North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

Not Zombies

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Timmy and some others have been debating the merits of my post on the recent Bishop Henry kerfufle. Timmy the G left a comment that has puzzled me and which I will try to tease some meaning from. He wrote:

First, the bishop is exhorting his parishioners to pressure the public government to impose these beliefs on all Canadians, who represent many different faiths.

So what of it? I belong to a union the routinely tells me how evil I vote and that I am basically a dirty slime mold for thinking the way I do. I throw all of their publications out and ignore everything they say. Especially when it comes to the ballot box. If they told me to cross the road on green, I’d step out on red. Here’s the thing though. I have no choice in this matter, unless I want to change jobs and put my family through serious strain. Those publications I toss are paid for from my dues. I can’t refuse to pay for them or direct my fees in any way.

Catholics are not obliged to vote a certain way. They are told that their conscience should be informed about what their church teaches, the issues at hand, and about the policies the parties propose. They are then told to search for a way to balance these needs, and it is fully expected that we may come to different conclusions. Some people will vote for a party with no hope of gaining power in order to keep their conscience clear. Others will vote to block a party or a policy they don’t like. Most will probably vote for someone they think represents the best balance in recognition that no matter how we act and vote, everything we do involves trade offs. In short there is no predicting how the faithful will react to the Bishop’s letter. I think you’re still in thrall to the monkey see monkey do thinking you showed in your reaction to Fox TV coming to Canada. Give people some credit for having idependent brains, ok? Because it’s a church it does not mean we’re a bunch of zombies.

Timmy continues:

Secondly, he [Bishop Henry] lumps in homosexuals – a distinct group of Canadians who are who they are – with behaviors (adultery, pornography, etc.) of which anyone can be guilty. That is wrong, in my opinion, and spouting these things under the guise of religion is even more wrong.

What does that mean, “homosexuals – a distinct group of Canadians who are who they are”? You’re saying that they are what they do? Am I to understand that you think gays are distinct sub species of humanity, a distinction on par with a race? That’s the only sense I can make of that. The church’s position is that we are all, gay and straight, human beings. We all do things. That does not make us those things. The implication of saying that gays are a different sort of human seems to be used here to say: since they really are different, then they can and ought to be treated differently, in a manner that is more in keeping with their nature. Am I understanding you correctly? You’re assuming genetically compelled behavior?

I think there is great risk here.

FIRST, on method. The issue would seem to be one of equality for things that are different. There are two schools of thought here – does equality refer to the process under discussion or to the results? If we are talking about results, then this is where people generally push for things like quotas. The quotas are an attempt to override different results. As has been pointed out in this debate before, treating people differently usually has the effect of creating resentment. One group will feel the other is unfairly getting better treatment, or that its uniqueness is not being properly recognized. Candidly, I suspect both groups often have a case. It is notoriously difficult to get something like this right. Why? Philosophically this is the problem of knowledge. We don’t truly know things as they really are. And people being people, they will exploit any advantage they see, including victimhood. Thus differences, or the perception of them, become magnified.

Rightly or wrongly, the church has always taught that we are ultimately equal – really, truly equal – only before God. Before Men, the chosen route has been to apply a rule equally even when it is known in advance that it will impact different people differently. This avoids pitting groups against one another in a fight for recognition and rights. The trials this can create are seen as purifying for the person involved. I know today the very idea that a struggle can be beneficial is anathema to some, but this belief goes right to the core of the faith. Furthermore, the trials of the world are viewed as being from God. Dampening the trial aspect is Charity. Those who achieve less or more are not more or less worthy than those closer to the mean.

By embracing equality of ends, ie. by saying that gays are different and ought to be treated as such, there is an assumption that this can only be for their benefit. But difference can also be exploited in negative ways. There is nothing to say that once this difference is established that down the road it cannot be used punitively. It is the minority party in a quota system that is most vulnerable here.

SECOND: on fact. It is widely assumed in may that gayness is a caused behavior, with the most likely culprit being genetic. It could even have some truth – but it is not proven yet. The truth at this moment is that we simply don’t know why this happens. I’ve done some reading on evolutionary psychology and it is a very interesting subject, but also a very problematic one.

No one has ever proven a link between a behavior and a gene. This is the nature / nurture problem and it is a problem because there is no way to separate the impact of the environment from that of the gene. Furthermore, a gene may act one way most of the time but act another if it is paired with certain other genes. Example: are some people height X because a gene or a complex of genes dictated it? Or is height X because the environment was good or hostile? If it is all of the above (most likely), to which degree did each play a part? Leaning on genes to explain behavior also necessarily an attack on responsibility.

It’s a messy can of worms. In short, my point is that if we have any degree of freedom and we’re not flesh robots, then we must take responsibility for behavior. We all operate under various constraints. That doesn’t mean we are helpless. Church goers aren’t zombies and neither are gays or adulterers.

I was going to speak to church and state issues you raise but I’m running out of time, and I did touch on it not too long ago. See here. I could say more in the future if time allows. Treehugger is saying some odd things about it again today and has asked some questions I might like to respond to.


Written by Curt

January 19, 2005 at 9:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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