Thursday, June 04, 2009

Letter to a Christian Friend

The argument for gay marriage belongs, mostly, in the realm of equality before the law. But in the interest of dialog, I have also recently argued about matters of faith with someone from the "other side." This is taken, with some very light editing, from a private correspondence with a Christian friend who does not support gay marriage. Having spent some significant time on it, I'd like to think it might make a few points of general interest. I have not edited it for grammar, as I typically do an "official" blog post, please excuse any sloppy grammar...

So, I am pretty sure I have alluded to this previously, but I will lay it out here in more explicit detail. I happen to agree that the question of moral imperatives and absolutes is the real question that might challenge an atheist or skeptic. There are certainly other reasons that many people are religious, but I cannot give much consideration to them. My desire to feel comfort, or to be reassured, or to feel that I have some eternal existence beyond this physical body, are all things that can sympathize and empathize with as a person with feelings, but none of those hold up as any sort of reason to actually believe anything. Any sort of faith based on that strikes me as nothing more than wishful thinking. As much as I might like to believe for those reasons, I cannot given them any real weight. I also wish I was stronger and smarter and didn't have so much gray hair, but oh well...

No, but the question of morals does hit home. Now, quite frankly, that too, could, in principle, just be more wishful thinking. It is most certainly possible, from a logical, empirical standpoint, that we are just on our own, morally speaking as well. Might makes right, or whatever you want to do goes... But it doesn't have to be so, in a Godless universe. Quite simply, I say God is "an" answer to the metaphysical question, but not necessarily "the" answer.

I have proposed that the basic moral laws can simply "be," just as the physical laws of the universe can simply "be." If someone else (you, perhaps) wants to say that God made them, or perhaps that God IS them, it is both impossible and undesirable for me to quarrel with you. This is a "lawgiver God," and I am explicitly indicating both moral law and physical law, and I have no problem with this conception. I imagine we're cool so far, yes?

Then, I expect, we get not so cool rather immediately after this. Terms, please: yes, in spite of my apparent "agnostic" concession in the above regard, I nevertheless would use the term "atheist" because my understanding of the "theistic" God is that the concept goes well beyond the "lawgiver God" that I designate above. A God that actively intervenes in the world, takes note of individual behavior, passes judgment on us, helps or fails to help us (or even when he's not answering our prayers, it is all according to some inscrutable "plan")??? I think this is all extremely unlikely. In my view, this is all NOT merely abstract metaphysical reasoning, I think the notion of an activist, interventionist, and benevolent God is actually subject to empirical analysis, and that that conception of God does not survive the encounter with facts in very good shape.

But let me not make the general case here. This has been my own preamble to an assault on the specific notions about sexual "sin." Is it really your contention that the creator of the universe concerns him/herself with how and with whom we rub body parts together? Apparently so, and the rather obvious proximate source for this belief appears to be these ancient texts, purporting to represent God's revelation to humanity. Really? That's where you're going to hang your hat!? You've already acknowledged, then, how you have no scriptural basis for condemning polygamy. How about stoning as punishment for adultery or fornication? How about slavery, explicitly endorsed in Leviticus? How about the genocide of the Israelites against the Canaanites?

OK, on those last two, I'm slipping back into the general case, but I think they remain rather difficult questions, to say the least... back to the main. Why, WHY would God make these rules!!?? Even more to the point, why would he make them, and then turn around and make people who, profoundly and deeply in their very nature, passionately want to break them!!?? I really think this God, if he existed, would be a real sick bastard. Having heard both directly and indirectly the stories of a good many gay people, almost all the stories I have heard indicate that there were signs from a VERY early age. And this is no surprise to me. Although I knew nothing of sex until much later, I do know that by 5 or 6 years old, I was interested in girls. And I was not just modeling adult behavior (although it was partly that, no doubt). I mean I was intrinsically fascinated by girls and women in some way that my fellow boys simply did not interest me. And as I have said, the stories of gay people I have heard are just the same, only it was the same and not the opposite sex that caught their eye in this way. If you think God made people (and I don't, but you do), then God made gay people. He made them, and then told them they could not act on their deepest sexual desires. While I guess I feel fortunate to not have been given that particular curse, I would have to call Him a bastard for cursing so many in this way.

The only rational basis for these proscriptions that I know of (and I use "rational" a bit loosely, here) is the purely teleological theory of sexual desire: God made sex in order to ensure the propagation of the species, and any other sexual expression is therefore a perversion of His design. Whew. Uh-oh. Guess I am cursed after all. Everything I have ever done in this regard, which was not specifically intended to at least theoretically produce a baby, was ALSO a perversion, right? Which was your point, in saying that we are all sinners... Well then, here is where I will call you on a different inconsistency then, why pick one perversion and single it out for moral (or legal) distinction? Either non-sanctioned sexual practices (anything other than married vaginal intercourse, apparently) are a "big deal" kind of sin, or a "little deal" kind of sin. If it's no big deal, then let the gays alone, let them do what they will, just as many of us do. If it IS a "big deal" kind of sin, then let's get right on in there and make sure all us heteros aren't doing any non-reproductive rubbing...

And consider, yes, the animals. In particular the dolphins and the bonobos, who are both observed to engage in non-reproductive, same-sex pairings. I think, in this instance (as with myriad other instances, in fact all instances I know of), evolution makes a whole lot more sense than some sort of divine design. Our brains evolved to enable all sorts of complex, social behaviors, which, in the aggregate, have enormous payoffs in survival and success. Sex has become, in part, one of those many forms of complex, social behavior, and it has, in many contexts at least, been divorced from its direct link to reproduction. A byproduct of our big, creative, adaptive brains. Not, I argue vehemently, a sick joke by a cruel God.

I will close out with more high-level theological musings. Do I assault your Christianity, per se? Well, I don't know, you may feel that I have, and perhaps it's true. But I really, truly do NOT object to the "lawgiver God." Not at all. But what I believe we should strive for, in talking about those laws, is to look for the deep structure laws, the ones that get at the core principles of what it means to be moral. I think worrying about where people put their genitals is WAY off track. It's there (in the Bible) because the people who wrote that book were quite concerned about it, for reasons that are not always clear (though I have my theories), but have nothing to do, in my view, with the will of a benevolent God.

I would take a cue from Jesus, in fact. He swept away all the arcane, Old Testament Jewish proscriptions about food in single sentence (I paraphrase from memory): "A man is not made unclean by what goes into his mouth, but by what comes out."

I would take his phrasing and suggest a reformulation for this context: A man or woman should not be judged by the places they put their sexual organs, but by the love that flows from their heart.

Sincerely, and with much regard,

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June 05, 2009 7:22 AM  

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