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July 5th, 2007


Theory and experiment alike become meaningless unless the scientist brings to them, and his fellows can assume in him, the respect of a lucid honesty with himself. The mathematician and philosopher W. K. Clifford said this forcibly at the end of his short life, nearly a hundred years ago.

If I steal money from any person, there may be no harm done by the mere transfer of possession; he may not feel the loss, or it may even prevent him from using the money badly. But I cannot help doing this great wrong towards Man, that I make myself dishonest. What hurts society is not that it should loose it’s property, but that it should become a den of thieves; for then it must cease to be a society. This is why we ought not to do evil that good may come; for at any rate this great evil has come, that we have done evil and are made wicked thereby.

This is the scientist’s moral: that there is no distinction between ends and means. Clifford goes on to put this in terms of the scientist’s practice:

In like manner, if I let myself believe anything on insufficient evidence, there may be no great harm done by the mere belief; it may be true after all, or I may never have occasion to exhibit it in outward acts. But I cannot help doing this great wrong towards man, that I make myself credulous. The danger to society is not merely that it should believe wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous.

And the passion in Clifford’s tone shows that to him the word credulous had the same emotional force as ‘a den of thieves’

The fulcrum of Clifford’s ethic here, and mine, is the phrase ‘it may be true after all.’ Others may allow this to justify their conduct; the practice of science wholly rejects it. It does not admit the word ‘true’ can have this meaning. The test of truth is the known factual evidence, and no glib expediency nor reason of state can justify the smallest self-deception in that. Our work is of a piece, in the large and in the detail; so that if we silence one scruple about our means, we infect ourselves and our ends together.

-Jacob Bronowski “Science and Human Values” 1956

Jim Burroway over at Box Turtle Bulletin and Mike Airhart over at Ex-Gay Watch react positively to a blog post by Exodus affiliated minister   Karen Keen, about her experience attending some of the events at the Ex-Gay Survivor’s Conference.   Jim calls it “…a very lovely and grace-filled post.”   Mike says of it that it is an “…accurate, balanced and thoughtful account.”   Allow me to be the grouch here.   Accurate it may well have been.   Balanced, perhaps.   Graceful…well it depends.   It was certainly polite.   But I wouldn’t go so far even as to say it was respectful.   What it was, was patronizing.   There is a spiritual sense of the word ‘grace’ that speaks to unconditional loving and caring and unless you think that looking for better ways to put innocent people through unmitigated hell out of a thoughtless devotion to dogma amounts to grace I’d have to say grace filled, along with thoughtful it was not.   When people say things like this you need to take it seriously for what it is…

As we munch on bok choy and shrimp, Scott, Sonia and I listen to stories and concerns regarding ex-gay ministry. Our goal is not to criticize or argue, but to take the concerns seriously and learn how ex-gay groups can improve their ministries.

Emphasis mine.   She was there to observe the broken ones, and try to figure out some better ways of fixing them.   To take the concerns of the people she sat down to dinner with seriously is a mutually exclusive proposition to learning how ex-gay groups can improve their ministries, because if going into it the assumption was that the people she was sitting down to eat with were broken and needed fixing, then the degree to which their concerns needed to be listened to was limited from the get-go.   Clearly, the only thought she was willing to entertain throughout the course of her interaction with the people at the Survivor’s Conference was how to fix the fixing process.   But that the fixing process could not not itself be fixed because it was based on a flawed and disastrous premise was never, Could Never be considered…er…Seriously.   Which meant that she wasn’t so much listening to her dinner companions, as filtering what they were saying to her through the main preconception she brought to that dinner with her.   This isn’t somebody who came to listen.   But then she couldn’t.

When she says that the raw expressions she witnessed during the survivor’s chalk talk moved her more then she expected, I’m sure that was genuine.   But that’s not to say it moved her very much, because what it should have made her was ashamed.   Deeply, gravely, severely ashamed.   There, right before her eyes, were the raw, anguished torn from the gut expressions of the suffering those people needlessly endured at the hands of the likes of her, simply for being homosexual.   And even that was not enough to make her question change.   But it couldn’t have.   In the end, she writes…

I realize I was drawn to the Survivor Conference because I love these people. In some impossible way, I long for camaraderie and unity with ex-ex-gays with whom I have shared so many of the same life struggles and pain. Yet, at the end of the day our roads lead us apart, and I wish it wasn’t so. I leave the Survivor Conference knowing it will be my last ex-ex-gay conference. I feel an ache in my heart—the kind of sadness that comes when breaking up with a lover. Even when irreconcilable differences are clear, and parting is the most honest thing to do, the loss is still felt. I want to take my friend by the hand and walk her down the same life path I am traveling, but I know I can’t.

And in the comments at Ex-Gay Watch she elaborates…

Another clarification–when I talk about how the two groups (ex gay and ex-ex gay) are on separate roads that lead apart, I did not mean to infer that I will not engage in dialogue anymore. I am always open to hearing people’s thoughts and stories. I comment on this a bit in response to someone’s comment on my blog. What I was describing is that the two movements have different goals that cannot be reconciled. I am all for church unity, but there are some things that cannot be unified without comprising our own personal integrity.

Integrity.     I happen to believe that the so called “clobber passages” of the bible don’t actually say what a lot of homophobes think they say.   But let’s assume for the sake of argument that they do.   So what.   In addition to calling on the faithful to put homosexuals to death, the bible also insists that the faithful not suffer witches to live.   Innocent people died once upon a time in Salem Massachusetts because of those passages, and you best believe that the people who put them to death did so in good conscience, and prayed afterwards for God to have mercy on the immortal souls of those poor devil possessed witches.   But it is not integrity to put theology above the observable and knowable humanity of the old woman whose head your are putting into a noose.   The word for that is fanaticism.

It is not at the end of the day that Karen Keen’s road diverged from that of the survivors.   It was at the beginning, at that point along the way where we all decide whether we will walk down the path before us with our eyes wide open or not.   That the survivors eventually came to the conclusion that their treatment at the hands of the ex-gay ministries was not only not working, but could not be made to work, and then that it was unnecessary to begin with, doesn’t mean that they had fallen back into “the lifestyle” but that at least after some horrific measure of pain and suffering they were willing, finally, to let the evidence speak for itself.   When you embrace a religious faith that insists its written dogmas have to count for more then the observable facts, more even, then your own first hand experience, more then the witnessing of pain and suffering, your personal integrity is the first thing you give up.

As Jacob Bronowski wrote in Science and Human Values

The state of mind, the state of society, is of a piece.   When we discard the test of fact in what a star is, we discard in it what a man is.

Likewise, when we discard the test of fact in what a homosexual is, we also discard in it the human being that they, and you, are.   Integrity.

2 Responses to “Integrity”

  1. Benton Says:

    I do see your point, but isn’t some interaction better than none at all? I would hope that maybe, eventually, the inage before her would be stronger than the construct she had created in her mind. At least Karen has made a move, the wall has started to crumble.

  2. Bruce Says:

    I don’t think the wall has nearly started to crumble yet. Recall that she said it would be her last survivor’s conference. But yes…definitely some interaction is better then none. For both parties. Probably not in the way each of them expects though.

    Groucho Marx joked in one of his films, “Who are you going to believe…me or your lying eyes?” The essential problem facing the survivors, and for that matter the gay community at large when it comes to dealing with religious fundamentalists is this: they will largely, if not exclusively, measure what they see when they interact with gay people against what their theology is telling them is and is not real. For there to be any actual dialog that has to change, and the problem with that is that it’s their bedrock.

    Shifting that bedrock would be a major personal earthquake in their lives, but that’s what has to happen before anything approaching real dialog can occur. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk to each other. It doesn’t mean we can’t reach some small areas of agreement. But the common ground is more limited here then I think people realize. It’s confusing in a sense to realize that the differences between us actually aren’t that many, because this one difference alone is profound and it touches literally Everything. It doesn’t mean we can’t talk. It doesn’t mean talk wouldn’t be a good thing for all parties involved. It doesn’t mean that it is hopeless. But folks need to understand that most of the talk between people who do not have a commonly shared understanding of what constitutes knowledge, is going to be talking past one another.

    Just because someone can express sympathy, doesn’t mean they understand you, and it doesn’t mean they won’t stop twisting the knife in you. If they think that the more you bleed, the more they’re loving you, then out of a sincerely held compassion for you they are going to try to make you bleed. Before they can even begin to realize the harm they’re doing, they need to see beyond the clobber passages to the reality of our lives and our humanity and they can’t without their world literally shaking nearly apart in the process.

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