Thinking Christian

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A New “Gay Rights” Assault on Freedom Of Conscience

Posted on Feb 21, 2013 by Tom Gilson

If you think “gay rights” is a perfectly innocent and harmless matter, please read this from Mike Adams about a major assault being made on freedom of conscience and religion in North Carolina.

Mike usually takes a wry, satirical tone in his writings. This could have been a nice noir fiction piece on the deep intolerance of “tolerance.” But Mike was stone-cold sober this time, and his article wasn’t fiction. (Permanently available PDF version of that link.)

East Carolina University has set a day or days on which all faculty “homophobics” must wear an armband making it easy to identify them at a glance. Well, not really—that’s my own semi-fictional take on it—but it’s far too close for comfort. In actual fact the administration has set a day (or perhaps one day per department in a range of days, it’s hard to say) for faculty members to wear an assigned brown shirt bearing the message, “Gay? Fine By Me.”

Yes, I did say “assigned brown shirt.”  The effect will be no different from an armband in reverse.

ECU’s administration is also asking students to join in the campus-wide campaign to pressure private conscience into public conformity.

Any faculty member who chooses not to publicly parrot the assigned message on his or her department’s chosen day will be quite identifiably “homophobic.” The administration is apparently asking departments to take faculty group photos showing support for the campaign, thus making a permanent record of who is or is not a “homophobe.”

It’s an incredible assault on freedom of thought, freedom of association, and freedom of conscience—at a public university. It is harmful, and it is wrong.

Update, note on “brown:” The first commenter here has correctly noted that the shirts have not been identified as being brown. I got that from the title of Mike’s article, where he was, I think, alluding to something very similar to what I had in mind with my armband allusion.

172 Responses to “ A New “Gay Rights” Assault on Freedom Of Conscience ”

  1. Dave Spaugh says:

    I’ve read the Mike Adams post and the ECU statement, and can’t find anything where it says the shirts are brown (unless I’m missing something). Can the brown be verified?

  2. Larry Tanner says:

    I don’t see the problem with the initiative.

  3. Tom Gilson says:

    I’m not surprised you don’t see it.

  4. BACH says:

    These sorts of visibility demonstrations are nothing new. Specifically the “Gay? Fine by me.” t-shirt days have been organized at colleges both public & private for ten years. I’ve been a part of several institutions that have hosted these events and they are far from the all-consuming, mandated portrayal that is suggested here.

    I see no problem with a public university hosting and promoting an initiative that’s in line with its stated anti-discrimination policy. Every time I’ve seen one of these events, the vast majority of people on campus were not in fact wearing the t-shirts, not because they were openly hostile toward LGBT people but because they just chose to wear something else that day.

    While I think there’s an important conversation to be had about tolerance for those with dissenting views, this alarmist reporting feels to me like the sort of shrill voice that actually undermines Christian witness in the world. This is a First Amendment issue. Anyone is free to support or oppose the t-shirts. But as with all our speech, it may be free but that does not make it free of consequence. Our choices do identify us and what we choose to support or reject in the world.

    This “New ‘Gay Rights’ Assault” is neither an assault, nor is it new.

  5. Dave Spaugh says:

    No problem with the initiative? Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Those endorsing only heterosexual sex will wear a t-shirt that says “The straight way is the only way.” Just imagine the outcry if my t-shirt scenario were played out, and how it would be depicted as a means to identifying pro homosexuals for harassment and “persecution.” Now see the problem with the initiative?

    Wouldn’t happen? Just remember the homosexual reaction when all Dan Cathy from Chick Fil A said was he supported traditional man-woman marriage and he was vilified and attacked by the homosexual lobby. It could even get worse. Remember Floyd Lee Corkins II?

  6. Larry, the problem with the initiative is that it unfairly tramples on privacy rights of faculty members who are being forced to “speak” publicly when they might prefer to keep their opinions private.

    The reason that this is unfair is that the T-shirts would amount to a bumper-sticker expression regarding an issue that begs deeper thought. It is possible for a person of good conscience to disagree with some objectives of the LGBT special interest group while promoting love toward individuals in said group.

  7. Larry Tanner says:

    Dave,

    I see nothing stopping an initiative to get your “The straight way is the only way” t-shirts out there in just the same manner as the fine by me shirts.

    There might be outcry, but so what? That’s public discourse. The Chik-fil-a example is a very good one, I think.

    Gary, where do you see forcing come into play? Who is forcing whom, and in what manner?

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry, do you have any idea how many hundreds of thousands of dollars the public is investing in these initiatives? Do you have any idea what it means that the administration is backing this social pressure to bend people’s conscience? Do you think, in light of that, there’s an equal playing field for diverse points of view, and for freedom of conscience?

    Public discourse is one thing. Public discourse where one side is significantly funded by public money, and where government-funded pressure is exerted on one side, is another thing altogether.

  9. Holopupenko says:

    Larry:

    You are not a rigorous thinker: it’s ECU’s Office for Equity and Diversity (how can one be equal to others and at the same time diverse, by the way?!?) that’s officially supporting such repugnance.

    And yet you suggest (with no evidence) that the same office would endorse and support Dave’s initiative? Really? Are you that obtuse? If you’re so confident about your cowardly deflection, then why don’t you empirically verify it by petitioning the OCU Office to provide equal time to Dave’s suggestion? (Why don’t you call them and ask them?)

    The onus is on you–you made the claim… but I’m sure no one is holding their breath waiting for you to make good on your claim.

  10. SteveK says:

    I think Gary’s comment in #6 was well stated. It’s an example of management making employees state their opinion publicly about a very hot topic. By not participating, employees are making a public statement. Now, that statement might be “I don’t care” or “I’m busy” or “I strongly disagree” or whatever. But what if you don’t want to state your opinion precisely because the topic is highly inflammatory? What if you’d rather just do your work and not get involved?

    I expect that those who don’t participate will be subject to bullying – like this.

  11. JAD says:

    Larry Tanner is discriminating against me. He doesn’t fully and unconditionally endorse my world view. So by his own standard Larry is guilty of discrimination. By not endorsing my world view he is saying that my world view is not equal to his world view. I believe (wink, wink) that all world views should be treated equally. :)

  12. Larry Tanner says:

    Let’s look at the email circulated:

    “This spring the LGBT Resource Office (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) is hosting a program called ‘Gay? Fine By Me’ and we would love for you and your department to share in this opportunity. The LGBTRO will be ordering shirts that say ‘gay? fine by me’ and distributing them to faculty, staff and students to promote an atmosphere of support on campus. This simple message helps to combat homophobia by publically (sic) affirming our LGBT community and creating an inclusive environment where all students can feel safe to express who they are. The shirts will be distributed free of charge, though the LGBTRO welcomes donations to the project.”

    Are we saying that some other campus organization could not issue an email promoting t-shirts with their own message of non-discrimination?

    Tom, I don’t know how much money the public is paying to fund this initiative. Please feel free to enlighten me.

  13. SteveK says:

    Different subject, but with a lot of the same problems. What a mess.

  14. Larry Tanner says:

    JAD, please. I fully support your right to express your worldview. I hope I have your support to believe and to express my opinion–pro or con–about that worldview.

  15. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry, the public is paying for the LGBTRO office, its staff, and its expenses.

    It’s unclear from the information I’ve been able to get, but it almost looks as if the university is paying for the shirts. That will take some further research to ascertain.

    ECU’s diversity office’s web page is under construction, so information there is limited. For comparative purposes, though, see the staffing and programs at UCSD. Not all of this is sex/gender related, of course, but it gives you a picture of the situation. The quoted staffing and office list here gives further perspective.

  16. JAD says:

    You’re not getting my point Larry. The faculty at ECU have to wear a shirt on a particular day which states, “Gay? Fine By Me.” I am demanding that on another day that they wear a shirt that says, “Christian? Fine By Me.” On another day, “Buddhist? Fine By Me.” On another day, “Vegetarian? Fine By Me” etc…etc. Otherwise ECU is discriminating against those other worldviews. Are there enough days in the school year to represent every bodies world view? And then there is the question, who pays for all the shirts?

  17. Tom Gilson says:

    A word of caution, JAD: the faculty do not have to wear the shirt. It’s just that the university is calling on them to do so. There is pressure there, to be sure, but it’s not actually a requirement.

  18. Tom Gilson says:

    As to “who pays,” it sure looks like it’s the university and/or donors to the university, but that the U will pay with or without donations:

    Individuals, departments, offices and student groups wishing to reserve shirts may do so by clicking here and filling out the order form. T-shirts are free of charge, though the LGBTRO welcomes donations to the project in any amount. The t-shirts will be distributed at the end of March.

  19. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD –

    You’re not getting my point Larry. The faculty at ECU have to wear a shirt on a particular day which states, “Gay? Fine By Me.”

    As Tom points out, “the university is calling on them to do so”. Frankly, going by the words Larry Tanner quoted, I’d characterize it as ‘the university is inviting them to do so’, but whatever.

    Hypothetical question: A University calls on its faculty to wear t-shirts promoting “Proposition Zeta”, a ballot initiative to add a state tax to increase for higher education. Is this an unfair imposition on libertarian staff who oppose new taxes?

  20. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, assuming there’s no administrative penalty, I think it would depend on what moral status or social disapproval was attached to the refusal to wear the Zeta shirt.

    Suppose Professor Nerdlinger says, “I don’t want to wear that shirt, even though ___ .” The extent of “imposition” would depend almost entirely on how that sentence ends.

  21. JAD says:

    Even if the faculty is just “invited” to wear the shirts, anyone who knows anything about human psychology knows that there is going to be a lot of peer pressure on those who’d rather not.

    My point is that the University is selectively favoring one group, one world view over all others for special treatment. That is discriminatory by their own definition. The solution is very simple treat everyone the same (every world view gets it’s own T-shirt day) or show no favoritism.

  22. BillT says:

    This is a fine article that relates to this discussion. It provides some excellent background on how we have arrived at a place where intollerance has become to be seen as tollerance. Link

  23. KJW says:

    Let’s see what they would do to a faculty member who wears a shirt that says: “Ex-gay? That’s also fine with me.”

    Or how about a shirt with a lengthier message: “Take the $1,000,000 challenge. Find a rich liberal and make a bet with him for one million dollars that he can’t find (scientifically replicated) evidence that same-sex romantic attraction is genetic or inborn.

    You’ll walk away a millionaire every time…if he pays up.”

  24. Sault says:

    @BillT

    I’m having to take this article with a grain of salt. The author isn’t attempting to provide an objective viewpoint, and relies heavily upon Daniel J. Flynn, the man who wrote the book “Why the Left Hates America”. Methinks I detect a hint of bias.

  25. Billt says:

    Sault,

    Just killing the messenger or do you have something relevent to say about the substance of the article.

  26. d says:

    Ahh so its more of the same melodrama from Mike Adams… the guy seems to find a conspiracy or act of persecution against Christianity around every corner of his university, ten times day. So grain of salt, indeed.

    It sounds like Bach made the most level headed assessment of the situation.

  27. Tom Gilson says:

    d, I can almost absolutely guarantee you didn’t read Mike’s article, based on your describing it as melodrama. Perhaps you will object that you did read it; to which I will answer that you did not read it, you read into it your blatantly stated and stereotyped preconceptions. His report was matter-of-fact, not very dramatic if at all, and certainly not melodramatic. I’d be embarrassed if I were you

    BACH’s descriptions of other demonstrations and events are, well, descriptions of other demonstrations and events. Not this one. This one’s features are this one’s. This one includes (or is at least reported on the University’s website to include) several features that do not seem to have been the case for other t-shirt events, notably the administration’s expectation of participation at the department level. (I base that comparison on information from other sites that I was able to find on the web, and on the advice given by the company who makes the t-shirts and offers training on how to use them for these events.)

    Regardless of that, if some other demonstration or event happened somewhere else, that does not ease the assault on conscience committed by this one.

  28. d says:

    Tom,

    Yep, I did read the article (both pages even!) – and re-read it again after your post, and I’ve confirmed it – I’m not embarrassed even a little bit by my post.

    In fact, his whole article looks like a case-study on “blatantly reading into something with stereotyped preconceptions”.

    Now, I’m not one to ever get in too much of a huff over these sorts of stories… we just never have enough info to make solid judgement about the situation unless things are very clear cut. I don’t see that clarity here.

    And having followed the conspiracy de jour stories from Adams for several years, my opinion is that he’s somewhere near Glenn Beck levels of crazy. So I would treat his account of things as suspect, even if it showed us a more clear cut situation.

  29. Fleegman says:

    JAD,

    Gay, Christian, Buddhist, Vegetarian.

    One of these things it not like the other. I’ll leave it to you to work out which.

  30. Tom Gilson says:

    Vegetarian, because its initial letter is in the second half of the alphabet.

  31. Tom Gilson says:

    If that wasn’t it, then maybe you’ll need to help me with it.

  32. JAD says:

    Fleegman,

    So what. My point is that there are a diversity of world views– some religious; some not.

    For example, is vegetarianism a world view? Not in all cases but it can be.

  33. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    I think it would depend on what moral status or social disapproval was attached to the refusal to wear the Zeta shirt.

    How about spirit days, when students and faculty are asked to wear the colors or logos of a university sports team? If a faculty member wore a t-shirt of a rival school, they might come in for some disapproval.

    Is there a level of disapproval below which it’s not a big deal?

  34. Tom Gilson says:

    Painfully obvious…

  35. Keith says:

    @Tom:

    Ignoring the reasons, I’m guessing we can agree it’s a fact gays are a minority, historically discriminated against.

    If the University wants to demonstrate to the minority that the University community welcomes/includes members of the minority, what actions could it take to do that, without “assaulting religion”?

    In other words, can you give me examples of actions the the University could take, which would advance its goals of inclusion, and which you would not consider an assault on your beliefs?

  36. Tom Gilson says:

    Keith, the problem here was not an assault on beliefs but assault on conscience: pressuring conformity through the use of administrative authority and mandated peer social pressure, in other words.

    Obviously institutions can adopt positions on social issues. Just as obviously, not every member will agree with his or her institution’s positions. When that happens, there ought to be something like a legitimate, honest give-and-take of beliefs and reasoning.

    That doesn’t always happen in the real world, and when there are exceptions, then the thing to do is just what Mike did and what I’m doing: raise a flag, point out the ethical injustices, and advocate for change.

    So if the university wants to advocate for “goals of inclusion” with respect to homosexuality, I would support everything it said or did that encouraged others to treat gays as human beings, and also encouraged people who disagree with me to treat me (and others who share my position on this) as a human being in return.

    I would not support any initiative that said that homosexual practice is morally equivalent to married heterosexual coupling. I couldn’t, because I think it’s both false and damaging to human beings. I would find myself in disagreement with the majority on the ECU campus with that position. So be it.

  37. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    I would support everything it said or did that encouraged others to treat gays as human beings, and also encouraged people who disagree with me to treat me (and others who share my position on this) as a human being in return.

    Can you give a practical example of something a university or division thereof could say or do along those lines? We know t-shirts are out, but what could be in?

  38. Keith says:

    Tom, I don’t see an answer to my question.

    The University is pushing its community to get behind a message (“Gay? Fine by me”), and their stated goal was “an atmosphere of support”.

    You say you support the University encouraging people to treat gays “as human beings”. I would have said the phrase “Fine by me” does that, but you and Adams were deeply offended that the community should get behind that phrase (specifically comparing the University’s actions to a group that systematically killed 6 million men, women and children based on their religious identity).

    If the University wants to create community-wide support for this minority, what different actions could the University have taken, that would promote the community inclusiveness and welcome message the University wants, and which would not assault your conscience?

    And, I’m asking for examples. When you say “I would not support any initiative…”, you’re not showing any such initiative is even possible.

    It would be good to find common ground where people can be supportive of gay people and still be respectful of your beliefs. I’m asking if that’s even possible, or whether we simply have to choose.

  39. Tom Gilson says:

    Keith, maybe the best thing would be for you to look through something I wrote some time ago on this. It expresses things I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to get across briefly. Since those attempts haven’t worked, I’d like to refer you to the long-form answer.

  40. Larry Tanner says:

    Tom,

    Just curious, how do you rank the marriage of a homosexual couple–male or female–against, say, a guy who engages in a dozen one-night stands with various women over the course of four years?

    Are the one-night stands morally superior to the marriage? (I understand you may have an issue with the word marriage, but let’s please suspend that for the sake of the question).

    Thanks!

  41. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry, I don’t rank that kind of thing.

  42. Larry Tanner says:

    But Tom, you said before “I would not support any initiative that said that homosexual practice is morally equivalent to married heterosexual coupling. I couldn’t, because I think it’s both false and damaging to human beings.”

    These statements imply that you rank “heterosexual coupling” above “homosexual practice.”

    I am asking for more definition of the moral universe, as you see it, and of the two terms above that you have used. My impression of you has been that you are someone who appreciates precision in language. So I think I am asking a fair question that directly relates to your terms, but I understand if you are reluctant to pursue it.

  43. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry, please. Your inference from what I wrote was actually an inference from a carefully selected portion of what I wrote. You excised a very important word from it. How do you expect conversation to move forward sensibly when you do that?

  44. BillT says:

    These statements imply that you rank “heterosexual coupling” above “homosexual practice.”

    That’s incredibly dishonest Larry. Tom said (and you repeated) “married heterosexual coupling”. Then you changed that to “heterosexual coupling” after comparing “a guy who engages in a dozen one-night stands with various women over the course of four years” to marriage of a homosexual couple. Is intentionally misquoting others how you roll, Larry?

  45. Larry Tanner says:

    I see that you said “married heterosexual coupling.” You’re right. I didn’t mean to leave out that word, and certainly there was no malicious intent on my part.

    But, again, you clearly rank married heterosexual coupling as superior to homosexual practice.

    OK, what about married homosexual coupling? Is that morally equivalent to married heterosexual coupling?

    What about my question before about promiscuous bachelorhood?

    Yes, I accidentally omitted a key word, but can we focus on the question because the answer is important.

  46. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry, there’s no secret that I rank married heterosexual coupling above homosexual practice. I don’t do the comparisons you asked for between hetero one-night-stands and married homosexuality, largely because I don’t think there is any such thing as married homosexual coupling.

    Why is this so important, anyway?

  47. Tom Gilson says:

    Granted, there is such a thing as homosexual coupling that is recognized under law as “married.” You requested earlier that we separate out the question of whether homosexuals can really be married, but while there might be a way to work that question around and arrive at some kind of answer, it would be pages and pages long and not worth the effort, especially since in the end I suspect I’d find there wasn’t any way to split the concepts out that way after all.

    The shorter answer is that I think homosexual “marriage” is not marriage, and that homosexual coupling under any legal status is not morally equivalent to married heterosexual practice.

  48. Larry Tanner says:

    Thanks, Tom. I think the question and its answer is important because the follow-on question is whether the view that homosexual marriage is not marriage constitutes bigotry/intolerance.

  49. Tom Gilson says:

    Aahh. Now I see.

    No, from my perspective it constitutes a sane understanding of the word “marriage.” From yours, it doesn’t.

    Will you be intolerant now toward me and others who hold the opinion I do? Will you be bigoted toward us, singling out professors who disagree, making them objects of social disapproval on the basis of their sincerely held beliefs?

    I think there is a question there to explore, but really, it’s off topic. I mean, unless it has to do with the assault on conscience I blogged on here, I really don’t want to have to get into your side’s bigotry and intolerance. It’s a tangent we need not follow.

  50. Tom Gilson says:

    You see, Larry, my view of marriage is informed by a pretty seriously thought through philosophical and historical understanding of what marriage is, why it exists, why government recognizes it, what it does for cultures and societies, how it helps children, and (yes, there’s a biblical aspect here too) how it can conform to God’s standard.

    For you to sweep that aside as “bigotry and intolerance,” without understanding my position and respecting the thought that underlies it, would be intolerant bigotry on your part.

    I don’t hold my position on the basis of an antipathy toward gays. Real-life gays who know me in real-life relationships do not describe me as bigoted or intolerant, because they know I treat them as fellow human beings deserving of all the respect, worth, and love that fellow human beings deserve.

    No, my position on marriage is built on the basis of understanding what marriage is and what it is not; an understanding informed by all that I have just told you about.

    Call me bigoted for that without understanding my position, and your accusation will bounce right back at you.

  51. Tom Gilson says:

    “Intolerance” as today’s culture throws the word around today is the world’s most pathetic excuse for a moral standard anyway. It’s weak. It’s flabby. It’s boring. I’ll go for “love” and “respect” over tolerance any day.

  52. Larry Tanner says:

    Now wait a minute. I have not called you or your view bigoted. I said there was a question, and I think you do agree that there is a question.

    If you want to treat me like a human, please don’t tell me what I’m going to “call” you until I do so.

    I understand you have thought through your position. I’m not disputing that or sweeping it aside.

  53. Tom Gilson says:

    Point well taken. Thank you. I was wrong to jump the gun.

  54. Tom Gilson says:

    In fact, do you realize how incredibly wrong it is to use “phobia” to denote disagreement? From where do you derive the conclusion that disagreement equals fear or aversion? Are you Christianophobic? I don’t think so–you’re married to a Christian.

    To use the term “homophobia” as you and others on that blog have done is prima facie evidence of stereotyping, prejudice, and bigotry.

    And to be frank, you’re more harmed by the use of that term than I am. I don’t need to care what you think of me: but you need to care about what you think. And if you think and affirm things that are by nature bigoted, then that’s not doing you much good.

  55. I think teachers at the school should organize and wear t-shirts that say, “real diversity? Fine by me.” Or something similar–polite but challenging the Orwellian pressure of this initiative. Disagree with the strategy not the message on the counter t-shirts.

  56. BACH says:

    Tom, you make reference in #50 to “Real-life gays who know me in real-life relationships…”
    I think it could be helpful for discussion on this blog if you were to ask some of these people to write guest posts for ThinkingChristian.

    In the same way that you’ve sought to air the perspectives & stories of some of your atheist commenters, I suspect many of us would be interested in the perspective of how your “Real-life gays” experience you in “real-life relationships.”

  57. BACH says:

    And Carson, I really think your t-shirt suggestion is brilliant & even-handed.

  58. Tom Gilson says:

    BACH, I’m sure it would be helpful to hear from these men, except one of them has passed away (AIDS) and the other doesn’t write. At all.

    I sent Mike Adams an email yesterday morning telling him that I’d contribute financially if they would answer with t-shirts reading “gay? God loves you.”

    Carson, I like your idea even better.

  59. BillT says:

    “I think the question and its answer is important because the follow-on question is whether the view that homosexual marriage is not marriage constitutes bigotry/intolerance.”

    And this a perfect example having arrived at a place where intolerance has become to be seen as tolerance as I mentioned in a prior post.

  60. William Brown says:

    Keith,

    Re. your post #35…………”Ignoring the reasons, I’m guessing we can agree it’s a fact gays are a minority, historically discriminated against.”

    Yes, Keith, and so are serial rapists, humans who practice bestiality, people who are cruel to animals, and pickpockets.

    The issue is that these are all wrong in God’s eyes because they lead to a degradation of the human soul. It looks like the problem is that you do not know this; the issue seems to be one of ignorance, requiring an honest evaluation of historical and modern data on what creates human flourishing.

    There seem to be implicit assumptions of moral equivalency in your statement. The issue seems to be a blindness to what is good and what is not. You are trying to rhetorically steer the conversation based on these assumptions that I and many others do not at all agree with.

  61. Tom Gilson says:

    Clarifying: homosexuality is not morally equivalent to serial rape.

    Discrimination is not a dirty word. It is a normal and proper way to carry out our daily lives. I discriminate regarding who cuts my hair, who did my foot surgery, who’s allowed to take items out of my mailbox, … and on and on and on. You do too.

    The question of justice comes up with regard to the relevance of our discriminatory judgments. Discrimination with respect to color or race is unjust because race or color are usually irrelevant. They have nothing to do with one’s qualifications to work, to get a mortgage, and so on. But even there, discrimination is not always unjust. It would not be unjust to require a white actor to be cast as George Washington, or a black one to be cast as George Washington Carver.

    Now I think there is good evidence that homosexuals have been unjustly discriminated against. They are singled out as different and they are bullied. They are not the only ones who are singled out as different and bullied: it happened repeatedly to my daughter on the basis of her Christian convictions. But still there is the fact of unjust discrimination against gays. This is wrong.

    Homosexuality is not a factor in most jobs. There is a prejudice that says it could be a factor in working with children, but in fact it is not homosexuality but a tendency to pedophilia or pederasty that disqualified people from working with children. This can characterized either homosexual or heterosexual adults. (I do not know what the research says about how frequently it occurs in either group.) So job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is usually unjust.

    (Note that I am speaking of one’s orientation. There is a different question when it comes to displays of one’s sexual desires or preferences. There is such a thing as inappropriate display, whether a person is straight or homosexual.)

    But homosexuality is a relevant factor in marriage, specifically in so-called gay “marriage,” just because it is impossible for persons of the same sex to be married under a proper understanding of that term. If this is discrimination, it is just and proper discrimination. It is as proper to discriminate in that way as it is to discriminate against a married man marrying a second or third wife. Actually it may even be more so, because a marriage to a second or third wife could still meet the technical definition of marriage. It would be wrong in many ways, but it would still be marriage. Gay “marriage” is wrong definitionally, as well as being harmful to current and future generations in multiple ways.

    So when “discrimination” comes up, it should always signal the questions,
    1. discrimination with respect to what?
    2. is that factor relevant or not?

    Absent that thought process, “discrimination” cannot be judged right or wrong, good or bad, tolerant or intolerant.

  62. Tom Gilson says:

    And none of what I said just now was intended to reduce the force of what William Brown just said about homosexuality’s harm or wrongfulness. Rather it was an attempt to put good thinking on the table about one specific word, “discrimination.”

  63. Keith says:

    @William Brown, #61

    I don’t believe equating homosexuality to bestiality or stealing is reasonable.

    More broadly, knowing what’s “wrong in God’s eyes” is a tricky business, let alone measuring the “degradation of the human soul”.

    Since Christianity has historically been so utterly, terribly, repeatedly wrong about morality, I would think you’d be a little more humble when telling the rest of us exactly what it is God doesn’t like.

    Sam Harris isn’t popular on this blog, but he covered this ground about as well as anyone: “It was even possible for the most venerated patriarchs of the Church, like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, to conclude that heretics should be tortured (Augustine) or killed outright (Aquinas). Martin Luther and John Calvin advocated the wholesale murder of heretics, apostates, Jews, and witches. You are, of course, free to interpret the Bible differently — though isn’t it amazing that you have succeeded in discerning the true teachings of Christianity, while the most influential thinkers in the history of your faith failed?”

    Good grief: the largest Protestant body in the United States was originally formed because, apparently, God thought it was just peachy-keen to own other people.

    If there is an absolute morality, it’s absolutely clear Christians have no more access to it than anyone else.

    Frankly, whenever you’re tempted to tell anyone what God thinks, I suggest a big steaming cup of “But I might be wrong!”.

  64. Tom Gilson says:

    I shake my head in utter disbelief.

    Keith, your opinion of Christianity’s moral history is completely skewed. It’s wrong. It’s ignorant.

    Read Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World. Read Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity. Study and find out how women were given full dignity, slaves were freed, hospitals were founded, compassion for the poor became part of social expectations, and on and on.

    Now, of course there have also been errors along the way. Shall we decide we know nothing about morality today because it isn’t tomorrow yet? Shall we default to absolute moral skepticism until the year 2100? But in the year 2100, it won’t be 2150 yet, so even then we won’t know what’s true!

    And how do you know that your beliefs today will be endorsed tomorrow? Personally I doubt they will. I think tomorrow’s children will rise up in anger and grief toward a generation that was more committed to its own personal relational satisfaction than it was to its children.

  65. Tom Gilson says:

    Oh, and by the way, Sam Harris is not only unpopular, he’s also not credible. How about finding some original sources for those claims he made? How about putting them in context? How about finding out whether he was telling the truth or lying? Because believe me, I’ve caught him in a hundred distortions, twistings of the truth, and outright lies about Christianity.

    And I think this quote of his is mostly twisted, wrong, and deceitful.

    I suggest if you’re going to bring hearsay into evidence, from an obviously biased source, you recognize it for the unreliable information it really is. It would get thrown out of court in half an instant.

  66. Keith says:

    “Errors along the way”? I shake my head in utter, utter disbelief. (See what I did there? Twice as much “utter” as you.)

    I would never say there weren’t significant or even critical contributions by Christians and Christianity to social justice, and that needs to be acknowledged.

    But referring to the Inquisitions or Christianity’s support of slavery, or institutional acts of religious intolerance and sexual misconduct as “errors along the way” ludicrously understates the case. When the written policy of the church is to behave in deeply immoral ways, it’s not an “error”.

    Should we decide we know nothing about morality? We know some things, but our history shows we’re often wrong. If you have evidence homosexual marriage will damage society, let’s sit and talk. If you just “know what God wants”, well, that bucket doesn’t carry a lot of water.

  67. Keith says:

    If you believe I made a factually incorrect statement, I’m happy to look for better sources.

    Augustine: “There is the unjust persecution which the wicked inflict on the Church of Christ, and the just persecution which the Church of Christ inflicts on the wicked.”, Perez Zaborin.

    Aquinas: “Therefore if a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good, since “a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump.” (1 Corinthians 5:6), Is it lawful to kill a sinner?

    Luther describes Jews as a “base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth.” Luther wrote that they are “full of the devil’s feces … which they wallow in like swine,” and the synagogue is an “incorrigible whore and an evil slut”.

    “A conspiracy of men and women has lately been discovered, who, for the space of three years, had spread the plague through the city by what mischievous device I know not. After fifteen women have been burnt, some men have even been punished more severely, some have committed suicide in prison, and while twenty-five are still kept prisoners, ”the conspirators do not cease, notwithstanding, to smear the door-locks of the dwelling-houses with their poisonous ointment”.

    In 1845, members at a regional convention being held in Augusta, Georgia created the SBC, following a split from northern Baptists over the issue of forbidding churches in slaveholding states from sending missionaries to spread the gospel.

    I don’t see any reason to doubt Harris’ quote (although Calvin is less culpable than the quote would lead you to believe, I can’t find anything that indicates Calvin burned witches or heretics “wholesale”), or the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention.

    Let me know if you disagree, I’m willing to dig further if you think there’s something wrong.

  68. Tom Gilson says:

    Keith, shall we wait until 2100 to make our moral decisions? Or 2150? Or the end of time? When can we responsibly make moral decisions? And what about the palpable damage being done to children? What will the future say about that? And what about the clear instruction from Scripture concerning sexual morality and marriage? Should we decide that what is clear is fuzzy, just because someone else got something wrong once before?

    Yours is a prescription for absolute, complete, and total moral skepticism. With respect to church history, your approach would have said “STOP!” when the church took action against infanticide. You would have been among those saying “DON’T LISTEN TO THAT BIBLE-THUMPING NUT!” when Wilberforce used Scripture to fight against the slave trade. You would have stood with on Plato’s and Aristotle’s side, against the Church, when it preached that all are equal before God—the very teaching that led to the end of slavery everywhere it went (I know, I know, the South was an exception. I’ve dealt with that a thousand times. See here for one. I weary of skeptics’ unwillingness to pay attention to the obvious.)

    All this would be true of you, because you are quite sure that the Church ought not take any biblically founded moral position as true, unless the culture already agrees with it.

    Yours is a prescription for a world like that of the Greeks and Romans, where slavery was considered good and normal, where women were chattel, where the poor and weak and sick were left to their own devices.

    And you think I should pay attention to that?

  69. Larry Tanner says:

    Tom,

    Regarding “clear instruction from Scripture”: How do you know your interpretation of the Bible is true?

    From the earliest days of Christianity, there have been many different and competing interpretations of Jesus himself and of proper interpretation of Scripture.

    How, then, did you decide that your interpretations were the correct ones, against all the others?

    I anticipate your answer, yet it seems to me in any case that interpretation and instruction from Scripture has never–I repeat, never – been clear. In fact, one of the main arguments in James Kugel’s magisterial book How to Read the Bible is that ambiguity and multiple available interpretations was one of the fundamental attributes given to the Bible by interpreters of ancient Israel’s library of texts in the last three centuries before the common era.

  70. Tom Gilson says:

    I interpret the Bible through a historical-grammatical hermeneutic that’s both theologically and philosophically supportable as a means for discovering what intends to say. I rely to a great extent on what the Church has discovered through the ages but I do my own hermeneutical work to verify it and to deepen and broaden my understanding.

    That is the answer to your how question.

  71. Larry Tanner says:

    “I do my own hermeneutical work”

    Very dangerous, the church would say.

  72. Tom Gilson says:

    You know what’s really dangerous about it? A person might take something out of context and miss the whole of what was intended, in historical/grammatical context. Someone might, by way of a contemporary example, say that what someone else wrote was “I do my own hermeneutical work,” as if that were all that that person wrote.

    Larry, you’re a really dishonest interlocutor, the way you yank words around.

  73. Larry Tanner says:

    Oh, please. It was that specific part I quoted because that was where my comment belonged. I didn’t spin out an entire argument based on that one snippet. Stop whining and grow up.

  74. Keith says:

    @Tom, #69:

    To say I oppose “any biblically founded moral position as true” is false; to say I “oppose any moral position unless the culture already agrees with it” is false. I’ve argued neither of those things, I believe neither of those things, and I challenge you to show me what I’ve forgotten.

    I am responding to the Christian claim of the existence of an absolute Biblical moral truth which is accessible to Christians.

    Christians are no more or less moral than anyone else, and historically Christians have been products of their culture. It’s easy to demonstrate both of those facts: prison populations are religious in a higher percentage than the general population, and Christianity’s history is a history of leaders who made the usual human proportion of terribly bad calls on important questions.

    When you say “the charge that Christians supported slavery is true, but all that means is that not all Christians have followed the truth as they should have” strains credulity; after all, it’s not as if a few people misread the clear abolitionist text in Leviticus. (“Alex, I’ll take ‘No True Scotsman’ for $100.”)

    To say the Bible doesn’t support slavery requires serious apologetics: as the Reverend Richard Fuller (president of the SBC) said, “What God sanctioned in the Old Testament, and permitted in the New, cannot be a sin.”

    Fuller may have been on the wrong side of morality, but he had a strong theological argument. For every Wilberforce (Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin) you want to claim, there was a Fuller (Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin) you have to claim as well.

    And, just as importantly, there were others who thought slavery was wrong without need for any supernatural moral instructions.

    To say as you do, that “wherever slavery has been actively abolished, it has been where Christianity has been strongly influential”, requires you to believe Muhammad decided Islam should be anti-slavery in 600CE, based on his experiences with Christianity. Maybe, but Islam was certainly far more anti-slavery than Christianity at the time (zakat is of the five pillars of Islam, and encourages Muslims to donate money to free slaves.)

    And what about the Chinese emperor Wang Mang who abolished slave trading in AD 9, or Ashoka the Great who did the same in Maurya a few centuries before Christ was born?

    Now your argument turns on what “actively abolished” means: regardless, it’s clear people entirely ignorant of Christianity knew slavery had problems, and in some cases figured it out long before Christianity did.

    Of course (!!!) Christianity has been a tremendous force for moral good in the world, just as it has been a tremendous force for moral bad in the world. You believe Christians are morally different from the rest of us, and you want Christian revelation of Biblical positions to carry weight in moral arguments: I see no evidence for either position.

  75. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry, stop telling your blog host to stop whining and grow up.

    You ripped that line out of context: I had said that I rely to a great extent on what the Church has discovered through the ages—which is what the church does not consider dangerous. The Protestant tradition encourages church members to do our own hermeneutical work, too. The Protestant church considers it dangerous not to do our own hermeneutical work.

    So your response was wrong, ripped out of historical and grammatical context. For me to point that out was to engage in normal adult argumentative discourse.

    So it was really, really rude for you to answer what I wrote about it with the language you used.

    Read the comment guidelines before you come back.

  76. Tom Gilson says:

    Keith,

    You are wrong on slavery.

    The Bible does not support chattel slavery such as was practiced in the South. Fuller had no theological leg to stand on. Kidnapping for slavery was specifically outlawed (1 Timothy 1:10). Slavery was condoned in biblical times for complex reasons that no longer apply; and that form of slavery in those times was never anything like the outrage practiced in the South. You say that view requires “serious apologetics.” I say that it requires intelligent inquiry. Did you read my link on this topic? Are you opposed to drawing conclusions based on intelligent inquiry?

    Whether Christians are more or less moral than others is (a) disputable in the extreme, given the difference between the moral climate in Christian-influenced regions and other parts of the world, and (b) beside the point anyway.

    Islam is anti-slavery???? Have you heard of the Sudan???? Do you know who sold the Africans who ended up in the Americas?????

    Goodness.

    Your reliance on Wikipedia concerning the others who dealt with slavery is transparent. I’ll spot you a couple exceptions to my general principle, though, if you’ll read down the rest of the history there on that page.

  77. Keith says:

    Tom, your statement that “Wilberforce used Scripture to fight against the slave trade” makes my point for me. Any book so that so naturally reinforces both sides of an argument is not likely to be a reliable moral guide.

    (This is off-topic I know, but I simply can’t get past the fact the Bible is such a weak effort. Imagine you’re God, you’re putting together the only instructions the people (you love enough to sacrifice your only son) will ever have, and this is the best you can do? Shellfish and mixed-fibers and the death penalty if the kids talk back or the neighbor works on Sunday?

    A little clarity on rape, slavery, witchcraft and mental illness would have been welcome. And the whole John 15:6 thing: a parenthetical shout-out to not actually, literally burn anybody would have been helpful.

    Or even branching out into hygiene: who cares if men with damaged testicles are allowed to enter the temple? How about an unbreakable religious requirement everybody ceremonially wash their hands each time they enter a house. That might have been useful during the plagues.

    God obviously knows we’re going to enslave and burn each other for centuries, but what does He give us? Shellfish, mixed-fibers, and an astounding lack of clarity on pretty much everything.)

  78. Tom Gilson says:

    Keith,

    If you find the Bible hard to understand, please go read a good historical theology, okay? Goodness. It’s only hard if you try to read it with 20th/21st century Western eyes. Try this for a bit of perspective. But don’t stop there; try learning a bit about what you’re criticizing before you act as if you understand it.

  79. Tom Gilson says:

    The point I was making with Wilberforce, by the way, is that the Bible is a strong pointer toward moral truth. Wilberforce relied on it correctly. I have already pointed out to you in multiple ways that those who thought they were finding support in the Bible for the slave trade were demonstrably wrong, on the Bible’s own terms.

    I tire of this. I tire of people who don’t know what the Bible teaches about slavery, or why it teaches it, saying that the Bible supports slavery. The only basis you and others have for that opinion is (a) reading certain passages out of historical context, and (b) referring to some Southern preachers who also took those passages out of historical context.

    Note that both of you and those Southern preachers have/had biases you’re trying to support. And it shows.

  80. Victoria says:

    Something that one of our pastoral staff at church brought up in a sermon not too long ago was the importance of understanding the Greco-Roman history and culture of the 1st century in order to understand the NT in its context.

    I’ve been doing that, and the common thread I have discovered thus far is that the NT authors consistently tell their Christian readers to not do as the Romans do in regards to what was considered acceptable or standard practices at that time.

    I suggest that the interested reader get a copy of As the Romans Did ( here: http://www.amazon.com/As-Romans-Did-Sourcebook-History/dp/019508974X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1361662778&sr=1-1&keywords=as+the+romans+did) and read it carefully alongside the New Testament. You will find, as I did, that the NT authors refer to many common practices/customs in Roman society and tell their readers … “No, don’t do that”. Paul: 1 Corinthians 11:18-22 and James: James 2:1-9; both tell Christians that the practice of class distinctions that was going on within the community were contrary to Christian principles.

    The issue of slavery is more nuanced, but based on what I have found, I think Paul, James, Peter, John, and their readers would be alternately amused and disgusted by those who think that they sanctioned it.

    When are skeptics going to learn to read historical documents as historical documents, with their own context and culture?

    I’m not going to do the heavy lifting for you atheists any more – you can surely discover the same facts for yourselves if you were actually interested in having your minds changed. I have a document in progress that draws together Roman society and what the NT authors had to say about it, but it is too big to post here, and it needs polish and peer review as well :) ).

  81. Keith says:

    I don’t find the Bible hard to understand at all: it makes perfect sense when read in the context of the culture in which it was written. The Israelites had different rules, and I’m sure the fertility rites of the Canaanites were a really, really big deal at the time and of great concern.

    It’s only when arguing divine inspiration or applicability to a modern culture that I can’t follow the argument. If the Bible was divinely inspired, it should have something other than rules for the Israelites. OK, maybe God couldn’t figure out a way to write about stem-cells and cloning, but “don’t burn anybody”, or “only a few kinds of slavery are OK”? It seems like He should have been able to get those rules in there somewhere.

    He didn’t, and the lack of anything indicating supernatural authorship is telling.

  82. Tom Gilson says:

    Ummm…. the Bible does have rules for someone other than the Israelites, Keith

  83. SteveK says:

    Keith,
    I’d like to know where you get your morality. It’s obviously not from the Bible or some other book. Is it from your intuitions? Just wondering how you know that you’re on the right side of the argument here.

  84. Keith says:

    @SteveK, #84:

    I’m a engineering/scientist kind of guy, and not really equipped for this discussion, but I’ll do my best.

    If I had to pick a place to stand, I guess I’m a moral nihilist, and I believe my morality is a result of natural selection.

    Of course, I would say that makes me the same as everybody else (there’s neuroscience and anthropological support for an essentially universal moral code among humans).

    When you say “how can I know I’m on the right side of the argument”, I started to say I cannot know I’m right (either there may be multiple right answers and/or we cannot know for sure what the right answer is).

    But there’s a better answer: there is no “right”.

    If you doubt that, consider that natural selection couldn’t have been indifferent to the evolution of our core morality. That would mean core morality has no effect on our survival, and given morality’s undeniable connection to sex, that would be hard to believe.

    If we agree our core morality was selected for, how can it be possible that it’s also “right”? Is it possible our core morality was selected for, and then by sheer accident it happened to be the “right” morality? Or is it possible the “right” morality maximizes survival and so selection always pursue the “right” choice? I think either of those are extremely unlikely possibilities.

    We had a core morality selected by nature to maximize our survival, and we think it’s “right” because that’s how nature works.

  85. JAD says:

    I thought this was a thread about “gay rights”. It appears that some atheists have shown up and hijacked the discussion to get in a little Christian bashing. But that’s what the gay rights issue is really all about; it’s a wedge issue (using gays as pawns) designed undermine traditional moral values, which are based on Judeo-Christian moral teaching, which is why the atheists always show when you start these kinds of discussions.

  86. TFBW says:

    Keith #64 said:

    Since Christianity has historically been so utterly, terribly, repeatedly wrong about morality, I would think you’d be a little more humble when telling the rest of us exactly what it is God doesn’t like.

    Keith #85 said:

    When you say “how can I know I’m on the right side of the argument”, I started to say I cannot know I’m right (either there may be multiple right answers and/or we cannot know for sure what the right answer is).

    But there’s a better answer: there is no “right”.

    Some of us may have been under the impression that you thought Christianity was on the wrong side of various moral disputes throughout history. With that clarification, we now know that you actually mean Christianity is wrong to make any kind of moral assertions at all.

    I believe that we all understand your position now. There will be no further need to apply your nihilism-dressed-as-skepticism to the discussion, as there is nothing further to add. Seriously. Nihilism. We get it. It’s not that we need to change our minds about the morality of specific issues, it’s that there is no moral right or wrong. We get it.

    If you just go on about it further, we’ll have to consider it trolling. Indeed, I’m not sure how this discussion could ever have been of any interest to a moral nihilist except as an exercise in recreational trolling. Am I right?

  87. d says:

    I thought this was a thread about “gay rights”. It appears that some atheists have shown up and hijacked the discussion to get in a little Christian bashing. But that’s what the gay rights issue is really all about; it’s a wedge issue (using gays as pawns) designed undermine traditional moral values, which are based on Judeo-Christian moral teaching, which is why the atheists always show when you start these kinds of discussions.

    No, I’m pretty sure gay rights is just about gay rights. Really guys… its not all about you.

  88. William Brown says:

    Regarding Tom’s comment…….”Clarifying: homosexuality is not morally equivalent to serial rape.”

    I was not clear in how I expressed the thought and perhaps I used a bad example that was bound to inflame. I mentioned examples of behaviours that are also represented by a minority and are ‘discriminated’ against, according to a definition of the word that is closer to Keith’s. My concern is not the fact that thee groups all represent a minority or meet some aspect of your definition of discrimination, but that they are all wrong in God’s eyes.

    Re. the point Keith makes about knowing the rightness and wrongness of homosexual practice – the verdict on that is clear. No amount of rationalizion, obfuscatory reasoning, historical revision, misreading of scripture, or altering the plain meaning of language can change that.

    I remain in a posture of humble openness to those parts of scripture which are not clear. There is mystery which will be revealed in God’s time. When God speaks plainly and clearly, then the humble thing to do is to assent to my Creator who knows infinitely more than I, and adjust my thinking according to His.

  89. Keith says:

    @TFWB, #87:

    Lack of an objective morality does not imply an inability to make moral assertions, and using “right” and “wrong” is simply shorthand for a concept we all know and understand (“aligns with humanity’s core morality” is unwieldy at best).

    Christianity is not wrong to make moral assertions and I’m happy to say the anti-gay marriage views are “wrong” where they disagree with my core morality.

    When you say “moral nihilists not welcome”, I think that’s a mistake. I’ll assert without argument that moral nihilists generally agree humans share a core morality; if our choices are a combination of our morality and our facts, then moral nihilists will believe we differ on the facts, and that’s where we should focus.

    In other words, a moral nihilist will believe that if we can agree on the facts, we’re likely to agree on the “right” choice. Which means I’m open to changing my mind by definition, and who wouldn’t welcome that in a discussion!? :-)

    I believe that when I disagree with William about homosexuality, it’s not our morality that’s different, it’s our facts. William believes God hates homosexuality: if I believed that fact, then I would no longer support gay marriage.

    When Southern Christians reconciled slavery with their Christianity for 200 years, it wasn’t because their morality was different than ours, or they somehow misread the Bible and got all confused over the finer points of “chattel” vs. “debt” slavery. Southern Christians supported slavery because they believed things about other races you and I don’t believe, and so they made different choices than we do.

  90. Victoria says:

    Understanding the Bible involves much more than just the bare facts. It is also involves wisdom and spiritual discernment, something that unregenerate, spiritually dead humans do not have, as Paul points out so clearly in Romans and 1 Corinthians.

    Keith, at least you are honest enough to admit that you have no spiritual discernment whatsoever (It’s only when arguing divine inspiration or applicability to a modern culture that I can’t follow the argument.)

    I suspect that it was more than just getting the the facts wrong about what the NT authors had to say about slavery within their own cultural milieu that (for if you do the research, there is no justification for saying that it was condoned – at the very least it violates the second greatest commandment (Love your neighbour as yourself) and that all human beings are created in God’s image.

    If antebellum southerners believed different things about the races, then they would have to have justified that from Scripture as well, and there is no supportable justification for racism, especially in the light of the New Testament revelation.

    They had an agenda, and they brought that agenda to their reading of Scripture, namely to justify their practice of slavery. They used no spiritual discernment nor did they listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, if they could even hear Him at all.

    The same is true today regarding same sex ‘intimate relationships’.
    Keith, rather than trying to justify support for it from Scripture or deny that it takes a negative attitude toward it, why don’t you just say that you completely disregard what the Bible says about it because you don’t believe the Bible to be the authoritative Word of the Living God and be done with it?

  91. Keith says:

    @Victoria, #91:

    When you say the southerners couldn’t, or didn’t, justify their beliefs Scripturally, you’re factually wrong. They did, they did so publicly, and many of the writings survive.

    I mentioned Reverend Fuller: are you arguing the then-president of the Southern Baptist Convention was unable to scripturally support his position on slavery? Or the entire SBC lacked spiritual discernment?

    You might be interested in Domestic Slavery Considered as a Scriptural Institution, Fuller’s debate with Francis Wayland over slavery, collected in book form.

    What about Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin? Were they unable to scripturally support their own abhorrent views? Did they also lack spiritual discernment?

  92. JAD says:

    d,

    If you bothered to read the OP, this thread is (or at least was) about a secular university (ECU) promoting the agenda of a particular student group (the LGBT) over others in the name of equality and diversity. That is outright discrimination because it is preferential treatment. For the record, I have no problem with ECU recognizing the LGBT and I can whole heartedly support as an American and a Christian a policy that opposes demonizing and marginalizing LGBT students. But that’s very different from actively endorsing and promoting their agenda.

    I expect Christian students (along with Muslim, Jewish, Hindu students etc.) to be treated the same way. That is with fairness and justice not preference.

    However, look what has happened on this thread. The atheists for some reason have shown up to demonize and marginalize Christians. The examples they are using and accusations they are making, even if they were valid (they’re not), have no relevance to the issues raised in the OP. So why are they here?

  93. Victoria says:

    I didn’t say that SBC didn’t try to support their position from Scripture – I said that their position was just plain wrong :)

    I think we are drifting away from the OP, so I won’t pursue the slavery issue any further here (maybe Tom can open up another thread?)
    The debate is very illuminating, because it shows that Fuller’s position was not so well-grounded as you would think.

    As I have said, looking at the NT authors’ statements related to Roman society in the context of the historical facts about Roman society and practice makes it clear what the NT authors were dealing with and what they meant.

    Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin were not infallible – their opinions may not always be the Holy Spirit’s (sheesh, I can’t believe I have to explain something so obvious). They got many things right, they also got things wrong. Why the Holy Spirit chooses to work this way is something of a mystery, but He does, as I know from my own experience and from the experiences of my fellow Christians.

    Also, since you don’t actually provide any references to back up your insinuations, how can we know if the full context of what they were saying is represented?

    And just to head this off:
    The Biblical writers were writing under the authority and inspiration of the Spirit of God, and they knew it. The rest of us need the illumination of the Holy Spirit to discern the spiritual truths of what they wrote and how we should apply it, and that is a learning and growth process, both individually and corporately.

  94. Victoria says:

    I mentioned Reverend Fuller: are you arguing the then-president of the Southern Baptist Convention was unable to scripturally support his position on slavery? Or the entire SBC lacked spiritual discernment?

    Absolutely. It wouldn’t be the first time that some group went off the rails on some issue or another. The entire history of Israel is a good case in point.

    Although Fuller used Scripture to argue for his position, he was wrong, not only on historical context, but on fundamental Christian principles.

    The fact is that every generation has to re-examine its position and the positions of previous generations by going back to the beginning and correcting. It’s like building a house…when one begins framing the structure, you never measure the position of the next support beam from the position of the previous one – you always measure from the very first one, to prevent accumulated error. This is what Wilberforce did – God raised him up for that very purpose.

  95. Keith says:

    @Victoria, #94:

    I didn’t separately reply to JAD (as I’m one of the people he’s unhappy with), but I do not intend to demonize or marginalize Christians here. Ideally, I’d like to criticize a belief or argument without attacking the person, and where I’ve failed in that I sincerely apologize.

    To the extent I’m trying to convince anyone of anything, it’s to clarify how deeply fallible scriptural-based positions have been historically, and by extension, how little anyone can trust their own exegesis. If we agree on that, my work here is almost done. :-)

    I provided links/references for Harris’ quote on Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin in #68 (and I also called out where I think Harris overstated the case on Calvin). I’ll make the same offer to you I made to Tom: if you think there’s something questionable or wrong, tell me what and I’ll dig further.

    From everything I’ve found so far, Harris fairly represents their beliefs, over at least one period of their lives/writing. (The qualification because both Luther and Augustine changed: Luther was not initially anti-Semitic and Augustine initially advocated peaceful resolution of doctrinal issues. In both cases their beliefs evolved to the ones Harris described.)

  96. Victoria says:

    I don’t want Harris’ references, I want your references directly to their writings, and your reasoned arguments from their works.

  97. Victoria says:

    To the extent I’m trying to convince anyone of anything, it’s to clarify how deeply fallible scriptural-based positions have been historically, and by extension, how little anyone can trust their own exegesis. If we agree on that, my work here is almost done.

    I just answered this in my #95, I think.
    Also, I think you are failing to distinguish between core Christianity (the essentials), and the secondary issues, or between apostolic Biblical truths and heretical positions.

    To get back to the OP – how does what you said apply to the Biblical understanding of human sexuality and God’s design ideals for us?

  98. Keith says:

    @Victoria, #97:

    I didn’t list Harris’ references; I listed either links to their writings or links to analysis which explicitly includes their writings. For the record, Harris referenced Manchester’s A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance, which I’ve never read so I can’t comment.

    I’m willing to research further, but you’ll first have to give me a reason to believe taking their written words at face-value might be misguided. As a terrifically smart poster said in #81, “I’m not going to do the heavy lifting for you Christians any more”. :-)

  99. Victoria says:

    @Keith
    Touche’ :)

    This is a really interesting discussion, and I’d like to pursue it. Let me do my own digging and research, and I’ll come back to it, but I don’t want to take the thread off the original topic. Tom?

  100. Tom Gilson says:

    Keith, I think it’s time for you to move from premise to conclusion. You are making a case that every generation gets something wrong, or is at least vulnerable to getting something wrong, in its understanding of the Bible’s moral teaching.

    So apparently you think our generation is subject to the same potential error. I think you’re right: that if any previous generation could have made such major mistakes, so could ours.

    I think there are limits on that, based on a reasonably responsible historical/grammatical search of the Bible’s meaning, but I think it’s at least possible.

    So let’s grant that: that on some scriptural position in some way that we do not understand today, but our descendants will tomorrow, we are making wrong choices.

    Note that your position entails that successive generations learn from preceding ones, and that for example, we really do know more about anti-Semitism than Luther did.

    So in light of all that, so what? What do you recommend we do differently, and why?

  101. Tom Gilson says:

    I’m not worried about the OP now, Victoria, this seems to be the way the discussion wants to go.

  102. Holopupenko says:

    @93

    … atheists for some reason have shown up to demonize and marginalize Christians. The examples they are using and accusations they are making, even if they were valid (they’re not), have no relevance to the issues raised in the OP. So why are they here?

    For some reason? Why?

    They’re here to promote their contemptible views of reality and to violently shutdown any opposing voice of reason… precisely because it is atheism that animates them. Truly competing on the field of ideas is the last thing they want, because it exposes just how repugnant their ideas are… which is why they do what you, JAD, point out.

  103. Tom Gilson says:

    Manchester’s book is not considered reliable in today’s medieval scholarship. I wouldn’t trust it.

  104. Victoria says:

    Okay, then :)

    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3064.htm#article2

    My first impression is that the argument here is for the lawful government’s use of capital punishment for crimes of the most grievous nature, not for a general mandate for anyone to kill (other) sinners.

    Article 2 (seems to pertain to lawful authorities) and Article 3 (private individuals) can be interpreted that way.

    Article 4 (clerics) seems to imply that clerics have no such mandate at all – at most they would have to turn criminals over to the lawful government for trial.

    Certainly there are no NT examples of church discipline that involved executing the offender (even Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 5:5 doesn’t imply that – the offender was turned over to Satan to allow the consequences of his sin to have their effect on his flesh – ie, sinful nature, and that he was told in no uncertain terms to leave the fellowship of the Christian community ( 1 Corinthians 5:6-13 ), since we learn in 2 Corinthians 2:5-8 that the man repented of his immorality and should be forgiven and welcomed back into fellowship.

    This is what the Bible Knowledge Commentary has to say about this text

    Disorders in the Church (chaps. 5-6).
    In the spirit of love but with the need for their discipline in mind, Paul turned in his letter to deal with certain disorders in the church, including their failures to discipline an immoral brother (chap. 5), to resolve personal disputes in a godly manner (6:1-11), and to maintain sexual purity (6:12-20).
    A. Failure to discipline a sinner (chap. 5).
    Pride is the opposite of love because it produces self-concern, while love responds to the needs of others. Corinthian pride had produced not only disunity but also indifference and an unwillingness to exercise discipline within the church.
    5:1. The issue concerned a Corinthian Christian who was carrying on an incestuous affair with his stepmother, a relationship prohibited both in the Old Testament (Lev. 18:8; Deut. 22:22) and in Roman law (Cicero Cluentes 6. 15 and Gaius Institutis 1. 63). The fact that Paul said nothing about disciplining the woman suggests that she was not a Christian.
    5:2. The shameful situation did not seem to faze the Corinthians in the least. If anything, the affair may have even bloated their arrogant spirits. The godly response would have been grief for this brother (cf. 12:26; Gal. 6:1-2), leading to discipline which would exclude him from intimacy with the congregation until he would repent (cf. Matt. 18:15-17).
    5:3-5. In view of the Corinthian indifference to the matter, Paul was compelled to act. By the authority vested in him as an apostle, he passed judgment on the offender which he asked the church to enact at their next meeting. Here was an example of the power he had earlier referred to (4:20-21). What the exercise of this power accomplished is not certain. The translation of the Greek word sarkos by the sinful nature suggests the idea that the man’s fleshly appetites were to be annulled. However, several factors suggest a different discipline, namely corporeal affliction—with sarkos understood as “body” (as in the NIV margin). (The result, of course, is the same—the man’s purification.) First, the latter is the usual meaning of the term when it is juxtaposed with spirit, which signifies the whole man in his inner and external being. Second, the word translated destroyed (olethron) is a strong term, the noun form of which (olethreutou) occurs elsewhere in this letter (10:10) where it is translated “the destroying angel” who killed men. Third, Paul also spoke in this letter about a discipline which leads to death (11:30) with the same end in view—the ultimate preservation of the person (11:32; cf. 1 Tim. 1:20; 1 John 5:16).
    So it seems probable that Paul intended this man should be excluded from the fellowship of the congregation, thus physically expressing his exclusion from God’s protection which he formerly enjoyed (cf. Job 1:12) and thrusting him out into the arena of the world (1 John 5:19) where Satan would bring about his death. It thus became a painful example of the price of self-centered indifference and a powerful reminder of the demand for holiness in God’s temple (1 Cor. 3:17; 6:19).
    5:6. There was, of course, no excuse for the Corinthians’ pathetic behavior. Paul reminded them of a truth they already knew but were failing to practice—a little yeast soon permeates the whole batch of dough. A small sickness can eventually kill a body. The need for church discipline is based on the same principle.

    Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (1 Co 4:18–5:6). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

    I’d love to hear what Holopupenko and G. Rodrigues have to say about this topic :)

  105. JAD says:

    @Keith

    I do not intend to demonize or marginalize Christians here. Ideally, I’d like to criticize a belief or argument without attacking the person, and where I’ve failed in that I sincerely apologize.

    I am not buying it Keith. All I see in your arguments is guilt by association.
    Did endorsement of slavery by the SBC taint Christianity? Certainly. Does it define Christianity? Not at all. So what’s your point and how is it relevant to the topic of the OP?

  106. Keith says:

    I’m sorry, Tom, but I can’t see a way to deeply answer your question without sounding patronizing, offensive or both (a blogging twofer!) I’m not part of Christianity any more, and it will inevitably sound like me telling a group of which I’m not a member what’s best for them.

    Or perhaps, to be less charitable, it’s just always easier to attack other people’s ideas than to defend your own.

    I left this thread early on, but came back because of William Brown in #61, specifically, his phrase “wrong in God’s eyes”.

    I argue: there are strong evidential reasons to mistrust any scriptural position (although I would agree with your implied argument our exegesis has immeasurably improved in recent history); arguments from Scriptural authority will have decreasing resonance with an increasingly pluralistic and secular society; and finally, a sola scriptura approach to increasingly complex issues will lead to more mistakes, not less.

    Embracing the fallibility of any position, scriptural or other, means we not only construct better arguments, but also find middle-ground with opponents where it might otherwise be missed.

  107. Victoria says:

    To continue my excerpt from the Bible Knowledge Commentary

    5:7-8. As the literal yeast was removed from the house during the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Ex. 12:15-20; 13:1-10), so that which it illustrated, sin, was to be removed from the house of God, the local church, during its “Festival of Unleavened Bread,” a continual observance for a Christian who has found in Christ’s death on the cross the once-for-all sacrifice of the Passover Lamb (cf. John 1:29; Heb. 10:10, 14). This was nowhere more true than in the celebration which commemorated that sacrificial act, the Lord’s Supper, the quintessential act of fellowship for Christians. Probably Paul meant to exclude the unrepentant Christian from this meal in particular.
    5:9-10. In an earlier letter Paul had given direction on this subject but the Corinthians had applied it only to those outside the church. Paul showed the absurdity of such a view by noting that such compliance would necessitate leaving this world. Paul was certainly no advocate of monasticism (or its separatistic kind in Protestantism).
    5:11. What he called for was disciplinary action for anyone associated with the church, whether a brother or one in name only, who took part in the church while continuing a life of sin. The discipline demanded for such a one was exclusion from fellowship with other members. Certainly the prohibition extended to an exclusion from eating the communal meal, the Lord’s Supper. Other social contact might also have been excluded. It was unlikely, however, that the sanctioned individual was barred from all congregational meetings, for the church’s ministry might lead to his conviction and repentance (14:24-25).
    5:12-13. It was not Paul’s business to judge those outside the church (cf., e.g., his silence about the woman in 5:1); still less was it the business of the Corinthians. But discipline within the church was their responsibility.
    Those in the world God will judge (cf. Acts 17:31). But those within the Christian community who continue in sin with an unrepentant spirit, the church should discipline by expulsion.

    Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (1 Co 5:7–13). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

  108. Victoria says:

    A little clarity on rape, slavery, witchcraft and mental illness would have been welcome. And the whole John 15:6 thing: a parenthetical shout-out to not actually, literally burn anybody would have been helpful.

    Oh come on!!! Really??? This is how you completely and stupidly mishandle and misunderstand Scripture? Taking a metaphor for spiritual death literally?

  109. Victoria says:

    I argue: there are strong evidential reasons to mistrust any scriptural position (although I would agree with your implied argument our exegesis has immeasurably improved in recent history)

    What are these evidential reasons, anyway?
    I think you have overstated the case – some ‘scriptural’ positions yes (because, as we have argued, they are unjustified positions) but all?

  110. Tom Gilson says:

    Keith, if your only message to us is that it’s possible to find Christians in history who have been wrong on a handful of important and damaging issues, and that it’s at least theoretically possible that Christians today are too, then let’s just all agree with that and move on to some other discussion that’s at least a little bit interesting. That one has “everybody already knew that!” written all over it.

  111. Tom Gilson says:

    BTW, I missed your John 15:6 allusion. That was egregiously distorted.

    Wow.

  112. Melissa says:

    To the extent I’m trying to convince anyone of anything, it’s to clarify how deeply fallible scriptural-based positions have been historically, and by extension, how little anyone can trust their own exegesis. If we agree on that, my work here is almost done

    Previous generations of scientists have been wrong in many major ways, does that mean that by extension we have little reason to trust the findings of today’s scientists? As Tom has already pointed out your conclusion doesn’t follow from your premise.

  113. Tom Gilson says:

    Since you have refused to do so, Keith, I will draw my own conclusion from the premise you put forth:

    We ought to be very careful to learn from the past. It is possible for Christians to be mistaken in our interpretation and application of Scripture. To mishandle sacred revelation is a very serious offense on many levels, and we ought to be very cautious in that respect.

    But there is nothing in past or present knowledge that suggests we ought to give up reliance on the Scriptures for moral knowledge. The vast majority of effective moral reform following Scriptural error has come by way of Scriptural correction. A large plurality (if not a majority) of moral progress in world history has also come by way of following the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. We have very strong reason to believe the Bible was inspired by God and is intended for “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousnesss” (2 Tim. 3:16).

    Therefore we recognize that the Scriptures, properly understood, are morally trustworthy and authoritative on matters of which they speak. We acknowledge our responsibility to understand properly what the Scriptures affirm concerning moral issues. We know that although the Scriptures are infallible, our interpretations are not. Given centuries of testing and experience, however, we believe we may be confident in the great majority of the conclusions we have derived concerning the Scriptures’ moral teaching, which means we now accept the obligation to follow that teaching as best we understand it.

    We know we might not be right in our understanding of some portion of Scriptural interpretation; it has happened in the past, so it could well be happening now. We do not, however, have the future’s information to tell us where we are wrong today. We have good reasons for confidence that the vast majority of our beliefs concerning Scriptural moral knowledge is reliable and trustworthy. Thus it would be manifestly foolish to treat all of it as unreliable just because there is a reasonable chance that some small and unidentified portion of our interpretations should not be trusted.

    So we shall continue to search the Scriptures and learn from experience, and in the meantime we shall follow what we believe we have good reason to follow.

    I think that’s a fair conclusion to draw, unless you want to extend your argument, Keith, and tell us that the Scriptures were never God-inspired in the first place. But you haven’t been saying that much; all you’ve been saying is that there is danger of misinterpreting them, so we ought to — um, we ought to — oh, you wouldn’t fill in the rest of that sentence for us; you refused when asked to do so.

    I can accept your premise that it’s possible to misinterpret Scriptures, to our own harm. I asked you to fill in the “so what” that follows from that. You refused. I have now done so.

  114. Victoria says:

    I think the point we can take away here is this:

    Christians can, and should, learn from previous generations, of their genuine Scriptural insights, to build upon, and their errors, to correct going forward but without giving up on Biblical authority and core Christian truths.

  115. Victoria says:

    @Tom
    Looks like we were both thinking along the same lines :)

  116. Larry Tanner says:

    Victoria @115 –

    You know, in essence I agree with you, and I don’t think this learning needs to be limited to Christians only.

    All people can learn from previous generations, and the Bible (or Bibles) is an important part of tat learning.

    The only significant difference between us is that I and many others that the Bible’s authority need not be taken as a given, and it need not be granted at all.

    But that’s the only fundamental difference. In the overwhelming number of respects we are the same.

    I find this a heartening conclusion.

  117. Victoria says:

    @Larry
    :)
    However, the point of disagreement is a fundamental one indeed – of one worldview against another.

  118. d says:

    JAD,

    If you bothered to read the OP, this thread is (or at least was) about a secular university (ECU) promoting the agenda of a particular student group (the LGBT) over others in the name of equality and diversity. That is outright discrimination because it is preferential treatment.

    For reasons already stated, I’m of the opinion that Mike Adams is probably (once again) crying wolf. And for reasons already stated, the campaign looks rather benign from my perspective, and I see no reason to draw ominous conclusions from the university’s official communications, such as that pictures will be taken to demonize Mike Adams and other Christians. And I admit, that is just my hunch, but I also don’t think you are privy to any more information than I am – and have no reasonable basis for your rather extreme conclusions.

    And once again, its simply not all about you (or Mike Adams). Suppose we all concede that you and a few other Christians have well thought out and otherwise reasoned thoughts about homosexuality that we may disagree with, but respectfully so. There’s still a whole universe of homophobia and bigotry animated by reflexive unreasoned prejudice of the sort that animates racism, and the like. Why do you automatically assume this sort of thing is just about attacking Christianity, and not those other poisonous attitudes?

    For the record, I have no problem with ECU recognizing the LGBT and I can whole heartedly support as an American and a Christian a policy that opposes demonizing and marginalizing LGBT students. But that’s very different from actively endorsing and promoting their agenda.

    I expect Christian students (along with Muslim, Jewish, Hindu students etc.) to be treated the same way. That is with fairness and justice not preference.

    Who says they aren’t?

    However, look what has happened on this thread. The atheists for some reason have shown up to demonize and marginalize Christians. The examples they are using and accusations they are making, even if they were valid (they’re not), have no relevance to the issues raised in the OP. So why are they here?

    That’s nothing… if you go look at the thread about thanking Larry Tanner you can actually see a group literally demonized… not this watered down metaphor stuff that refers to character assassination or insults… all too actual and literal..

  119. Keith says:

    @Tom, #112, Victoria, #109:

    You thought I made it up?

    I didn’t find a primary source, but the secondaries look reasonably good.

    (And yes, Victoria, it is exactly “how you completely and stupidly mishandle and misunderstand Scripture”, I agree.)

    And lest some should urge that those ordinances were abrogated by Christianity, the words of Christ were recalled: “I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17); also His other saying (John 15:6): “If any one abide not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up, and cast him into the fire, and he burneth”.

    Though more difficult to find, New Testament texts were also used to support the cause of the Inquisition; the most notable is John 15:6: “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” Other noteworthy passages included the accounts of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10); and, Peter cutting off the ear of a servant (John 18:10).

    Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274)
    Thomas Aquinas is called the “Angelic Doctor” by Catholics and his teachings form the foundation of the greater part of Catholic doctrine. He defended severe treatment of heretics by saying that heresy was worse than the issuance of counterfeit coin and should be punished with death. John 15 is used to show Christ taught such in that unfruitful branches were to be plucked and burned (The Cambridge Medieval History, Vol. 6, p. 725)

  120. Tom Gilson says:

    Keith, your exegesis is atrocious. It’s time for you to give up trying to teach what you do not know. To quote John 18:10 without John 18:11 is absolutely irresponsible. Not to mention Luke 22:49-51 is probably not so much irresponsible as it is ignorant. If you can make such huge, basic, and obvious errors in handling Scripture, what gives you the slightest confidence you know what to do with the other passages you’ve mentioned?

    And if you don’t have a conclusion to offer us from the premise you’re putting forth, would you please quit boring us with the repetition? Please? I have agreed and stipulated that Christians can make mistakes. I have drawn a conclusion from that (see also here), which you have refused to do. Quit beating on that horse, okay?

  121. Victoria says:

    @Keith
    and perhaps this is one of those places where we can learn from Church’s mistakes, the biggest ones happening after Constantine made Christianity the ‘official religion’ of the Roman Empire, namely trying to institute by law what only the work of the Holy Spirit can do, namely the transformation of the human heart. This is one of the reasons the NT authors spoke about the Roman social culture the way they did – God was going to change human culture by changing human beings, and Christians were to work from within the legal constraints of the land as much as possible (Romans 13). Keeping this in mind explains much about what Paul and Peter wrote in relation to slavery.

    What, did you think I was going to disagree with you on how political power became a counterfeit to the power and work of the Holy Spirit?

    BTW, I could not find John 18:10 in your primary link (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08026a.htm), nor the reference in Acts, so where did you get those from?

    In any case, as Tom just said while I was composing, John 18:10 – really??? I can’t breathe for all the smoke you are blowing :)

  122. d says:

    Re: William Brown #61:

    Yes, Keith, and so are serial rapists, humans who practice bestiality, people who are cruel to animals, and pickpockets.

    The issue is that these are all wrong in God’s eyes because they lead to a degradation of the human soul. It looks like the problem is that you do not know this; the issue seems to be one of ignorance, requiring an honest evaluation of historical and modern data on what creates human flourishing.

    There seem to be implicit assumptions of moral equivalency in your statement. The issue seems to be a blindness to what is good and what is not. You are trying to rhetorically steer the conversation based on these assumptions that I and many others do not at all agree with.

    Ok, so you think homosexuality “degrades the human soul”. I think this is utter and complete nonsense. I have many gay friends, some of whom are in committed long term relationships, and they are as happy as any of us, and better off for those relationships. They would be worse off alone – they would be worse off in heterosexual relationships. And I think this is obvious through basic observation.

    This brings us to the main reason why homosexuality is not like the other items in your list… rape, murder, stealing, etc are all so obviously wrong and so obviously harmful, that no reasonable person could ever say otherwise. And that obviousness is a major component in why we reserve the right to prohibit those acts through the rule of law, and to punish those who commit them.

    So I’m afraid I think you also perpetrated a false equivalence… I think Keith’s posts rather missed the mark, but I also had red flags raised when I read your #61. One can easily read your post as implying that your theological opinion on the matter of homosexuality is the only one that should count when it comes to the rule of law. I hope you aren’t really saying that. And of course, it draws a rather absurd false equivalence.

  123. Victoria says:

    @Keith
    Your ‘Though more difficult to find’ link has no href, so no link to follow…

  124. Victoria says:

    I took the liberty of quoting from Keith’s first link:

    Though the Apostles were deeply imbued with the conviction that they must transmit the deposit of the Faith to posterity undefiled, and that any teaching at variance with their own, even if proclaimed by an angel of Heaven, would be a culpable offense, yet St. Paul did not, in the case of the heretics Alexander and Hymeneus, go back to the Old Covenant penalties of death or scourging (Deuteronomy 13:6 sqq.; 17:1 sqq.), but deemed exclusion from the communion of the Church sufficient (1 Timothy 1:20; Titus 3:10). In fact to the Christians of the first three centuries it could scarcely have occurred to assume any other attitude towards those who erred in matters of faith. Tertullian (To Scapula 2) lays down the rule:

    Humani iuris et naturalis potestatis, unicuique quod putaverit colere, nec alii obest aut prodest alterius religio. Sed nec religionis est religionem colere, quae sponte suscipi debeat, non vi.

    In other words, he tells us that the natural law authorized man to follow only the voice of individual conscience in the practice of religion, since the acceptance of religion was a matter of free will, not of compulsion. Replying to the accusation of Celsus, based on the Old Testament, that the Christians persecuted dissidents with death, burning, and torture, Origen (Against Celsus VII.26) is satisfied with explaining that one must distinguish between the law which the Jews received from Moses and that given to the Christians by Jesus; the former was binding on the Jews, the latter on the Christians. Jewish Christians, if sincere, could no longer conform to all of the Mosaic law; hence they were no longer at liberty to kill their enemies or to burn and stone violators of the Christian Law.

    St. Cyprian of Carthage, surrounded as he was by countless schismatics and undutiful Christians, also put aside the material sanction of the Old Testament, which punished with death rebellion against priesthood and the Judges. “Nunc autem, quia circumcisio spiritalis esse apud fideles servos Dei coepit, spiritali gladio superbi et contumaces necantur, dum de Ecclesia ejiciuntur” (Epistle 61, no. 4) religion being now spiritual, its sanctions take on the same character, and excommunication replaces the death of the body. Lactantius was yet smarting under the scourge of bloody persecutions, when he wrote this Divine Institutes in A.D. 308. Naturally, therefore, he stood for the most absolute freedom of religion. He writes:

    Religion being a matter of the will, it cannot be forced on anyone; in this matter it is better to employ words than blows [verbis melius quam verberibus res agenda est]. Of what use is cruelty? What has the rack to do with piety? Surely there is no connection between truth and violence, between justice and cruelty . . . . It is true that nothing is so important as religion, and one must defend it at any cost [summâ vi] . . . It is true that it must be protected, but by dying for it, not by killing others; by long-suffering, not by violence; by faith, not by crime. If you attempt to defend religion with bloodshed and torture, what you do is not defense, but desecration and insult. For nothing is so intrinsically a matter of free will as religion. (Divine Institutes V:20)

    The Christian teachers of the first three centuries insisted, as was natural for them, on complete religious liberty; furthermore, they not only urged the principle that religion could not be forced on others — a principle always adhered to by the Church in her dealings with the unbaptised — but, when comparing the Mosaic Law and the Christian religion, they taught that the latter was content with a spiritual punishment of heretics (i.e. with excommunication), while Judaism necessarily proceeded against its dissidents with torture and death.

    This, I think, represents the proper Christian attitude, while this…

    However, the imperial successors of Constantine soon began to see in themselves Divinely appointed “bishops of the exterior”, i.e. masters of the temporal and material conditions of the Church. At the same time they retained the traditional authority of “Pontifex Maximus”, and in this way the civil authority inclined, frequently in league with prelates of Arian tendencies, to persecute the orthodox bishops by imprisonment and exile. But the latter, particularly St. Hilary of Poitiers (Liber contra Auxentium, c. iv), protested vigorously against any use of force in the province of religion, whether for the spread of Christianity or for preservation of the Faith. They repeatedly urged that in this respect the severe decrees of the Old Testament were abrogated by the mild and gentle laws of Christ. However, the successors of Constantine were ever persuaded that the first concern of imperial authority (Theodosius II, “Novellae”, tit. III, A.D. 438) was the protection of religion and so, with terrible regularity, issued many penal edicts against heretics. In the space of fifty seven years sixty-eight enactments were thus promulgated. All manner of heretics were affected by this legislation, and in various ways, by exile, confiscation of property, or death. A law of 407, aimed at the traitorous Donatists, asserts for the first time that these heretics ought to be put on the same plane as transgressors against the sacred majesty of the emperor, a concept to which was reserved in later times a very momentous role. The death penalty however, was only imposed for certain kinds of heresy; in their persecution of heretics the Christian emperors fell far short of the severity of Diocletian, who in 287 sentenced to the stake the leaders of the Manichæans, and inflicted on their followers partly the death penalty by beheading, and partly forced labor in the government mines.

    So far we have been dealing with the legislation of the Christianized State. In the attitude of the representatives of the Church towards this legislation some uncertainty is already noticeable. At the close of the forth century, and during the fifth, Manichaeism, Donatism, and Priscillianism were the heresies most in view. Expelled from Rome and Milan, the Manichaeism sought refuge in Africa. Though they were found guilty of abominable teachings and misdeeds (St. Augustine, De haeresibus”, no. 46), the Church refused to invoke the civil power against them; indeed, the great Bishop of Hippo explicitly rejected the use force. He sought their return only through public and private acts of submission, and his efforts seem to have met with success. Indeed, we learn from him that the Donatists themselves were the first to appeal to the civil power for protection against the Church. However, they fared like Daniel’s accusers: the lions turned upon them. State intervention not answering to their wishes, and the violent excesses of the Circumcellions being condignly punished, the Donatists complained bitterly of administrative cruelty. St. Optatus of Mileve defended the civil authority (De Schismate Donatistarum, III, cc. 6-7) as follows:

    . . . as though it were not permitted to come forward as avengers of God, and to pronounce sentence of death! . . . But, say you, the State cannot punish in the name of God. Yet was it not in the name of God that Moses and Phineas consigned to death the worshippers of the Golden Calf and those who despised the true religion?

    This was the first time that a Catholic bishop championed a decisive cooperation of the State in religious questions, and its right to inflict death on heretics. For the first time, also, the Old Testament was appealed to, though such appeals had been previously rejected by Christian teachers…

    is where things started to go wrong.

  125. Holopupenko says:

    @120

    Perhaps d would like to offer a concrete example to back up his accusation “you can actually see a group literally demonized.” Perhaps he’s referring to this: “Atheism is demonic”? If so, d can’t read or is (more likely) drawing associations that are convenient for him (and this complaint from a moral relativist, by the way)… which means he is (again) “crying wolf” hypocritically.

    Then there’s this gem: “Why do you automatically assume this sort of thing [promotion of homosexuality] is just about attacking Christianity, and not those other poisonous attitudes?”

    Memo to d: Yes, indeed, you ARE attacking Christianity because, among other reasons, you are attacking human nature. Christianity will not back down in its defense of human nature–a nature made in the image and likeness of God. And, no, I will not apologize for any attacks against atheism because it is so repugnantly anti-human… and you have all the body-counts you’ll ever need as empirical evidence of its “contributions” to humanity. Now, if you need to cry pity-party because you’re embarrassed to be an atheist as it’s exposed for the black evil it is, and then seek to project my words upon yourself personally, that’s your affair. There is a solution, of course–the same solution that’s offered to all in Hell… except they’ve slammed the doors shut from within and are pressing tight against those doors to prevent light from entering their blackness.

    Larry: I see your “sigh” and raise you two sighs…

  126. Holopupenko says:

    @124

    rape, murder, stealing, etc are all so obviously wrong and so obviously harmful, that no reasonable person could ever say otherwise

    This coming from a staunch moral relativist? Help me out, here…

  127. d says:

    Holo,

    This coming from a staunch moral relativist? Help me out, here…

    I’ve always claimed to be a moral realist.

  128. Keith says:

    @Tom, #122: I did not intend to beat that drum again — my entire point is that it wasn’t my exegesis, as you and Victoria seemed to believe. If you don’t like the exegesis, you’ll have to take it up with the Catholic church, not me!

  129. Victoria says:

    @Keith
    I think I answered that in my #123 and #126 :)

  130. Holopupenko says:

    d:

    It looks like I’ll have to do a little searching… and if I find anywhere where (in the interests of disambiguation) you clearly state moral relativism as an absolute basis for moral actions is incorrect, I will publicly apologize…

    … in the mean time, your “realism” is based on what exactly? I.e., where do you “locate” (without falling into the “is” vs. “ought” fallacy) your basis for objective moral categories… or does your “realism” not include an “objective” component?

  131. Tom Gilson says:

    Keith, your exegesis is awful. Don’t blame John 18:10 without John 18:11 or Luke 22:49-51 on anyone but yourself.

    Meanwhile, if you have nothing more to say from this, why do you keep saying more on it? For you are still saying nothing that matters, or that you’re willing to articulate, by your own admission.

  132. Keith says:

    One more comment and then I’ll shut up and take time to catch up and listen. :-)

    When I said I couldn’t find a primary source for that exegesis of John 15:6, I should clarify that I looked pretty hard — the failure bothers me. I’m still digging and will report back should I learn anything interesting.

  133. TFBW says:

    Keith #90 said:

    Lack of an objective morality does not imply an inability to make moral assertions, and using “right” and “wrong” is simply shorthand for a concept we all know and understand (“aligns with humanity’s core morality” is unwieldy at best).

    Okay, so you’ve switched from moral nihilism to moral intersubjectivism. Seems to me that you adhere to a form of quantum morality — a set of beliefs which does not have a definite state except when observed through a specific question/answer interaction. I’ve seen the same thing with atheism more generally: quantum atheism seems to be the most popular variety out there.

    Look, if moral nihilism is true, then all moral opinions are simply errors, on a par with assertions about the hair on the head of the current King of France. Some errors might be more popular than other errors, but so what? If nihilism is true, you’ve explained our error, and your work here is done.

    On the other hand, if you’re simply denying that there are objective moral truths, and asserting that moral truths correspond to majority opinion, then any accusations of immorality towards the church are merely accusations of holding a minority opinion. That accusation is not much basis for shame. Indeed, it’s not clear that morality can be prescriptive under that view: it is merely descriptive of a majority opinion. That being so, why should anyone give a fig whether they are moral or not, unless they have a strong desire to conform to the majority (or not)? More to the point, why should anyone give a fig when you accuse them of being immoral, even if it’s true by that definition?

    Accusations of moral wrong are basically immaterial unless morality is prescriptive, and morality can not be prescriptive unless it’s at least partially objective. To say that a rule is prescriptive is to say that it exists whether anyone recognises it or not, which is also what we mean by “objective”. Your nihilism permits no objective moral truths, thus no prescriptive moral truths, and thus no accusations of immorality which are more damning than the accusation, “you dress unfashionably.”

    Lack of an objective morality does not, as you say, imply an inability to make moral assertions, but it strips those assertions of any force they may have otherwise held. A moral non-objectivist who tries to tell other people how they ought to behave (without sufficient means of coercion to make it credible as a threat) is simply bluffing, and I call your bluff. Why should anyone respect your moral opinions? Why shouldn’t we dismiss out of hand your interpretation of church history as mere self-serving atheistic rationalisation? After all, it’s not like there’s anything objectively true about your moral pronouncements, is there?

  134. Holopupenko says:

    d:

    Going partly off what TFBW just said (and partly because I didn’t find anywhere your explicit rejection of moral relativism [as opposed to merely realism]), your claim to be a moral “realist” is not enough. (I should have caught that earlier)

    All you’re claiming by making such an assertion is that you look to external aspects of the real world in which to ground (“locate”) objective propositions about the character of human actions and intentions.

    Well, to what exactly are you referring? I strongly suspect you’re animated (even if unknowingly) by the is-to-ought fallacy: you’re looking to true propositions about the world (i.e., those statements that correspond to reality as it is, e.g., the charge of an electron is -1.6e-19 C) to somehow inform you how to act.

    To know something about the world means you’re concerned about truth as truth, i.e., to what extent your propositions correspond to reality as it is. But, that is very different from a human being doing something, for which the concern is truth as action. Knowing correctly what the state of affairs is in Iran regarding weapons of mass destruction doesn’t inform you what to do about the situation.

    So, bottom line, I stand firm: you are a moral relativist even while you may be predisposed to making objective truth claims about the real world. Stating “true” or “false” about what the world is like does not get you to stating what is “good” or “evil” about human actions: you might be able to correctly (i.e., truthfully) state whether one man killed another man; you can’t state based on that truth alone whether such an act was “good” or “evil”.

    Hint: the proximate “location” of morality is in human nature; the ultimate “location” of morality is in what creates human natures, i.e., in God. In other words, doing something evil goes against human nature in an immediate sense; if “offends” God in the ultimate sense.

  135. SteveK says:

    Keith @85

    If we agree our core morality was selected for, how can it be possible that it’s also “right”? Is it possible our core morality was selected for, and then by sheer accident it happened to be the “right” morality? Or is it possible the “right” morality maximizes survival and so selection always pursue the “right” choice? I think either of those are extremely unlikely possibilities.

    If I am understanding you correctly, and I’m not sure that I am, you’re painting a picture of reality that doesn’t fit the naturalistic template at all.

    I say that because what on earth could it possibly mean to say that the mechanism of evolution selects on the basis of prescriptive realities (you said “core morality was selected for”)?

    Whether it does this efficiently every time or in a random, haphazard way in which it selects correctly once every 1 billion tries doesn’t matter. What matters is that prescriptive realities are not physical, and therefore cannot be selected. Can you elaborate on this some more?

  136. Tom Gilson says:

    A morality that is merely selected for has no possibility of being either right or wrong. It merely is.

  137. Primism says:

    @ Tom Gilson

    A more poignant point could not be made – morality is no less spread across shades of grey than any other issue.

  138. Keith says:

    @TFBW, #135:

    I think I agree with you. I’m hesitant to jump to “moral intersubjectivism” (I’m just not that familiar with the term), but in general, I think you’re correct.

    I’m unsure about your conclusion, though.

    If I were to tell you my moral opinions are objectively true (His Noodliness told me so, just now!), does that change our discussion because I’ve claimed objective truth?

  139. Keith says:

    @SteveK, #137:

    What Tom said in #138.

    As a related question, if someone would care to answer it (I’m not trying to open up a new discussion, just curious about the group’s view).

    If you accept evolution (and presumably the evolution of moral traits), how do you relate objective morality to our evolved morality?

    In other words, if we think X is “right”, that may only be a result of X increasing evolutionary fitness; in that case, how do you relate and/or compare objective morality to our evolved morality?

  140. SteveK says:

    Keith,

    What Tom said in #138.

    I agree with that too, but let’s back up a step and talk about selection. What about your odd view (odd from a naturalistic viewpoint) that this non-physical morality (that really isn’t morality because prescriptives don’t exist under naturalism. Let’s just call it a “natural preference”) can be selected for? I thought naturalism doesn’t allow magic as an explanation. You’re going to have to rethink your theory :)

  141. SteveK says:

    Keith,
    I don’t really want to talk about selection so you don’t need to respond. Just wanted to make that clear.

  142. TFBW says:

    Keith #140 said:

    I’m hesitant to jump to “moral intersubjectivism” (I’m just not that familiar with the term), but in general, I think you’re correct.

    Intersubjectivism a form of relativism, but not as radical as what most people mean by “relativism”. In radical relativism, there are moral truths, but they exist on a per-person basis, so what’s right for you is not necessarily what’s right for me. Intersubjectivism means that there are moral truths which exist on a per-group basis, so what’s right for “us” is not necessarily what’s right for “them” (for some values of “us” and “them”).

    If I were to tell you my moral opinions are objectively true (His Noodliness told me so, just now!), does that change our discussion because I’ve claimed objective truth?

    “My moral opinions are objectively true” sounds like a contradiction in terms. If they were objective, they wouldn’t be described as opinions. Beliefs, yes, but not opinions.

    I don’t particularly want to write an impromptu introduction to moral philosophy in this comment box: I’d rather link to a good online primer, but I don’t know of any. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has numerous articles on moral philosophy, but none that I would suggest as a good place to start. If anyone else has suggestions, I’m open to them.

    In lieu of a good link, let me just describe a few distinctions in the way people model morality, to convey the possibilities and show why the differences are important.

    First, consider the distinction as to whether moral assertions (of the form “it’s right/wrong to do X”) are factual assertions (which can be considered true or false), or not. That is, are they similar to the claim, “rubies are usually red”, which is true. If you say no, these statements are neither true nor false, then you are a non-cognitivist with regards to morality, and probably consider moral statements to be the equivalent of expressing “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” about a subject — an expression of approval.

    If you say that moral claims are factual assertions, you can still deny that “right” and “wrong” are things which actually exist (in the way that “red” can be said to exist). If you deny the existence of “right” and “wrong”, then you consider all moral claims to be uniformly false (because they refer to things that don’t exist), and you are an error theorist.

    If you think that a moral claim can be true under the right conditions, then you are some kind of moral realist (as opposed to the anti-realists already discussed above). The only question remaining is, “what are the conditions that make a moral statement true or false?” Here, we can distinguish between moral objectivists (who claim that moral truths are mind-independent, like truths about mathematics or the laws of physics) and moral relativists (who claim that moral truths are mind-dependent, and can only be evaluated in a specific social context). Intersubjectivism falls into this latter category, as you can probably tell.

    The “right” and “wrong” of an objective morality are not negotiable: we are good if we conform to the right, and evil if we don’t. The “right” and “wrong” of relative morality are, well, relative, for want of a better word. In relativism, there is no objective standard against which to judge behaviour: no kilogram, no metre, no second. It all depends on what attitude some body of people adopt towards the matter. In the objectivist model, if we want to be good people, we must discern the moral facts, and then shape our behaviour accordingly. In the relativist model, if we want to be good people, we can either conform to the appropriate attitudes, or persuade people to condone our behaviour.

    When it comes to the question of “gay marriage”, a moral objectivist will naturally want to know whether “gay marriage is good” is a moral truth or not. A relativist may be more concerned with making it into a moral truth through PR efforts. The two models of morality are both “realist”, but fundamentally incompatible.

    Tom and his supporters will almost invariably be moral objectivists. Moral objectivists can disagree over which moral statements are true or false, and why, but they nevertheless share a meta-ethical framework in which such comparisons are meaningful. If you enter into that argument as a relativist (or anti-realist) of any stripe, then you have a fundamentally different view of what morality is. A disagreement at that level is not just a difference in ethics, but also in meta-ethics. If you don’t recognise that, you’ll just wind up talking across each other rather than to each other.

    There’s much more to be said on the subject, but that will have to do for now.

  143. BillT says:

    “If I were to tell you my moral opinions are objectively true (His Noodliness told me so, just now!), does that change our discussion because I’ve claimed objective truth?”

    You’re almost there Keith. The only problem is that His Noodliness doesn’t exist so claiming him as the authority is no different than claiming yourself as the authority. That leaves you right where you started.

    Now, you know that morality is either objective or it’s not morality (or any morality that matters to anyone). So, since you know morality exists and you know that it must be objective to matter then you know that the one thing that can make morality objective must also exist.

  144. Holopupenko says:

    So, it appears d has run away from his false accusation @120 and refuses to clarify his confusion over realist vs. relativist. Typical.

  145. Keith says:

    @BillT, #145:

    I understand your point [insert Euthyphro to demonstrate God cannot be the foundation of any objective morality]. :-)

    My question was more about TFBW’s conclusion in #135: what I heard there was it’s necessary for me to assert my moral opinions are also objectively true before I can have a seat at the discussion.

  146. Tom Gilson says:

    Euthyphro was an objection to the gods of Greece being the foundation of morality. It doesn’t apply to the God of Christian theism. (That’s a short rebuttal, but it’s longer than the —ahem — argument you made.)

  147. Tom Gilson says:

    You have a seat at the discussion. The problem (@#135) is that you’ve provided no good reason for anyone to take your moral opinions seriously. I think he made that point rather clearly. What do you think? I’m not sure we’ve heard a real response. (Noodliness doesn’t count :) ).

  148. Tom Gilson says:

    TFBW@#144: excellent summary–thanks!

  149. Larry Tanner says:

    Tom at 150:

    “you’ve provided no good reason for anyone to take your moral opinions seriously.”

    But the same would go for you.

  150. Keith says:

    @Tom, #148:

    I used shorthand because everybody on this list knows more about Euthypro than I do, you folks can fill in the blanks and that way I hopefully annoy fewer people.

    My rephrase of Euthypro would be: If something is good because God says it’s good, there’s nothing objective about it; if something is good regardless of whether God says it’s good, then it’s grounded in something other than God.

    I don’t see how the God of Christian theism can be exempted; if it’s easy, I’d appreciate a pointer to the argument, and thanks!

    @Tom, #149:

    When you say His Noodliness doesn’t count, you’re drawing a line, which intrigues me. Let’s assume for the sake of argument objective morality does not exist unless a god exists: which gods do you consider sufficiently robust that someone should take an adherent’s moral opinions seriously?

  151. BillT says:

    No, Larry. You’re wrong about that. You may not accept God as the basis for objective morality but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t provide a rational and logical explanation for it. After all, God is as at least likely to exist as not if not better than that. You certainly haven’t proven his nonexistance. I’d say (modestly, of course) my argument from morality in #145 is better proof for His existance than anything you can or have provided to the contrary.

  152. TFBW says:

    @Keith #152:
    The third alternative that you’re missing from your Euthyphro analysis is that God is identical with good: that “good” is God’s character and nature. That explanation doesn’t work for the Greek gods: they fought amongst themselves, so they can’t have been all good all the time.

  153. TFBW says:

    Keith #147 said:

    My question was more about TFBW’s conclusion in #135: what I heard there was it’s necessary for me to assert my moral opinions are also objectively true before I can have a seat at the discussion.

    If you assert that they are objectively true, then you might be right or wrong, and we can argue about why we might incline towards one view or the other, based on your reasons.

    If you assert that they aren’t objectively true, then you’re just mouthing off an attitude, grounded in your own biases, that we have no reason to respect even slightly.

    Consider the question of the age of the earth. I’m sure you have an opinion on the matter, but you understand that your opinion has no bearing on the facts. There is an objective truth as to the actual age of the earth, regardless of what anyone — scientist or fundamentalist — thinks about it. There’s no point discussing it as though one’s opinion on the matter has any influence on the truth: the facts are quite intransigent. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion on the matter, but it’s ultimately irrelevant as regards the truth.

    Some of us feel that the same sort of thing applies to moral facts.

    So, are you here to spout opinion, or to seek the truth?

  154. Keith says:

    @TFBW, #154:

    I have never understood why that helps: if whatever is in God’s nature/character is “right”, then it’s still arbitrary. If it’s in God’s nature/character to commit genocide, then genocide is morally right.

    I need to actually dig through Wm. Craig’s talks on this. :-)

  155. Melissa says:

    Keith,

    I have never understood why that helps: if whatever is in God’s nature/character is “right”, then it’s still arbitrary. If it’s in God’s nature/character to commit genocide, then genocide is morally right.

    … and we could have been created to survive on air and live under water. What’s your point?

  156. Holopupenko says:

    Folks,

    Keith is playing you by bating with feigned dopiness… For example, I find it hard to believe someone could be so ignorant as to produce this gem: “if whatever is in God’s nature/character is “right”, then it’s still arbitrary.”

    But, then again, we’re dealing with atheism…

  157. Melissa says:

    Don’t be too hard in him Holo, he’s desperately clutching at straws in the hope that something will stick.

  158. Keith says:

    @Melissa, #157, Holopupenko, #158:

    If something is good because God says it’s good, there’s nothing objective about it; if something is good because it’s in God’s nature, why is that more objective, how has the question changed?

    I don’t mean that as an “unanswerable challenge”, I simply didn’t understand why TFBW’s reply in #154 alters the underlying argument, so I asked.

    Melissa: “clutching at straws … in the hope that something will stick”. That’s a keeper. :-)

  159. TFBW says:

    Keith, I have yet to see evidence that you consider any set of moral values to be non-arbitrary, so I’m not particularly moved by your accusations of arbitrariness, nor can I think of any possible argument that could satisfy you that it is not arbitrary. I will not attempt to answer hypotheticals of the sort “what if God had been otherwise”, because they are counterfactual and not meaningful in any clear way — no easier to comprehend than “what would a circle look like if the value of pi had been otherwise?”

    You wanted a basis for objective morality: God’s character is that basis.

  160. Sault says:

    @TFBW

    It is objective [morality, that is] because it is from God; if it was anything or anyone less it would be relative. Is this what you are saying?

  161. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Keith:

    If something is good because God says it’s good, there’s nothing objective about it; if something is good because it’s in God’s nature, why is that more objective, how has the question changed?

    First, “something is good because it’s in God’s nature” is not what Christians hold; the sentence does not even make much sense. You probably should do some reading before mangling your interlocutor’s position beyond recognition.

    Second, as a first approach to the problem, consider the following modification of your sentence,

    If the electron has spin 1/2 because we say so, there’s nothing objective about it; if the electron has spin 1/2 because it’s in the electron’s nature, why is that more objective, how has the question changed?

    and ask yourself what is wrong with the sentence after the “;”.

    @Sault:

    Is this what you are saying?

    I think I can safely answer this for TBFW: the answer is no.

  162. d says:

    Holo,

    I have lots of things competing for my time lately, and posting replies on blogs gets pushed to the bottom of the stack pretty quickly. That’s the usual explanation for any lack of, or delays in replies.

    As for the demonization comment, I’ll just note that it looks like pretty literal demonization to me, or as close to it as you can get at any rate without saying outright that atheists are (or possessed by) demons. Yes, I recognize you precisely said “atheism is demonic” – but, in my mind, thats only a slight quibble in the matter of whether your comments could accurately be called “demonization”.

    In any case, I’ll keep this brief. Statements like “Murder is morally wrong”, and “You should not steal” are true statements that say something factual. The anchor, so to speak, for these facts are the common values that all persons hold. Values/Desire are the only reasons for a rational being to do *anything* at all.

    So the is-ought “problem” (really one of the biggest “major problems” in philosophy, that in my mind, is a total non-problem) is dealt with by properly categorizing moral imperatives as a subset of hypothetical imperatives involving values/desires, e.g. If you value X, you ought to Y. And assuming there is some fundamental value/desire X that is held by every person that exists, then we have all we need for a moral realism that is objectively true for everybody (on theism or naturalism or just about any other metaphysical view).

    Now sure, suppose we find some sentient being out there who shares absolutely no common value/desire with other sentient creatures – sure, I’d have to concede to a more relativistic kind of moral realism. But I don’t really find that too troubling (or very likely). I’m more concerned with whether I can tell my neighbor he is wrong to kill me (or you, or anyone else), and that I can justify the enforcement of the most important moral facts across society and our communities.

    And before anyone proceeds to attack my view with their slam-dunk rebuttals, I’ll say upfront I’ve probably considered most of the points you would raise (and have probably been raised a numerous times in previous discussions on this blog), – but if I haven’t, sure I’ll think about – but probably won’t get involved in lengthy discussions because I don’t have the interest at the moment. I’m just briefly outlining my view.

    I’d rather talk about issues that are more practically relevant to the common good (like same-sex marriage), and do so while appealing to values that I think we all hold, rather than diving immediately down to the metaphysical bottom floor in a gambit to go nuclear on the foundations of another’s worldview.

  163. BillT says:

    “Murder is morally wrong.”

    Sez who? Not Stalin, or (of course) Hitler, or Mao, or Castro, or Pol Pot or the millions and millions of their followers.

    But you say you’ve dealt with that nasty is/ought thing by saying “If you value X, you ought to Y”.

    Ok. You would certainly be right if that were true. So, can you explain why I should “value X”. Let’s be specific and use your example, murder. So If I value (X) “human life”, then (Y) “murder is morally wrong”. Great. Perfect. Now, explain why I should value human life as opposed to say using human life to attain power like the luminaries above did. That shouldn’t be so hard for someone who has solved the whole is/ought thing.

  164. d says:

    BillT,

    As I said… not going to do much responding on this topic. But I’ll leave a scenario for you (and any others who feel the need to chime in similarly, as you have).. and I’ll consider your answers, though I might not reply.

    So genocidal dictator Bill, tyrannical ruler of Billizastan, says he doesn’t value human life the way you do and says he desires above all else to rid the world of every non-Billizastanian by any means necessary, no matter what it takes. The more gulags and gas chambers involved, the better. Your task? Convincingly show him why he *ought* to abandon his plans and any desires he harbors to carry them out. Convincingly show him why he *ought* to value the lives and rights of non-Billizastanians, even though he doesn’t. It actually fills his heart with unsurpassed joy to watch them suffer and die.

    But there’s a catch.

    You must do it without appealing to *any* desire/value that he already holds. You can’t appeal to his desire to create a better society, or to live in harmony with his fellow man, or to do the will of God, or even to avoid burning in Hell. So how do you do it?

  165. TFBW says:

    Salut #162 said:

    It is objective [morality, that is] because it is from God; if it was anything or anyone less it would be relative. Is this what you are saying?

    It’s objective because it is not mind-dependent. Relative moralities depend on the state of someone’s attitude for their truth. That is, in a relative morality, X is wrong if a certain person or group considers it to be wrong. An objective morality is based on some other non-mental kind of fact.

    Relative moralities also tend to allow more than one possible mind or group to make moral judgements, such as different societies at different times. Thus, in a relative morality you must specify (or at least imply) the frame of reference in which an act is to be judged. Objective moralities normally admit only one standard by which things are judged: you don’t need to specify who is making the judgement any more than you have to specify who is doing the adding when finding the sum of two numbers.

    In principle, an objective morality could be the product of something other than God. On occasion, I have spoken with atheists who are strong moral objectivists. Such a person can be identified by a claim like, “it would be wrong to do X even if God commanded it.” Such a person is appealing to an apparent ultimate moral law — a law to which even God himself is subject, if he exists.

    There are numerous problems with that view, but I won’t delve into them here, interesting though they are. Instead, I’ll invite the non-theist readers to engage in a little introspection. Ask yourself if there’s anything that you would consider to be unconditionally evil, even if everyone alive at the time considered it to be acceptable. If every possible mind condones the act, and yet you consider it evil, you are either quite a radical relativist (willing to say that your attitude alone is sufficient to create a moral truth), or you are appealing to some unspecified moral absolute outside your mind — an objective morality.

    So, in answer to the original question, no: it’s not God that distinguishes between relative and objective moralities. You can posit a godless objective morality without inherent contradiction. You can say that moral laws sprang into existence out of nothing in the same way that physical laws did, if that kind of thing floats your boat. You just have to be prepared to say that moral laws exist in the same way that physical (or possibly mathematical) laws do. Philosophical materialism tends to resist that kind of claim, however.

    My own (current) view is that “God’s character” is the reality which provides the ultimate frame of reference for moral truths. In the same way that up is up because it is contrary to the force of gravity, evil is evil because it is contrary to the will of God. We can, of course, argue over the nature of God’s character, but that’s a separate argument, quite distinct from the meta-ethical question of what constitutes a moral truth.

  166. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    You must do it without appealing to *any* desire/value that he already holds. You can’t appeal to his desire to create a better society, or to live in harmony with his fellow man, or to do the will of God, or even to avoid burning in Hell. So how do you do it?

    Maybe you should state what we *can* appeal to? In the case of Bill, the czar of Billizistan, I would appeal to a good spanking that obviously his mother never gave him, but I am sure that that is not what you are thinking of. Failing that, I would appeal to reason, but I am not sure it is allowed in d-zistan, as reason is notoriously absent in *that* corner of the world.

    By the way, was that your attempt at a gotcha question?

  167. BillT says:

    d,

    And just why do I have to convince him “…without appealing to *any* desire/value that he already holds. You can’t appeal to his desire to create a better society, or to live in harmony with his fellow man, or to do the will of God, or even to avoid burning in Hell.”

    Why am I, quite illogiclly, constrained in this way? You aren’t contstrained in any way in presenting your is/ought solution. You are free to use any logic, facts or explanations available to you but I’m not? If there is a point to the above perhaps you could explain yourself.

  168. JB says:

    And we’re almost hip-deep in irony. The armband you mention (forcing Jewish populations to dress so they could be recognized in public, even the choice of yellow), was invented by Christians, not by the Nazis.

  169. Tom Gilson says:

    Source and context, please?

  170. Keith says:

    @Tom #171:

    I ran across this the other day: A. Sciolino,The Holocaust, the Church, and the Law of Unintended Consequences.

    “Because [Pope] Paul IV suspected Jews of aiding Protestants, he restricted them to a nearby neighborhood that became Rome’s ghetto, and in the Papal States they were required to wear distinctive clothing (yellow hats for men, and veils or shawls for women).”

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