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]
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)
[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.