Friday, March 29, 2013

Homosexual Marriage and Scripture as a Source of Morality

I was asked the following question:

Alonzo: in the South, where I was born & lived most of my life, the majority of people think that gay marriage is immoral because it says so in the Bible. How do you think I should I respond to that?

Well, "should" is an ambiguous term.

"Should" relates objects of evaluation (in this case, a response) to a set of desires.

What which desires?

Often, this can be answered by looking at the context in which the question is asked. It is much like asking for directions. If a person asks, "How do I get to the museum?" this invites the questions, "Which museum?" and "Where are you at now?". However, we can often answer these questions by looking at the context in which the question is asked. In a conversation about an exhibit at the Natural History Museum, we may assume that this is "the museum" in question.

The question could be asking, "What would be the most politically effective response where the goal is to get the person to support - or at least not oppose - a political objective, such as marriage equality?" If this is the question, it may be the case that the most persuasive response is built on a false premise or a convincing fallacy. If an officer in Exxon-Mobile were to ask the Public Relations department, "If I get challenged on global warming, how should I respond?" he is probably best understood as asking for a response evaluated in terms of maximizing profit - regardless of truth or logical soundness.

I am not offering this account to be pendantic. This is a property of the word "should" that is often overlooked and that causes confusion. Desirism provides an account of "should" that explains this ambiguity and provides a way of resolving it. It is one of the things that I offer as evidence that desirism provides a better account of "ought" and "should" than its competitors.

In this case, I am not a political strategist, nor do I want to be. That interpretation of the question would not fit this particular context. In this context, I will interpret "should" as one that relates the reponse to the goal of understanding the facts of the matter and reporting those facts to others.

In that sense, my response would be to say to this person, "You are mistaken. It is not the case that you hold gay marriage to be immoral because it is condemned in scripture. I can prove it."

When a person claims, "A implies B" you can disprove this by offering counter examples of the form "A and not B". So, if a person claims, "Homosexual marriage is condemned in the Bible; therefore I condemn it," this can be disproved by providing examples of X where X is condemned in the Bible but the agent does not condemn X.

Here, the question is, "Where do we start?" We've got things from making graven images to working on the sabbath to eating shellfish to touching the skin of a pig to wearing two types of cloth to the charging of interest (e.g., having an interest-bearing savings account).

With this, we demonstrate, "I hold that homosexual marriage is wrong because it is condensed in the Bible." is almost certainly false.

In fact, the opposite claim seems to me much closer to the truth. "I judge that the Bible condemns homosexual marriage because I hold that homosexual marriage to be immoral." This has the power to explain not only the person's views on homosexual marriage, but on a long list of other issues. It explains why they do not interpret scripture as condemning the eating of shell fish, working on the Sabbath, or collecting interest on a savings account, CD, or bond.

The fact of the matter is that - no matter what a person claims - they do not get their morality FROM scripture. They assign their morality TO scripture.

Where does these moral beliefs come from if they do not come from Scripture?

They are learned from one's environment - one's culture. In the case of homosexual marriage, in the south the majority of people have picked up a cultural prejudice against homosexual marriage. They have also learned the cultural art of assigning one's prejudices to Scripture by promoting or stressing those elements that support one's learned prejudices while ignoring parts that conflict with one's learned prejudices. Thus, they do not "see" in Scripture a condemnation for charging interest, eating shellfish, or working on the Sabbath.

While they claim to get their morality from God, they are actually getting their morality from their community and assigning their community's subjective opinions to God.

This response may not be politically effective, but it is accurate.

One can take the phrase, "In the South . . . people think that gay marriage is immoral because it says so in the Bible," and mark this phrase as "False". I know that a lot of people claim this, but observed behavior does not support this thesis. The response that a person who is interested in the truth and reporting to the truth to others would give to somebody who makes this claim would be, "No, that's not true. Here's the proof," and to go on from there.


LIFT: Living in Free Thought said...

I agree, people are getting their morality from a community.

Yakov said...

Wouldn't it be a valid argument for an Orthodox Jew?