** Retrospective update: I wrote this post in 2012, now four years of life and four years of theological education ago. Much that I wrote and much of the particulars of this post, I would not write now. But as I looked back over it, I think there is enough of value in this blog to merit leaving it out there in cyberspace. So, if you read this now, take it all with a grain of salt, because it is, so to speak, outdated. **
Before I start, I want to make it very clear that this post is not taking a moral stance for or against gay marriage, and as far as I can tell it’s really going to involve very little Christian or otherwise religious arguments. What I am going to do is attempt to show why the recent controversy over Chick-fil-a being anti-gay marriage is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with everything in our culture.
I don’t have TV at the apartment where I’m living this summer, and to use the internet I have to use my iPhone as a hot-spot which uses 3G data that I have to pay for. Which means the only time I have access to free information is at work, but at work I’m usually busy doing, you know, work things. So the whole Chick-fil-a-no-more-Mupppets-fake-Facebook-posts amalgam has been kind of trickling in over the last week and I just now got around to actually doing some investigatory journalism (honk twice if you get the Zoolander reference). The more I’ve read about the controversy and the more I’ve broken my own internet rule and looked at the comment threads at the bottom of news articles, the more frustrated I am with the ridiculousness of it all. Our culture has collectively lost the ability to have a rational discussion about any topic upon which there is any level of disagreement, especially homosexuality and gay marriage, as is clear from this whole scenario. The entire controversy is full of logical fallacies, philosophical inconsistencies, and a general inability to understand the repercussions both of one’s own position and that of one’s opponent. As N.T. Wright, New Testament scholar at St Andrews University and the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, has said about the homosexuality issue, “We’re not having a debate; we’re simply having bits and pieces of a shouting match.” Both sides of the debate need to take a seat, a deep breath, and maybe a logic class, before the world literally implodes on itself from the gravity of our prejudice and ignorance.
This blog entry is really a summation of a lot of things I have been wrestling with and thinking through in the last year and a half, and the Chick-fil-a issue at hand has brought about the motivation to actually put it all together. So here’s why, in my opinion, the Chick-fil-a controversy illustrates how everything is wrong with everything.
1. The It’s Wrong to Say Someone is Wrong Fallacy
This is a school of thought which has essentially become the core principle of morality in 20th and 21st-century Western civilization. As Francis Schaeffer would say, this stems from a denial of the principle of antithesis and drives men below the line of despair. Without giving a whole outline of his book The God Who is There, this essentially means that modernity has rejected the concept of absolutes, thereby rejecting the concept of objective truth and by extension obliterating all hope of finding a logical ground for establishing objective morality and/or belief systems. In the most basic terms, it says that what’s right for you can be right for you, and what’s right for me can be right for me. We could all just get along if we wouldn’t pass judgement on others and claim that our own beliefs are any truer or better than those of anyone else. This sounds pretty nice and Utopian in principle, but there are two major flaws in this way of thinking: (1) it’s logically self-contradictory, and (2) it’s practically impossible.
Firstly, as to the self-contradiction, this worldview sounds exceptionally open-minded, accepting and loving, but in reality it bears the same close-mindedness as any other “exclusionary” worldview. It sounds promising because the way it is usually stated is in the positive sense: “The right thing to do is to accept everyone’s beliefs.” However, the flip side of this statement, the negative sense, which absolutely cannot be separated from it, is that “It’s wrong to say that something/someone is wrong.” To say that it is wrong to say someone else is wrong is an exclusionary worldview in and of itself, because by making that statement, one has used circular logic and done exactly what their worldview supposedly prohibits: one has excluded the so-called exclusivists, thereby making oneself an exclusivist. (“Anybody can be right, except you.”)
As to the practical impossibility, it should become rather obvious from the logical contradiction how this is the case. Imagine a world in which everyone agreed to live by their own standards and not interfere with or object to the standards of others. Morality ceases to exist entirely; in fact, the very concept of morality becomes the only possible “immoral” ideal. Translation: somebody has to be right and somebody has to be wrong. This is the essence of the principle of antithesis; without it, society could not function.
You believe child abuse is wrong? Well, I don’t, and what’s true for me is true for me, so I’m going to continue molesting my children. You think racism is wrong and immoral? Well, I think [insert race here] are completely worthless so I’m going to kill the next one I see. You’re telling me I’m wrong for thinking that? You are close-minded and condescending, and have no basis to tell me what’s right and wrong.
Are these extreme examples? Absolutely. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the logical end of the It’s Wrong to Say Someone is Wrong fallacy. Morals must be absolute, or else they cannot exist.
How does all this play out in the Chick-fil-a controversy? The reaction against Dan Cathy’s statement about his views on homosexuality and gay marriage has been a raging crapstorm of protests, boycotts, and accusations of bigotry. The reaction has been to say that it was wrong of him to state these views, and to label Cathy an intolerant bigot, because how dare he say that someone else’s lifestyle or worldview is wrong? But what is this reaction saying? It’s saying that it’s wrong to call someone wrong. It’s being just as discriminatory and arrogant as Cathy supposedly was by having the opinion that homosexuality is wrong. Cathy didn’t say that homosexuals are the scum of the earth and he hopes they burn in Hell. He said that he believed homosexuality is wrong. If moral disagreements constitute bigotry, the extreme examples above are not that far out there.
Take the idea away from homosexuality for a second: I believe that heterosexual sex outside of marriage is wrong, and I believe people who are sexually promiscuous are in the wrong. Does that make me a bigot? Of course not. I don’t think those people are of any less intrinsic value, and I don’t believe that I am in some way superior to them because I don’t practice sex outside of marriage. Dan Cathy took a moral stand on a controversial issue, just like his protestors are doing.
2. Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression are Being Stifled
This idea really isn’t all that different from my first point. A logical progression of the It’s Wrong to Say Someone’s Wrong fallacy is the current cultural trend of smiling upon acceptance and frowning upon prohibition. As long as a new law, amendment, or campaign in an area of moral disagreement (e.g. gay marriage, legalization of marijuana, etc) is advocating for a people group to be permitted to do what they want to do, everybody is supportive of it. But the second that someone wants to prohibit something upon which there is moral disagreement, they are demonized by the media and labeled [insert issue here]-phobic or hating. In this case, homophobic or gay-hating. As Elizabeth Scalia asks in an excellent article on the situation, “Whatever happened to ‘I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it?'” She goes on to reflect on the way Chick-fil-a has been treated in the business and political world,
This is not about being “right” or “wrong” on an issue. This is about menacing and bullying people into conforming or paying the price. It’s about the bastardization of the word “tolerance” in our society, to the point where the word no longer means “live and let live” or “let people be who they are”; the word has become distorted in a very unhealthy way. . . If people are no longer entitled to their own opinions, or to think what they think, then we are not free people, at all. Period. Full stop. That’s as fundamental as it gets.
I felt really smart when I read this article because I was thinking essentially the same thing. I also felt really lucky because she said it a lot better than I could have and used a lot fewer words. You’re welcome, readers.
3. The Difference Between Disagreement, Discrimination, and Persecution
There’s a fine line between discrimination and persecution, and our culture has largely lost the ability to distinguish it. The more concerning thing is that there is a very wide and clear line between disagreement and discrimination, and we seem to have lost sight of that line as well.
Dan Cathy said publicly that he disagrees with homosexuality and gay marriage. The reaction of the media and his protestors has been as though he came out and said that he hated gay people, hopes they all get AIDS and die, would never consider hiring a gay person, and that he’ll be damned before he ever comes into contact with one. He didn’t. He made a statement about his moral convictions. He disagreed. Conversely, Kathy Griffin can tell Jesus to “suck it” on national television, and no media outlet or human rights group bats an eye about completely disrespecting the most practiced religion in the country.
As I start to talk about the difference between discrimination and persecution, I want to say upfront that I do not intend to be insensitive, crass, or flippant about any people groups or events that I’m going to reference. The examples I use, I use with the utmost respect for the experience of the people involved and only use them because they are powerful examples of the point I wish to make. That said, our culture has completely lost touch with reality when it comes to what it means to be persecuted and/or formally discriminated against. Is there social discrimination against homosexuals? Yes. Are there extreme examples of individuals or private organizations committing acts of hatred or violence against homosexuals and the homosexual community? Absolutely. But when the LGBT community and/or its advocates declare that they undergo persecution and discrimination, or label their cause a human rights issue, it makes my stomach turn in anger. Not because I disagree with their cause, but because I remember the last 300 years of American and world history. Because persecution is holding a person in lifelong bondage and servitude because of the color of their skin. Because persecution is forcing millions upon millions of people into gas chambers and forced labor because of their ethnic heritage. Because discrimination is Jim Crow laws and public lynchings being overlooked by the legal system and society at large. Because discrimination is shipping people to labor camps because they kind of look like our opponent in a war.
Do I agree with homosexuality? No, as a Christian I believe it goes against God’s intentions. Do I believe a government should dictate whether or not a person can practice homosexuality? Absolutely not, and our government does not do that in any way, nor is there any systematic discrimination. Do I agree with gay marriage? No, because I believe homosexuality is wrong. Do I believe the American government should regulate/prohibit gay marriage? To be honest, I don’t really know. But what I do believe is this: gay marriage is not a human rights issue. Heterosexual marriage is not a human rights issue. Slavery, genocide, and internment camps are human rights issues.
Marriage is a political institution, and as it stands right now, the American government for the most part defines marriage as heterosexual and monogamous. If you disagree with that, do so respectfully. Do so by rational argument and even-headed discussion. But to call someone intolerant, close-minded, and bigoted simply because they are willing to publicly disagree with you is to make yourself intolerant, close-minded, and bigoted.
The It’s Wrong to Say Someone’s Wrong fallacy is slowly destroying our culture from the inside. When it comes to moral issues, somebody has to be wrong and somebody has to be right. Without this concept of antithesis, rational beings cannot hope to function. If you are of the persuasion that everyone can be right in their own way, I would ask you to earnestly and honestly pursue that idea to its logical end.
If it is bigotry to oppose someone on a moral issue, morality ceases to exist entirely. And if people are not permitted to speak against the grain on moral and societal issues, freedom of speech and expression are stifled and we are in danger of losing all checks on the power of the majority and of the government.
We as a society are far too quick to label minority causes as human rights issues, and I’m not just talking about gay rights. Let us not lose perspective on what it means to have, and to be denied, basic human rights.