Thursday, October 16, 2008

No on Proposition 8 - California

There is a measure on the ballot in California, Proposition 8, whose purpose is to overturn a California State Supreme Court decision that made homosexual marriage legal in the state. It has collected a lot of support – a lot of money – among those who are opposed to gay marriage.

I had been thinking that the people of California were good people, on the average, and would not allow this measure to pass. However, news reports have reached me recently suggesting that Proposition 8 is heading toward victory in California. Gay couples there are rushing to get married before the right to do so is again taken away.

The specific argument that I would like to see being made against Proposition 8 is that it is yet another example in which religion inspires people to go to great effort and to put a great deal of enthusiasm into doing harm to others (in the name of God). It is not as violent as a bomb on a crowded bus and will probably not kill as many people. However, this does not change the fact that the Proposition, if passed, will severely millions of lives. Legislation has always been the greatest and most destructive of all of the weapons of mass destruction for those who seek to do harm to others.

I want to add that a lot can be said in favor of those who have given up bombs and guns as their tools of choice for imposing their religious views on others. The theocrat who decides to use the ballot box instead at least gives their opponents (victims) the opportunity to argue in their defense, and they spare society the widespread disruption of physical violence. This is a huge step forward, and it should be acknowledged.

However, the fact that a particular group of people determined to do harm to others in the name of God have decided to give up bombs and guns and limit themselves to the ballot box does not argue against the fact that they still do harm to others in the name of God. This is their goal, their passion, they can think of nothing else in their life that gives it more value than to make sure that the group that they have properly targeted is sufficiently harmed by their actions.

I have argued in the past that it is a mistake to claim that the number of people who actually get their morality from their religion is anything more than a miniscule fraction of the population. The proposition that A implies B . . . or even A tends to lead to B . . . is sufficiently discredited when one can find case after case after case of A and not-B. The huge number of cases in which the Bible prescribes or proscribes some conduct that religious people ignore are a huge number of counter-examples to the thesis that anybody gets their morality from their religion.

Instead, what we have is a group of people who get their morality from their culture, who then read that culture morality into their religion. These people do not get their morality to God, they give their morality to God through their selective use of biblical test, taking from it only what they want and ignoring that which they find inconvenient. It is because this culture is bigoted that they find bigotry in their religious text. They read those values into their religion and, in this case, they read hatred into that religion. They invent a god to give support to their hatred.

They do not assign their bigotry to God but they still share the bigotry that their culture-mates are assigning to God.

So, this is not a case where religion causes people to be evil. In fact, it is actually quite difficult to make the case that religion causes people to be evil . . . or to be good. Because they create a religion to hold their values, the values must come first. Morally good people invent good religions and good gods. Morally vicious people invent vicious religions with vicious gods.

Still, the important point for the purpose of this blog is that the opposition to gay marriage gathers a lot of its support from a religious faction that puts a high value on hate. This is an example in which religion is intimately connected to motivating people to act in ways harmful to others. Yet, in the eight years in which this campaign to do harm in the name of God has been waged, I have not heard people expose these particular campaigns for what they are.

When the current group of atheist authors – Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and others – filled the air waves, a part of their message was that it is time to stop coddling religion and to expose it for what it is. Yet, on a national campaign issue that had its primary purpose the use of legislation to do harm to the well-being of millions of American citizens – a classic example in which it is possible to connect religion to a motivation to do harm – religion was still coddled. Nobody, as far as I could tell, pointed out the similarities between using a law to destroy the lives of millions of people that one’s religion has taught one to hate, and using a bomb against the enemies of one’s religion.

The task of describing Proposition 8 accurately – the task of communicating the thesis that this is an example of people being driven to do harm to others in the name of religion – cannot be trusted to a political group that aims to oppose Proposition 8. There are certain things they cannot say – certain groups they cannot offend. It is up to us to carry the message that this type of legislation is actually an excellent example of causing harm in the name of God. It is yet another example in which religion is involved in motivating people to behave in ways harmful to their neighbors.

Given the content of this posting, I believe that I should take at least a couple of moments to address a claim that some might make, “But look at the good that religion has done?”

However, the good that religion has done, if there is any, is not relevant to this debate. Consider the person who gives you $10 to buy some groceries but slices you with a razor at the same time. We can say of him, “Look at the good he did, giving that person money so he could eat.” However, this does not change the fact that he would have been better off still getting the $10 without being cut, than he was getting the $10 and getting cut at the same time.

The charitable contribution does not excuse the harm done by cutting the recipient

Nor is it the case that any good that religious people do excuses the harm they do at the same time. The good that they do with their charitable work would be just as good if it were not accompanied by such enthusiastic devotion to such harmful behavior as getting a ban on gay marriage passed in the state of California (or any other state).

So, this is a post not only in favor of supporting the campaign to reject Proposition 8 in California. This is a post that speaks against the habit of refraining from saying the obvious – that this ballot initiative is just another example of how religion in this country is intimately tied to behavior harmful to others – of making people enthusiastic beyond reason over the prospect of doing something that is harmful to others.

In the name of God.

23 comments:

anton said...

If it offends the Gods, let them take care of it! What right has man to "judge" or "act" in the name of a god?

The movie Short Circuit had an terrific bit of humor where three religious types each had theories of what to do with some money they found. The "solution" was to throw the money into the air and whatever God wanted, he would keep. The rest, of course, would fall to earth.

If there are gods, let them deal with the problems!!!!! Problem solved . . . now lets get on with living!!!!!

Eneasz said...

I'm having trouble reconciling

So, this is not a case where religion causes people to be evil. In fact, it is actually quite difficult to make the case that religion causes people to be evil . . . or to be good.

with

It is yet another example in which religion is involved in motivating people to behave in ways harmful to their neighbors
and
another example of how religion in this country is intimately tied to behavior harmful to others

Isn't "motivating people to behave harmfully" and "causing people to be evil" basically the same thing? Is this an abandonment of your previous position about religion not causing people to be evil, or a modification, or is there some way to square the two statements that I'm not seeing?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Try this.

Think of cause and effect like a river flowing down stream. One thing leads to another. We have sufficient evidence that anti-homosexual bigotry does not come from religion because, as I said, we have too many examples of A (religious proescriptions or prescriptions) without B (a cultural belief that one should do or refrain from doing A).

Now, think of a culture to be like a spider web - not cause-and-effect, but merely association. Even though we deny the cause-and-effect relationship between certain religious beliefs and bigotry, we cannot deny the association. Where we tend to find people with a strong religious disposition, we also tend to find them with a strong anti-gay bigotry.

The reason is because the bigotry and the religion have a common cause - culture. We have cultures that teach strong religious devotion and teach anti-gay bigotry, so we tend to find these two elements together. They are not related as cause-and-effect, but as two offsprings from a common parent.

These two offspring support each other. Religion is used in obvious ways to prop up the bigotry. At the same time, the bigotry (the need to 'rationalize' and defend the hostile attitudes one has learned from one's culture) creates a need for the religion - it makes the religion more difficult to give up.

So, instead of"

Religion -> anti-gay bigotry -> harm

We get

Culture -> (religion, anti-gay bigotry) -> harm

There are other instances in which:

Culture -> (religion, equal respect for gays)

or

Culture -> (atheist, anti-gay bigotry) -> harm

are possible.

They just do not seem to be very common at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Proposition 8 has more to do with government overstepping it's bounds than it has to do with gay marriage. Certainly religious people should favor proposition 8. If proposition fails to pass then it is only a matter of time when free speach in church will be limited. No people or group of people should be denied freedom of speach especially when same sex marriage benefits such a small group in society.

In 2000 the people of California decided to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. In 2008 four judges overtunred the will of the people. Our rights do not, should not come from the courts or from government. Once we go down this path tyranny is the only logical conclusion. And here we are now with the people to once again define what marriage is. This is the proper way to settle this issue. Our government needs to know that the people are sovereign, and not the government.

A yes vote on proposition defines marriange as being between a man and a woman. A no vote means there is no definition to marriage. I prefer to live is a society that can define marriage.

anton said...

Anonymous:

"No people or group of people should be denied freedom of speach especially when same sex marriage benefits such a small group in society.

Where and how are you being denied your freedom of speech? What you appear to be concerned with is that no one of importance is listening to your speech. Tough! Maybe you should write a new one . . . or are you just another troll making speeches?

Carolyn said...

I think that Proposition 8 will do a lot of good for our society, in addition to upholding God's will in regards to families. I know, you don't believe in God but that doesn't change His laws.

For a very clear defense of this topic, please visit: http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/commentary/the-divine-institution-of-marriage

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Carolyn

As I said in the post, your argument that this is God's Will makes you yet another person intent on doing harm to others in the name of God.

Less violent, but otherwise no different than those who blow up people and claim that they are doing God's will.

Anonymous said...

'Course, in order for Fyfe's argument to hold water (for a change), he would also have to make - and successfully defend - the case that Proposition 8 actually constitutes "doing harm to others"......

Alonzo Fyfe said...

anonymous

If you take away a person's liberty, and force them to live as you please rather than as they please, you do them harm.

It is never the person whose liberty is being denied to them who needs to defend their right to be free. The burden of proof is always on those who will DENY liberty.

Anonymous said...

Good gravy, a bunch of those evil theocon bumpkins think the word "marriage" actually means "marriage"! Why, that's just a hop, skip, and a jump from the gas chambers!

Sheesh, get a life. Perhaps atheists would be more respected in this country if more of them didn't display Chicken Little hysteria over legitimate policy disputes.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

anonymous

I see that you think that anything that is not "one step away from the gas chambers" is perfectly legitimate.

As if the only way that something can be wrong is for it to be one step away from the gas chambers, so anything that is NOT one step away from the gas chambers is not wrong.

It is common practice for those who do wrong - from those who steal to those who strike out violently against others - to minimize their harm done. They say things like, "Can't you guys just take a joke?" to "It was nothing, you wimp."

All in an attempt to keep themselves from fully accepting the harm that they do.

It is called 'rationalization'.

But the question remains, what type of person is it who engages in this type of behavior?

A good and moral person?

I do not think so.

Anonymous said...

Would that I had the free time to eviscerate this crap. Instead, I'll have to settle for shaking my head in disbelief at what constitutes "thought" and "morality" these days....

Alonzo Fyfe said...

anonymous

Whereas I hold that a person who engages in behavior harmful to others has an obligation to those he would harm (and to others) to justify one's action.

How much of a luxury it is to be able to do such harm and then, when pressed for a justification, to wave one's hand dismissively and say, "I do not have time for such things."

What type of person acts this way?

Anonymous said...

One who doesn't take you seriously, Al. That's who.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

One who does not take morality seriously, actually.

Anonymous said...

Get off your high horse, man - I'm well aware of what passes for "standards" in your mind.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

That sounds like the mark of prejudice. Prejudice - to 'pre judge' (or to judge without evidence).

My sandards are written into the 1100 postings on this blog - and it includes the standard that it is the duty of those who would do harm to prove that it is justified. And that those who do harm because (they claim), "My god told me to" fail to meet this standard.

Megan said...

It's amazing to me that people really can't see the harm they do by restricting others liberties and freedoms. By preventing someone to live with the same luxuries you do, you are causing them harm. But perhaps these people also believed it was okay when women and blacks couldn't vote either.

Good post, Alonzo.

Eneasz said...

I know, you don't believe in God but that doesn't change His laws.

I'm appalled that this sort of thinking is still considered acceptable by some people.

Carolyn - my God's laws say that I should murder you and your family and take all your worldly posessions for myself. I know you don't believe in God but that doesn't change His laws.

Anonymous said...

*chuckle* Believe me, Al, I'm not pre-judging anything. Definitely post-judging.

Xi said...

Even though i think that religion has nothing to do with gay marriage, there are way more reasons why you should support prop 8. Marriage is not primarily a contract between individuals to ratify their affections and provide for mutual obligations. Rather, marriage and family are vital instruments for rearing children and teaching them to become responsible adults. While governments did not invent marriage, throughout the ages governments of all types have recognized and affirmed marriage as an essential institution in preserving social stability and perpetuating life itself. Hence, regardless of whether marriages were performed as a religious rite or a civil ceremony, married couples in almost every culture have been granted special benefits aimed primarily at sustaining their relationship and promoting the environment in which children are reared. A husband and a wife do not receive these benefits to elevate them above any other two people who may share a residence or social tie, but rather in order to preserve, protect, and defend the all-important institutions of marriage and family.
Vote yes on Prop 8 for the sake of our freedom, children, and families.

anton said...

xi:

If we extend your thought processes we should deny "marriage" benefits from any couple who do not have children. We would also deny marriage and its benefits for any union where the wife is beyond the age of conception. What status should be given to the "gay" couple who adopt a child and raise it? Or am I creating yet another "category" for you to consider?

Anonymous said...

"It is never the person whose liberty is being denied to them who needs to defend their right to be free. The burden of proof is always on those who will DENY liberty."

No, the burden of proof is on the one making the claim. You are claiming that liberty is being taken away by Proposition 8. If person A asks person B to refer to person A as "married", and person B refuses, how in the world is person B "denying" liberty to person A? Seems to me if person A goes to court to FORCE person B to call him "married", person A is the one taking away liberty.

Furthermore, people opposed to Proposition 8 have consistently shown themselves unwilling to discuss the issue politely, logically, and honestly. So saying that supporters of Proposition 8 have some obligation to go up to EVERY SINGLE opponent and explain his point of view is absurd. Millions of people voted against Proposition 8. Supporters are supposed to deal with every single one of them and try to explain how attacking strawmen, as anton did in his previous comment, or whatever other logical fallacies they choose to employ, is not a legitimate argument?

And every law harms someone. That's why they're called "laws" and not "things that everyone agrees on".