Friday, January 26, 2007

The prejudice that dare not speak its logic

I don’t have anything else to say about the gay adoption issue, other than to agree with Dave:

“The logic of the church's position does indeed seem to be that the ONLY people their adoption agencies automatically turn away are homosexual ones in stable relationships, including those who've signed a civil contract. The basis of this distinction between attached and unattached gays can only be the assumption that the former engage in homosexual acts with one another, which is against God's plan for procreation, whereas single lesbians and gays don't go in for homosexual acts at all. This is a strategy of don't ask, don't tell taken to a zany new extreme of self-delusion.”

Well, either it’s self-delusion or it’s a piece of political manoeuvring to avoid doing anything that might be seen as tolerating gay ‘acts’. Probably a bit of both, because whatever church leaders may like to think, they are politicians of a kind as well as clerics.

But either way, this row raises something that consistently baffles me: the link between religion and homophobia.

Now, of course, not all religious people are homophobes and not all homophobes are religious. There’s an all-too-common attitude of revulsion to the thought of gay sex (male-male much more so than female-female), which need have no religious component whatsoever. While I don’t like this view, I do at least find it intelligible.

But also, there are very many religious believers who in a lot of respects are good people but still hold on to their homophobia. And sure, it’s often an attitude more of pity than hatred, but it’s still a powerful negative view that gay sex among adults is morally inferior. I just don’t understand why these people, with conscience and empathy, are so happy to endorse a kind, just, loving creator who wants them to treat ‘practising’ gay people as wrongdoers.

I think it’s near-tragic that such people believe in doing good, and in many way achieve a lot of good things with religious motivation (the Catholic adoption agencies do indeed help troubled kids get better lives, and that’s great) – but they insist on putting poisonous icing on the cake. And they maintain that the poison isn’t really poison at all but just disinfectant. And if they can’t slip this little bit of poison into the good, wholesome cake that they’re feeding people, then they’ll shut up shop.

Paul’s Letter to the Bloggers

Having written the above, I’ve now seen this post from Paul Burgin, which clarifies things a little. He says:

“This issue is part of a larger battle. There are two types of opponents here among the Christian community. The first are homophobic, the second are not and yet try and follow what they believe the Bible tells them, and are struggling to get a balanced perspective on all this. Many who oppose on this issue wonder what the next battle will be on where they feel they are compromising their beliefs. They feel frightened and scared as the gay community are, albeit from a different perspective, and feel very defensive. Many Christians always feel they are a minority in society, whether it appears they are or not.”

The first type, I think, are basically those viscerally repelled by the thought of gay sex – and in this case they just happen to be religious. They’ll seize on whatever bits of the Bible that seem to endorse their prejudice. Nasty but, I think, intelligible.

It’s the second group that puzzles me: the ones who toe the line on anti-gay discrimination, even if their intent isn’t itself bigoted. (I wouldn’t care to guess at the relative proportions of the two types.)

Now, I appreciate that there’s the sense of being a part of a community and not wanting to rock the boat, and also the fear that secular liberalism is pushing a kind of amoral relativism (‘where will it end?’). Both of these things could motivate sticking to the dogma.

And, of course, there are parts of the Bible that aren’t exactly nice about homosexuality. But – and let me be blunt – there’s a lot of crap in the Bible. Leviticus 19:19 is my favourite piece of weirdness, banning the wearing of clothes made of linen and wool mixed together. More strange (and frankly immoral) rules here.

Hardly any Christians take this stuff seriously, but the “abomination” of gay sex is much more widely endorsed. So I think it’s likely to be, as Paul says, partly to do with a feeling of being a community, particularly an embattled one. But surely there’s more than that – the US, for instance, has a much larger, stronger and more confident Christian population than does Britain, but there’s still the same phenomenon of ‘non-bigoted homophobia’ (for want of a better phrase) among many of that population.

And more to the point: religious practice of course involves community identity, coming together around a place of worship – but centrally, ultimately, it’s about the relationship between the believer and god, and the moral code that god wants them to follow.

If so, then “compromising their beliefs” (as Paul puts it) is a matter of straying from god, not from the church or the community. Peer pressure (or guidance from church leaders) is incidental: it’ll hopefully push in the right direction, but it shouldn’t be relied on uncritically and must be rejected when it goes awry.

So I come back to my bafflement: why do these mostly decent people willingly accept that their kind, just, loving god wants them to treat gay people as wrongdoers? Do they clearly understand why they think gay sex is harmful and immoral (in the same way that we do about murder)? If not, if it’s not a good moral rule, then it can’t be god’s – can it?

1 comment:

Erik said...

"So I come back to my bafflement: why do these mostly decent people willingly accept that their kind, just, loving god wants them to treat gay people as wrongdoers?"

Because that's what it says in their Book, pure and simple.