I’m leaving soon for a holiday road trip to warmer climes, and I have one last huge post to make before I go. Consider it my end of year sermon. It’s about morality and what got me wanting to write about it was a post I saw the other day on Jim Burroway’s Box Turtle Bulletin about John Corvino’s new DVD recording of his “What’s Morally Wrong With Homosexuality?”, lecture. I’ve seen an excerpt of that lecture before it was yanked from YouTube and it looks to be a good one. But there is more to the moral question then the one he’s asking.
There are three writers whose ideas influenced me greatly in my younger days. One respectable, and the other two not so much. The respectable one is Jacob Bronowski, a man whose work I still treasure. The two not so respectable are Robert Audrey and Ayn Rand, whose work I am sometimes embarrassed to admit reading. But I have to give them credit all the same for lighting a spark of understanding in me about human nature, society and morality at a point in my life when I needed it really badly.
I found Audrey’s book, African Genesis in a corner of a warehouse I once worked in, wrinkled and discarded, and reading the first page of it…
Not in innocence, and not in Asia was mankind born…
…I had to take the thing home where I promptly devoured it. From Audry I gleaned the idea that the forces that move within our consciousness are understandable, and manageable, but only if we seriously study our evolutionary past, the better to understand the bedrock upon which the human identity was formed over vast, almost unthinkable time. Not to do so would be akin to trying to build a bridge with no understanding of the nature of the materials you’re constructing it from. Likewise, to construct workable human societies, and moral codes that actually and really benefit us, we need to undertake an almost brutal, unromantic, understanding of ourselves and that means looking also, to the past which brought us forth…
We are not so unique as we would like to believe. And if man in a time of need seeks deeper knowledge concerning himself, then he must explore those animal horizons from which we have made our quick little march.
At about the same time, from Rand I got the another completely radical notion: that morality is the one thing you absolutely have to question. I had heard all my life that the force, the authority, of a moral code comes from its absoluteness, and that to question traditional morality was to destroy it, leaving humanity with no guide, no moral compass, nothing to judge right from wrong. Rand, for all her faults, and she had many profound ones, showed me that in fact the exact opposite was true. If morality is a code of conduct we accept in order to guide us toward that which is good for us, and away from that which is not, then it must be, it has to be, constantly questioned and evaluated…judged…against that purpose.
Are we better off for abiding by this or that moral code…or are we worse off? Does a society that embraces this or that moral code prosper and thrive…do its people live in peace with one another…is their society stable…prosperous…peaceful…productive…? At best a morality that does none of this is irrelevant, at worst it actively diminishes our lives, degrades our existence. It is like teaching us to put poison in our food, and then telling us that our sickness is the result of not putting in enough poison. Our moral codes must be, have to be right, or they will destroy us. So as it turns out, morality is the one thing you absolutely positively cannot hold to be above questioning. It must withstand critical examination.
Ask the children of Marx and Lenin what happens to a society whose model of human nature, and the moral code flowing from it, is flawed. Ask the shades that walk nights at Gettysburg. Collectivism? White Supremacy? What is a human being? What is human nature? What is good for us? What is harmful? You have to get those questions right….or you could find yourself living in a nightmare. A nightmare made all the worse for your not really understanding why it’s happening to you.
Moral issues have preoccupied me for much of my life. I was raised in a very conservative Baptist household, with a strict sense of right and wrong always in the air. But there was serious conflict between the two sides of my family tree, and mom’s side, the Baptist side, was always telling me about how wicked dad’s side was, and warning me that I was likely to turn out just as badly as he did unless I embraced their teachings of biblical righteousness completely. I worried constantly over it when I was young. But I grew up to be a nature lover and science geek, and gradually felt myself pulled away from my church over its conception of God verses mine. I’d always loved the God I saw in nature, and never really felt comfortable with the God I read about in the bible, even while I was being constantly reassured that if I didn’t live by the bible I was doomed. By the time I entered my late teens, I’d left my church and had come finally to an honest understanding of my sexual orientation, and it seemed for a while that I was completely adrift in a world that science revealed to be so wonderful, so absolutely beautiful at a physical level, but which I could make almost no sense of at all at a moral one. Bronowski, Audrey and Rand gave me permission in those days to think about moral ideas objectively, in the same sense that I pondered the physical world around me as revealed by science, at a time in my life when I was beginning to despair that such a thing was even possible.
So…by the time I got my first computer back in the mid-1980s, and started debating gay rights issues online, I had already been giving the moral side of the issue a lot of thought. By the time I got my first Internet account, and was able to access the free-for-all then known as Usenet, I’d already been handing out a lot of fire and brimstone about morality, and gay rights…
Me, March 27, 1999, in yet another argument with a bigot, this one named Russ, on alt.politics.homosexuality…
R> My original statement, at which you took such great umbrage, was to
R> suggest that we ought not to have two different sets of moral standards.
R> It is apparent to me that if we say it is wrong for a person to have
R> sexual relations with another person of the same sex — *except* if they
R> are attracted to each other — then we are not saying anything very
R> rigorous at all, are we?
What’s not exactly rigorous here Russ is your attaching moral significance to gender in the first place. It’s a lot like your insistence
that marriage is between opposite genders…well…because it is. Real deep thinking there guy.
A homosexual relationship can be loving and devoted, or it can be greedy and manipulative…just as any heterosexual relationship can be. The moral question isn’t in the gender of the individuals, but the nature of their relationship to one another. Are they loving, kind, sympathetic? Do they trust, and are they trustworthy? Are they honest with each other, or is one partner, or both, deceptive and manipulative? There are your moral questions. The rest is detail
What’s morally wrong, is to lie to people, to use them selfishly for your own gratification and then discard them when you are through. That’s not only an attack on the person, but an attack on trust and honor…things we are all arguably put at risk, for their demise. Even worse, is to lie to someone who is in love with you. If there is a reason that the marriage vows mean something, it is because the breaking of them takes away from us all, things that societies can little do without. Love and devotion, trust and honor, compassion and sympathy.
The heterosexual who might have situational sex with a member of their own sex…simply for the sake of having a good time with another person who may actually be Gay and strongly drawn to them…is taking advantage of the Gay person’s nature, and their feelings. The word for that isn’t love, it’s greed. But the Gay couple that both desires and cherishes one another, is committing no crime, no sin. They are in fact cherishing the good within each other. It Is moral for two Gay, or bisexual people of the same sex, to have a sexual relationship, in a way it wouldn’t be if one or both parties were heterosexual. A same sex relationship between Gay or bisexual people, is inherently more honest, then one that is not between two Gay, or bisexual people.
Here’s the sick joke Russ: by pressuring Gay people into sexual relationships that are against their nature, you and your kind are encouraging deceptive, dishonest, sexual relationships…and you’re doing that in the name of morality. If anyone is taking the moral standards of the community into the gutter Russ, it’s you.
…one of many such confrontations I enjoyed from 1993 to about 2002 when the quality of the bigotry began to go way down, and I began to get tired of hearing the same goddamned crap rhetoric over and over and over again. But I can’t tell you how many times over a period of almost a decade, I would start arguing from a moral standpoint with a bigot who would smirkingly assure me that "you don’t want to go there"…that is, since obviously homosexuality is by definition immoral, I, a gay man, didn’t want to be dragging questions of morality into the argument. To which my reply was usually along the lines of "Oh yes I do." And when I did, I was never one for mincing words about it.
Because for all the bigots’ chanting about how they’re only acting out of the purest and most righteous of moral intentions, the fact is they are the ones who get cut up the most in a real argument over moral conduct…
October 24, 1998…
MJ> I wrote that people who saw that float, according to the network
MJ> report, were put in mind of the Shepherd murder. That’s what I wrote.
MJ> You might want to actually read it.
So might ‘others who judge’. Let’s let them. Here is just what you wrote, cut and pasted fromMessage-ID: <email@example.com>
"There was a parade nearby, about the time young Shepherd was being murdered, which featured a float on which a scarecrow was placed, with the placard or something which said – I’m gay. People didn’t appreciate it, in the parade. And it later suggested to them, in hindsight, the way in which Shepherd was left, by his killers."
"about the time young Shepherd was being murdered" "it later suggested to them, in hindsight" You were saying that the float could not have been a deliberate and obscene joke made at the expense of a brutal murder, because it happened While he was being killed, not after his body was discovered and the likeness seen by the two bikers who found him to a scarecrow was reported in the news. You said it was only in Hindsight that the people who saw the float made the connection. That could only have been categorically true if his body hadn’t yet been discovered. But the facts were that it had been discovered days before the parade. Like a holocaust revisionist, you rewrote the order of events, so you could make the following claim:
"In fact, what was done in that parade had nothing whatsoever to do with what some killers did, elsewhere."
According to local news reports people who saw it were shocked by it, knowing full well what it referred to. That didn’t happen ‘in hindsight’. What you did there, in plain sight of everyone here, was rewrite the chronology of events, in order to claim that no association with Matthew Shepard’s murder Could have been intended by the frat. And you did it so you could claim the fuss about it was all about ‘PC’, not the shocking obsenity of a college homecoming parade float that mocked the vicious kidnapping and torture of a Gay man only days previously.
Why do you bother? Because your reflex is to excuse hate, that’s why you bother. To cover it up. To deny it exists. The belly laugh here is that you’re accusing Us of not having self control, but the one thoroughly out of control and in the grip of a self destructive vice here is you, and here we can all see it clearly and sickeningly. Even when it’s obvious to everyone that you’re lying, you can’t stop yourself, you can’t help yourself. Your mortal enemy is that scarecrow of your own invention, ‘The Gay Activist’ and nothing can prevent you from striking at it…not Truth, not Decency, not Morality and Virtue, not Your Church, not any thought or impulse to preserve your honor and your name. If you have to ruin everything in you that makes you human, to get hand on the collar of ‘The Gay Activist’, and put your thumb in it’s eye, so be it.
But do we have to watch?
MJ> Gimme Catholicism . . any day.
Bless me Father for I have sinned…and sinned…and sinned…and sinned…and sinned…and sinned…and sinned…
Jim Burroway has a post up over at Box Turtle Bulletin, about John Corvino’s new DVD recording of his “What’s Morally Wrong With Homosexuality?”, lecture he’s been giving all over the country since 1992. Like Burroway, I’m glad to see someone directly confronting, at least one half of the moral issue that bigots keep claiming for their own…
It’s a great topic and one that’s rarely explored, which is a shame since the discussion of homosexuality as a moral mode of existence is every bit as vital today as it was when he started fifteen years ago…
Yes. It is. But there’s another side to this coin, and it’s one that needs tackling just as much. Here Burroway gives it a glancing blow…
But as Dr. Corvino points out, the Bible holds a lot of things to be immoral that we no longer condemn with such fervor (for example, divorce, or women speaking in churches or wearing slacks), and the Bible gives explicit approval — and even instruction — on some things that we today consider to be immorally outrageous. The best example of the latter comes from an equally unmistakable passage of Leviticus. This time it’s Leviticus 25:44-46:
Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.
The passage is as unmistakably clear as the first one. And if one were to take everything from the Bible in a consistently literal light, then there’s just no way around it: the buying and selling and inheriting of people as chattel slaves is not immoral; it is instead expressly permitted — with rules laid down for its proper execution. But there are very few Christians who are so consistent in their literalism that they would always “approve what the Bible approves and condemn what the Bible condemns” when it comes to slavery. Only Christian Reconstructionists and a few other theonomists are able to sustain this kind of consistency.
So why is it that some people are consistent with literalist interpretations of Scripture where homosexuality is concerned, but when the subject of slavery comes up it’s suddenly all about context, original language and cultural norms? Corvino suggests that we either have to commit ourselves to the idea the authors’s concerns and ours might be very different, and understanding that difference is vital to understanding the text.
Er…no. Let’s why don’t we, stare that inconsistency in the face and call it for what it is. And no…it’s not hypocrisy, any more then Paul Cameron’s using his data one way when it suits him, and another when it doesn’t is hypocrisy. The word we’re looking for here is Mendacity. How often, how many times, do we have to see this out of both sides of their mouths behavior in anti-gay demagogues before we’re allowed to call it what it is? They’re not citing the bible, they’re using it like a condom. Jesus isn’t their lord and savior, he’s their excuse, their scapegoat, nailed to a cross, dying every hour of every day for their cheapshit sins, so they won’t have to look them in the face, and from there to the horrific landscape of human suffering all around them, that has their name written on every heartbroken acre of it.
And never mind the two-faced way they proof text the bible. A walk through the open sewer most of them call a conscience ought to be enough to disabuse anyone of the notion that moral righteousness has anything whatsoever to do with the anti-gay agenda. Here’s the current darling of the religious right, Huckabee on homosexuality, from a 1992 questionnaire…
“I believe to try to legitimize that which is inherently illegitimate would be a disgraceful act of government…I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural and sinful lifestyle.”
Aberrant? Aberrant…did he say…? Aberrant like this…?
One issue likely to get attention is his handling of a sensitive family matter: allegations that one of his sons was involved in the hanging of a stray dog at a Boy Scout camp in 1998. The incident led to the dismissal of David Huckabee, then 17, from his job as a counselor at Camp Pioneer in Hatfield, Ark. It also prompted the local prosecuting attorney— bombarded with complaints generated by a national animal-rights group—to write a letter to the Arkansas state police seeking help investigating whether David and another teenager had violated state animal-cruelty laws. The state police never granted the request, and no charges were ever filed. But John Bailey, then the director of Arkansas’s state police, tells NEWSWEEK that Governor Huckabee’s chief of staff and personal lawyer both leaned on him to write a letter officially denying the local prosecutor’s request. Bailey, a career officer who had been appointed chief by Huckabee’s Democratic predecessor, said he viewed the lawyer’s intervention as improper and terminated the conversation. Seven months later, he was called into Huckabee’s office and fired. "I’ve lost confidence in your ability to do your job," Bailey says Huckabee told him. One reason Huckabee cited was "I couldn’t get you to help me with my son when I had that problem," according to Bailey. "Without question, [Huckabee] was making a conscious attempt to keep the state police from investigating his son," says I. C. Smith, the former FBI chief in Little Rock, who worked closely with Bailey and called him a "courageous" and "very solid" professional.
And then there’s Huckabee’s pardoning of convicted serial rapist and murderer Wayne Dumond, after the republican noise machine spun the tale that since one of his victims was a distant relative of Bill Clinton,
Dumond had been falsely accused. Gene Lyons has the rest of the squalid story of Huckabee’s moral righteousness…
Dumond became a right-wing cause celebre. Guy Reel wrote a book entitled “Unequal Justice,” parroting the same bogus claims. Most significantly, Jay Cole, a Fayetteville, Ark., Baptist pastor and pal of Huckabee’s bought into the delusion.
No sooner had Huckabee become governor after Kenneth Starr’s conviction of his Democratic predecessor, Jim Guy Tucker, than he began talking about commuting the presumptively innocent Dumond’s sentence. He clearly expected to be congratulated. Instead, prosecutor Fletcher Long erupted. How could the governor even think of doing that without reading the trial transcript?
Abandoning her anonymity, Ashley Stevens invaded Huckabee’s personal space: “This is how close I was to Wayne Dumond,” she said. “I will never forget his face. And now I don’t want you ever to forget my face.” Previous victims wrote agonized letters begging Huckabee to desist.
Today, Huckabee alibis that nobody could have predicted Dumond’s Missouri crimes. Many people did. Even this column warned that: “Rape’s not a crime of passion; it’s a crime of rage. Violent sex offenders, innumerable case studies show, keep at it until something stops them. If Huckabee doesn’t understand that, he’s got no business getting involved.”
Instead of backing off, Huckabee got tricky. He held an improper closed-door meeting with the parole board, several of whom say they’d felt pressured. Last week, Huckabee’s then-chief counsel, Olan “Butch” Reeves, basically seconded their claims. After the board voted to parole Dumond to Missouri, Huckabee wrote a “Dear Wayne” letter stressing “my desire … that you be released from prison” — the proverbial smoking gun he can’t now rationalize or whine away.
Angry Missouri cops say Dumond’s victims’ severed bra straps were like a calling card. They found his DNA under their fingernails. Huckabee’s latest book claims that Dumond died in prison before coming to trial. In fact, he was convicted of murdering Carol Sue Shields on Nov. 12, 2003.
It should make anyone with a shred of decency left alive within them want to vomit every time one of these gutter crawling creeps starts mouthing off about morality. Over and over again you see it…the rote declarations of faith, followed by the cheapshit lying, the bellicose digging in of heels rather when their own pathetic failures of moral character are pointed out, and more and more lately, the squalid details of their own personal lives rushing out like an overflowing sewer. Why do they single out homosexuals? Because they need someone to point their fingers at, someone to take the spotlight away from their own failed inner character, someone to distract everyone else from the stench of their own rotten conscience, someone to die for their sins, so they won’t have to take responsibility for the mess they’ve made of their own lives, and everyone else’s within arm’s reach. We have to bleed, so they can be righteous.
It’s good to see attention being given to the moral issue at the heart of the gay rights struggle. But the morality of homosexuality is only one part of that. The morality of those who would keep us second class citizens, outcast and vulnerable, is another. They are taking what should be one of this life’s most perfect joys, that of finding that intimate other, falling in love, body and soul with them, and making a life together, and they are twisting a knife in it, so that they can feel righteous. There is nothing moral about that. If that’s not sin, then the word has no meaning.
The argument I frequently hear is that, well, hurtful as their behavior is toward us, they do it in good faith. No. The ones who cut us through simple, mistaken ignorance don’t make a big issue out of it. They’re not on a crusade. Maybe they don’t have a gay family member, or at any rate one that’s out to them. Maybe they haven’t had the opportunity for their comfortable moral stereotypes about homosexuality to be challenged. We all have some crap in our heads, some ignorant or foolish beliefs that in retrospect make you wonder what you were ever thinking to believe such a thing. The honest person, the moral person, when confronted by a falsehood, by something patently wrong, accepts that they were wrong and acts accordingly. It’s not about being an uptight self righteous prick either. As H.L. Mencken once said, "The most expensive thing on this earth is to believe in something that is palpably not true." You don’t embrace reality to put yourself up on a pedestal, you do it because you don’t want reality to smack you upside the head. But that’s what morality is for!
No. The crusaders are Not acting in good faith, and their crusade is as immoral as they come, and it’s long since time that they got that fact pointed out to them by people who are willing to stand up to their plastic self-serving self righteousness and call it for what it is. A lie. A cheat. A fraud. They deliberately, willfully, hurt innocent people not out of any sense of doing good, but in order to polish their own shit stained vanity. It is obscene, positively obscene, how long decent, good-hearted gay and lesbian people have been cowed by moral runts who have been doing nothing more righteous then putting a knife into their hearts as a way of buying their own self-respect. We are not the ones who have to be afraid of arguments over the morality of our conduct. They are.
Morality, the hard work of learning the difference between right and wrong across the ages, is a powerful force in the human story. It is a tool that guides us to the good, and away from the bad. It is a tool that our enemies renounced long ago because it does not validate their conceits, their evasions, their bigotries. And every time they open their mouths with lies about us that they know damn well are lies, they tell us so. It is long past time to look that fact squarely in the face and acknowledge it. At some point in their lives, reality collided with their prejudices and instead of doing the moral thing, they sold out. And now morality turns on them, like one of those weapons in fantasy novels, possessed by the spirits of the old warriors who once bore it. Mike Huckabee. Larry Craig. Ted Haggard. David Vitter. And all the other right wing moralists who have been caught frolicking in the gutter recently. The more they yap, yap, yap about morality, the more you see how far away from it they’re running.
We don’t have to run from it. There is nothing wrong with us. There was never anything wrong with us. We have been taught for so long, for so very, very long, to hate ourselves, to be ashamed, so that a bunch of moral runts would have someone else to point their fingers at, someone else to bear the burden of shame that they’ve been evading all their lives. You can’t buy a decent, honest, moral life second hand. You can’t beg, borrow or steal it from your neighbor. Our hearts are not their stepping stones to heaven. Our enemies threw morality away, because they couldn’t get it cheap. Pick it up. You can afford it more then you know. The love of same sex lovers, our moments spent in simple straightforward, honest human desire and affection, are genuine and real and righteous and noble and beautiful, and that is why they hate us. Every time you take your lover’s hand and offer them nothing more or less then what you have, what you are, the best within you, what our enemies see in that is everything they could have had in their own lives, and every noble thing they could have become, that they are not, and that is why they hate us. Every time you smile into your lover’s eyes, rather then turn away in shame, you win the moral argument.