Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Homosexuality, Atheism, & Theism:

Ed Brayton points to a long post by this blogger about atheism and homosexuality which he terms staggeringly stupid. Aside from being long winded (I sometimes suffer from this problem), and though I disagree with much of its content, I don't think it deserves the harsh criticism Brayton leveled. However, what the blogger used many words to argue can be summed up in this pithy passage from a comment he made on the post:

My point is not that atheism is inherently hostile to gays - it’s that it ultimately offers no protection because of its rejection of objective morality in favour of subjectivism or societal or evolutionary explanations. The problem with these is that ultimately, if society is the ground of morality, then it’s no more objective than personal opinion. As for evolutionary explanations, they don’t justify morality. There is a difference between what occurs in nature, and what is morally permissible.

I might flip this around with the converse: Though certain forms of theism -- orthodox or fundamentalist religious philosophies that believe sacred texts (be it the Torah, Bible, Koran, or Book of Mormon) infallible -- are incompatible with full societal acceptance of homosexuality, mere theism is not. Indeed, though some 80% of American society claims to be Christian in some loose sense of the term, only a minority -- a sizable minority -- are evangelicals or Catholics who believe the Bible infallible or follow their church's doctrines to the exact letter of the law (i.e., a Catholic who accepts all of the Church's theological and moral positions). Some of these folks might be termed theologically liberal or "cafeteria Christians," religious moderates or whatnot. Indeed the orthodox would probably claim many of these folks aren't real Christians, but believe in some form of Deism or Theism. See for instance R. Albert Mohler, Jr.'s article on how the the new American religion is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which, as I've noted, seems a much less philosophical version of America's key Founders' creed which likewise oft-presented itself under the auspices of Christianity and was believed by nominal members of orthodox Christian Churches like Washington, Madison, and Jefferson:

As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth." 2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions." 3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself." 4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem." 5. "Good people go to heaven when they die."

As Mohler notes:

Moving to even deeper issues, these researches claim that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is "colonizing" Christianity itself, as this new civil religion seduces converts who never have to leave their congregations and Christian identification as they embrace this new faith and all of its undemanding dimensions.


This research project demands the attention of every thinking Christian. Those who are prone to dismiss sociological analysis as irrelevant will miss the point. We must now look at the United States of America as missiologists once viewed nations that had never heard the gospel. Indeed, our missiological challenge may be even greater than the confrontation with paganism, for we face a succession of generations who have transformed Christianity into something that bears no resemblance to the faith revealed in the Bible. The faith "once delivered to the saints" is no longer even known, not only by American teenagers, but by most of their parents. Millions of Americans believe they are Christians, simply because they have some historic tie to a Christian denomination or identity.

Again, so much of this reminds of Washington, Adams, Jefferson et al. -- their warm theism, how it thought itself to be pure & primitive Christianity, but was really an overly rationalized version of the unitarian heresy that the Council of Nicea had settled in 325 CE. Thomas Jefferson thought all young men living at the end of his life would convert to "Unitarianism"; maybe we are seeing his dreams come to fruition.

But anyway, generic theism or cafeteria Christianity, once it dismisses the infallibility of the Bible, it seems to me can be a quite gay friendly theology. Andrew Sullivan, Gene Robinson, Bishop Spong, Howard Dean, Garry Wills, Phil Donahue are all "Christians" who believe God created gay people qua gay people. Even Bill O'Reilly, I've heard him say, opposes the excesses of the gay movement on the grounds of preserving traditional morality, but has admitted since he doesn't believe all of the Bible is literally true, the theological arguments against homosexuality don't convince him.

The same is true of the natural law. According to such, what one ends up concluding often depends on where one begins. If one begins with procreation and allows no exceptions, then one will properly conclude not just homosexuality, but contraception, masturbation, coitus interruptus, oral sex (at least when done as a substitute for intercourse or produces a male orgasm outside of a female womb) are all equally unnatural. And once you allow any exception to procreation, then the natural law case against homosexuality fails. If one views human nature differently, the same natural law reasoning ends up in a different place. For instance, here Andrew Sullivan makes a natural law argument for homosexuality, which, I think, uses logic as airtight as that of the natural law case against homosexuality:

But all these arguments are arguments for the centrality of heterosexual sexual acts in nature, not their exclusiveness. It is surely possible to concur with these sentiments, even to laud their beauty and truth, while also conceding that it is nevertheless also true that nature seems to have provided a spontaneous and mysterious contrast that could conceivably be understood to complement — even dramatize — the central male-female order. In many species and almost all human cultures, there are some who seem to find their destiny in a similar but different sexual and emotional union. They do this not by subverting their own nature, or indeed human nature, but by fulfilling it in a way that doesn't deny heterosexual primacy, but rather honors it by its rare and distinct otherness. As albinos remind us of the brilliance of color; as redheads offer a startling contrast to the blandness of their peers; as genius teaches us, by contrast, the virtue of moderation; as the disabled person reveals to us in negative form the beauty of the fully functioning human body; so the homosexual person might be seen as a natural foil to the heterosexual norm, a variation that does not eclipse the theme, but resonates with it. Extinguishing — or prohibiting — homosexuality is, from this point of view, not a virtuous necessitys, but the real crime against nature, a refusal to accept the pied beauty of God's creation, a denial of the way in which the other need not threaten, but may actually give depth and contrast to the self.

This is the alternative argument embedded in the Church's recent grappling with natural law, that is just as consonant with the spirit of natural law as the Church's current position. It is more consonant with what actually occurs in nature; seeks an end to every form of natural life; and upholds the dignity of each human person. It is so obvious an alternative to the Church's current stance that it is hard to imagine the forces of avoidance that have kept it so firmly at bay for so long.

Now, this natural law argument is theistic. Indeed, Aquinas knew that the natural law could only be binding if divinely mandated. This may be a "useful fiction," but grounding gay rights or any kind of human rights in God's will certainly helps to make such rights non-negotiable. One might counter God is what God is (and perhaps God is not), but human kind, and America's Founders, have a long history of tying their favored policies to God's will, remaking God over in their image. See the Declaration of Independence which, though a theistic document, has about as much to do with the Old and New Testament as does The Book of Mormon or the Koran.

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