Category Archives: gospel

Familiar Territory

My sincere apologies, friends, but I must impose upon your eyes, web browsers, and feed readers yet again because there now wells up within me that ancient anger against injustice that has boiled the blood of many a Mormon before me. Now, don’t get me wrong: this is familiar territory for us Mormons. Once again, it seems that we’re being labeled as bigots, meddlers, and theocrats for having supported Proposition 8 in California. ((Noteworthy links: 1|2|3)) Much like the Missourians who feared the Mormons’ ability to support a cause they disliked (Mormons were generally anti-slavery) some elements of California society seem to have suddenly realized what the Mormons who have dwelt in their midst since before the Gold Rush actually believe in.

We Remember

To those who accuse us of forgetting the persecutions we suffered in the past, and of now persecuting the gay population: did you really think we’d forgotten? Be assured that the memory of our people being driven from Ohio and Missouri, of our Prophet being murdered in cold blood in Illinois, of being driven from homes in the United States to the desolation of a mountain wilderness, haunts us to this very day. But the Holy Spirit has witnessed to our hearts that the Church is God’s, that the Book of Mormon is a revelation meant for our day, and that the president of the Church, Thomas S. Monson, is a prophet of God. And so it took no coercion to convince us to support traditional marriage.

The church teaches that sexual relations are sinful and wrong in every situation except between a man and a woman who are married to each other. This is known in the church as the law of chastity. Given our support for chastity as defined above, and keeping in mind that the most fundamental meaning of marriage is as society’s (and God’s) official seal of approval upon a sexual relationship, and given furthermore that the defining aspect of a homosexual relationship is, well, homosexuality, ((Please listen to this speech by Princeton’s Robert George for more on this.)) which does not fit in with the law of chastity, it therefore makes absolutely no sense for Latter-day Saints to wish society to stamp its approval upon gay relationships by calling them “marriage.” It might even be understood as a crime against conscience to do so. ((What’s more, the state has no interest in promoting families headed by a same-sex couple. Has family studies research shown that same-sex couples provide optimal support for the rearing of children, as it has shown for heterosexual couples? Do homosexual relationships contribute to population growth that is vital to economic expansion? Have the results of same-sex marriage in nations and states where it has been approved been studied to determine whether it really promotes the general welfare? No. Why are we so anxious to leap aboard ship if it’s as-yet unknown whether it has a leak in it? Of course, an obvious counter-argument is to recall the paternalistic racism that tried to preserve segregation in the United States, and even more-so in the colonies of Imperial Britain. However, the rise of divorce rates in the last half of the twentieth century precipitated serious scholarship on the impact of a traditional mother-father pair vs. a single parent on children. The results demonstrated a dramatic positive impact of having a father and a mother in the home. Can it not be supposed that the natural complementarity between men and women is a significant contributor to that outcome, and therefore that this would not exist in family headed by a homosexual couple?)) ((Moreover, homosexual couples who adopt children seem to be attempting to convince themselves that their family is normal by surrounding themselves with the trappings of a traditional family. Who knows — maybe gay couples will be wonderful at rearing children? But at best they can only ever be is surrogates, for they cannot be biological parents.))

Corrections

Much of what I’ve seen written concerning Proposition 8 has suffered from substantial, unacknowledged preexisting biases. Here are some corrections.

A Right?

Many have presupposed that marriage between people of the same sex is a fundamental right like those mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. According to the LA Times:

It was the latest in an escalating campaign directed against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for its role in marshaling millions of dollars in contributions from its members for the successful campaign to take away same-sex marriage rights. ((My emphasis.))

The California voter guide guide put it this way, claiming that Proposition 8

ELIMINATES RIGHT OF SAME-SEX COUPLES TO MARRY.

The San Francisco Chronicle:

Proposition 8 has passed, denying to some the right enjoyed by other citizens in California, the right to marry. Now, the central question for the courts to decide is: Are gays in California equal, or can members of certain churches declare them constitutionally inferior?

I take issue with the implication that there is some sort of right to have society treat your homosexual relationship as equivalent to the long-established institution of marriage. I wonder to whom the man writing in the SF Chronicle refers with his conspiratorial phrase, “certain churches”? No church has the right to change with the constitution. But the people do.

Discrimination?

And what makes forbidding marriage between people of the same gender discriminatory? The prohibition enacted against homosexual marriage applies with equal force to all people. Not having an inclination to participate in marriage as traditionally defined has never been an occasion for special treatment in the past; why should it be now? To quote the comments immediately following that article:

americanb4black: Gays aren’t the only group(s) that doesn’t have the RIGHT to marry, but that’s mainly because there isn’t a RIGHT to marry. Marriage is a privilege given by the society (typically the state) in which you live. Other groups that don’t have a RIGHT to marry: fathers marring daughters, sisters marring brothers, men marring two or more women at once. Should these groups also have the RIGHT to marry?! Why not?!

batmanyey: geez, enough already – the people of california have spoken and Prop 8 won! It doesn’t matter who voted for this proposition the bottom line is the people of california by majority vote DO NOT APPROVE OF GAY MARRIAGE! How many times do the people have to vote on this matter?

dragons7: If there is such a concern about separation of church and state, then why is there such a demand to have gay “marriages”? It would seem to make sense that they would be demanding “civil unions”.

Once marriage means anything and everything, it will clearly mean nothing.

False Dichotomy

Here’s a statement quoted favorably in this CNN article:

“It really feels personal. It feels like why would someone not want us to live in love and respect,” said protester Jayne Dean-McGilpin.

Do I even need to explain this false dichotomy? So Jayne Dean-McGilpin is saying that anyone who does not want to change the definition of marriage to accommodate homosexuals doesn’t want homosexuals to have loving, respectful relationships. That’s simply false. I hope that all human relationships will be positive, and in the sphere of your own domestic life I hope that translates into love and respect. But marriage is, nonetheless, between a man and a woman.

Separation of Church and State

Another one from CNN:

“I believe that politics and religion should be completely separate,” protester Eric Rogers told CNN affiliate KGO-TV. “This has been, actually, one of those lines that has been blurred by that.” ((My emphasis.))

Let’s have a little civics lesson. The First Amendment is quite to the point about these issues:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

According to Wikipedia, Justice Souter wrote that “government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion.” Supposing the federal constitution to ultimately be applicable at the state level (as has been established by precedent), no reasonable argument can be made that Proposition 8 was a “law respecting an establishment of religion.” Defining marriage as between a man and a woman and prohibiting anything else from being called marriage is no more a “law respecting an establishment of religion” than are laws which define murder as one person willfully causing the life of another to come to an end and then forbid people to murder.

In claiming that, by supporting Proposition 8, the Mormons have somehow overstepped their rights with regard political discourse, some people seem to think that parts of the First Amendment are suspended with regard to groups who oppose their views. Proposition 8 was a “petition [of] the Government for… redress of [a grievance],” namely, that the Supreme Court of the State of California had redefined a key cultural institution without regard for the negative consequences of so doing. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in organizing themselves to campaign for Proposition 8, were exercising the “right of the people peaceably to assemble.” Moreover, this assembly and petition was done as a manifestation of “the free exercise [of religion]” which, we are told, “Congress shall make no law… prohibiting….” Thus says the fundamental law upon which our republic was built, the Constitution.

It’s About Money?

And, inasmuch as contributions to causes are recognized in the courts as protected speech, all of the church’s media activities (videos, articles, phone calls, websites, etc.) related to the campaign were likewise protected. So this isn’t about the church stepping out of bounds. This is rather about the church standing for something that some gay marriage proponents hate. And it’s also the church’s ability to get things done in support of its views. As church leader and former Utah Supreme Court Justice Dallin H. Oaks has noted:

Perhaps the root fear of those who object to official church participation in political debates is power: They fear that believers will choose to follow the directions or counsel of their religious leaders. Those who have this fear should remember the celebrated maxim of Jefferson “error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.” Some may believe that reason is not free when religious leaders have spoken, but I doubt that any religious leader in twentieth century America has such a grip on followers that they cannot make a reasoned choice in the privacy of the voting booth. In fact, I have a hard time believing that the teachings of religions or churches deprive their adherents of any more autonomy in exerting the rights of citizenship than the teachings and practices of labor unions, civil rights groups, environmental organizations, political parties, or any other membership group in our society. ((My emphasis))

So Open It’s Closed

There is a point at which an open mind becomes so open that it closes in on itself. At least, that’s what I think. At some point, the willingness to consider any and every thought as at least initially equivalent can wash out any willingness to evaluate the accuracy of those viewpoints. At that point, the open thinker steps quietly away from the great stone fortress of knowledge and toward the art deco pavilion of perception, where the seeming unapproachability of truth leads some to abandon its pursuit.

Rothesay Pavilion (at:yellow book ltd)

Rothesay Pavilion is the finest of Scottish Art Deco (cc-by:yellow book ltd)

I try almost to the point of obsession to be open-minded. To me this means to never dismiss or discount anything simply out of hand, due to unfounded prior beliefs or biases. Everything, in theory at least, deserves a fair hearing. This is effective at avoiding the evils of ignorance and prejudice.

The more layers you are convinced divide you from an understanding of truth, the more difficulty you have committing to any one viewpoint. This acts as a hedge against becoming convinced of falsehoods. What happens, though, when I begin weighing one viewpoint, say something repulsive like “Genocide is good,” as an equal alongside something else like “It would be good to find a cure for HIV infection”? Easy, everyone knows that genocide is actually bad, so we drop that one right away.

But wait, isn’t that simply dismissing things out of hand? Perhaps there is some sort of redeeming quality of the pro-genocide position??? Sure, sure, in theory, everything is possible, so I suppose conceivably there could be support for the “genocide is good” viewpoint (though I seriously doubt it). But don’t we already have a good idea that genocide is bad? It seems like we’ve got a heuristic for that already. You know, something along the lines of: actions that lead to unnecessary suffering should be discouraged. No, no, that’s not it. I mean, we didn’t have to go in and do a thorough study of genocide and its demographic and societal implications (Does increased ethnic homogeneity decrease frictions internal to a nation? Does reduced population benefit the survivors by decreasing competition for limited natural resources?), we didn’t have to interview the perpetrators (How do you believe committing acts of genocide has helped you achieve your goals in life?) or the victims, nor did we have to commission a series of essays in memory of some obscure academic who died twenty-three years ago to explore it all from the Marxist angle. We didn’t have to form a blue ribbon commission to aggregate all of the disparate sources of information and come to one final determination of whether genocide was good or bad. No, we just sort of figured it out, based on something more like this: murder is bad, and genocide equals lots of murder, therefore genocide is lots of bad.

So where does that “murder is bad” thing come from? Well, everyone except for hardened mobsters and twisted modernist philosophers seems to think it’s a bad thing, so shouldn’t I think so, too? No. At least, not for that reason. That’s just following the crowd, the accepted argument fallacy. How about this: murder (and, by implication, genocide) is bad because it causes another person to cease to live, and in particular it does so contrary to their will, and we all know that depriving somebody of life, especially when they don’t want you to, is bad.

And why is that bad? I mean, is there some sort of imperative that should make me regret that? Everyone in the Western liberal tradition seems to agree that that is a bad thing, but no thought leader today ever gives a reason why.

It can’t be that the fact that murder is a nigh-unto-universal taboo amongst all cultures, places, and times. No, because a large number of people holding a particular belief does not make that belief more or less true. The truth of an idea is independent of whether it’s believed in or not. So why then is it wrong to murder?

I wouldn’t want somebody else to murder me. Maybe that’s a basis for objecting to murder? But why should my desire to avoid being murdered really mean that I should not murder another?

Now wait a minute. Not doing something to another person if I wouldn’t want that person to do the same thing to me sounds awfully familiar. It’s very Golden Rule-ish, isn’t it? Seems that there was some popular moralist a few millennia ago who argued in favor of that position, but that’s it, just another viewpoint to be dealt with from a distance but most definitely not believed in.

Do you see, now, how being so obsessively open has backed me into a corner? Insisting on evaluating every possibility,  I am left now with only two possibilities: either genocide and murder are wrong, or they aren’t. Either I attribute some sort of a priori wrongness to these acts of violence, or I am forced to conclude that genocide is morally neutral—which, ironically, would be a very morally non-neutral assertion to make.

Castle Bodiam is an impregnable stone fortress!

Castle Bodiam is an impregnable stone fortress! (cc-by:Misterzee)

So what will it be? Should I follow my obsession with open-mindedness to the brink of human depravity? Or should I believe that there really was a God who said “Thou shalt not kill“? Should I simply wave my hand at Auschwitz as if it carried the same moral significance as a supermarket? Or should I accept the teachings of one Jesus who said “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them”?

When rationality cannot prove that naked evils like systematic mass murder are actually bad, you’re forced to ask: What are the limits of rational thought? If rationality fails, then where else can we turn?