Phil Roberston: Gays and lesbians are murderous God-haters?

December 22, 2013

In an article by Josh Barro on Slate, he writes the following, referring to a 2010 video of Phil Robertson:

In one America, it’s OK to say this of gays and lesbians: “They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters. They are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil.” In the other America, you’re not supposed to say that.

The problem is, Phil didn’t say that of gays and lesbians.  In reality, Phil was more or less quoting from the first chapter of the book of Romans (a book of the Bible) and the “they” in that passage doesn’t refer to gays and lesbians; it refers to humanity in general.

You see, Paul, the author of the book of Romans had gospel (“good news”) to proclaim: that people could have righteousness as a gift from God, a righteousness that was entirely by faith, for “everyone who believes” (verse 16).  But, you might ask, why  do we need this righteousness from God?  Why?  Because we are not righteous ourselves and are under God’s wrath.  To make this clear, Paul shows just how unrighteous humanity is.  He says they suppressed their knowledge of God and didn’t honor God as God.  Instead of worshipping the Creator, they worshipped God’s creatures, His creations.  They practised sexual immorality.   And, “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

That last bit is the part Phil was quoting.  It pertains to us all.  In fact, Paul picks this up again in the third chapter, telling us we are all “under sin”, and that (quoting the Old Testament) “None is righteous, no, not one;  no one  understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good,    not even one” (verses 10-12).  This isn’t a “hey, I’m better than you all” message.  This is a “we’re all in big trouble, Jack!” message.

This doesn’t sound like very good news.  I mean, Paul’s telling us we’ve greatly offended the Creator of the Universe and he’s ready to pour out his wrath on us for it.  How’s that good news?  Well, just as a miracle cure is only good news to those who are sick, a solution to the problem of our wickedness is only good news if we first see our wickedness.  So Paul shows us that first.  Now, he shows us the solution:  “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested [made visible]… —the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation [a sacrifice] by his blood, to be received by faith”  (Chapter 3, verses 21-25).  Yes, we’ve all fallen short of God’s perfection and sinned against God, but everyone who believes, who entrusts themselves to Jesus, will be counted as being righteous like God.  Pure as the new fallen snow.  God credits us with being just as a gracious gift, a gift purchased by Jesus’ blood, a gift we receive by simply trusting that God will give it to us when all we do is hold out our empty hands.

That, folks, is the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, in a nutshell.  Phil was actually relaying the same message from God that Paul had shared centuries ago: we humans are a wicked lot.  How, then, can we escape God’s wrath on the day of judgement?  Only through faith in Jesus Christ.  Turn your back on your wicked ways and cry out to Jesus to deliver you and he surely will!


Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged

August 2, 2013

Speaking about homosexual priests, Pope Francis recently said, “Who am I to judge?”  I don’t believe he was at all approving of homosexual practice, but that is beside the point.  The point is the media went wild.  Headlines all over the internet echoed the Pope’s statement.  These days, tolerance and non-judgementalism are virtues.  The Pope’s statement was virtuous and apparently one that many people wanted to hear.

“Judge not, that you be not judged.”  These words of Jesus are often lifted out of context and hurled at Christians when they are making a moral argument, especially when the argument goes against the moral sentiments of the person quoting Jesus.  It is worth noting that Jesus, in the same passage, tells those with a log in their eyes to remove the log before they try to remove the speck from their brother’s eye.  He doesn’t say they shouldn’t remove the speck at all, but that they shouldn’t do it until after they have removed the log from their own eye.  And, in the same passage, he tells us not to throw our pearls to pigs or to give dogs what is holy – which of course requires judging who is a pig and who is a dog.  Again in the same passage, we are warned to watch out for false prophets, who can be recognized by their fruits, which requires us to judge the goodness of their fruits.

Jesus is really warning us against hypocrisy: ignoring our faults while proclaiming those of others.  He does, after all, explicitly call the log-in-the-eye-speck-remover a hypocrite.  The correction, however, is not no judgment, but rather self-judgment first (“then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye”).  Contrary to Jesus’ intentions, this famous saying has become a maxim against any kind of judgement.

So, let’s try this saying on as a maxim.  Also in the news recently is the story of kidnapper Ariel Castro, found guilty of holding three women captive and repeatedly raping them for years.  He was given life in prison.  I noticed comments on this story to the effect that Castro should receive like treatment in prison and that he should have been given the death penalty rather than a life sentence.  What I didn’t see anyone saying was “Who am I to judge?” or “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”  There was unconditional condemnation and judgement all around.  They simply know what Castro did was morally reprehensible and cannot help knowing it.

If you think “Judge not” is a universal maxim meaning you should never judge, try it on for size in the case of Ariel Castro.  If it suits you well in that case, you’re welcome to it.  If it doesn’t, then I encourage you to think twice before you quote it.  Are you simply giving preference to your own notion of morality? Do you have any foundation for your moral beliefs beyond mere opinion?  Are you judging those whom you label as intolerant and judgmental, in violation of your own maxim?

One thing is certain, it will do no good to quote the maxim “Judge not” to The Judge, God Himself.  Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2).  In this warning, Jesus refers to a higher Judge, a Judge of those who judge.  Elsewhere, he says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.  Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.  Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:24-29).  If you want to escape judgment, don’t say “judge not”, rather, believe!

Immoral Laws Encourage Immoral Acts

April 23, 2013

Imagine that we changed our laws so that from nine to noon shoplifting was legal. If stores stayed open during those hours, some people would probably still buy their goods, feeling it was wrong to take what wasn’t theirs. Others, however, would legally shoplift, reasoning that stores could afford some losses and no one was getting hurt. Now imagine this had been the law for thirty or forty years. Children would have learned, by law and custom, that shoplifting was okay. Their sense of its wrongness would be diminished. In time, they may recognize that the restriction on the hours for legal shoplifting was arbitrary and decide that shoplifting at any time was permissible.
Consider now Kermit Gosnell. He legally aborted infants younger than 24 gestational-weeks old. However, he is now on trial for the murder of one mother and seven babies. He is accused of killing viable infants, older than 24 weeks gestation, by cutting their spinal cords at the back of the neck after delivery. His clinic has been called a “House of Horrors” in the news. People are rightly disgusted, but should they be shocked? While the law distinguishes between killing a 23-gestational-weeks-old infant and killing a 24-gestational-weeks-old infant, should we be surprised if someone like Gosnell decides there is no essential difference and then kills both? I think not. In the end, the law is relatively arbitrary.
People don’t want to hear or think about the results of abortions, such as the severed feet, displayed in a glass jar in Gosnell’s clinic, but that is the result of abortion. About the time most women discover they are pregnant – by just 6 weeks gestation – the infant has a beating heart. Most abortions, therefore, kill something that is a good deal more than “just a blob of tissue”. The essence of what made Gosnell’s clinic a “House of Horrors” is not unsanitary conditions, or that he displayed the body parts of the infants he aborted, or that he killed some a few days or a few weeks later than the law allows.  The essence of the horror is simply abortion itself.

Harry Reid: Right on Prostitution, Yet Wrong

December 28, 2012

Storey County (Nevada) commissioner Lance Gilman was elected this November 6 (with 62% of the vote). He is a businessman who owns, among other things, a brothel.

The AP reports:

Gilman maintains illegal prostitution is rampant across the country, and it makes more sense to legalize and regulate it. He said bordellos pay significant taxes to rural counties and the women are regularly checked by doctors. “I use the term caregivers for our industry,” Gilman said. “The public has no idea, but so many of the men we deal with are damaged or widowed or in need of kindness. The industry is so much more about providing care and human nurturing than anything else.”

Harry Reid made news in Feb 2011 when he suggested it was time to make prostitution illegal in Nevada. News reports suggest he had little to no support. His reasoning? Prostitution hurts economic development. I agree prostitution should be illegal, but Reid’s reason is poor. Ban one business because other businesses don’t want to move in next door? Liberalism tends to be willing to sacrifice individual freedom for whatever it thinks is the good of society: if brothels harm local economies, then ban brothels. At the same time, liberalism tends to refuse to prohibit actions on moral grounds, as long as the action can be portrayed as not hurting anyone.  Nevada should outlaw prostitution not because it harms economic development (though it may), and perhaps not even because it is immoral (though it is).  Nevada should outlaw prostitution because it does harm others.  Prostitution exploits the vulnerable in our society and giving it legal sanction makes such exploitation easier.

We should note that there is a grain of truth to Gilman’s claim that prostitution is about human nurturing.  He is right, I think, that prostitution is not simply about men getting sexual pleasure.  It is about what sex promises: an intimate union with another person. Love. The irony in Gilman’s argument is that while his customers’ deepest desires may indeed be for the caring touch of a woman, for some human nurturing – indeed, for love – that isn’t what he is selling!  His customers are deceived, perhaps even self-deceived. They are buying into a lie. Love cannot be purchased. The prostitutes will indiscriminately lavish their attention on any paying customer.  They are not making a commitment to the kind of intimacy that the human soul hungers for – that these men hunger for – and which finds its deepest physical expression in sexual intercourse.  She does not nurture him, helping him to flourish as a human being.  She doesn’t value him and he doesn’t value her.

Also, notice Gilman’s emphasis on the needs of men.  He claims his prostitutes are “caregivers” who “care” for men that are “damaged” or “in need of kindness”.  As I have already noted, the that claim these women truly care for those men is dubious at best, but what about the needs of these women?  What about the women who are reduced to selling themselves, to being indiscriminately intimate with any John with a few dollars in his pocket?  What about the damaged women who are in need of kindness?  Who is caring for them?  Gilman’s statement is a heinous, disgusting twisting of good and evil.

First, prostitution is not about care-giving.  It does not equally treat both parties as humans for it does not equally regard the honor, integrity, and wholeness – the human flourishing – of both parties.  Second, prostitution is an offense against women. It turns them into nothing but pleasure machines for men. It has no place in a society that respects and values women.  Third, brothel owners are enriched by taking advantage of poor and vulnerable women.  It is a classic case of the wealthy and powerful abusing the weak and poor.  Prostitution has no place in a just society.  Fourth, prostitution is a road to destruction.  It ruins families and it compromises the integrity of individuals as they deceive others to protect their secrets.  It has no place in a society that would have its citizens listen to their better natures.  Fifth, prostitution is the opposite of freedom. Women who depend on it for their income cannot easily walk away. They are no longer free to choose their sexual partners. They are not enjoying sexual freedom, as some may suppose, but rather sexual enslavement.  Prostitution has no place in a free society.

The people of Storey County, Nevada should be ashamed to have chosen such a leader, but the people of Nevada as a whole should be even more ashamed for giving legal sanction to such a demeaning, unjust, destructive, debasing, and enslaving act.

Race and Obama’s Reelection

November 8, 2012

In Vote was astronomical for Obama in some Philadelphia wards we read the following:

In a city where President Obama received more than 85 percent of the votes, in some places he received almost every one. In 13 Philadelphia wards, Obama received 99 percent of the vote or more.

Those wards, many with large African American populations, also swung heavily for Obama over John McCain in 2008. But the difficult economy seemed destined to dampen that enthusiasm four years later.

Not to worry. Ward leaders and voters said they were just as motivated this time.

“In this election, you had to point out to the people what was at stake. And in many cases, they felt that the Romney doctrine was not going to favor the working man,” said Edgar “Sonny” Campbell.

It seems amazing to me that 99% of a district would actually favor Obama’s policies.  You certainly don’t get that kind of policy agreement in my suburban Philadelphia neighborhood!  It is therefore easy to conclude that these people are voting not for policy but perhaps for skin color.  However, let’s be generous, and suppose that they actually did vote for Obama’s policies.  Suppose that these people live in neighborhoods where there really is an almost unanimous opinion that Obama’s policies are right and good.  If everyone around you thinks like you do, if their conclusions seem so obvious to you, it isn’t hard to conclude that there must be something wrong with those who think differently.  Suddenly, I think I begin to see an explanation for the phenomenon of crying “racist” against those who oppose Obama’s policies.  Perhaps opposing those policies is such a foreign concept to such people – and to everyone surrounding them – that race becomes an easy explanation.  Perhaps the existence of dissension strikes them in much the same way that the existence of near unanimity strikes me.

If this analysis is right, or somewhere in the neighborhood of being right, then perhaps we have a clue how to approach folks that accuse others of racial prejudice in politics.  Could it be as simple as observing the fact that while you may be surrounded by people of like-mind, in other circles there is a much greater diversity of opinion – a diversity that has to do with how people think, that has to do with ideas and not skin color?  Or, that while you may think diversity of opinion is the norm, in other circles,  a nearly unanimous consensus reigns – a consensus that is perhaps a part of the fabric of a subculture and that has to do with how people think and not with skin color?

Yet, there is a difference between the two sides here: one side is reacting to unanimity while the other side is reacting not to dissension per se, but to the mere possibility of dissension.  For me, when I look at the unanimity in Philadelphia, my question is “How can almost everyone believe X?”.  My question is not “How can anyone believe X?”  While I don’t believe X, I am nonetheless surrounded by people who do believe it.  I expect some people to disagree with me; I just don’t expect everyone to.   Suppose Joe is from Philadelphia and he believes that since it is absurd for me to really not believe X, I must be racially motivated.  Joe really seems to be making the assertion that “No one can really disbelieve X!”  That is, while I am looking for an explanation for the unanimity, Joe takes it for granted that no one can truly disbelieve X and so he looks for an alternative explanation that doesn’t have to anything to do with reason or belief.  It seems that I have a failure to recognize “group think”, while Joe has a failure to be open-minded.

Open-mindedness, understood as the ability to entertain a foreign viewpoint, to fully comprehend it and intellectually treat it fairly, is a virtue[1].  It seems to me that Joe lacks this virtue, because he cannot fathom how someone would honestly think differently from him.  So how do we proceed?  First, rather than cry racism ourselves, we should be willing to admit that other dynamics, such as group think, may be at play.  Second, we have to first persuade people that our views are at least plausible, that a reasonable person could possibly hold them.  Only after that is achieved, can we hope to persuade them that our views are not only plausible, but also right.

[1] For a discussion on the virtue of open-mindedness, from a Christian perspective, see “Open-mindedness” in Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life , Austin & Geivett, eds.

Is Homosexuality Immoral?

March 28, 2012

One of the headlines ran, “Kirk Cameron faces backlash over anti-gay remarks” (Jessica Derschowitz, March 6, 2012, CBS News website). The backlash was in response to a March 2 interview with Piers Morgan. It seems the purpose of the interview was to discuss Cameron’s views regarding morality in America and, somewhat related, his documentary, “Monumental”, due out March 27. During the interview, Morgan asked Cameron a very direct question: “Do you think homosexuality is a sin?”

Cameron was asked for his opinion on a moral issue. He had only a few options. He could decline to answer, lie, or answer honestly. To withhold his opinion would be cowardly; we should be prepared to call evil “evil” and good “good”. Even more cowardly would be to lie and give the answer which seems safe; besides being deceitful, this would be a betrayal to yourself and your allies. Cameron chose to answer truthfully, “I think that it’s — it’s unnatural. I think that it’s — it’s detrimental and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.”

To sum up, Cameron gave his opinion on the morality of homosexuality and the crowd went wild. I do not suppose anyone would have expected him to decline to answer, or to lie about his views, so I must conclude from the backlash that people simply cannot stand the fact that someone considers homosexuality to be immoral. Suppose Cameron had said he thought polygamy was immoral, or murder, or gambling, or kissing, or shaking hands, or smiling. The reactions would have ranged from nodding heads to laughter, but certainly not outrage. Why all of this outrage when the topic is homosexuality? More importantly, is he right, or wrong?

I think the outrage is owing to the fact that in the minds of many, homosexuality is a part of a person’s identity. Thus, they perceive Cameron’s claim as an attack not on a person’s behavior, but on a person’s identity – on the person himself. Note that the headline I quoted uses the term “anti-gay”. For my own part, when I hear the words “gay” or “homosexual”, I think of a person. When I hear the word “homosexuality”, I think of a behavior. The headline portrays Cameron’s statement as “against the person” rather than “against the behavior”, which really isn’t fair to Cameron. However, it is easier to attack Cameron’s position by casting him as being anti-gay than to say he is anti-homosexuality and then to have to make a case for the morality of homosexuality. To illustrate with a less objectionable issue, suppose you said, “I believe murder is immoral” and then I went around claiming you were anti-murderer. This would be a wrong portrayal of you just as “anti-gay” is a wrong portrayal of Cameron.

Thus, the first point to be made is that when we are talking about the morality of something, we are generally talking about behaviors. To say that homosexuality is immoral is to speak against the behavior. We object to the behavior. We object to a person’s carrying out that behavior. We do not object to the person himself. Admittedly, people sometimes have trouble with this distinction. Probably everyone does, at some point. Murderers, rapists, and child molestors probably receive very little pity, sympathy, forgiveness, or love. We are wrong, though, when we fail to distinguish between an immoral act and the one who commits it.

As I said, I believe many people consider homosexuality a part of a person’s identity, and I think this is one reason many consider it a moral behavior. Thus, someone may say, “Homosexuality is moral because it is simply a part of who a person is; it cannot be controlled.” This argument falls apart quickly when you speak more precisely and reword the statement as, “Homosexual behavior is moral because it is simply a part of who a person is; it cannot be controlled.” Our behaviors are not intrinsically a part of who we are. We do have control over our behavior. This argument has emotional appeal, but it is not an argument for the morality of homosexual behavior.

There is another claim that might be made in favor of homosexuality. It also treats homosexuality as an essential part of who a person is and tries to ignore the distinction between a person’s desires and his behavior. This claim is summed up by the phrase, “free to be me.” We all have a strong urge to say that people ought to be free to be themselves. To say that homosexuality is immoral seems to go against this. Aren’t we urging people to live in self-denial? Well, yes, but we all expect others to live in self-denial whenever we expect them to do what is morally right and resist a temptation to do what is morally wrong. The call to self-denial is not extraordinary. The real question is whether homosexuality is immoral or not. If it is, then of course those tempted to act homosexually ought to be urged to resist that temptation. Those who do the urging should not be frowned upon.

Perhaps I should expand slightly on this idea of self-denial. Everyone expects his neighbor to practice self-denial whenever his neighbor may happen to desire something which is his, whether it is his money, his car, or his wife. We do not care how much our neighbor’s desire is a part of him; we expect him to deny himself. Indeed, the temptations we yield to are precisely those which most strongly appeal to who we are. Virtue lies in resisting temptation to the end and yielding to temptation is always considered wrong. A man who has built his life on the love of money will be especially vulnerable to a temptation to defraud others. When he does defraud you, you do not excuse him on the grounds that he was being his own money-loving self. If a married man who habitually lusts after women finds himself alone with a beautiful naked woman, offering her body up for his pleasure, his lustful habits may have taken away his ability to resist the temptation. Yet, however much we may understand his failure, we do not consider him innocent. All of this is to say that morality limits our freedom to be who we are and we all accept this. In fact, we might even say that morality demands that we not be ourselves. However much homosexual desire may be a part of a person, if homosexual behavior really is immoral, then that person has a moral obligation to self-denial. Therefore, again, the key question is whether such behavior really is immoral or not.

A final failed argument for the morality of homosexual behavior is that it doesn’t hurt anyone. How can it be immoral? Whether an act hurts others may help us think about the moral status of something, but it does not decide it. Most people consider it perfectly moral to punish wrongdoers, but one could certainly argue that any such punishment hurts the offender. Or, most people consider it moral to kill in self-defense, and that certainly hurts someone. Hurting someone is not necessarily immoral. Neither is something moral simply because it hurts no one. If I tell my neighbor how I have feed the hungry, clothed the naked, and given enormous sums to charity, all of which are false, I have deceived my neighbor and acted immorally, but I haven’t hurt him. Or, if I come upon a man, beaten and bloody, his life obviously in danger and in need of immediate help, and if I quietly pass him by, letting him die, I have acted immorally. I didn’t do him any harm (the harm was already done), but I had a moral obligation to help him. Thus, an act may be immoral without hurting others. To say homosexual behavior doesn’t hurt anyone doesn’t prove it is moral.

Before we can discuss the morality of homosexuality, we need to deal with a few preliminaries. Here is how the remainder of this paper will go. First, I will argue that unless there are absolute moral truths, this whole discussion is pointless and Cameron’s objectors have nothing to object to. Second, I will argue that we have consciences which, when functioning as designed, give us knowledge of these truths. I will argue that, if our consciences give us knowledge of absolute moral truths, it is because they were designed by God, and if they do not do so, again, this whole discussion is pointless. I will also explore the implications of the fact that our consciences are not entirely reliable – they do not always function as designed. Fourth, I will consider the sense in which heterosexuality is natural and homosexuality is not, namely, the sense of being in accord with the apparent design of nature. Finally, I will apply this all to the question of the morality of homosexual behavior, and then I will make some concluding remarks.

If there are no absolute moral truths, then morality is either relative or non-existent – an illusion. If morality is relative, it seems obvious that we should all be free to define morality for ourselves, for why should the moral opinions of my neighbors place any moral obligation on me? In this case, we see morality is nothing but opinion. If this is so, why shouldn’t Cameron be free to express his view that homosexuality is immoral? Who cares? It can be immoral for him, but completely moral for me. Not only should no one be upset by this, but it becomes pointless to argue whether homosexuality or anything at all is immoral, for everything can be both moral and immoral at the same time, varying from person to person. Or, if you insist that morality is determined by group consensus, then take a poll, find out what the majority view is, and be done with it. On this view, this whole discussion is pointless.

If there are no moral truths at all – if nothing can be immoral – then to say homosexuality is immoral is like saying that a square is round. It is to speak nonsense, really. Again, the whole discussion is pointless. If you want to object, your objection ought to be not “homosexuality is moral”, but rather, “there is no such thing as morality”. Perhaps Cameron’s objectors really wish to say this, but I do not think so. If someone stands up and says something factually false, such as, “The distance between Philadelphia and New York City is a mere 10 miles”, no one would get very worked up about this. They would state the truth and move on. If, however, this false claim was being made to somehow defraud the (heinously) uninformed, then people would be justified in getting worked up over it. Why? They would justifiably feel moral indignation at the would-be fraudster. However, on the view that morality is an illusion, moral indignation is never called for. Yet, I believe Cameron’s objectors do show moral indignation. What they would really like to say is, “How dare you impose a non-existent moral obligation on someone!” That is moral indignation.

For those who want to argue in a matter-of-fact kind of way, without hot moral indignation, that no moral truths exist, I say good luck to you. No one can live like that. If this were true, all of society would be undermined. It would mean that in our legal system, criminals are punished though they have done nothing wrong; in commerce, our trading partners could not wrong us whatever they may do; in social interactions, we could not wrong our neighbors. We simply cannot escape the belief that some things really are wrong, which brings us to the conscience.

As I have noted, this debate over the moral status of homosexuality is pointless unless absolute moral truths exist. In fact, the backlash against Cameron suggests that the objectors believe in absolute moral truths. They feel compelled to defend the morality of homosexuality. The objectors care about this issue because they believe that Cameron is objectively wrong. They believe not that homosexuality is moral merely for them, but that it is moral for everyone. They certainly defend homosexuality as if they believed in absolute moral truths, and, again, unless there are absolute moral truths, it isn’t worth discussing and Cameron’s objectors really have nothing to object to. Presuming, then, that absolute moral truths do exist, how do we know them? Where do we get the moral principles upon which we build our moral arguments? For starters, we may listen to our conscience.

I would argue that the fact that we even have a conscience suggests that there are absolute moral truths and that God designed our consciences to give us knowledge of them. We all have moral beliefs. Where did they come from? It is hard to imagine that we invented them, because they feel to be such a part of us. Plus, throughout human history, we have so consistently broken them. If we invented them, why did we invent so many obstacles always standing in the way of what we really wanted to do? It is also hard to imagine that they arose through evolution. First, humans alone are concerned with questions of morality. Second, a moral belief could only have given an evolutionary advantage to us if it were obeyed, and again, we have excelled at not obeying our own morals throughout human history. I haven’t really developed this argument here, but I wanted to make the observation. In any case, we have already agreed to accept the existence of absolute moral truths (the entire discussion being pointless otherwise). If absolute moral truths do exist and our consciences do not give us knowledge of them, then we are cut off from the primary way (or, for some, the only way) of knowing them. Again, our discussion becomes pointless and the absolute moral truths may as well not exist. So then, we assume that absolute moral truths exist and that our consciences give us knowledge of them. The only way that can be true, I think, is if God made our consciences to work in that way.

How can this be, when we don’t all agree on the contents of these absolute moral truths? We should modify the above statement to say that our consciences, when functioning properly (i.e. as intended by God and not interfered with) give us knowledge of absolute moral truths. For, we can all agree that our consciences can be influenced by “group think” and by habit. Consider for a moment Nazi Germany or the moral outlook of a hardened criminal, and I think you will see what I mean. This suggests that our consciences can be, or have been, damaged and are not entirely reliable. We must therefore approach them with care. But how? How do we know whose consciences are functioning properly and whose are not? I think a few observations will help us here.

A person’s conscience can malfunction in only a few possible ways: a) my conscience may instinctively believe that something which is immoral is morally permissible; b) it may instinctively believe that something which is morally obligatory is not obligatory; or c) it may instinctively believe that something which is morally permissible is immoral. Human nature is such that we tend to want to have things our way. Moral prohibitions and obligations constrain our behavior, so we are predisposed against them. It is not in our nature to invent prohibitions where none exist. Thus, it seems far more likely that a corrupted conscience will instinctively believe it has no obligation when it really does, or else instinctively believe it has permission to act when it really doesn’t, than it is likely that a corrupted conscience will instinctively believe that it is prohibited from doing something which is really permissible. Therefore, if a minority of people instinctively believe something to be immoral while the majority instinctively believe it to be permissible, my money is on the majority having a corrupted conscience and the minority being correct.

At this point, someone may object that religions have a history of burdening people with rules and regulations which are invented and that therefore it is quite common to see the sort of corruption which I say is unlikely – namely, that my conscience declares the morally permissible to be immoral. The accusation against religions may be true, but I do not believe that such rules and regulations are instinctively felt as moral prohibitions, and so they do not represent a corruption of the conscience. For example, if my religion declares that I should not eat meat, I may accept that as a rule that I must follow. However, that does not mean that I instinctively feel it to be immoral to eat meat. There is a difference between believing something to be immoral because your religion declares it to be so, and deeply, instinctively feeling it to be immoral apart from anything your religion happens to say about it.

Speaking of religion, besides listening to our conscience as a source of moral truth, we may listen to God. One way to listen to God would be to look to a sacred text. This is what Christians do when appealing to the Bible. Since I assume many in my audience do not believe that listening to the Bible is listening to God, I won’t make my appeal to it. I will note, though, that a living faith in the living God is a good antidote to a corrupted conscience. Anyway, we may have another way of listening to God speak, and that is by looking to nature.

We have supposed that there is a God who has implanted into us a conscience. Perhaps we may also suppose that the universe is God’s creation, designed by him. This means that nature is not entirely random, but, having a particular design, is meant to work in a particular way. Even atheists will sometimes acknowledge that the universe appears to have a design, which means that things appear to be meant to work in a certain way. People are leery of “messing with nature”. Who knows what may be the result? The universe is a complicated system, and we cannot always predict the consequences of our actions. It is worthwhile to consider whether we are acting against nature’s design (whether real or apparent design). When we do this, we see that heterosexuality is quite natural.

What do I mean by natural? I mean “in accordance with nature”, or “in accordance with the apparent design of nature – the way things appear intended to work”. In this sense, heterosexuality is clearly natural. Heterosexual desire clearly serves the purpose of bringing male and female physically together. The sex organs are clearly designed to fit together to deliver pleasure and produce offspring. In this sense of “natural”, homosexuality is not natural; it is unnatural. Homosexual desire does not fit with the apparent design of nature, nor does homosexual behavior. Or, to put it another way, the simple and plain fact is that human beings appear to have been designed to be heterosexual. Nothing suggests we were designed to be homosexual. This does not make all heterosexual behavior moral, nor does it make homosexual behavior immoral. But, if nature’s design reflects God’s intentions for us, then we should weigh this carefully. To violate God’s intentions seems equivalent to opposing God, which would be immoral.

Returning to our conscience, we see that it tells us quite a lot about sex. We are instinctively repulsed by the idea of a man walking down the street, masturbating in full view. When involved in a monogamous relationship, we consider it a serious offense to engage in sexual experiences outside of that relationship. We are instinctively repulsed by certain sexual acts, such as man on beast (homosexuals, in fact, often resent references to bestiality in the context of debates on gay marriage). Unwanted physical contact between two people may be unwelcome, but unwanted sexual contact, and rape in particular, is abhorrent. We clearly have some notions of sexual morality wired into us.

When it comes to homosexuality, many people, even non-religious people, instinctively feel it is immoral. Of course, there are many people who think it is morally permissible. I have argued that there are absolute more truths and that our God-given consciences, when functioning properly, give us knowledge of these truths. If this is so, then the people in one of these groups have corrupted consciences. One of these groups is right, and the other is wrong, concerning the moral status of homosexual behavior. As I have argued, it seems to be more probable, given human nature’s inclination to make morality suit its own desires, that the more permissive conscience is the one which has been corrupted.

To conclude then, both sides in this debate are really taking for granted the existence of absolute moral truths which they claim to instinctively know. If we know such truths, it is because God has given us a conscience. The fact that many people instinctively know homosexual behavior to be immoral, and the fact that homosexual behavior is unnatural (in the sense above) strongly suggests that homosexual behavior really is, in fact, immoral. I will be the first to admit this is not a proof – how could one prove a moral statement? I only hope it is a persuasive argument. If nothing else, I hope those who insist that homosexual behavior is moral will pause and think it over and be more generous to those with whom they disagree. For, in the end, I believe the arguments favoring homosexual behavior as moral fall apart (I addressed what seems to be the primary ones: that homosexuality is an essential part of a person’s identity and that it doesn’t hurt anyone).

Finally, Cameron claimed homosexuality was destructive and detrimental. Is this true? If human flourishing means following God’s design for our lives, and if homosexual behavior is necessarily contrary to that (as nature’s design suggests), then homosexual behavior is harmful to ourselves, whether we realize it or not. Moreover, if homosexual behavior really is immoral, then its acceptance as being moral is destructive to society. To deny the immorality of one sex act makes it easier to deny the immorality of other sex acts, until we come to completely abuse sex as simply an avenue for pleasure rather than also being for intimacy. It can never be good when society agrees that immoral acts shall be called moral. It damages our consciences and cannot be isolated to a single act but in time will spread to others.

Now for a few closing remarks. Sometimes people believe Christians like to single out homosexuality as a favored target. I believe the reason it seems this way is because this is one of only a few areas where there is a concerted effort to redefine what Christians believe to be immoral as moral. There are no “Adulterer Pride Parades” or “Absentee Father Parades.” Divorce happens, but it is not celebrated. If homosexuals would stop making an issue of homosexuality, I think we would see Christians talking about it much less.

Lastly, every one of us has broken some of the moral laws that we instinctively know. Christians believe this is part of human nature. We also believe that God grants forgiveness for these violations to everyone who calls on him by calling on the name of Jesus. Only in walking with Jesus can we find the strength to resist those temptations which are particular to us. Whether you are especially vulnerable to lust, greed, anxiety, and yes, even homosexual behavior, calling on Jesus is the path to victory.

Thoughts on Koran-Burning

September 8, 2010

In the news: pastor plans to burn Korans

I do not intend to support the burning of Korans.  First, burning books is only useful if the book is truly harmful and you have realistic chances of burning every last copy; otherwise, it is merely a symbolic act.  Second, what good can come of this?  This is not how you persuade people that Islam is evil or just plain wrong.  These things aside, there are some interesting observations to be made in relation to this story.

Various people are concerned that this would incite violence against Americans in the Muslim world.  First of all, we shouldn’t care what radical Muslims think about this, since they’ll be trying to kill us regardless.  Are we then afraid of the actions of “moderate” Muslims?  If we are, then we should ask whether they are really moderate, because it seems anyone who kills over an insult is hardly a moderate anything.  Beyond that, it would be rather hypocritical for moderate Muslims to insist on not being lumped in with radical Muslims while at the same time lumping together all Americans with a small church that burns some Korans.

There is also the usual religious pluralism nonsense at work, demonstrated by the Gainesville mayor, who declared September 11th, “Interfaith Solidarity Day”.  That would be solidarity with everyone except those of the faith who are planning to burn Korans.  On what principle are these people standing in solidarity?  The principle that no religion should criticize another religion?  Surely the world would be a better place if all criticism were done away with.  Never mind whether something is true or not.  I suppose this principle of non-criticism must be what David Axelrod had in mind when he said burning the Korans was “not right.  It’s not consistent with our values”.  I actually thought that having the freedom to show your contempt for something that you considered wrong was one of our values.

We also should not fail to appreciate the Muslim response to all of this.  A candidate for the Afghan parliament was quoted as saying, “If this happens, I think the first and most important reaction will be that wherever Americans are seen, they will be killed. No matter where they will be in the world they will be killed.”  By calling the reaction “first and most important” I conclude he isn’t merely predicting what will happen but what ought to happen.  This is a wonderful proof that the Koran does not deserve to be burned.  I sure hope this guy falls into the “radical” category.

Then we have Eric Holder who calls the whole thing idiotic.  So, if you publicly criticize Islam, you may have the Attorney General calling you an idiot.  And, finally, we have some comments from State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.   According to Crowley, the administration is hoping that Americans will rise up and condemn the planned burning.  Why should we?  It certainly isn’t an insult to me, and I frankly don’t think it is necessary for everyone from Joe Smith on up to the President to call out someone for throwing around insults, however nasty they may be.  Crowley went on to say not only that the burning is “inconsistent with our American values” and “un-American” but, moreover, that it is “consistent with the radicals and religious bigots who attacked us on 9/11.”  Hold on!  So there’s a moral equivalence between murdering a few thousand people and throwing around insults?  This is a truly outrageous statement.   Crowley, however, made his gravest error when he said the burning was “a divisive potential act of disrespect to one of the world’s great religions.”  In point of fact, Islam is not great.

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