For the Bible Tells Me So


“For the Bible Tells Me So is a 2007 American documentary film directed by Daniel G. Karslake about homosexuality and its perceived conflict with religion, as well as various interpretations of what the Bible says about same-sex sexuality.

It includes lengthy interview segments with several sets of religious parents (including former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt and his wife, Jane, and the parents of Bishop V. Gene Robinson) regarding their personal experiences raising homosexual children, and also interviews with those (adult) children.” (From Wikipedia)

Here’s the Trailer:

and you can watch the full movie on Veoh here.

It was good, but not as impactful as I was expecting, given the awards and great reviews it had. But still good. I suppose it depends on the audience– it’s strongest message is the usual about not rejecting, abusing or discriminating against gays, which is of course a great message.

But for me it doesn’t stress enough on the how (ie what is considered ‘not rejecting, exactly?) and the why. What I mean is, if its mainly the extreme negative views and reactions that are being shown, it’s easy for someone with moderate views to dissociate themselves from it, while still holding on to their essentially anti-gay position. It would be easy for them to counter what’s shown with something like, ‘Well of course I wouldn’t throw bricks/scrawl hate messages/send hate letters etc. that’s wrong. but so is homosexuality. I wouldn’t reject the person, but I reject the lifestyle.’ So for me, it doesn’t focus enough on why that sort of attitude is not enough. It doesn’t go deep enough, detailed enough into the journeys of the individuals, of how they came to reconcile their sexuality with christianity, why they didn’t stick with some moderate middle ground.

Frankly, I think that ‘middle ground’ is incoherent. I think that that annoying phrase of ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner.’ is not possible to truly put into practice in the case of homosexuality because homosexuality is usually experienced as a pretty integral part of one’s identity.

When you say you ‘hate the lies but love the liar’, the liar is not going to feel aggrieved or offended if he is a normal, average person who thinks lying is wrong. He’s likely to ‘hate’ lying as well. He probably doesn’t see it as either an intergral or instrinsic  part of himself. When he admits that he is a liar, he is admitting that he had lied; he is admitting to the action of lying. And if he hates lying, he’ll hate it when he lies.

When you try to do the same thing for homosexuality, it doesn’t work because homosexuals experience it as being part of their identity. Saying “I hate homosexuality but I love you” would be like saying to a man, “I hate men, but I love you.” or “I hate Chinese, but I still love you.” Which would be incoherent. (Unless you tweak the meaning to ‘Usually I hate men, but I find that I love you.’, which significantly deviates from the original mantra in meaning.) Furthermore, I am homosexual no matter what I do or don’t do, so from the individuals point of view, I really can’t afford to hate it. There’s no escape from it, unlike lying; I’d have to hate myself constantly if I hate homosexuality.

The phrase (and tone/body language of the people who utter it) seem to imply that denouncing homosexuality is merely idealogy– in practice, they are still going to treat you with all the rights and respect and love due to any other human being; they’re not condeming you as a person, just the concept of homosexuality.

That, to me is incoherent and untrue as well. As long as you hold the belief that homosexuality is morally wrong, you will inevitably be hurting me with your belief. It will hurt when I know you do not support or approve of my relationships. It will hurt when I know you would prefer it very much if I were straight. It will hurt me when you support causes that will deny me my rights to living a normal happy life in the eyes of society and the law and when you refuse to support causes that are helping to fight for those rights. And if you are a friend or family member, all this will hurt a million times more.

So honestly? No matter how awesome a person you are, how non-judgemnetal and accepting and warm… I am still finding hard to not be offended when you tell me you think homosexuality is an abomination. I do think it’s as deep a personal insult as it can get.

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Nature vs Nurture: Does it matter?


The debate and controversy surrounding homosexuality almost always gravitates towards debate about its nature: whether people are born gay or not.

Knowing the nature of sexuality would of course be helpful and as a science student I definitely think we should never stop chasing for answers. But I don’t think these particular answers are as central to the debate as people think they are.

In other words, even if we were to untangle all the gazillion factors that goes into making someone who they are in terms of their their sexuality and gender identity, the debate (or mudslinging and discrimination) would still continue, because that’s not what people are actually arguing about.

A disclaimer: Here I use the word ‘gay’ (or ‘homosexuality’) as an umbrella term for all of LGBT. I personally prefer the word gay to any other word because it sounds simple and happy. 8D

It’s Nature! …So What?

People on the pro-gay side of the argument tend to lean heavily towards ‘nature’ as the answer: Gay people are born this way. It’s natural. It’s like being born with red hair: not a choice and can’t be changed. Discriminating against gays is like discriminating against redheads.

But being born that way might not offer as much immunity from discrimination as you might think. Why? Because being born that way does not imply that it cannot be changed (it just can’t changed by your will alone), nor does it necessarily imply that it should not be changed.

People can be born with deformities or diseases. That’s natural, and there’s no choice involved. But if medically something can be done to reverse the effects, to cure the disease or fix the deformity, it will be done.

If nature means encoded in genes, then gays are safe for now, since science isn’t that far advanced yet to be able to  mess with the genetic code to get exactly what they want, especially since no ‘gay gene’ has been or is likely to be identified. Besides, most would consider it unethical to ‘play god’ and make ‘designer babies’ with customizable genes.

Genes are only the first step in the story though, not the only step. we may not be able to tweak the genes themselves, but we can certainly moderate and modify their effects or results, as when people with hormone deficiencies take supplements, or babies born with cleft lips undergo surgery, or a person with severe epilepsy undergoes brain surgery.

A gay gene hasn’t bee found, but plenty of research has highlighted the importance of hormones, mostly hormones in the womb and during early development. If abnormal amounts of hormones are found to be the main biological cause for gayness, wouldn’t that, ironically, be a blow for gay supporters since it implies a hiccup in the natural development that can and should be fixed? Being born gay would become less like having brown hair and more like having a hormone imbalance which can be treated.

What’s the difference between treating a disease and “treating”, for example, having red hair? Someone with a disease is likely to want to be treated, someone with brown hair may or may not want to change their hair colour. Treating someone with a disease should undoubtedly improve their quality of life, changing the colour of your hair, not so much.

Regardless of which you think homosexuality resembles more, it’s clear that what differs is not how someone came to have that condition but whether or not the condition should be treated, that is, whether or not it is something intrinsically undesirable.

It’s Nurture! … So What?

On the other side, detractors say homosexuality is a choice. It’s due to your upbringing, the effect your parents had on you. It’s insidious influences from society/internet/television. It’s a misguided choice,  a bad habit, a flawed perspective.

But even if ‘nurture’ played a more significant role, it doesn’t necessarily imply choice, or even the ability to change.

Language is certainly more cultural and ‘nurture’ than inborn or ‘nature’. Yet cases of feral or confined children who never heard speech during all important formative years ended up being unable to speak later in life, or at least had a much harder time picking it up than you’d expect, showing that a cultural factor (exposure to language) does not imply ability to change.

I like the colours blue and purple. Probably this isn’t 100% genetically coded. Probably it’s much more ‘nurture’ than ‘nature’. I mean, when I was younger my favourite colour was once orange. and light green. and red. and silver. and black. and… you get the point. It probably has a lot more to do with what I was exposed to when growing up; the subtle meanings and moods society gives to these colours; my mother’s favourite colour (also blue); the different things, memories, concepts I subconsciously associated with these colours to give me a positive experience when viewing them.

But… could I choose to discard these as my favourites? and choose pink instead, a colour I’ve disliked all my life? Could I choose, similarly, to like the music that I don’t like? could I choose not to like durian, or choose to like eating liver?

I can choose to wear a pink shirt (for Pink Dot, for example). I can choose to listens to trance music at a friend’s insistence. I can choose not to eat durian (because I have a sore throat) or to eat liver (because my mum asked me to). We can choose our actions, not our inclinations.

Well, you can choose to engage in behaviour that might alter your inclinations: you could go for anger management therapy to learn to control your temper even if you can’t choose whether to being angry or not like an on-off switch. And maybe wearing pink, listening to trance, and eating liver often enough would make me, slowly, change more opinion in time.  Maybe.

It certainly seems silly to think it’s impossible to change my favourite colour to pink. Yet… I have no idea how I would begin to approach such a task. Surround myself with pink things? Repeat daily “I love pink!” until i believe it? Deal out punishments when I choose colours other than pink, and rewards when I choose pink? Pinkify all my favourite celebrities, bands, people, items? Sounds dangerously like mental torture or brainwashing. Actually… wait a minute. Before we get to ‘how’, more importantly, why should I want to do this at all?

Again, even if we know with certainty whether sexuality is a result of our upbringing or a even a conscious choice, it still wouldn’t stop the debates. For clearly negative things like anger problems or difficulty integrating into society, no matter how difficult the process, therapy for a change would still be recommended. But for a neutral thing, like colour preference, the mere idea becomes ridiculous. Even if homosexuality can be changed… should it?

The Real Debate

Thinking that
Nature = natural = cannot be changed = should not be changed
Nurture = unnatural = a choice, can be changed = should not be changed
is too simplistic, and not really true.

If science proves that it’s genetic, or hormonal, or not a choice, it’s not going to stop anti-gay people rejecting it: people can and will still label it as an abnormality to be ‘cured’, a flaw to be ‘managed’, much like how my choice in feeling pain or getting angry is limited, but I still have to learn to control it.

If science proves that it’s mostly upbringing and can be changed with proper and careful counseling or prevented with proper upbringing, it’s not going to make gay people want to change their orientation: people will argue that it’s their right to live their life the way they want it, the way they’re most comfortable with, that the gay lifestyle doesn’t hurt anyone, that it’s a loving relationship between two consenting parties.

The real issue is not whether it’s nurture or nature, its whether sexuality is more like a genetic disease or hair colour. More like a psychological problem or colour preference.
The debate is about whether or not homosexuality is intrinsically undesirable, whether or not it is wrong.

Anti-gay people don’t think it’s Wrong because they think it’s a choice; they think it’s a choice because they think it’s Wrong. If you think something is Wrong, regardless of it’s causes or origins or nature you would want to resist it. If you think something is Right, you would want to promote and defend it, again regardless of other factors.

So the real debate is one of morality: why homosexuality is or is not Wrong.
And I personally believe that there is a much stronger case to be made for why homosexuality in itself is as morally neutral as heterosexuality, colour preference or hair colour, even from within a religious point of view.

Mere Christianity and Morality


I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Chrsitianity and shall post some of my responses here. You may read or listen to Mere Christinaity here.

Summary of Chapter One: The law of human nature

1. There is a universal standard of Right and Wrong that men expect other men to know, that is obvious to everyone and did not need to be taught.
2. This moral law is the only law people are free to disobey.
3. Moral standards across cultures are more similar than they are different; details differ, but the main thread stays the same. Trying to imagine a totally different morality would be as impossible as imagining a culture in which 2+2=5.
4. Even people who claim that there is no Right or Wrong will claim that something is not right when an injustice is done to them, contradicting themselves.
5. People may make mistakes just as they may get their sums wrong, but morality itself is objective. In fact, everyone breaks the moral law, and our reaction to breaking it, namely being anxious to make excuses and shift the blame away from ourselves, further shows how much we truly believe in it.

C.S. Lewis’ argument at the core is that people will find in themselves an objective moral law, and where would such a law come from if not from God? Francis Collins also uses Moral Law as something (the main thing?) that points towards the existence of a supernatural moral law-giver in his book, The Language of God. Some articles expounding similar ideas here and here.

In general, it’s a very compelling argument because I think it’s a very intuitive feeling for people to want to believe in an objective Right and Wrong. Before I started thinking about this, I thought objective morality had to be right. Subscribing to relative and subjective morality just seemed like a really bad idea that would lead down a slippery slope towards immorality. It also just felt ridiculous, against conventional, rational thought and counter intuitive. And yet, when I read Collins’ and Lewis’ arguments, I felt less than convinced. And the more I read and think about it, the less convincing they become.

Then I watched this three part video series on youtube. It’s not flawless, but it’s very good. All arguments for a Moral Law sounded weaker than ever after that, and I was no longer so wary to let go of the concept of absolute morality. (Although I have yet to redefine and clarify my concepts. Future entry, maybe?)

I think that the explanation of morality given in the videos can be used to counter all of the points proponents of the moral law argument make.