September 05, 2013

Lady Gaga and moral reasoning

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, September 5, 2013

Lady Gaga and moral reasoning

Lady Gaga's popular song “Born This Way” celebrates various diversities as good, including sexual diversity—homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender sexuality. Why? Because, according to Gaga, this is how one is formed at birth, and, according to Gaga, “God makes no mistakes.”
Is this good moral reasoning? I think not. I have two arguments: one theological, one philosophical.

First, the theological argument. If we're talking about the Christian God, i.e., the God described in the Bible, then it's true that God makes no mistakes. But we should also notice that on this view the first human beings that God created used their freedom to choose against God—they sinned.

(Note: Only if this freedom were perfect, i.e., only if God made no mistakes in creating this freedom, could the first humans have the power to choose against God.)

The result: the human race has "fallen." That is, we are now morally broken—we have an inclination to sin—and this inclination has been passed down to us from our ancestors.

This means that we are born with propensities not only for good, but also for evil. We are born self-centered, and we tend to reject the good.

In other words, even though we might be born with diverse inclinations (and even though on the Christian view God loves us in spite of any inclinations we have), being born this way this doesn't mean God automatically accepts and affirms our acting on any or all of these inclinations. Significantly, the God of the Bible calls us to (a) turn away from our sinful inclinations and behaviours, plus (b) accept Jesus—God come to earth as a human being—as Lord.

We should agree with Lady Gaga, then, that "God makes no mistakes," but we should also disagree with Lady Gaga by realizing that being "born this way" doesn't automatically mean that "this way" always meets with God's moral approval.

Second, here is some philosophical reasoning—which applies whether one believes in the Christian God or not.

Lady Gaga rightly encourages us to respect and accept all people, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. After all, each person has intrinsic moral worth (because, as Christians would say, each person is made in the image of God). So far, so good.

But here Lady Gaga's thinking needs some qualification. We should keep in mind that respecting and accepting all people doesn’t automatically also mean that we should accept and affirm all the behaviours of all people. Nor does it also mean that we should accept and affirm all their (our) dispositions and urges to behave in various ways.

Why not? Because not all behaviours are good—some behaviours are harmful to one’s self and/or others.

Think about serial rapist and murderer Ted Bundy. He may have been born with his peculiar sexual propensities and urges. But, surely, Bundy's behaviour is bad.

Pedophiles have propensities and urges, too. So do people who are prone to alcoholism, temper tantrums, lying, thievery, greed, gossip, gluttony, etc. (It's possible that we've been born with, say, a genetic predisposition that inclines us in these diverse directions, though the biological situation is probably more complex than this; and no doubt there are social factors, too.)

Clearly, the appeal to “born this way” as a moral justification of a propensity or urge requires further argument. We should ask: Is acting out on a propensity or urge good for one's self or others? Or not?

Is it sin? Or not?

With all due respect to Lady Gaga, “born this way” doesn't mean we ought to act this way.


 For help for those who struggle with sexuality issues, see the website for Restored Hope Network. For a look at some science-based arguments that question the wisdom of promoting sex—heterosexual sex as well as non-heterosexual sex—at an early age, see Miriam Grossman's book You're Teaching My Child WHAT? A Physician Exposes the Lies of Sex-Ed and How They Harm Your Child. On the Bible and homosexuality, see Joe Dallas's book The Gay Gospel? How Pro-Gay Advocates Misread the Bible. For a secular argument that questions the wisdom of same-sex sex, see my column "Is promoting same-sex sex wise?" (see too my critics' arguments plus my replies).

 For further reading (about Lady Gaga's moral philosophy): Douglas Groothuis, "Discerning and Responding to Gaga's Worldview," Christian Research Journal 34:6 (2011), 14-17.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University CollegeThe views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)


Roger Armbruster said...

Thank you for laying this out so clearly. The basic difference between the different worldviews regarding human sexuality is that the biblical worldview recognizes Creation, the Fall and Redemption, while the other side recognizes only the Creation without a Fall, and so assumes, on that premise, that we were born with certain dispositions, propensities and inclinations.

Al Hiebert said...

In the van last night returning from the Bill 18 hearing I commented that we are all born in sin, but we differ in how we express our depravity.

Of course those who reject that theological foundational perspective tend to go with the Lady Gaga theology, either because they agree or because they lack any more significant depth theologically and/or philosophically.

Eric said...

Reading this column provoked enough interest in me that I reviewed some of the columns on homosexuality that you had written earlier. I am continually astonished at the confidence you, and many others with similar views, have that your interpretation of scripture, and only yours, is correct with respect to homosexuality.

I understand you when you say we are born with the propensity for good, but also for evil. It matches my experience. Every day I struggle with that within me that finds addiction, temper, lying, thievery, greed, gossip, gluttony, etc. (your list) attractive. I would add to that list various heterosexual attractions. Every day I make choices with regard to these inclinations. I understand that. A dialogue with another brother or sister who shares these propensities and struggles has merit – for both of us.

However, homosexuality and homosexual attractions is not on that list [for me]. I was reminded of that again yesterday while watching the news – same sex kiss-ins in front of the Russian Embassy. Any propensity to participate in that kind of kiss simply does not exist for me.

Heterosexuality for me is not, and never has been, a choice. I was born with the inclination for heterosexual attraction every bit as much as I was born with a fair skin and green eyes. I simply cannot imagine what life would be like for me if I would feel [because of societal pressure] that I needed to satisfy my needs for intimacy through a homosexual relationship. It would be terrible!

I then read your column and note the absolute confidence you have that homosexuality is a choice, and I am puzzled. I don't understand. Am I really that unique? Of course, had I experienced childhood trauma, perhaps sexual abuse, who knows how that would have affected me. But I did not. So I repeat, I did not chose to be heterosexual.

Since I did not choose to be a heterosexual, I fail to see how I can, with any kind of integrity, assert that those with homosexual tendencies have those by choice. It would imply that my heterosexual fantasies are moral whereas those of the homosexual are immoral. I am then, very close to the Pharisee who prays “Thank you God that you did not make me . . . a woman [or a homosexual].”

Of course your experience may have been different. I look forward to your response.

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Hi Eric,

Thanks for sharing your views. Here is my response, in three parts.

1. Re: Your "astonishment" about the confidence you say I have about my interpretation of Scripture on homosexuality.

As I note near the top right hand corner of my blog page, the views I express in Apologia could be mistaken, though I like to think they're not. Please know that I readily admit that my interpretation of Scripture is fallible.

Having said this, however, I believe that, with regards to evidence and the careful use of reason, not all interpretations are equal. Some interpretations are better than others. As it turns out, after several years of examining arguments (pro and con), I've come to the conclusion that the preponderance of evidence and good reasoning points to the Bible telling us that sexual relations outside of a one-man-one-woman marriage relationship are sin. For the sake of perspective, my view is pretty much in line historically with much of the Christian church, be it Catholic or Protestant or Eastern Orthodox.

Perhaps your astonishment will be reduced by reading the following: Brett Cane's "The Bible and Homosexuality" (online essay/ sermon by an Anglican priest); Joe Dallas's The Gay Gospel? How Pro-Gay Advocates Misread the Bible (popular level book by a counselor who is ex-gay); Robert Gagnon's The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (advanced level book by a New Testament scholar). Give a listen, too, to the radio show Issues, Etc. (24 minute podcast) where Robert Gagnon critiques the Australian former Prime Minister's view of Scripture and homosexuality (the former PM's view was recently very popular on a YouTube video). See, too, my columns "Homosexuality and history" and "Debunking Internet Arguments".

2. Re: Your claim that you have "read [my] column and note the absolute confidence [I] have that homosexuality is a choice," which leaves you "puzzled."

With all due respect, I think that your puzzlement arises from the fact that you haven't read my column carefully. In my column I do not argue that homosexuality is a choice. I argue, rather, that what is a choice is the decision to act on the propensities and urges one is born with (whether those propensities and urges have to do with same-sex attractions or whatever).

To reduce your puzzlement, I suggest that you carefully look at the following: my column "Lady Gaga and moral reasoning" (yes, a re-read is appropriate), my column "Is being gay like race?", and Mark Yarhouse's Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends (popular level book by a psychologist who specializes in homosexuality).

(Continued below.)

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Here is a section from my column "Is being gay like race?" to help you understand my actual position (I'm quoting myself here merely to be helpful, not to make myself seem important; I want to draw your attention to Mark Yarhouse's three-tiered distinction between same-sex attraction, homosexual orientation, and gay identity):

"Scientific evidence does not show that homosexual orientation is, like skin colour, wholly biologically or genetically determined. Scientific evidence seems very much to suggest, rather, that homosexual orientation is due to a cluster of interacting factors whose relative weights vary from person to person.

"Some factors are biological (e.g., genes or heritable contributions may predispose, not causally determine, a person toward homosexuality; e.g., in some cases it is alleged that a mother's pre-natal antibodies may influence a male fetus's brain development so it is 'feminized'). Some factors are social and psychological (e.g., childhood sexual abuse, some particularities of broken family life, or the broader cultural-social environment may play a role in influencing a person toward homosexuality). Some factors have to do with the individual's responses to biological and environmental inputs (responses that unintentionally tend to promote a predisposition).

"Two things are clear: (a) same-sex attractions seem not to be due to choice, whereas (b) acting in accordance with or indulging one's sexual attractions is due to choice.

"There is more. Psychologist Mark Yarhouse makes a three-tiered distinction between same-sex attractions, homosexual orientation, and gay identity. A person may have same-sex attractions (from time to time) or even a homosexual orientation (i.e., strong, durable, persistent same-sex attractions), yet that person may choose not to subscribe to a gay identity, which Yarhouse calls the 'gay script.'

"The 'gay script' [written for us by contemporary culture] reads as follows: Same-sex attractions (however strong, durable, or persistent) constitute the core of one's personhood and engaging in same-sex behaviour is crucial for self-actualization. Yarhouse argues, however, that a person may choose not to construct his/her self-definition in terms of the gay script. Why not? Because, according to Yarhouse, other scripts are available, scripts that don't make one's sexual attractions the core of one's identity as a person. [Yarhouse has in mind the identity-in-Christ script.]

"The upshot: The essential nature of gay identity seems very much to involve a decision.

"In other words, whereas race does not involve choices or decisions, indulging in or acting on same-sex attractions and constructing one's self-description via the gay identity/script apparently do."

All this to say, Eric, that your mistaken view (and puzzlement) about me having "absolute confidence … that homosexuality is a choice" (my italics) may be due to you inadvertently blurring or collapsing the three-tiered distinction described above. At any rate, and contrary to what you assert, my view is not that homosexuality is a choice.

(Note: I do think that choice plays an important role either in strengthening one's unchosen predispositions or in weakening them. The latter seems to be the case with people who once were "gay" but have changed. For ex-gay testimonies, and for resources for those who struggle against same-sex attractions, see Restored Hope Network.)

(Continued below.)

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

3. Re: Your (implied) suggestion that "It would be terrible!" for a same-sex attracted person not to be able to satisfy his or her "needs for intimacy" sexually.

I wonder if you are uncritically reflecting our sex-obsessed, sex-saturated culture in making this judgment. Isn't celibacy a legitimate option? Isn't celibacy also what the Scriptures ask of heterosexual singles, even life-long singles, whether or not the single person chooses to be single? Isn't the need for intimacy much deeper than sexual intimacy and ultimately to be satisfied by God, within the fellowship of His Church?

I've been re-reading Wesley Hill's book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.Hill is a Christian man who has persistent same-sex attractions, believes that the Bible says sex outside of one-man-one-woman marriage is sin, and has made the decision to remain celibate in obedience to God. Wesley Hill is, in my mind, a contemporary saint: he is a role model for those of us who struggle deeply with sin—regardless of what that sin might be. (Confession: My list of sins is quite long and sordid, and although the attraction of most of my previous sins has become nil for me, I've struggled against some sins for over two decades—and I continue to struggle. Hill is truly a help to me, a hero, an inspiration.)

Hill approvingly quotes Thomas Hopko, an Eastern Orthodox priest: "People with same-sex attractions who profess Christian faith…will accept their homosexual desires as their cross—as a providential part of their struggle to glorify God and save their lives in a sinful world. They will view their same-sex attractions as a crucial part of their God-given path to sanctity…, both for themselves and potential sexual partners. And they will see their refusal to act out their feelings sexually as an extraordinary opportunity for imitating Christ and participating in his saving Passion. They will, in a word, take up their erotic sexual desires, with their desire to love and be loved, as an essential part of their personal striving to fulfill St. Paul's appeal: 'I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.'"

Hill then adds: "My homosexuality, my exclusive attraction to other men, my grief over it and my repentance, my halting effort to live fittingly in the grace of Christ and the power of the Spirit—gradually I am learning not to view all of these things as confirmations of my rank corruption and hypocrisy. I am instead, slowly but surely, learning to view that journey—of struggle, failure, repentance, restoration, renewal in joy, and persevering, agonized obedience—as what it looks like for the Holy Spirit to be transforming me on the basis of Christ's cross and his Easter morning triumph over death."


Best regards,

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Here is a helpful (and brief) commentary by John Stonestreet: "Attractions vs. Actions".

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Poet (and former lesbian) Jackie Hill vs. Macklemore.

Macklemore: You can't change.
Jackie Hill: I've changed.

Look here.

P.S. Parental guidance recommended for Jackie Hill's video/ poem "My Life as a Stud."