Saturday, December 6, 2014

Christianity and Homosexuality

The topic of homosexuality continues to be a hot button issue among many Christians. Most liberal Christians have accepted homosexuality as a natural aspect of human nature that is not harmful or sinful and have moved on. Most conservative Christians however, still think homosexuality is a sin that is unnatural and an abomination, and should either be discouraged or outright punished. Then there are Christians in the middle of this spectrum who are somewhat undecided on whether it's a sin per se,  it's unnatural, or should be tolerated.

Personally, the relationship between Christianity and homosexuality always showed me what a farce Christianity is. There are many reasons why. From within the conservative Christian mindset, I ask why god would create people who only desire a form of sex that god has deemed an abomination, and that possibly warrants the death penalty? This never made sense to me. So the conservative Christian often responds by saying that god didn't make anyone gay, rather, gay people "choose" to be gay through sin out of free will. This makes no sense either given the evidence. One cannot "choose" what sexually arouses them. I cannot make myself get an erection from something that does not naturally turn me on. I either get aroused, or I don't. I don't choose what sexually arouses me. So why would a heterosexual man, who is sexually aroused by women, one day "choose" to only get an erection by other men? That just doesn't happen. Homosexuals are wired to be sexually aroused by the same gender and is not something of their choosing.

So, the fundamentalist position on homosexuality is obviously false. Homosexual desire is not due to willful sinning, it's something innate. And that leaves us with the moderate position within Christianity, who rejects the fundamentalist's view that homosexuals are just straight people who are willfully sinning and recognizes that it's an innate part of human sexuality, but are not willing to go as far as the liberal Christian and say that homosexuality is just as normal and good as heterosexuality. That is, they still think it's a sin and against god's will, even though they acknowledge it's put into the "design" of human beings by god.

One of those types of Christians is Randal Rauser. I had a short dialogue with him on this blog over this issue and what he wrote to me is telling. I asked him:

Perhaps more succinctly, why would god create people unalterably homosexually oriented, and then also decides it is a sin to act out on those desires? Sexual orientation is a bit heavier than a "sin" like gambling, or greed. It represents an important, fundamental aspect of a human being's nature. If it is a sin to have gay sex and god doesn't want people having gay sex, why didn't god just make everyone born straight?

I think this is a reasonable question to ask the person who thinks god created gay people and forbids them from acting out on that desire that god made them have. And he responded:

That's an important question, but it isn't one unique to gays. Consider a heterosexual man who marries and then his wife has a stroke and is physically and mentally incapacitated. He is now deprived of a partner emotionally, mentally and sexually. However, I suspect most Christians would believe he is not morally permitted to divorce her. 
Why would God allow this man to enter into a relationship that God knew would end in the man being deprived of emotional, mental and sexual goods? 
One answer is that God desires to attain certain additional goods in this man which would not be attained otherwise, perhaps (for example) certain aspects of character including selfless love and caring. 
And that brings us to an important point: it is manifestly clear that God did not create the world as it currently exists so as to minimize pain and maximize pleasure. This much is clear given the distribution of suffering that God could prevent. But perhaps he allows this suffering generally because he can achieve greater goods vis-à-vis the formation of character for life in eternity.

Let's briefly analyze this. Randal's answer echoes a common Christian justification for suffering that's basically a version of the soul making theodicy, which I've responded to in part here. Here, Randal is proposing the idea that god "allows" some people to be born unalterably homosexual in order for that person, or other people, to attain "certain additional goods" that they would not otherwise attain. But god doesn't "allow" homosexuality, god made those people gay. He designed and conceived of homosexuality within his blueprint for humanity. There's a simple argument made here that shows how this has to be true.

I don't buy Randal's explanation trying to reconcile homosexuality and Christianity for several reasons.

  • In the case of the homosexual, what are the additional goods? Randal doesn't mention in this comment. So what goods could we think of? What "additional goods" would homosexuality imply? Would life-long chastity, as recommended by the Catholic Church and many conservative Protestants, be an additional good? Why would that be good? Why would god making us have desires he forbids us to actualize be a good thing? It would seem more sadistic than anything good.
  • Not long ago most homosexuals were in the closet, and society forced them to pretend to be heterosexual, which often included getting married to opposite sex partners they were not sexually or emotionally attracted to. In many cases this lead to the dissatisfaction of both partners, along with pain and guilt and self-hatred. And not long before that, homosexuals were tortured and killed. What's the soul making theodicy here? Does god want you wallowing in guilt and self-hatred for the way he made you?
  • Randal's last point is also telling. If it is "manifestly clear that God did not create the world as it currently exists so as to minimize pain and maximize pleasure", then our attempts to minimize pain and maximize pleasure are thwarting god's plan to strengthen our souls. If our technology can achieve us a world where pain is almost obsolete and pleasure is maximized to its full potential, there goes the soul making theodicy.
  • Regarding the soul making theodicy in general, babies and young children who die are never given life events that prepare their souls for "the formation of character for life in eternity." That means billions and billions of "souls" were fast-tracked for heaven and weren't even given the chance for the formation of character. The soul making theodicy makes no sense as an explanation for suffering.
  • In Randal's example, the incapacitated wife is used as a means to an end to make her husband do something he wouldn't otherwise do. But he might divorce his wife, and therefore his wife could've been used as a means to a failed end. And the husband might be able to achieve "selfless love and caring" without god making someone incapacitated, as happens all the time. Also, there is no evidence that only people who lack selfless love and caring personalities experience things that might induce them. Tragedies and illnesses befall people of all different personalities, religions and lifestyles, regardless of whether they're loving or caring or the status of their spiritual health.
  • Lastly, Randal's explanation wouldn't explain why animals exhibit homosexuality. What does an animal have to gain by being homosexual? What "soul" does it have that could be made better by being gay? There is no eternal life for animals in traditional Christianity, so this explanation makes little sense.

In all, the soul making theodicy utterly fails to make rational sense of homosexuality, and I think naturalism offers the best explanation of homosexuality: it is a by-product of our unguided evolution that is not intended to make us better or worse. As such, homosexuality will continue to be a thorn on the side of Christianity so long as it refuses to jettison the fundamentalist and moderate interpretations and adopt the liberal view, which is the only view that even comes close to being rational.

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