May 20, 2010

Homophobia, bigotry, intolerance? (Homosexuality: Part 1 of 3)

APOLOGIA
By Hendrik van der Breggen
(The Carillon, May 20, 2010)

Homophobia, bigotry, intolerance?
(Homosexuality: Part 1 of 3)

There are a number of popular confusions surrounding the issues of homosexual sex and same-sex marriage. Today I will set out one of these confusions plus offer seven clarifications. (Please note: I will do my best to be respectful to all persons, whether those persons approve of same-sex sexual relations or not.)

Popular Confusion: If you criticize same-sex sexual relationships, then ipso facto (by that very fact) we can judge that you are homophobic, a bigot, and/or intolerant, and so your criticisms should be ignored.

Clarification 1. A phobia is an irrational fear of something. For example, arachnophobia is an irrational fear of arachnids—i.e., spiders. However, it is possible to have a rational fear of or concern about spiders, especially if there is evidence that the spiders in question are dangerous to your health (or dangerous to your children’s health, or dangerous to your friends’ health). Similarly, it is possible to have a rational concern about homosexual sex if there is evidence that such sexual behaviour is unhealthy or dangerous for the parties involved. Not all fears or concerns, then, are phobias. In fact, some fears or concerns can be reasonable, if there are good grounds for those fears or concerns.

Clarification 2. The term bigot describes someone who has a tendency to hold a view or opinion blindly, without giving careful consideration to contrary evidence. Significantly, an attempt to reason with care and to examine evidence when one has a reasonable concern about a topic need not be an instance of bigotry.

Clarification 3. Calling a critic of same-sex relations names such as "homophobe" and "bigot" and then dismissing the critic’s arguments on the basis of his/her alleged personality disorder (whether it’s homophobia or bigotry or both) is to commit the ad hominem fallacy. The ad hominem fallacy is the mistake in reasoning wherein the arguer is attacked instead of his/her argument, when doing so is not relevant. Surely, the critic’s argument should be assessed on the basis of its merits. (Note: If the arguer is in fact a homophobe or bigot, this may give us grounds to suspect that his/her arguments are not strong; nevertheless, whether the arguments are in fact strong or not depends on the arguments themselves.)

Clarification 4. Not all tolerance is good, and not all intolerance is bad. Police are rightly intolerant of drunk driving, spousal abuse, and murder. Teachers are rightly intolerant of cheating and bullying. Parents are rightly intolerant of children playing with matches. If it is reasonable to think that an act can seriously harm another person, then it is good to be intolerant of such acts. Tolerance of such acts would be not good.

Clarification 5. In the case of same-sex sexual relations, the (secular, public) issue has to do (minimally) with balancing possible harm and freedom. So the following questions should be addressed: Are there good reasons for thinking that homosexual sex has harmful consequences to self or others? Or not? If there are such harmful consequences, are they sufficiently harmful to self or others that we should question the wisdom of engaging in or promoting such sexual behaviour? Or not? For the sake of truth, and for the sake of avoiding possible harm to innocents, these are questions we should dare to ask.

Clarification 6. Considerable evidence strongly suggests that serious health-related problems are associated with homosexual sex, more so than with heterosexual sex. (For verification, check, for starters, the medical issues webpage from the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality [see especially part III of NARTH's What Research Shows]; plus check the position statement webpage from the Christian Medical and Dental Associations [see especially the list of references under “Physical Health” in CMDA’s Annotated References].) If such problems are in fact serious—as they very much seem to be—then responsible and caring people should want to know about them.

Clarification 7. Responsible and caring people, whether homosexual or not, should be free to talk about the above problems with neither fear of homophobia, bigotry, and intolerance, nor fear of false accusations thereof. Open discussion and truth-seeking are important—and so is showing respect to those with whom one disagrees.

P.S. Here is an important letter that the American College of Pediatricians sent in March 2010 to U.S. high schools, a letter in which the ACP cautions teachers about affirming students’ same-sex attraction: ACP letter.

P.P.S. Is being gay like race?

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence College, Otterburne, Manitoba, CanadaThe views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)

5 comments:

Dr. V said...

For some additional discussion (by me) on the ad hominem fallacy vis-a-vis homophobia, see my July 6 2009 installment of Apologia: The Ad Hominem Fallacy.

Kane Augustus said...

I would've figured your article on homophobia would've generated a lot more discussion. It is a societal hot-button, no doubt about that.

In any case, I appreciate the distinctions you've made, Dr. V. They are all practical and useful, and I've even used a few of them in discussions over the years.

Hope you are well.

Kane

p.s. Thank you for your comments on my blog. It's always refreshing to have your input there. :)

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

On the moral-legal issue of same-sex marriage, see the following article from Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy: "What is Marriage?"

Aaron Scott said...

I realise that this article is quite old, but seeming as how it's been receiving some new attention it's probably worth pointing out that your first two clarifications are factually wrong.

Clarification 1: "A phobia is an irrational fear of something."

This is not true. A phobia, by definition, does not have to be irrational, nor does it need to be a fear. A rational but extreme aversion is just as much a phobia as an irrational fear.

Clarification 2: "The term bigot describes someone who has a tendency to hold a view or opinion blindly, without giving careful consideration to contrary evidence."

Again, this is incorrect. Evidence does not play any role in identifying bigotry. It is entirely possible to have a carefully considered, evidence-based position and for that position to still be bigoted. A "bigot" is only defined as a person whose own opinions result in intolerance.

If you're going to lay these points out as groundwork, it's vitally important that you don't cast your own definitions on these terms.

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Hello Aaron Scott. I'll reply in three parts.

1. Aaron Scott wrote:

I realise that this article is quite old, but seeming as how it's been receiving some new attention it's probably worth pointing out that your first two clarifications are factually wrong. Clarification 1: "A phobia is an irrational fear of something." This is not true. A phobia, by definition, does not have to be irrational, nor does it need to be a fear. A rational but extreme aversion is just as much a phobia as an irrational fear.

Hendrik's reply:

From what I can gather, in a phobia the excessiveness of one's fear or anxiousness impinges on the rational element of one's psyche, making the fear/anxiety unreasonable.

In fact, in my experience of contexts (mostly at the universities I attended) wherein allegations of homophobia are made, the understanding of phobia has to do with fear/ anxiety that’s unwarranted, i.e., is without reasonable justification, and so is deemed unreasonable/ irrational.

Here's a definition from the Mayo Clinic: "A phobia is an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of an object or situation that poses little real danger."

2. Aaron Scott wrote:

Clarification 2: "The term bigot describes someone who has a tendency to hold a view or opinion blindly, without giving careful consideration to contrary evidence." Again, this is incorrect. Evidence does not play any role in identifying bigotry. It is entirely possible to have a carefully considered, evidence-based position and for that position to still be bigoted. A "bigot" is only defined as a person whose own opinions result in intolerance.

Hendrik's reply:

Evidence does not play any role in identifying bigotry? Surely, in an important sense, evidence does in fact play a role in identifying bigotry—surely we look for evidence of someone's bigoted behaviour before we can legitimately charge him or her with bigotry. (You seem to be neglecting the distinction between defining X and identifying a particular instance of X.)

Also, my Webster's New World Dictionary defines bigot as follows: "1. one who holds blindly and intolerantly to a particular creed, opinion, etc.; 2. a prejudiced person." My description of bigot has to do with the "blind" and "prejudiced" parts of Webster's definition of bigot. (For you to think that my description is faulty suggests that you blur the distinction between description/ predication and definition.)

In addition, I think that a bigot is not, as you claim, "only defined as a person whose own opinions result in intolerance" (my italics). I think that being a bigot is related to this result, to be sure, but it also has to do with how the opinions are held. (You seem to be blurring yet another distinction.)

3. Aaron Scott wrote:

If you're going to lay these points out as groundwork, it's vitally important that you don't cast your own definitions on these terms.

Hendrik’s repy:

I hope my replies are helpful—and I hope none of Aaron Scott’s and my comments needlessly distract readers from the seven legitimate and important clarifications I set out in my column.

Cheers.