“Hey, you. Yes, you. Give me $20.00.”
But wait — you’re looking at me askance. Do you doubt my sincerity? Rather, do you doubt my sanity? What sort of person just walks up to you and demands you hand over a pair of sawbucks… or anything else? A child, maybe, as they don’t know any better than to play “Stand and Deliver” anytime they have a desire, or someone lacking in social graces, or someone especially desperate. Or, perhaps, someone used to having their way.
What’s lacking in my request for $20.00 is an explanation. You will want to know why I want $20.00 and not just any set of reasons are going to count as “reasons” will they? So, my argument for your parting with hard earned cash had best be pretty good or you aren’t giving me the time of day, much less moolah.
Let me try this again.
“Hey. I need $20.00 because my psych meds are out and I’m dead broke. If I don’t get them today, I’ll become suicidal inside the week and I don’t get paid for 13 days. Will you help me, please?”
Assuming this is all true, you might consider helping if you have any money. I have at least made a rational attempt to give a meaningful, understandable, reasonable, clear explanation of my request. It’s no longer a demand based on nothing, nor is it rude, and it isn’t senseless.
But what if I came to you and said,
“Hey. Give me $20,00. God said you have to give it to me because I have to have it.”
Is that a reason? Really? For some, that may be good enough, but for a thinking person, this isn’t going to work, even if this thinking person is religious. Why? First, how do I know it was God speaking to you and not an hallucination — or Satan, for that matter. Why is it God told you to tell me to give you the bucks instead of bypassing the middle-man and just tell me directly? If He can talk to you, He could talk to me, too. Isn’t it more likely you’re just using God as an excuse to get what you want, not what God wants?
All of this seems sensible. And you would be well within your rights if you asked me, after I delivered this alleged Divine Revelation unto you, “Why did God say for me to give you $20.00? What’s His reasoning here?”
Maybe this is where I say something like this:
“God can command whatever He wishes. Things are right or wrong because God says so. He could command anything and it would be good or bad, depending on what He desires. And He desires that you give me that twenty dollar bill. If you fail to comply, you are doing wrong.”
If this smells fishy to you, good. It’s a sign you are a thinking person. If you are stumped, I’m about to un-stump you.
About 2,300 years ago, a young man named Euthyphro was so sure he knew what God wanted and that things were right because God commanded them, he was on the way to court to accuse his own father of violating divine commands and being atheistic… an offence punishable by death in Athens Greece.
Along the way, he met that problematic character, Socrates who held him up and engaged him in a long conversation about what makes something right or wrong. Euthyphro took up his position — things are right or wrong because God commands it.
Long story short, Socrates asked young Euthyphro a question and that question ran like this:
“Are things right and good because God commands them, or does God command only what is right and good?”
Euthyphro, after hemming and hawing a bit had to admit God would only command what is truly right and good. “OK,” says Socrates, “then let’s quit worrying about what God commands and start worrying about what is truly right and good — because everyone disagrees about what God commands, but we can think somewhat more clearly about what is actually right and wrong.”
In other words, quit telling me what your religion teaches and start explaining why what your religion teaches is actually right and wrong for all people to believe and practice. And that involves giving reasons for what you’re saying that everyone has access to — not quotes from scriptures as many don’t believe in your scriptures or they have different interpretations of what the same scriptures mean.
Build me a rational argument for why I ought to believe your moral beliefs are more true than false and are better than other possible positions. Quit insulting God by using him as an excuse for your moral beliefs… which may well be incorrect as you are merely human and fallible even in your “understanding” of scripture, much less human ethics.
Only overweening pride would allow you to claim otherwise and overweening pride is no virtue.
Now I can get at what I really wish to attack: This issue of opposition to LGBT persons and discriminatory laws based on a very peculiar interpretation of religious beliefs. These laws and bills are being called protections of “Religious Freedom” but I’m going to argue these things are protections of prejudice and nothing else.
Some fundamentalists claim God has commanded that homosexuality, etc. is evil. Why? I’m unsure myself, but the supporters of these laws are full of “explanations.” So, is it the case homosexuality, etc. is evil because God commanded that we not ever participate in such sexuality?
I think Socrates has already turned the tables on those who want to make the claim: If this is your position, you’re going to have to tell me why God commanded this — what makes homosexuality, etc, intrinsically evil?
Your first move, I imagine, would be to tell me it is “unnatural.” That was St. Thomas Aquinas’ belief he put down in the Summa Theologiae and his argument was based on an Aristotelian interpretation of metaphysics. It runs roughly like this: All things are made for one purpose. My hands are made to grasp, my feet for walking, my eyes for seeing, my mouth for eating, and my sexual organs for procreating. Anything else is unnatural.
Obviously, there are many problems with this sort of view. First off, humans are quite creative… we have to be as I’d argue we have no nature — nothing about “being human” is natural at all. We are cultural beings, historical beings, not machines. Yes, my hands can grasp… but I can also speak with them if I use sign language; I can communicate with them just by the way I hold them. I can make gestures with my hands that are considered impolite or polite or neutral or whatever, depending on cultural interpretation.
Yes, my eyes see (not well, so I have to wear prostheses called trifocal eyeglasses — a human invention); but I can flirt with them even if I’m blind. I can blink out a morse code SOS like the POW in the Vietnam War who was put on TV to read a lie saying that he and his fellow inmates of the Hanoi Hilton were being treated well.
My feet — they can be used to walk. I can also paint my toenails to attract attention — though that’s more interesting to me on women. I can tap out a beat with them when I listen to music or make music. I can use them as decoration by tattooing them or clothing them in various forms of footwear.
And my sexual organs. They can be used in any number of ways, some open to procreation and many more not at all, even as a straight person. Moreover, I could choose to be celibate… as St. Thomas Aquinas did when he led a life not open to procreation in favor of joining the Dominican Order and serving his God.
Plus, my wife and I can’t have children, no faster than any homosexual couple can together. No sex act we participate in has procreation as even a remote possibility. Does our infertility make us evil? By the logic that all “unnatural sex acts” are those not open to procreation, yes, my wife and I are as evil as any gay or lesbian couple in the world, only we are of opposite gender.
This entire appeal to the wrongness of the “unnatural” has more problems. If by “unnatural” you mean statistically abnormal biologically, here’s the rock on which your position founders — left handedness is statistically abnormal. Does that make left handers evil or just more rare than right handers? Once upon a time, it did, The word “sinister” means “left” because, in the past, left handedness was equated with evil. Left handed children were forced to use their right hands and fit in to the “right” way. Now, culturally, we in the West have changed our interpretation… because “rare” does not necessarily equal “wrong.”
Redheads are rare. Red hair is extremely uncommon. Moreover, evolutionary biologists can find absolutely no “purpose” for it. It doesn’t “do” anything except look good. It’s attractive to some, repulsive to others — a matter of completely personal taste. But is it evil because rare? Like left handedness, we have decided no, it isn’t.
But, you might say, psychopaths are rare, child molesters are rare, necrophiliacs are rare, etc. And they are evil.
I’d agree on both counts, but because they actively harm people or the memory of people. They are users and manipulators. They dishonor themselves and others and the families of others.
Do homosexual, etc. people do this? Is a loving, voluntary relationship between such people evil or even vaguely similar to people who manipulate, use, harm, and force others into sexual and power relationships? I can argue no and do so well — the evidence just isn’t there. Any argument you come up with to the contrary will be based on not understanding or knowing any gay or lesbian couples who are as happy as any straight couple and not using one another, but are in a deep, loving form of friendship.
What you are saying when you claim homosexuality, etc. is “unnatural” is that it doesn’t fit into the concepts of sexuality you were taught by your culture. But culture is human-made, like any other tool, and is capable of redefinition in the face of better evidence. I think we have better evidence now that homosexuality, etc. is not evil, just rare, like red headedness and left handedness. And such unions are as capable of being as open to love and intimacy and deep friendship as any heterosexual union… so any rights applying to a straight couple apply to any couple similarly in love… including a right to marriage and freedom from discrimination.
Yet we have our fundamentalists who want laws based on their “Divine Revelations” they ought to be allowed to have a “right” to discriminate against whoever they please — because “God said so.” Ask them why — they point to scriptures. Ask them why those are the best interpretations of the scriptures since the interpretation of scripture changes from time to time and place to place and they have no good answer. Ask them why God commanded this interpretation, and they say things that amount to “it’s tradition” and the ever-circular “because the Bible (or whatever holy book is in question) says so.” And that is no reason at all.
Once, similar people excused slavery on biblical grounds, they excused racial inequality on biblical grounds, they excused the refusal of marriage to couples of differing races on biblical grounds… and we changed our minds about all these things. One of the biggest reasons we did so is: We cannot, in this country, base laws applying to all citizens on sectarian religious traditions and prejudices. We must have reasons, clear and meaningful reasons that any reasonable person can grasp and agree with that do not appeal to matters of faith, upon which we can actually base laws that apply to all.
You wouldn’t give me $20.00 based on anything less. Why would you allow a town, state, or nation to take away people’s freedom and rights based on something that is so intellectually impoverished — a dull appeal to “God said so” as an excuse?
Did the Enlightenment fail to take root in this place — the first nation founded on Enlightenment principles?
3 April 2015
Richard Van Ingram