Tag Archives: morality

Anti-gay rhetoric and immature morality

Thanks to TWitter user @DeekyMD, I became aware of the following “response” to “Same Love” by Christian rapper Bizzle:

There’s a lot I could say about this video, a lot which is quite exemplary of religiously-motivated anti-gay sentiment at large.  I could talk about the underlying Christian supremacy in parts of it.  I could talk about how Bizzle claims there’s no such thing as “gay oppression” despite stories about anti-gay bullying, violence against LGBT people, and the fact that you can be fired for being gay in 29 states and being transgender in 34.  I could talk about the audacity it takes for him to then turn around and complain about “violence against Christians” (many alleged instances of which are exaggerated or trumped up by the anti-gay industry in an attempt to paint themselves as martyrs I might add) by LGBT people and their supporters.  I may talk about some or all of those things in the future.  (This video is a veritable “goldmine” of such garbage that can and should be laid out for all to see in its complete ugliness.)

Today, I want to focus on the following statement at the 1:09 mark.

And I’m sure that you lust like I do, just in a different form.  But I’m married, so if I give in to mine, I’m a cheater.  But if you give in to yours, you just fight to make it legal.

What gets me about that statement1 is that the man completely ignores the fact that he’s comparing two completely different things:

  1. A married man — who has committed to a woman and promised her sexual monogamy2 — breaking that promise and becoming sexually involved with another woman.
  2. A person — whose relationship status is unspecified and who has given no promises of sexual monogamy — choosing to become sexually involved with someone of the same sex.

The bolded parts of those two descriptions underlies exactly why these two situations are completely different.  The person in the first situation has entered into a relationship built on certain agreements, including sexual monogamy.  Breaking those agreements is a matter of breaking one’s word.  It’s also a matter of undermining the trust that such a relationship is built on and that is absolutely essential to maintaining that relationship.  That’s a big problem.

But the person in the second situation?  There is no such relationship or agreement.  There is no promise of monogamy to be broken.  There is no violation of trust.  There is no relationship that will be destroyed by said (nonexistent) violation of (also nonexistent) trust.  There is no moral wrong being done here3.

The problem with Bizzle’s comparison is that he has failed to draw an analogy to what exactly makes the situation wrong and how that carries over into the second relationship.

I posit that this is because to Bizzle, it’s not actually the breaking of a promise or the violation of trust that makes the first situation wrong either, but the fact that it goes against one of God’s rules.  I’ve noted this tendency of some Christians to reduce morality to nothing more than obeying Divine dictates.  I’ve noted how this sort of simplistic thinking causes them to do horrible things, like erase victims of abuse.  Once more I want to call attention to it here.

I am convinced that one of the biggest problem with certain segments of Christianity — especially those segments that seem far more interested in moralizing about others rather than seeking out what it means to live moral lives themselves — is their refusal to develop a more mature framework for their moral view than “[My interpretation of] God says so.”

Then they get completely confused when (and leap to ludicrous explanations to explain why) those of us who don’t believe in their interpretation of God or his “say so” don’t find their arguments compelling at all.

1Well, besides the fact that yet another anti-gay bigot is immediately reducing all same-sex relationships to a matter of lust and sexual gratification and no one is challenging him on it.

2Yes, I’m pointing out that Bizzle is in a monogamous marriage and want to make a point of noting that not all marriages or relationships are monogamous.  How other people choose to construct and negotiate their relationships is entirely up to them and I refuse to diss those who reach a consensual agreement to build non-monogamous relationships together or throw them under the bus to prove “not all gays are like that” or engage in some other form of approval seeking by being “the right kind of gay.”

3Say a gay man is in a relationship with another man wherein the two have agreed to sexual monogamy, then goes and have sex with someone else.  Then there is the broken agreement, the violation of trust, and the undermining of the relationship he is committed to.  In that case, it is not only analogous to the first scenario, but is identical to it.  But that’s the thing, Bizzle is trying to generalize this into all same-sex relationships.

Homosexuality, theology, free speech, and the prices involved

[Content Note:  religiously based anti-gay sentiment]

Should Christians be able to communicate publicly their convictions that homosexuality is sinful.

The above is a question that Wendy Gritter recently got asked, shared her views on the question (she did so on a friends-only Facebook post, so I don’t feel right reposting what she said here), then invited many of us to offer our own thoughts on the matter.  I did so as a couple comments on her Facebook post.  I wish to repeat and/or summarize those thoughts here as well as share a few other thoughts.

My short answer to the question is yes, Christians and everyone else should be permitted to publicly voice whatever convictions they have, even if I personally find those convictions or their choice to voice them to be problematic or downright detestable.

I suspect that some Christians might object to the second half of that sentence, the part that starts “even if.”  The thing is, that’s the price of free speech:  Everyone else gets to exercise theirs as well.  That means that if someone says something that I find objectionable or troubling, I get to critique what they said and state why I find it objectionable or troubling.  Furthermore, I’m allowed to form my opinions of not only what people said, but of those people based on the things that they have said.

Honestly, I find that belief to be hurtful and harmful toward LGBT people.  I’m also inclined to consider even the most gentle, nuanced, and most compassionate of that particular conviction to be harmful to some LGBT people.  I say that as someone who went to a church who never really played up the evils of homosexuality in its sermon, but received the message sufficiently that things almost didn’t end well for me.  Those kinds of convictions have consequences, and far too often, those consequences fall people other than those who hold or express them.

But rather than focus on why I find the belief or conviction itself troublesome, I’m going to spend most of this post explaining why I find the expression of that conviction troublesome, unnecessary, and counterproductive.

First, I want to start with a practical, if somewhat confrontational point.  We all know some Christians are convinced that homosexuality — whether that means being gay, identifying as gay, or having same sex sexual relationships to that particular Christian — is sinful.  Some Christians — a lot of them, really — have been saying it for decades.  I’ve been hearing it for more than seventeen years, myself.  So I have to wonder, at what point are those Christians going to accept that their message has been heard and quiet themselves so they can actually listen to someone else for a change?  Because quite frankly, I’ve had my fill of listening and would like my turn at being listened to.  And I mean really listened to.

So why do some Christians feel the need to keep repeating a message we’ve all heard for decades?  Do they really think they have something to add to that message that we haven’t heard before?  My seventeen years of experience has provided me no evidence that such is the case.  The only new things I’ve heard are from people like Wendy who are saying it’s time to listen.

In many ways, I think Fred Clark is right when he attributes it to tribalism.  For many in the evangelical Christian religion, Fred argues that denouncing homosexuality is a sort of tribal marker, done to demonstrate that a person is properly a part of the evangelical tribe.  That’s all fine and good, but not being a member of that tribe, I’m not all that interested in seeing those tribal markers on parade.  Such Christians have a right to parade them, but they don’t have a right to expect me to stick around and watch, let alone ooh and ah.  And to be honest, I’m not convinced that parading around one’s tribalism makes a lot of sense for a group that — as I understand it, at least — is supposed to be trying to pull as many people into the tribe as they can.  And when the expression of those tribal markers actually negatively impact some outside the tribe, well, I’m not sure you can get much more counterproductive than that.

Moving on, I also want to express my view on morality and how that impacts this whole topic, as words like “conviction” and “sin” lead me to believe that we’re talking morality.  Morality has to do with choice, and the only choices any person has any control over is their own choices.  I can’t make your choices for you, dear reader, nor can you make mine for me.  Ultimately, we are the sole masters of our own morality and solely the masters of our own morality.  So when heterosexual people start talking about whether homosexuality — however they’re defining that word — is moral, I note that they are laying down moral laws that don’t have any direct impact on their own lives.  They don’t have to struggle against those prohibitions or restrictions.  They are effectively trying to dictate burdens to be laid on other people.  Not cool.  To them, I say focus on sins that you actually might struggle with.

Now in fairness, there are non-heterosexual who believe that same sex sexual relationships are sinful.  Because of that belief, they choose to remain celibate or enter into what some call a mixed-orientation marriage.  That is their right, and while it’s certainly a choice I wouldn’t make, I honor their moral agency.  But I really don’t see the point in even them broadcasting that conviction, unless they are discussing at as their personal choice.  The thing is, I’m not convinced that’s why some of them do so.  Too often, I get a sense of “this is what I’m doing and what you should do too” behind them.  To which I say, nope.  My moral agency, my decision.

Personally, I think unless a non-heterosexual person asks for advice on what to do about their sexual feelings or how one handle’s ones own sexual feelings, it’s best to keep one’s own counsel on whether one things homosexuality is a sin.

But yes, everyone has the right to ignore my advice on that count.

Pondering “Out of a Far Country”: The morality question

While I find Christopher Yuan’s life and journey as he describes it in “Out of a Far Country,” I find the way in which that story culminates to his conclusions in the “Holy Sexuality” chapter to be troubling and problematic.  Again, as I alluded to in my previous post, this is where he at least implicitly shifts from telling his personal story to offering a moral prescription for others.  As such, I feel this chapter needs to be directly addressed.

This shift I’m talking about quickly becomes visible when Christopher begins his defense or justification of calling on gay men and women to a life of celibacy.  Christopher offers his realization that there are people in the Bible who lived their entire lives abstinent, noting that both Jesus and Paul were both such men.

The thing note, however, is that both men acknowledged that it was neither an easy calling or one that everyone was suited for.  When Jesus’s own disciples comment that it would be better to remain unmarried, Jesus responded that “not all can accept this,” without any sense of condemnation (Matthew 19).  Similarly Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthian church (chapter 7), he notes that it is better to remain single, but that those who cannot control their lusts should get married.[1]  So as I read Christopher’s insistence that it’s not unfair of God to demand celibacy — especially lifelong celibacy — of certain people, I’m skeptical that his two examples of holy and celibate men would actually agree with him.

But the thing is, Christopher isn’t claiming that God is demanding lifelong celibacy of individuals, but of an entire class of people.  I have no problem believing that God called Paul, Jesus, or even Christopher Yuan to lifelong celibacy.  God places individual callings upon people all the time.  But to say that an entire class of people must remain celibate simply because of who they are drawn to when it comes to sex and romance[2] is an entirely different claim, and I think it’s a position that takes far more defense than Christopher offers.  I also think it takes far more appreciation of what one is claiming God demands of all gay and bisexual people and just how hard a road one is calling others to.

That last statement is pivotal to me.  What I see here is that some — either including Christopher or those who will be further emboldened by him — are trying to tell other people — and entire class of people, in fact — what God’s calling is for their lives.  I maintain that this is not how callings work.  Callings are not placed upon people by other individuals.  No, the things so placed are rightfully called burdens.  Callings are made not to classes of people, but to individuals by a god who draws that individual in, gives the individual a heart and desire for that calling, and fills that individual with a sense that while the calling may not always involve an easy road, it is entirely doable.  This is not what is being offered here in the chapter on holy sexuality.

As I’ve referred to the chapter’s title which invokes the word “holy,” let’s look at the statement popularized by some Exodus leaders and repeated in this chapter:

“The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality, but holiness.”

My problem with this statement is that it reduces holiness — a complex and wondrous topic — to a mere question of not having sex or at least not having the wrong kinds of sex.  It reduces the idea of holiness in sexuality to following the right rules, avoiding the right taboos, and so on.  It does nothing to illuminate what makes sex or sexuality holy — sacred to and glorifying of the Divine — which makes it hard to accept the unsubstantiated statement[3] that the holiness of one’s sexuality or sexual activity is affected by the gender of one’s partner(s).

I wish Christopher the best in following what he believes that God has called him to.  But I would ask him not to attempt to universalize that calling for all gay people or allow others to use his story to do so.  It’s simply not his or their place.

[1]  Not exactly a ringing endorsement for marriage as a sacred institution, is it?

[2]  And like so many others, Christopher never seems to acknowledge that same-sex relationships have a romantic side or other aspects beyond the sex.

[3]  Christopher and others might argue that “The Bible says so” should be good enough.  Setting aside that not everyone agrees about what “the Bible says” on the topic, I will note that this underscores an extremely authoritarian approach to morality and assumes and authoritarian God who gives a moral code that is based on nothing more than His say-so.  I am deeply troubled by such an understanding of both morality and God.  Indeed, I think conservative Christianity would be greatly served by the sudden appearance of many more Jobs in their ranks.

Morality: Societal Dictates vs. Societal Consideration

On Wednesday, I tackled how morality can be influenced both by the advice of deities and the individual’s application of reasoning and consideration.  Today, I’d like to consider how society fits into the development of one’s morals – in this case, my own.

Understanding how society influences morality is primarily understanding the very nature of morality as a matter of relationships.  To put it simply, morality comes into play when my actions affect my relationships to friends, family, my gods, the world in general, and even myself.  If my actions do not affect anyone,[1] then there is no question about morality.

The importance of morality rests on the importance of those relationships.  To put it simply, people need relationships to survive, both individually and collectively.  The Randian notion that a person can be completely self reliant is a quaint fantasy with no basis in reality, as mmy beautifully demonstrated not so long ago.  We all need the support and help of other people from time to time.

At it’s heart, I think morality is a way of developing and strengthening relationships with mutual trust and respect, relationships that ensure that when we – both collectively and individually – need aid and support, we are certain to have some place to turn.  This support might be extreme, such as the case mmy describes in the blog post linked in the previous paragraph.  However, it may just be the knowledge of knowing that other people “have your back,” knowing that you don’t have to spend all your time and energy protecting yourself and what you value.  This social support enables you to take risks, seek new adventures which may lead to new benefits and gains, both for yourself and those around you.

As a devotee of a Norse goddess, I am deeply inspired by the Icelandic sagas, whose heroes often find themselves doing a careful balancing act between the deep-felt call to being a rugged individual of great accomplishment and meeting their obligations to their families and the greater society they find themselves in.  I personally consider learning to find this balance the greatest endeavor and purpose of morality.  For me, it has led to a finely nuanced and carefully considered framework on which to determine what my best and most moral next action in a given situation will be.

[1]  Admittedly, if any such actions exist, they are truly few in number.

Morality: Divine Dictates and Reason

The Former Conservative recently offered a critique of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry’s homophobic “Questions for Homosexuals” a while back, to which CARM leader Matthew Slick replied.  The Former Conservative offered a second response, and I encourage anyone who has not followed the exchange to go read it in its entirety.

One of the things that came up in the protracted discussion was CARM’s strange beliefs about morality.  It seems that CARM understands that there can only be three sources for morality (and only the first one is valid in CARM’s mind):

  1. A Supreme Being offering inviolable declarations of what is right and what is wrong.
  2. A societal system that offers near-inviolable declarations of what is right and what is wrong.
  3. Individuals who decide for themselves what is right or wrong based on what feels right.

This list demonstrates that the folks at CARM might want to invest a bit more into the “Research” part of their organization’s name.  There are a multitude of diverse bases for developing a moral framework, as evidenced by the number of philosophers, both ancient and modern, who have explored the topic of morality and offered many different methods for determining morality.

As a devotee o the Norse gods, I would actually suggest that my morality is loosely based on more nuanced versions of all three above points.  For example, my gods have a lot of advice to offer as to what actions and what virtues and actions are considered noble and moral.  However, these are offered as advice rather than inviolable commandments.[1]  Instead, they offer advice, suggestions, and reasons why certain courses of action are preferable and more worthy of praise.

This offers something for individual reason and reflection to work with.  This does make morality somewhat individualistic.  This is appropriate as morality is itself individualistic.  I am responsible to make sure that I act in a manner that is moral.  I am not responsible for anyone else’s morality or lack thereof.  So I need to reason through what right action is based on the understanding of my situations, the virtues that I and my gods deem noble and valuable.

This sort of individual consideration of morality is not the narcissistic “do what I want” attitude that the folks at CARM or like-minded people consider it to be.  It is possible to use one’s own reason and thought processes, yet start with some sort of basis that leads you to a rugged moral framework from which to act in an appropriate manner.

In reality, CARM’s knee-jerk rejection of the application of personal reason and reflection on matters of reality suggests an anti-reason bias in their approach to the world.  Of the three above versions of morality that they perceive, I suspect the last is the one they trust least, as it affirms the individual’s need for an external absolute authority to dictate right and wrong to them.  They simply believe that human beings are incapable of such moral reasoning on their own.

That suggestion is almost as insulting as it is frightening.

[1]  To put it bluntly, a bumper sticker that said “Freyja said it, I believe it, that settles it,” would not be a highly marketable product.

How not to do moral philosophy

While I was attending college at Susquehanna University, I took a class on religious philosophy.  A week of class-time was spent discussing morality.  The first day of that segment of the class, the instructor made it clear that the purpose of moral philosophy — and morality in general — was to aid an individual in evaluating situations in sir life and determining zir best course of action.  It’s a lesson that has stuck with me.

Unfortunately, it’s not a lesson that seems to stick with some groups, such as the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM).  Consider as evidence  CARM’s statements about morality in their Statement of Faith:

Homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, pedophilia, bestiality, necrophilia, cross dressing, trans-genderism, lying, bearing false witness, adultery, wife-swapping, pornography, fornication, and coveting are all sinful practices, against scriptural revelation, are contrary to proper living, and are not acceptable to the CARM ministry as normal or approved behaviors. Still, we do not hate those who practice these things but pray for their deliverance.

Note that with the exception of laying, bearing false witness (how it differs from lying is unclear), and coveting, this list is almost exclusively about declaring what sexual practices[1] and gender non-conforming practices are to be considered sinful.

This is not a useful moral paradigm by the standards of my college professor, standards which I’m inclined to accept for myself.  It offers no advice to someone who is confronted by injustice, nor does it offer any practical advice on how zie may come to recognize injustice.  It does not cover what it actually means to live with integrity, how to embody compassion, or what it means to love both your neighbor and your enemy.[2]  The average person would find this list completely unhelpful in answering the question, “What can I do to live a more moral life?”

That’s because CARM did not develop the morality clause of their Statement of Faith to help guide people through the process of determining the moral thing to do in everyday situations or when confronted with some troubling situation.  CARM developed this clause in order to declare who they considered immoral — particularly and almost exclusively in terms of sexuality.  They creed it to attempt to exert control over other people’s sexuality.  This is not called morality, but moralizing.

I tell you the truth, there is far more moral guidance in 1 Corinthians 13 than in the CARM blurb.

[1]  Actually, CARM doesn’t even say that same sex sexual activity is sinful.  It condemns homosexuality, bisexuality, and lesbianism.  It is not clear whether CARM does so because it does not consider sexual orientation does not exist beyond sexual orientation or if they are one of the last groups to still insist that even being gay — that is, having feelings for and experiencing an attraction towards  members of the same sex — is sinful in itself.  Either way, CARM demonstrates that even if we accept that CARM’s statement is only about sexual morality rather than morality in general, it is still deeply flawed.

[2]  Considering Jesus himself gave a direct command to his followers to love their enemies, I think it’s fair to say that any Christian organization’s morality clause that does not cover that command[3] is fatally flawed.

[3]  No, I don’t consider a quick “we do not hate…but pray for their deliverance” tacked on at the end as sufficient for that purpose.  That’s called “covering your ass.”

Devotion is great. I wish you’d focus more on it.

Personal Failure linked to and responded to a post about religious devotion.  Her response understandably focused on the slight the post made against atheists.  I wanted to explore this post a bit more myself though as someone who is also a strong believer in religious devotion*

After giving his speech about the importance of piety — a word I might have personally avoided, given the immense negative connotations that have gotten attached to it and even made their way into the dictionary definitions — and offered his patronizing disapproval of those who do not follow (his) God, Fr. Zuhlsdorf offers a quote from Pope Benedict:

If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves
totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away
from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant,
something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not
then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom?

I’ll note that, in my opinion, this underlines the problem with many Christians’ understanding of piety and morality in general:  It’s about giving things up and refraining from things.**  When morality, piety, and devotion become nothing more than avoiding those things which are deemed bad, it’s bound to feel restrictive.  It’s also bound to leave people wondering what they should do.

Fr. Zuhlsdorf goes on to talk about sins of omission, recognizing that morality, piety, and devotion do require positive action, but he still speaks in negative terms, in terms of failing to act:

That is where we ferret out our negligence in regard to the virtue of religion, negligence in respect to God and to neighbor.

The problem with this approach is that if you’re thinking in terms of what you should have done and failed to do, you started a good thing way too late.  It would have been far better to go throughout your day asking what you should be doing, what good you can do.  This enables and encourages positive action rather than guilt over negative action or a failure to act.

Fr. Zuhlsdorf finally gets that idea, but only at the end.  And he glosses over it but briefly.

Second, during the day, silently to yourself, perhaps say a brief
prayer.  Pick one.  How about, “Jesus, meek and humble of heart: Make my
heart like unto Thine.”

His blog post would have been much better if he had started his missive on personal devotion with this prayer, especially if he had expanded on it.  It could have been a post on what it means to have a heart like Jesus, and what kinds of acts such a heart leads to.  Effectively, it could have led into something very similar to my own Prayer for Living Worship.  Such a prayer, written with passages like 1 Corinthians 13 and Galations 5 in mind, would have been a perfect lead in to a sort of devotion that any person — even one of those “awful atheists” would have trouble finding fault with.

*  My own.  Whether or not anyone else is religiously devoted is none of my business, let alone subject to any actual judgment on my part.

** I’ll note that this is a problem I have when many Pagans seem to reduce our ethics to nothing more than “don’t hurt anyone” as well.

Good, Evil, Morality, and Human Nature

embpent1.gifI recently ran across the LJ community pagan_prompt, which looks to be a pleasant replacement for the mostly defunct Witch’s Weekly site.  As I feel I’ve been suffering from a bit of writer’s block, I decided to blog about their latest prompt:

Is Human Nature generally ‘good’, ‘evil’, or something else? Why?

In many ways, I’m inclined to declare the question inappropriate and irrelevant.  Discussing human nature in terms of “good” and “evil” makes no sense in the faith I have come to understand and practice.  This is because in my mind, the question is based on an understanding of “good” and “evil” that is absent from my faith.

The question is rooted in the idea that “good” and “evil” are abstract realities embodied and controlled by external, often supernatural forces.  The question at its core is asking which of those two forces have the most direct influence over, control over, and ownership of human beings.

To me, however, good and evil are concepts in morality.  And morality is about choice.  A choice is good or evil, determined by factors such as what virtues or vices it promotes and what overall effect it has on a person, those around them, and the world at large.  There is no good or evil without a choice, and therefore human nature itself cannot be good or evil, because human nature is an abstract concept rather than a choice.

Human nature consists of impulses, desires, needs, feelings, and many other things.  Human nature will certainly influence the choices we make in our lives, and those choices will ultimately be moral and immoral (and I think it’s safe to assume that the average human being will make both kinds of choices throughout their lives).  However, all those complex factors in our nature make both kinds of choices possible.  So to say that we are inherently moral or immoral makes absolutely no sense.  It’s simply a matter of what aspects of our nature we choose to nourish, encourage, and pay heed to.