Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Weapons" wink, wink ... of Moral Values and Equality

Religious Freedom and the Tolerance Vigilantes

This is Chai R. Feldblum, President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Not quite the Glenn Beck of the Left, but close. See what you think.

As for what war the weapons of moral values and equality will be waging, here is what Feldblum argued in a recent paper:
[W]e gain something as a society if we acknowledge that a law requiring individuals to act in a certain way might burden some individuals’ belief liberty. Such an acknowledgement is necessary if we wish to be respectful of the whole person. Protecting one group’s identity liberty may, at times, require that we burden others’ belief liberty. ... I believe it is essential that we not privilege moral beliefs that are religiously based over other sincerely held core, moral beliefs. Laws passed pursuant to public policies may burden the belief liberty of those who adhere to either religious or secular beliefs.
Writes Deal Hudson:
In 2006, Feldblum signed a document titled "Beyond Same Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision for All Our Families & Relationships." This petition offers a "new vision" for securing governmental and institutional recognition of "diverse kinds of partnerships."

By signing this petition, Feldblum also expressed her support for polygamy: Among the stated "partnerships" the petition seeks to protect are "households in which there is more than one conjugal partner."
Sources: Mirror of Justice and InsideCatholic


Doughlas Remy said...

Gil, I found nothing in Feldblum’s speech—or the quotation from her paper—to disagree with. (I am setting aside Deal Hudson’s claim about polygamy for now, as I don’t know whether or not it is accurate, quoted in or out of context, etc.)

Feldman says that “heterosexual sex is good.” And she adds, “...within a certain framework (marriage).”

I think we would all agree with that. And she continues, “Sex is a basic building block for intimacy. Intimacy and connections between couples and within families are integral buildings blocks for a healthy society.” And finally, “Supporting families as a political and moral unit of our society is important for a healthy society.”

All well and good. What appears to have scandalized you is Feldman’s claim that these same assertions can be made about gay sex.

So here we are back to the same problem as before: prejudice.

That’s where we need to focus our attention. What is the real basis for the belief that gay sex is somehow not as good as heterosexual sex? Common sense? Tradition? Authority? To echo Norma’s earlier questions, “Whose common sense?” “Whose tradition?” and “Whose authority?”

And that brings us to the quotation from Feldman’s paper, where she says, “Laws passed pursuant to public policies may burden the belief liberty of those who adhere to either religious or secular beliefs.” (emphasis mine) This is not a profound idea, and there is nothing here to be scandalized about. In fact, it is just obvious that where religious and secular beliefs collide, someone is going to be unhappy about political outcomes.

Finally, here are Feldman’s five principles, transcribed. Again, I find nothing to disagree with here, and I heartily support her efforts:

1. Moral values are important to a healthy society.

2. Intimate relationships between individuals and in family structures are critical moral and political units that can create a healthy society.

3. It’s the government’s responsibility to nurture these moral and political units.

4. People in opposite –sex relationships and in same-sex relationships equally deserve support from public policies.

5. Our current public policies undermine the moral and political unit of same-sex families, and that’s a moral wrong that needs to be rectified.

Athos said...

How do you begin a debate when one's presuppositions about epistemology - how we know that we know anything for certain - are at such variance?

What is the real basis for the belief that gay sex is somehow not as good as heterosexual sex? Common sense? Tradition? Authority? To echo Norma’s earlier questions, “Whose common sense?” “Whose tradition?” and “Whose authority?”

Indeed. "As good," at one time meant "capable of producing without resort to adopting or donor sperm or petri dishes.

It might be argued that As good also once meant lifelong marital commitment, as Rabbi Ben Ezra (Robert Browning) said:
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand Who saith "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid..

But that, I suppose, would be deemed "prejudice" against all those happily divorced persons...

John said...


You rather glibly assert that Gil's position brings us back to the "same (old) problem": prejudice. This is, of course, the default position of any individual or group that faces opposition to whatever cause or alleged "right" is being championed by that individual or group. And it is a generally effective way to silence much of the opposition since opinions and actions based on "pre-judgment" are seen as anathema to good old-fashioned "post-judgment", based as it supposedly is on an open-minded and careful examination of all the evidence. The trouble is that labeling a person's position on a critical cultural issue (i.e.: a wholesale and reckless redefinition of marriage with all the attendant legal and cultural ramifications flowing therefrom) as "prejudice" and then dismissing it(implicitly, if not explicitly) as unworthy of consideration is itself anathema to an open-minded and careful examination of that person's point of view.

In fact, the last thing that you can fairly accuse Gil Bailie of is prejudice! Instead, Gil is, it seems to me, merely attempting to be faithful to Christianity's long-held belief in theTrinitarian God in whose image all of us are made. We are called to be "persons" which is not only NOT synonymous with the modern "self" but is, in fact, precisely the opposite of the isolated individual which is held in such high regard in our time. In short, we are called to relationship. However, our ability to "relate" to one another is limited by our existence within our physical bodies. It is for this reason that the nuptial relationship, where the two become one, is so sacred. It is the most perfect human and physical expression of our identity with the Triune God.

Thus, Gil, more and more "a voice crying out in the wilderness", is calling us to be faithful to our vocation. He is calling us to recognize that the relativistic stance that deems all sexual encounters to be equally "good" requires a rejection of a bedrock Judeo-Christian belief by a culture which has heretofore enjoyed the enormous blessings which have flowed from its Judeo-Christian heritage. This is not prejudice; this is the fulfillment of Gil's “Shama” responsibility.

As Gil himself has pointed out in other places, our culture is actively throwing off the only yoke that is easy and the only burden that is light. He is merely attempting to open our eyes and ears to what we are casting away and what is waiting in the wings to fill the void.

Mike said...

Absolutely marvelous. Thank you very much.

I find it interesting that morality is being considered necessary as a means and not as an end, particularly calling morality a weapon??? For me, this speaks volumes.

And I wonder, can anyone here who is defending Feldblum tell me why she uses the terms she uses.
I would like to hear from you because it would appear that she is usng them, knowing that "one group’s identity liberty may, at times, require that we burden others’ belief liberty" might be an easier pill to swallow than one group's sexual identity imposing its beliefs on another's religious freedom.

Indeed she is trying to use morality as a weapon, but she is not very effective at camouflaging it.

Mike said...

Absolutely marvelous. Thank you very much.

I find it interesting that morality is being considered necessary as a means and not as an end, particularly calling morality a weapon??? For me, this speaks volumes.

And I wonder, can anyone here who is defending Feldblum tell me why she uses the terms she uses.
I would like to hear from you because it would appear that she is usng them, knowing that "one group’s identity liberty may, at times, require that we burden others’ belief liberty" might be an easier pill to swallow than one group's sexual identity imposing its beliefs on another's religious freedom.
Indeed she is trying to use morality as a weapon, but she is not very effective at camouflaging it.

Doughlas Remy said...

(Part One)
John, I fully agree with you that the word “prejudice” should not be up for grabs by any and all groups wishing to silence opposition. This is why I checked its meaning before using it. Fortunately, it is defined rather narrowly, compared to many English words, and you will find the following in Merriam-Webster:

Prejudice: (1) An adverse opinion or leaning formed without just ground or before sufficient knowledge. (2) An irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics.

Note the word “irrational” in the definition. Gil has never provided a single shred of evidence to support his various claims about homosexuality—e.g., that it leads to depression and suicide, or that the gay lifestyle is “feral, lifeless, and loveless,” or that it is “objectively disordered,” or that “a mountain of social science” supports his claims, or that same-sex marriage will destroy Western Civilization. I don’t know where Gil was educated, but my professors in the state university I attended would have marked me down severely for such speculations, unsubstantiated claims, and outright misrepresentations.

In fact, in all the discussions we have had about homosexuality on this blogsite, no one has provided any rational justifications whatsoever for Gil’s claims. No one has pointed to a single cause-and-effect relationship between homosexuality and any of the supposed “ills” that are popularly associated with it. Nor has anyone explained how same-sex marriage will adversely affect their own marriage or undermine the institution of marriage. Athos’s two arguments just above (about sperms and eggs and lifelong marital commitment) are about the best anyone has been able to come up with, and they are so easy to knock down that I wonder why he even bothered putting them up. He is obviously struggling to buttress a belief that he has never seriously questioned (and dare not, I should add.)

What we have heard from Gil is not fact or evidence, but fear—irrational fear, cloaking itself in theology and “anthropology.”

Irrational fears and prejudice always try to find cover in something larger and more respectable. They crave the legitimacy that the grand ideological systems confer on them. And in turn, those ideologies are often fashioned out of people’s fears and become fear-driven. Sadly, the end result of all this individual and institutionalized fear is often scapegoating.

I clearly favor “an open-minded and careful examination of all the evidence,” as you put it. I have been examining the evidence—Gil’s words—for many years. This is why I feel fully justified in using the word “prejudice” to describe his attitudes toward gays and lesbians. There’s a perfect fit. If his attitudes are not prejudiced, then the word “prejudice” simply has no meaning.

I respect, but do not share, Gil’s views about the Trinity, nuptial relationships, etc., and I am not opposed to any theological viewpoint that fosters peace and understanding. However, as a parent, an educator, and a gay man, I do not approve of language that seeks to demean and stigmatize people on the basis of their sexual orientation. Such language can be described epidemiologically. When it spreads throughout the culture and is passed from one generation to the next, it sooner or later finds fertile soil in our schools and becomes one more problem that educators, parents, and the children themselves must deal with. Often, such problems have a violent dimension. Children and teens, as we all know, can be vicious toward each other. Why provide them with any further justifications for shunning and bullying behavior?

Doughlas Remy said...

(Part Two)
It is simply unkind and unnecessary to tell gays and lesbians that their way of loving and of achieving intimacy is “not as good” as that of heterosexuals. Such language creates strife and resentment, and there is absolutely no rational basis for the presuppositions behind it. It is based on prejudice, pure and simple. In this particular case, the prejudice is clever enough to wrap itself in religious teachings that, though arbitrary and culturally relative, claim divine legitimacy and eternal truth for themselves.

Yesterday, I watched a U-Tube video showing two thugs beating up a young gay man on the street in New York City. It was horribly violent, and I couldn’t finish the clip. Why do you think the perpetrators felt justified in doing this to him? What sorts of epithets were they using as they beat him? Where did these epithets come from? Could they have heard them from their parents? Could they have heard their elders—even religious leaders—demeaning gays with language like Gil has used? I think that when we say that one group of people (about 30 million in this country) are somehow bad or inferior because of the way they love each other, then we should be prepared to explain why we think so, and in real-world terms, without recourse to theological mumbo-jumbo that is so clearly refuted and contradicted by empirical studies.

Here is what the British Medical Journal had to say in a 2004 editorial:

In spite of every mental health and medical association in the U.S. stating unequivocally that there is no scientific evidence that homosexuality is a disorder, many religious organizations continue to declare homosexuality or homosexual behavior as sinful and immoral. This creates spiritual crises for many people who have grown up within anti-homosexual religious families and communities.

The suicide rate among same-sex-oriented teens in the U.S. continues to be more than three times that of heterosexual teens. There is a clear and well-established causal connection between these suicides and the extremely toxic religious teachings about homosexuality that abound in our culture. Meanwhile, there is no clear and well-established causal connection between homosexuality and suicide. I invite you to draw your conclusions accordingly, and please don’t delay, because a life may depend upon it.

And finally, a detail: You support Gil’s denunciation of a “relativistic stance that deems all sexual encounters to be equally good.” This is a straw man. No one has made any such claim.

John said...


Your citation to M.-W.'s definition is reasonable but the glass you see as half full is half empty in my view. Whether Gil has adequately footnoted his blog posts or offered sufficient "evidence" to support them can certainly be debated. But this does not support your argument that his "various claims" are, as per the M-W definition, "without just ground" or "irrational". And it also does not mean that no evidence exists in support of his claims. (I freely admit that I have not researched this issue in preparation for this post.) I also think that defining "prejudice" via terms like irrational or without just ground begs the question since those terms are fairly subjective, requiring value judgments about which it can be difficult, if not impossible, to reach any meaningful consensus.

As for your suggestion that Gil's views are driven by "fear", I've noticed over the last number of years that this characterization of another's views (with whom, of course, one disagrees) has become very popular. Like labeling a view as prejudiced, describing a view as driven by fear is an easy way to put one on the defensive. It reminds me of that seemingly ubiquitous rejoinder "you just don't get it" and is entitled to the same weight as such a statement.

You also state your disapproval of " language that seeks to demean and stigmatize" based on sexual orientation I don't disagree; in fact, language that demeans or stigmatizes anyone is best avoided. But I suspect that your concern has much less to do with language then with the belief that that our culture should view homosexuality and heterosexuality as indistinguishable, whether legally, morally or sociologically. Whether we avoid demeaning language or not, the underlying cultural questions will still exist. And notwithstanding "Norma's" rejection of tradition, authority or common sense is having any role in deciding those questions, it seems fair to me to look out over several thousand years of Judeo-Christian tradition and decide to come down, as Gil does, in favor of one of that traditions bedrock concerns (no, not stoning homosexuals; the belief that sexual love between a man and a woman is an entry point into the Trinitarian reality of God.)

Further, to infer that Gil's views somehow lead to the beating of gays by street thugs seems strangely familiar. Oh yes, the logic underlying this suggestion is the same type of logic for which you berate Gil regarding his descriptions of the fruits of the homosexual lifestyle. If it is out of bounds, in your view, to suggest that homosexuality is closely associated with depression, suicide and the rest, it should also be out of bounds to suggest that resisting the cultural "normalization" of homosexuality causes street thuggery or violence of any kind.

Finally, I will say again that Gil is not advocating meanness or abuse of young people or anyone else. Neither am I. We are called to love one another as Christ loves us-a very, very high bar. However, if people are now to be ruled out of order for decrying trends, behavior or beliefs which are in fundamental conflict with norms or beliefs upon which the culture has stood for millennia because this will result in hurt feelings or a decrease in one's self-esteem, then the voice of the prophet (not to mention the parent, teacher, priest, rabbi, Minister or mentor of any kind) has effectively been stifled.

Doughlas Remy said...

(Part One)
John, I am far less equivocal than you about Gil’s offering of evidence for his claims. He simply has not offered any such evidence, and yet he refers to “a mountain of social science” supporting those claims. That mountain does not exist. Once again, every mental health and medical association in the U.S. has stated unequivocally that there is no scientific evidence that homosexuality is a disorder. This is no longer debatable. It is just a fact, like plate tectonics, anthropogenic climate change, the earth’s rotation around the sun, or evolution. (And yes, evolution is a fact.)

In discussing these issues with folks whose approach is purely faith-based, I sometimes feel like city officials in Oregon City, OR must have recently felt when trying to convince Carl Worthington, who believes in faith healing, that he should have brought his daughter to the hospital when she began showing signs of serious illness. She died of bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection that could have been cured with antibiotics. Her father was unrepentant. He simply did not believe in the power of modern medicine. But he steadfastly believed in the power of prayer. (Read this story in the current issue of Harper’s.)

My impression is that I am addressing several people on this site, including Gil, who are extremely knowledgeable about all the nuances of their chosen faith and could probably even tell you how many angels dance on the head of a pin, but who have very little education in any of the sciences—human or natural—and are dismissive of the scientific method. Dismissive, that is, until they fly across the country in a jet or go in for elective surgery. Then they will expect the most rigorous adherence to scientific principles on the part of those in whose hands they’ve placed their lives.

Re: Characterizations of another’s views as “fear” and “prejudice.” Whether or not such characterizations have become “popular” in recent years is hardly the question. Nor is the fact that some people are put on the defensive by them. Fear and prejudice are real motivators of human behavior. The only question that we need to ask is whether we have correctly identified them. I searched out the definition of “prejudice” and concluded on the basis of Gil’s claims that his views were prejudiced because they are irrational and without just ground. I do not consider circular and self-referencing theologies to be “just ground” for discrimination. While growing up, I repeatedly listened to my parents quoting the Bible to justify the oppression of blacks in our country. Now I hear Gil quoting the Catholic Catechism to justify discrimination against gays and lesbians. Do you think I am wrong to see a parallel? Note that in neither case is there any rational, or evidenciary, justification for the theological position. (It is solely a matter of “faith.”)

Doughlas Remy said...

(Part Two)
Re: Fear. We are all fearful, and fear has a vital biological function, because it prepares us to act against a perceived threat. I am fearful when I hear hate speech or see thugs beating up a gay man on the streets of New York. Gil is fearful of pedophiles, as he should be. They should inspire fear and disgust. If we do not recognize and fear the threat that they represent, then we may be unprepared to take action.

Again, these fears are nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, they serve a useful purpose. They are rational fears.

Homophobia, however, is an irrational fear. It is based in flawed assumptions, mythological thinking (méconnaissance), prejudice, and generalizations, and it is mimetically induced. However, it can be dispelled by careful thought—thought so careful, in fact, that it may lead to what people of faith often call a “conversion” experience. This, to me, is a religious experience eminently worth having. It is what I always imagined the message of Jesus to be about, namely, the realization that people whom we imagine to be inalienably “other” are in fact like us, and that the differences between us aren’t at all like huge boulders blocking our path. They are more like pebbles that we can easily step over. (To those of you familiar with Girard, I am talking about the “skandalon.”)

This is why I continue to point out that Gil’s “mountain” is just a skandalon. It does not in fact exist, and we can thank the scientific method (one of the fruits of the secularization brought about by the Gospels) for this realization.

I hope this addresses your concerns about what you perceive to be a widespread belief that “our culture should view homosexuality and heterosexuality as indistinguishable.” In fact, I know of no one who holds this belief, and I do not hold it myself. Of course there are differences, as any fool can see. What I am saying is that these differences have become stumbling blocks because their importance has been vastly exaggerated through all the mechanisms of fear, prejudice, mimesis, etc., that I mentioned earlier.

Catholics are entitled to see sexual love between a man and a woman as an entry point into the Trinitarian reality of God. That is a beautiful concept as long as it does not develop a dark side. It is the dark side that I am concerned about. Is it because of this concept that Gil uses demeaning and stigmatizing language about gays and lesbians? And since theologizing (fashioning a God that suits our needs) is so rampant in these circles, why not fashion a sentiment that is more inclusive, e.g., that either heterosexual or homosexual love may be an entry point into the Trinitarian reality of God? Indeed, why not? But then we come back around to the question that Feldblum’s speech raises—the question of whether gay sex is good. And for the answer to that question, Gil goes to the Catechism, and I go to the American Psychological Association.

But I am not a Catholic, and so the concept that you’ve alluded to has no meaning for me. I am much more concerned with practical matters like holding jobs, feeling safe on the streets, and visiting my partner in the hospital if he is injured. And I am concerned on behalf of gay children and youth who hear the constant drumbeat of homophobia in this country and come to feel that they are flawed human beings.

The suicide rate among gay youth is intolerably high. Most youth commit suicide because of low self-esteem. If, in your words, the “norms or beliefs upon which the culture has stood for millennia” are causing low self-esteem in these youth, then I say we need to re-examine those norms and beliefs without delay. Again, the parallel with racism is all too clear.

If the "voice of the prophet" is going to declare 30 million Americans “abnormal,” either directly or by inference, then I, for one, am ready to denounce the prophet as a false prophet.