Monday, July 7, 2014

Of this we're very sure

I just finished an interesting column by a theologian I almost never agree with who was castigating his fellow conservatives for projecting milquetoast rather than certainty on controversial issues.  The example he gave is as follows:

"If some Christian is on television and is asked the baiting question as to whether homosexual practice is a sin, he will reply (if he is trying to hold the line in any fashion) that “yes, it is a sin, but all of us are sinners, and God makes no distinction between sins, and I myself am a sinner, and have sinned just this week in ways that are every bit as bad. And it’s only Monday.” What he ought to say is “yes, it is a sin. A very bad one. Kind of gross, if you think about it.”

"Now if he goes the former route, what is he trying to avoid? It is not the identification of homosexual sin as “sin.” He does that. What he is trying to avoid is his own sin, the “sin” of certainty, the sin of confidence, the sin of dogmatic pronouncement. The sin of acting as though God has spoken."

You can read the whole column here:

Please allow me to suggest that that is not the dynamic at work at all.  Not even close.  And it requires a certain amount of disingenuousness to suggest that what's going on is avoidance of dogmatism.

Most people want to be thought of as fair people who treat other people well.  True, there are some people who really do take pleasure in being scoundrels, but I think most people prefer being virtuous to being scurrilous.  And most people understand virtue to include treating other people they way that they would like to be treated.

One of the reasons for the sea change in public attitudes toward gay marriage in a relatively brief period of time was the realization that depriving people in a stable, long-term committed relationship the ability to obtain legal protection for that relationship was not treating people fairly.  Dumping all over people because of their sexual orientation is not behaving charitably.  Suggesting that people whose only real difference from everyone else is the gender of the person they choose to spend their lives with are beyond the equal protection of the law and the respect of their neighbors finally struck people as not being compatible with the American ideal of fair play for all.  And once people actually started thinking through just how unjust anti-gay prejudice is, it became harder and harder to make the case that the law should treat them differently.

And I think that when someone argues for anti-gay prejudice, deep down inside that person knows that he is doing something shameful.  Even if he doesn't think he is doing something shameful, he knows that the culture has shifted and a significant number of his friends, neighbors and relatives will think it's shameful.  And that's why these days there aren't nearly as many people willing to say, "Yes, it's a sin, a very bad one, and it's gross and disgusting too."  What's gross and disgusting is treating people like second class citizens because of the objects of their affection.

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