Kids: You’re Not Really Gay

What should conservatives tell gay kids?  One writer suggests that kids should learn that they’re not really gay.  But that writer, Michael Hannon, also wants us to tell non-gay kids that they’re not really straight.

Hannon’s original argument suggested that the construction of the notion of sexual identities in the nineteenth century doomed conservative Christians to a double danger.  First, it led some people to identify as homosexuals.  According to Hannon, such an identity enshrines sinful behavior as the core of a person’s identity.  To Hannon, anyway, it seems there is no moral way to have sex as a homosexual, since gay marriage is not for him a moral possibility and sex outside of marriage is immoral.

But heterosexuality is just as bad.  By allowing conservatives who identify as heterosexuals to rest satisfied that they had the “right” sexual identity, heterosexuality left people clueless about the abundant dangers of the entire idea of sexual identity.

In other words, if I understand him correctly, Hannon hoped religious conservatives would take their argument up one level.  Instead of suggesting that homosexuality was sinful and heterosexuality was not, Hannon wants us to recognize that the concept of a sexual identity—any sexual identity—was deeply problematic.  As he elaborated in a recent follow-up, Hannon argued that the real goal of religious people must not be Hollywood’s marriage-as-happy-ending, but a more complicated goal of spiritual friendship.

This is not the usual semi-hysterical “homosexual agenda” talk we hear from some religious pundits.  Over and over, conservative activists have warned that “sneaky” homosexuals are using public schools to infect young minds with gayness.  Hannon is making a much more subtle argument.

To be clear, Hannon does indeed think that homosexuality tends to promote sinful behavior.  As he put it,

Self-describing as a “homosexual” tends to multiply occasions of sin for those who adopt the label. . . .  Whereas the infusion of the theological virtues sets the Christian free, identifying as homosexual only further enslaves the sinner. It intensifies lust, a sad distortion of love, by amplifying the apparent significance of concupiscent desires. It fosters a despairing self-pity, harming hope, which is meant to motivate moral virtues. And it encourages a strong sense of entitlement, which often undermines the obedience of faith by demanding the overthrow of doctrines that seem to repress “who I really am.”

But this is not the only problem of sexual identities.  Too many conservatives, Hannon charges, accept heterosexuality as a healthy sexual identity.  They yearn for boy-meets-girl and scorn boy-meets-boy or girl-meets-girl, but in essence such conservatives miss the point.  Encouraging young people to understand themselves as primarily sexual beings—gay or straight—puts too much emphasis on sexual identities entirely.

What should young people hear about sexual identities?  Neither that they are inherently gay nor straight, Hannon says.  Rather, that sex is part of humanity, but never should make up the core of a person’s identity.

Critic John Corvino doesn’t buy it. According to Corvino, Hannon seems to be

asking for something much more difficult for us moderns to imagine: a world without sexual orientation as we understand it. Yet it’s hard to see how to avoid the closet as a necessary first step toward this goal. Worse, one worries that aiming for this goal would at most achieve a disastrous middle ground: a world where orientation categories were still salient but where the taboo against voicing them would leave those with same-sex desires lonely and miserable.

How about you?  Do you think Hannon’s argument has legs?  Can religious conservatives get out of their culture-war pickle by moving away from a condemnation of homosexuality and instead to a broader distaste for sexual identities as a whole?

 

 

Is the War between Science and Religion Over?

Here’s one we missed: among the year-end top-ten lists was Paul Wallace’s list of “Top Ten Peacemakers in the Science-Religion Wars” at Religion Dispatches.

Looking back at 2011, Wallace offered this cheering prediction:

“This year has marked, I believe, the beginning of the end of the war between science and religion. Creationism cannot last. The New Atheists are now getting old. And between these camps the middle ground continues to expand.”

Wallace’s article lists ten leading voices from the broad middle ground.  Included are evangelical scientist Karl Giberson and irenic atheist Chris Stedman.

We missed Wallace’s list at the time.  Looking back at the progress of 2012 so far, it doesn’t seem as if the culture wars have abated noticeably.  But perhaps we need to look more at trends than headlines.  As one of Wallace’s top-ten peacemakers, Rachel Held Evans, put it,

“My generation of evangelicals is ready to call a truce on the culture wars. It seems like our parents, our pastors, and the media won’t let us do that. We are ready to be done with the whole evolution-creation debate. We are ready to move on.”

The goal at ILYBYGTH has always been to promote a true and lasting peace in these culture wars, not merely an angry and demilitarized standoff.  A more profound and sympathetic understanding of Fundamentalist America among us outsiders could lead to a greater willingness to work together.  Or at least to an ability to understand what the other side is saying.

Was Wallace right?  Has 2012 produced a new crop of peace-makers?  It is not too difficult, after all, to stretch beyond Wallace’s list to point out other hopeful signs of a new generation of writers and activists willing to reach across the cultural trenches to work with the other side.  Just a few that have attracted wide notice lately:

Starting long before Pat Buchanan’s famous 1992 invocation of the “culture-wars,” it has seemed that the boldest headlines have been made by those who attack their opponents relentlessly.  Perhaps we can see here a broadening of interest in the peaceable middle, those who want to speak civilly and productively with those on the opposite sides of these culture-war trenches.  One can always hope.

Let’s Be Civil: Scott F. Aikin & Robert B. Talisse

We must be civil.  If we here at ILYBYGTH hope to understand Fundamentalist America from the outside, it is not optional.  The purpose of ILYBYGTH is to imagine the best reasons for conservative ideas on evolution, religion, education, etc.  Without civility, this turns into another useless and bitter witchhunt.

But what does it mean to be civil?  Philosophers Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse of Vanderbilt offer a compelling short definition of true civility.  In a piece on 3 Quarks Daily, the two philosophers argue for a more precise and healthy definition of civil argument.  “We now are able,” Aikin and Talisse say in part,

“[to] identify civility in argument with tendencies that enable the exchange of reasons among disputants. Chief among these concerns the need for those who disagree to actually engage with each other’s reasons.  This requires arguers to earnestly attempt to correctly understand and accurately represent each other’s views.  For similar reasons, arguers must also give a proper hearing to their opponents’ reasons, especially when the opponent is responding to criticism.  In addition, when making the case for their own view, arguers must seek to present reasons that their opponents could at least in principle see the relevance of.  We can summarize these ideas by saying that civility in argument has three dimensions: Representation, Reception,and Reciprocity.”

And they conclude:

“Thus we see that civility in argument is not a matter of being nice, calm, or even polite.  It instead has to do with being a sincere arguer.  Civility is consistent with sharp tones, raised voices, and other forms of adversariality that would in other contexts be inappropriate.  But our model of civility also holds that name-calling, impoliteness, and hostility are to be avoided when they would obstruct or undermine properly run argument.”

For those of us who try to engage with those with whom we don’t agree or don’t even understand, this definition will help define the parameters of civil discourse.  It is a reminder that we must not abandon our own positions in order to respect the other.  Such wallpapering is not true civility, but rather only a stalling maneuver.  This definition also frees us to be angry, so long as we understand that anger is a feeling, not an argument or strategy.  True civility, in my opinion, is like parents arguing in that quiet time when a baby has just fallen asleep after a long stretch of midnight crying.  Both parents can be angry.  Both can point fingers and accuse the other of sloth.  But both parents also implicitly–automatically–keep their voices down to a hushed whisper.  Though they may have a ferocious argument, they both agree not to wake the baby.

Can people really do this?  There often does not seem to be any agreement to keep argument civil.  Culture warriors break this implicit code all the time, engaging in violence or accusing one another of inciting violence.

But there is hope.  Political scientist Morris Fiorina has argued that the “culture-wars” are not truly as vicious as they are made out to be.  Scholars such as Jonathan Haidt insist that there are moral positions on both sides of many hot-button issues.  And activists such as John Corvino and Maggie Gallagher have committed to talking civilly with one another, sometmes with “sharp tones, raised voices, and other forms of adversariality.”

So let’s be civil.  When we disagree, let’s remember to try to understand the other side.  Let’s listen to one another.  Let’s give reasons that might make sense to the other side.  And let’s agree to be open to changing our ideas.  A tall order, but a necessary one.

In the News: Anti-Fundamentalist Hate Crime?

FRC President Tony Perkins.

According to a story from Religion News Service, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins accused the Southern Poverty Law Center of inciting a hate crime against them on Wednesday.  The irony is beyond painful.  The SPLC has long been a leading voice identifying and condemning right-wing hate violence.  Is Perkins’ accusation a mere stunt? Or does the SPLC have to acknowledge its role in this crime?

On Wednesday, Floyd Lee Corkins II allegedly entered an FRC office in Washington DC and shot unarmed security guard Leo Johnson in the arm.

FRC President Perkins blamed the SPLC for inciting this violent act.  Perkins claimed,

“Corkins was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that have been reckless in labeling organizations as hate groups because they disagree with them on public policy.”

The SPLC has, in fact, accused the FRC of some despicable actions.  According to the SPLC, the FRC demonizes homosexuality.  FRC leaders, according to the SPLC, have publicly advocated the expulsion of all homosexuals from the USA.  The FRC, according to the SPLC, has also equated homosexuality with pedophilia.  These are not insignificant claims.

As Chris Lisee reported for Religion News Service, the alleged shooter had been an activist at some local gay-rights organizations.  Even more curious, he had been carrying a large bag of Chick-fil-A sandwiches.  The symbolism seems unmistakeable.  After all, given the recent culture-war dust-up over Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy, a gay activist might not usually purchase fifteen sandwiches from the chain.  Fox News claims that just before opening fire,  Corkins said, “I don’t like your politics.”

So was this an anti-fundamentalist hate-crime?  Can the SPLC be held accountable?  The SPLC’s Mark Potok called the FRC claim “outrageous.”   Other gay-rights organizations quickly condemned the shooting.  Potok’s defense makes an important point.  The FRC shooting was a tragedy, Potok claimed, but Perkins was cynically taking advantage of this event to claim a “false equivalency” between the FRC and other victims of hate crimes.

Nevertheless, Perkins’ accusation raises important questions.  As we’ve seen with other recent culture-war violence, such as the deadly shootings at the Sikh temple near Milwaukee, the dangers of escalating America’s culture war are real.  Language that demonizes the opposition hurts us all.  The solution must be more along the lines of Matthew Lee Anderson’s and John Corvino’s response to the Chick-fil-A affair: we must talk to one another.  Openly, honestly, and even painfully and awkwardly, if necessary.  We don’t need to agree, and we must avoid the false solution of merely papering over our disagreements.  But we must also all agree–as most groups do in this case–that violence is not part of these discussions.