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 Reilly has relied almost exclusively upon highly biased, out-of-date, or non-scholarly sources.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.