Challenge Number Three: “You’re on the wrong side of history — gay rights is an idea whose time has come.”
(Third in a series of ten, from my new book Critical Conversations!)
Time keeps marching on. Science and technology move forward. Does that mean everything progresses over time? No. Today’s poets and playwrights haven’t exactly progressed beyond Aeschylus and Sophocles the way our physicists have advanced beyond Archimedes and Aristotle (speaking of Aristotle strictly as a physicist, that is.)
Even “scientific” progress sometimes turns out not to be what we expect. Here’s an example you might not have known about: eugenics. Suppose it was 1911 right now, and you believed that scientific opinion always illuminated the right way into the future. If so, you probably would have agreed with Scientific American’s case for preventing “unfit” humans from “propagating.” (Yes, this really appeared in Scientific American that year.)
We know enough about the laws of heredity, we have enough statistics from insane asylums and prisons, we have enough genealogies, to show that, although we may not be able directly to improve the human race as we improve the breed of guinea pigs, rabbits or cows, because of the rebellious spirit of mankind, yet the time has come when the lawmaker should join hands with the scientist, and at least check the propagation of the unfit.
This was during the day of the eugenics movement for the scientifically based “improvement” of humanity, through sterilizing and/or eliminating the “weaker specimens” among us. If you had believed in being on the “right side of history” then, you would likely have believed in sterilizing the “feeble-minded.”
If you had opposed eugenics in 1911, American intellectuals would have told you that you were against science and the forward march of progress. This was, tragically, the same march that led straight to Hitler’s “life unworthy of living” and the eugenics-driven plan to rid the world of its so-called lesser races, especially Jews.
Where has history gone since then? What happened to eugenics? What happened to its “forward march of progress”? It’s marched right off the map. History has almost completely forgotten about it.
Now, undeniably progress does happen. Our society has advanced ethically in important ways, most obviously in our treatment of ethnic and national minorities. There is such a thing as getting better over time, but it isn’t time that makes us better. Ethical advance comes by way of moving closer to a true ethical standard, not just by coming along later in history.
There’s more in the book!
In Critical Conversations I develop and extend the answer to this and other challenges, and I share practical relational guidance on how to share the answers in conversation. For parents, pastors, and other Christian leaders wondering what to say to children in their vulnerable years up through high school or even college, the book clears away the awkwardness and confusion. It clears a path toward conversations that can strengthen not only your teens’ faith but also your relationship with them.
Image Credit(s): Keith Evans via Wikimedia.