This is the first part of my transcript of my talk on the Bible and Homosexuality – you can find the audio and the other parts here.
With the recent surge of LGBT activism that has swept our nation, I have seen many people interact with and dialogue about the good and the bad things that come from it, but I haven’t seen too many people talk about what is motivating the movement.
I think if you could dig down to the core essence of the LGBT movement they would say that what really matters is that anyone should be allowed to express themselves in whatever way they want without any fear of being judged by others for it. And therein the LGBT movement reveals its trump card: personal absolute autonomy.
If you have a conversation, read the blogs, watch the interviews, or read the books – you will always see this is the source of authority that the movement relies upon.
And it makes total sense that they do – this isn’t something that is unique to the LGBT community. Our age is a product of the Enlightenment; human reason and personal fulfillment is our summum bonum – we always deem the highest virtue as “personal freedom” or “uninhibited expression”, and the vilest evil is the direct opposite – “conformity”. Mix that in with our current fascination with emotional self-esteemism, a “me-centered” consumeristic society, and the “follow your dreams” mantra we have heard since elementary school, and voilà, there you have it. This is everywhere in our culture. Here is a task for you – the next Disney or Pixar movie you watch, pay attention to what the essential structure of the story is, and I bet you’ll see the ghost of what I’m talking about lingering around. A hero is told that he or she will never achieve their goals by some repressive, old stickler who represents a traditional system – but they learn to believe in themselves, shed the traditional blinders, and take a progressive step forwards, and (after some bumps along the way) wind up achieving their dreams and more, while their self-esteem soars to new heights. (I know it may give you a headache, but just listen to “Let it Go” – probably for the thousandth time, if you have children for the millionth time – and you’ll see this.)
Our popular culture seems to always esteems personal autonomy over traditional conformity. In 1992, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy immortalized the mantra of our current cultural moment, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” That’s the Western heartbeat, and that is what is fueling the current LGBT movement.
The question that we, and the LGBT movement, must answer is this: is absolute personal autonomy a reliable authority to base our life on?
Is that a good “true north” for our inner compass to be guided by?
Should all traditional values be reduced to rubble?
If so, how do you know? If not, which ones do we keep, and how do we tell?
Those are big questions, and how you answer them will shape how you live your life. Do we just “follow our hearts” or do we submit our hearts to an external authority?
I would like to put forth the idea that “absolute personal autonomy” is a radically unstable, often contradictory, and ultimately self-defeating worldview to live by. Why?
There is a fatal flaw in its system.
The Ugly Dance
Imagine this: you go to a regal ball, dressed in your finest, prepared for a night of dancing and fun. Upon arriving, however, you figure that your own taste in music is certainly better than the party’s band leader, so you put in headphones. But as you are walking in you quickly realize that almost everyone else has had the same idea and all are wearing headphones, listening to their own music. Encouraged by this display of diversity and personal freedom, everyone gives a hearty laugh and presses “play”. Some select classical piano, while others jive out to jazz; others head bang to punk-rock, while others breakdance to 90’s hip-hop. You turn on your favorite jam and prepare to dance the night away. But as you approach the dance floor you find it nearly impossible to dance.
Whats the problem?
First off, the dance floor is a mess; no one can really dance with each other unless they just so happen to choose the same music. Every few seconds or so someone would be howling that their toes have been stepped on, another sharing cross words with the guy who elbowed him in the back. The overall joy of what the ball could be is severely limited by everyone choosing their own tune, rather than dancing together to the same music. Everyone would be jumping, grooving and sliding in a jumbled, painful wrestling match.
Secondly, and maybe most importantly, no one would be allowed to tell someone else that how they are dancing is wrong. Why? Because everyone has their own music – you can’t expect them to be dancing like they are listening to yours. Certainly from your perspective, everyone else’s dance moves may look silly, out of step, and even grotesque. If you are listening to a waltz and they are listening to the Black Eyed Peas, your dancing is going to look very different; its not that one is right and the other is wrong – they are just different. Whats going wrong? We have a virtual cornucopia of diversity, and isn’t that always good? Well, not really – not always; diversity is a wonderful thing to be celebrated, but diversity is never meant to be an end in itself. Diversity is like salt, it brings the unique flavor out of a dish, but is always meant to complement something else. If you bury a pork chop in a mountain of salt, or worse, you try to eat only salt sans pork chop, you will have a poor dining experience. Likewise, if you sever any kind of common value or principle from mankind and assume the highest good is the freedom for all to determine our own reality, you and your neighbor will suffer. If diversity runs off the rails then we can never have harmony. A violent, senseless banging on pots and pans “in the name of diversity” would never hold a candle to the beauty of an entire symphony (which contains much diversity) playing in unison.
If we are absolutely personally autonomous beings with no design to conform to, merely fabricating whatever identity we desire to be, then our whole life is like that ball. We each are just following our own tunes, bumping into others who might be listening to the same stuff, but mostly just rocking out in our own little worlds. Perhaps that sounds pleasant to you; no one being able to tell you what you can or can’t do, just absolute freedom to express yourself. But the ugly thing about it is that the “inner music” that is leading some people to do beautiful, wondrous things with their lives is also leading other people to do horrifying, putrid things with theirs. One man follows his inner desires and builds a hospital for others; another man follows his inner desires and grabs a gun and sends people to that hospital. Neither is right or wrong – they’re just different. We all are just colliding and crashing with one another on the dance floor; no rhyme or reason to the whole lot, each of us just following our own music.
Do you see the price we must pay for this “freedom”? If we embrace this ugly dance as reality, then we are forced to admit that we can never say that something is absolutely wrong. Why?
To say that something is “wrong” implies an absolute standard that it has deviated from, and absolute personal autonomy claims there is no standard – we just do whatever we feel like doing, we all create our own standard. “We’re just listening to our music, so who are you to judge?” That is the price we pay for our autonomy.
Are we free to indulge in whatever sexual desires we have? Absolutely – go crazy, do whatever you’d like, you’re the captain of your own destiny, pal. Are we free to tell bigoted racists in the south that their racism is wrong? Not really. Are we free to claim that totalitarian governments that slaughter those who oppose them are evil? Nope. Are we free to denounce the exploitation of the poor by the rich as unjust? Well, again, not really.
We can say that we don’t agree with what they are doing, that we don’t like it, or that it is inconvenient – but we cannot say that it is wrong or evil. We have no moral grounds to do so. Who are you to claim that someone else cannot express himself or herself? How dare you force them to conform to your own moral standards? You can’t call a wicked king who is exploiting others, “wicked” – he just got lucky, got into a position of power, and did whatever his little internal compass told him was good to do at the time. You can disagree, you can hate him, you can even try to usurp him – but you have forsaken the ability to use any kind of moral agenda in the issue.
Some will object here and say that the one moral absolute we must adhere to is to never allow our freedom to inhibit someone else’s – so a king who enslaves his subjects really is wicked, they will say. But first off, again, on what grounds do you make that little maxim? Why should anyone listen to you? Secondly, that is a contradictory sentence – if a king is “wicked” because he is imposing his own rule on others and robbing them of their freedom, and you decide to lock him up, then aren’t you equally guilty of the same crime? Aren’t you imposing yourself on his freedom? Are you then “wicked”? Should we depose you? See, this slowly devolves down to where all of our hands are bound, our mouths are gagged, and we can no longer object to anything – because to do so, we must admit that there are some things that are absolutely wrong, and to do that we must forfeit our entire worldview. There simply is no way around it.
Another will say that since human beings require a functioning society to live, and a functioning society requires a moral standard, we must adhere to some kind of moral code. This is the argument of many who believe that our morals merely evolved as a pragmatic appendage. They are useful. But to this I have two critiques. First, if morality is a human construct that is decided upon by a society, then doesn’t that imprison us to the morals of our society? Here is what I mean: what if you were a young German living under the Third Reich? Is it moral to treat Jews like vermin? It certainly is the popular perspective taken by the society as a whole. Or what if you lived in a nomadic tribe in Africa where they practice the barbaric act of female genital mutilation? Or the South during the horror of slavery? Or, Heaven help us, the future societies with newly invented evils? Perhaps you would voice your objections and try and change some things, but you actually can’t say that what they are doing is wrong. By definition, you would actually be wrong. Under this concept, to contradict the societal views is to become decidedly immoral.
Secondly, when we say that our obligation to do the “right” thing and refuse the “wrong” is built entirely on a pragmatic footing, the actual morality it creates is largely imaginary. Sure, when we are out in public our civility and morality will lead us to hold the door open for one another, but what happens when we are alone? When no one is watching? When the motivating force of “This is how we behave for the sake of the community” is pushed from our minds by the solitude of an empty room? As soon as a moral dilemma presents itself and I see that doing the “right” thing is not advantageous for me, then why would I do it? Will some abstract concept of “the greater good” of a faceless, mass of humanity propel me to do the right thing, even when I don’t feel like it? Even when I feel like no one will ever find out? Pragmatism in its essence is self-centered – what is the most efficient means to achieve my end? The moral pragmatist claims that a society where we look out for one another, pay taxes, not steal, etc. is a better society to live in than the contrary – and I agree! But this, by definition, means that our moral decisions we make aren’t primarily motivated by love, but self-interest – and I struggle to see how that will lead to the greatest amount of people in our society who are willing to consistently obey the golden rule. What is pragmatic or helpful about caring for the elderly, the mentally handicapped, or the severely disabled? How is it advantageous for you or society to risk your own life to save a friend who is drowning, or stay in a marriage with someone who has a life threatening disease? A morally pragmatic world is a cold world indeed.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that there aren’t moral people out there who hold this worldview, there certainly is, but I would say they are inconsistent with their own worldview.
It is fascinating to watch the LGBT movement, out of one side of their mouth exchange traditional morality for freedom of sexual expression, then out of the other passionately oppose the injustice of their oppression – members of the LGBT are extremely moral people. But that’s logically inconsistent – they have no grounds for their morals. If you truly desire to have absolute personal autonomy, to be Lord and King over your own life, then you have to admit that everyone else has the same freedom, and lose any right to say that something that someone else is doing is “right” or “wrong”. This means that straight, gay, non-Christian, Christian – whoever, is free to do or say whatever they want – even if we hate what they are doing.
Gays and Lesbians don’t live like that; just mention the name “Westboro Baptist” and see the moral outrage (deservedly) ensue.
If I feel with such fiery certitude that there are absolutes that people should not violate, ever – then it does me well to ask myself why that is. Are those just flukes, glitches in the system that are bound to happen? Or is the more likely explanation that there is an absolute reality that we are suppose to submit to. Maybe we feel that rape and human trafficking are really wrong because they really are. If we are continually frustrated that others are stepping on our toes on the dance floor, refusing to dance to our tune, then perhaps we come to realize that a ball was never meant to be enjoyed this way. Maybe in a fit of frustration we all would pull our headphones out and prepare to leave the dance, only to hear the crisp, sweet notes of the Music that was playing all the while we were jostling about. Maybe this Music would compel us; maybe we would see the freedom found in its universal absoluteness, in its rhythmic cadence, in the backbone of a unified melody for us all to dance together with. Maybe its beauty would cut us to the heart, and show us how silly we were to ignore it before. And maybe we would grab one another’s hand and, clumsily at first, begin to dance and move in harmony together.
Perhaps I have convinced you of the danger of moral relativism – but the question you must now ask is this: what is the music that you should be dancing to? How do you find the standard that we must conform to for harmony, justice and equality?
We were not made to fabricate “truth” – we were made to find the Truth. We were made to have Truth declared to us by the Designer. This is a common core amidst all religion; a god or the gods reveal to man his purpose, a law, commandments or design, and then requires of him to understand and obey this design. This revelation of divine absolutes provides the solid foundation for moral statements, because they are rooted in the eternal nature of the divine being who gave it. However, Christianity, unlike all other religions who tells you to go find truth, tells us that Truth came to us – and He came in a person: Jesus Christ. Christianity doesn’t just give you the music and the steps to do the dance; the band leader Himself steps down, grabs you by the hand and dances with you – He shows you the dance.
“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one can come to the Father but through me.” – Jesus Christ (John 14:6)
My points of concession: I know that most LGBT members don’t live like hard-nosed moral relativists; in fact, they often are very scrupulous, charitable, community-minded, and have a passion for fighting issues of injustice. However, my main point isn’t that they are “bad people”, but that many of them, just like a good majority of our society today, are living upon an inconsistent moral ground. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I think that people who believe in absolute personal freedom can never do anything good, or be self-sacrificial or anything like that – my point is that they are inconsistent, and therefore for them to continue fighting injustice they must stop themselves from thinking too much about it. And any worldview that only survives by not thinking sounds weak to me.
Another point of concession, however, is that there are many members of the LGBT movement who do not believe in absolute personal autonomy – at least not entirely. They believe that their lifestyle is not in any contradiction with traditional values, and some in fact attempt to defend that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. Or there are other members who find some other religion or metaphysical reality to ground their morals in. But once we reach that station, we have a whole other conversation with different questions that come with it: Does that religion/metaphysical reality provide the best explanation for why things are the way they are? How did you arrive at your conclusion? How is salvation achieved in your religion? Can your religion tell you you’re wrong?