Moral Epistemology and Gays

October 5, 2007

What is it with people? Why can’t they start thinking through their Moral Epistemology?

It seems like at least once a week, in reading various news and blogs, that I run across some sort of side-swipe at “Conservative Christians”, “biblical literalists”, “religious fundamentalists”, etc. True enough, the people they are talking about might be people that I would not get along with either, but it’s so frustrating to see people passing moral judgment with absolutely no reference to (or awareness of) their system of moral epistemology. This should be unsurprising, of course, for two reasons … human beings have never been very good at understanding people different from them, and, “if they hate you, know that they hated Me first”. Still, because I, without wanting to, buy into “with the crowd, there is truth” (at least for some things) it’s always a little disconcerting to see journalists that I thought were “like me” basically toss me into that fringe of society that cannot possibly say anything of value. And the reason it irks me so much? Moral Epistemology!

Let’s take, for instance, gays. I read this article a couple days ago. It basically says that to not approve of homosexuality is a moral wrong. A lot of people feel the same way. I, as a “biblical literalist”, do not. Up until 50 years ago, there were very few people in the world that felt as the author (and a good many others in the west) feels about this issue. And yet, they take it for granted (because they have not questioned their Moral Epistemology) that any good person will agree with them on this issue. They believe homosexuality is acceptable, even commendable, probably because “everyone in the group I identify myself with believes this”. They don’t know it, but I’d lay even money that this is why. We all do this for a variety of things. If I want to find out the truth about the English Civil War, I will probably read Wikipedia … because I trust that the community of people who like history and post to Wikipedia will probably have as balanced a perspective as possible for this issue. We make decisions like this every day. We look to our tribe, if you will, to decide for us on issues complex and simple, and often our attitudes about these things are so ingrained that we don’t even think to identify the source.

But I don’t think it’s safe to do that on moral issues. Because different tribes believe different things about moral issues (particularly homosexuality, nowadays), and because I believe moral issues are far more important for us than the English Civil War … you’ve got to at least realize that you aren’t making up your own mind about these things.

I belong to a lot of tribes. I belong to the “evangelical Christian” tribe. I belong to the “geeks who like to read Engagdet” tribe. I belong to the “protect human rights for everyone” tribe, and also to the “let’s stop genocide and war, if we can” tribe. Because the morals of these different tribes often come into conflict, and because I believe in God and an absolute (if not completely knowable) moral standard outside of culture, I must have a way to determine what’s wrong and what’s right.

That’s why I’m a “biblical literalist”. I believe, as the Bible says, that God did not leave us as orphans, but that in ages past He spoke to us through prophets; and directly, through Jesus. And that’s why my system of Moral Epistemology, though allowing me to draw information and judgments for some things from the tribes I belong to, leaves the Bible as the ultimate standard. So, if my tribe tells me that killing children is acceptable, and the Bible indicates to me that God does not agree, I don’t follow the tribe. The same goes for homosexuality.

That being said, I don’t think, as Ms. Voynar says, that gays should be excluded from the church. But because I have a different system of moral epistemology,  though, I mean something different by that. I don’t think homosexuality is any worse than adultery or alcoholism. Would a person struggling with alcoholism be excluded from the church? No! Would a person be considered a bad Christian solely because they had struggled with alcoholism in the past? Certainly not!

However, a person who was currently drinking heavily, and was telling other people that binge drinking was totally compatible with Christianity, would probably be viewed not as “missionary” but as “mission field”. Christ would want us to accept gays. But He would not want us to condone homosexual behavior.

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