Sorry, NY Times, Opposition to LGBT Is Not Bigotry

This is my second posting on the most recent culture war breakout here in North Carolina. You can find my first post here. For those of you who don’t know, the present kerfuffle in my state is over two separate pieces of legislation, SB2 and HB2. I talked about SB2 in the previous post. HB2, however, is the one getting most of the attention. This is the law that requires all people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender of their birth. In other words, it mandates that bathrooms be used as they have universally been used since forever. There is much that needs to be said about these issues, so it’s going to take time and multiple posts to say it all. In this post, I want to focus on the common complaint of liberals that basic Christian teachings are tantamount to bigotry. The New York Times just recently leveled this criticism at North Carolina regarding the HB2 legislation. In upcoming posts, the response I will lay out is that the view of The New York Times depends on a rigid, dogmatic, and unscientific view of transgenderism. But in this post, I look at the allegation of “bigotry” from a logical perspective. The following is an excerpt from my book, The Immoral Landscape (of the New Atheism). In it, I am speaking of homosexual issues generally, but transgenderism can certainly be understood to be included. That is, after all, what the T in LGBT, implies, right?

It is important to respond to some common criticisms of Christians on the subject of homosexuality. Some have compared the Christian disapproval of homosexuality to racism. Certainly we can all agree that there is no room in civilized society for intolerance of persons. Intolerance of persons on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, or gender, etc. is bigotry, plain and simple. The Christian critique of homosexuality, however, does not condemn persons; on the contrary, it is a condemnation of certain behaviors.

At this point, it is imperative that I make the following observation, namely, that the tendency to judge human behavior is universal in the human race. Everyone does it. In fact, we are compelled to do it by our circumstances. Because we have free will, it is up to us to decide how we will behave. It becomes necessary to choose our behavior, and the choices we make depend very much on our judgments about potential courses of action. Is an action moral? . . . How will it impact my future? My happiness and well-being? Are there any risks or dangers associated with a certain behavior? Considerations like these affect our personal choices, but logically, they must also affect our judgments about the behavior of others. If, for example, I have decided not to steal because I have concluded that stealing is unjust, I have arrived at a judgment, not only about my personal actions, but also about stealing as a category. This judgment about stealing can serve as a guide for my own actions, but equally and inevitably, it will serve as a legitimate basis for judging the behavior of others: if I discover that someone has stolen, I will conclude that they behaved unjustly because I had previously judged that stealing is unjust. It is inevitable, therefore— because we are constrained by logic—that all people will judge the behavior of others by necessity: Thus liberals will negatively judge the behavior of conservatives, and vice versa. The same is true with feminists and traditionalists, with environmentalists and industrialists. If the judgment of human behavior is bigotry, then we are—all of us—bigots by nature and necessity. And how can we condemn what we all must do, if we are going to direct our lives by the choices and judgments we make? What on earth would the alternative look like? Have secular elites hit on an impossible definition of bigotry, which, if taken seriously, demands the suspension of all judgment? What of morality then? What will direct our free will— randomness? Is the suspension of all judgment about human behavior really the morally superior alternative to traditional Christianity?

The answer to these questions points logically to the need for a careful re-examination of our concept of bigotry. One must tread lightly, it seems to me, when one condemns as bigotry judgments about behavior.[i]

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As we all know by now, behavior has a dramatic impact on our health and well-being. We know for certain that, where health and happiness are concerned, not all lifestyle choices are created equal. A high fat diet combined with a sedentary lifestyle, for example, will certainly compromise one’s physical health. And neuroscientists today are discovering that our mental health is affected just as much as our physical by the behavioral lifestyle choices we make. Hence it is necessary to our well-being and survival that we make judgments about behavior. A commitment to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” necessitates that people have access to the best information about the impact of human behavior on physical and mental health and human flourishing in general. For these reasons, we need vigorously to protect free speech and conscience rights in this country, especially as they pertain to our beliefs about behavior. Throwing around the epithet “bigot” just shuts down the debate, and the cost is high if we are denied access to the full range of thought and research about the impact of behavior on happiness and flourishing. What we have seen here, in the pages of this book, is that some ideas, however unpopular, have been vindicated by science. Yes, science is discovering the truth of Christianity, and those who ignore these truths will suffer the consequences, in terms of their own loss of happiness and mental well-being.[ii] (The Immoral Landscape of the New Atheism, pp 108–110)

Notes

[i] Some will say that, because homosexual behavior is motivated by an “immutable,” “innate” orientation, it is therefore unfair to judge homosexual behavior as we would judge other behaviors. In fact, they would even say that it is because of the “innate and immutable” character of homosexuality that we should think of sexual orientation precisely as we think of race—as a permanent category of one’s personhood. This line of thought attempts to equate the moral status of sexual orientation with that of race so that a negative judgment against homosexuality is made tantamount to bigotry. Clearly, however, sexual orientation is not as immutable, nor as innate, as a person’s race. It goes without saying that many more people have changed their sexual orientation than have changed their race. It’s one of those stubborn facts about homosexuality that won’t go away: it is primarily a freely chosen behavior. True, it is motivated by deep-seated inclinations, but so are many other behaviors. And we judge these behaviors all the time. [eg. Adultery, gluttony, substance abuse, laziness, greed, hate . . .] I see no reason, therefore, why homosexuality should be set aside as some unique category—as the one behavior that cannot be judged.

 

[ii] Because there is so much progress being made in the scientific understanding of happiness and human nature, and because so much of what science is learning accords with traditional Christian teachings, it seems that we ought to slow down the apparent secular enthusiasm of some who would like to use the courts to stamp out traditional, Biblical Christianity. Some of the New Atheists, Daniel Dennett in particular, have called for the scientific study of Christianity, but how can you study something if it becomes extinct? If the New Atheists are sincerely interested in the scientific study of Christianity and other religions, then they must share a commitment to preserve them. Scientists who study an endangered species are always committed to its preservation, not its extinction. Actually I think a scientific mindset is preferable to the narrow-mindedness that has become so popular, especially among media and academic elites. We ought to embrace ideological diversity by allowing free competition in a market place of ideas. This I think is an essential component of any society that hopes to advance the cause of human well-being. It is a central tenet of what I call at the end of this book a new transcendentalism—a new transcendentalism that rises above partisanship in the interest of goodness, truth, peace, and justice. It is a transcendentalism that begins with humility—the humility to recognize that none of us is omniscient, that it is possible to learn something new and important from those with whom we disagree.

No, Shea Watts, Christianity Doesn’t “Poison Everything.”

A few months ago, Ross Douthat delivered the Erasmus lecture at the headquarters of First Things magazine.  In his lecture he claimed that religious conservatives need new and better arguments.  Boy, was he right.  This Huffington Post article by aspiring theologian cum pundit Shea Watts illustrates the desperateness of the cause. (Bold print is my emphasis):

The [Republican] debates have been both eye-opening and terrifying. On the surface, they have shown that many, many people are furious with the state of the GOP establishment. But they have also shown that there is a constituency of hateful people in America that are starting to speak up in multitudes — against Obama, Mexicans, Muslims, women, and black people. Yesterday, Trump had a group of black students thrown out of his rally, not for protest or disruption, just for “silently standing” there.

[JG: And who is this hateful constituency?]

The scariest reality of all of this is: the Republican nominees are self-professing Christians and are supported by self-professing Christians.

. . . .

When American Christianity became about discriminating against minorities, hurting instead of helping the poor, oppressing women’s rights, keeping out immigrants and strangers instead of welcoming them, hate-spewing towards other religions, all the while accumulating wealth and power, it is time to let go.

Source: American Christianity Is Dying and the Republican Presidential Candidates Are Showing Us Why

from Pixabay

The primary season of our discontent

Mr. Watts offers a now too familiar twist to the New Atheist mantra that “religion poisons everything”:  “Christianity poisons everything,” he says, because it has become a religion of hate and discrimination. I cannot even begin to communicate my amazement at his characterization of Christians. Now I don’t deny that there is a great deal of hate and anger among Christians, Republicans, followers of Trump, etc. But while I certainly concede this fact, I do not agree that this should be blamed on Christianity.

Human nature is to blame for our sins, not Christianity.  For we need only observe that the sins that Mr. Watts ascribes to Christians are in fact universal.  Hatred of Muslims should be blamed on Christianity? The fellow who shot and killed the Muslim graduate students in North Carolina was a devout atheist. Republicans are racists?  The Republican field of presidential candidates was far more racially diverse than the Democratic.  The Catholic Church oppresses women?  The most Catholic country in the world, the Philippines, has the second-best record of promoting women into senior management:women-in-management

I seem to remember something Jesus said about the one who has no sin being the first to cast his stone.  If Mr. Watts is worried about the state of Christianity, he might consider what an excellent reform we could make of our faith simply by putting this single teaching of Christ into practice.  It is an invitation from Christ to a humility based on truth—a Dorian Gray truth: we should dispense with pretenses to holiness and face this undeniable fact: that the sins we see so clearly in others are, in truth, the very same sins that we ourselves commit.  And if we cannot see this important and consequential truth, it only bears witness to another teaching of Christ: that we are spiritually blinded by the beams in our own eyes.

Once we manage to grasp the universal nature of hate and sin, we can move on to more profitable enquiries.  We should first observe that some people have managed better than others to transcend their selfish, hateful nature.  And we should be curious as to their formula for success. I think if we do this, we will manage to achieve what Douthat had in mind in his Erasmus lecture: new and better arguments for Christianity and conservatism.

For many people find the justification of their faith in the power that Christianity has to transform lives for the better.  And today neuroscience bolsters these subjective claims with plenty of objective evidence, as I show in my book and elsewhere on my website.

And a Christian would be right to ask those who are not religious what formula they use for the very necessary business of self-improvement.  What notions of human progress inform the quest of secular people to achieve their goals for personal transformation?  These are important questions. In fact they are the most important—the great transcendental questions: how do we transcend our failings and shortcomings and rise to higher ground?  In the words of Matthew Kelly, the hugely successful Catholic apologist, how do we become the best version of ourselves?

This great transcendental question is of prime importance to anyone who cares about human flourishing: excellence, goodness, and happiness.  And it is a fundamental question for the survival of our nation.  For it is now becoming clear that a growing number of Americans have utterly failed in the noble and necessary quest for progress and self-improvement. Neuroscience provides plenty of evidence that there is no substitute for religion and spirituality in this quest.  For the research suggests that human mental health and function depend on religious and spiritual practice, as I show in my book.

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Thus it is no surprise that, today, mental illness in America is the highest it has ever been at the same time that religious affiliation is at the very lowest. And the fruit of this epidemic of mental degeneration has been uniformly malignant, spawning a massive increase of violence, chaos, and social breakdown all across our country and throughout our essential institutions. There is plenty of evidence that if Christianity dies, as Mr. Watts hopes, it will be the death of our nation.  This is my own heart-felt belief.  And I think that the recent uprisings in Chicago illustrate my point perfectly: Contrary to Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker’s wishful thinking, the advance of secularism has not brought out “the better angels of our nature,” but has unleashed the demons instead. The thesis of Pinker’s new book is contradicted a thousand times a day on the evening news, while my book’s contrary thesis garners only more evidence, namely, that, as Christianity disappears, civilization disappears right along with it.

Mr. Watts has correctly observed a very important conjunction in modern life: hatred, violence and social degeneration coincide with the loss of religious faith. But if the thesis of my book is correct, he has put the cart before the horse. For it is not so much on account of the hatefulness of Christians that so many have abandoned the Church, but rather, because so many have abandoned the Church, the loss of grace they have suffered has hardened their apostate hearts and made of them a hateful, violent, and unjust people.

The faith and practice of Christians has been waning for decades, and as Christianity has disappeared, so has the humanity of our race. This is easily the most important message of the Gospel—a message now supported by neuroscience: that the very best and most noble qualities of the human person are essentially spiritual. Thus human progress is an essentially spiritual enterprise and is therefore dependent on the willingness of man to conform his will to the Laws of God. These words of a forgotten Transcendentalist have much to teach us about the essence of Christian spirituality:

I begin with observing, what all indeed will understand, that the likeness to God, of which I propose to speak, belongs to man’s higher or spiritual nature. It has its foundation in the original and essential capacities of the mind. In proportion as these are unfolded by right and vigorous exertion, it is extended and brightened. In proportion as these lie dormant, it is obscured. In proportion as they are perverted and overpowered by the appetites and passions, it is blotted out. In truth, moral evil, if unresisted and habitual, may so blight and lay waste these capacities, that the image of God in man may seem to be wholly destroyed . . . (Channing, 1950, p. 22).

If we want things to improve, it will be necessary for us to remember how much we have forgotten. And what we have forgotten is this—that man’s greatest possession is his soul. Let us take better care of it. JG

Bibliography

Channing, W. E. (1950). Likeness to God. In P. Miller, The Transcendentalists—An Anthology (pp. 21–25). Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America: Harvard University Press.