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The precariousness of morality and heterosexuality

August 23, 2010
Moses morality

only one of these tablets made it...

I imagine that for a very long time (probably since the time there were atheists and homosexuals), certain theists and certain heterosexuals have had questions. Questions that seem so baffling as to be jokes, but which the questioners insist — through their attitudes and expressions while proffering these questions — are completely serious.

“How can atheists be moral without god? What’s stopping you from killing or raping if there is no eternal punishment for your actions?”

It’s tough to address these question, but the reason it’s tough is not because we’re at a loss for answers…but because we know that for someone to ask this question, this means that they have a very different — and very scary — basis for morality. See, this question doesn’t say something (dis)turbing about atheists (to whom it is directed)…it implies something far more shocking about the people who ask it.

I would like to believe that all it implies is that people aren’t very introspective or aware, and so they don’t understand that the reasons they give for being moral are not accurate. I would like to believe that everyone recognizes and acts because of the primacy of day-to-day consequences with other conscious beings rather than because of the fear of an uncertain eternal time-out in flames.

That’s what I would like to believe.

But the alternative is more (dis)quieting, and I can’t rule it out. The alternative is that, for these people who ask this question, morality for them is so precarious as to require enforcement through eternal punishment and rewarding…and that but for the fear of God, they might do terrible things.

This isn’t the case for most of the accused, but the possibility is that it could be the case for the accuser.

OK, I admit, without god, I suppose I cannot accept as immoral certain things that many people’s god view as quite immoral. I cannot accept all the doom and gloom that comes up whenever people suggest — how audaciously! — that homosexuals should have rights and equality.

But that does make me wonder…as accusations of amorality says less about the accused than for the accuser, I wonder if the same can be said of those wary or critical of the acceptance of homosexuality and gay rights in society. How many times do people argue that if homosexuality is accepted, then the youth may be more likely to “experiment” with “the gay lifestyle” and perhaps — gasp — to choose it!?

When people talk about heterosexuality being so fragile, so precarious, I wonder if they are not talking about themselves. I’m not a scientist or anything, but why are there so many vocally anti-gay pastors and politicians who later get caught doing something really gay? Again, not saying anything conclusive about it, or about the study that showed that homophobic men respond ahem *down there* to gay male porn, but that seems like a strange story to keep happening over and over again.

Again, these kinds of fears and concerns say nothing about the accused…but they may say something about the accuser…they may say that the accused and the accuser speak from different vantage points. When some people insist that homosexuality is “chosen” and that, without societal prohibitions and (dis)approval, it would become more popular, do they say it because heterosexuality for them is a constant struggle to maintain and which they might not have sought had society not pushed it strongly?

Do they really fear that they themselves might have been tempted to “experiment” when they were younger only if society hadn’t been there to suppress the notion?

…Don’t they feel that, maybe, the thing that would have stopped them from “experimenting” would be realizing that they are absolutely not attracted to the same sex?

In this above characterization, I really haven’t gone into the deeply-held implications of inferiority held about same-sex relationships. But let us say that someone were attracted to both sexes equally. Those who begin with an assumption of the precariousness of heterosexuality often argue that we should do whatever we can to ensure that these “impressionable” bisexuals pick the right sex (that is, the opposite sex) over the wrong one.

But one day we need to recognize that it is not a loss if someone has a committed relationship to someone of the same sex. It is not a “compromise” whose existence we grudgingly accept for those who just can’t “handle” acting straight and whose frequency we hope to minimize. If we want to target hookup culture, then fine. If we want to target a culture that says it’s fine to race to get into someone else’s pants with no inclination of ever getting into a relationship, then fine. But should we make this our target, we should recognize that this target reaches across all lines — gay, straight, bisexual, or anything else — and does not preclude our recognizing true compansionship, whenever it is found across all lines.

From → Uncategorized

  1. nathankennard permalink


    …for these people who ask this question, morality for them is so precarious as to require enforcement through eternal punishment and rewarding…and that but for the fear of God, they might do terrible things.

    How apparently fragile. Perhaps not fragility but inexperience is seen by the question. Maybe a third option is at play, but what?

  2. I’m sure there are plenty of other options at play here, and that this either/or is a false dichotomy.

    I’m just not sure why people would phrase it in this way…

  3. Oo! Spooky.

  4. Oscar Wilde put it like this: “Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others.”

  5. You’ve acquired a rather (dis)tracting mannerism. I understand wanting to (dis)tinguish your writing style, and make it (dis)tinctive, but I find myself wishing you’d (dis)continue the practice.

  6. Daniel, sorry to (dis)turb you lol.

  7. Hebron permalink

    Ok I am one of those people who believe that morality should be safeguarded. You could take religion out of the equation and I would still feel this way. I see morality as building blocks for a society. Morals like murder and theft are no brainers for most. I just see traditional marriage as one of those building blocks.

    If people are gay or decide to be gay or have more then one wife or husband go for it. But I don’t think it should be recognized or endorsed by the state.

    For me personally if I did not believe in the afterlife I would live differently than I do now. Not all of that has to do with punishment either. My faith has changed who I am and what my desires are. My younger days when I did not have this faith were anarchy and I was lucky I didn’t hurt someone. Some of the things I did were dangerous but I wasn’t purely driven by a sense of malice but mostly a lack concern for the consequences to myself and others.

    “How can atheists be moral without god? What’s stopping you from killing or raping if there is no eternal punishment for your actions?”
    It doesn’t take God to allow someone the ability to understand their own pain and not want to inflict that on others. I have found most atheists to be decent people, really not much different than religious people.

    I do not discount however the overall effect of moral relativism and rejection of traditional morals. I am someone who believes in evil as well as good. Much of my belief in this is summed up succinctly by Benjamin Franklin.
    “If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it? “

  8. Hebron, thanks for the comment.

    I think that the government needs a compelling state interest in order to discriminate in such a way (with marriage). if marriage is an inherently discriminatory institution, but the government does not have a compelling interest to discriminate, then marriage itself should not be recognized or endorsed by the government.

    In some ways, your description of how your faith has changed who you are (and what you were like before) sounds more like a difference between maturity and immaturity…but I can think of people becoming “mature” (and caring about consequences) without having faith.

    I do not discount however the overall effect of moral relativism and rejection of traditional morals

    In a sense, I agree with this. But not in the way that you take it.

    I think that “traditional” morals bring with them a lot of unfair, immoral aspects that should be eliminated.

  9. Hebron permalink

    The more I think about these types of issues such as gay marriage the more I long for something totally different. Ultimately I would like the government to give preferential status to no one and not seek to interfere in the personal lives of anyone.

    That will never happen but they haven’t prohibited us from dreaming yet. I think the rational behind gay people wanting a tax break is perfectly understandable. However my position is not a purely logical response, most of this debate hits me on a gut level.

    If it were purely about health care and taxes I would be fine with a “civil union” clause where any 2 people living together can both decide to enter that agreement. On the whole though I feel that gay marriage is encapsulates the push to take the country in a completely different direction than one that I support.

    Though I feel bad for the gay people that aren’t getting what is fair so to speak, I choose not to endorse anything that is not traditional.

    As far as the maturity and immaturity I agree that empathy for fellow man usually develops regardless with most people. In my case though I perceived many morals or standards as arbitrary. I had a sense I would probably die early and didn’t expect or know or care of an afterlife. Not having this concept to ground me caused me to have potential for many bad things.

    Luckily for me God pulled me out of that life. In my case I was probably the most danger to myself.

  10. One thing to note as well…let’s say the government didn’t give preferential status to anyone and they didn’t interfere with the personal lives of anyone. This kind of minimalist or perhaps libertarian form of government still wouldn’t “preserve” traditional marriage — because the government would not interfere with those who support gay marriage.

    In the same way that marriage among heterosexuals is not just (or even mostly) about the tax breaks, the same is true for gay marriage. It is about a public commitment and public profession and celebration of that commitment. Love isn’t “a purely logical” sort of thing, so there are going to be emotional responses on both sides.

    When you say then that gay marriage represents a push to take the country in a completely different direction than the one you want, I wonder what exactly you think gay marriage represents. You seem to think it is simply contractual, simply about tax breaks, simply about the law. But in the same way that man isn’t made for the Sabbath (the Sabbath is made for man), man isn’t made for the law…the law is made for man.

    In this case, what man wants is to pursue love and commitment. The state has determined it is beneficial to encourage people to do such.

    So, do you think love is a “completely different direction”? Or do you think gay couples do not love each other as much as straight couples do?

    It seems when you speak about “traditional” things, you have a very particular idea of what the traditional is. Traditional marriage has not been about love (it is about property.) Traditional marriage has not necessarily been monogamous (it can involve polygamy or concubinage). But when you say “traditional,” you probably want to refer to a very modern understanding.

    I guess all we can hope is that you continue developing empathy for your fellow man 😉

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