Homosexuality v. Christianity

An atheist critique of the Christian response to homosexuality2012 is the centennial year of the birth of Alan Turing, a British cryptanalyst central to the project that decoded German Enigma messages during World War II and a pioneer in computer science. Celebrations marking the event are planned, and the UK has issued an Alan Turing stamp.

Though you may not have heard of Turing, you have been touched by his work. When a web form challenges you to read distorted text to make sure you’re not a computer program, you’re participating in a variant of the Turing Test. When you use a modern PC, you’re using a Turing Machine.

Turing was convicted under an 1885 law against homosexuality and forced to undergo “chemical castration” by hormone treatments. Details of his death are imprecise, but, despondent over the treatments, he apparently killed himself by cyanide poisoning.

This brilliant gay man was 41.

Gay suicides continue in our own day. A 14-year-old boy killed himself last September in response to school bullying, just months after recording an “It Gets Better” video.

For those who wish for a day when sexual preference is as bothersome as hair color, things are improving. Within the last month, Washington and Maryland enacted laws allowing same-sex marriage (though both laws will likely be challenged by referendums in November), bringing to eight the number of states with such laws. The military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was repealed last fall. A Pew Research poll shows that supporters of same-sex marriage in the U.S. have recently become greater in number than those who oppose it. Archie Comics has even become gay friendly.

Can someone explain to me why same-sex marriage is an issue? I don’t get it, and I’ve drunk the marriage Kool-Aid. My wife and I have been married for over 30 years. I got married the same week I graduated from college. Two kids, no divorce, no adultery. When a preacher or politician imagines himself speaking to the country on this issue, he puts me in the front row. And I’m still waiting to hear a coherent argument for why same-sex marriage should bother me.

One of the most popular arguments is that this would redefine marriage. Okay, but so what? The definition of marriage hasn’t been a constant in the U.S. Until Loving v. Virginia in 1967, marriage in 17 states meant the union of one man and one woman of the same race. As I discussed in a previous post, the original 1959 conviction that prompted this landmark Supreme Court case was backed up with Christian justification.

Before that, marriage was redefined in 1890 to prohibit polygamy. In that case, the Supreme Court made clear how a clash between religious precepts and the laws of the state is resolved:

However free the exercise of religion may be, it must be subordinate to the criminal laws of the country.

And the definition of marriage continues to be a moving target since not all states have the same rules. Can you marry without parental approval at age 18? Yes in most states; no in Mississippi, where you must be 21. Is common law marriage recognized? Yes for Alabama and Colorado; no for Alaska and Delaware.

The definition or marriage hasn’t even been constant within Christianity—the stories of Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and other patriarchs make clear that the biblical definition of marriage was the union of one man and one or more women.

Marriage evolves, and if anything is attacking marriage today, it’s not same-sex marriage but divorce. Indeed, it’s odd that at a time when many Christian leaders are lamenting marriage’s reduced status within society, it dismisses a group that wants to embrace it. There’s no fixed pie here, where you getting a bigger slice means I get a smaller one.

What’s behind this? Is it the church’s obsession with sex? Perhaps it fears sex as a powerful competitive force. This reminds me of the Soviet Union suppressing Christianity because it was a powerful competitive force.

Actor and author Stephen Fry, in talking about the church and sex, likened sex to food. He said, “The only people who are obsessed with food are anorexics and the morbidly obese. And that, in erotic terms, is the [Christian] church.”

Let’s visit one elephant in the room that may be behind Christians’ objection to homosexuality. Gay sex, to use clinical terminology, is icky. My response: yes it is. And I have a quick and effective solution. If you don’t like gay sex, don’t have any. It’s really pretty easy when you think about it.

But this sidesteps the bigger issue. It’s not that gay sex is icky. It’s that sex is icky.

Imagine you’ve just met someone at a party, and he soon turns the conversation to his particular sexual turn-ons. You’d probably find the conversation very uncomfortable.

Another example: explain in detail the mechanics of sex to a six-year-old. The child would be disgusted whether you describe gay or straight sex. Sex is disgusting; it’s just that we are drawn to our preferred brand of sex because the passion overrides the disgust. We typically don’t have the passion to override the disgust from our inner six-year-old for other brands.

When I read a diatribe against homosexuality or same-sex marriage written by some politician or pastor, I wonder: with all the problems in the world—disease, poverty, famine, natural disasters, the economy, and so on—this is near the top of your list of things that keep you up at night? Seriously? You can’t find something else to worry about? Sorry, but same-sex marriage doesn’t affect my marriage—or yours—one bit.

There’s far too little love in the world as it is. It’s unthinkable—nay, reprehensible—to stand in the way of what love can be found.

Photo credit: San Diego Shooter

Related posts:

Related links:

  • Heartstrong: “Hope & help for gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender students from religious educational institutions”
  • “Church says no interracial couples allowed,” CNEWS, 11/30/11.
  • Rob Boston, “Trouble In Riverdale: Religious Right Groups Blast Gay Friendly ‘Archie’ Comic Books,” Talk to Action, 1/13/12.

48 thoughts on “Homosexuality v. Christianity

  1. Paul Copan Ph.D
    •The gay marriage issue, despite appeals to “fairness,” is likely rooted in moral relativism (“What may be right for you may not be right for me”). This raises the question, Why think humans have any rights—including a right to gay marriage—at all? Moral relativism undermines any appeal to rights; if rights exist, relativism is false. If rights exist, where do they come from?
    •Changing the standard definition of marriage leads us to ask, Why restrict marriage to two persons—or even to humans? If marriage is merely a socially constructed arrangement, why should any marital arrangement be preferred over any other, and why should gays get preferential treatment over others?
    •Human nature/identity and purpose are a crucial and inevitable part of the discussion. Redefining marriage away from a one-flesh union between husband and wife tends to leave us with a relativistic social construct—marriage (or even human identity) is just a matter of personal choice, fashioned according to one’s own preferences.
    •A traditional model of mother-father parenting is empirically more beneficial for children and society. Public policy should support and assist this model that is being undermined rather than contribute further to its demise.
    •We should take note that the push toward gay marriage moves us in the direction of pedophilia, and this should make us cautious about gay marriage and gay adoption.

    • Why think humans have any rights—including a right to gay marriage—at all?

      We’re all the same species, and we have a shared sense of right and wrong. Rights exist, though there’s no evidence that they have supernatural/objective grounding.

      If rights exist, where do they come from?

      This shared sense of right and wrong.

      If marriage is merely a socially constructed arrangement…

      What else could be, since it’s been redefined so often?

      … why should any marital arrangement be preferred over any other …

      The definition adapts over time as society changes. When there’s a critical mass for people to marry horses, let’s visit that question. Until then, that’s a meaningless red herring.

      … and why should gays get preferential treatment over others?

      Preferential treatment? You mean treating homosexuals the same as heterosexuals? If you’re asking why gays should get marriage when people who want to marry their sex toys can’t, it’s simply because same-sex marriage has passed the critical mass test.

      marriage (or even human identity) is just a matter of personal choice, fashioned according to one’s own preferences.

      Welcome to reality, my friend. Slavery used to be allowed (and support for it even comes from the Bible), but we laugh at that biblical support today as hopelessly archaic. Jim Crow laws used to be widespread in parts of the country; now their inconceivable. Society changes, and laws change to adapt.

      A traditional model of mother-father parenting is empirically more beneficial for children and society.

      I can see that. How does this affect the same-sex couple that doesn’t now and will never have children? We just throw them under the bus?

      And what about the lesbian mother with a child. The child will grow up in a single-parent household–I think we can agree that a lesbian mother will not enter another straight marriage. Is that empirically better than having a step-parent in the house to help with parenting chores? And if you reject this step-parent, why not reject them all?

      We should take note that the push toward gay marriage moves us in the direction of pedophilia, and this should make us cautious about gay marriage and gay adoption.

      Oh, please. Show me the data that says that pedophilia more of an issue with a gay step-parent than a straight step-parent.

      If you’re thinking of Catholic priests, for example, I’ll certainly agree that religion pushes people into unnatural situations (a community of celibate men??). We’re not talking about that.

      • Hi Bob,

        Think back to tribal times & the constant warfare. It was vital that you kept your numbers up (pun intended), so anyone who didn’t assist with population increase, was looked down on. The Mohammedan Arabs used slavery as a means to increase its population. They were of the opinion that it was the man who produced the baby in the woman, so any woman would do. They casterated the Black slaves “up to the belly button (penis & testicles).

        The fact that nature has all kinds of sexes seems to have escaped people who condemn homosexuality! When you see that nature is not constrained by what Jews, Romaninsts & Arabs say about sexuality, it is something I would like you to address!

        Also the fact, that a few days or weeks after conception, the potential child is both male & female. And that’s why men have nipples!

        • Lucky Larry: Someone seems to have stolen your identity and written gibberish under your name.

          FYI, in case you want to get your password changed.

    • To BobC,

      Human nature? Actually, a case can be made that polygyny is more in agreement with human nature (at least male nature) than life-long monogamy. Even your Old Testament knew that. Most societies throughout history have practiced polygyny, at least in some circumstances.

      See “The Moral Animal” by Wright for the details.

  2. Forgot His last point:

    •Homosexuals often raise certain “civil rights” concerns, but these can be addressed without having to change the definition of marriage.

    • His last point

      I’m not sure that I’d go as far as raising Copan to the level of deity.

      Homosexuals often raise certain “civil rights” concerns, but these can be addressed without having to change the definition of marriage.

      Oh? Then how do we address the civil rights concern of homosexuals not being able to marry whom they want without changing the definition of marriage?

    • If the topic is Sodom and Gomorrah, I’ll be getting to that shortly. If it’s anything else, perhaps you could summarize his best points here.

  3. To all,

    More on human nature: a case can be made that xenophobia is part of that nature. I don’t think any known society is immune from that flaw. Any religion either (save perhaps jainism, but I don’t know much about it). Evolutionists have a rationale in which our moral faculties evolved along with xenophobia. Morality is universal, but nearly everywhere, it is claimed that the out-group has fewer rights than the in-groups (if it has rights at all). The Old Testament follows this pattern. This pattern is especially clear in adolescent tribal morality, but it is still true to some extent among adults.

    However, what is not part of human nature is who is to be the target of that xenophobia. This part is learned, but at any rate, there HAS to be a target. (I am describing this phenomenon here, I am not endorsing it).

    It so happens that in modern West, we have two convenient targets: gays and muslims. We got over our hatred of women, Jews and blacks only to shift that seething stock of hatred onto gays and muslims (or anyone who “looked like” a muslim…)

    That is… saddening.

    • Atheists, too, I submit. They’re below even gays and Muslims for electability to public office in the US.

      • Hi Bob,

        Yeah, but I was speaking of the West, not just of America. Atheists go quite unnoticed in Canada and in Europe.

  4. To all,

    I would have thought that the Holy Spirit would have rescued Christians from that foible (xenophobia), but… it has not happened.

    • That would be powerful evidence that Christianity exists, but, like all the other claims, this one falls flat, too.

    • Haven’t we been through the argument of the self-defeating argument before?

      Going to that site, I discover that the answer a thoughtful person would like to give, “I see no evidence of X,” is simply not provided. The sad little project doesn’t even get off the ground.

    • Bob C: I’m failing to see the internal consistency in your position.

      Since everyone’s salvation is predestined, then what point is there in proving God’s existence?

      Does God really need you to believe in His existence before He can save you?

  5. To Bob the Atheist and Retro,

    If we permit gay marriage, how will we keep the prohibition of consensual incest (for instance between a mother and a son)???

    • Is there a significant minority of the population for whom this would be important? When that’s the case, we should consider it just like we’ve considered same-sex marriage. Until that point, it’s a red herring.

      Rights have restrictions. You can drive … with restrictions. You can own a gun … with restrictions. You have free speech … with restrictions.

      That there are restrictions on marriage makes it just like any other right or privilege.

    • If we permit gay marriage, how will we keep the prohibition of consensual incest (for instance between a mother and a son)???

      How do we currently prevent consensual incest? (In your example, it’s one man and one woman, so it actually has nothing to do with homosexual marriage.)

      What does one have to do with the other? How would allowing homosexual marriage change anything to do with incest?

      As Bob S has already noted, these are all slippery slope arguments. I still haven’t heard anyone give a logical explanation of why allowing gay marriage would lead to humans marrying dogs…etc…

      • To Retro,

        Though homosexuality by itself is distinct from consensual incest, the kinds of arguments that are used to support homosexuality before a hostile tradition (we may call them “liberal”) could be applied as logically to justify consensual incest.

        The problem is less homosexuality in itself than the kind of justification that its defenders put to use!

        In a society where homosexuality has been part of a timeless tradition, there would be no ground for ending it. Because its justification was, quite simply, “we have always done it that way and we have no reason to change”. But of course, Christian missionaries and Victorian settlers ended it all the same.

        When dealing with a tradition, there should be a principle of inertia. The tradition is to be kept unless there is good ground for changing or rejecting it. And since in the West homosexuality has traditionally been condemned, the burden of proof is on liberal. And they have to make sure that whatever argument they use does not lead to unpalatable consequences.

        • RF2:

          Your principle of inertia sounds fine. There’s inertia behind allowing men and women to marry, and that’s not being challenged.

          What unpalatable consequences are you afraid of that aren’t simply red herrings?

          (And, of course, if it’s not a red herring, I’m happy that society consider it. I’m not losing much sleep over this because there is little demand for people marrying their sex toys–or any other nutty peripheral demand.)

  6. That there are restrictions on marriage makes it just like any other right or privilege.

    Talk about arbitrary and subjective! What a joke!

  7. Hi Bob S,

    Maybe what sounds nutty now will become hotly debated in 50 years and commonplace in 100 years, who knows. It’s good to start to think about the consequences of our ideas now. Even if they sound – for now – speculative.

    • Yes, that’s quite possible. Does this worry you? Social mores change with time.

  8. Hi Bob S,

    Back in 1967, there was a debate within the Catholic Church over whether to make artificial contraception permissible. A group of traditionalists wrote a report for the pope in which they used a slippery slope argument. They said: if contraception becomes permissible, on what grounds will we be able to prevent homosexuality and abortion?

    And now see where we are. The pope did prohibit artificial contraception, but society has accepted it, and it has unfolded the consequences of it that those traditionalists found unpalatable.

    • That slippery slope argument sounds as connected as “if we allow same-sex marriage, on what grounds will we argue against murder?” I simply don’t see the connection.

      I understand your data point. I don’t find it worrisome or ominous, however.

      • Hi Bob,

        I disagree. Murder is wrong in the liberal viewpoint. So it’s not an issue. Actually, anything that harms is condemned by liberals. The problem is that there is little more to their moral philosophy than that… And that’s why they are very permissive in sex ethics. Which brings the question from conservatives: what about consensual incest?

        The debate is actually one between tradition and liberalism. Homosexuality is just a trigger.

        • That doesn’t help me see the connection. If you’re saying that both connections are terribly strained, we agree.

          Again: red herrings aren’t helpful. “But if we allow same-sex marriage, we’ll have no option but to allow [fill in terrible thing here]!” doesn’t follow.

  9. Hi Bob,

    Ok, here is a little flesh on the bone.

    Suppose there is some crazy cult (but without brainwashing and with easy exit) in which fathers are allowed to sleep with their (adult) daughters, if they agree. Now suppose we want to challenge this crazy cult.

    We: Incest is wrong.
    They: You cannot believe that.
    We: Why not?
    They: Because you have made homosexuality permissible.
    We: Yes, and? Do you imply that homosexuality and incest are equally repellent?
    They: Just remind us why you have come to accept homosexuality while formerly it was condemned by society.
    We: Well, because what two adults homosexuals do privately is none of our business. Live and let live. We cannot constrain their liberty without a good reason, i.e. if no one is threatened. If no harm is involved, one should be allowed to do as one pleases. This is a human right.
    They: Exactly. And for the same reason, we in our cult have the right to consensual incest.

    • The issue is harm–nothing more and nothing less.

      Is incest harmful? Then make that argument. Easy.

      Is it not harmful (though perhaps disgusting)? Then I don’t care.

      “That’s disgusting” is no argument. “That’s harmful” is the argument you must find or reject your objection.

      But that’s just my opinion.

      • Hi Bob,

        Ok, at least you are straightforward. Evolution has given us incest avoidance because incestual unions give offsprings with major birth defects.

        But of course now we have birth control. But our brain evolved before birth control was available.

        The same evolution has given us xenophobia, of which homophobia is a subset.

        In the first case, emotion (“It’s disgusting”) is a reliable guide for moral norms. In the second case, emotion is not trustworthy, and reason should control them.

      • Is incest harmful? Then make that argument.

        Exactly. Without realizing it, people base at least part of their morality on whether something is disgusting or not. When it comes to creating laws and locking people up, it’s got to be based on something more substantial than disgust.

        Does anyone here think that the law is the main reason parents and their adult children and not having sex?

        I’m not even sure there is such a law…

        • RF2:

          In the first case, emotion (“It’s disgusting”) is a reliable guide for moral norms.

          And when you’re disgusted by something, don’t do it. Easy.

          If someone else is (1) not disgusted by it and (2) no one is hurt by the act, where is the objection? “You’re grossing me out” is a weak foundation on which to build laws.


          Wikipedia has a world map that shows which countries allow or prohibit incest. According to the map, the English-speaking world plus Italy, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, and Austria forbid it. But surprisingly, Spain, Portugal, France, Sweden, Holland, and others allow both incest and incestuous marriages.

  10. To Bob the Atheist,

    Though in some cases disgust is an unreliable guide for ethics, in other cases it can allow us to perceive a real value. Even if no harm is involved. In some cases, disgust is a cultural construct (for instance eating insects). In other cases, disgust is a human universal. The disgust for incest falls in the latter category.

    • We all agree that if something disgusts you, you’re entitled to give it a miss.

      The bottom-line issue remains for me: if you want to say that something must be forbidden for everyone, then your argument must be of the form “X is harmful because of Y.” Disgusting isn’t the same thing as harmful.

      Do we agree?

      • Hi Bob,

        But disgust may be the way our conscience tells us something is wrong. Not always, of course.

        • But we see how misplaced it is when it drives us to create Jim Crow laws, anti-miscegeny laws, or laws against homosexuality. Again: any argument in this domain must make elucidate the harm in the practice.

  11. To Bob S,

    I think that deep down you know that incest is wrong, even if it does not “harm”. It’s not just disgusting, it’s not right. It’s not how good people act.

    • I know that it’s definitely not for me. But then again, I know the same thing about homosexuality. What should I conclude from this?

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  17. Honestly, I agree with everything you’ve said 100%. And that is saying something as I usually have a lot to say about this particular subject. You’re work was extremely well developed and thought out brilliantly. I guess I just wanted to say a simple thank you for writing it 🙂


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