorder. It just measures ‘distress.’

    It is not a question of whether a certain percentage of people believe that a homosexual act is unnatural that makes it so. It is a simple question of looking at the act itself in view of the purpose of sex. If 100% of people refuse to do that anymore, the reason for calling the act unnatural doesn’t change. You cannot make something natural by majority vote or by fiat. If the next 50 DSMs say it is natural [which, they do not] and the Pope suddenly says, ‘homosexuality is a gift of God,’ the unnaturality of the act will not be altered in the slightest. The inference that because sexual acts are by their nature complementary, a non-complementary sexual act is therefore unnatural, is inescapable.

    If the act is unnatural, the inclination to do the act is also unnatural. It wouldn’t matter if one day science actually determined that the inclination is entirely a result of physiological processes over which the homosexual had no control whatsoever. That state of things would be no more ‘natural’ than a cleft palate or scholiosis, though much more unfortunate.

    Cheers.

  5. thebentangle Says:

    Yan, Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope yours was as much fun as mine.:-)

    Once again, your argument pivots on a single core assumption, which is that sexual acts are by their nature complementary. I could almost agree with you, except that by “complementarity” you mean a penis in a vagina in the missionary position with the lights turned out and for the purpose of procreation in an oxymoronic act of struggling to be spontaneous.

    Spontaneity—God forbid—might lead to a hand closing over a vagina or a penis—which (you claim) is not where the hand should be. Or one partner might kiss the other in flagrant disregard for the god-ordained purpose of the lips, which is whistling, as everyone knows. (Isn’t it obvious?) One of the partners might scream “Oh God!” at some point, thereby profaning the deity. Feet, hands, necks, thighs—none of that could be used for arousal, because that is not their purpose. (Feet are for showing off your Prada shoes.)

    Your rules are a bucket of cold water thrown on the lovers. But to anticipate you, this not to say that anything goes. The lovers have to work it out between themselves. This is why sex acts are usually private matters.

    If by “complementarity” you meant mutual attraction, compatibility, trust, respect, arousal, love, and a deeply satisfying sexual experience for both parties, then I could agree. Anything else is less than fully complementary.

    People tell me that a dog is not a cat and a square peg doesn’t fit into a round hole and 2 + 2 only equals 4, not 5. They seem to think they are disproving the lived complementarity of two men or two women loving and marrying each other. These arguments are laughable to anyone who has been through a night of love.

    Dogs and cats are both mammals, square pegs forced into round holes are known as marriages between gays and straights, and 2 + 2 (where 2 = male) does equal 4 (physical and emotional complementarity.) Heterosexuals can have the 2 + 3 equation for themselves. (where 3 = female) and claim complementarity as well.

    What could be less complementary than a gay man married to a straight woman? Do you think that they are “complementary” because his penis fits into her vagina and they can procreate? You have to recognize that there is a lot more to complementarity than body parts. Why do I have to tell a Catholic this? It’s about a mysterious “je ne sais quoi,” pheromones, charm, bedroom eyes, a certain tilt of the head, a smile, body hair or lack thereof. Who can say why our arousal switches are turned on around certain people and not others? And why fight it? Just enjoy it.

    In this response, I’ve taken aim at your lynchpin assumption, and I believe the rest of your argument crumbles without it. However, I’ll return later to make sure I didn’t overlook anything.

  6. thebentangle Says:

    Yan, to address some of the details of your comment:

    Regarding etiology: The consensus scientific opinion is that homosexuality is not caused by environmental factors but rather by genes and their environments. However, the consensus opinion is not the reason why the DSM declassified homosexuality. They did so because they were unable to show that homosexuality in and of itself causes distress or dysfunction. Their conclusion only confirms what anyone can observe: that gays who live in welcoming environments can thrive as well as anyone else, all other things being equal. This becomes more and more obvious as homosexuals move from red states to blue states, from the closet into the light, from shame to pride, and from social stigmatization to a place at the table. The wounds are still deep for many of us, however. We have not forgotten what it was like to live under cover, to fear bullying, blackmail, prison, loss of jobs, friends, and family, and to have no prospect of openly and proudly being in love and joining our destiny together with another’s in marriage.

    The issue of etiology is really a red herring of sorts, because it doesn’t matter whether one’s orientation is chosen or physiologically determined. If homosexuality were disordered, then it might matter a great deal. But it is not.

    This is why, as you correctly pointed out, the DSM does not use physiological traits in its definition of a disorder.

    You wrote that the WHO “does not take issue with the Church or with Freud,” but it clearly does. The WHO’s language about homosexuality mirrors that of the catechism and is the opposite of it (“Homosexuality is not a disorder,” they say). Furthermore, no serious psychoanalyst any longer looks to Freud for understanding of homosexuality. He knew almost nothing about genetics, much less the new sciences of epigenetics and neuropsychology, and his entire theory attributes mental disorder to unconscious conflicts formed in early childhood. He saw environmental causes where there were none.

    And, once again, homosexuality is not a mental disorder anyway, so it hardly matters what Freud thought about it (except that some people keep citing him). What the Church says about it DOES matter because there are so many Catholics who trust the Church. And that is a cause of serious and ongoing problems, such as what we’re witnessing in Uganda today and in Catholic schools and homes where gay childen are taught they are defective.

    You see, the Church begins with the very same assumption as the one you made (probably not a coincidence), i.e., that homosexual acts lack complementarity and are therefore disordered and unnatural. But I believe I have successfully challenged that assumption, though we can continue to haggle over it if you like. You and the Church have a house of cards that sits on that foundation of God-ordained biological and procreative complementarity.

    But, as I have shown, your concept of complementarity has no applicability to gay individuals who feel no sexual attraction to those of the opposite sex. That leaves you with no recourse but to try forcing us (round pegs) into the square holes of opposite-sex marriage or the cruel, crimped, stunted path of celibacy—a life without any of the joys of love expressed sexually, a life without companionship of the ones we love and want to spend our lives with.

    Today, the day after Valentine’s Day, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to take away our joy and our happiness only to replace them with misery and guilt.

    One more thing: Why did you compare homosexuality to having a cleft palate or scholiosis?

  7. yan Says:

    Douglas,

    You have tried to obscure the obviousness of the lack of complementarity of homosexual acts by adducing multiple acts to which you give the name ‘complementarity.’ Nothing you have written changes in any way what is obvious, or makes it any less applicable to the extent that it is intended to be applicable.

    Gay people can like each other or be attracted to each other and you can call that complementarity. They can enjoy their sex acts and you can call that complementarity. A straight couple may dislike one another and you may say they lack complementarity. But we already have better words to describe what you are using the word complementarity to describe. So, you are trying to obscure the sense in which I mean complementarity, which is a sense you understand very well. You also are thereby trying to minimize its importance.

    This rhetorical device is the equivalent of saying, ‘this thief gives lots of things to other inmates and has given things to other people in other ways. Thus, his taking property on this one occasion has to be judged in the context of all his other acts. Taken together, that act isn’t stealing. See, he does all these other things which you could not possibly call stealing.’

    That is of course logically absurd. The nature of an act does not obtain a different per se significance because it stands within a community of many different kinds of acts. The nature of the person may be affected by these other acts, but not the nature of the act itself.

    If the DSM or its proponents want to take issue with Freud or the Church, that is their error. The definitions in the case of the DSM [for the word disordered] are based on subjective feelings; the definitions in the case of Freud [for the word perversion] and the Church [for the word disordered] have to do with the objective act considered in itself. Thus the DSM has no right to take issue with a judgment that is made on a completely different basis than its judgment.

    You raise a relevant question by bringing up the issue of sexual foreplay. I do not know if what I am about to say is correct or not, but I think there is a reasonable argument to make that if heterosexual foreplay is done for the purpose of consummating a proper sex act, then foreplay is properly part of the sexual act, since without some kind of sexual foreplay, the consummation of the sex act is not possible.

    Then we would have to get into whether acts of foreplay are made acceptable by their intent or if there are certain acts which, regardless of final intent, are not acceptable. For those of us concerned with the moral theology of sexual acts I think it would be a worthwhile discussion.

    For those homosexuals [that is, those with strong homosexual inclinations] who cannot find happiness in marriage with a person of the opposite sex, they have a difficult cross to bear, if they follow Catholic teaching; that much is true. Many other people in life also bear similar and heavier crosses, however. Heterosexual Catholics that find themselves divorced through no will of their own, and their former spouses to whom they were validly married, have very little possibility of attaining that kind of happiness either. The number of such individuals is not small. Fortunately, there is no single route to happiness in this life.

    Happiness is, of course, an important word for Americans. Thomas Jefferson used it in the Declaration of Independence. He also used the word in the Aristotelian sense. He thought homosexual acts were abominable.

    My argument does not pivot on a ‘certain assumption’. It pivots on an observation which leads to an inescapable inference of reason.

    RE: political agendas and French philosophers: philosophy and politics are presumably different disciplines. The former is about the love of knowledge for its own sake. The latter is the science of how best to organize human society. The French are fully aware that these disciplines are independent. They are fully conscious of the fact that philosophy, instead of being and independent discipline, is often shot through with assumptions and the influenced by the politics of the philosopher. [Take Hegel for instance.] They are always the first to point this out, and often they make a very good point in doing so. What I find so tedious about most of the French philosophers after, and not so much including, Sartre, is that in the process of criticizing the philosophy and political biases of other philosophers, their own philosophy always results in the support of a very particular brand of politics, and they claim not to see the irony of that. Truly they protest too much.

    Finally, to my comparison. Let me ask you: are cleft palates and scholiosis natural or unnatural?

    If they are unnatural, then of course we should correct those conditions.

    Because they occur in nature, however, you could argue, they are natural. Since in that sense they are natural, should we therefore decline to disturb those conditions?

    We are dealing with 2 senses of the word natural, and you are intentionally confusing them. It may simultaneously be ‘natural’ to have a straight spine and an unattached lip, and also that a cleft palate and scholiosis occur in nature. Your argument in regard to homosexuality is: ‘since it is naturally occurring, therefore it is natural and we shouldn’t want to change it.’ That is a fallacy because you are equivocating about the word ‘natural.’ Just because something occurs in nature doesn’t mean it is natural in the sense of normal, and in accord with what reason and experience may infer is the actual intention of Nature. Which of course, leads inexorably to a discussion of Nature’s God.

    Unless you want to argue that we should leave a cleft palate alone, and there is nothing ‘wrong’ with it.

    Cheers.

  8. thebentangle Says:

    Yan, your use of the word “obvious” is very subjective. What is obvious to you is not necessarily obvious to everyone. In the world that I inhabit, it is not at all “obvious” that homosexual acts are not complementary in the sense that I described. Nor is it even necessary that they be complementary in the sense that you described. You haven’t identified yourself or told me where you live, so I assume you are surrounded by like-minded folks, and I appear to you to be living on the other side of the moon. But actually, I am in Seattle.

    Your notion of complementarity is theological and crypto-biological. If it were genuinely biological, it would take into account all factors that make for compatibility and great sex. And maybe “complementarity” wouldn’t even have meaning for a biologist.

    You say that I am trying to minimize the importance of your notion of complementarity. Well, I’m glad you caught my drift. You seem to be surprised that anyone would challenge your core assumptions.

    You haven’t explained why your notion of complementarity is necessary or why mine is invalid. Oh, but wait. There’s something about thieves in your comment.

    In your analogy, you are trying to make the point that several moral acts don’t cancel out the immorality of a single act. But your two “immoral” acts are theft and the homosexual act. The analogy immediately fails, because you have only assumed that both acts are immoral. Before you can make such an analogy, you need to show that homosexuality is immoral, and you cannot do that except within the framework of Catholic teaching, which most people do not accept. There is no other basis for showing that homosexual acts are immoral, least of all in a pragmatic, consequentialist framework of values. (And most of our jurisprudence is consequentialist.)

    You seem to think Freud’s and the Church’s verdict on homosexuality trumps that of the DSM. But on what basis can you make that claim other than some very subjective one? And contrary to your characterization, the DSM’s de-classification of homosexuality was based on scientific research. I’m not sure what you mean by “objective act” vs. “subjective act.”

    In talking about foreplay, you again start with a faulty premise, i.e., that there is something “proper” about the heterosexual act but not about the homosexual one. So homosexual foreplay in your view would be just as perverted, unnatural, and “improper” as the homosexual act itself.

    Whenever I examine your premises, I always find that, instead of “leading to an inescapable inference of reason,” they lead in perfect circular fashion back to themselves. They essentially begin with the catechism and end there:

    Why are homosexual acts disordered? Because they are not complementary.
    Why should they be complementary? Because non-complementarity is a perversion.
    Why are they perverted? Because they are unnatural.
    Why are they unnatural? Because they’re disordered.
    How do you know? Well, it’s just obvious.
    Obvious to whom? To me.

    You could simplify your message to something like, “Look, I’m a Catholic and I don’t approve of homosexuality. Period. I don’t because I don’t.”

    Regarding the final paragraphs of your comment:

    Why you should force or even encourage anyone to “bear a cross” because of their homosexuality is beyond me. Are you saying they should bear one because other people have crosses to bear? You might peddle that idea to fellow guilt-ridden Catholics, but it’s not going to fly anywhere else.

    Je n’ai rien à dire sur la philosophie en France.

    Yan, I should think it would be obvious by now that my general philosophy is “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I don’t care which sense of the word “natural” you’re attached to. If your cleft palate causes a speech impediment or some other dysfunction, or if you don’t like the looks of it, then get it fixed. In what way is a cleft palate like homosexuality? Homosexuality is not dysfunctional and causes no problems in and of itself. Are you suggesting that homosexuals who don’t like their orientation should try reparative therapies? But such therapies have been shown not to work.

    What about the 6’8” guy who is self-conscious about his height? Should he have his legs shortened? And the beautifully slim and healthy young lady who thinks she needs to get her weight down to 75? Should she go on a crash diet?

    Homosexuality is in no way comparable to either scoliosis or cleft palettes, and those kinds of comparisons are insulting and offensive.

    Can you offer even one non-theological reason why homosexuality is disordered? Can you point to some harm that it causes, some medical issue? Keep in mind that we are talking in some cases about couples who have been in committed relationships for many years and whose medical condition is indistinguishable from that of healthy heterosexuals. I don’t think you can point to any harms; in fact I’m quite sure you can’t.

    This is the weakness of your argument. It rests on a very narrow set of theological principles that can only appear arbitrary to someone not steeped in your particular theology. Apparently, not even most Catholics get it, because all but one of the U.S. states with legalized same-sex marriage is predominantly Catholic. In both the secular sphere and much of the religious one, the argument is fragile and easily refuted on non-theological grounds.

  9. thebentangle Says:

    Yan, the following is not from me. It’s from Dean Hansen, who read your comment and sent it to me via e-mail for posting:

    Dear Brother Yan: Let’s review, shall we? Science is based on testing hypothesis in the physical and natural world. It is evidence based. Science does not declare that Homosexuality is “dirty” or “sinful” because it involves the insertion of the penis into another male orifice.  It is not based on arriving at conclusions a priori or making moral judgments about what people should and shouldn’t do.  If the cause of an action cannot be explored and examined it is not subject to empirical science.  Human insight on its own, if it’s based on a premise of natural law, does not advance the scientific method.  Binding moral rules that are said to spring from natural law can nevertheless be tested by science if they involve biological organisms or  biological systems, and can mitigate or even overthrow our understanding about why we do the things we do. If  science uncovers testable effects that spring from known rather than untested assumptions, it does so without inferring that something is categorically abnormal or inherently wrong.  That’s not the judgment of science.  It’s an objective arbiter in the hands of flawed humans.  In that sense, we resort to both religion and science for the same reason, but science gives testable results.  Religion just gives guilt and fear through the agency of the Catholic church.  Well, that and online forums, which amount to the same thing.

    Done right and with considerable systems of redundancy, science is reliable in ways that moral judgments rarely are. The human predisposition of applying the “Ick” factor to poorly understood human activities is remedied by knowledge, not conflicted by it.  Science at its best diminishes the concern that a specific action is wrong simply because someone somewhere declared that they don’t like it.  Insights alone don’t tell you about the structure of DNA.  Sequencing nucleic acid using restriction enzymes, fragmentation and cloning vectors has a much better service record in terms of exploring the information which directs the functions of a living thing and its biological functions in a human being, and it does so far better than an existential threat from an unseen agency that claims to be upset about what you do with your pee pee.  The same agency also gave us free will.  Will you remain in conflict throughout your life about what you should do with it?  How does should collaborate with free? If biologists tell you that sexual orientation has physical causes based on a diagnosis arrived at through genetic or biological examination, it helps to close the door on moral assumptions accepted without argument by those who are not touched or effected by the particular judgment.  

    Science has made very successful inroads into discovering the causes of homosexuality both genetically, hormonally and epigenetically. Some aspects of it are programmed into the human species at the genetic level, a trait it shares in common with almost every species of animal on earth.  People do not “act” like homosexuals because they want to.  They act like homosexuals because they are homosexuals.  Reparative therapy will not cure them of who they are, it will only force them to behave as though they are something they are not.

  10. yan Says:

    How does should collaborate with free? You are free to follow the should or not to. Are you saying that ‘should’ does not exist in any meaningful sense?

    When or if science can explain how the correlation of certain traits with the experience of homosexual attraction happens, then it will have made progress in explaining the cause of homosexuality. But the traits which often correlate with homosexuality do not always correlate with homosexuality. Sometimes they correlate with heterosexuality. So the causation element continues to elude us.

    We can see in many cases how a certain ‘gene’ or series of DNA operate to cause behaviors and conditions, both psychological and physical. We have not yet seen how that works in respect to homosexuality. Perhaps one day we will, but not yet. You should not jump to conclusions in the meantime.

    My estimation of why homosexuality is an unnatural act is not one that either of you accept. But I do not understand how you can reasonably deny that it is an unnatural act, when it is obvious that we would not have penises and vaginas unless they were intended to be employed for reproductive purposes. It is in that sense that they are complementary. That has nothing whatsoever to do with feelings, and it will never change. I regret that you do not agree that this obvious observation has nothing to do with how we should think of homosexual behavior, but, I can’t see what would be more important to thinking about homosexual behavior.

    I don’t believe that after John Stuart Mill died, he sat down at the right hand of the Father. A consequentialist ethic is just a theory of a smart man. Other smart men have different approaches. If you want to argue ethics, we can do that. What is your reasoning for saying that a consequentialist ethic is superior? You are aware of course that the nazis and communists also believed in consequential ethics? The problem with consequential ethics is that whoever has the power gets to determine the moral calculus. I don’t think that is a morality worth its weight in salt.

    In regard to homosexuality, you think that the moral calculus is for letting gays have sex and do whatever they want so long as no one else is harmed. But your definition of harm is one that is self-serving to your desires. Your opinion and mine of what constitutes harm do not coincide in every case; thus if you want to discuss this, we should put our harms on the table.

    For me, the ultimate harm is that someone should go to hell. That is based on my beliefs about God and the afterlife, which the 18th c. deists had no problem with, and which they believed was evident from the practical reason, as Kant taught. It was obvious to them that Justice was real, and that since Justice was not always vindicated in this life, there must be another life afterwards which would vindicate it. And there are very many other proofs from the practical reason of the existence of God and the afterlife. Just read Kant, who was no churchman.

    Now it has always been clear to me that just because Kant said something was obvious and had to be so because the practical reason could not countenance anything else, did not make it so. Nevertheless, whether we use a priori reason as the cartesians do, of the practical reason as Kant did, there are many reasonable proofs of the existence of God.

    So perhaps that is where we should go next. If a God of the type I believe in exists, then it may be fair to reason from the creation that things which obviously have natural and unnatural uses subsequently give rise to condemnations when we use them unnaturally.

    That you refuse to meet with reason is most clear in your opinion about what to do about physical malformations. You have backed yourself into admitting that there is no objective reason for us to fix a cleft palate. There is no objective reason to fix a broken leg either, according to what you are writing. This is what comes from denying that we can make value judgments about natural acts and processes.

    I am sorry you find the comparison insulting, but isn’t a statement that homosexuality is ‘genetic’ mean that homosexuals did not develop normally for some reason? Penises are made for vaginas. If we want to put the penis somewhere else, this cannot be normal.

    TTYL

  11. thebentangle Says:

    Yan, I do use the modal “should” when I believe certain behaviors are prescribed or necessary for human and ecological flourishing. For example, I believe we “should” reduce our carbon emissions and that we “should” stop telling gay children they are defective. In fact, I believe these are moral imperatives.

    I didn’t understand your second paragraph.

    Your third paragraph reminds me of George W. Bush saying about climate change, “It needs more study.” In the case of homosexuality, I would only say, “Study it all you want, but in the meantime don’t assume that it is disordered because you do a great disservice to people who are gay.” And no, by all means, don’t jump to conclusions, especially if they are negative ones. If you want to assume something, then assume that all gays and lesbians are God’s creatures and that He created them with a purpose. I will just assume that there’s nothing wrong with me (a gay man) unless you can show me that there is.

    How can I reasonably deny that homosexuality is an unnatural act? Because I’m living in the 21st century and evolutionary theory is now mainstream and does not include teleological explanations for penises and vaginas—or for any other organ or function of the body. Teleology is a thing of the past, and it is pre-scientific and theological. Organs were not “intended” for anything. They just evolved to their present form because they were adaptive. Homosexuality may be adaptive for reasons of “group selection,” and you can look into this on your own. I would recommend Leonard Shlain. There’s no “should” needed for any of this. Nature takes care of it. Homosexuality exists throughout the animal kingdom and persists for some reason that is not completely understood. To assume that it is “wrong” or “unnatural” or “perverted” in humans is also to assume that it is these things in other species, and I think you will have a hard time selling any zoologist on that idea. They don’t do theology.

    Again you use the word “obvious,” as though what is obvious to you should be obvious to everyone. It is not.

    There is nothing sinister about consequentialism, or pragmatism. Much of American jurisprudence is based on it. The greatest American philosopher, John Dewey, was a pragmatist. How else should you judge an action than by its consequences?

    I noticed your phrasing, “letting gays have sex and do whatever they want.” Do you know how that sounds to a free man? Incredibly presumptuous. Who are you to tell me what I can do and not do?

    So, you were unable to find any harms. So you evoke the harm of last resort: Hell. This follows a familiar pattern in discussions like these. If all else fails, then just threaten your adversary with Hellfire. Always works, except when your adversary doesn’t believe in Hell. And I don’t.

    There are no reasonable proofs for the existence of God.

    I did not say that there is no objective reason to fix a cleft palate. Re-read what I wrote: “If your cleft palate causes a speech impediment or some other dysfunction, … then get it fixed.”
    No reason to fix a broken leg? You’re trying desperately to put words in my mouth, and I’m just glad that we have a record.

    Yan, if you want to put your penis in a vagina, then by all means do so. And enjoy it. Don’t think about penises rubbing against other penises when you do so. Or penises in hands. Just enjoy your own sex life and leave me to enjoy mine.

  12. yan Says:

    I see. Does this mean I am no longer welcome to the discussion?

    ‘There are no reasonable proofs of the existence of God.’ I think most philosophers would disagree with you. There are many arguments, with different kinds of merits. I will be glad to discuss any of them with you. But I think your mind is rather closed on the subject, if you could make such a categorical statement.

    Hell is a harm, so I don’t think I didn’t adduce any harms. Sin is a harm, because it does not bring us closer to God. These are real harms.

    But I don’t want to ‘scare’ you into seeing harms. So let’s leave aside final judgment for the discussion’s sake. I was in a hurry at the time.

    If you are seriously asking, ‘how else do you judge an action than by its consequence,’ then I don’t think you have been thinking very hard about philosophy or ethics. How does one judge whether something is a harm unless there is some transcendent criteria which our moral judgments must be subject to? How does one judge whether the nazis or communists did any harm? In all cases, they thought they were acting for the greater good. So, is it only nazis and communists that can make an error in the moral calculus? How would one know? What is a good consequence?

    It is deeper reflection of our moral reason that leads us to encounter truths which we have refused to acknowledge. The truth is there, but we must be honest with ourselves and willing to accept it when we find it. This may entail changing our lives in ways which we do not like.

    The other day I listened to a Black Sabbath song which said, ‘I think it is true/ it was people like you/ that crucified Christ.’ When we do not want to accept the truth, we hate it and kill it if we can.

    In war, both sides usually believe to some extent that they are in the right. Both think the moral calculus favors their cause. When the dust settles, passions cool, and people reflect, what is right and wrong often becomes painfully clear; but it is too late to undo the wreckage.

    The relevance of all this is that I could list lots of consequential harms of homosexual sex, like the higher incidence of disease and promiscuity, the unhappiness, the drug addiction and depression that are commonly at elevated levels among homosexuals. But I don’t think you would care, because at this point, you have already made your moral calculus, and you are sticking with it.

    I thought my second paragraph was clear, but I will try again. When we look at the brains of homosexual men, for instance, we find a statistically greater preponderance of certain characteristics than in heterosexual men. For example, we find that the size of the right hemisphere is more often larger than the left than the frequency with which this occurs with straight men. But we still find in some straight men that they also have a right hemisphere larger than their left. So, something is presumably happening in homosexuals which increases the chances that they will have a larger right hemisphere. But does the larger right hemisphere make them homosexual? Clearly not, for if it did, every man with a larger right hemisphere would also be a homosexual, and this is not the case.

    So we are observing interesting things, but we have not found any causes yet.

    Cleft palate: you said, ‘if it causes you a speech impediment, or if you don’t like the looks of it….then change it.’ Well, what if I like my impediment? Is it insulting to me if you call it an impediment? I was trying to point out that you will not accept anything in nature as being ‘natural’ in the sense of ‘correct.’ If a cleft palate doesn’t bother me, then, according to you, there is nothing wrong with having a cleft palate. It is perfectly natural. This is the length you will go to deny the obviousness of teleology, and your ethics follow from this.

    I thought William James was our greatest philosopher, but I guess you are entitled to your preference in that matter.

    Since I have not made my sex life an issue, I would appreciate if you leave it out of the discussion. On the other hand, since you have announced yours and used it numerous times for illustrative purposes, I think it is only fair game if I may refer to it as well.

    Finally Douglas, you seem to find yourself insulted by what I have written on at least 2 occasions. It was not my intention to insult you and I apologize. Please understand that I was only trying to argue my point and I don’t think what I said was insulting. But I really don’t want to create any hard feelings, so, if you still find what I am saying insulting, I will just stop posting. It’s been a good discussion up to this point and I appreciate that.

  13. thebentangle Says:

    Yan, you are always welcome to the discussion. Sorry I was a little testy and inappropriate. My battery runs low sometimes.

    I cut short the discussion of proofs of God because I’m not sure I want to make the investment of time for it. Anyway, such discussions rarely change anyone’s mind. Usually, we cannot get beyond my initial question, “Which god?” You can press me on this if you want to, and I may feel up for it.

    I should have explained what I meant by consequentialism. I believe morality is about reducing suffering and increasing both human flourishing and ecological sustainability. In judging whether an act is moral or immoral, we look at its consequences for these two values. Hitler’s eliminationist policy toward the Jews has been described as “state consequentialism” (i.e., favoring the goals of the state but at the expense of anyone who does not support those goals), but it’s not a form of consequentialism that I subscribe to.

    The “transcendent criteria” to which our judgments must be subject are none other than the two values that I named. They are not transcendent in the sense of “supernatural” but in the sense of “transcending narrow interests” and viewing the world as an interconnected whole.

    I’m not suggesting that consequentialism offers easy answers. Sometimes it is at odds with truth and human rights, and there are inevitably questions about long-term vs. short-term benefits of an ethical decision. But we just have to hammer these things out. Turning all our moral decisions over to a Holy Book or the Magisterium may be the easiest course, but it is an abdication of responsibility.

    I think the Black Sabbath song would have been improved by changing the words to “I think it is true / it was people like me and you / that crucified Christ.”

    Your “consequential harms” of homosexual sex paints a pretty grim picture. Since we don’t even know how many homosexuals there are in this country (see Gallup’s poll, published yesterday), how can you say there is a “higher incidence” of disease and promiscuity, etc.? Even if it is true, does a “higher incidence” of these things necessitate any over-arching conclusion about the harms of gay sex? What if there turns out to be a higher incidence of depression, alcoholism, and spousal abuse among heterosexuals? Are we to conclude that heterosexual sex is immoral?

    And what about the absolutely staggering amount of violence against women in this country and throughout the world? Do you think the perpetrators are gay men and lesbians? What would you say if I claimed that heterosexual sex is inherently disordered because of this?

    Regarding relative size of the brain hemispheres: My information (from Ian McGilchrist, a London psychiatrist who writes about the bilateral brain) is that the right hemisphere is always larger in social mammals. Elsewhere, I read that the brain hemispheres of gay men and straight women are, on average, equally proportioned, while straight men and lesbians have, on average, slightly larger right hemispheres. The key words are “on average.” But there appear to be some physiological characteristics that can be described as “across the board.” These include the hypothalamus nucleus (larger in gay men), the size of the INAH-3 area (whatever that is) (smaller in gay men), the brain’s response to fluoxetine (an SSRI), the inner ears and central auditory systems of lesbians, a larger suprachiasmatic nucleus in gay men, a masculinized startle response in lesbians, a more active amygdala in gay men, and some others.

    But there’s no reason to discount the “average” differences. They may indicate positive correlations. For example, 8% of men in the general population have a counterclockwise hair whorl (at the back of the neck), whereas 23% of gay men do. These numbers are not insignificant.

    Re: the cleft palate: If you dislike your cleft palate, which is, clinically speaking, an impediment to clear speech, then by all means have it fixed. But homosexuality is not like a cleft palate because (1) it is not an impediment, and (2) it cannot be “fixed.”

    You claim that I will not accept anything in nature as being “natural” in the sense of “correct.” I don’t remember saying that. Instead, my view is that certain conditions or characteristics are normative (i.e., in the center bulge of the bell curve), and others are on the edges. The ones on the edges may or may not be problematic. A cleft palate will probably make speech difficult (and it can be fixed), while unusual height (tallness) qualifies one to be a basketball player. An albino may be inconvenienced by his or her pigmentation, but there’s probably nothing to be done about it. As for homosexuality, there’s no intrinsic reason why it should be a problem.

    My ethics follow from my denial of the obviousness of teleology? Is there something wrong with my ethics?

    • yan Says:

      Hi Douglas,

      Thanks for the apology. Of course, as having asked for your forgiveness as well, I freely give you mine.

      Thanks for the updated science, which seems to show better information than what I was supplied with. In any event, I think you see my point that issues of etiology are not remotely settled yet. Why brain hemisphere sizes should for any reason correlate with an experience of homosexual attraction is a complete mystery at this point. Clearly, relative hemisphere size alone does not determine our sexual preferences. As important as this research may be, it is very much preliminary.

      I think it is very hopeful though; certainly it shows much more progress in understanding than the purely non-physiological etiologies that have been proposed up to now, since they all assumed that homosexuality was a purely non-physiological condition. These correlations provide evidence that such theories were very much, though perhaps not entirely, a product of our ignorance. If that has been your point, I’m sorry if I have not been clear that I am and have been in accord with it since this discussion began on Feb. 2. I hope my position on the etiology of homosexuality is clear now to you as well and that you can both accept and embrace it.

      As to conversion therapy then, I agree that we do not know how to ‘fix’ many kinds of homosexualities. In order to know how to ‘fix’ it, we would first have to know what causes it. Until we know that, we cannot fix it. But perhaps, one day, we will know what causes it. At that time, it may become possible for us to fix it. On the other hand, it may not. We just don’t know yet. This indeed is a matter best left to science. It is not a question that bears on whether the homosexual act is right or wrong.

      We need to discuss consequentialism. The process by which you chose a value in consequentialism is not a scientific process. The same process applies to any ethical system. The process of choosing values involves moral reasoning based on reflection and an encounter with the truth which we find in our experiences to the best of our abilities. As you said, we need to hammer it out. But this process of hammering out the truth is not the scientific method, and it has nothing to do with consequentialism per se. It is not a priori reasoning, either, since we come to our thoughts in light of our lived experiences. This process applies whether one accepts the natural law or not. It applies in deciding whether or not to believe in a natural law which can be a guide to further moral reflection and appropriate laws which should follow from that reflection.

      Consequentialism purports to choose values for us, but it cannot. Take, ‘the greatest good to the greatest number.’ First of all, what is good? Second, by what criteria can it be weighed? Is it expedient that one man should die, than that all the people perish? What is the worth of a man? Are they all worth the same? What is the worth of a man’s suffering? Are all kinds of suffering of equal worth? How is it measured?

      Consequentialism cannot give us the answers to those questions. We have to hammer them out first. After that, there is a place for consequentialism in our laws.

      Thus, it is not science that reveals to us the truth about our being, and about the meaning of our lives. Nor does the natural law reveal to us a priori truths which we accept without thinking. On the contrary, the natural law provides a framework by which we can interpret and understand the meaning of what we see and live.

      Neither consequentialism nor science can tell us the meaning of a homosexual act. That is for us to determine, using our reason, in view of the truth we find on honest reflection on our experiences and observations.

  14. Dean Hansen Says:

    Greetings Yan,

    I noticed the date stamp on your earlier post was 3:33am, and Dough’s is 5:10am. Dough has reassured me that he never stays up that late, so it could be a redirect or some other kind of internet glitch. But it’s more fun to think of it as either the clash of the Titans, or just a bad case of insomnia from two obsessive compulsives!   I admire your willingness to pursue these issues deep into dream time, if that’s what you’ve done, because it’s obvious that Dough’s soul needs saving in a bad way, but Jeeez, guys!

    You stated, “You are free to follow the should or not to.”  Obviously, we are free to experience the consequences of our choices, unless they were absorbed by someone else.  That, not coincidentally, is what the Gospels are all about.  Most people are reasonably insistent on making those choices even when hounded by the implied obligation to an expected state, which is what should is.  Any collaboration with truth is first a recognition of that fact. 

    I have neither the courage nor the wherewithal to make observations about the spiritual state or condition of John Stuart Mill or anyone else.  I believe the chair at the right hand of the father like the one Clint Eastwood pointed to in his sloppy GOP pantomime of the president, is already filled.  Personally, I choose to believe that hell is just another way of saying you don’t believe what you claim to believe. Because it ruins heaven, cheapens God by converting divinity into an anthropomorphic delusion based on human notions of justice projected skyward, renders Christ ineffective who declared he would take all men with him, and sews discord among people who refuse to compromise their sanity for the loopy rewards offered by unbending and superstitious dogma that has no business cheapening grace or applying metaphysical vagaries to the mouth of someone who offered unconditional love in exchange for faith.  

    Thomas Aquinas famously said, “….That the saints may enjoy their beatitude and the grace of God more abundantly they are permitted to see the punishment of the damned in hell.”   There’s a charitable fellow for you! I can almost imagine Aquinas and Dante collaborating on the architecture of the pit, and becoming giddy with joy at the thought of who might be burning in it. But then Aquinas in an apparently unrelated passage underscores the irony of such a claim by declaring “…[that] the things we love tell us who we are.”  Indeed. From a refreshingly different perspective we have Shelley’s wonderful exposition to wit: 

    “If he is infinitely good, what reason should we have to fear him? If he is infinitely wise, why should we have doubts concerning our future? If he knows all, why warn him of our needs and fatigue him with our prayers? If he is everywhere, why erect temples to him? If he is just, why fear that he will punish the creatures that he has filled with weaknesses? If grace does everything for them, what reason would he have for recompensing them? If he is all-powerful, how offend him, how resist him? If he is reasonable, how can he be angry at the blind, to whom he has given the liberty of being unreasonable? If he is immovable, by what right do we pretend to make him change his decrees? If he is inconceivable, why occupy ourselves with him?  If he has spoken, why is the universe not convinced?  If the knowledge of a God is the most necessary, why is it not the most evident and the clearest?”

    This is what is clear to me: The Roman Catholic Church has explicitly conceded the point that homosexuality is constitutive. It declared in 1975 that homosexuality is indeed involuntary for many. In the recent Universal Catechism, the church goes even further. Homosexuality is described as a “condition” of a “not negligible” number of people who “do not choose” their sexuality and deserve to be treated with “respect, compassion and sensitivity”. More critically, because of homosexuality’s involuntary nature, it cannot of itself be morally culpable (although homosexual acts still are). The doctrine is thus no longer “hate the sin but love the sinner”; it’s “hate the sin but accept the condition”, a position unique in Catholic theology, and one that has already begun to creak under the strain of its own tortuousness. 

    The Church thus defines Gay people by a sexual act in a way it never defines heterosexual people, and in this, according to gay blogger Andrew Sullivan, the church is in weird agreement with extreme Gay activists who also want to define homosexuality in terms of its purely sexual content. Whereas being Gay is not about sex as such. Fundamentally, it’s about one’s core emotional identity. It’s about whom one loves, ultimately, and how that can make one whole as a human being … a single person’s moral equilibrium in a whole range of areas can improve with marriage … because there is a kind of stability and security and rock upon which to build one’s moral and emotional life.  To deny this to Gay people is not merely incoherent and wrong, from the Christian point of view.  It is incredibly destructive of the moral quality of their lives in general.

    You can’t ask someone to suppress what makes them whole as a human being and then to lead blameless lives.  Homosexual men and women in the church need love in their lives in order to love others, in order to be good Christians.  What the church is asking Gay people to do is not to be Holy, but actually to be warped … no wonder people’s lives, many Gay lives, are unhappy or distraught or in dysfunction, because there is no guidance at all.  Here is a population within the church, and outside the church, desperately seeking spiritual health and values, and the church refuses to come to their aid, refuses to listen to this call.

    In sum, as long as you believe that God is punishing you for being a human being, you’ll never be very much of a human being, and God will never be much of a God. That goes both for the critics of homosexuality as well as their victims. 

    And everyone else as well. 

    Dean Hansen

  15. yan Says:

    Dean, welcome to the discussion. In regard to your last point first, your rhetorical impact, which is noted for its mellifluousness, assumes of course that being a homosexual is first, essential to being a human being for homosexuals; and second, essential in such a way that God cannot hold such beings to account for acting in accord with that being. But, as I’m sure you will agree given the discussion up to this point, those assumptions are conclusory, and I for one dispute them.

    In regard to the evolution of Catholic doctrine, full disclosure first: I am a Catholic and I accept the normative authority of the catechism, including what it says in regard to homosexual acts and the homosexual condition. I don’t see how you can conclude that its teaching about homosexuality amounts to ‘hate the sin, accept the condition,’ when it is quite clear in the context of the passage, and indeed the context of the entire Catholic faith, that we are to love all mankind with the love of Christ who died for us, while we were [and still often are] yet sinners.

    I never attended Oxford and so I probably should not presume to reply to so great a light and wit as Shelly, even though in my own vain mind I feel I might be sufficient to the task. But others of greater wit and wisdom have made replies to all his points, and so I hope you will forgive me if I do not add my 2 yankee cents to the already ample and beautiful theological wisdom propounded by many English divines–and divines of other tongues, as well. They are available to anyone interested in reading them.

    From your elaboration of my point about the Right Hand of the Power I take it that you believe in Jesus Christ and that He occupies that place. Since you believe Him to be Lord then, may I suggest that you take up the issue of hell with Him, since He spoke of it more often, according to the Scriptures, and plainly, than of heaven. You may draw your own conclusions as to why He felt it important to mention it with the frequency with which He did.

    Finally, we seem to be in agreement about ‘the should.’ I want to point out that so many people have concluded from the reality of ‘should’ that there must be a place after this life for those that, with full knowledge, feeling, and confirmed will [please note the conditions] reject it.

    We can argue all these points more thoroughly in coming posts if you like.

    Cheers…

  16. yan Says:

    “If the knowledge of a God is the most necessary, why is it not the most evident and the clearest?”

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”

    What makes a truth self-evident? Or was Jefferson, a slave owner, just expediently lying or internally qualifying what he was saying to apply only to white men? Jefferson was well aware of the ‘diversity’ of mankind. He well understood, as being one of the most talented men of his generation, that men are not endowed with equal gifts. Yet he rued slavery as an injustice, and, contrary to what Aristotle would have thought and done, finally freed his slaves.

    Given all the scientific data that existed then, and which exists now, of human inequality, where did he get the idea that all men were created equal; and given human diversity, in what sense could that be meant? Even more, in what sense could that be self-evident?

    Doesn’t all of science tell us that men are not created equal? The more scientific knowledge we have, isn’t this truth further confirmed?

    The nazis and social darwinists [there are still many of the latter around] believed that science had solved the problem of human inequality. Simply, humans with fewer gifts, are worth less than those with more gifts. Thus, we don’t really have to care what happens to them. It is nature’s way of weeding out the weak. Or, German humans are the best type of human, and the rest of the race should serve them, or be exterminated. They thought they were just aiding the evolutionary process.

    Well, I have to say, both the nazis and the social darwinists had some good points to make. The Germans are wonderful people. I love German music, and where would we be without the Germanic influence on, and contributions to, philosophy, law, science? The social darwinists are right that poor people breed more and are a burden on the rest of society which is more productive, and which is ‘dragged down’ by the rest.

    How do we know men are equal then? We reflect on our experience, on the people we have known. Somehow, we see through all the differences. We see, I think, that each man has a human soul that is in a sense of the same quality as our own soul, even if each soul possesses in different degrees and ways peculiar qualities that make that individual unique. Somehow we see that all men are one and therefore each are all brothers participating in this same human essence. This is an insight of our moral reasoning, and science cannot teach it to us. Just because it is not within the competence of science to teach us this fact does not mean it is not true and does not exist. Thus it does no good to argue that since science does not see it, there is no reason to believe it.

    The natural law is also intuited in a similar manner. It is not a product of a priori reasoning and it does not dispense a priori truths to us from a cereal box. It is found through a posteriori reasoning that leads us to understand and accept eternal truths waiting to be found.

    Cheers, brothers.

  17. thebentangle Says:

    Yan, where the etiology of homosexuality is concerned, you see the glass as half empty, while I see it as mostly full. Your write that the “issues of etiology are not remotely settled yet.” Well, nothing is ever “settled” in science, but what matters for the layman is the consensus opinion, and we both know what that is.

    Your position on “fixing” homosexuality was not very clear to me in your fourth paragraph. You used scare quotes for “fix” twice, but then you used the word twice again without them. I don’t know what the point of discussions about “fixing” homosexuality can be until you’ve established that it needs fixing, and no one has done that.

    Homosexuality would be morally wrong if it had clearly harmful consequences, but no one has been able to link any of the morally questionable behaviors of some homosexuals to homosexuality itself (what you call our “condition.”). The same is true for the “default” sexual orientation. If homosexuals thought like many heterosexuals about these matters, we would probably conclude that heterosexual acts are morally wrong because they are strongly associated with rape and other violence toward women, out-of-wedlock births, pedophilia, high murder rates, poor cooking and decorating skills, and bad taste in general. But we do not think in that way about you because we believe it would be terribly unkind to characterize the heterosexual “condition” in that way.

    Optimally, the consequentialist approach is informed by available evidence, guided by reason, and enabled by the scientific method. Though it starts with sensory data (lived experience), it subjects that data to methodical testing and evaluation before applying rules governed by the two values that I named earlier (human flourishing and ecological sustainability). It never starts with “revealed” truth, whether the revelation is through natural law, tradition, scripture, or personal vision/hallucination. When you choose a course of action only because it is prescribed by a holy book or mandated by a Pope, or because you had a mind-blowing, life-altering vision from the mountaintop, you are not using your reason. Your next act will probably be to form a cult and move everybody to Guyana.

    Consequentialism does not propose to choose values for us. It is not a free agent. It’s only an approach, a method for hammering out the answers to the questions you posed. I’m going to bracket those questions, because they could lead us off on a tangent. My point is that you don’t hammer out the answers first (using what method?). You do it using the consequentialist approach.

    Figuring out the meaning of our lives is a very complicated matter, and there’s no reason why science shouldn’t be a useful tool in doing so. Dreams are good, too. And some literature, film, religion, friendships, love relationships, etc. You use the word “reveal” a lot, and I will also use it, but in a more secular sense: All these things can “reveal” a lot to us about the meaning of our lives.

    When you talk about natural law, I’m not sure what you mean? You know that I wrote an essay about it (published on this site just last week). Can you direct me to a source where I can find out exactly what natural law is? Not just one person’s opinion of what it is, but a universally accepted definition of it?

    In my view, consequentialism is the only reliable way of determining the moral valence of a homosexual act. But you used the word “meaning” (“Neither science nor consequentialism can tell us the meaning of a homosexual act,” you wrote.) Do we really need to know the “meaning” of a homosexual act? And isn’t it different for everyone who performs it?

  18. Dean Hansen Says:

    Hi Yan,

    Knowing the glacial movement of the Catholic church in regards to shifts in doctrine, I have to assume that most people who are seeking a “conclusion” on the issue of homosexuality and marital partnerships from church authority are in for a long wait. In the meantime, life goes on and civil and secular authority are moving in the direction of granting these claims principally out of a sense of fairness and legal equity rather than from a strictly moral perspective. It seems only conservative religious groups anticipate severe repercussions that will spell doom for the nation, but most folks will choose not to stifle their emotional life or wait for approval to express themselves sexually or romantically. I cannot see any way in which granting marital rights to homosexuals puts heterosexuals at risk. As I’ve often told my friend Doughlas, Why should gays be spared the suffering of their married heterosexual friends? Come and join the party. For some it will be a celebration, for others it will not. In any case, they will try to live their lives according to their own lights and consciences if they feel beholden to church authority in any way, but will feel the greater urgency just to experience fulfillment in areas that were previously denied them and which society increasing confirms are within reach.

    I’m not a Catholic, neither am I gay. But I have friends in both groups. I’m simply a believer who lives with constant doubt, but is willing to entertain and exercise those doubts through a constant process of questioning and re-assessment. I don’t believe in the authority of any church to make my choices for me. My exemplar is Christ, whose access is not restricted by Catholic hierarchy, or ex cathedra pronouncements from on high. It is interesting though, that the Church, so intent on managing the sex lives of its adherents, is run by men and women who are not allowed to have any. That’s why I believe, as Voltaire said, that God is a comedian playing to an audience who’s afraid to laugh.

    Thanks to the presence of the computer, I made the serendipitous discovery while playing with the search/find function many years ago that the word “heaven” appears in the Bible somewhere around 850 times. The word “hell” appears 54 times. I was shocked to discover that for myself. That’s part of what forms my criticism of the church, and its belaboring of such issues. They apparently neglected the passage about “rightly dividing the word of God”, which becomes essential doctrine when you look at the heaven/hell ratio of 16:1. Any mathematician will tell you that’s not a very symmetrical relation. So, which priest, minister or cleric rightly divides the word of God? Very few that I can find. There’s always the insinuation of a negative result. The ones who send their congregations to some imaginary torment every Sunday seem to take precedence over the ones who prepare them for an eternal destiny promised by Christ through a journey of faith and grace, and with no intimation of condemnation whatsoever. I would say that the central message, which is a good one, has been hijacked by brigands who have never heard it, and would reject it if they did, out of fear for their immortal souls. Poetic justice, I guess.

    You’re not in hell because you imagine you’re in heaven; you’re in hell when you know you’re in hell, otherwise why call it hell? David made his bed there; but God was with him. Threatening people in a church with a precipitously declining membership by taunting them with poorly disguised evocations of eternal metaphysical punishment for exercising their free will almost certainly hasten that decline, but it will have zero effect on altering the opinion of anyone with enough common sense or rational intelligence to distinguish the difference between arthritis and rigor mortis.

    The word which Jesus uses for hell in the New Testament is a mistranslation of the Hebrew word Bin Hinnon (translated into Greek as Gehenna) which appears originally in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah. Bin Hinnon was the place of child murder….one of the many sacrificial altars where apotropaic sacrifices were made to Baal, the god of the Canaanites. The word apotropaic means to appease the vengeance of the deity through a (sin) offering, which was customarily a human sacrifice. The Greek theatre would later elevate that sacrificial ritual to a symbolic one through the use of a dithyrambic chorus and a stage, on which the altar would be supplanted by personae, where the actors would experience catharsis by symbolically representing actual violence through the play without repeating it. When Jesus pointed to Gehenna, he was referencing the rubbish dump on the outskirts of Jerusalem where garbage was burned, very much as children were forced to walk through fire in a primitive rite used to assuage the “wrath” of an angry deity, of which Yahweh was merely a continuation. There is absolutely NO metaphysical spin on the word hell as Jesus uses it in the New Testament. Parables are NOT doctrine. He is not talking about a wrathful God; a jealous pissed off transcendent monster, or a Deux ex Machina that drops a big foot out of heaven like some Monty Python skit. He’s talking about violent, unforgiving people who want to perpetuate their own form of primitive religious appeasement and to act on their impulses of revenge. In short, there is no hell, except for the one we make for each other down here.

    The development of the idea of the Devil/Satan came rather late in the history of religion. The Jews don’t believe in either heaven or hell as literal places. Religion in this sense is like a living historical palimpsest in which old material surfaces, is incorporated, or newer material fades as its replaced by even more recent material. I imagine that the rules that apply to Darwinian evolution also apply in remarkably similar ways to language and literature. Things are selected out when they don’t “work” as they’re expected to; other things split into divergent forms, and every once in awhile, there are literary mutations that send things off in new, innovative, unexpected or even dangerous and unwelcome directions. That may be why the Dodo Bird is extinct, the Platypus is not, and hell should be. It could also explain why the Catholic Church went from having one exorcist in the 1960’s to several dozen now. There are penalties to be paid for traumatizing people psychologically, not to mention great propaganda technique of terrifying folks back into the pews. (I doubt that it will have the desired effect).

    “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.” — Thomas Jefferson (in a Letter to John Adams, 1823)

    What makes a truth self evident? What makes a Buddhist different from a Christian? Or a Muslim different from a Mormon or a Hindi? If you ask each of these groups, the answers they give will seem self evident to each of them because they are speaking from their own cultural and religious biases which have been inculcated and ingrained in them from birth. They will usually be passionate about their beliefs for the same reason we are passionate about ours. How does this speak to the necessary agency of God when we’ve already split him/her/it up into so many different pieces? This in part is what I believe Shelley was addressing with his question about the necessity of God and the seeming diversity of ideas about him.

    In terms of equality of rights under the law, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Jefferson was attempting to see beyond himself and discovered in the process of forming the precepts of a nation a needed remedy to his own hypocrisy about slave ownership. But Jefferson also wrote his own version of the Bible which stripped Jesus of all his powers and left behind only ethical and moral parables. He was a deist. What I’m suggesting, is that God, whatever that may be, can whisper it’s truths to each of us. But we are not all going to hear the same thing. If the voice of God were as clear and discernible as the voice that people continuously mistake for it, there would be no evil in the world. Bill Maher personifies the idea well with this joke:

    “Three of the Republican candidates have said that God called them to be President. But seriously, if God did really did call all three to be President, isn’t he really just fucking with two of them?”

    I think Doughlas can address issues of Natural law better than I can. As far as science is concerned, I once wrote to Carl Sagan many years ago in which I challenged him on many of his assumptions. It was an article on skepticism. One of his rules stated, “Arguments from authority carry little weight. Authorities have made mistakes in the past and will do so again”.

    I responded: Agreed. But do you know (or acknowledge) any authority who isn’t also human, and therefore fallible? If this rule is taken to it’s obvious conclusion, than students should never listen to their teachers. No one at risk of being fallible should teach. And since you ask us to accept your rule, you are also asking us to accept your authority…but on what grounds? That you are right, and we are wrong? Or that you are “more right” than others because your skepticism is built on a foundation of “pure” science? How “pure” can your science be if we must accept its rules while simultaneously rejecting those who frame them? I’ve never met Carl Sagan, what proof do I have that you are real, other than your own authority, which I must dismiss?

    Sagan never responded to my letter, but he revealed the same weakness in science that is evident in religion: Us. The answer must be similar in regards to our conversation. The authority of the church comes from men. It is a flawed and fallible authority, but that in itself is not a reason to completely discard it. You take value where you can find it. As Reinhold Niebuhr observed, “The truth of man is that he has a curious kind of dignity, and a curious kind of misery. it’s as difficult to get charity out of piety as it is to get reasonableness out of rationalism.” Even if the church cleans its house and prosecutes those who are responsible for destroying its moral authority, I would still be wary of its claims. It’s just too convenient and pat to believe that they are sole possessors of the truth. In an expanding universe, time is on the side of the outcast. Those who once inhabited the suburbs of human contempt find that without changing their address they eventually live in the metropolis.

    Best,
    Dean

  19. thebentangle Says:

    You’ve contrasted Jefferson’s dictum (“All men [sic] are created equal”) with the easily observable fact that all men are not equal in physical or mental endowments and achievements. Was Jefferson wrong? No. And neither is the observable evidence of inequality. Expecting these two claims to match up is like expecting there to be only one meaning of the word “purpose,” or, for that matter, of “marriage.” In every language, many or most words have multiple meanings that are conveyed through context. I’m looking at four definitions of the word “equal” in Merriam-Websters, and three of those have nested sub-definitions. So Jefferson’s exact meaning could be hard to pin down, but immersing oneself in Enlightenment thinking for a year or so might also yield some clues. For the purposes of jurisprudence, “equality” cannot possibly be absolute, because no short man has a “right” to play with the Houston Rockets, and you do not have the “right” to be CEO of General Motors. But when it comes to basic human rights and civil rights, what justification can there be for denying women the right to vote, African-Americans the right to a quality education, or same-sex couples the right to marry? The law presumes equal access to civil rights unless there is some compelling reason to deny it.

    If I understand the point of your allusions to social Darwinism and the Nazis, it is that science couldn’t have aided the Germans in understanding that killing Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals was wrong. For a variety of reasons, I believe that it could have.

    For one thing, if evolutionary theory hadn’t been so badly understood and if any sort of ecological consciousness had existed at the time, the Nazis would have known better than to attempt “purification” according to their completely arbitrary and religio-mythical idea of what constituted purity. Nor would they even have been so obsessed with purity in the first place. They either murdered or scared off some of Europe’s finest assets—an absolutely enormous pool of talent and skill in all the trades, the arts and sciences—as well as millions of children and young people with huge unrealized potentials.

    I can’t write an account of all the stupid things the Nazis did. There isn’t enough time or space. My point is that science and technology were subverted to the eliminationist and expansionist goals of the Reich. Science and reason were not enlisted in any project of creating a just society or promoting human flourishing. An analogy is in the way reason was used in the Middle Ages—mainly for solving theological puzzles rather than for advancing science or human welfare.

    You may think I haven’t addressed the fundamental question of why we should want to maximize ecological sustainability and the well-being of self-conscious creatures. Science can also provide the answer to that question. It is that we can now see our planet from the moon. We know that we are interconnected, that MacBeth cannot just murder the king without having nightmares about it for the rest of his life, that he who lives by the sword dies by the sword. It’s the wisdom of the ages, it’s empirically verifiable, and it’s written into our DNA. We now know more about human nature than ever before, and we recognize the real and tangible values of cooperation and we have seen the horrors of war and genocide. What is more, we know that healthy human beings are empathic. That is also coded into our genes, and brain studies confirm that the sort of behavior exhibited by the Nazis towards Jews was orchestrated by psychopaths.

    The inescapable fact is that science has all kinds of ways of pointing us in the right direction, and religion just gets lucky sometimes.

  20. yan Says:

    Brothers, to reply in greater detail would be worth my time, but because of the attention and demand on my time it would require from me, I am not able to at this time, since I have some pressing concerns to attend to right now. Perhaps we will take up these thoughts another time. In sum, let it suffice for now to agree to disagree that science alone can provide us with values sufficiently suitable to the full meaning of humanity. On etiology of homosexuality, some things in science are very well settled. We can point to specific areas in the brain that control speech and different things; there is no area of the brain that we can point to and say that it causes homosexual desire. That homosexual desire is abnormal I aver is obvious from the fact that the result of the desire is completely antithetical to the primary purpose of the sex act and therefore it would be desirable to make the desire to be in accord with nature, if that were possible. If not, then the counsel of God is to be merciful to failings but not to pretend that they are other than failings.

    Dean, Shelly’s allegedly implied reference to the relation of the diversity of religion to the need, supposed by dogmatic religion, to understand which faith is true, I am satisfied is well-answered by the Catholic opinion on the matter: man is both sinful and ignorant. Because of the former he is disinclined to believe the truth; because of the latter, it is difficult to understand once it is encountered. Therefore there is sort of a moral necessity on the part of God to reveal to us the truth we need to be saved. That is what Jesus Christ came to do. [On our part the corresponding duty would be to submit to this truth.] Since He is no longer here except by Spirit and sacrament, it is a corollary of the moral necessity to have the truth authoritatively explained to us that God leave us something to interpret that truth and explain it as new situations emerge to challenge that truth down through the ages. He therefore gave to His visible Church through the petrine ministry and the college of bishops, in direct line from the apostles Christ chose, together, a charism of infallibility when they define dogma about the faith and morals.

    Formerly Dean I believed as you did, but I became convinced that the Catholic position was true. This occurred over a process of about 10 years of thinking about many of the things you brought up in your post [and many others] as well as through taking steps to eliminate sinful deformities in my own soul present through habits begun while young and never uprooted, and doing a lot of reading in the area of church history, papal encyclicals, and paying attention to the various things JPII was saying during those years.

    As to law, Douglas, that is a completely different conversation, and I think we should treat it separately. That is why I have not responded to your opinions involving that subject.

    Cheers.

  21. thebentangle Says:

    Yan, sorry to say goodbye. I was hoping to pin you down on natural law and correct your errant opinions about homosexuality. Parting with an insult (your reference to my “failings”) is not very gracious on your part, but I understand it is part of your belief system, which I hope you’ll work on improving under my guidance.

    You obviously identify very strongly with the Church, but the Church has lost nearly all moral credibility in recent years. Its own failings over the past century—its Konkordat with the Third Reich, its acquiescence in the slaughter of the Jews, its clerical abuse and cover-ups, its corruption and financial scandals, and its policies on condoms and birth control, which led to millions of deaths in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere—hardly qualify it to judge me for loving and marrying my partner.

    Regarding natural law: See my most recent post (2/20/13) regarding Robert Fulghum’s alternative.

  22. yan Says:

    Hi Douglas,

    I didn’t mean to say goodbye, only to say that my replies would not be fully adequate to a combo of postings from you and Dean due to time constraints.

    On the subject of the Catholic church, I have come to agree with the opinion of Newman, a convert to Rome from Anglicanism, that to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant. I have studied the things you mention which you believe discredit the moral authority of the Church and I have come to different opinions both as to matters of fact and matters of value. If you take your information solely from the likes of Dan Brown, Rolf Hochulth and Garry Willis you are learning history from anti-Catholics. You might as well take your opinion about communism exclusively from the KKK and your opinion about capitalism solely from Marx. Consider the source. I have read opinions from both sides.

    You obviously have your life invested in arriving at a certain result in matters of sexual ethics. In the interest of intellectual fairness you should be more skeptical of those whose views vindicate your strong desires.

    I would like to respond to a point you made earlier about teleology and homosexuality. You said that homosexuality exists in nature and from this fact jumped to the conclusion that it must therefore have some evolutionary purpose. I think you erred there. I can use a screwdriver as a hammer if that is what I have handy; the intended purpose of the screwdriver, however, does not thereby become ambiguous.

    Sex exists for reproduction. All evolutionary biologists have heretofore agreed about that. The point of sex is to continue the species, and it is the drive to continue the species that is so important about the sex drive. Once we survive to a certain level of biological maturity, we may reproduce. If we don’t survive, we do not reproduce. Supposedly the unfit die out this way, and the fit survive and make more. Homosexuality obviously plays no useful role in this sexual scheme. Therefore it is obvious that homosexuality is not a normal condition in the evolutionary sense. It is a condition that prevents individual reproduction. That it is is recurring condition nevertheless, statistically predictable, I think goes to show that the process of animal reproduction is far from perfect, as it does not always produce results which are helpful to the actual process of evolution.

    Evolution is really very inhuman from the standpoint of our sympathy with man, which I believe to be a good which transcends any purported evolutionary process. That is one reason evolution cannot be the sole reference for determining human values.

    I appreciate your not being insulted and for understanding that I don’t mean to insult you. I hope you continue to bite your lip as I also resist the temptation at times, much more rare than they used to be, to be appalled and disgusted beyond what words can express by references to homosexual acts. I believe that we all fail in many ways, but I understand that you would want to be insulted by my calling something dear to you a failing, so thank you for the indulgence, and understand that I also have difficulties with charity at times.

  23. thebentangle Says:

    Hi Yan, I’m in a bit of a rush, so I’ll respond partly in note-form and in two parts.

    “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.”
    “To be deep in history is to cease to be Christian.”
    “To be deep in history is to cease to be monotheistic.”
    “To be deep in history is to be a Hindu.”

    Gary Wills is not anti-Catholic. He is a reform-minded Catholic. I haven’t read Dan Brown, though I saw one of the movies based on his books. No opinion about those.

    Rolf Hochhuth wrote a play about the Church’s silence and acquiescence in the Holocaust (“The Deputy”). It is based on well-documented historical fact (encyclicals, the Konkordat, articles from Vatican publications, etc.)

    I would also recommend Daniel Goldhagen’s book, “A Moral Reckoning,” for a history of the Church’s role. Goldhagen is one of the pre-eminent historians of the Holocaust, and please don’t tell me he’s anti-Catholic. He’s not.

    James Carroll’s “The Sword and the Cross” is also an outstanding source of accurate information about the Church and the Jews. Carroll is a Catholic.

    Neither Hochhuth (a protestant), Goldhagen (a Jew), Wills, nor Carroll (both Catholics) are in any way, shape, or form like the KKK, which lynched African-Americans and wore white hoods so they wouldn’t be identified during their marches. These are highly respected writers/scholars whose claims about the Church are extremely well documented and beyond serious dispute.

    But let’s assume for a moment that Hochhuth, Goldhagen, Wills, and Carroll are all raving Cathlophobes. Take them out of the equation, and what are you left with? Answer: a lot of incriminating documents. And they are very incriminating.

    You obviously have your life invested in arriving at a certain result in matters of sexual ethics. In the interest of intellectual fairness, you should be more skeptical of those whose views vindicate your worldview.

    More shortly.

  24. thebentangle Says:

    Yan, homosexuality definitely exists in nature. It is very common in many, many animal species, including bison, brown bears, brown rats, caribou, domestic cats, cattle, chimpanzees, dolphins, marmosets, dogs, elephants, foxes, giraffes, goats, horses, koalas, lions, orcas, raccoons, barn owls, chickens, common gulls, emus, king penguins, mallards, ravens, seagulls, at least 16 species of fish, at least 30 species of reptiles, four species of amphibians, and 75 species of insects. And those are just the ones that have been “observed.” (some organisms are very discreet.) Biologists, MDs, psychologists, and sociologists do not consider homosexuality at all “unnatural.”

    
Now, did I really jump from that to the conclusion that homosexuality “must therefore have some evolutionary purpose?” Or could that just be what you assumed I thought? I am usually very cautious about ascribing “purpose” to organs, organisms, or behaviors. Human-designed artifacts are usually fabricated with a purpose in mind, but that does not prevent their being used for other purposes. I spent part of my career creating artwork called “assemblages,” which subverted the intended purpose of small industrial objects (mostly from Boeing Surplus) to serve as adornments in people’s homes and offices.

    You see, hammers and screwdrivers have “intended” purposes because they are actually designed, but organic things like eyeballs and tongues do not. They have functions, but these are very varied. What is the “function” of the tongue? Speaking, or eating? Adam and Eve probably spoke before they ate. What is the function of the hand? Grasping? Pushing? Waving? Pulling? May I use it for caressing my cat? Or my lover? Or for pleasuring myself?

    If I want to use my nose for pushing a penny around on the kitchen counter, are you going to tell me I shouldn’t? Where exactly do you draw the line at what can and can’t be done with an organ or appendage? Is it at sex? If so, why?

    I’m not going to put my hand in a food processor because that would hurt. I’m not going to use it to stab someone with a knife because that would also hurt (him). In each case, the consequences of the action are harmful.

    But why shouldn’t I use my penis in whatever way satisfies me as long as no harm ensues?

    The earth is overpopulated. Its population has more than doubled since I was born at the end of WWII. The earth’s resources are being depleted at an alarming rate. There are already serious water shortages in many parts of the world. The earth’s atmosphere contains 385 ppm of CO2, up about 100 ppm since the beginning of the industrial age, and average temperatures are rising, crops failing, livestock dying … In view of these facts, who is doing the most harm—a man who pleasures himself or one who has unprotected sex with a fertile woman? I’m not suggesting we should stop reproducing, but we have to do the calculus: how much fossil fuel will a new human being burn during his or her lifetime?

    Let’s go easy on the reproduction. Let’s encourage contraception, thereby reducing abortion rates. Let’s encourage homosexuals to be what they are!

    You write that “homosexuality is obviously not a a normal condition in the evolutionary sense.” But if it’s on the bell curve, then it’s a normal and natural as pre-mature baldness, left-handedness, unusual height, and lack of skin pigmentation. Do you want to eliminate the low ends of the bell curve by declaring these things to be “abnormal?” But then you would have to recalculate the data, and you’d get a new bell curve with some new low ends. And then you’d have to eliminate those.

    Many physical features (e.g., shortness, butt-ugliness, etc.) are unadaptive. The ugly maiden doesn’t win the heart of the lad, and so she doesn’t pass on her genes. So what? Are you going to tell her she shouldn’t be ugly? Are you even going to tell her that she IS ugly? (how unkind!). I should think you’d want to say to her, “How could you be anything less than beautiful?” Because beauty is not just skin deep, and many of us recognize that. Perhaps not enough of us. The harsh fact of the matter is that she may not find a mate with whom she can pass on her genes. That could be a heartbreak to her if she’s been made to feel that her only value in life is to reproduce. On the other hand, if her family and friends truly love her and see the beauty in her soul, it may not matter.

    Why does it matter to you?

    As you said, in apparent contradiction with what you’d earlier said, “evolution cannot be the sole reference for determining human values.”

    Then let’s not let it be. I haven’t reproduced, my genes will not be passed on, and I have never once thought that was a tragedy, or a failing, or “sad,” or anything of that sort. I’m happy about my life. So what is your problem with it?

    And to your final point about being insulting. I realize that your Catholic conditioning has made it seem quite normal and natural for you to tell someone he or she is “perverted,” “unnatural,” “disordered,” “abnormal,” etc. for no other reason than that your “natural law” (whatever that is) says so, and in the face of an overwhelming scientific consensus that it is not so.

    Nevertheless, outside the closed world of orthodox Catholicism, saying such things is viewed as offensive and insulting. It would be like a Mormon telling you that God is offended at your drinking tea or coffee. It’s not something one wants to hear at a cocktail party or in the company cafeteria. The usual reaction, spoken or unspoken, is “Well, don’t drink coffee if you don’t like it.”

    In other words, the initial remark is offensive and should by all rights embarrass you. I am not going to let you off the hook about this. If you are appalled and disgusted by the thoughts of homosexual acts, then don’t spend so much time thinking about them. I cannot expect straight men to stop having sex because the thought disgusts me. I’ve dealt with the near omnipresence of heterosex in the media all my life. The least you can do is put up with a little of the alternative. If you don’t think you can do this, then you’re probably doomed to hanging out with people like yourself, because everyone else will consider you a nuisance.

    • yan Says:

      Douglas,

      Since we are discussing homosexuality and homosexual acts, how can I avoid thinking about them in some way? And I certainly have put up with it all along, have I not?

      BTW were you just arguing in the alternative, or does heterosexual sex, or the thought of it, actually disgust you?

      The whole thing about what is natural has become troubling to me. There was an article in FT recently by David Bentley Hart that expressed some of my own forebodings. I have begun to see that the natural law argument has some limitations that I wasn’t admitting to. However, I still think it is valid for some things.

      However, I think the evolutionary point of view has problems too. If you cannot derive an ought from an is before the advent of the theory, still less can you do so since its coming. In other words, you can’t say, ‘if it is in nature, it is therefore good simply because it is natural.’ There is no ‘good’ that can be intuited from evolutionary naturalism, except perhaps the preservation of the species. But even that is perhaps not of ultimate value for evolutionary naturalism. Who is to say that nonexistence of a particular species is necessarily a bad thing? Perhaps it is a good thing. So if a particular trait causes a species to die out, that doesn’t mean we can conclude that the trait is ‘bad’ from an evolutionary perspective.

      Really, there is nothing at all ultimately to point to value in evolutionary naturalism. Whatever is, is; that is all we can say about nature.

      The odd thing then is that we human beings should care. You might argue that this is only an evolved trait and has no meaning outside the context of being a trait that developed over time solely for the purpose of the preservation of a species [arguendo.] If so, the trait might disappear in the future, to the benefit of the survival of the species. Or not. Or perhaps the species will die out. If it does, what does it matter?

      I think we want to say in response to this that we seem to encounter a desire within ourselves to transcend this meaninglessness. You could argue again, that this desire is simply a way to avoid the hopelessness that our conclusions about the meaninglessness of our existence leads us to. I.e., we have evolved in such a manner that we must psychologically blot out this sense somehow, and that therefore, we reach out for some transcendent value or god that does not really exist, in order to console ourselves, so that we may go on with our actually meaningless lives driven by the impulse to continue the meaningless existence of our species.

      But our rationality brings this point home to us, preventing us from believing, on these assumptions, in any transcendent value or god. Again, you may argue in response that our intelligence therefore has evolved too much, putting us in danger of our own existence, by effecting the removal of our desire to reproduce. But perhaps our extinction is a good thing.

      In relation to homosexuality, in any event, there is no way to judge that homosexual acts are good or bad, just because there is a certain amount of it going on in animals, and because there is a certain percentage of humans born with homosexual inclination. I cannot condemn them, but neither can you justify them. Things are just that way in evolutionary naturalism. And that would go for every value that you or I hold. Not a single one has any basis in anything other than the operation of nature at this time, and thus no continuing value for us in the present if we don’t want it, nor in the future.

      If you want values, you must go outside nature.

      Now, natural law can say this only: it is reasonable to conclude that nature is more than just what I have been saying about it. When we look to its operations, we may justly conclude that they reflect the intelligence of something that has to some extent designed them. Thus it is at odds with evolutionary theory to the extent, at least, that all that happens in nature is meaningless, and all that happens in nature is by chance.

      If one accepts this reasoning, one may then attempt to draw conclusions about the purposes of natural operations, and furthermore, conclude that these purposes must be of divine origin.

      Then, as human subjects, we can recognize our intelligence not purely as an evolutionary thing that may outlive its usefulness to us, but as something which reveals something to us about our divine, roughly speaking, nature. And if we are such creatures, we are not bound to the law of brute matter entirely; we are also something greater than this, both with duties and privileges which cannot be inferred merely from a preponderance of natural facts.

      But one cannot prove any of this in an ultimate way. Natural law either hits you as plausible, or it doesn’t. But it is almost a misnomer to call it natural law. It is more properly I think the divine law, seen in nature.

      But clearly not all agree with the psalmist: the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handiwork.

      • thebentangle Says:

        Yan, my “ick” response definitely kicks in when I contemplate heterosexual sex acts, and so I try not to. A blogsite about them is the last place I would want to hang out. I do not understand most of what goes on between men and women, but from what I have observed in the media and in real life, heterosexual relations are a minefield. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus. I am really thankful not to be any part of the mating and sex games that go on among straight people. My partner and I are wonderfully compatible, we understand each other’s sexual responses, and we don’t do roles.

        I, too, try to avoid the naturalistic fallacy. The fact that homosexuality exists throughout the animal kingdom certainly does not mean that it is “right” for humans. However, lacking any reason for thinking otherwise, I conclude that it is good. There’s already too much procreation on this planet, so I do not feel bad about not “doing my part.” There have always been homosexuals, and our species shows no signs of “dying out.”

        Our lives may be ultimately meaningless, but they are not proximately meaningless. My life has the meaning that I invest in it. I create meaning through living in relation with others.

        You don’t have to go outside of nature to find values. All healthy humans value certain goods such as safety, shelter, food, the kindness of strangers, etc., but they also value territory and prestige. So it’s a complex world in which values have to be balanced against each other. This is a continuous process that inflects toward stability but never quite achieves it. U.S. case law is a great example of this, and what stability it can claim has been won through careful adherence to precedents or deliberated overturning of them. So-called “natural law” may have been useful in its time, but it was not built up in this methodical way. It was also based in Platonism and Christianity, which makes it very difficult to sell in a multi-cultural world.

        You’re right: Not every one agrees with the psalmist. That’s not to say, however, that no one who disagrees with the Psalmist is deaf and blind to the wonders of nature. In our multicultural world, there are many ways to feel exalted at the sight of a beautiful sunset.

  25. Dean Hansen Says:

    Hi Yan,

    Since heterosexual couples continue to breed and pour out homosexual children at a ratio of 2 or 3% per hundred, I have to assume that straight people may just have an evolutionary reason for existence after all: To create and magnify human diversity. Genius occurs at about the same ratio as homosexuality, and homosexuals certainly seem to be more gifted in many ways than the general population. Maybe because they have to fight so much harder just to survive in a world of homophobia and ongoing rejection. As long as straight people keep breeding, though, gay people will continue to appear. It’s the magic of math! Think of gays as the salt of the earth that gives the “food” of human sexuality its difference, brilliance, creativity and savor. Since gays can’t biologically reproduce when they’re married to their own sex, and are unhappy doing it with women like they sometimes used to when it was necessary for them to hide their identities behind a fake heterosexual lifestyle, we must count on you to do your share to insure their continuance, by plugging your female partner regularly. All the better if you’re married, because we don’t want God to get mad at you for….you know….licentious behavior. The more children you have, the better chance you’ll make a Chauncey or a Bruce. Do we have your cooperation and participation in this matter Yan? Please be a good “soldier” for the continuing distribution in the biological bell curve. Nothing would fit the definition of poetic justice better than that you should be responsible for creating a gay child. I just hope you wont waste your time trying to reorder his or her sexuality. That would be a crime against humanity almost as vile as your church’s sexual abuse of children. By the way, homosexual people also have a purpose: To remind the world that effective government provides equal protection under the law in order to empower minorities, and that includes religions as well, even if they believe it only grudgingly in obedience to that awful Jesus fellow who had the audacity to treat everyone with fairness and love, including woman, which was virtually unheard of in his time. (Well he did have a slight temper tantrum with the people he drove out of the temple with a whip, but that was over money, the love of which he called the root of all evil.) See? If it’s evil enough to piss off Jesus, I can’t imagine why Wall Street bankers imagine themselves to be immune and homosexuals are characterized as the greater culprits in the moral spectrum. Try as I might, I just can’t remember him condemning sexuality in the same way. Perhaps you should take a cue from him.

  26. yan Says:

    Hi Dean,

    Jesus said that he who looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery in his heart. He said this not to be approving. He said that it is best not to marry at all, but to be celibate, like the angels. He said that anyone that divorces except for reason of ‘fornication’ and marries another, commits adultery, and causes the other to commit adultery. I don’t see how this amounts to Jesus advocating a liberal attitude toward people have sex of any kind with anyone outside of marriage. His ideal is celibacy; he permits marriage of man and woman; and everything else is completely forbidden by His teaching. His condemnations could hardly be clearer.

    Sure, greed is also a capital sin. But in answer to your implied question about the specialness of sexual sins, St Paul explained it by saying that other than sexual sin, every sin a man commits, he commits outside his own body. But by sexual sin, he sins against his own body, which is intended to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. He also says that your body is the very member of Christ’s body, and that by sinning sexually, you are committing a kind of sacrilege against Christ Himself. See I Corinthians 6.

    Rather odd that you would want to limit the utility of gay people to their ability to teach the rest of us lessons in equality. Surely every man, woman and child is a child of God and loved by Christ who died to redeem them from original sin and their own sins, regardless of any utility they might offer to the rest of society or human evolution. I certainly do not agree that we have to look for some justification for gayness in order to justify the existence of gay people. God loves every gay and every one of us. And God hates the sins of every gay and every one of us.

    • thebentangle Says:

      Jesus said it was better not to marry at all, but to remain celibate. How is that supposed to ensure the continuation of the species? Homosexuality is wrong because it’s non-procreative, but celibacy is “recommended?” By Jesus himself?

      I’ll leave it to Dean to respond to your points concerning God and scripture, as I don’t speak that language.

  27. Dean Hansen Says:

    Hi Yan,

    We all commit adultery every single day and we murder every single day, that’s the whole point of Jesus instruction: To reveal what the law actually demands. But that’s the law talking, not grace. Under the law adultery is sin. Under grace, the law itself is adultery. Remember St. Paul? “What the law says, it says to those that are under the law, that every mouth be stopped and that all become guilty before God. Therefore, by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight, for with the law is knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifest, even the righteousness of God which is by faith in Jesus unto all and upon all those that believe…” Jesus was talking to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law when he made that statement about adultery. The same Pharisees who went out of their way to make “converts” who then became twice as corrupted and confused as they were before. He was not appealing to his disciples or to their converts, he was talking to those who thought they could be saved by merit, performance and law keeping, and who’s exhibitions of hubris and superiority were a thorn in everyone’s side. You can’t plant the crops when you eat the horse that pulls the plough. It was the Sanhedrin that contributed to Christ’s crucifixion, and ironically killed the only source of their freedom. Christ was attempting to goad the Pharisees to a point of extremity where they would be forced to concede that they were wrong and that their pride stood in the way of the truth. There is no condemnation in Christ.

    The strongest opinions, loudest arguments and sharpest conflicts arise out of religious belief. The spirit of the Sanhedrin lives on. If religion were truly about peace, forgiveness, meaning and compassion, it would offer something besides carefully tended threats both oblique and overt of ultimate condemnation as an incentive for change. Especially since the offering comes from someone who paradoxically claims to “love” you. The problem is, as soon as you believe in horrible consequences for holding the “wrong” views, you’re no longer motivated by faith, just fear. And you have a duty-driven obligation to either reject those threats as unworthy of a loving God or make a nuisance of yourself by trying to win people to your side, as well as trying to convince yourself that you are also in compliance with those views less you be as lost as those you pursue. And all of those wary and suspicious potential converts, driven by similar incentives and equally strong beliefs in conflict with your own, will return the favor in kind by raising the volume in resistance to your own stated beliefs out of the strong conviction of the rightness of theirs. It’s a race to the bottom. Those who change sides or adopt a position they previously rejected will always feel an under current of trepidation and anxiety motivated by a life-long obsession with wanting to know which if any illusive truth has the most validity and the least ultimate cost.

    The Gospel of being right will usually win over the gospel of humility, doubt or undisguised incredulity. The whole thing seems designed to keep earnest and frightened people in a state of perpetual and unresolved conflict and agony. What single other book besides the Bible can you think of that holds the record for inspiring so much fear, violence, confusion, ill will, outright bigotry and hatred under the blandishments of love rooted in the less than attractive obligation of self abnegation? Is it really that dangerous to be loved? To surrender to God? Or is it only dangerous to become convinced that we are unworthy?

    Christians worship the narrative of a God who created mortal bodies that suffer, decay and die because of something called “original sin” which consisted of the curiosity to know more than we were being told and to be punished for seeking answers we weren’t supposed to have. If that’s not enough, we’re to mortgage the sin into deliberate suffering as a way of winning acceptance from the same deity who has already forgiven us, but nevertheless keeps us in this state regardless of how much redemption has been won and how many “souls” have been saved.

    Speaking of good news, God (according to your post), does a lot of hating, doesn’t he? He who “loves” us hates us, is indifferent to us, is obsessed with us, or at least obsessed (and hateful) of the “sin” in us. Personally, I think the “love the sinner hate sin” meme is a bunch of crap. The assumption in this case being if you’re gay and you only avoid sexual activity you’ll be “lovable” among your heterosexual brethren who aren’t being asked to make the same sacrifice over a sexual orientation they had equally no choice over. But what is a sinner who doesn’t sin but a lie fashioned to keep us in perpetual bondage to the idea of a false love conditioned on bad ideas? Real love accepts you as you are, flaws and all. To the extent you believe redemption to be your responsibility, there is no viable escape from the hurtful position which the poisoned doctrines that support that view embrace. To the extent you believe in a supernatural power that works on your behalf through grace and thorough acceptance rather than through rituals of failed performance in some kind of doctrinal meritocracy, there is every reason to have hope and to bypass fear as a daily ritual of confirmation.

    It’s not merely a compromise of convictions to hate someone while pretending to love them for who they are. It’s not up to us to separate the sin from the sinner. Or to conflate their innate physical nature with their beliefs as though arguing with one is the equivalent of addressing the other. That’s ostensibly Christ’s job as the mediator of our true condition. Real compassion is understanding and supporting that fact. Anything else is simple hypocrisy masquerading as “love” in the absence of real convictions. Convictions that cost nothing, make no social demands on the owner, accepts only what makes him comfortable in relation to others, and demands only that others sacrifice themselves for the sake of one’s own sense of false happiness and security. This is the impossible road the church embraces as truth.

    Do you think God is conflicted by his/her/it’s own expectations? Maybe he’s upset that he screwed up so badly in the manufacturing process? Do you think he has self esteem issues? Or maybe has trouble concentrating on completing his projects? What is it you imagine when you think about god, Yan? Is he a person, a place, a thing? What does he think with? Where is his “mind” kept? Is he a moper, a stutterer, the veiled sister, a fearful symmetry? Is he a cosmic paraplegic, a frail dowager, a sadistic maverick on vacation in the multiverse? An ontological dwarf? A blemish on the face of chaos theory? A cow patty in Bangladesh? A stuck vowel in an inactive verb, Is he a highwayman or a porky Buddha? A flaming bush, or a thingless it in never when? Come on Yan! What is he? she? it? You love him, don’t you? Toward what is your love directed? Take a stab…. Is he a spirit filled algorithm, a nano-prion charming a dumb quark, an existential trap door, a knot in the dimensional mobius, a frayed rope in the pattern loom, a ghost dance in blood chemistry? Is he you and I? Could that be it, Yan? Is he the sum and substance of your fears and hopes? And where is he Yan? Is he speaking to you now? Is he breathing down your neck? Would you know him if you saw him, or would you join others in killing him like we did once before when he appeared in human form?

    Remember, the God you esteem tried killing sin once by culling the human race through specific, targeted slaughter, and that right after he presented his followers with the bit about thou shalt not kill on the original stone iPads. Be honest. Doesn’t he seem a wee bit schizophrenic and pathological? You know….like human beings would be if they were creating him on the spot? Work with me here. The same God tried a more generic and wide reaching version of the same principle with Noah. Again, no cigar. The 8 remaining souls continued breeding, sinning, thirsting, hungering and skewing off course into curiosity and questions. When the petri dish is compromised, a good scientist starts from scratch, assuming there’s a scientist in the cosmological laboratory.

    We’re like the Pinto of the higher primates with the gas tank too close to the differential. Boom! Nasty safety record. The center cannot hold; all things fall apart. But the manufacturer keeps churning em’ out until the lawsuits pile up. Only our suits go unanswered, because we’re just the product of someone else’s botched ingenuity.

    You’ll get nowhere trying to quantify “sin”. Or saying that some people are worse than others. That’s a dead road and a useless project. If we are all created in the image of God, then we are expressing the greater charity by adopting that image when it expresses itself in ways that challenge us to broaden our conceptions rather than diminish them. Person-hood divorced from difference isolates the true self from the imagined self. We are who we are in relation to others. The sexual proclivities of the others is not important. The parings that may result are not incidental to identity. Our ability to relate to one another is defined, in this world, by our presence, which is constituted organically. I see you because there is something to see. We are bodies, first and foremost. Excluding them from our definition of person-hood is anathema to the very idea of spirit. Without bodies, there is no possibility of resurrection, without resurrection, no new life. You cannot put away tears unless you first have tear ducts; or pain, unless you first have nerve endings. We are not spiritual beings trapped in a human cage. We are human beings trapped by spiritual assumptions that often hold us at distance from one another. Each of us gets to cry our share in the wilderness. As for two becoming one, any two can become one. It’s the perfect addition of love. Male or female, bond or slave, Jew, Greek or Gentile, Gay or Straight. Christ has promised to be the sacred heart of any relationship, and it is in the midst of that relationship that true belonging and oneness occurs. No exceptions.

    A source of authority that challenges you to strive for harmony and connection in your relationships with your fellow human beings is a beneficial source of authority. A source of authority on the other hand, that challenges you to treat others as though they are beneath your contempt morally, or are beyond consideration for inclusion in your life or group because you find fault with their behavior, or because you bear secret enmity against them while professing love to their face, is submission to a false and destructive authority that can only do harm to any concept of love.

    So if God is ultimate authority, and he bares witness to unconditional love as proof of the function of his sovereignty in our lives and relationships with one another, then morality, from a human perspective is irrelevant as the ultimate arbiter of redemption. We are not redeemed by our behavior, or by finding fault in the behavior of others. We are redeemed by our connection to the one and only one whose behavior, according to the doctrine of the New Testament, is perfect in the eyes of God.

    Best,
    Dean

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