I have been mulling over whether I should write this piece. A few days ago The Conversation published an article by a philosophy lecturer. It is titled, Love thy neighbour: religious groups should not be exempt from discrimination laws, and it has stirred the pot quite a bit, so to speak, with nearly 500 comments discussing the argument forwarded by the author. In Australia there is a move afoot by the Federal Government to introduce a national Bill, which is proposed to replace various Federal anti-discrimination legislation, consolidating them into one. The Bill was introduced by Australia's Attorney General, Nicola Roxon and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Penny Wong. A parliamentary inquiry is underway, which has received hundreds of submissions.
As I said in the opening paragraph, I was somewhat reluctant to write this piece, because initially I was expecting an unbiased discussion. I was trying to read how the full character of the opposing arguments are positioned in the piece, so that we get an honest analysis. Unfortunately, this didn't turn out to be the case. As we shall see, the belief system which gives meaning to a Christian's life is instead positioned as inferior to that of a homosexual person. Bizarrely, there is no explanation why this should be so. This confused me initially, a confusion aided by the incongruous occasional statements that the issue is not about religion or the convictions of religious people. I was perplexed by some of the questions which the article prompted for me, such as: Is he saying that a homosexual's civil right to employment trumps the freedom of others from discomfort and distress? Is he saying that Christian values are like garments, which one can discard when he or she is requested to do so? I thought about it, meanwhile writing dozens of comments on the website, dueling with some of the usual homosexualist apologists who frequent (guard, more like) the website, and even with the author himself who kindly deemed some of my comments worthy of an occasional personal response.
When I finally realised what the article does, I felt like I have been duped. In essence, the paper is not really a philosophical discussion, as I expected. It turns out to be far too dishonest to be a philosophical argument. A philosophical argument would account for the essential premises of both argument and counterargument. In fact, the proposition which I deduced from reading the article is simply that homosexuals be given access to all workplaces, whilst at the same time essentially saying that it is not appropriate for religious people to have private employment spaces in which to work according to their religious values. For the author, the crux of the issue is that the objections raised by Christians "...really has nothing to do with the free exercise of one’s religion and everything to do with denying the moral depth of gay and lesbian lives". Therefore, since it has nothing to do with job performance, he incorrectly surmises that it is about the apparent trifle that employing a homosexual person may offend against other people's religious sensitivities.
Homosexuality=love, Christianity=religious sensitivity
To support this argument, the author states that homosexuality represents love; the love of two men or two women (I assume the authors refers to couples) has, he claims, the same profundity and legitimacy as the love held by anyone else. On this basis he sees no valid reason why a homosexual should be denied employment by a religious organisation. In other words, he holds that homosexuality is, like heterosexuality, simply about someone loving someone else. Homosexuality is about love. Simple. From this he appears to deduce that those Christians who believe and follow the Bible, which dictates that homosexual practices need to be seen as sinful, are irrational. To highlight such apparent irrationality, the author employs a diversion. He notes that some Christians claim homosexuality is a "lifestyle". From this he deduces that this is " a deliberately shallow, superficial word designed to deny the profundity of someone’s core relationships". In other words, and without any justification whatsoever, he indicates that Christians use the word to intentionally [i.e., "deliberately"] denigrate, demean and disrespect homosexuals. This then becomes the means through which he seeks to demonstrate the veracity of the important (if only implicit) premise underpinning his overall argument, which is that Christian beliefs are irrational in respect to the issue of anti-discrimination in employment. To add emphasis to this premise, we are at the same time asked to believe that some Christians are purposefully setting out to unreasonably and spitefully condemn homosexuals - what else could the accusation of "a deliberately shallow, superficial word designed" actually signify for the reader?
Having thus smeared Christians, the author feels justified in claiming that the issue is not whether Christians (he says 'religious believers') are right or wrong in being offended by homosexuality, nor whether their convictions should be respected. It's rather (he says) about " whether society is obliged to respect this sort of offense [against religious sensibilities] enough to override other moral considerations". The "clash" here is between Christian faith (which is labeled "private faith") and public ethics (which subsumes, one understands from the tone of the argument, the wants of homosexual individuals).
Moral relativism gone wrong: Christians are entitled to believe, but not to practice
For me, this kind of argument represents a confused piece of negative rhetoric. It constantly jumps from a stance of neutral assessment to partisan pronouncements. This is all underpinned by a total lack of objectivity or reference to fact, or even credible argument. The article simply holds that Christians are not entitled to the right to decide whom they employ, whereas homosexuals ought to be free to demand employment from whomever they want. The confusion begins to clear, however, when one finally gets to the closing statements. It is then we can see what is happening. This author loaded his philosophical shotgun with some moral relativism, and took aim at the Christians. Except that instead he aimed at his foot. Rather than promoting co-existence, however, he represents Christianity (that is, the moral values embodied in this religion) as inferior to the rights of homosexuals to demand employment regardless of the fact that this may, on rare occasions, clash with deep seated values giving meaning to the lives of others.
Moral relativism holds that there is no absolute moral value, since there is no ultimately correct moral stance on what is right or wrong - any moral value holds if it represents who the person is and thus renders their way of life adequately and meaningfully for them. That's why the author makes the point about a homosexual's love being the same as that of anyone else, and also the point about the Christians denying "the moral depth of gay and lesbian lives". By demanding no differentiation in employment, he sets up homosexuality as being on par with any other moral systems, and thus implicitly uses elements of moral relativism. Except he specifically argues that it is appropriate to discount Christian values when it comes to the matter of "public ethics" (this represents the exact moment where the author blows his philosophical toesies off!):
But when it comes to matters of public ethics, beliefs that are grounded in religious faith simply don’t cut it on their own. Believers and non-believers have to share a society, and that means our moral discourse has to be based on premises it’s at least possible for us to agree upon. “I find working with gay people offensive because God says homosexuality is wrong” is simply not such a premise.
Moral relativity works only if there are no significant disagreements between different moral systems co-existing in a peaceful society. Once this is no longer the case, then we invariably need to delve into objective morality. We then need to talk about the real-life matters which has brought us to the point of not being able to co-exist and retain our separate, even contradictory, moral systems. The author in essence argues that one set of moral values trumps the other, which ceases to be moral relativism. He basically says that Christian values need to be ignored when it comes to allowing homosexuals employment everywhere.
The author obviously assumes that Christians will not be discriminated against when they are forced to work with, or buy products and services from homosexuals. How does he know this? Why does he feel entitled to this assumption when already there are numerous examples which show that increasingly Christians are being discriminated against in employment for matters as simple as wearing a crucifix, or because they would not dutifully and enthusiastically tow the line and celebrate homosexuality? Since he says nothing to the contrary, it follows that he assumes the values which prompt some Christians to stick to their beliefs are merely "religious sensitivities", and thus he reduces what Christians deeply believe to a matter of personal preference. He seems to be unaware that some important modern philosophers, like David Wong, have pointed out that in order for any set of moral values to coexist with another set of moral values some element of reciprocity is required - this enables [pluralistic] moral relativism to exist. If interference is required, then there should be some justification for it; Wong refers to this as the justification principle (Wong, DB, 2006, Natural Moralities: A Defense of Pluralistic Relativism, OUP:NY).
What is the justification principle provided by Stokes? Well, as I said, there is none. There is only the author's say-so, based on his claim that to be a Christian does not suffice as a reason to be allowed limited protection and space within the community to be a Christian worker, boss or consumer. He may deny that he made this claim, but what does he then mean by 'religious sensitivities'? Apparently, a Christian needs to leave the essence of who they are (their "moral depth") at home, something he doesn't demand of homosexuals. He tells us that being homosexual entails deep moral depth, yet he dismisses Christian discomfort and distress as mere religious sensitivity. In essence he tells us that homosexual moral depth ought to be reason enough to take away the social spaces have in which individuals and organisations can be Christian. If we extend this absurd logic to its natural conclusion, he must do this because he thinks that Christians ought to not be entitled to act upon the Biblical teaching that, when practiced, homosexuality is a sin. The end result of such logic is that we should acquiesce to the ridiculous proposition that homosexuals can 'be' who they are in, say, a workplace, whereas Christians (or any other individuals living according to religious tenets) cannot. Homosexuals can take their homosexuality to work, whereas Christians must live their way of life 'at home'. Homosexuals can access all workplaces, whereas Christians would be denied workplaces where they can work without having to compromise principles which give meaning to their lives. And they call this 'anti-discrimination' law?
Furthermore, Stokes simply assumes that 'society' needs to arbiter between the lives of Christians and the felt needs of homosexuals. But what is ‘society’? Society is not an ‘arbiter’, as this author suggests through the essence of his argument; modern society is a community of communities, and a milieu of diverse interests and groups of individuals who share a set of social institutions according to coexisting moral systems. However, in Western society these institutions are deeply shaped - nay, engraved! by particular values which have over centuries been shaped by Christianity, and tested against all sort of historical challenges. Homosexuality has, until recently, failed to develop a culture and set of moral values which are anywhere near those of Christianity in terms of being trialled by the merciless grindstone of history. Every institution in our society is built on Christian moral foundations, including our economic institutions, like the job market. Certainly, this connection has ceased to be explicit, and one cannot pinpoint where, exactly, in the labour market the values derived from Christianity are reflected. However, they are most definitely there, the link has been clearly established by intellectual giants, like Max Weber who talked about the Protestant ethic, and Karl Marx who wanted it abolished as the illusory opium of the masses.
Homosexualist ideology rears its head
The explanation for why Stokes feels entitled to construct his argument thus is, I think, homosexualism. Those who self-label as 'gay activists' have been so effective in society that just about anyone who wants to write or speak on a subject that touches on homosexual life must write certain things in order not to be vilified, and to instead receive populist acclaim and support. To achieve this, writers must represent homosexuals as victims of bigoted and discriminatory prejudice, and the prejudice must, one way or other, be accorded to Christians. Because this has became such a widely accepted more, an author often sees no need to base their claims about Christians on facts, they merely need to utter the consensus which has been so successfully manufactured and achieved by homosexualists. They merely need to sell their soul.
Unlike this author, let's assess the rational basis for the suggestion that Christian religious sensitivities are trivial to the extent that they ought to be trumped by the right of a homosexual person to work wherever they please.
To begin with, a Christian cannot shed their values, even in small part - certainly no more than a homosexual can shed what makes them a homosexual. What an author of this genus seldom dwells on is the fact that the values and convictions of Christians have been paid, and are even now being paid for, by millions of Christians who suffered and died for the values Christianity holds, even when faced with absolute hopelessness. Feeling distressed and being rendered powerless when being forced to work with practicing homosexuals, or when having your children taught that homosexuality is okay, cannot be reduced to mere 'religious sensibilities'. It is irrational to propose this when faced with the fact that these values have been defended at the cost of blood, misery and lives contributed by millions upon millions of Christians over two millennia. In view of this, how can the values held by Christians, including that practicing homosexuality is wrong, be casually reduced to mean 'religious sensibilities'? Compare this with the fact that the word 'homosexual' was invented not a century and a half ago. Before recent times, and discounting the early Greek city states where homosexuality was intertwined with heterosexual norms to some (largely functional) degree, was there ever a comparative homosexual culture, including a system of morality?
They exchanged the truth of god for a lie and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator ..... Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (Romans 1:25-27)
It was romantic, it really was. We had anonymous strangers abusing us, but we were having an intimate moment. Then, we went to HustlaBall in Berlin, and that’s when we really started to like each other. The heterosexual view of being faithful is so outdated. We don’t have to have sex only with each other to be faithful. I’m completely faithful to him, emotionally and with my heart. I can still get gang-banged and want to go back home to him. (OUT Magazine. 'Monogamy redefined')
Whilst Christianity persists in society as a living religion, there will always be those who question the moral basis of homosexuality, and so it is no surprise that Christianity has become the main target for homosexualists. This is apparent in the political activism displayed in their numerous homosexualist submissions to the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry on the proposed anti-discrimination Bill. All contain highly coordinated vitriol towards 'religious' organisations. Some don't even bother to focus on anything else but the Christian churches. Some even demand that employers be made to train their employees in 'tolerance' (towards homosexuals) and ask that employers be required to provide annual 'compliance' reports on whether they're achieving targets for their employees to accept and embrace homosexualist doctrine (a.k.a. "affirmative action plans under legislation"). Even before the [demanded] new law is to be implemented, some request that "...at the commencement of the consolidated law rigorous education programs should be provided for all sectors. Further, that such programs be developed in consultation with COAL, an autonomous lesbian group working to strengthen human rights, equality, dignity and participation of lesbian women" (Source). Naturally, this does not prevent some to demand that special rights be given to homosexualist organisations to discriminate in their employment of people. Needless to say, Stokes doesn't even glance this way.
Moral relativism tends to work only if some reciprocity exists between contrasting moral systems. If homosexuals wish to enjoy the privileges they have as citizens with full civic rights, then they need to understand that their values can't trump those of others, and that Christianity is very likely to be here for the long-haul, regardless of what they do to destroy it. In spite of what some have to say in biased publications, like The Conversation, Christians are entitled to work and consume products and services in a away that does not contradict or diminish their moral values and way of life. This means that, at times, they may require the freedom not to associate with practicing homosexuals. If some, like Stokes, deem it worthwhile to pose an argument to the contrary, then they ought to demonstrate the strength of their argument by other, more empirical, means than a simplistic comparison of unrealistically represented 'moral depths' in which Christians are singled out for the kind of asinine attack he's making. Rather than relegate Christians to the last spot on his scale of civil entitlements, simply because he decided that their beliefs are merely 'religious sensitivities', Stokes should not merely assume but needs to demonstrate that such 'sensitivities' are not, instead, life-affirming and -guiding principles. He should also argue for reciprocal rights. For instance, if his argument holds, then should homosexual owners of men bathhouses feel comfortable in employing practicing Christian preachers as porters? Should they be made to? Should they be required to provide re-education training for their employees so that they become more 'accepting' of Christians (or Buddhists, Muslims, Jews...)? All things being equal, shouldn't the author also write an article for the Eureka Street, arguing this?
Finally, I want to end by demonstrating the shallowness of the discourse represented in the homosexualist agenda, which is dutifully replicated by many academics and other intellectuals nowadays. Let's revisit the clear insinuation made in the article I presented at the outset, that Christians employ the label 'lifestyle' to demean homosexual people. It would be clear to any reader of Stoke's article that the author simply assumes this is something Christians use [to demean homosexuals]. However, in fact they are simply repeating what the homosexuals themselves routinely use to describe who they are and how they live. One only needs to look carefully at the discourse employed by homosexuals, when they forget to consciously choose terms as recommended by their activists. Here is an example: an online homosexual magazine, where in their webpage footer it is stated: "My Gay Toronto is Toronto's premier online Gay Lifestyle Magazine" (my emphasis). Or see this advice, offered by homosexualists on WikiHow:
Leading a gay lifestyle can be a challenging choice in many societies throughout the globe. If you feel that you made a choice, you should feel comfortable with that choice. Everyone has their own battles and choices to make, and the norms of societies may not necessarily be normal for you. If you do feel that you want to make the choice to accept your sexuality, it would be best to find friends and loved ones to support you, but do not feel - or let yourself be - pressured into believing that you should "change your ways" (Source, my emphasis).
- Demean the worth of Christian values (while making noises about "respecting" them!)
- Imply that homosexuals are victims of Christian bigotry
- Employ moral relativism, but selectively (oxymoron excused in your noble cause)
- Do not bother with objective examples, they are not required and it will only make it harder if not impossible to maintain the core of your argument
- Do not piss off the homosexualists, whilst carefully grooming an appearance of neutrality (a particularly hard trick, Stokes is to be congratulated for pulling it off)