June 03, 2010

It's all society's fault? (Homosexuality: Part 2 of 3)

By Hendrik van der Breggen
(The Carillon, June 3, 2010)

It’s all society’s fault?
(Homosexuality: Part 2 of 3)

There are a number of popular confusions surrounding the issues of homosexual sex and same-sex marriage. Last time I discussed homophobia, bigotry, and intolerance. Today I will set out another popular confusion and I will offer three 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: It is an established fact that the higher rates of health problems associated with homosexual sex are ultimately due to the oppressive attitudes (towards homosexuals) of the population at large.

Clarification 1. There is some truth to this claim: for example, in 1998 the young homosexual man Matthew Shepherd was brutally murdered [apparently simply] because he was gay. Surely, where homosexuals are in fact oppressed by others, the rights of homosexuals should be protected—just as the rights of heterosexuals are protected. “Gay-bashing” is wrong, period.

Clarification 2. As important as clarification 1 is, the claim that the higher rates of homosexual health problems are ultimately due to the larger population’s oppressive attitudes towards homosexuals has not been established as true in the required broader sense, i.e., in the sense that the larger society's (alleged) general oppression is causally connected to the various health problems associated with same-sex sexual behaviour.

Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, psychologist and past president of the U.S.-based National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), reports the following: “One research study was designed to measure whether distress [for homosexuals] would decrease in societies where homosexuals enjoyed a high level of tolerance. The researchers compared gay-friendly societies, such as Holland and Denmark, with societies more hostile to homosexuality. The study found a higher level of distress among homosexuals in every culture, not just those that disapprove of homosexuality."

Also, NARTH’s 2009 landmark study What Research Shows states the following: “The usual hypothesis is that societal discrimination against homosexuals is solely or primarily responsible for the development of this pathology [i.e., the pathology of higher rates of various health problems associated with homosexual sex]. However, specific attempts to confirm this societal discrimination hypothesis have been unsuccessful, and the alternative possibility—that these conditions may somehow be related to the psychological structure of a homosexual orientation or consequences of a homosexual lifestyle—has not been disconfirmed. Indeed, several cross-cultural studies suggest that this higher rate of psychological disturbance [which in turn is associated with unhealthy sexual behaviour] is in fact independent of a culture's tolerance of—or hostility toward—homosexual behavior.” (The NARTH report goes on to suggest, wisely, that further study is needed.)

Clarification 3. Finally, the following inconvenient truth needs to be stated: Some sexual practices that constitute a principal feature of same-sex relations, especially among men, are physically unhealthy, period, regardless of the attitudes of others in the larger population. (For verification, check, for starters, NARTH’s medical issues webpage plus the homosexuality webpage of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations [see especially the list of references under "Physical Health" in CMDA's Annotated References].)

Thus, the popular claim—that the higher rates of health problems associated with homosexual sex are ultimately due to the larger population’s oppressive attitudes towards homosexuals—is dubious.

I hasten to add: This does not mean that oppressive attitudes towards homosexuals are therefore justified—they aren’t. However, it does mean that, in the future, causal explanations concerning same-sex health problems should be more carefully considered.

In the meantime, it may be wise for parents and teachers to notice that in March 2010 the American College of Pediatricians (ACP) sent a letter to U.S. high schools, a letter in which ACP cautions teachers about affirming students’ same-sex attraction—not to oppress such students, but to promote their good health. To read the letter, look here.

P.S. Please keep in mind my comments on homophobia, bigotry, and intolerance, which I set out in the previous installment of this column: "Homophobia, bigotry, intolerance?"

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


Unknown said...

Dr. V.,

What are your thoughts on this documentary?

Take care,

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Hello again Kane,

Thanks for the link to the 45-minute documentary VANGUARD: Missionaries of Hate, with Mariana van Zeller. I think it’s an important work. For those who haven’t seen the documentary, it’s about Uganda’s extremely anti-gay culture, fueled by several of Uganda’s outspoken evangelical Christian pastors and supported by some American evangelical Christian pastors, and it’s about Uganda’s attempt to pass a bill that would either put homosexuals in prison for life or mete out the death penalty.

Here are my thoughts (briefly).

1. I definitely disagree with the Ugandans (and some Americans) on their extreme anti-gay stance and their promotion of hatred towards homosexuals. Surely, Christians are called to show love and respect to those with whom they disagree (including those they think are sinners). Surely, the abuse of gays and lesbians in Uganda is wrong and should be stopped.

So I agree with Hilary Clinton when she says, “Gays and lesbians deserve to be treated as full human beings,” and I agree with Barrack Obama when he says, “It’s unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are.” And so I also agree with Long Jones, the persecuted gay Ugandan gentleman, when (at the end of the documentary) he encourages people to “think twice and have some mercy.”

2. In thinking twice (or more) about homosexual sex—and while showing mercy and love to those who engage in it—we should also keep in mind that Uganda's abuse of gays and lesbians (abuse that is wrong and should be stopped) does not constitute grounds for looking away from research that provides reasonable evidence for thinking that there are some serious health problems associated with homosexual sex.

Think of it this way: Let’s say we have a country that abuses smokers. The people of this country are radically anti-smoker and pass “smokophobic” legislation (i.e., smokers are imprisoned or executed). In our righteous condemnation of this country’s extremely anti-smoker culture, we should keep in mind that this country's abuse of smokers (abuse that is wrong and should be stopped) does not constitute grounds for looking away from research that provides reasonable evidence for thinking that there are some serious health problems associated with smoking—especially when those health problems also show up in smoker-friendly societies.

(I hope that my smoking example doesn’t show disrespect to any parties of this debate by seemingly trivializing the issues at hand. For the record, that’s not my intent at all. Rather, I’m hoping to clarify the issues at hand.)

3. Re-read my thought #1 above.

I hope that the above thoughts are helpful.

Best regards,

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

For an interesting article on Quebec's (misguided) attempt to deal with homophobia, see Douglas Farrow's "The Government of Quebec Declares War on a 'Homophobic' and 'Heterosexist' Populace". (Farrow is professor of Christian Thought in the faculty of Religious Studies at McGill University. Farrow is also a graduate of Providence College.)

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Ever wonder why the news media tend not to report on news critical of homosexuality? Take some time to read Judith A. Reisman's "Crafting Bi/Homosexual Youth," Regent University Law Review, Vol. 14 (2002): 283-342. Click here.

(Thanks to Douglas Farrow for bringing Reisman's important article to my attention.)

Climenheise said...

I didn't watch the documentary, but do know something about southern and central Africa. A basic aspect of the Ugandan response to homosexuality (as well as the response in Zimbabwe and Malawi and other countries in the region) is the sense the people in these countries have that we from the West define certain rights, and then we come to them and force them to change according to our definitions. The new law in Uganda is wrong, in my estimation, just as Zimbabwe and Malawi's treatment of homosexuals and homosexual couples is wrong. But an underlying reason for the strengtht with which they hold their views is their sense, not entirely misguided, that we have a larger agenda than promoting gay rights. They sense, correctly I think, that we want to force them to be like us. The old name for our attitude was imperialism, and just because imperialism is used for a good cause (involving the rights of a persecuted minority) does not remove its problematic nature.

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Hi Daryl (a.k.a. Climenheise),

Thanks for the insights into the Ugandan mind. Do you have any suggestions for westerners on how we can defend the rights of Ugandan gays without promoting homosexuality and without stirring up the Ugandan reaction to imperialism?

Best regards,

Climenheise said...

The February issue of "Christianity Today" has a good lead article by Sarah Pulliam Bailey on the law in Uganda, as well as an editorial. As the editorial notes, our first step should be to listen and seek to understand. Both the article and the editorial note that some assumed American evangelicals were behind the proposed legislation, and that the assumption reveals the racist assumption that Ugandans cannot think for themselves. Once one has listened long enough to be sure what Ugandans are really saying, we can respond. If we see some way in which they have transgressed the gospel (as opposed to transgressing the accepted codes of North America), we can point that out. We should be aware that we also wear our cultural blinders and may think that they are acting in a reprehensible manner -- when in fact, our culture is at fault.

My own take on the law is that it is a bad law, but I must admit that I understand too little to impose that take on Uganda or on Ugandans.