The Secularist Strategy: To Portray Christians as Bad and Stupid

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My current BreakPoint column boils down the secularist strategy to this: to portray the faith as bad and stupid. Our answer cannot be simplistic. We must be good, we must be intelligent–and we ought to learn how to tell better stories. I’m pointing a finger at myself when I say that. This weekend’s online apologetics conference is one place I’m hoping to learn more about that.

88 Responses

  1. If secularists do portray Christians in such a vein, it is not a strategy for a level playing field in the political realm. It is because those that oppose the equality that secularism expounds tend to misrepresent that which they oppose in order to maintain religious privilege.

    That is not a subjective perspective that can be strategised, it is a criticism of bad and stupid Christians that oppose equality for all before the law.

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you for your perspective, Tris. It sounds a lot like what Sean Faircloth had to say in his book, referenced in my BreakPoint column. He told numerous anecdotes. I’m sure most of them were true. I’m sure that there are bad and stupid Christians. I am also sure that Christianity is misrepresented most unscientifically by his anecdotes, and by others that portray it as mostly bad and stupid. It’s not just that it’s inaccurate, it’s that its methodology is wide open to inaccuracy. It comes from people who claim science for their side, yet who will ignore, distort, or twist all sociological (the relevant science, in this case) reality to make their case.

    Suppose you were right to say that it is wrong to “oppose equality for all before the law,” with the connotation you undoubtedly attach to that phrase. Would that make it right to distort the truth about your opponents? Really?

  3. The connotation I attach to that phrase – for the record – is that freedom of religion is sacrosanct. As such, no weight can be given to one’s religion, over that of another’s. Secularism is simply the only effective means of ensuring this.

    Distorting the truth about your opponent is never acceptable. It is lying.

  4. EdW says:

    I think it’s difficult for the secularist set to look at survey data that shows a majority of American Christians believing in a young earth, and not draw the “stupid” conclusion. Only willful ignorance explains those numbers.

    Bad? Well, to borrow a phrase, I guess one can “love the believer and hate the belief”. When a gay couple sees Christians actively working against their ability to adopt a child or visit each other in the emergency room… what else could it be but “bad,” from their perspective?

  5. Doug says:

    and not draw the “stupid” conclusion. Only willful ignorance explains those numbers.

    So… which is it? Willful ignorance or stupidity? (& for anyone inclined to equate the two, may I mention the Gnu penchant for willful ignorance of history and Christian thought in general?)

    Frankly, the other thing that explains those numbers is the (common, human) reaction to being told one is stupid and ignorant: doubling down.

  6. BillT says:

    “I think it’s difficult for the secularist set to look at survey data that shows a majority of American Christians believing in a young earth, and not draw the “stupid” conclusion.”

    Especially when it’s just more spin from the secular media.

    “Among weekly churchgoers, 24 percent believe in evolution, while 41 percent do not and 35 percent have no opinion.”

    “Gallup ‘Darwin’s Birthday’ Poll:…” http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/god-and-country/2009/02/11/gallup-darwins-birthday-poll-fewer-than-four-in-ten-believe-in-evolution.

  7. Otto Tellick says:

    First, a question for Tom Gilson: Do you consider yourself a member of “the Religious Right” (which I take to mean: right-wing, advocating for policies in US government that are explicitly based on specific religious doctrines, especially regarding sexual orientation and reproduction)?

    I ask because that is the specific focus of Sean Faircloth’s book, which triggered this topic. If, as a “thinking Christian”, you are not dogmatically fixated on right-wing religious talking points and repealing the First Amendment, then his arguments aren’t directed against you.

    I’m seeing this forum for the first time just now, so while I’m interested and intrigued by the term “thinking Christian”, I sorry to admit that I really don’t know what range of beliefs that title entails, in the context of this particular forum.

    (Not to put too fine a point on it, the term “Christian” has been applied to quite a vast range of distinct and incompatible positions — apart from the mostly uniform but unverifiable notion that Christ rose physically from death, and the more assertive but less coherent notion that His resurrection has something to do with my personal well-being.)

    As for learning to “tell better stories”, the basic point to learn is: tell stories that have real data to back them up. Do you want to assert that applying the term “marriage” to a same-sex relationship is dangerous or damaging? Just show verifiable evidence to support your claim, like they did 150 years ago when religious opponents of slavery finally got the upper hand over the religious supporters of slavery, or 50 years ago when religious supporters of civil rights finally held sway over the religious supporters of segregation and discrimination.

    The abolitionists and freedom marchers had really good stories to tell, because they had really good evidence on their side. God alone didn’t provide a good enough story, because He was on both sides.

  8. Friendly says:

    Reason, for these New Atheists, typically means refusing to believe anything for which one does not have empirical evidence; this (they think) automatically excludes all religion.

    Those who espouse religion have had hundreds of years to present empirical evidence of their claims. Such evidence has either not been forthcoming or has been truly embarrassing in its inadequacy (“Look at these dark pixels in the satellite picture of Ararat! It’s the Ark!!”) This lack of evidence does not *automatically exclude* all religion, but given the amount of time that religious movements have had to present convincing evidence (but haven’t done so) tends to instill in us atheists the same type of skepticism that greets the latest announcement of a perpetual motion machine: Make all of your claims you want — but we will await the proof.

    I spoke with someone who demanded I answer, “How did the donkey talk?” (He was referring to Balaam’s ass in Numbers 22.) I suggested, “How about if we talk about a miracle that’s even more difficult: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead?” He answered, “I’m not interested in the resurrection. I want to talk about the donkey.”

    Too bad the Reason Rally attendee didn’t take you up on your offer to discuss the resurrection of Jesus, for which there is no more extrabiblical evidence than there is for the talking donkey.

    I wonder how his thesis would have turned out if he had mentioned Werner von Braun, one of the pioneers of modern rocket science; or the great 19th-century physicists James Clerk Maxwell and Michael Faraday. What conclusion might he have drawn if he had mentioned the great astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler; or the virtual founder of modern science, Isaac Newton; or the geneticist Francis Collins, whose published papers greatly outnumber those of four prominent atheistic scientists combined? All of these men were or are deeply religious, most of them very orthodox in their Christianity.

    von Braun and Collins have been successful scientists *despite* their religious views, not because of them, and in neither case did they come to religious belief by applying reason; von Braun was born into a Lutheran family and Collins was overcome by the somehow unexpected beauty of a waterfall. The other scientists you mention from previous centuries predate Darwin and their acceptance of religious answers for questions that science had not yet fully formulated answers for is not surprising.

    Those who know the real issue there know that the question is actually whether the government should have the power to order religious institutions to violate their beliefs.

    Religious institutions do not have beliefs. Religious people have beliefs. The real issue is, should the religious people in charge of religious institutions be given the license to deprive people who do not share their beliefs of their health and of their freedom to engage in legal sexual activities? If you think so, then whatever would be wrong with Saudi clerics deciding that a Christian woman should be flogged or stoned for showing too much skin in the presence of an unrelated man?

    Who would want to listen to bad and stupid people?

    Most religious people I know are not bad or stupid. But they often aren’t aware — or, more egregiously, refuse to acknowledge — how bad their religious beliefs have been for other people, or how stupid their religious beliefs appear, especially when they are used as a basis for public policy in the real world.

    Therefore the strategic question for us becomes, how can we better prepare ourselves to defend against this charge of bad and stupid?
    Clearly the first step is to grow in our own confidence that it’s good and right to follow Christ.

    [facepalm]
    No. The first step is to examine your beliefs dispassionately, as I did. Are they consistent with themselves? Are they consistent with the universe we observe? What do they do to non-adherents? (By which I mean, if the shoe were on the other foot and your behavior or character — or even your legal standing — were challenged with a belief similar to yours that you did not share, how would you feel?) If you were a member of a jury who had to decide whether your religion were good or not and reasonable or not based on the available evidence presented by *both* its proponents and its opponents, what verdict would you render? When I went through this process, I concluded, not without much prayer and study, that the Christianity I had previously championed was neither wholly good nor at all reasonable.

    Pastors in particular can serve their congregations by explaining not only what is good and true, but also how we know it is good and true. And these explanations must go beyond, “the Bible says so,” for we also need to answer the question, “Why should we think the Bible is good and true?”

    Why should you? How can the Bible be “good” when it justifies slavery and genocide and the imposition of infinite punishment for finite sin? How can the Bible be “true” when it is riddled with internal inconsistences and treats as historical fact events such as the Exodus (for which there is no evidence) and the narrative of Noah’s Flood (which is utterly impossible in so many ways that it defies description).

    We could overturn Christianity’s contemporary reputation for being oppressive to women, for example, if more of us would learn and relate the story of how the faith has lifted women out of deeper oppression than most Westerners can imagine, in country after country, culture after culture.

    Woman, if your rapist knocks you unconscious and your screams are not heard in the city, prepare to be stoned — unless, of course, you agree to marry him. Woman, if you fail to obey your husband as he sees fit, prepare to be brutalized or killed as he sees fit. Woman, if your husband suspects you of being unfathful, be prepared to drink the priest’s bitter gall and be smitten by God if you *were* unfaithful; of course, you are not allowed to bring such a proceeding against your husband. Woman, if your father or brother violates you and makes you pregnant, be prepared to relive that moment for every day of every second of the next nine months or be mauled, possibly fatally, by the illegal abortionist. Oh, and women — keep silent in church; you have nothing worthwhile to say there.

    Also, as I have briefly done above, the way to overcome our anti-scientific reputation is by knowing, and telling, Christianity’s massive contribution to science through the centuries.

    *Christians* have contributed a great deal to science. *Christianity* has contributed nothing to science.

    If we got a more solid grip on the story of Christ and his people through the ages, I believe we could overcome the bad and stupid story, and reclaim Christianity’s position of truth and goodness in our culture.

    Telling how good Christ and his people used to be will not help you reclaim Christianity’s “position of truth and goodness” in our culture. It might ease the anger and scorn that some people in this culture feel toward Christianity if Christians living here and now told the truth and acted out goodness more often; this would not, however, make Christianity any more believable.

  9. Tom Gilson says:

    Greetings, Otto Tellick,

    Do I consider myself a member of the Religious Right? Aah, here we get into definitions again. Let me answer you this way. I work with Chuck Colson. I oppose the killing of young innocent life in the womb, and I consider “gay marriage” a contradiction in terms. I support the First Amendment’s prohibitions on Congress making any laws respecting any establishment of a religion.

    As for learning to “tell better stories”, the basic point to learn is: tell stories that have real data to back them up.

    Of course. That’s what I’ve called for here as well. That’s exactly what Sean Faircloth didn’t do, as I said.

    We have thousands of stories to tell about the health and goodness of men and women being married to each other in committed, loving relationships. We haven’t done a good enough job of getting that word out.

    God alone didn’t provide a good enough story, because He was on both sides.

    No, God was not on both sides. He was claimed by both sides in different ways, but he was not on both sides.

    Greetings to you as well, Friendly,

    Those who espouse religion have had hundreds of years to present empirical evidence of their claims. Such evidence has either not been forthcoming or has been truly embarrassing in its inadequacy (“Look at these dark pixels in the satellite picture of Ararat! It’s the Ark!!”)

    No, actually this is quite a misconception. I’m not saying the ark “photos” are any good. I’m saying that the historical evidence in favor of the New Testament’s historicity continues to line up. You are simply wrong to say with such confidence,

    Too bad the Reason Rally attendee didn’t take you up on your offer to discuss the resurrection of Jesus, for which there is no more extrabiblical evidence than there is for the talking donkey.

    Your ignorance on that would be excusable if you were not pretending to know.

    Further, it’s wrong to suppose that evidence must be empirical. There is philosophical evidence as well.

    And there is a further point to be made concerning what I said about New Atheists and reason. Let me explain by granting your premise for the sake of argument. Suppose religion of all kinds were totally unsupported by evidence. Then Christians like myself would fail that test of reason quite badly. Would that make atheists reasonable? Only if they really practiced reason themselves, which the New Atheists typically do not, as we detailed in the book True Reason. I won’t go into it all again here, but I will at least point out that it’s unreasoning and unreasonable to make empirical evidence the test of all knowledge. The statement “There is no knowledge except for empirical knowledge” is self-defeating: if it is true, it cannot be known to be true, for it cannot be demonstrated empirically.

    As for what you said concerning Christians in science, you missed the point. Faircloth said in effect that to be religious is to hinder progress, and to be secular is to advance it. (And just because von Braun was born into a Lutheran family is poor evidence that he did not reason his way to his belief.)

    Religious institutions do not have beliefs. Religious people have beliefs.

    Disingenuous. Religious institutions are the organizational expressions of their leaders’ beliefs. And your distinction is not written into the Constitution.

    The real issue is, should the religious people in charge of religious institutions be given the license to deprive people who do not share their beliefs of their health and of their freedom to engage in legal sexual activities?

    The real issue is, should the Federal government be allowed to order religions around with respect to their beliefs. In other words, I disagree with you on the “real issue.”

    The first step is to examine your beliefs dispassionately, as I did. Are they consistent with themselves? Are they consistent with the universe we observe? What do they do to non-adherents?

    Thank you for that advice. I have done that examination. It’s too long to go into here.

    Why should you? How can the Bible be “good” when it justifies slavery and genocide and the imposition of infinite punishment for finite sin? …

    I suggest you do some searching on this website. There are good answers to those questions. You can find many of them here. You mischaracterize Christian thinking on the Old Testament pretty badly. In fact, you make it sound as if only atheists have thought about the Old Testament; only atheists have been concerned about the meaning of what you pointed at. You also make it sound as if the right way to read those passages is in the context of 21st century America. Really, now, how likely is that?? In fact we have thought about it.

    *Christians* have contributed a great deal to science. *Christianity* has contributed nothing to science.

    Your ignorance on this would be excusable if you did not pretend to know what you do not know. I suggest you read Hannam on it.

  10. BillT says:

    “The real issue is, should the religious people in charge of religious institutions be given the license to deprive people who do not share their beliefs of their health and of their freedom to engage in legal sexual activities?”

    This is the “real issue” only if you take DNC talking points as fact. The is no one trying to deprive people of their health and of their freedom to engage in legal sexual activities. Paying or not paying for contraceptives denies no one their health or their freedom to engage in legal sexual activities.

  11. Victoria says:

    @Tom
    What do you think about the fact that we encounter many ‘deconverted Christians’ who now are proud atheists? Is this 1 Timothy 4:1-2 happening in our own day and age?

    Perhaps we could devote a thread to this question 🙂

  12. Doug says:

    @Victoria,
    It may very well be that kind of thing, but I’m more inclined to think that it is a natural result of the concurrence of two things:

    1. Our churches watering down the message and being distracted by non-essentials.
    -&-
    2. Our culture driving us toward relativism and hyper-criticism of anything foundational to civilization.

    Those experienced of the former and brainwashed by the latter can’t see anything of value in what the church has to offer.

  13. Victoria says:

    @Doug,
    Yeah, but there are plenty of Christians like those of us who post here who have not fallen for those lies and deceptions.
    I don’t think there is anything natural about it – it is the reality of the indwelling Holy Spirit and perhaps the fact that we have taken seriously Paul’s instruction to ‘put on the whole armor of God’ (Ephesians 6:10-18). I’m talking about those who have shipwrecked their faith (1 Timothy 1:19-20), followed destructive teachings (2 Peter 2:1-3) and perhaps were never really in Christ ( 1 John 2:18-29).

  14. Doug says:

    @Victoria,
    The two perspectives fit like hand and glove.

  15. Victoria says:

    @Doug
    Ah, yes, I see what you mean 🙂

  16. Otto Tellick says:

    Thanks for the welcome, Tom.

    No, God was not on both sides. He was claimed by both sides in different ways, but he was not on both sides.

    Granted — that was of course the real meaning of my remark. And for those who doubt God’s existence, it actually makes more sense to say He wasn’t really on either side. The point is that observable, irrefutable evidence was the deciding factor.

    We have thousands of stories to tell about the health and goodness of men and women being married to each other in committed, loving relationships. We haven’t done a good enough job of getting that word out.

    You needn’t bother with that — it’s already ingrained as part of the canonical American Dream, and it’s not even relevant to the gay marriage debate. What is relevant is the ample amount of evidence that demonstrates the health and goodness of same-sex couples sustaining each other in committed, loving relationships. There may be some evidence to the contrary, but the same can be said regarding “traditional” (hetero) marriage — indeed, same-sex couples may well rank comparably to hetero marriages on general quality-of-life and value-to-the-community factors. (I’m not sure what studies have been done on this, but in my own neighborhood, gay and straight couples seem to do equally well on the points that matter.)

    If you want to limit the term “marriage” to apply solely to those relationships sanctioned by particular religions, maybe language change over time will ultimately take us there — no problem. But to deny equal rights to certain couples, solely because their sexual orientation defies the sanctions of particular religions, would be at odds with the First Amendment.

  17. Doug says:

    @Otto,
    Perhaps you could explain something to me: how is it that the people championing a redefinition of marriage in such strong language (“at odds with the First Amendment” even) are often the same people who, not very long ago, would have said that “marriage is just a piece of paper”?

  18. BillT says:

    “But to deny equal rights to certain couples, solely because their sexual orientation defies the sanctions of particular religions, would be at odds with the First Amendment.”

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    Just where in the First Amendment, quoted above, is there anything about marriage. Just what about marriage has anything to do with the “establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. The definition of marriage has nothing to do with it being sanctioned by “particular religions”. Marriage has been an established term with an established definition throughout all of recorded history completely regardless of religion.

  19. Doug says:

    A quick example in support of Bill: the Marriage Edict of Augustus (Caesar of that notedly “anti-gay” Roman Empire – not) took it for granted that Marriage meant “opposite-sex marriage”

  20. Otto Tellick says:

    @Doug:

    how is it that the people championing a redefinition of marriage in such strong language (“at odds with the First Amendment” even) are often the same people who, not very long ago, would have said that “marriage is just a piece of paper”?

    How do you come up with that? Your statement makes no sense. As I said in my post, the terminology is secondary, except to the extent that, in certain important situations, a spousal relationship carries special weight in society that other forms of relationship do not carry: ability to visit a patient in a hospital or adopt a child, assignment of a beneficiary for retirement income, etc.

    For the majority of the population, who are and will remain heterosexual, these matters are taken for granted. For the minority, who are homosexual, access is, in some states, denied by the state. I’m saying this is wrong. I for one don’t care whether it’s called marriage or something else.

    My wife and I have a number of friends of both sexes who live in committed, loving same-sex relationships. To deny those couples the same rights that my wife and I have, when there is no benefit to anyone to be achieved by that denial, is wrong, and saying that such denial is at odds with the First Amendment is only as strong as it needs to be, because it’s true.

    I hope this response satisfies BillT’s question as well. Just where, in all the anti-gay-rights talking points, is there anything other than specific religious dogmas (and simple bigotry) to motivate the denial of gays to form unions that share the same rights and status as heterosexual married couples? In the absence of any truly objective supporting evidence, anti-gay legislation is an establishment of religion in law. Is that too hard for you to grasp?

  21. Doug says:

    @Otto,
    It was a question. Which you either ignored or you read a whole bunch into. No idea who you were addressing, but it certainly wasn’t me.

  22. BillT says:

    “I hope this response satisfies BillT’s question as well.”

    Actually, it doesn’t. You brought up the First Amendment issue and then when confronted with it changed the subject. I didn’t bring up any “anti-gay-rights talking points” or display any “simple bigotry”. As a response to my points Otto, your response is pretty disengenuous.

  23. SteveK says:

    Otto,

    To deny those couples the same rights that my wife and I have…

    They do have the same legal rights. They can do everything heterosexual people can do under the law, and they are prevented from doing everything that heterosexual people want to do under the law.

    So where is the legal inequity?

  24. Otto Tellick says:

    Wow. You folks are pretty heavily into posting non-sequiturs around here. Doug posts a question in response to me, I respond to that question, and Doug says “It was a question… No idea who you were addressing, but it wasn’t me.” Huh? Never mind.

    As for BillT: surely you must have read the First Amendment, it’s posted in this thread. I explained that a law prohibiting gay couples from having the same rights and status as hetero couples has no justification other than religious dogma or discriminatory social attitudes. It doesn’t matter whether you personally mentioned in this thread any of the particular anti-gay rationalizations; my point is that none of them are supported by honest evidence.

    With only a religious basis for banning gay marriage, a law to that effect is essentially establishing that religion as law, and that violates the First Amendment, which was my point when I first mentioned it — I haven’t change that subject.

    BillT’s sweeping claim about “all of recorded history” is actually beside the point. The ability to deny personal rights by means of slavery was taken for granted through “all of recorded history” until just 150 years ago — check your Bible — but humanity has finally (mostly) gotten past that, at least in terms of legislation.

    BTW, “disengenuous” isn’t a word, and I think you should look up “disingenuous” to see what it actually means. I’ll grant that it’s a complicated term that some people have trouble understanding, so it’s not unusual to see it misused (and misspelled) as you’ve done.

  25. Otto Tellick says:

    In response to SteveK: Thanks for asking the pertinent question: “Where is the legal iniquity?”

    Your preface to this question is not entirely correct. When same-sex couples are not granted the legal status of a spousal relationship:

    * they do not have the option of filing joint tax returns. (If the term “marriage” must remain “sacred”, then let tax code refer to “spousal relationship” instead of “marriage”.)

    * their ability to adopt a child may be hindered or denied;

    * hospital policies that limit extended visitation to family members may exclude the partner;

    * when one member of the couple dies, with retirement benefits still payable, those benefits may not be disbursed to the partner.

    I expect there are more, possibly many more. I haven’t studied the matter closely, but these are the examples I’ve seen raised repeatedly.

    Please don’t start a silly argument about how people will pretend to be gay just to get a tax break. When same-sex couples have or adopt children (and yes, those who want to are just as well qualified to be good parents as hetero couples), then they deserve the same tax considerations granted to other families.

  26. SteveK says:

    Otto.
    I meant “inequality”. My mistake. I’ll come back.

    (I did it twice and had to edit. Dang!)

  27. Doug says:

    @Otto,
    You seem to be hung up on some legalities of your cause. And you seem to project evil intent toward the implications of those legalities on those you perceive as your opponents. No offense, but there are some here who are far more interested in the philosophy and the psychology than the legality. I asked you a psychology question, and you came back as if it was a legal question (jumping to conclude a legal position that you imagined I must take, no less).

    If you actually read what we’ve written, rather than take this forum as an opportunity to berate folks who don’t even come here, the discussion will be considerably more interesting, I assure you.

  28. SteveK says:

    Otto,

    When same-sex couples are not granted the legal status of a spousal relationship:

    What do you mean by this, exactly? They *can* enter into a legally recognized relationship called civil union so I’m not sure you are properly informed.

    * they do not have the option of filing joint tax returns. (If the term “marriage” must remain “sacred”, then let tax code refer to “spousal relationship” instead of “marriage”.)

    * their ability to adopt a child may be hindered or denied;

    * hospital policies that limit extended visitation to family members may exclude the partner;

    * when one member of the couple dies, with retirement benefits still payable, those benefits may not be disbursed to the partner.

    Have you considered this solution: extend these “rights” (they aren’t, but I’m going along with it for now) to couples that have entered into a legal civil union (which they can already do)? The problem then goes away. Why aren’t you arguing for this instead?

  29. Holopupenko says:

    Otto:

    You’re really not a very smart fellow, among other things this ignorant gem: With only a religious basis for banning gay marriage…. Okay, back up your words: demonstrate now for everyone that we’re “only” dealing on a religious level.

    (long, pregnant, uncomfortable pause… again)

    Yeah, right, just like you ignored the challenge to back up other nonsense @119 @ “WHAT MADE THIS DUST INTO A MEANING-MAKER?” We’re not going to hold our breaths… for a coward.

    Doug & SteveK:

    You’ll notice an important (and deadly) implication of those who are trying (heh… trying objectively… and failing) to decry objective meaning, purpose, free will, etc. It serves their purposes well: if one believes there is no non-rational purpose (= orderliness) in, e.g., the “heart,” then no organ, no organism, no idea, no nothing has objective purpose, meaning, etc. (Leave aside, for the moment, that not a SINGLE argument has been provided and their collective opinion can be reduced to “why not?”)

    Guess what this means? They can then emptily assert that, e.g., the male-to-male sexual act is “without purpose or meaning” and hence “okay.” Forget the direct biological dangers posed by that act (the organ INTENDED for (made for) the propagation of life plunged into the orifice INTENDED for (made for) the expulsion of death and decay), i.e., forget the SCIENTIFICALLY-based and documented dangers (do the research yourself Otto… except don’t discount the findings just because they make you uncomfortable), forget the solid religious arguments. Just focus on the naturally ordered biological functioning of said organ: to oppose its purpose (i.e., its natural biological function)–non-scientifically and pseudo-philosophically–is what Otto is about.

    Otto opposes natural biological functions because it’s about him–it’s about what HE wants, it’s about his personal, subjective, emotional needs, it’s about the power he wants to wield even against Nature or those who oppose his unnatural nuttiness. And he (as do others) justifies his campaign by first decrying those things that stand in his way: he a priori opposes religious faith (‘it’s all stupid’), science (‘homosexual acts are safe’), and sound philosophical reasoning (‘purpose and meaning are at best subjective’). That’s the game… and all of life–all of reality–is one big game for the strongest to “win.” [NOTE: single-quotation-signs are NOT concrete attributions but summaries of positions.]

  30. Otto Tellick says:

    I’m wondering how closely Tom Gilson monitors the posts of the less-thinking Christians as they flail against the “loyal opposition”. Or maybe the “discussion policy” only applies to the opposition?

    I see that Holopupenko can be counted on to supply flame bait, throwing terms like “ignorant” and “coward” at the non-theists. putting ridiculous assertions in their mouths, and — did I read this right? — describing me as a homosexual who “wants to wield power against nature”, rather than presenting a coherent argument or intelligent, thoughtful questions.

    Holypoopinko has no business making groundless, nonsensical statements about my personal life. He happens to be entirely wrong, of course, but that’s beside the point.

    The one thing worth responding to in that screed:

    demonstrate now for everyone that we’re “only” dealing on a religious level.

    There are no secular humanist organizations campaigning against gay rights. None. Only religious organizations are doing this, and they present no actual evidence to support their position, only appeals to history, popular position, and discrimination justified by religious scripture. Just like the slave owners did in the good old days.

    Now, can you actually dispute that with any real truth? Can you demonstrate that you are dealing on anything other than a religious level? No? I didn’t think so.

  31. Otto Tellick says:

    To SteveK: Thanks for your remarks. I actually agree with you that the civil unions you speak of provide a working solution to the core problems. I don’t know how widely they are implemented (are they available in all states?), or whether they are uniformly recognized as legally equivalent to marriage by both government and private institutions (is a civil-union partner always granted the same status as a member of a husband-wife marriage?)

    Let’s assume that the equivalence is complete and stable — the state, in effect, places no barrier or hindrance on same-sex unions relative to “traditional marriage”. Let’s also recognize that there are in fact religious organizations that do not oppose gay marriage.

    Given all that, what point is there in seeking legislation that explicitly bans gay marriage? What benefit does that produce? What damage or danger does it mitigate? None, none, and none.

    It’s okay for people to have attitudes against same-sex unions — that’s just a matter of intolerance based on ignorance about gay people. It’s not okay to have those attitudes implemented as law — that’s a violation of guaranteed rights.

    To put it another way, people who don’t like gays are bound to have redeeming qualities, and let’s not get hung up on their attitudes. People who voted for Proposition 8 in California were wrong, and their mistake should be corrected.

  32. SteveK says:

    Otto,

    Given all that, what point is there in seeking legislation that explicitly bans gay marriage?

    To prevent marriage from being legally redefined unnecessarily by others. It’s a defensive measure against such a thing.

    If someone tried to legally redefine “retired person” to include 20 year old’s, it seems reasonable to fight that on the grounds that it’s too young of an age. Or would you say this is age discrimination?

    Now let me ask you a question, Otto: What is the point in seeking legislation for gay ‘marriage’ when it’s not required to resolve that list of so-called inequalities that you gave?

    What benefit does that produce? What damage or danger does it mitigate?

    You want a new law on the books and you are asking me to justify not voting for it? Okay, it’s unnecessary. That’s all the justification I really need. You, however, need to explain why we do need it. I recall you saying there was a legal reason. What was it again?

    People who voted for Proposition 8 in California were wrong, and their mistake should be corrected.

    You haven’t given me an argument to show that this is actually true. I stated that there was no inequality with respect to the relationship itself, and you agreed saying: “I actually agree with you that the civil unions you speak of provide a working solution to the core problems”.

    In what way was the vote wrong then?

  33. Melissa says:

    Otto,

    and — did I read this right? — describing me as a homosexual who “wants to wield power against nature”,

    No you didn’t. He was talking about you thinking you can impose your own meaning and purposes on natural things.

  34. Alex Dawson says:

    @SteveK

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you’re happy for those in a civil union to have a same legal rights (of all but naming) as those are married.

    If someone tried to legally redefine “retired person” to include 20 year old’s, it seems reasonable to fight that on the grounds that it’s too young of an age. Or would you say this is age discrimination?

    If my initial assumption is true, the above seems to me to be an incredibly false analogy, as 20 years olds do not have the same legal rights (with regards to entitlements such as pensions) as do retired persons.

    To construct an analagous situation you would need two sets of people who have all the same legal entitlements, except solely for naming rights. Perhaps there is such an example, but I can’t immediately think of one.

    If people are happy for civil unions to exist, then this merely becomes a much more benign naming issue. I personally think whether or not the name is changed is not really of much significance to either side. For it seems to me most people are happy to accept the concept of “unionship” applying to either pairing, whereas some people think that “marriage” is a special, distinct type of unionship. Suppose that ontological Unionship and Marriage are in fact distinct, but civil unions are legally allowed to be called marriages. To me it would seem natural that the word marriage would then refer to ontological Unionship, and then a more explicit term, perhaps with a prefix, say true-marriage or natural-marriage (or a new word altogether) could be used to refer to ontological Marriage. The only change would be to arbitrary human language (which is always in the process of change) rather than changing ontological reality, so what is the big deal? After all, legal naming merely determines what people are to be referred to in public, rather than dictating what ontological reality one is to accept.

  35. Holopupenko says:

    Otto:

    demonstrate now for everyone that we’re “only” dealing on a religious level.

    Do it (as well as the other noted challenges) and stop deflecting. Your response (“There is no secular organization yadda-yadda…”) merely indicates you prefer non sequiturs to logic. Do it now, or keep your tapper shut.

  36. SteveK says:

    Alex,

    If my initial assumption is true, the above seems to me to be an incredibly false analogy, as 20 years olds do not have the same legal rights (with regards to entitlements such as pensions) as do retired persons.

    False? Many 20 year old’s don’t work so in that respect they are just like retired senior citizens.

    To construct an analagous situation you would need two sets of people who have all the same legal entitlements, except solely for naming rights. Perhaps there is such an example, but I can’t immediately think of one.

    Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Civil Engineers and Mechanical Engineers. There are many.

    I personally think whether or not the name is changed is not really of much significance to either side.

    Would you legally fight an attempt by the Girls Scouts to co-opt the name of the Boy Scouts? I would. Am I being unreasonable in my request that different groups of people be named differently because they are different?

    For it seems to me most people are happy to accept the concept of “unionship” applying to either pairing, whereas some people think that “marriage” is a special, distinct type of unionship.

    Some people? Most think it is special and distinct. Gay people think it is too. Let me explain.

    Gay people are called gay or homosexual or same-sex because they think they are a special and distinct group. They celebrate being ‘gay’ rather than being ‘human beings’. They seek legislation on the basis of them being homosexual.

    By their very words and actions they think they are special and distinct and they LIKE to be referred to that way both socially and legally?

    Seems very hypocritical to now argue that there is no difference.

    But let’s not get distracted. Let’s get back to the original claim that Otto was making. The original claim was a claim of legal inequality and discrimination.

  37. Alex Dawson says:

    SteveK,

    False? Many 20 year old’s don’t work so in that respect they are just like retired senior citizens.

    I think you missed my point with regards to analogy; in the (hypothetical) case of civil unions/marriages having exactly the same legal rights except naming rights. Showing that there are some parallels between 20 year olds and retired persons is not nearly the same as saying that they have exactly the same legal rights except naming rights (and indeed there are different legal rights entitled to those two groups), and therefore it is not analogous.

    Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Civil Engineers and Mechanical Engineers. There are many.

    I appreciate that I phrased my first point about this rather ambiguously. I’ll think if I can make the point more precisely. Your examples seem to back the opposite position, however. There are Scouts, and you can distinguish between Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. There are Engineers, and you can distinguish between Civil and Mechanical Engineers. So why not similarly simply have marriages, and you can then distinguish between gay and straight marriages?

    Some people? Most think it is special and distinct.

    Quite possibly in the US, but certainly here in the UK there is good evidence to suggest the majority opinion lies on the other side (which I have presented before). Regardless, my point was that you can still very easily make that distinction even if both types of union are called marriage.

    Gay people are called gay or homosexual or same-sex because they think they are a special and distinct group. They celebrate being ‘gay’ rather than being ‘human beings’. They seek legislation on the basis of them being homosexual.

    By their very words and actions they think they are special and distinct and they LIKE to be referred to that way both socially and legally?

    Seems very hypocritical to now argue that there is no difference.

    I would be very careful about making grandiose claims about others’ positions. While undoubtedly there are some vocal people with such an attitude, there are many who are more reasonable and nuanced. I read a good article in The Times on this matter, although I think it may be subscriber blocked. [A summary can also be found here – it misses most of the argument however].

    While I’m no expert on such matters, what I understand is that is at least somewhat accepted that in fact there is a spectrum/continuum of human sexuality, and it is at least in some cases somewhat fluid. The polarisation of sexuality as gay/straight has mainly come about through social pressures and only recently in history being more commonly seen as identity-defining (the terms homosexual and heterosexual only really have been in usage since the 20th century).

    I would entirely agree with you that is peculiar to define one’s identity by their sexuality, and I don’t think people with a strongly homosexual sexuality are bound to do so, although of course individuals are free to choose do so. It is an incredibly narrow aspect of human experience (and a relatively unimportant one) to base one’s identity upon at the expense of all else.

    They celebrate being ‘gay’ rather than being ‘human beings’. They seek legislation on the basis of them being homosexual.

    Again, I can’t definitely claim numbers, but I would imagine most seek legislation for exactly the reason that they are human beings. Unionship is about so much more than sexuality – people are legally free to have as much sex they want without getting married/having a civil union. It is about publically and legally recognising commited companionship, partnership, and much else besides. If such unions are legally recognised between opposite-sex couples, then the equality of both same-sex/opposite-sex couples being equally human (and equally capable of such unions) is the reason that same-sex couples ought to be equally legally recognised.

  38. SteveK says:

    Alex,
    Thanks for your comments. You want to discuss naming conventions, but I came here wanting to discuss Otto’s claims about immorality, inequality and discrimination. Do you have any thoughts about that?

  39. Alex Dawson says:

    Apologies for rambling off on a tangent a bit, there’s just a lot of debate in the UK media at the moment on gay marriage, which is why its on my mind.

    Can’t stay long I’m afraid, will probably vanish again for a while after this, but thank you for the thoughts, always good to get ideas going back and forth.

    To summarise:

    Apologies if I’m being thick, but I can’t quite dissect exactly what immorality Otto is claiming.

    I would agree with Otto (and I think you also?) that where non-naming legal inequality exists between marriages/civil unions (such as those in #25), it ought to be rectified.

    Discrimination is a bit of a tricky one. It can mean subtley different things, so by some interpretations yes and some no. While there are undoubtedly a few people out in the world who hold biased prejudiced views and argue as such, I have certainly not seen that expressed here. The “proper” mainstream arguments are reasonable, and where possible “discrimination” occurs, it is warranted with regards to a certain set of assumptions (which I don’t necessarily agree with). For example, an argument used against same-sex marriage is that same-sex partnerships should be discouraged. To someone who believes that homosexual sex is a sin, that is a reasonable position. To someone who believes that homosexual and heterosexual sex are equally moral, that could well be seen as discriminatory.

  40. Tom Gilson says:

    Well of course it’s discriminatory, but is it unjustly discriminatory? We discriminate all the time on almost everything. You discriminate against everyone you meet on the street by not offering them a copy of your house key. The question with discrimination is whether the grounds for discrimination is relevant on moral, social, political, etc. grounds.

  41. Alex Dawson says:

    Tom, I entirely agree. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear. There certainly seems to be no ill-intentioned/unjustified discrimination going on in mature discourse of the issue.

  42. d says:

    Holo,

    Guess what this means? They can then emptily assert that, e.g., the male-to-male sexual act is “without purpose or meaning” and hence “okay.” Forget the direct biological dangers posed by that act (the organ INTENDED for (made for) the propagation of life plunged into the orifice INTENDED for (made for) the expulsion of death and decay), i.e., forget the SCIENTIFICALLY-based and documented dangers (do the research yourself Otto… except don’t discount the findings just because they make you uncomfortable), forget the solid religious arguments. Just focus on the naturally ordered biological functioning of said organ: to oppose its purpose (i.e., its natural biological function)–non-scientifically and pseudo-philosophically–is what Otto is about.

    “… the expulsion of death and decay…”

    Seriously, I nearly spit out my drink on that one!! That’s satire worthy material right there. Thanks for the laugh!!

    Anyhow… you’re committing a blatant, egregious naturalistic fallacy here.

    But just in case I’m off base, let’s see the formal argument that (in a non-Christian, non-theist way) gets us from the existence of a particular biological function (the is), to the existence of a moral imperative to fulfill that biological function (the ought).

    This should be especially interesting since nearly everybody here argues that to go from is to ought in a non-religious way is logically impossible. But maybe some of you have conceded to my arguments to the contrary, that I’ve offered on many occasions?

    Also, hate to break it to you, but lesbians are the demographic with the lowest risk for sexually transmitted disease, heterosexuals included. By your logic, lesbian sexual acts must be morally magnificent!

  43. d says:

    Also, a further note –

    If you start slicing up the demographics in various ways (age, race, income level, etc) you’ll find all kinds of groups that rival homosexual men with their rates of disease transmission due to sexual activity. Poor African Americans fair the worst, relatively speaking, IIRC.

    Surely Holo, you don’t favor disallowing marriage between poor black people do you? Would you consider any policy to that effect racist? If so, then would you also consider the “religiously neutral” argument you offered against homosexuals, homophobic? What would the difference be?

    Should we just legally prohibit marriage for any group who engages in risky sexual behavior? Of course not. But that’s essentially what you are hinting at, and its obscenely absurd.

  44. Melissa says:

    D,

    This should be especially interesting since nearly everybody here argues that to go from is to ought in a non-religious way is logically impossible. But maybe some of you have conceded to my arguments to the contrary, that I’ve offered on many occasions?

    Nominalism creates the is-ought problem by denying formal and final causes. I’m not sure how you can have taken part in so many moral discussions with Holo and G. Rodrigues and missed that. You will not overcome the is-ought problem while you continue to deny the reality of objective meaning and purpose as integral features of the natural world.

  45. Tom Gilson says:

    The natural law (secular) argument against homosexuality requires some reading and thinking. I could link to an article. Are you up for it? Or would you rather pronounce Christians unthinking on the basis of your not thinking? (Wee bit of a personal challenge there, I’m sure you noticed.)

  46. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    “… the expulsion of death and decay…”

    Seriously, I nearly spit out my drink on that one!! That’s satire worthy material right there. Thanks for the laugh!!

    So you are trying to tell us that the anal orifice at the end of the intestine is not for the expulsion of excrements, the chemical, toxic result of the body’s natural digestion process? So tell us, what is its purpose? Does it have a purpose?

    But just in case I’m off base, let’s see the formal argument that (in a non-Christian, non-theist way) gets us from a primary biological function (the is), to the existence of a moral imperative to fulfill that biological function (the ought).

    What for d? This has actually been done several times already, but you never payed any attention. And just for the record, the argument does not start from a biological function and arrives at a “moral imperative to fulfill that biological function”, it is more nuanced than that. But have your laughs and damn all the nuances.

    And why should anyone here humor your demands, when again and again all you offer is groundless, baseless claims? When you fail to back them up with any cogent arguments? When you fail to respond to the challenges posed to you? As far I recall, Holopupenko said he would answer you if you acknowledged certain things: (after a few seconds scrounging) here it is.

    This should be especially interesting since nearly everybody here argues that to go from is to ought in a non-religious way is logically impossible.

    It fails on metaphysical naturalism, not in a “non-religious way”, and not because of any logical contradiction but on metaphysical grounds that Melissa succinctly spelled out. But I am repeating myself. But then again, so are you.

    But maybe some of you have conceded to my arguments to the contrary, that I’ve offered on many occasions?

    Arguments? Offered on many occasions? Chuckle.

  47. SteveK says:

    d,
    What Melissa said in #44 could not be more true. Consider me very surprised by your inability to “get it” after all this time. Are you even listening?

    and then there is this:

    Should we just legally prohibit marriage for any group who engages in risky sexual behavior?

    There is no law on the books that prevents two people from living together and sharing their life together as a committed couple. Once again, you have shown that you aren’t listening.

  48. Tom Gilson says:

    G. Rodrigues, you said,

    So tell us, what is its purpose? Does it have a purpose?

    Great question. Probably one that d’s chosen philosophy won’t be able to address, since it’s a teleological thing.

  49. Tom Gilson says:

    The is-ought problem even applies to the health effects under discussion here. Is there on naturalism any non-question begging way to move from “Sexual practice x is more/less healthy than practice y” to “Sexual practice is morally approvable/not approvable”?

    I contend that the word “morally” drops out of the equation completely, on naturalism. If the naturalist is going to condemn any practice of any kind whatsoever, it’s going to be on some non-moral grounds. It might be dressed up in the language of “ought,” but behind that language, it’s nothing more than, “I don’t like that!” or “I like that!” And the “morals” of a society/culture are determined by which “moral” decision has the most cultural, legal, artistic, and educational power behind it.

    Let me simplify what I just said. It’s the same thing only plainer: If naturalism is true, the “morals” of a society are actually expressions of the preferences of the power-holders; or (even simpler) the culture’s morality is just what the powerful prefer.

  50. Tom Gilson says:

    But I’m still willing to link to that article if any of the homosexuality-supporters here will commit to reading it thoughtfully.

  51. d says:

    Melissa,

    For the up-teenth time, I understand your challenges, and their challenges. They just don’t work. Final and formal causes simply aren’t necessary to overcome the is-ought problem, from my metaphysical perspective. Part of the confusion is that is and ought themselves actually have different ontological underpinnings in my metaphysical perspective, when compared with yours. And that’s the nuance (apparently the word of the day) you, Holo, and G. Rodrigues always seem to stumble over. I’m not trying to account for your ontology of “ought”, “good”, or even “moral”. And until you guys get this point, your debates on this front will always be fruitless.

  52. Tom Gilson says:

    d, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t recall you explaining your metaphysical perspective in clear enough terms that I could get it. How does it do what you say it can do? I’d be very willing to find that out and to try to understand it.

  53. d says:

    SteveK,

    I refuse to believe that you are THAT oblivious to the concerns of the same-sex marriage movement. Hand waving their concerns away with a “well you guys can legally live together, shouldn’t that be enough?” doesn’t cut it, and I think you know that.

    Either way, Holo’s post tried to offer up the various health issues surrounding homosexuality as a (non-religious) reason to prohibit same-sex marriages. But that principle, broadly applied, would lead us to prohibit marriages for any demographic that suffers high rates of sexually related health issues. Selectively applying it only to homosexuals would be blatant bias. And as I pointed out, gay men are only half of the equation. Lesbians are strikingly free from most of the sexual health issues that plague not only gay men, but heterosexuals as well. So then it seems that Holo’s principle, if it succeeded, would only give us grounds to prohibit same-sex marriages between men, but not women.

    In fact, many of the cultural initiatives out there to reduce sexual health problems in some heterosexual communities (poor minorities, etc) might be the same answers for the same-sex community as well. Trying to encourage abstinence, safe-sex, commitment, sexual restraint, and yes – monogamous marriage – might just be what gay men need to live healthier lives. Inviting them into the traditional framework of monogamous marriage might actually be part of the cure to the ills Holo is talking about.

  54. Tom Gilson says:

    Let me add this to that: what you say is possible in your metaphysics is something I’ve never seen accomplished in anyone’s philosophy. I think I’m probably speaking for others here when I say that. You have to understand how hard it is for us to accept that there is a philosophy that can do what you say yours can do. We haven’t seen it done successfully anywhere else, and (speaking for myself now) I haven’t seen you make it clear here.

    So I’m inviting you to do that now, and if you’ve done it before and I’ve missed it, I trust you’ll accept my apologies, and then go ahead and tell me again.

  55. d says:

    Tom,

    That might be true, I might not have been articulate enough to illustrate my points clearly. (though I did clearly define moral terms, IIRC)

    I’ve been toying with the idea of a blog – maybe moral ontology would be a good place to start. It seems I’d need my own forum to give the proper space.

  56. Tom Gilson says:

    d, this is poorly thought through:

    Either way, Holo’s post tried to offer up the various health issues surrounding homosexuality as a reason to prohibit same-sex marriages. But that principle, broadly applied, would lead us to prohibit marriages for any demographic that suffers high rates of sexually related health issues.

    What Holo is saying is not that we should re-define legal marriage based on narrow health demographics. He is saying instead that health considerations provide one reason (there are others) not to re-define marriage (legally or otherwise).

    In other words, this debate is over the re-definition of marriage. Narrow-demographic health concerns do not justify a change in what we consider marriage to be. Your application of his principle fails because you apply it in the wrong place.

    Please watch your confirmation bias, d. It’s leading you into illogic.

  57. d says:

    Tom,

    I have never encountered a moral ontology has decidedly overcome *all* of its various criticisms and exists unblemished, theist moral ontologies included (one might say, especially theist moral ontologies).

    I just have to say you guys must read non-theist moral philosophy with a starkly uncharitable eye – there are tons of non-theist moral theories that can be defended to various degrees, and many admirably. I think there are many that can be defended *at least* as well as any theist moral theory out there, such that a fair minded person wouldn’t feel so confident in sweeping claims like “morality is logically impossible given naturalism”, etc.

  58. Doug says:

    there are tons of non-theist moral theories that can be defended to various degrees, and many admirably.

    Really? Whatever became of “desirism” — you know, the only non-theist moral theory that “the common sense atheist” found tenable?

  59. Tom Gilson says:

    d, the question is whether there is an ontology that can justify the is-ought move that you claim can be made.

    Somehow you’ve taken my question about that, and made us out to be “uncharitable” for not recognizing that different moral approaches might be defensible. That wasn’t what we were talking about.

    Furthermore, I didn’t say “morality is logically impossible given naturalism.” I have said that moral realism is impossible given naturalism; and that the “ought” under naturalism is a different kind of ought; it is the ought of cultural/personal preference rather than the ought of real moral duty and value.

    Now I might have come to that conclusion by reading uncharitably, or I might have come to it by reading naturalists who come to the very same conclusion, Richard Joyce for one; and by reading naturalists like Sam Harris who think naturalism supports moral realism but are identifiably wrong. Just because there are “non-theist moral theories that can be defended to various degrees” does not mean that any of them successfully defend moral realism.

    Anyway, I said I don’t think philosophical position y has ever been successfully proposed. You say I’m uncharitable, not fair-minded, etc., for doubting that positions a, b, c, d have been proposed successfully.

    Isn’t there something uncharitable about shifting terms like that and calling me bad for something I didn’t even say?

  60. d says:

    Doug,

    As far as I know, its still around. Luke, last time I saw, still thinks something like it is most probably true, though many of its terms would need refining in light of things he has learned in his ongoing studies.

    But there’s a considerable, vast world of naturalist, secular moral ontology out there beyond desirism. You do yourself a disservice to be so laser focused on it.

  61. Doug says:

    @d,
    FWIW, here is another bit of evidence in support of Tom’s contention.

    “Laser focused”? Whence? The point was simply that it was Luke (not uncharitable theists) who found all the other moral theories wanting… in spite of their purported “admirable defenses”.

  62. Tom Gilson says:

    d, if you want to write up your philosophical perspective without starting your own blog, I’ll give you a space here for it.

    In the meantime, I trust you’ll understand why we haven’t caught the nuances of which you speak: we haven’t seen them articulated.

  63. d says:

    @Tom, #56:

    I think that might be a distinction without a difference. Same-sex marriage is legal in many places (states and countries) – if there was a ballot initiative to revert the definition of marriage in any of these places, would Holo cite health issues as one (non-religious) reason to vote for it? I think probably so, though maybe I’m wrong.

    Anyhow, running out of time for today, I’ll write something up eventually on the moral thing, since you expressed interest.

  64. Tom Gilson says:

    You say, “I think that might be a distinction without a difference.”

    I say you’re not seeing what’s in front of your face. There’s a significant difference between changing the centuries-old, stable, working definition of marriage (not that marriage always works, but its definition has!) and not changing it. How hard is that?

  65. d says:

    Tom,

    Sorry, one more.

    Your use of “centuries old” seems to smuggle in some other types of considerations (age, tradition, etc) that have nothing to do with the health reasons under discussion. But anyhow… your distinction results in an oddity. In some places, the definition of marriage already includes same-sex couples.

    In town A, same-sex relationships are included in the definition of marriage. There is a ballot initiative that will exclude same-sex couples from its definition.

    In town B, same-sex relationships are not included in the definition of marriage. There is a ballot initiative that will include same-sex relationships into the definition of marriage.

    So if we go by the distinction you recognize in Holo’s argument, we come to a rather counterintuitive result. In town A, health issues do not count as a reason to vote for the initiative, but in town B health reasons count as a reason to vote for the initiative. That’s just bizarre and veers close to contradictory.

    Not to mention, there are ballot initiatives specifically in states with ambigious language to ammend the definition of marriage specifically to exclude same-sex couples. There’s one of these happening in NC right now (and I can’t wait to go proudly vote against it) – so where does your distinction leave us? Are health issues a reason to vote for it, or against it?

  66. Tom Gilson says:

    You don’t get it. Of course it has nothing to do with the health considerations. My point is that changing the definition of marriage is different from not changing the definition of marriage. That point holds whether you’re talking about health considerations or anything else whatsoever. The point is that your analogy is not valid.

    Why, why, why won’t you get past your biases and read what’s on the page???

    Both town A and town B are asking (and proposing answers to) the question, “Shall the definition of marriage be altered?” The same thing goes for statewide ballot initiatives.

    See?

    You’re demonstrating my point! And you can’t even see it!

    It’s your bias at work!

    If you’re going to pose a counter-argument to Holo’s health argument, feel free to do so. By all means. But for the sake of rationality, kindly drop the one you’ve been trying to foist on us here. It’s an argument from analogy, but there’s no analogy there. Thus there’s no argument there.

    Please let go of your bias long enough to see what’s rational, okay?

  67. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    I’m not trying to account for your ontology of “ought”, “good”, or even “moral”. And until you guys get this point, your debates on this front will always be fruitless.

    Nobody, and I repeat NOBODY, has ever asked you to account for *our* metaphysical notions and ontology, that would be akin to ask you to defend our positions. The claim is that *your* metaphysics is as shriveled and dry as the carcass of a dead dog after being picked on by vultures, eaten by the sun and rattled by the desert wind. The argument(s) are metaphysical, but they do not inject any foreign notions on your metaphysics. They show that the desired conclusions do not follow from the premises, simply because the premises are not strong enough to justify a damn thing, and surely not an *objective* morality. And for the umpteenth time it is not a matter of logical contradiction but metaphysical paltriness. You do know the difference, don’t you? That you are unable to understand them, it is *your* problem. To quote from Dr. Johnson, the greatest, wisest and most humane of all literary critics, and my lifelong hero, we have found you an argument, we are not under the obligation to find you an understanding. If there is someone here who does not “get it”, it is you and you alone.

    And arguments? None. Just the claim that there is a vast world of naturalist moral realism that we have all missed that you “think” that “can be defended *at least* as well as any theist moral theory out there”. Wow, holy crap, you think? You sure fool me, but if you thought otherwise, you would not be here defending naturalism would you? And guess what, I can play the same game: there is vast world out there substantiating theist moral realism that your philosophy does not even conceive of. Game, set, match.

  68. d says:

    Tom,

    It looks to me like you find this idea that “changing the definition of marriage is different from not changing it” attractive, perhaps because it helps you maintain some rhetorical advantage in debates where your principled vision of marriage is likely to go over as well as a lead balloon. It forces everybody else to continually justify their position and appeal to some values of yours, while you have to do next to nothing. It’s also probably pretty handy for avoiding charges of prejudice. But it appears quite disingenuous to me. Whether by changing the law or not changing the law, one is upholding a particular principled vision of marriage. And its those principles that are under debate.

    Certainly the principle behind the greater opposition to SSM sure isn’t “The definition of marriage shouldn’t be legally amended”. It’s “marriage should be between one and man and one woman”, as evidenced by things like the widespread conservative, religious support for Prop 8-like bill (Amendment One) here in NC – which is not a step to prevent some amendment to marriage, but to actually actively amend it.

    And as for Holo, nowhere did he claim a secular reason to oppose SSM is to be found in the principle that “marriage just shouldn’t be amended”. It was in the principle that “gay lifestyles cause health issues”. And as I already pointed out, if one wants to offer “marriage just shouldn’t be amended” as one secular reason to oppose SSM, it could only be so in jurisdictions that didnt already have SSM included in the law books already. So its not a per se objection to SSM.

  69. Tom Gilson says:

    d,

    It looks to me like you find this idea that “changing the definition of marriage is different from not changing it” attractive, perhaps because it helps you maintain some rhetorical advantage in debates where your principled vision of marriage is likely to go over as well as a lead balloon.

    Oh, for Pete’s sake.

  70. Tom Gilson says:

    d,

    1. Changing the definition of marriage is different from not changing it.
    2. “The definition of marriage shouldn’t be legally amended” is functionally equivalent to “marriage should be between one and man and one woman.” So you can’t distinguish the two as being different principles.
    3. Your assessment of Amendment One sounds ridiculous on the face of it. I invite you to explain how preserving the existing definition of marriage is actively amending the existing definition of marriage.

    In fact, I invite you again to consider these things against your strong bias.

    4. No one here is idiotic enough to suggest that “marriage just shouldn’t be amended” counts as an argument. Why did you find it worth bringing up making up in this context?

    I have asked you twice before whether you want to read a natural law (secular) explanation for the position I hold. Have I missed your answer? Have you said you’re willing to discuss it? Or would you rather pick on what you consider to be Holopupenko’s easy target, even though for that you have (as far as I have observed) offered no counter-argument except for the one with the failed attempt at analogy?

  71. SteveK says:

    d,

    Certainly the principle behind the greater opposition to SSM sure isn’t “The definition of marriage shouldn’t be legally amended”. It’s “marriage should be between one and man and one woman”,

    That’s likely true. What you need to do is give us reasons why marriage *shouldn’t* be limited to one man and one woman. The reasons you give all fail because they don’t address the underlying problems that you say exist. Let me explain.

    We are told that the change is needed to put an end to illegal discrimination. But is this true? No. All of the perceived discrimination – whether real or not – can be solved by other legal means. If gays want hospital visitation privileges and adoption privileges, they can go after expanding the rights of couples who are in state-recognized civil unions – of which they are members already.

    The fact that the gay movement doesn’t want to do it this way says they are content with those in civil unions being discriminated against. Don’t gays want to fix that problem too, or is this just about them?

    Because it’s not necessary to change the definition of marriage we (your opposition) are justified in saying “no thanks”. I don’t need to invoke religion in order to make that argument. The gay movement has other legal options, use them.

    Now, if you want to say it’s immoral to make gays fight for their perceived legal rights by other means, then go ahead and make that argument. I haven’t heard anyone do that though. Will you? Will they? If so, THEN I will invoke my religious convictions.

    In fact, I will do that any time I am charged with being mean-spirited, hateful or immoral. And then we will be back to discussing morality where subjective morality can’t objectively defeat moral realism.

  72. Alex Dawson says:

    I found reading this analysis of marriage in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy very useful the other day. It wholesomely reviews the arguments for both sides of the same-sex marriage debate, although I think there are some flaws in the critical examination, and I’m sure that the arguments presented are by no means exhaustive . It’s certainly helping me to reflect upon and refine my position (which is still in a bit of a flux). I may pop back into SSM debate and expound some ideas if it continues.

  73. d says:

    SteveK,

    What discrimatory issue does same-sex marriage solve? Well, gee. Let’s think. It allows homosexuals to marry one another and take part in a time-honored instutition that the rest of us get to enjoy, in a way that’s harmonious with their nature. No further justification should be needed in a country that allegedly values egalitarianism, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    But, if you are willing to grant homosexuals all the same rights and partnership recognitions of marriage in every respect but the term we use to reference it, one has to wonder just what your attatchment to the particular word “marriage” is, and what you hope to accomplish by so stubbornly clinging to it. Why should anybody give any kind of consideration to such a seemingly useless and silly semantic quibble? Its absurd.

    Second, creating a “seperate, but equal” legal and beurocratic structure just to deal with civil unions is superflous and is, in and of itself, a form of discrimination. Can we gaurentee that adjustments for one instiution will be mirrored in the other, so that inequalities don’t creep in over time? Doubtful.

    Third, civil unions are actually different, most notably being that there is no such thing as a federal civil union and no legal framework for it. Here is a nice breakdown: http://www.factcheck.org/what_is_a_civil_union.html

  74. SteveK says:

    d,

    t allows homosexuals to marry one another and take part in a time-honored instutition that the rest of us get to enjoy, in a way that’s harmonious with their nature.

    This same end-result can be achieved already.

    Why should anybody give any kind of consideration to such a seemingly useless and silly semantic quibble? Its absurd.

    You can’t have it both ways. If it’s a silly quibble then your fight to co-opt the term is silly and absurd. Give it up.

    Second, creating a “seperate, but equal” legal and beurocratic structure just to deal with civil unions is superflous and is, in and of itself, a form of discrimination.

    What extra bureaucratic structure? Is there a separate building that deals with marriages only – or an office with doors that say “Civil’s Only”?

    Can we gaurentee that adjustments for one instiution will be mirrored in the other, so that inequalities don’t creep in over time? Doubtful.

    Can you give me a reason to think we ought to just rubber-stamp everything rather than evaluate each change / request based on the merits? The latter method seems to be the more reasoned and thoughtful approach.

    Third, civil unions are actually different, most notably being that there is no such thing as a federal civil union and no legal framework for it.

    Long ago there wasn’t one for marriage either. If you want one, do the work.

  75. d says:

    SteveK,

    Can you really not see that the problem is YOURS here, when you say:

    You can’t have it both ways. If it’s a silly quibble then your fight to co-opt the term is silly and absurd. Give it up.

    No, its you who try to play it off as a silly quibble, since you act as if your willing to give homosexuals everything they want except the term and that they’re somehow wrong to reject all that.

    But the fact that you resist using the term “marriage” for same-sex partnerships suggests that you feel there is something more to it than mere semantics, which undermines your points, about a separate but equal legal institution called civil unions. I’m afraid YOU can’t have it both ways.

  76. SteveK says:

    d,

    No, its you who try to play it off as a silly quibble, since you act as if your willing to give homosexuals everything they want except the term and that they’re somehow wrong to reject all that.

    It’s not silly to refer to different things using different terms. It’s reasonable. It’s rational.

    But the fact that you resist using the term “marriage” for same-sex partnerships suggests that you feel there is something more to it than mere semantics, which undermines your points, about a separate but equal legal institution called civil unions.

    Words mean things, and marriage means something specific. Give me your thoughts on this, d….

    Looking back at history, would you approve the idea of women co-opting the term man in order to gain the same legal rights that men had? Or how about negros (the old term that was used)? If they tried to co-opt the term white in order to gain legal equality, would that make sense?

    I’m afraid YOU can’t have it both ways.

    I want it one way. I want different things to use different terminology for the sake of clarity. Since when did that become a problem?

  77. Alex Dawson says:

    Apologies for backtracking on my position (still reading and learning, please take everything I say presently tentatively), but I think that the social consequences of changing the naming perhaps is more significant than I thought after all. I’m no social scientist by any means which was why I was initially skeptical, but after reading a number of things I can better appreciate arguments with regards to social goods associated with cultural institutions and the connotations associated with names. It in fact seems to be the crux of the argument in the dispute over same-sex marriage.

    Of course one could object to the idea of social consequences arising from semantic change, but (assuming they support all other legal rights of same-sex unions) I think in that case they would have no means to object to a naming change in either direction (certainly seemingly no strong ones).

    Given that they are psychological, social, and other benefits to same-sex unions being legally called marriage (for example, but not limited to, being fully legally recognised by more foreign countries [I find the social goods a lot more powerful but haven’t worked out how to articulate them well yet]), bar negative consequences of redefining marriage from man-woman to genderless, it seems reasonable to make such a change.*

    I also think it is significant to clarify what secular civil marriage is taken to mean, as this is critical in determining whether or not it is beneficial/detrimental/possible to apply the definition beyond man-woman. I would be tempted by the “close personal relationship” model with an ideal of being “a partnership of equals with equal rights, who have mutually joined to form a new family unit, founded upon shared intimacy and mutual financial and emotional support.” Although please do offer up an alternative if you wish, and perhaps expand on why it ought to be kept as a man-woman definition only?

    *NB – I am well aware there are plenty of arguments of such negative effects, but I thought I’d see what points are actually raised rather than tackle straw men.

  78. d says:

    SteveK,

    Alex Dawson just said it better than I would have in #77. See his post.

    And for the record, I have trouble honestly believing you so passionately fight for the term marriage for reasons of mere practical demarcation, like its all just a matter of bookkeeping, like your last post implied. Not for a second, actually.

  79. d says:

    Tom,

    1. Changing the definition of marriage is different from not changing it.

    Whether, in support of his principles, one acts to uphold the status quo or to change it, there is little meaningful difference, Tom. Choices are made on principle in either case,

    2. “The definition of marriage shouldn’t be legally amended” is functionally equivalent to “marriage should be between one and man and one woman.” So you can’t distinguish the two as being different principles.

    That’s not necessarily true, as I pointed out SSM is legal in several states and countries.

    3. Your assessment of Amendment One sounds ridiculous on the face of it. I invite you to explain how preserving the existing definition of marriage is actively amending the existing definition of marriage.

    I’ll let you google amendment one, if you’re interested. But in short, it was an unprovoked constitutional amendment – an active move to amend the constitution and change the law of the state.

    4. No one here is idiotic enough to suggest that “marriage just shouldn’t be amended” counts as an argument. Why did you find it worth bringing up making up in this context?

    But that’s the principle you rely on in order to salvage Holo’s points from reductio oblivion. Furthermore, I’m afraid all this has gotten rather departed from the words (read: rant) I was actually responding too, which had no context with respect to the law.

    I have asked you twice before whether you want to read a natural law (secular) explanation for the position I hold. Have I missed your answer? Have you said you’re willing to discuss it? Or would you rather pick on what you consider to be Holopupenko’s easy target, even though for that you have (as far as I have observed) offered no counter-argument except for the one with the failed attempt at analogy?

    First, I think “secular” natural law is about as secular as intelligent design. Its religious philosophy with a search/replace done on sectarian religious jargon, with references to deities scratched out. This might explain why “secular” natural law arguments seem to be popular only among theists.

    Second, I think natural law is really just another name for naturalistic fallacy.

    Third, I am familiar with the perverted faculty natural law argument, at least, and even if you give it a pass on the naturalistic fallacy, it’s still untenable and ostensibly refuted. Even if one considers it generally sound, there’s so much wiggle room in arguing primary functions, secondary functions, and which can be impeded for the sake what, etc… it becomes really just an expression of personal bias. Its really hard to think of any argument so plagued – which, again, might explain why no secular people actually believe it.

    But if you have something better, by all means, offer it up here.

  80. SteveK says:

    d,

    I have trouble honestly believing you so passionately fight for the term marriage for reasons of mere practical demarcation, like its all just a matter of bookkeeping, like your last post implied.

    I never said it was just a matter of “bookkeeping”. There are at least 2 issues on the table and I never said otherwise.

    One is the claim (by your side) that the difference in terminology is absurd / silly. I’ve given you reasons to think it is not absurd, that the distinction is legitimate and reasonable. The law thrives on precise definitions for the sake of clarity.

    The other is the claim (by your side) that unjustified discrimination is occurring. This problem, if there is one, can be resolved without watering down the terminology. You could do it that way, but we need reasons to do it that way.

    And as mentioned above, negros didn’t ask to be legally referred to as white / caucasian when they sought to resolve their inequality problems. Why is that?

  81. d says:

    Stevek,

    I offered you reasons (and once again, I’ll refer back to Alex’s post, more detailed treatments).

    As for negros – Yes, they did fight to be considered as equal men and women under the law, with no legal demarcation to distinguish between white or black, so that example runs contrary to your point.

  82. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    First, I think “secular” natural law is about as secular as intelligent design. Its religious philosophy with a search/replace done on sectarian religious jargon, with references to deities scratched out. This might explain why “secular” natural law arguments seem to be popular only among theists.

    I also “think” your joke of an objective morality is just a dress up for a thinly veiled metaphysical naturalism. Guess what? It does not impinge on its truth one iota.

    Second, I think natural law is really just another name for naturalistic fallacy.

    And you are wrong. If you were right, we would be saying that homossexuality is good (plenty of examples of that in the animal kingdom), that rape is good (plenty of examples of that in the animal kingdom) or that murder is good (plenty of examples of that in the animal kingdom).

    But do not let facts get in the way of your “thinking”.

    It is also highly ironic, considering how you pretend to justify an objective morality under metaphysical naturalism, but I will not dwell on that.

    Third, I am familiar with the perverted faculty natural law argument, at least, and even if you give it a pass on the naturalistic fallacy, it’s still untenable and ostensibly refuted. Even if one considers it generally sound, there’s so much wiggle room in arguing primary functions, secondary functions, and which can be impeded for the sake what, etc… it becomes really just an expression of personal bias.

    Again, “thinking” and asserting you do much of, but actual, solid arguments? None. Just an expression of your personal bias.

  83. Tom Gilson says:

    d, you address me here…

    Tom,

    1. Changing the definition of marriage is different from not changing it.

    Whether, in support of his principles, one acts to uphold the status quo or to change it, there is little meaningful difference, Tom. Choices are made on principle in either case,

    Do you remember where this fit into the conversation originally? In #66 I wrote,

    You don’t get it. Of course it has nothing to do with the health considerations. My point is that changing the definition of marriage is different from not changing the definition of marriage. That point holds whether you’re talking about health considerations or anything else whatsoever. The point is that your analogy is not valid.

    Would you do me a favor in light of this and explain how your answer just now justifies your analogy? Because it’s your turn, you see. You presented an analogy. I challenged it on rational grounds. Maybe you think my challenge fails, is not sufficiently rational, etc.; if so, then it behooves you to explain why in context of the relevant part of the discussion. Otherwise my challenge to your analogy still stands, and your recent answer falls into the “so what?” bin.

    You quote me and then answer,

    2. “The definition of marriage shouldn’t be legally amended” is functionally equivalent to “marriage should be between one and man and one woman.” So you can’t distinguish the two as being different principles.

    That’s not necessarily true, as I pointed out SSM is legal in several states and countries.

    Okay, in a sense you’re right. If “the definition of marriage should not be legally amended” means, “Whatever the existing law is on the books, DON’T TOUCH IT!” then our position is not that. Our principled position is, “marriage is between a man and a woman.”

    But again, context. (Please keep it straight!!!) You think you’re scoring points, but it’s by changing the game in the middle. When this first came up (#68), it was in the context of the previous point, “changing the definition of marriage is different from not changing it.” And it was in the middle of your charging me with trying to “maintain some rhetorical advantage in debates where your principled vision of marriage is likely to go over as well as a lead balloon.” And that was in the context of explaining to you that your health analogy fails.

    How about if you explain how your health analogy succeeds? By all means bring these points into your explanation if you think they’re relevant. Maybe they are. In the meantime, bear in mind that I used the term “functionally equivalent,” not “equal in all ways,” or “equal in a principled way.” If you want to charge me with some logical failure, I could squeak out of it that way. More helpfully, though, I could just say “so what?” again. Maybe I was wrong about it. What difference does it make in the larger discussion? If you think it makes a difference, let us know how. Otherwise… so what?

    Again you quote me and respond:

    3. Your assessment of Amendment One sounds ridiculous on the face of it. I invite you to explain how preserving the existing definition of marriage is actively amending the existing definition of marriage.

    I’ll let you google amendment one, if you’re interested. But in short, it was an unprovoked constitutional amendment – an active move to amend the constitution and change the law of the state.

    I invite you again to explain how preserving the existing definition of marriage is actively amending the existing definition of marriage. And please explain what “unprovoked” means in context of all this incredible homosexual insurgency in this country, and why you think being “unprovoked” in that tendentious sense makes any difference.

    4. No one here is idiotic enough to suggest that “marriage just shouldn’t be amended” counts as an argument. Why did you find it worth bringing up making up in this context?

    But that’s the principle you rely on in order to salvage Holo’s points from reductio oblivion. Furthermore, I’m afraid all this has gotten rather departed from the words (read: rant) I was actually responding too, which had no context with respect to the law.

    No, it’s not the principle I rely on. Good grief. “Marriage shouldn’t be amended” is the conclusion I reach at the end of my arguments, not the place from which I start them.

    You must realize how frustrating it is that you pull one-liners out of context as you have in this most recent quote, forgetting the context they were in, and making them say something utterly disconnected from what they were intended to say.

    But if you have something better, by all means, offer it up here.

    It’s long and involved. You’ll have to read it carefully and not do this out-of-context junk you’ve been pulling on me. Agreed?

  84. SteveK says:

    d,

    As for negros – Yes, they did fight to be considered as equal men and women under the law, with no legal demarcation to distinguish between white or black, so that example runs contrary to your point.

    No demarcation? The demarcation was there in the laws of Jim Crow and the Black Codes. That demarcation continues today, although the discrimination problem has been resolved.

    Work on resolving the problems but keep the demarcation. Why don’t you support taking this route instead of trying to co-opt a term that doesn’t have anything to do with same-sex couples?

  85. Melissa says:

    Alex,

    I also think it is significant to clarify what secular civil marriage is taken to mean, as this is critical in determining whether or not it is beneficial/detrimental/possible to apply the definition beyond man-woman. I would be tempted by the “close personal relationship”

    While our society in general is moving towards this view and away from the view that the primary role of marriage is to provide a structure that protects the well-being of the children that result from heterosexual sex, that has not been, in general, beneficial for children as a whole or society. To deliberately complete that process by officially redefining marriage seems very short sighted to me.

  86. d says:

    Tom,

    Alright, realy quick, let’s try and clear this analogy thing up. If we formalize Holo’s point into an argument, we might get something like this.


    p1) If homosexuals suffer a particularly high risk for sexual health issues, then that high risk constitutes a reason to morally and/or legally oppose marriage between homosexuals.
    p2) Homosexuals suffer a particularly high risk for sexual health issues.
    c1) Therefore, that high risk constitutes a reason to morally and/or legally oppose marriage between homosexuals.

    But to think of p1 as homosexual specific is special pleading. There’s no reason why a more general p1 should not apply to other groups as well, (if you take p1 to be a sound principle, that is).

    And, as it so happens, by slicing up demographics in various ways, we find that there are other groups with similarly elevated health risks related to sexual behavior. But when looking at some of these other groups, we would never actually legally or morally oppose marriage between people in those groups. Nobody legally or morally opposes marriage between poor black people, for example. Therefore, Holo’s position here is absurd.

    Now, you want to differentiate between legal opposition that would (a) actively change law and (b) prevent change to existing law. I think that’s a moot point, because no matter whether (a) or (b), p1 still would count as one reason to legally oppose same-sex marriage. Having one reason to legally oppose something doesn’t mean you actually WILL oppose it, all other reasons considered. But that the reason exists in the first place, and acts as a legitimate part of one’s moral calculus, even if it’s overcome by other considerations on either (a) or (b) or both. And hence, the position still remains absurd.

  87. Alex Dawson says:

    Melissa,

    While our society in general is moving towards this view and away from the view that the primary role of marriage is to provide a structure that protects the well-being of the children that result from heterosexual sex, that has not been, in general, beneficial for children as a whole or society. To deliberately complete that process by officially redefining marriage seems very short sighted to me.

    I entirely agree about the importance of children’s well-being and upbringing, which is evidentially seen to be best provided by a child’s married biological parents in the majority of circumstances. However, in short, I’m not convinced that a societal norm of “if a couple are to have children, they ought to do so within the context of marraige”, and genderless marriage, are mutually exclusive. Thus it seems to me that one could have both and still keep all the relevant societal benefits. I’ll certainly look to formulate a more thorough rigorous argument along these lines in Tom’s upcoming series.

  1. May 14, 2012

    […] been hearing the charge recently that there are no non-religious reasons to oppose same-sex “marriage,” and […]