Wednesday, June 07, 2006

About the Obligations of the Faithful to their Neighors: Scapegoating, Second Installment

I am glad that we all agree that scapegoating is wrong and unchristian. Since Dan brought up political philosophy, let me declare myself an Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer style conservative. In the United States, of course, that makes me a rabid liberal. But that says a lot more about the ideological decay of conservatism in America than about me.

Deconstructor's quotes do establish that LDS leaders are blaming gays for the decline of the family and western civilization. That goes beyond criticizing the behavior of gays and blames them for consequences, which do not pertain to their actions. Therefore this rhetoric is scapegoating gays and lesbians.

We know the effects that this rhetoric has on gays. Worse, the general authorities have been informed of the effect of their words. I refer you, for example, to the letter of David Eccles Hardy to Boyd Packer. Hardy relates how one of his children responded with three suicide attempts to LDS doctrine regarding homosexuality. That is an all too common story. It is sad that our children cannot be safe at Church because the leadership will not afford them the opportunity to reconcile their nature with their faith.

Regardless of the consequences, the words of LDS leaders are sufficient to demonstrate that homosexuals are the targets of scapegoating.

Anne: Unfortunately, it is not true that the racism, which many LDS leaders have engaged in, merely parallels that of anyone else. It took us a generation longer to desegregate the priesthood than mainstream society. When the United States Supreme Court integrated the schools, Mormons were among the court's most vocal critics.

I agree with you that this dynamic is natural for an organization that is more conservative than the mainstream. If we hold people like Brigham Young, Mark Petersen, or Neal Maxwell to the prophetic standard that they themselves claim, then we need to conclude that being late in matters of humanity is not a good sign.

I am pleased that Gordon Hinckley rejected racism during the last General Conference. Better late than never. However, we ought to remember that the first American efforts to abolish slavery dates back to 1688. By contrast, Brigham Young taught that God created Africans to become slaves and that this would always be so. Young also preached that the punishment for a white woman's and a black man's sexual relationship was death on the spot. Mormon leaders continued to preach against interracial marriage throughout the decades. Even when the priesthood became available to Africans, LDS leaders issued warnings about interracial marriage.

Again a sexual practice was blamed associated with negative consequences for our civilization. That's scapegoating. Therefore the evidence sustains my claim that there is a tradition of scapegoating among LDS leaders.

Notice, at its core racism is about intermarriage. We all belong to the same species and can procreate. Racists deny that. The prohibition of intermarriage establishes racial categories.

Clark makes an interesting point about threat perception. Culpability requires intent. Therefore people who believe that they are doing the right thing may not be culpable. On the other hand, we need to remember the relational content of scapegoating. There are not only perpetrators but real people get hurt. At some point, we have to take responsibility for our beliefs and their consequences. In criminal law, error doctrine defines limits. An erroneous assumption must be reasonable to be exculpatory.

Religious freedom means that we can believe anything but we cannot rely on such beliefs to regulate the lifes of people other than ourselves. Public policy ought to grounded in reason, especially when it becomes a matter of coercion.

Even if we ignore everything we know about the lynching, suicide, and other suffering of homosexuals, it is unreasonable to proclaim that they brought about the fall of Rome.

Likewise, the gender roles, which Mormon theology deploys against gays do not withstand reasoned enquiry. Historically and anthropologically, it is clear that they only capture a slither of the human experience. Rather there has been a wide variety of family models and gender roles that have successfully reared children.

Therefore it is reckless to invoke that kind of theology to agitate against the right of a vulnerable minority.

We know today that skin pigmentation is intrinsically irrelevant with respect to a person's humanity. Many people figured that out centuries ago. I remind you of the role that Frederick Douglas played in that regard. Therefore Mark Petersen could have known better.

We also know that homosexuality is a natural feature of the human condition. While the inquiry into the causes of homosexuality continues, same sex attraction has been observed across a wide variety of species ranging from primates all the way to birds and reptiles. If we want our faith to remain relevant to contemporary public life then we have an interest in accommadating this fact in our theology.

Homosexuality does not intrinsically hurt anyone. Sex can hurt people. Homosexuality can hurt people the same way heterosexuality hurts us.

When we refuse to acknowledge the humanity of homosexuals then we only have ourselves to blame. Therefore we cannot escape responsibility when we blame our gay and brothers and lesbian sisters for bringing down civilization.


Blogger Clark Goble said...

"Therefore people who believe that they are doing the right thing may not be culpable. "

I have a very hard time buying that as an ethical principle. In any case you appear to be applying a double standard. We can't criticize homosexuals as culpable for the implications of their rhetoric but we must criticize Mormons and other conservative Christians as culpable for the implication of our rhetoric.

The interpretations of Christian rhetoric by homosexuals is bad and is on the head of Christians but the reverse isn't true.

Exactly how isn't this a double standard?

The racism tangent seems a bit of a diversion. I'll fully agree that many Mormons including GAs were egregiously guilty there. But that simply is irrelevant to the current discussion.

"Homosexuality does not intrinsically hurt anyone."

What does that mean? Does anything intrinsically hurt people independent of its consequences? It seems like you just don't think homosexual acts are wrong. Which is fine. But this just establishes I think the key argument. You disagree with the Church over its chastity doctrine. By the same extension one could say fornication and adultery don't intrinsically hurt anyone. Thus the Church is guilty of scapegoating fornicators and adulterers.

Blogger Hellmut said...

Clark, I am referring to LDS leaders that believe that homosexuals are threatening them. I am attempting to explain why there is something to your first argument and why the scope of such an excuse is limited.

Our racist heritage is relevant because Dan doubted my claim that scapegoating is a well established Mormon leadership practice. The current campaign against homosexuals is merely another edition of a well worn script.

Theft hurts people intrinsically. Rape hurts people intriniscally. Pedophilia hurts people intrinsically. Being a Nazi hurts people intrinsically. There are lots of states and behaviors that are damaging.

That's not the case with homosexuality.

Blogger Clark Goble said...

Hellmut, that doesn't really explain much regarding what intrinsically hurts people. Rather the question is how do we distinguish what hurts people. That you don't believe homosexuality does isn't in question. The issue is why you believe this.

To the traditional Christian if homosexuality is a sin then by definition it does intrinsically hurt people. Now you may think them wrong in this belief but that's an other matter.

The issue at hand is that it isn't scapegoating if the person making the claim believes that a person is guilty. Thus if I accuse someone of murder and believe them to be the murderer I'm not scapegoating the way I would be if I accuse someone of murder but don't believe them guilty. I may be wrong in the first instance but that is different from whether I am scapegoating. This is what is in question.

Your change of tactic now, if I read you right, is to argue that they should know they aren't guilty. But that's a much, much harder case to make. I think it fair to say that all the leadership quoted honestly and sincerely believe that homosexuals are in fact a threat and thus responsible for consequences.

This is what I find so odd: that you seem quite willing to discount the beliefs of these people. It isn't enough to consider them wrong. You must consider them to be intentionally deceitful. I don't understand this as it doesn't really seem to be necessary.

Blogger Hellmut said...

Clark, as I pointed out in today's post, there is something to your argument about people who genuinely believe their own rhetoric are not scapegoating.

However, that excuse does not apply without qualifications.

Scapegoating is a relational act. Somebody blames and somebody else gets blamed. Those who get blamed incur a cost without their consent. In that sense, scapegoating is analogous to stealing. Those who appropriate others' property in the mistaken belief that it is their own may not be culpable but remain liable.

Moreover, when ignorance becomes unreasonable it cannot be an exculpatory factor. At some point, we need to take responsibility for our beliefs.

For example, if I were to pick up your triple combination even though it bears your name on the case then I must blame myself for the belief that the books were mine.

During the fifties there was no rational justification for the racist sermons of Mark Petersen. Biologists and physicians knew that white and black people belonged to the same species. Therefore white women and black men could procreate without qualifications.

Mark Petersen believed that this would be the end of civilization. We are a free country and Mark Petersen can believe what he likes. That's no excuse for directing hatred at others.

And when Petersen predicted the impending doom of society and proclaimed the collapse of morality he was scapegoating. Because Mark Petersen could have known better but persisted in an irrational belief. For his ignorance he only had himself and his peers to blame.

With respect to the crisis of the family, we know that it is not the fault of gays and lesbians that straights cannot deal with their sexuality. Saying otherwise is ludicrous.

While the enquiry into the causes of human homosexuality continues, comparative zoology is quite clear. From primates to birds and reptiles, same sex attraction occurs consistently across a wide variety of species. Clearly, homosexuality is a natural phenomenon.

We have failed, however, to document harm that can be linked to same sex attraction and that does not have heterosexual correlates. People are free to believe otherwise. Their extra-rational motives, however, are insufficient to exclude gays and lesbians from legitimate sex.

(By the way, good theology will not mischaracterize the essence of the human condition.)

Ultimately, however, we can know that LDS leaders are scapegoating because they have willingly joined the transparent efforts of Republican operatives to consolidate George Bush's base. Tell me with whom you go and I tell you who you are.

It's not about the family. It's about distracting from a misguided war, an out of control budget deficit, war and disaster profiteering, and the failures of bloody adventurism. Homosexuality has nothing to do with any of that.

Gordon Hinckley must have known that before he signed that letter. If he did not, he only has himself to blame.

Blogger annegb said...

Oh, for heaven's sake, let's digress already.

Scapegoating has been a very effective tool in my life. I try to blame other people as much as possible and avoid any recriminations or problems.

We all DO NOT aqree that the church does that, Hellmut. First fallacy.

Doesn't the marriage amendment say that marriage is between a man and a woman? Where does it say that gay people are bringing down society.

This is hyperbole and over-reacting.

Blogger Hellmut said...

The amendment is not the only text regarding the issue, Anne. For incidents where LDS leaders are scapegoating gays and blacks, I refer you to the responses in the previous post, especially that by Deconstructor.

Blogger Clark Goble said...

For some reason some of my posts have been lost by your comment software. I'll try to remember what I said.

Basically my point was simply that both Dan and I (and probably others) aren't disagreeing with you on ethical grounds (although we may do that separately) rather we're just making a semantic point. You are misusing the word "scapegoat."

What you basically say now is, "yes, I know I'm misusing the word, but since people are really hurt it is OK." If you feel that because people are really hurt despite intents why not just talk about that rather than continuing to use misleading rhetoric? The misleading rhetoric ends up hurting your efforts to communicate with believers since you are accusing them of something that, to them, they clearly aren't doing. What you really ought do rhetorically is saying, "hey your charges hurt people and since I think your charges are without merit, that's wrong." But you haven't really done that much.

Thus there is a breakdown in communication.

Maybe I'm coming off like the language police. But I think that especially in the context of strongly emotional disputes it's important to be clear about what you say.

Blogger annegb said...

"We" don't know anything. You've got some opinions, which may or may not be factual.

I don't see people, individuals being blamed for much. I've heard the church leaders say that this lifestyle, homosexuality, is not the way God intended it to be.

I think, in the long run, things are going to work out the way God intended, no matter who blames who.

Sounds to me like you're the one doing the majority of the blaming here.

Blogger Hellmut said...

Ann, we know a lot about homosexuality. Even BYU biology professors teach that homosexuality is not a life style but a feature of human nature.

For a review of the research, you might want to check my friend Todd's blog.

Blogger annegb said...

I like you, Hellmut, but I disagree with the depth of your conviction about the church's (I can't think of the right) bad intentions. I just do.

I'm not sure about your sentence, if you are saying homosexuality isn't a life style, but I think both things you say are correct. A life style and a feature of human nature.

I heard something in the last few days, just a snatch of something that referred to a type of gene or something in the way people are born, for instance, babies with male genitalia, who are actually girls.

I think this is way more complicated that I will ever understand in this life. But the church is not the enemy. IMHO


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