Making Gay Okay: A Review (4)

Reilly’s second chapter gets to the heart of the matter, and is his attempt to establish his main argument. His hope is to establish a natural law case against homosexuality by appeal to Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, and to a lesser degree, Aquinas. To do so, he defines Nature thusly: “Nature is what is, regardless of what anyone desires or abhors” (16). That is, nature is objective reality, what is really there. And he frames the argument as a dichotomy between those who embrace objective reality and those who reject it. “Opponents of same-sex marriage say that it is against Nature; proponents say that it is according to Nature and that therefore they have a right to it” (15). Specifically, he argues that natural law views the telos (the intended purpose) of reality as objectively built into the universe while for his opponents meaning and purpose are malleable, that there is no actual telos in the universe.

Now, a couple of comments right at the start.

(1) Appeal to nature, or indeed Nature, will never settle this issue or any other moral issue because Nature isn’t set up this way. According to Reilly’s own definition of Nature, it simply expresses “what is.” But “what is” does not equate with “what ought.” The two are totally separate discussions. Nature simply cannot tell us what is moral and what is not, so the whole program is an exercise in futility. The fact is that both heterosexual and homosexual activity is regularly observed in Nature, but this contributes nothing at all to the question of whether one ought to do something. Theft, rape, incest and murder are all observed in nature, but this does not establish that we “ought” to do any of these things, or that they are morally permissible. Nature simply cannot answer the question and all-to-often simply reflects our own prejudices and preconceptions back upon us.

(2) Reilly’s appeal to the telos of objective reality, that there is inherent meaning built into reality, also suffers from a failure to actually address any of the relevant concerns. Specifically, Reilly only offers us two choices; either meaning is inherent to reality or we just make it up as we go along. This strikes me as a false choice, since there is a third option, that meaning is not inherent to any part of reality, but is given to the world by God, a process that we as images of God can imitate. There is objective reality, but because we gaze at it through the subjective and limited self, our map of the terrain and the terrain itself will never totally correspond to one another; this is the foundational observation of postmodern thought. Not that reality is meaningless or that there is no objective reality, but that we simply don’t have the ability to access it. A number of Christian philosophers have concluded from this observation that God appoints meaning to things, but not because that meaning is inherent in the thing.

(3) Following from this, I raise the problem of knowing when a meaning is really there and when it is invested in by the subjective self. After all a flag, while manmade, can after some time become so closely tied to the meaning invested in it as to be inseparable ever after. And who determines what is natural about the meaning of things in the universe anyway? What is the telos of a tree? If we are simply observing Nature (what is), then certainly cutting one down, chopping it up and making a chair out of it is entirely unnatural. Whatever the original telos of trees was, it certainly cannot be said to be made for sitting, least of all hacked apart and rearranged in an unnatural order for that purpose.

It is also odd that Reilly wants to rely upon the Greek philosophers for establishing the primacy of heteronormative sexualized relationships in marriage as the highest good. He’s at least aware of this objection, and claims that Greek civilization has only a “partial acceptance” of homosexual behavior, expressed in pederasty (22-27). Such a view is starkly anachronistic for a few reasons.

(1) In Greek culture the highest relationship was not the family, heteronormative or otherwise, but same-sex friendship among men. It is quite an error to suggest that the familial unit was the highest form of relationship one could have.

(2) Greek civilization thrived on many types of same-sex relationships, not just pederasty (though this was common enough between teachers and students and between masters and slaves). It is incorrect to argue that the “publicly accepted” homosexual relationship was between an “adult male a male adolescent” while relationships between “mature male adults were not accepted” (22). In fact, “this was a cultural myth,” and that “by far the most common type of same-sex relationship” was between “two women or two men united by affection, passion, or desire,” (Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, 56, 57). In Plato’s discussion of the soulmate in his Symposium, he argues that soulmates were once a single soul, a four footed, four legged, two headed creature and that people spend their lives searching for the other half of their whole. These halves can be opposites, male and female, or two women or two men. He writes that when a man finds his male counterpart, they are “filled with the most wondrous friendship and intimacy and love, and are unwilling . . . to be apart from each other for a second. And they spend their whole lives together.” Aristotle approvingly describes two male lovers who lived and died together in a single household and were buried together like husband and wife (Politics, 2.96-97). Hundreds of more examples could be offered. Reilly’s work here is simple revisionism when he claims that a “homosexual household would not make sense to Aristotle” (27).



Making Gay Okay: A Review (3)

Reilly’s first chapter is called “The Culture War,” and it is as disturbing as it is rife with errors, assumptions, and a stark lack of documentation. He begins by alluding to the “slippery slope fallacy,” that is, that if we accept LGBTQ people we’ll loose a host of other nasty things upon the world, like bestiality (xii, 3-5). This, of course, is a fallacy for a reason in that the future cannot be predicted with any kind of certainty. It is also a fallacy in that he ignores the central issue with regards to this claim, which is that consent is the foundation. Homosexuality will not bring with it bestiality or pedophilia or incest because of the matter of consent. A child cannot consent, and nor can an animal. And in the case of incest, there is an undo balance of power in the family structure that inclines toward manipulation and power-influences over true consent. They are all excluded; LGBTQ relationships built on mutual affection and consent between adults is, however, not the same thing at all.

He next complains about the change in argument by LGBTQ activists, from “Leave us alone!” to “Accept us publicly!” He doesn’t take any time to consider why this might be the case, and in fact strongly suggests it is because of their uneasy consciences (pp. 7-12). As part of this discussion, he wonders aloud about why a gay person would want to come out of the closet–given all of the great benefits of being in the closet: “After all, the hidden homosexual . . . enjoys the privacy of concealment” (6). Of course, one of the major reasons an LGBTQ person might want to live openly and without fear in a free and civilized society is that being “out” reduces stress, depression, and increases the generally well being of the person (as studies have repeatedly shown). Reilly might do well to read Timothy Kurek’s stirring account, The Cross in the Closet.

For those keeping score at home, Reilly employs the “Nazi analogy” on page 8. Gay people rationalize their sexual perversion to same way Nazis rationalized euthanasia: “when morally disordered acts become the defining centerpiece of one’s life, vice can permanently pervert reason, and the inversion of reality becomes complete” (8). He rushes to reassure us that he is not suggesting that “homosexual acts are in any way comparable to the evil of euthanasia,” but is simply trying to show how powerful rationalization is to those whose “consciences it corrupts.” Reilly, of course, misses the fact that the horrifying offensiveness of the analogy comes not from the suggestion that gay people are as bad as Nazis, but that that rationalization functions the same in both examples. His assurances are not so assuring when you realize that his statement opens the way for the possibility that LGBTQ people might be as bad as the Nazis. There is, after all, no real moral restraint upon them in Reilly’s universe: “The problem is that” their worldview “allows for anything” (xii).

Another issue that arises is Reilly’s preoccupation with anal intercourse, which he takes to be definitional of homosexual behavior. In his view, “only the act of sodomy . . . differentiates an active homosexual from a heterosexual” (7). But hold on just a second, mister. The most recent studies suggest only about 50-80% of gay men practice anal intercourse, and the latest study (2011) indicates only about 37% of gay men practice anal intercourse, though about 75% will try it once, according to Underwood’s 2003 study, Gay Men and Anal Eroticism. Anal intercourse consistently ranks lower than most other forms of sexual pleasure. The identification of homosexual behavior with anal intercourse is, therefore, tenuous at best, and moreover, is completely destroyed by the fact that a 2010 study found that 51% of heterosexual men and 43% of heterosexual women have experimented with anal intercourse. And a number of heterosexual males also enjoy the practice as well. It should also be kept in mind that originally the term “sodomy” included essentially any non-coital sexual expression, including oral sex, which is fairly common among both hetero and homosexual couples. So it is completely incorrect to presume that “sodomy” in any form is an accurate means of distinguishing heterosexuality from homosexuality.

Making Gay Okay: A Review (2)

I begin this review with a glance at the “Introduction.” It is here that Reilly foreshadows his argument and the sweep of the book, as well as set up the issue the book addresses.

He starts by asking why we should care. After all, if LGBTQ people represent less than 2% of the population, and an even smaller fraction of them will get married, this seems a bit of a non-issue, really (xi). His answer to this rhetorical question is to claim that everything depends upon denying gay rights, even the future itself. “This is what the same-sex marriage debate is really about–the Nature of reality itself. Since the meaning of our lives is dependent upon the Nature of reality, it too hangs in the balance,” (xii). So, for Reilly, the stakes are high–gay people mess with the very fabric of reality.

In fact, Reilly sees LGBTQ rights as the end-game of a long culture war that began, in fact, with the acceptance of contraception: “The foundation stone of this false reality, as we shall see particularly in terms of Supreme Court decisions, was contraception, and the capstone is same-sex marriage. The progression from the one to the other was logically inescapable” (xi). Thus, Reilly identifies a logical train that begins with any acceptance of contraception, passes through abortion, and ends with same-sex marriage. The difficulty with this is that, like so many things in this book, his argument depends upon a false choice. His choice demands we choose medieval Catholic natural law theory or modernist secular relativism, but I happily disagree with both philosophical constructs. In point of fact, Scripture itself avoids these choices.

The structure of the book is that Reilly will argue for the Greek and medieval construct of natural law, which he sees as able to grant us access to objective reality, and then argue that Rousseau started us on a trajectory denying objective reality, instead situating reality with the individual. More on this later, but let us at least note that this dichotomy is foundationally simplistic, as though these are our only choices.

Finally, Reilly is at pains to establish that the book is “not an attack upon homosexuals, nor is it generated by any animus against them” (xiii), a reassuring comment until one remembers that he has already described their identity as a “false reality” that imperils the fabric of reality. His statement is also further undercut by this comment about a former classmate of his that died of AIDS: “Put bluntly, he denied the principle of noncontradiction, and the principle of noncontradiction denied him,” adding that “this is what is going to happen to us as a society” (xi). One can feel the love radiating from the page.

He then concludes his introduction by briefly discussing his use of terms. Among them is this little gem, which seems to me illustrative of his whole approach: “I do not surrender the word [gender] to those who use it to mean that the masculine and the feminine are artificial constructs socially or politically engineered for men and women” (xiv). Nothing like a bit of blind, dogged refusal to deal with the central issue under discussion to give off the appearance of scholarly reasonableness.

Making Gay Okay: A Review (1)

I have started to work my way through Robert Reilly’s recent book Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior is Changing Everything and thought I would blog through it, chapter by chapter. The title sounds quite promising, or at least ambiguous – this change might be good or bad in Reilly’s view, depending.

It doesn’t take long to find out what Reilly thinks, though. The first sentence of the book’s description reads: “Why are Americans being forced to consider homosexual acts as morally acceptable?” Right then; a solidly polemical book heavy on rhetoric. This should come to no surprise. The book was published by Catholic-owned Ignatius Press, which would never dare publish anything supportive of LGBTQ people or issues, and it comes bearing endorsements from such organizations and people as conservative Catholic Michael Novak of the conservative (Koch brothers funded) thinktank American Enterprise Institute, Patrick Fagan of the conservative Family Research Council (known for its homophobia and Islamophobia), and Jay W. Richards, whose book Money, Greed, and God is one of the most distorting capitalist screeds in recent memory.

But most notable among its endorsements was the very first, at the top left hand side of the book jacket – the one and only Joseph Nicolosi of NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), whose long-discredited theories are still touted by Dr. Nicolosi and NARTH regularly, theories which have caused irreparable harm to many people. This is well documented and beyond dispute at this point.

This raised my suspicions about the sort of “scholarship” I was about to see in the book, so I spent ten or fifteen minutes flipping through the chapters, reading the footnotes at the bottom of each page. It is always helpful when understanding a book to see who and what the author is leaning upon. To my complete lack of surprise, the footnotes of the book reads like a who’s-who of the Conservative Political Action Conference. Reilly has relied almost exclusively upon highly biased, out-of-date, or non-scholarly sources.

For example, among the biased literature he cites, he relies heavily upon such sources like the Fox News website, the Heritage Foundation, the American Family Association, the Blackstone Institute, National Review, the Claremont Institute, Buzzfeed, BANAP, Exodus Global Alliance, various NARTH articles, conservative publisher ISI Books, and Dr. Nicolosi’s debunked 1997 book, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality. Most significantly, Reilly leans upon the conservative the Witherspoon Institute (famous for its controversial and flawed study on LGBTQ parenting), the work of Robert George of Princeton University. Dr. George has popularized the neo-Natural Law argument against homosexuality which provides the basis for Reilly’s arguments. The NNL theory has a host of philosophical and logical problems, which have been carefully dealt with by John Corvino (What’s Wrong With Homosexuality?, pp. 87-97).

Reilly also depends upon out-of-date information. In his chapter on biology, for example, he quotes a number of scientific studies and so forth, until you realize that one paper was published in 1977, another in 1982, another in 2001, and books from 1972, 1984, 1995, 1996, and 1997. Some of the other citations in this chapter are more relevant (2009, 2011, 2013, etc.) but are news articles or other irrelevancies that are not direct scholarship. The point being, nothing about this chapter is up to date, a troubling realization given that the information on this subject are constantly changing and advancing, yet he’s citing studies from 1977.

A third problem with his scholarship is the complete lack of it. The preponderance of his footnotes come from internet articles, blog posts, YouTube videos, Huffington Post articles, Wikipedia, and even Buzzfeed. While these might not be wholly objectionable to on their own, the fact that they make up the majority (at least 50% or more) of his footnotes demonstrates that this book is not a scholarly work at all, but a popular account. This impression is reinforced by noticing how often he quotes the opposition from works he agrees with. In fact, very often in the book he will be quoting his enemies out of the books or articles of his allies, which shows that he is also short on actually reading directly from those he disagrees with in many instances. This is another sign of the lack of rigorous research done before the book was written and published, ostensibly from a respectable publisher.

None of this refutes the contents of the book, but it ought to at least make us approach it with a careful, critical eye. Next time we’ll dig into the meat of the thing.

Breaking the System

The modern evangelical church is obsessed with systems. The evangelical scholars who gain accolades write systematic theologies, they write papers “refuting” the “logic” of “unbelievers,” and they have a confidence in their own interpretations that long ago turned into certainty. Apologetics that try to expose the views of others as stupid and illogical are a booming business among evangelicals.

This is what I mean by systems. Evangelicals construct doctrines that are mutually dependent and feed into each other. The result is a fragile balancing act of almost equation-like precision in which evangelicals must walk a tightrope of correct beliefs that themselves must be further correctly defined in order to be a real Christian. Any breach in the syllogism has catastrophic effects and can send people spiraling away from the brittle orthodoxy, or so it is claimed.

Because of this, there must be CONSTANT VIGILANCE to preserve the borders, guard the fortifications, and remain on constant alert for any possible threat. This is the reason for the protectionism and fear of everything outside of the evangelical circle. A lot of evangelicals would protest that they’ve opened their borders on a lot of stuff, that the people who are really afraid are the fundamentalists. But they can’t deny the same kind of gatekeeping doesn’t go on in the evangelical world. And when looking at a figure like John Piper – patriarchalist, literalist, premillennialist, strict infernalist, penal substitutionist, retributionist – I’m left wondering what the real difference is between an evangelical and a fundamentalist. He claims the term evangelical for himself, but his behavior is no different from the hellfire preachers of yore.

Anyway, when every piece in the theological system is necessary, it is like building a house in which every single wall is a supporting wall. Take that wall away and the whole thing comes crashing down. You can understand their jumpiness a little more when you realize they’re really just trying to stop the roof falling in on their heads. But the logical consequence is that every little doctrinal niggle becomes a hill necessary to die upon. And this forces evangelicals into a number of consequences just out of necessity.

First of all, it means they have to deny scholarship when it contradicts their reading. For example, there’s no evidence there was ever a wall at Jericho, speaking archaeologically. This becomes a huge battleground for polemics in the evangelical wing of the church because any single error in the text, any hyperbole, any literary convention, and by their own claims the whole thing is untrustworthy. So if they’re wrong about Jericho’s wall, the only other option is atheism. This leads them to feeling the need to win, regardless of what sort of claims this leads them to make. The most popular response among a number of evangelical circles is to claim the archeological timeline is wrong; the reason those sneaky secularists can’t find a wall is they’re looking in the wrong historical period. Which leads to conspiracy thinking about academia and scholarship – they must be stupid or lying intentionally.

I believed in the system for my entire childhood, adolescence, and college years. That’s right, even college couldn’t crack this intensely ingrained system. I finally broke when I saw what it did to people firsthand, what it did to me. The system is a meatgrinder. It chews you up and spits you out again. And it manufactures as many atheists as it does true believers.

And there’s a certain sense in which they’re right. Their system does depend upon every single point being as important as all the others. But their system is not Scriptural. It is an invention of man by which we bind God. But when we break free of the system, we realize that there are other options out there. We can live perfectly happy and fulfilling lives without the system. When it is finally grasped that God is in charge and He can do as he pleases regardless of whatever systems we might want to put into place, once we see that God is love, does not hate, does not give up, and will bear with us to the end, we escape the various pieces of the religious system. In this new world, Jesus becomes the most important thing, not the system. Not everything needs the same weight put upon it. My faith in Jesus no longer depends on whether there really was a wall around Jericho, or whether Genesis is to be taken literally. The sky doesn’t fall. Wrath doesn’t come. We are not smote. There is life outside the system, outside the nervous, paranoid life in the factory.

Join us in the sun.

Dear Western Church: You are Not Being Persecuted

Benjamin Corey has a great piece on how President Obama’s executive order protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination is not itself discrimination. I agree with his assessment; this is not an issue of Christians being discriminated against. No one is telling individual Christians what to think or ordering the Church to redefine their theology. Nothing like that is happening. What is happening is that businesses and non-profits that accept federal money must abide by federal guidelines and that means they cannot fire LGBTQ people for being gay. One would think this would be self-obvious to Christians, but evidently it is not. The only thing this executive order will do is tell federally-funded employers that they must hire on the basis of merit alone, and can only fire for job-related behavior, not identity.

Conservative Christians object on the basis that they might be contaminated by the sin of those evil gay sinners out there, but the real reason they are upset is because they are losing their privileged status. Ever since Constantine the Church has had certain privilege and special consideration under the law. They got asked to all the fancy parties and held the ears of kings and emperors. This period of Church history is at an end and the Church, now accustomed to a certain lifestyle for the last sixteen centuries, is freaking out because there are other factions now being invited to the same parties.

In my view, the Church in the west really needs to do some soul-searching as to whether they’re really being persecuted or whether they’re just losing their exclusive rights to certain legal perks. It is pretty clearly the latter.

Ken Ham: Aliens are Going to Hell

Young-Earth Creationist Ken Ham is making headlines for the first time since his disastrous debate with Bill Nye last year. On the 45th anniversary of the famous Apollo 11 landing on the moon, Ham penned a piece lamenting the amount of money spent trying to find extraterrestrial life.

Now, I had initially assumed this was a response to Pope Francis’s recent statement that he would baptize aliens should they be interested in converting to Catholicism, which presumes the possibility that salvation was open to them in the first place. And indeed it seems like Ham’s comments might have been such a response, in some loose way, though he never makes this clear or not. What is clear is his strong statements that salvation is for humans only:

Jesus did not become the “GodKlingon” or the “GodMartian”!  Only descendants of Adam can be saved.  God’s Son remains the “Godman” as our Savior.  In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we see the Father through the Son (and we see the Son through His Word).  To suggest that aliens could respond to the gospel is just totally wrong.

An understanding of the gospel makes it clear that salvation through Christ is only for the Adamic race—human beings who are all descendants of Adam.

One can therefore be forgiven for thinking this logically necessitates that any and all alien life found in the universe is automatically excluded from salvation and therefore must go to hell in Ham’s fundamentalist schema.

But Ham has pushed back against this in a response to the flurry of media coverage. Aside from the typical claims of lying and general paranoia about irresponsible “secularists” who will do anything to slander him and his ministry, Ham seems to think he never said what he said. He lists a number of the article titles saying he believes aliens are going to hell and calls them “nonsense” and “a piece of fiction.”

So evidently somebody is pretty confused as to what Ken Ham said–but unfortunately that person seems to be Ken Ham. As I just quoted above, Ham himself wrote that aliens are excluded from the salvation of Christ. This means aliens would go someplace else and presumably Ham believes there are only two possible destinations. So his critics could certainly be forgiven for leaping to the conclusion Ham believes aliens would go to hell, assuming we ever find any to condemn. He’s technically right in that he never used the phrase “aliens will go to hell,” but he did say the opposite: “Only humans go to heaven.” And the two are essentially saying the same thing. He even quotes the very bit I quoted above in his response to clarify that he did not say aliens would go to hell–which is puzzling since that is exactly the implication one takes away from reading his original piece.

Now, a number of sources are claiming that Ham wants to defund NASA or the space program because the search for aliens is pointless, but to be fair to Ham, this is something he really didn’t say. His article never refers to the space program, though he does write condemningly of the millions of dollars spent searching for alien life. “I’m shocked at the countless hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent over the years in the desperate and fruitless search for extraterrestrial life.”

But given that Ham’s piece appeared last Sunday, on the anniversary of the Apollo 11 space mission, it is easy to see how his comments created the impression that he was condemning the entire space program. After all, why write such a negative piece and release it on that day in particular unless you thought the two things were connected? Perhaps this was a simple coincidence, but if it was it was certainly sloppy of Ham.

Regardless, Ham did construct a theological claim that excludes all non-human life from salvation, and this is a fair reading of his words even if he doesn’t realize that’s what he was saying. This is the danger of building a fundamentalist culture of trying to emphasize answers instead of questions and refutation instead of interaction and discussion.