Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Witherspoon's Straw Men

Straw man
If Mr. Crenshaw then argues that, because of his religious beliefs, I do not deserve the protection of anti-discrimination laws then he is a bigot in my opinion.

Wednesday Witherspoon Institute provides a graduate student, Ben R. Crenshaw, with a platform at the organization's blog. His polemic is titled “‘Shut Up, Bigot!’: The Intolerance of Tolerance.” It is not a very original idea. Over time we have seen numerous varieties of this theme which oh-so-cleverly turns the tables on LGBT citizens asking for tolerance.
Conservatives are called bigots because those who embrace the new sexual mores are beholden to the new tolerance as a plausibility structure. Postmodern liberals cannot comprehend the idea that one could simultaneously reject a belief and accept the person who holds it.
It is the basic premise that I take exception to. The truth is that nobody is called a bigot because of their beliefs. People are called bigots when their actions negatively affect others. The second sentence is old-fashioned “hate the sin — love the sinner” nonsense. It is nonsense because, once you get past prohibitions on doing physical harm to others, theft and dishonesty most of what we call sin consists of religious rules. Most of those rules, when disobeyed, do not negatively affect others unless one subscribes to the notion of collective guilt: If one person offends the god then everyone suffers.

Mr. Crenshaw continues:
America is in the midst of a raging national debate on issues surrounding sexuality and gender. If you dare to suggest that gender is determined by sex and is immutable, that same-sex sex acts are immoral, or that marriage is a permanent, exclusive union of husband and wife, then you will be called an intolerant bigot, hater, and homophobe.
If you tell me that transgender people don't really exist – they are just confused – I might call you “ignorant.” If you tell me that gay sex is immoral or that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman my first advice is not to engage in gay sex and not to marry someone of the same sex. I will probably think that you are a superstitious fool and a slave to rules crafted to conform to Bronze Age texts but that's just my opinion.

Crenshaw somewhat correctly observes:
Bigotry is defined as “intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself.” Notice that bigotry is not intolerance toward the opinions or beliefs of persons other than yourself, but intolerance of the other person. Bigotry is not simply disagreeing with what someone else believes; it is an unwillingness to tolerate or accept the person who holds those beliefs.
Our operating notion of bigotry differs because traits like race and sexual orientation are not systems of belief. They are the immutable attributes of individuals. Of course some Christians have reduced sexual orientation and sexual identity to beliefs or “lifestyle choices” in order that their beliefs conform to their religion. It follows that they are then able to disagree with, say, homosexuality on the premise that disagreement cannot be intolerance or bigotry. It's just an honest difference of opinion. Uh huh.

Even then, if someone believes that I choose to be gay they are entitled to their opinion. They can cite, by rote, BS starting with the absence of a gay gene. They can usually come up with studies done by some crackpot or hack who always just happens to be a fellow Defender of the Faith (think Regnerus). The thought process may not be bigotry; it certainly isn't critical thinking. Rather than asking a question and seeking evidence for answers, these folks start with a preordained conclusion, find biased evidence in support and exclude a mountain of peer reviewed, published evidence that constitutes the overwhelming scientific consensus about things like sexual orientation. Authors passing off religious baloney as if they were some kind of intellectual has become an art form.

As an example, Brian Brown is a bigot. I do not label the head of National Organization for Marriage a bigot because of his orthodox Catholic beliefs. I call him a bigot because he tried (and failed) to impose those religious beliefs on the rest of us as public policy by dishonestly perpetuating myths and stereotypes about gay people. This started as far back as 2008 when, in the Proposition 8 campaign, his group intentionally fostered the idea that gay people represent a threat to children. At the core of most of NOM's campaign since then has been the false narrative that gay couples are not good parents (again, a threat to children). More than anything it is the public dishonesty (and Brown has had a loud microphone) that makes Brown a bigot. The fact that Brown's organization was effectively sponsored by the Catholic Church opens up another debate about bigotry beyond this essay.

Eventually Mr. Crenshaw writes something rather odd:
The emergent new tolerance holds that persons who are truly tolerant accept the views of others and treat these individuals fairly. The key distinction is that under the old tolerance, one would accept the existence of other views even while rejecting some views as false; but under the new tolerance, one accepts these other views. In other words, all views are seen as equally valid and true.
Crenshaw is both a graduate student and a teaching fellow at Denver Seminary. His fellowship is at the Gordon Lewis Center for Christian Thought and Culture which is an evangelical “initiative” of Denver Seminary. Its goals are “to train and equip believers, proclaim the truth of Christianity to unbelievers, and engage culture for the redemptive cause of Christ.” This is not a fountain of intellectual curiosity. We do not know which flavor of Christianity Mr. Crenshaw embraces but his “truth” is not empirical. He starts with the belief that his religion is truth. Therefore I most certainly do not agree that tolerance requires us to subscribe to the belief that “all views are seen as equally valid and true.”

Crenshaw starts from the proposition that his view is truth. Any view that is divergent from Christian orthodoxy is thus invalid and untrue. Those are the opinions that Crenshaw seeks to devalue. Mr. Crenshaw is not interested in my opinion or evidence in support of my opinion if my opinion does not conform to his religious beliefs. Is that the “old tolerance?”

Indeed, Crenshaw goes on to write:
The only way to discredit the new intolerance is by attacking the philosophical foundations of postmodern theory. Unfortunately, postmodernism has thoroughly worked itself into Western culture, shaping Western assumptions and plausibility structures.
Some of this is from Peter L. Berger who is a sociologist of religion and very interesting. Nevertheless, the way to discredit any body of thought is with evidence or its lacking. Crenshaw cannot get there because his body of thought it predicated upon truth in faith which is a contradiction in terms. Crenshaw's whole world requires him to transform a comparison of facts and data to philosophical differences because philosophical differences can be debated. They form a controversy. Sorry but the settled science on sexual orientation and sexual identity is not a philosophy. It is nothing esoteric. These are scientific conclusions based on unbiased testing and evidence.

Crenshaw fails to discuss the issue of moral authority. In Crenshaw's world that stems from unsupported theory about his god and his religion otherwise known as faith which he accepts as truth. About 150 years ago similar theories led to the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans. Moral authority should stem from an understanding of how certain actions affect our society. While I am certain that Mr. Crenshaw would disagree (citing numerous theories), Jeremy Hooper's marriage has no adverse effect on anyone. It has a positive effect on him, his husband, their families and their daughter. Philosophically I can argue that Jeremy's marriage has a positive effect on our civil society. That is a conversation that I would be delighted to have with Mr. Crenshaw.

Mr. Crenshaw has a proposition:
We must challenge postmodern thought at a fundamental level and reintroduce the old vision of tolerance into society. This will be most effective if we practice the old tolerance, visibly and powerfully demonstrating that it is possible to hold to objective truths and dissenting views while being respectful and loving toward those with whom we disagree.
Mr. Crenshaw has little real world experience. He fails to appreciate that respectful dialog regarding a controversy stems from good faith.

The Pope Emeritus has written that gay people are “objectively disordered.” Is that an objective truth? Offering religious belief as objective truth is intellectually dishonest. Dishonesty does not project the requisite good faith for a productive dialog. When the Pope Emeritus promoted the preposterous, unsupportable belief that gay people are objectively disordered it is his act that is immoral, not the gay people he disapproves of. Moreover, falsehoods predicated on religious belief are still falsehoods. Insisting, for example, that sexual orientation is a lifestyle choice is a falsehood. It is difficult for me to believe that Mr. Crenshaw respects me when, due to religious beliefs, he considers me to be a pervert. There are many Christians and Jews, including ministers and rabbis who do not hold that belief.

If Mr. Crenshaw then argues that, because of his religious beliefs, I do not deserve the protection of anti-discrimination laws then he is a bigot in my opinion. What Crenshaw attempts is to place the responsibility for the bigot label on the labeler. If he does not like being called a bigot then he should consider his actions, not those of the people whom he has offended. Attempting to place the blame in them only makes his conduct more offensive. It is all pretty simple and does not require his 1,804 words. If Crenshaw is seeking truth then the reciprocity that is expressed in the Golden Rule is usually a good place to start.


For those who are not regular readers, Witherspoon Institute is a right wing religious organization that was founded by Luis Tellez, an Opus Dei numerary who is president and Robert P. George, the orthodox Catholic Princeton professor. Both men were also founders of National Organization for Marriage, the American Principles Project and probably other right wing non-profit groups.

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