GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

March 31, 2015

LGBT is for Vendetta

Filed under: GA — adam @ 3:15 pm

As are all victimary movements. The articulation of hyper-civilized sensibilities and the barbaric lust for vengeance could not be made more evident than in a comment on a column by relatively conservative NYT columnist Ross Douthat. Douthat raises the following questions in the wake of the victimary temper tantrum over Indiana’s new Religious Freedom law:

1) Should religious colleges whose rules or honor codes or covenants explicitly ask students and/or teachers to refrain from sex outside of heterosexual wedlock eventually lose their accreditation unless they change the policy to accommodate gay relationships? At the very least, should they lose their tax-exempt status, as Bob Jones University did over its ban on interracial dating?
2) What about the status of religious colleges and schools or non-profits that don’t have such official rules about student or teacher conduct, but nonetheless somehow instantiate or at least nod to a traditional view of marriage at some level — in the content of their curricula, the design of their benefit package, the rules for their wedding venues, their denominational affiliation? Should their tax-exempt status be reconsidered? Absent a change in their respective faith’s stance on homosexuality, for instance, should Catholic high schools or Classical Christian academies or Orthodox Jewish schools be eligible for 501(c)3 status at all?
3) Have the various colleges and universities that have done so been correct to withdraw recognition from religious student groups that require their leaders to be chaste until (heterosexual) marriage? Should all of secular higher education take the same approach to religious conservatives? And then further, irrespective of leadership policies, do religious bodies that publicly endorse a traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic view of sexual ethics deserve a place on secular campuses at all? Should the Harvard chaplaincy, for instance, admit ministers to its ranks whose churches or faiths do not allow them to perform same-sex marriages? Should the chaplaincy of a public university?
4.) In the longer term, is there a place for anyone associated with the traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic view of sexuality in our society’s elite level institutions? Was Mozilla correct in its handling of the Brendan Eich case? Is California correct to forbid its judges from participating in the Boy Scouts? What are the implications for other institutions? To return to the academic example: Should Princeton find a way to strip Robert George of his tenure over his public stances and activities? Would a public university be justified in denying tenure to a Orthodox Jewish religious studies professor who had stated support for Orthodox Judaism’s views on marriage?
5) Should the state continue to recognize marriages performed by ministers, priests, rabbis, etc. who do not marry same-sex couples? Or should couples who marry before such a minister also be required to repeat the ceremony in front of a civil official who does not discriminate?
6) Should churches that decline to bless same-sex unions have their tax-exempt status withdrawn? Note that I’m not asking if it would be politically or constitutionally possible: If it were possible, should it be done?
7) In the light of contemporary debates about religious parenting and gay or transgender teenagers, should Wisconsin v. Yoder be revisited? What about Pierce v.Society of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary?

And here is the comment:

Religious views about sexuality are inconsistent with the reality that gay people are human beings who deserve the same rights and privileges as other people. The fact that they are sexually attracted to their own gender is clearly biologically based. Gay people have been abused for centuries because of ignorance of biology, and because the majority of straight people, unable to imagine not being straight, assumed that the gay minority was in diabolical cahoots with the prince of darkness, or some other such theological nonsense.

When the religious view of the world congealed centuries ago, it did so based on many wrong assumptions that were the result of profound ignorance of the true origin and nature of human beings. We now know better, and a tipping point has been reached in which people suddenly realized that gay people were not perversions, but were our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends and our families.

The answer to every question that Mr. Douthat asks is the same. No person, no gay person, no black person, no female person should be treated with disdain because of their biology. Those who might do so are acting out of ignorance. They will now have to experience the social pain and rejection they they’ve inflicted with impunity on others. They will lose their relevance, their dignity and their tax exemptions. They will become what they have abused and hated. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I will enjoy their pain. But I’ll get over it.

The comment is interesting in several ways. It begins with an attack on “religious views about sexuality,” which quickly becomes an attack on religion itself: “when the religious view of the world congealed centuries ago, it did so based on many wrong assumptions that were the result of profound ignorance of the true origin and nature of human beings.” There is nothing inevitable in this leap: the religious view of sexuality could have been wrong, but correctable through a further elaboration of the founding event constitutive of the “religious view.” Presumably for this writer, that would be impossible, or would just lead to more error, because the correct view of sexuality requires knowledge of biology, which religion could never provide. But it is not knowledge of biology that discloses “the reality that gay people are human beings who deserve the same rights and privileges as other people.” Sorting out deserts and rights requires a different kind of knowledge, and we might agree with this writer that this knowledge would be of “the true origin and nature of human beings.” But the true origin and nature of human beings seems to be biological here, to be acquired by a rejection of “theological nonsense” and I suppose some form of biological inquiry. But wouldn’t biological inquiry keep disclosing new knowledge as it proceeds? And how could that accumulating knowledge include knowledge of who should be treated with disdain, and who should not be? (Isn’t the fact that the human race, or any community, could only be propagated through sex between males and females a kind of biological knowledge? Why shouldn’t that have consequences for social arrangements?) Indeed, it is the writer’s final lines that reveals the source of such, genuinely humanistic, knowledge: it is our resentments towards those who have kept us (or those we identify with) from access to the center, our desire to make them experience exactly that same marginalization and the consequent suffering, that can give us access to the knowledge of who should be disdained and who should not be. Only, though, on the condition that it becomes self-knowledge. The embarrassment the writer admits to anticipating while enjoying his revenge simulates such self-knowledge, but his own (why am I certain that this is not only a man, but a heterosexual man?) overwhelming disdain for those he knows deserve nothing but reflects the choice to reject such self-knowledge. Perhaps it would anyway only yield a map of the sector of neurons that fire when experiencing the pleasures of revenge.


  1. A couple of questions your comments raise for me:

    Is self-knowledge always a matter of learning to transcend one’s resentments or can it be gained intuitively through experience that may not be immediately linked to a consciousness of specific resentment?

    Some time ago, Eric Gans suggested in a Chronicle, i think, that the originary scene may have been charged by a (male) homoerotic impulse. Do you share that intuition?

    Comment by John — April 1, 2015 @ 11:11 am

  2. I suppose that civilization entails the process of struggling with resentments directly experienced becoming a process in which one can revise one’s habits in accord with the ability to “read” a world filled with resentments.

    Regarding your second question, I can imagine such an impulse resulting from the scene, but not generating it.

    Comment by adam — April 1, 2015 @ 2:43 pm

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