Homosexuality and Morality
God and Morality
(1) If the ‘Unnatural Argument’ did not show that homosexuality is wrong, then there is little left that seems to work except, perhaps, an appeal to religion. This makes sense (at least in the USA) since the cultural divide does seem to be grounded in religious considerations which pit religion against LGBT people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender). Let me make a couple of observations. The dichotomy between religion and homosexuality is bogus. First, often when people raised as Christian talk about ‘religion in general’ they actually have Christianity in mind - whether they realize it or not. Note, for example the Reform Judaism does not condemn homosexuality at all. Second, even within Christianity there are denominations which accept homosexuality – such as the United Church of Christ. Indeed, there are Christian Churches specifically for LGBT people (Metropolitan Community Church, Unity Fellowship).
(2) There are important difficulties concerning the relationship between God and morality. Consider the dilemma posed in Plato’s Euthyphro:
(A) The gods love a righteous action because it is righteous
(B) A righteous action is righteous because the gods love it.
(In the Dialogue, Socrates and Euthyphro agree that (A) is correct).
We can pose a similar dilemma with respect to the relation between God and morality.
(A) God disapproves of an immoral action because it is immoral
(B) An immoral action is immoral because God disapproves of it.
Consider option (B). In this view, morality may be nothing but the Divine Commands of God. Thus, God makes morality (morality consists in the Divine Commands or Laws of God).
There is one advantage to this view about God and morality: It can provide the universal principle which explains the moral wrongness of homosexuality. Why is homosexuality wrong? It is wrong because God commands that it is wrong. However, this view also has some serious difficulties:
(a) It seems that God’s reasons for making these Laws are themselves non-moral in nature. Thus, morality is ultimately grounded in decisions made by God for no moral reasons.
(b) It seems that morality is contingent (if God has freewill then he could have made different laws). So God could have decided that torturing young infants was morally acceptable. However, it seems impossible that torturing young infants could ever by morally acceptable. If we grant that torturing young infants is morally acceptable, then we can no longer understand what the expression ‘morally acceptable’ even means.
(c) It seems that this position yields the same morally repugnant consequences as moral relativism. If God said that slavery was good, then it would be good. But this is repugnant.
(d) It undermines God’s own goodness. For it seems that no matter what God does or says, it will be good (by definition). By contrast, if God is good because he abides by objective moral standards, then his goodness seems more than merely definitional.
Given all of these disadvantages, it might seem that option (A) is more attractive. In this view, God does not determine morality. Rather, he simple follows the rules of morality. But if this is true, then we have given up our explanation of what is so wrong with homosexuality. It is NOT wrong because God said so. So why is it wrong? It now seems to be a mystery.
One position might be to accept that homosexuality is wrong (on faith) without knowing why it is wrong (i.e. without understanding the universal principle which explains why homosexuality is ‘wrong’). If so, moral reasoning has been put aside in favor of faith alone.
While I do NOT have objections to faith, I do think that BLIND faith without reason is dangerous. How can one be so certain that one has gained access to a truth of GOD? For example, how does one know that one had the correct scriptural interpretation? If this ‘truth of God’ appears morally questionable, then this constitutes preliminary evidence that the ‘truth’ is not a truth of God at all (since God is good). For example, the view that slavery is morally acceptable seems repugnant. Now suppose that we come to the view that according to God, slavery is acceptable. However, we don’t know WHY it is acceptable. We can find no reason which explains why some forms of slavery are exempt from moral disapprobation. Should we accept this form of slavery as legitimate on blind-faith (without reason)? By giving up our reason and moral discernment, there is the chance that we may be duped by somebody OTHER THAN GOD, who is attempting to get us to behave badly. Once moral discernment and reason is relinquished, we have no guarantees that our blind faith isn’t misdirected.
Overall Conclusion: Either homosexuality is wrong because God said so, or else God merely reports that it is wrong. The first option leads to disturbing views about morality. In particular it suggests that slavery would be morally acceptable if God said so. Consequently, it drains moral terms of ordinary content. The second option means that we have no explanation why homosexuality is wrong. We merely to accept it on faith – in the face of the fact that there doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with homosexuality at all. This stance seems to be irresponsible, since it opens one up to the possibility of being duped by questionable moral characters. Without retaining our moral reasoning capacity, we have no way to determined whether the being we are following is good or bad.
(3) We can distinguish between ‘natural’ and ‘revealed’ religion. Natural religion is supposed to be determined by reason and experience. For example, some people believe that the existence of God can be established by argument. Revealed religion is determined through certain scriptural texts which are deemed divine. Since we have already seen that there is no good argument against homosexuality, the religious appeal to God will have to involve ‘revealed religion’. Obviously, there are various parts of the Bible which appear to condemn homosexuality.
There are several difficulties with an appeal to scriptural revelation. The first difficulty is deciding which scripture is divine. Consider, for instance, that while
the Koran 5:80 condemns that view that Jesus is divine (those who believe this will go to hell), the New Testament suggests that those who do not believe this
will go to hell. Which is correct? How do we decide?
Even a particular scripture (such as the New Testament) have many different possible interpretations. How do we determine which one is correct? Obviously, the
task involves considerable reflection and biblical exegesis. Consider, for example, that John 3:16 opposes ‘every lasting life’ (for those who believe in Christ) with
‘perishing’ (for those who do not believe). If we take this literally, then it seems that unbelievers simply die (i.e. perish). In order to read this as a reference to hell,
we need to take ‘perishing’ as a metaphor for eternal damnation. Or should we take biblical references to hell as metaphoric discussions of death? I take it that even
on a fundamentalist reading of scripture, one ought to take into consideration the overall textual context of a particular verse and allow for the possibility of metaphor.
Another question is what is meant when it is said the bible is the word of God. In one view, the men who wrote the bible literally "channeled" God. There is no
possibility, in this view, that these men might have been blinded by the prejudices of their day. In another view, while the bible is inspired by God, it is nonetheless
true that the men who wrote the bible might be blinded by the prejudices of their day. Here is an argument for the second view. Consider that several passages in the
bible authorize slavery (click here for some references). If one believes that slavery is immoral, then one had better accept the second view. Otherwise, God literally
authorizes slavery and is therefore immoral!
A final question is whether the bible is to be read in terms of our own current cultural context or whether it is to be read in terms of the historical context during which
it was written. Consider, for example, that the bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek. When people read the bible now, they often read translations. Are
they accurate translations? The result of a careful and historically situated reading of the bible is that it is not at all obvious that the famous passages condemning
homosexuality do condemn it at all. For example, in the story of Sodom [Click here for reference] it appears the crime of the citizens of this city may not have been
homosexuality but a lack of hospitality [Click here for references]. Again, the famous passages from Leviticus are not clear. "Abomination" is a translation of
"toebah" which means "ritually unclean." This contrasts with "zimah" which means "unjust" or "unethical." The ritual codes were used to keep the Jews separate from
the Canaanites, who practiced their own religion. This religion involved fertility rites, temple prostitution, and sacrifices to the god Molech. It is possible that the
verses alleged speaking against homosexuality are actually requiring that the Jews avoid participation in other religions.
Conclusion: The promulgation of the view that God condemns homosexuality holds very significant negative consequences for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. It
seems morally irresponsible to promote the view, particular when one has not done any research into biblical exegesis. Even when one has, given that it is far from
obvious how to interpret the relevant passages, one ought to proceed very cautiously.