In a recent comment to a post on Proposition 8, an anonymous member of the studio audience linked to an article that contained the following quote:
It is apparently inconceivable to many of those who wish to change the definition of marriage that a decent person can want to retain the man-woman definition.
The fact is, I find it very easy to conceive of a case in which a person who is in all other ways a decent person, has adopted an attitude of prejudice towards some group and, as a result, denies them the decent treatment that they are willing to give others.
The way that I conceive it, most segregationists, and most of those who believed that the white race should not interbreed with the black race, were, in many respects, decent people. If you were to meet one in a context where race was not an issue – in an entirely Caucasian community where blacks were simply nowhere to be found – you would be hard pressed to identify any character fault in them at all.
The way that I conceive it, most of the German soldiers during World War II were decent people for the most part. They sought to care for and protect their children, they loved their spouses, they would help a neighbor who was in trouble (as long as the neighbor was not Jewish). They went to church, they donated to charity, and they were good Patriotic Germans who were willing to give their lives for their country.
The way that I conceive it, most West Coast Americans who supported the internment of the Japanese during World War II were, in many respects, decent people. That measure had the support of 80 percent of the population. It is difficult to imagine what California would have been like if those 80 percent did not have any good qualities. When it came to their treatment of other Americans (at least those of non-Japanese descent) there were some extraordinary people among them.
The way that I conceive it, most of those who defended slavery in the early 1800s, and most of those who took up arms and killed or tried to kill Union soldiers in order to protect the institution of slavery, were, in many respects, decent people. They wanted very much to do the right thing and to be good people. They taught their children the importance of being honest and trustworthy and placed great value on individual responsibility.
However, in all of these cases, their culture gave otherwise decent people a moral blind spot. These were not people who recognized that they were doing evil and went ahead and did it anyway. These were people raised with an inability to even recognize the evil that they were doing, where that blindness lead them to do evil that they would not have done if they had known better.
The attitudes that people have in opposition to gay marriage represents exactly the same sort of moral blindness. To them, their actions seem like a good idea – they seem to be something that a good person would support – so they do not suffer even the slightest twinge of conscience as they engage in behavior that, as a matter of fact, and quite independent of their perceptions, does great harm to others for no good reason.
Many of these morally blind people assert that it is a mistake to say that they suffer from hate. “I do not hate gays. I just think that marriage should be between a man and a woman. That’s not the same has hating gays.”
However, moral blindness is not a defect in reason. It is a defect in desire – a defect in emotion. It is a lack of an aversion to doing great harm to certain people, ultimately because one does not see them as entities that deserve the same type of decent respect that real people deserve.
In all of the examples that I listed above – the segregationist, the west coast patriot, the German soldier, the defender of slavery – otherwise decent people were made capable of doing great harm to others because their culture taught them to view those others as something less than full human beings. They were taught to view their victims as a lower form of life, so that, while they remained decent people when it came to their treatment of other persons, they also became morally blind when it came to their evil treatment of these non-persons.
Yet, we cannot strictly say that what these people suffered from was a mere lack of an aversion to do harm to others. I have no particular affection for the tools that I have at home. I certainly do not have any interest in treating them with the type of dignity and respect that I would accord to them if I viewed them as persons. Yet, this does not inspire me to spend millions of dollars or to take up arms or to hire the government to take up arms in my name to inflict great harm on those tools. In fact, insofar as they are useful, I seek to protect and care for those tools.
Homosexual neighbors are still useful as neighbors. If your house was on fire and your child needed rescuing, the homosexual neighbor might be in the best position to save her. Even if one viewed the homosexual neighbor as a mere tool, it is still useful to take care of the tool so that it will remain useful.
However, in the cases I mentioned above, the agents defended doing real-world harm to those they were taught to view as being undeserving of the respect given to persons. This harm cannot be traced back to the fact that it was useful to do this harm. In fact, those who inflicted the harm were generally made worse off as a result of what they did to their neighbors. This desire to do harm was something the agents came to value for its own sake.
When one devotes a great deal of energy to actions that harm others for its own sake – simply to realize the value that one finds in a state where others are harmed – then it is not unreasonable to say that this is ‘hate’. It certainly does not count as “love”, and it would be strange at best to say that somebody putting all of that energy into something harmful to others is suffering from “indifference”. It is, instead, the definition of “indifference” that one simply does not care to work either for or against that particular end. Calling this passionate devotion to realizing a state that is so harmful to the interests of other persons for no good reason “indifference” is about as absurd as calling a person on his honeymoon a “bachelor”.
So, if it is not love, and it is not indifference, then we are running out of options as to what we can call this sentiment that drives these people to work so hard to do so much harm to others.
Some might want to call it religious devotion – since they provide support for their attitudes in scripture.
However, these people need to explain why they are so devoted to enforcing scripture in the case of homosexuality, but ignore it in so many other areas. Why isn’t homosexuality on the ignore list like the charging of interest and working on the Sabbath? Any claim that takes the form “X -> P” (such as “God condemns it in the Bible; therefore, I condemn homosexuality”) can be refuted by examples of “X and not-P” (e.g., God condemns usury and working on the Sabbath, but I do not condemn these things.”.
Religion, in this case, Is being used as a smoke screen to hide a culturally learned bigoted blindness much like the blindness that allowed people to do harm to the interests of women, blacks, and Japanese Americans during World War II.
This is not a religious issue. This is very much a hate issue.
And history tells us that it extremely easy for somebody who is a “decent person” – whole societies filled with people who live the bulk of their lives being as good or better than you and I – can still have a moral blind spot that allows them to do truly horrendous things to others who do not show up on their moral radar.