In the last several months there have been several commentaries published in the local paper denouncing homosexuality. I’m not sure what the occasion is, but that’s a sentiment I don’t share, and sometimes I’m moved to make my disagreement known.
The most recent I’ve seen was by a local high school senior, who evidently has taken a class in logic. I took one too, many years ago, but now remember little of the formal classification of various sorts of arguments.
Something of a conversation has formed around these editorials. Each of the denunciations was answered by at least one person, sometimes more than one. The high school senior is criticizing one of these disagreements, under the title of “An Experiment in Logic and Theology.”
Thinking logically is a very useful tool, but to do so accurately, one must be careful not to leave out any of the essential elements of the problem. This, I think, is where the senior’s essay falls down. Perhaps it’s because formal logic distances him from the reality of what he’s talking about; maybe it’s simply that he’s too inexperienced to understand how many people feel.
He begins by saying that the previous authors characterize ALL Christians as cherrypicking texts to support their belief. He’s quite right, in that not all Chrstians do that, and because not all Christians have the same beliefs about homosexuality or anything else.
He goes on to say that homosexuality has been considered a crime in many societies in the past, and if we decriminalize it because gay people can’t help being what they are, why not decriminalize rape and murder too? Maybe those perpetrators can’t help being what THEY are either.
There, I think, is his first error. Rape and murder are crimes because of the damage they cause to individuals and society in general. In order to equate homosexuality with these crimes, he has to show that it is comparably as damaging. This, in my opinion, he’s unable to do.
He says that legalizing homosexual marriage is defining the family as whatever you want it to be. Families have taken a variety of forms in different societies, ancient and contemporary, and a family that one chooses can often be more satisfactory than the family one is born into. I think most of us choose families as we grow up; not only in whom we marry, but with the friends we make. These may or may not have legal standing, but I think they serve many of us as family, however informal. The writer sees this as moral relativism, which he says is “wreaking havoc on our culture today.” Just how it is doing this, he fails to say, though, so we can’t evaluate his conclusion.
Then he reaches the high point of his argument:
“The homosexual community has made it clear in court case after court case that its members are not satisfied with homosexual marriage being merely legal. They want full and equal rights alongside heterosexual couples. Thus we see it is false to say that one’s sexual orientation affects no one but that person. If one is critical of another’s sexual orientation, one is marked as being politically incorrect, intolerant. Tolerance has become the excuse for discrimination.Our culture is tolerant of everything except intolerance.”
He ends by saying that any culture unable to distinguish between good and evil will fail.
The above is quite interesting, employing, in my opinion, the logical error of false equivalence. He’s equating the disagreement with those who condemn homosexuality with the persecution that homosexuals have often experienced. This tallies with the right-wing sense of victimization because they find that many people no longer agree with them. I don’t recall having heard of people who have denounced homosexuality having been physically attacked or killed, as many homosexuals have been.
So I wrote a letter to the paper disagreeing with the student:
I applaud your effort to think logically about homosexuality, but there are some elements missing from your analysis. Since the worst thing you can say about homosexuals is that they want equal rights and this makes them criminal, some questions arise.
Don’t YOU want equal rights? Would you be willing to be a second-class citizen for ANY reason, such as the color of your skin, your political or religious beliefs, or your sexual orientation? Would you willingly consider yourself evil for any of these reasons, just because someone else did?
Tolerance tends to be less sexy than intolerance, but it’s one of the virtues that makes a society work. Intolerance is a means to power. It was used that way against black people in this society and in South Africa (at least), and most notoriously against Jewish people in Hitler’s Germany. Did it make those societies better? I‘d be interested in your opinion on that.
Inability to recognize that members of minority groups are human is what I call failure of the imagination. It’s quite customary to see people who don’t look like us or believe the same things as less than human. That makes it easier to justify persecuting them. Judging from what Jesus said in the New Testament, if you persecute people, you risk persecution yourself, and have also offended against him. Remember that anything you do against the least of people, he said you do against him.
I’d like to encourage you to keep thinking about these subjects, and would enjoy hearing the result of those thoughts.
I don’t know if this letter was published, as I don’t receive the paper at home. My letter could obviously be better, but I think it expresses my main point pretty well. It’s easy to be frightened and angered by people who look and/or behave differently from us. Many people find it easy to justify such fear and the behavior resulting from it, too. Is that behavior truly justifiable?
Many past societies have feared and hated homosexuality, but not all of them. Classical Athens accepted it, and possibly the greatest philosopher in history is thought to have been homosexually oriented. It was relatively accepted during the Italian Renaissance too, when a number of the greatest artists were so oriented. That casts some doubt on whether fear and anger is the correct response to it.
In America we have the right to politically organize. Gay people decided to do so some 40 years ago, determined to obtain both legal rights and wider acceptance, as black people had done before them. It seems to me that this freedom is one of the best things about the American system and ideals. Some certainly disagree, which they are allowed to do. What they’re NOT allowed to do is impose their views on the rest of us. If they wish to voice their disagreement, they must expect to be disagreed with in their turn.
The reason various minority movements have been successful, to whatever extent they have been, it’s because they refused to accept the larger society’s condemnation of them. They asserted that they had worth, and didn’t deserve to be persecuted, often violently, simply because many people didn’t like them.
Some people who condemn homosexual marriage are honest enough to say that we don’t know how it will affect marriage as an institution. What we DO know is that marriage is difficult, and that many heterosexuals have displayed less than wonderful behavior in marriage. Can we honestly say that gay people will do worse at it? Possibly they will, but we don’t know, and it’s difficult to see how.
The question I always want to ask people condemning gay marriage is how homosexual marriage has affected their OWN marriages. When I was married we loaned a lot of money to a gay friend of my wife’s, who then refused to repay us. I don’t think that was because she was gay: it was because she was a thief, who liked to take advantage of people. To say that all gay people are like her would be another logical mistake.
My own mother, now 96, noted several years ago that when people condemn gay marriage she always says, “At least it doesn’t generate unwanted children.” I hadn’t considered that aspect of the question before, and now believe unwanted children, often terribly abused, are a far worse problem than gay marriage is.
I’m glad the high school student is trying to think logically, as I mentioned above. But logic is subject to the same problem as computers: “Garbage in, garbage out.” Without sufficient evidence, the conclusions one comes to are going to be flawed.