Thursday, March 22, 2007

"God and his Gays"

I'm a little late to this, but in yesterday's Washington Post, Harold Meyerson talks about the problem religious conservatives are having with research which supports the view that men and women are born-not made-gay:
Science is stealing up on America's religious fundamentalists, causing much alarm. Consider the dilemma of the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and a leading figure in the Southern Baptist firmament.
Writing in his blog this month, Mohler acknowledged that " the direction of the research" increasingly points to the possibility that a "biological basis for sexual orientation exists." Mohler noted in a later blog post, his admission that the data suggest that homosexuality may be as genetically determined as hair color produced a torrent of irate e-mail from his fellow evangelical Christians. Up to now, the preferred theory among Christian conservatives has been that homosexuality is behaviorally induced and thus can be unlearned. That gave added moral weight to the biblical proscriptions of gay and lesbian sex and to the Bible's condemnation of homosexuality as a sin -- though for those who believe in biblical inerrancy, no added moral weight was necessary.

But once you recognize homosexuality as a genetic reality, it does create a theological dilemma for the Mohlers among us, for it means that God is making people who, in the midst of what may otherwise be morally exemplary lives, have a special and inherent predisposition to sin.

[This] means that a gay person's duty is to suppress his God-given instincts while a straight person's duty is to fulfill his.
Meyerson then goes on to discuss the implications that this understanding has on what kind of God it is that religious fundamentalists believe in, and how it may be a God that is increasingly unacceptable to younger generations of Americans. And although I support Meyerson's larger point, I did think to myself that, in fact, it is typical Christian thought that God deliberately creates (or allows to come into being, however you look at it) men and women who may in fact have a pre-disposition to sin, but that despite such disposition, men and women are expected to resist the desire to sin. And that's the last I thought of it until I saw Robert Farley's post about Meyerson's column over at Lawyers, Guns and Money. He makes essentially the same point that I do, but from this he derives a larger and more important implication:
I don't think there's anything about evangelical Christian doctrine suggesting that all people walk equally difficult paths; God, I assume they would say, obviously lays greater challenges before some than others, for reasons that only He perceives.

Conservatives have long been tolerant of and even attached to the idea that certain forms of difference are inherent. Inherent difference in race, class, and gender provides an easy and convenient explanation of inequality, and a ready defense against egalitarian arguments.

On the other hand, I'll also admit that I really don't understand the other side of the argument. Leftist, progressive politics has a strong record of denying inherent inequality and inherent difference; this is key to the leftist critique of racial, gender, and class hierarchy. On the question of homosexuality, however, a lot of progressives seem willing to accept the "inherency" argument, and even to use it as a foundation for a case about equal treatment for gays and lesbians.
But as Farley notes, the inherency of homosexuality isn't going to do it as far as convincing people that gays deserve the same rights that straights do. As Farley points out, conservatives are okay with people being inherently inferior than others, and being treated and rewarded differently as a result. Let's consider it in the context of race. White racists believed that blacks were inferior intellectually and morally. They knew that blacks were born that way, but it didn't matter. Blacks deserved the treatment they got, despite the fact that they had no choice in being made the way that they were even in the thinking of white racists.

Perhaps homosexual bias and discrimination in our society is not so pervasive and reprehensible as racism directed towards blacks (and perhaps it is; that's a separate argument.) But that's not the point. The point is that religious conservatives will not recognize that homosexuals deserve equality based on some inherency of their sexual identity; they will expect them to battle their homosexuality to lead a "moral" life. And homophobes, with our without religious justification, see homosexuals as morally inferior despite the fact that homosexuals may have no choice in who they are. It simply doesn't matter that they were made that way.

Like Farley, I've always thought that the inherency argument is a poor one to make for equal treatment of gays. As a liberal, I do not believe that there is any shame in insisting that gays can either be made the way they are, or "choose" to be gay, because there's nothing "inherently" wrong with their lifestyle. It simply is not a moral issue that someone may choose to be attracted to and fall in love with someone of the same sex.

That's the argument we ought to be making, and I think largely, many Americans are starting to feel that way.

1 comment:

Nat-Wu said...

I think a lot of people on the moderate liberal side of the debate are in favor of gays, but don't feel comfortable abandoning the idea of morality, thus they cling to the notion of inherency. That way they can debate on common ground with conservative gay-haters. I've never stopped to really think about the implications of inherency, but anyway it's true that it doesn't matter. The only people to whom that morality argument really matters are those you can't convince of their wrongness anyway. I don't care why someone is gay; let them do what they want as long as it doesn't infringe on my rights.