FreeThought Fort Wayne

        Be Reasonable

Posts Tagged ‘homosexuality’

Choice vs. Nature (and something about homo-dolphins)

Posted by Skeptigator on June 23, 2008

I’ve had this post half-start/half-finished for some time but a recent post over on, FriendlyChristian.com, prompted me to finish this thought all the way through. My problem lies specifically in an argument used, implicitly or explicitly, by many pro-gay activists and bloggers. That argument is the following:

Homosexuality should be accepted because no one chooses to be gay. We shouldn’t victimize gays for the same reason we shouldn’t victimize someone because of the color of their skin.

On it’s face this seems like a perfectly correct statement, one I’ve used many times. Unfortunately, I’ve come the realization that this argument is fundamentally flawed. Yes, it’s an easy shortcut when arguing with someone who states that homosexuality is a choice and then you say, “Nuh uhh, they can’t help that they were born that way” and then they say “Yea huh, it’s a choice” and then you say, “Yer stupid”. Ok maybe my debating skills have something to be desired.

I’ve seen a subtle shift, particularly within Christian circles, in the arguments against homosexuality away from whether or not it’s a choice or not and many are beginning to concede that homosexual desires may actually be natural. The argument I see more and more often is that, “Regardless if homosexuality is natural or not. It is not a sin to be gay, but practicing homosexuality is a sin.” (The reasons we shouldn’t practice homosexuality are to my knowledge only religious. I think the only time that I’ve seen any secular arguments against homosexuality comes from the “It ain’t natural” argument. )

There are 2 points regarding the Natural vs. Unnatural/Choice argument that I’d like to make. The first is that there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that within (at least) mammalians species homosexuality is practiced and almost always warrants some kind of off-hand-by-the-way, dolphins might be gay.  I think this body of evidence has helped to shift the objection against homosexuality away from the more secular “It ain’t natural” arguments. Unfortunately this very shift has highlighted the very weakness of the argument from a natural cause and thus to my second point.

If we root the argument for the “rightness” of homosexuality in natural origins of the behavior (whether that’s neurological, evolutionarily-selected-for, whatever argument you want to pick) then we also open up much deeper issues that erode the entire foundation for rational thought. Is pedophilia good because it comes naturally to some. What about sociopaths and psychopaths? They are born with the “wrong” wiring but it is natural. We can circumvent these arguments and say that psychopathic and pedophiliac behaviors are not right because they deviate from social/cultural norms. But unless you have information I don’t have homosexual behavior is not a societal norm and is only at best practiced by 10% of the population. You can see the big mess this whole “natural” thing gets into. I won’t even mention all of the good and unnatural things we as humans do, like build shelters, reengineer our environment, practice medicine and care for the elderly and weak. We simply cannot point at homo-dolphins, wash our hands and expect fundamentalist Christians to revise their theology.

Let’s come at it from a different perspective by using a thought experiment. Let’s say that by some scientific method we can prove with near absolute certainty that homosexual behavior is a choice. Not just a subconscious choice influenced by whatever environmental factor but an actual conscious choice. Never mind that this makes most homosexuals liars or at best self-deluded. We realize that homosexual behavior in bonobos, dolphins and other mammals is shown to be mankind trying to imprint a sexual explanation for non-sexual behaviors, for example, what looks like homosexual behavior in dolphins are really attempts by male dolphins attempting to assert dominance over the other members of the pod. You get the idea. Would that change your opinion of the rightness or wrongness of homosexual behavior?

You’ll have to answer that question for yourself but answer is No. I don’t care if homosexuality is found to be a choice. I don’t personally believe that it is a choice but it really doesn’t matter. Consenting adults who are able to make this choice of their own free will have every right to express their love for one another in a loving, unharmful (well, you know, unless you are in to that) way. 

I’ll leave you with an appropriate excerpt from the Humanist Manifesto II published in 1973, they can sum it up more eloquently than I,

In the area of sexuality, we believe that intolerant attitudes, often cultivated by orthodox religions and puritanical cultures, unduly repress sexual conduct. The right to birth control, abortion, and divorce should be recognized. While we do not approve of exploitive, denigrating forms of sexual expression, neither do we wish to prohibit, by law or social sanction, sexual behavior between consenting adults. The many varieties of sexual exploration should not in themselves be considered “evil.” Without countenancing mindless permissiveness or unbridled promiscuity, a civilized society should be a tolerant one. Short of harming others or compelling them to do likewise, individuals should be permitted to express their sexual proclivities and pursue their lifestyles as they desire. We wish to cultivate the development of a responsible attitude toward sexuality, in which humans are not exploited as sexual objects and in which intimacy, sensitivity, respect and honesty in interpersonal relations are encouraged. Moral education for children and adults is an important way of developing awareness and sexual maturity (1973, section 6).

Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Future of FreeThought

Posted by Skeptigator on June 10, 2008

I have spent the last few days putting my thoughts to digital paper but they weren’t really my thoughts. They were thoughts that I only think are mine but really have come about from reading Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers, A History of American Secularism. In my first post on the matter I mentioned how profoundly this book has changed my view. How I feel to some extent a sense of connection with the past.

I liken it very loosely* to what I can imagine perhaps a homosexual in America might feel and may I be so bold as to draw a comparison between FreeThought and Homosexual Rights. The first step in the acceptance of homosexuals was the acknowledgement that “they” exist and that there is a community of them. I suppose step 2 was try not to get killed but then came step 3 begin to discover a shared history. There hasn’t been much of history for the GLBT community to draw on, they sort of sprang out of nowhere as you might be led to believe. Of couse, it’s becoming more and more apparent that there is an extensive “gay history” however it hasn’t been very pleasant and we’ll never know the full extent to which the homosexual community has always been around.

I suppose this is the natural evolution, if you will, of all groups as they struggle for identity.

This brings us to the main point of this article, the Future of FreeThought. What does tomorrow or even 5 years bring. Maybe we should be saying to ourselves, “Forget about the future. What does the present look like?”

Where we stand today

There are plenty of very good reasons to be pessimistic about the future of FreeThought considering the last 20 years in one sense hasn’t been that great. We’ve seen the ascendancy of the Religious Right during the 70’s through such organizations as Falwell’s Moral Majority and their ability to shape the political landscape of today (not to mention their power within the Republican party out of proportion to their numbers). The 80’s brought us the almost laughable Satanic Panic. The 90’s brought us the Republican Revolution and the rise of the Christian Coalition led by Ralph Reed. The 21st century was kicked off with a bang, specifically 4 bangs on 9/11. An event that should have led to soul-searching within religious circles on the power of faith and that without some kind of check or measure like reason and evidence all ideology particularly religious ideology can lead to some of the greatest atrocities of mankind. Instead, in America, the various Christian sects circled the wagons and drew Us vs. Them distinctions while the liberal left called Islam the Religion of Peace and tried to categorize the 19 young men as fundamentalists or extremists. No doubt they don’t represent the mainstream muslim but there are some very basic questions that are not being asked.

Today secularists and skeptics, atheists and agnostics face some of the same recurring issues that have cropped over the decades, nay, centuries. That thing called Intelligent Design (AKA warmed-over creationism) has been making inroads or at least the strategy has changed again to “academic freedom” bills. The broad support for faith-based initiatives and school vouchers is a reincarnated version of the very same kind of bill that was working it’s way through the Virginia Assembly that attempted to get the state of Virginia to fund religious education. The very thing that Madison and Jefferson worked vigorously to oppose and many evangelical groups of the day also opposed.

Susan Jacoby begins the final chapter of her book with a recent speech given by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia [full text here],

… the real underpinnings of Scalia’s support for the death penalty are to be found not in constitutional law but in the justice’s religious convictions. He believes that the state derives its power not from the consent of the governed – “We, the People,” as the [Constitution] plainly states – but from God. God has the power of life and death, and therefore lawful governments also have the right to exact the ultimate penalty. Democracy, with its pernicous idea that citizens are the ultimate arbiters of public policy, is responsible for the rise of opposition to the death penalty in the twentieth century. “Few doubted the morality of the death penalty in the age that believed in the divine right of kings,” Scalia noted in his speech. He would have been just as accurate had he pointed out that most subjects in absolute monarchies also supported the right of kings to torture and to impose the death penalty by drawing and quartering. To bolster his argument, Scalia turned to the perennial favorite of conservative politicians the evangelist Paul: [quotes Romans 13:1-4]

And this is from a Supreme Court justice. What happens when abortion makes it’s way to the SCOTUS? I wonder what a devout Catholic will make his decision based on, clearly not case law or prior precedent or any other impartial manner. I wouldn’t doubt if he quotes Psalms 139:13-16 in his opinion.

Now all of that is kind of a drag and I’m generally an optimistic person.

A Plan for the Future

If you are looking for me to start making predictions of what will happen in the future you can stop reading now. I don’t know and neither does anybody else but I do have some ideas about what we can begin to build today.

1) Identify that non-believers exist, acknowledge that you exist

  • A recent Pew Study shows that approximately 10.3% of the U.S. population identifies itself as either atheist, agnostic or secular-unaffiliated, there’s an additional 5-6% of the U.S. population that is religious-unaffiliated, maybe they just need to be told it’s OK to not believe.
  • Read that again 10% (that’s about 30 million people). We more than exist, we are significant chunk of the population.

2) Recognize that you have a history

  • I hope the last 3 posts have given you a taste of the extremely rich history that secularism and freethought have in America. If you don’t know about the last 3 posts here they are:
  1. Revolutionary FreeThought
  2. The Golden Age of FreeThought
  3. FreeThought in the 20th Century

3) Get involved

  • Join a group or start one. I live in Fort Wayne, Indiana, not exactly a liberal bastion by any stretch. We have a group, you can find us here, freethoughtfortwayne.org. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in starting your own.
  • Groups like CFI On Campus provide excellent resources for starting college campus groups.
  • Write letters to the editor, attend speeches and conferences promoting secular thought, scientific literacy and freethought.
  • Write your story, start a blog, write a book. We don’t live in an age anymore where you have to jump through hoops and sell your soul to get published anymore. You can self-publish. Every piece of literature out there adds to the growing number of freethought voices.

4) Begin Building Bridges

  • Instead of fighting or resisting religious groups, we should be defining where we have common ground. I suppose this goes back to that old adage, “The frontiers that trade won’t cross, armies will”, or something like that. If we won’t engage with religious groups we will only ever exchange volleys and that won’t get us anywhere
  • I’ve said it before and I say it again, we really should promote advocacy for secular government within the religious community.

Let’s do what we can to change the tone and tenor of the nation. If you are unhappy about the invasion of religion into every nook and cranny of our political discourse then speak up. Write your congressman, yours can’t be any worse than mine, Mark Souder (R) – 3rd Dist. IN. He or she works for you, remember that.

I would be interested in your comments. AM I missing something? Am I too optimistic?

* Of course, I’m a heterosexual, middle-class white guy, so what do I really know about being gay or even oppressed for that matter. Like I said “very loosely” based on the recent history of homosexuals.

Posted in FreeThought, Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »