ROY CLEMENTS ARCHIVE
Is it rational to be anti-gay?
In my essay How to avoid the charge of homophobia (www.courage.org.uk/articles/article.asp?id=144) I stress the importance of rational argument. In response, a number of Christians have sent me contributions which they clearly feel satisfy this demand.
Many of these are rehearsals of the familiar hermeneutic arguments based on the, supposedly, "clear teaching" of the Bible. Some of these certainly are of high intellectual quality. I would mention in particular David Hilborn’s essay Rowan Williams amd Homosexuality (published by the Evangelical Alliance UK November 2002) and Robert Gagnon’s book The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon 2001). However, these admittedly erudite works of theological scholarship fail to address the issue I was raising. They try to prove that the Bible prohibits any and all forms of homosexual activity. I want to know what rational grounds there can be for such a verdict. For if there are no such grounds, then either the Bible’s view of this matter is intrinsically irrational or Hilborn and Gagnon seriously overstate their case. As an evangelical Christian I find the latter more likely.
However, some respondents did understand that, in order to oppose homosexuality, it was not enough simply to pontificate about "what the Bible says", since the conclusions we arrive at through biblical interpretation are crucially affected by our intellectual assumptions about what is plausible and reasonable. They, therefore, tried to direct me to works which provided a rational basis for their anti-gay opinions. I would like briefly to mention one notorious essay to which I have been referred by several correspondents:
Is Homosexual activity normal?
by Dr. E.R. Fields
quotations from Dr. Fields are in italics
In this essay, Dr Fields has compiled a remarkable list of the diseases and crimes which he believes are associated with homosexuality. He uses capital letters extensively and warns his readers at the outset:
The following is very graphic—I will not be responsible for liberal brain damage! Even though we all know liberals are already brain damaged!
He begins by enumerating various kinds of "gay" sexual activity including oral sex, anal sex, sadomasochism and anonymous sexual encounters. He claims that homosexuals are by nature promiscuous, citing a 1992 study performed in Seattle which, he claims, revealed that the average homosexual in one year sodomised 108 males and swallowed semen from 48 of them.
He goes on to detail the medical consequences of what he terms the aforementioned unsanitary activity of homosexuals. These include intestinal parasites (normally only common in backward nations of the third-world), hepatitis B ( a deadly communicable disease easily transmitted to innocent people through food service, a favourite career of homosexuals) and AIDS (which Dr. Fields insists would never have swept American and Europe were it not for the homos and their disgusting sexual practices).
He proceeds to argue that homosexuals die much earlier than others: they are 100 times more likely to be murdered (usually by other gays), 25 times more likely to commit suicide, and 19 times more likely to die in a traffic accident. These statistics, he suggests, are all related to the fact that severe emotional problems are associated with homosexuality. He further claims, in this connection, that many of the most notorious mass murderers were homosexual.
His next line of argument is that homosexuals prey on young boys. He identifies several American based paedophile groups as part of the gay mainstream and surmises that since homos do not reproduce, they must recruit the young into their ranks.
Finally, he argues that great civilisations have all been the creation of heterosexuals. The emergence of homosexuality, he says, is a sign of cultural decadence heralding the decline and fall of civilisations. It should therefore be condemned by all patriots. His only hope in the face of advancing liberalism seems to be that the AIDS pandemic may save the world from this perversion.
Frankly, if this is the nearest to a rational defence that the anti-gay Christian lobby can muster, my point is proven. Dr. Fields’ essay reeks of the kind of unbalanced, pseudo-academic polemic that one frequently encounters in pamphlets promoting political or religious extremism. Let me highlight just a few of the fallacies in his argument.
The vast majority of the undesirable medical conditions which Dr Fields mentions are not linked to homophile affection per se, but to any kind of promiscuous or irresponsible sexual activity, whether straight or gay. Undoubtedly such behaviour is socially reprehensible, but it is nonsense to blame the homosexual community for all the sexually transmitted diseases in the world. Furthermore, lesbians are at less risk of such diseases than heterosexual women. Are they then to be applauded for their laudable contribution to public hygiene?
Are homosexuals inherently promiscuous? I am not convinced they are. Christians have always recognised that one of the functions of marriage was to provide a socially healthy outlet for sexual desire. In the absence of such an institution, a powerful instinct like the male sex drive will inevitably lead to uncontrolled patterns of behaviour. If promiscuity is more common among homosexuals, I suspect it has a lot to do with the sexual frustration and repression generated by a society that stigmatises them simply for being what they are, and offers them no approved avenue for the "right" expression of their sexuality.
The attempt to establish a link between homosexuality and severe emotional problems is similarly flawed. It is not surprising that a minority social group who are subjected to guilt and ostracism may be vulnerable to neurotic symptoms like low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. But such emotional problems are the result, not of homosexual orientation, but of social stigmatisation. It was the recognition of this that led the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of recognised mental illnesses. Studies which take care in their statistical sampling techniques reveal no significant differences in mental and emotional stability between straight and gay people.
Dr. Fields’ blurring of the boundary between paedophilia and homosexuality is downright disgraceful. He very grudgingly admits that "cautious gays" seek the exclusion of paedophile groups from gay parades. What he conspicuously fails to do is to acknowledge the clear moral distinction between the sexual abuse of children (male or female) and loving consensual relationships shared by adults.
As for his final salvo, attributing the fall of civilisations to homosexuality, the evidence simply does not prove his case. Alexander the Great, like many other prominent Greek and Roman heroes, was indisputably attracted sexually to other men. Innumerable artists and dramatists, scientists and mathematicians, philosophers and politicians, who have made signal contributions to human culture, have been gay. Hedonistic immorality can undoubtedly play a part in the downfall of civilisations, but history (and the book of Amos) suggests that religious complacency and social injustice are even more significant factors.
The most worrying thing about this essay is not its laughable distortions but the degree of credence which some Christians are clearly prepared to give to it. If this is what evangelicals consider to be a rational defence, then it is no wonder that Christian apologetics are in such a parlous state.
One of the most interesting features of Dr Fields’ diatribe is the poorly concealed attitude of personal disgust that permeates his prose. Those who are interested in understanding this better might wish to get hold of an essay by the Princeton ethicist, Professor Jeffrey Stout. It is entitled Moral Abominations, and can be found either in his own book, Ethics after Babel (1988, Beacon Press), or in the compilation by Eugene Rogers entitled Theology and Sexuality (2002 Blackwell).
This is how his essay begins:
Suppose the action I am imagining is a harmless and highly pleasurable expression of loving respect between consenting adults bound to each other by public commitments of fidelity. Could such an action be an abomination on a par with cannibalism, bestiality and intercourse with corpses? Evidently not, for in granting that the action brings harmless pleasure, derives from the mutual commitment and informed consent of competent adults, and expresses loving respect, we seem to have excluded all possible grounds for a conclusion as extremely negative. Utility measures up well; no rights have been violated; both parties have been treated as ends in themselves. How could such an action be abominable? But add that the action in question is sodomy and the adults in question are both males, and we see at once that many people would indeed view this action as an abomination. How can this be so? … It seems like a mere superstition or taboo—an attitude that cannot be explained by the presence of good reasons. Small wonder then that debates over homosexuality often degenerate quickly into ad hominem attacks.
Professor Stout continues with a fascinating analysis of the nature of "abomination" and its pedigree in ethical debate. I thoroughly recommend his essay—especially to those respondents who suggested I should visit Dr. Fields’ website!
In my essay, how to avoid the charge of homophobia, I stressed the importance of rational argument. In response, a number of Christians have sent me contributions which they clearly feel satisfy this demand. Many are rehearsals of the familiar hermeneutic arguments based on the, supposedly, "clear teaching" of the Bible. However, even the most erudite works of theological scholarship fail to address the issue I was raising. They try to prove that the Bible prohibits any and all forms of homosexual activity. I want to know what rational grounds there can be for such a verdict. For if there are no such grounds, then either the Bible’s view of this matter is intrinsically irrational or exponents of such "clear teaching" seriously overstate their case. As an evangelical Christian I find the latter more likely.