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‘Don’t Impose Your Morality on Me’: Conversations that Matter

Posted by Steve Turley ● Oct 10, 2016 5:38:14 AM

Below is a transcript of several conversations I have had with secularists over the years that have been conflated together. I have named the persons ‘gay marriage proponents’ (GMP) and my responses are indicated by my initials (ST). I hope this helps you to frame answers in the ongoing marriage debate.

GMP: I just don’t get why Christians are so up in arms against gay marriage. Why does it matter?

ST: I think I understand where you are coming from. I mean, who could have a problem with two people who just want to be happy?

GMP: Exactly!

ST: But Christians believe that so-called gay marriage goes way beyond that, and one would hope that in a democratic society, those concerns could be voiced and respectfully considered in the public square.

GMP: And the same goes for concerns over homophobia, intolerance, and bigotry.

ST: Of course.

GMP: So, then, what’s the problem with marriage equality?

ST: I think the biggest concern for Christians is that so-called gay marriage ultimately involves the redefinition of our humanity.

GMP: What does that mean?

ST: I think it crucial to understand that Christians see our humanity as defined in relation to the transformative life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Historically, all cultures were committed to something that scholars have called ‘cosmic piety’, that’s the idea that the world in which we live is filled with divine meaning and purpose, such that every person was born into a world of divine obligation. The rules, understandings, and goals of society sought to cultivate within each person the capacity to live in harmony with the gods and with their fellow men, and thereby perpetuate the life of the world. Early Christians tap into this cosmic piety but reconfigure it around Christ who is the one in whom all things hold together. And this is what Christian marriage celebrates. Christian marriage is an image of a cosmic marriage between Christ the bridegroom and his church the bride. Marriage is considered by Christians to be a foretaste of resurrection life, the coming together of heaven and earth (which are hetero, not homo) in a grand cosmic banquet, where every square inch of the cosmos will be completely rid of evil. And because the love that is shared between the husband and wife is itself an expression of divine life, it is able to produce life; the two engender a third, such that every family transforms into an image of the Trinity.  

GMP: Well … I’m still not seeing the problem here. No one is saying Christians can’t believe that anymore. We are saying that it would be wrong for you to impose that belief on others.

ST: Yes, but we believe that it needs to be at least acknowledged that the privatization of the Christian faith is itself part of a new social order that has emerged over the last century or two, and not simply some neutral reflection of reality. You see, there was a time when the church was understood as far more than a social club that old ladies attended on Sunday mornings. Historical Christianity understood the church as offering to the world an alternative public distinct from that offered by the Jewish and Greco-Roman worlds. The church was a civilization, the city-state of the New Jerusalem. In fact, Augustine goes so far as to call the church a ‘republic’ in his City of God. Indeed, the term ekklesia, the Greek word for ‘church’, was not what we would call today a ‘religious term’ such as thiasos (worship of a particular deity); ekklesia was in fact a political term that designated the assembly of adult citizen males who had the ultimate decision making power in a city-state. Hence, the gospel was not a promise of personal and private salvation; the gospel was instead a declaration announcing that the entire cosmos has been incorporated into Christ’s transformative life, death, and resurrection, which was expressed in shared life-worlds of mutuality, self-giving, and fellowship.

But the modern age offers a very different conception of civilization built upon what is called the ‘civic individual,’ which in effect denies cosmic piety, and instead asserts that we are born into a world devoid of any divine moral obligation apart from that which we chose to impose upon ourselves. The problem as I see it is that this is every bit a religious worldview as Christian cosmic piety, but it radically redefines the human person away from the redemptive work of Christ.

GMP: I think the modern age gave us the right to see religion as optional, and not have it imposed on us.

ST: Yes, but we can’t opt out of that optionality, can we? It’s absolute and unquestionable and taken on faith. Note that ‘I believe in the separation between church and state’ is itself a creed, a confession of faith that has no problem ‘imposing itself’ on others.

GMP: Well, I still just don’t get why you think that two people who love each other and simply want to get married could be conceived of as evil.

ST: You used the word ‘evil,’ not me.

GMP: But you do ultimately believe that gay marriage is evil, right?

ST: Yes, ultimately.

GMP: Why? How can you possibly believe that?

ST: Well, when it all comes down to it, because it is against God’s word; that’s why.

GMP: But not everyone believes the way you do. I respect that you believe in the Bible. But neither I nor my friends do. And I simply don’t understand how you can think that it is somehow right or just for you to impose biblical beliefs on people who don’t share those beliefs.

ST: I think I understand where you are coming from. You respect my beliefs, and you are just wishing that I would respect the beliefs of others. Is that right?

GMP: Exactly.

ST: Ok, I can definitely appreciate where you are coming from, but I also hope that you can now see that relativizing biblical faith to the private sphere requires a different public faith, namely the value system of secularism. But can I now ask you a question?

GMP: Sure, go ahead.

ST: If I were to insist that others abide by my biblical standards who did not believe in them, would you think that was wrong? Dare I say, would that be evil?

GMP: Absolutely.

ST: Why?

GMP: What do you mean, ‘Why’?

ST: Why is imposing my beliefs on others wrong?

GMP: Well … I mean … it just … is.

ST: Ok. You asked me a question of why I thought homosexual marriage was wrong. And I gave you an answer. You may not have liked it, but it was an objective moral standard we are able to discuss. Can I ask you: how would you have responded had I answered your original question with the same answer with which you responded to mine?

GMP: I guess I can see your point.

ST: Do you have a moral referent for your view that it is wrong or evil for me to impose my beliefs on others?

GMP: Well, I guess I would say that we are living in a time when people who have been excluded from society are now being given an equal opportunity to participate.

ST: Are you saying that it would be wrong to exclude them? Evil perhaps?

GMP: Yes.

ST: And your moral referent is ….?

GMP: Our culture. We have evolved as a society to see that gays and lesbians are humans too.

ST: So, our time and culture determine what’s right and wrong.

GMP: I guess. Where else are we going to get our morality?

ST: Do you really want to go with that? Do I really have to list off all the cultures that justified their evils within the context of their cultural belief systems? If you live by culture, you die by culture, don’t you?

GMP: So are you saying that this is why we all have to believe in the Bible?

ST: What I am saying is that all moral pronouncements require a moral referent by which such pronouncement are justified. I showed you my Bible; now I want to see yours. What is your objective moral referent by which you justify moral decisions and pronouncements?

GMP: I guess I just haven’t given that much thought.

ST: OK, thank you so much for your honesty. I appreciate that very much. You see, my concern is that you are not alone. I don’t think the modern age or secular society as a whole has given much thought to this. And the ramifications of this moral impoverishment are frightening. For example, without an objective moral law that defines right and wrong equally for all people, all arguments legitimizing so-called gay marriage can be used to legitimize any and all other sexual practices, even those that gay marriage advocates morally denounce. Without a moral law, you can ‘morally’ justify anything.

GMP: See, I don’t buy that; it is universally affirmed that legitimate sexual relationships are predicated on mutual consent. The opposite is rape.

ST: Well, again, you’ve gone back to the ‘culture determines good and evil’ argument, which you were uncomfortable with a minute ago. But we will leave that aside. Most people are not aware of the fact that consent has a cultural history. The Western world derived the concept of consent from the ancient Romans, who considered consent to be the necessary constituent to a legitimate sexual relationship. This principle carried over into the Western practice of the betrothed couple reciting their vows to one another in the marriage ceremony. However, in the Roman world, this consent also included the practice of pederasty, the sexual relationship shared by an adult male with a prepubescent or adolescent boy. Now, given that consent is the only standard of legitimate sexual activity, what stands between our culture and pederasty? How is pederasty inherently inconsistent with consent?

GMP: Because children are not old enough to make that kind of decision.

ST: But again, aren’t these concepts of ‘consent’ and ‘children’ cultural? The Romans had no problem with this at all. You live by culture you die by culture, remember?

GMP: I just don’t think anyone would argue that today.

ST: The point is that absent a moral law, there is nothing to prevent one from making such an argument. And unfortunately, you are just simply wrong on that. 

In 2003, the University of Minnesota Press published Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex by activist Judith Levine who, among other things, advocated that the age of sexual consent should be lowered to the Netherlands’ standard of 12. She writes: “Legally designating a class of people categorically unable to consent to sexual relations is not the best way to protect children, particularly when ‘children’ include everyone from birth to eighteen.” In fact, she appeals to the concept of the civic individual to justify her claims. She argues that children do not belong to their parents, but should be conceived of as citizens in their own right; in other words, the only authority to which they are accountable is the secular state.

In 2010, two professors of psychology, Herbert Van Gijseghem and Vernon Quinsey, declared that pedophilia was legitimately a sexual orientation. Testifying before members of the Canadian Parliament, Gijsegehm stated: “Pedophiles are not simply people who commit a small offense from time to time but rather are grappling with what is equivalent to a sexual orientation just like another individual may be grappling with heterosexuality or even homosexuality.”

In the same year, University of Hawaii professor Milton Diamond, produced a study that concluded child pornography could be beneficial to society. Diamond claimed, “Potential sex offenders use child pornography as a substitute for sex against children.”

And in the following year, a group of psychiatrists calling themselves B4U-Act met together with nearly 40 other professionals from such universities as Harvard and Johns Hopkins at a symposium in Baltimore to discuss removing the social stigma associated with pedophiles. The organization’s website states: "Stigmatizing and stereotyping minor-attracted people inflames the fears of minor-attracted people, mental health professionals and the public, without contributing to an understanding of minor-attracted people or the issue of child sexual abuse."

But as others have pointed out, if such efforts are successful in redefining pedophilia as a sexual orientation, it would protect pedophiles under existing anti-discrimination laws which of course involve contact with children.

The simple fact of the matter is that with groups like NAMBLA openly advocating pederasty, the only thing stopping us from legitimizing sexual relationships between adults and prepubescent children is an arbitrary and ignorant outdated Christian cultural sensibility. It’s the only thing that is stopping it. And this Christian cultural sensibility is precisely what is being jettisoned by so-called gay marriage.

And so while it is obvious (to some at least) that under the equal protection clause, Mormons and Muslims can demand that consenting polyandrous relationships be recognized by the state as well as homosexual relationships, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the redefinition of marriage and sex entails the equal protection of pedophiles and pederastists.

GMP: Look, I just don’t see how any of this has to do with marriage equality. Gay couples just like everyone else have tax issues and inheritance issues they need to deal with. All gays and lesbians are looking for is the same rights everyone else has.

ST: Well, again, ‘marriage equality’ assumes a moral referent; in other words, it would be immoral for a society to treat one class of people differently from everyone else. What’s your moral referent? But again leaving that aside, we have to come to terms with a few concerns.

First, I think we have to come to terms with the fact that ‘gay’ people don’t actually exist. The terms ‘gay,’ ‘lesbian,’ ‘bisexual,’ etc, are all cultural conventions that the secular world has fabricated.

GMP: Are you saying that homosexuals don’t actually exist?

ST: Notice I didn’t say that. All cultures have to interpret same-sex attraction; I am calling into question the secular interpretation of homosexuality as ‘gay.’ The term ‘gay’ itself has quite a history and is not even remotely neutral. Even the term ‘homosexual’ is a relatively recent term, coined in 1869 by a Hungarian physician, Karoly M. Benkert, to refer to people with same-sex attraction. My concern is that what is going on here is not so much equality under the law, but more like secular society creating or fabricating a class of people (e.g. ‘gay’) under the category of ‘civic individualism’ and then bestowing upon them ‘equal’ civil rights.

GMP: Fair enough. You said you had a few concerns.

ST: Yes. Thank you for that. A further concern is that if ‘marriage equality’ involves redefining marriage in terms of tax and inheritance benefits, then why can’t I marry my son, or sons for that matter? Why can’t two elderly women who live together legally define that relationship as a marriage and then get the tax benefits and inheritance benefits?

GMP: Well, again, I just don’t see anyone arguing for this.

ST: And, again, the point is that without a moral referent, there is nothing preventing such an outworking. But what is even more concerning to me, is that equalities always entail inequalities. For example, a recent episode of America’s Got Talent featured two men, John and Andrew, dancing together as a salsa couple. After their performance, Howie Mandel, one of the judges, had this to say:

[This dance] is about the spirit of what America is. America is about freedom; America is about equality; and this dance says freedom and equality. It is very brave of you.

Talk about a new twist on “land of the free and the home of the brave.” But Mandel’s words echoed those of President Obama who, on July 21, 2014, signed an executive order protecting LGBT employees at federal contractors and in the federal government from workplace discrimination.

So yes, I understand that LGBT anti-discrimination measures are popularly presented as a matter of equality versus inequality, liberty versus oppression, tolerance versus intolerance. However, what seems to go unnoticed is a very simple fact: every act of anti-discrimination entails new forms of discrimination. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 discriminated against racists; it discriminated against those who wanted white-only schools; it discriminated against those who wanted color-designated water fountains.

And so, as it turns out, LGBT anti-discrimination measures are not about equality versus inequality or freedom versus oppression, but rather about new forms of equality AND inequality, freedom AND oppression, tolerance AND intolerance.

With these new anti-discrimination measures, who then are the recipients of new state sanctioned oppressions and inequalities? Notice the words of Barry Lynn of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State after Obama signed the executive order:

Religious groups have no right to accept taxpayer money and engage in rank forms of discrimination. Faith-based groups that tap the public purse should play by the same rules as everyone else and not expect special treatment.

Translation: those of us who live by and perpetuate classical Christian social norms “need not apply.” By advocating marriage equality, you are inadvertently advocating the legally-sanctioned discrimination of Christians.

GMP: I think we are advocating that the no law should be homophobic. Intolerance and bigotry have no place in a just society.

ST: But these terms – ‘homophobe,’ ‘intolerance,’ and ‘hate’ – simply substitute for the lack of any objective moral law that accounts for the justice of legally sanctioned discrimination: if it is the case that anti-discrimination laws and orders by their nature create new victims of oppression and exclusion, then what is the basis for determining the justice of legally sanctioned discrimination? How do we know it is right to discriminate against certain groups?

For example, when Christians historically sought to overturn Roman abortion practices, oppression of women, and slavery, they did so from within a Christ-centered moral order. These forms of social oppression violated the character and will of God and were thereby sinful.

But what precisely is the moral order that justifies discriminating against traditional Christian social norms? Is there a god on behalf of whom these laws are made? Is it merely a matter of mob rule, I mean, majority vote?

Simply put: there is no objective moral order that can be appealed to that justifies this new form of state-sanctioned oppression against Christians.

And so, what then is the justification for discriminating against people of faith? Absent a clear, discernible, intelligible moral basis for state sanctioned discrimination and oppression, the only justification for such discriminatory practices is, well, Christians deserve it. We are hateful, intolerant, and bigoted; we are phobic, neurotic, and, yes, dangerous. This is not merely a matter of misrepresenting the Christian vision of marriage; it is a matter of shutting down democratic discussion and debate. And that I certainly would call ‘intolerant’ and ‘bigoted.’

GMP: But what about people’s right to be happy? I can’t think of anything as more un-American than to deny people like Elton John the right to happiness.

ST: But happiness does not equal truth. I can be very happy stoned on drugs; I can be very happy having an affair with another man’s wife. Jesus said, I came that you may have life, for I am the Way and the Truth and the Life – if we find Truth, we find life, happiness; true happiness is contingent by definition upon Truth, and Christ is the only source of that true happiness, for he is our true humanity.


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Topics: blog, church and society, homosexuality, human rights, privatized faith, secularism

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