May 25, 2016

Phobia-label fear

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, May 26, 2016

Phobia-label fear

When it comes to matters LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer/ questioning, etc.), I've noticed that critical discussion often is halted or doesn't even get started because of fear about being labeled homophobic, biphobic, transphobic, bigoted, or intolerant.

Today I will attempt to allay such fear by exposing the confusion lurking behind it and then setting out five clarifications.

Before I begin, however, let me emphasize this: All persons—whether they identify as LGBTQ+ or not—are made in God's image, are loved by God, plus deserve respect as well as protection from bullying and violence.

Here's the confusion: If a person offers criticisms of same-sex, etc. sexual relationships, then we can immediately judge that the person is homo/ bi/ transphobic, bigoted, or intolerant and, thus, that the criticisms should be ignored.

Clarification 1. A phobia is an irrational aversion or fear or hatred concerning X (see Mayo Clinic's online entry on phobia), whereas one is not necessarily phobic if one has reasonable evidence-based concerns about X. Being concerned about very large spiders near little children doesn't mean one is arachnophobic.

It turns out that many intelligent people have reasonable evidence-based concerns and questions about LGBTQ+. It would be intellectually dishonest to judge such persons as “phobic.”

Clarification 2. A bigot is someone who has a tendency to hold a view or opinion blindly and dogmatically, without giving careful consideration to contrary evidence. Significantly, however, an attempt to reason with care and to examine evidence, pro and con, need not be an instance of bigotry.

This means persons can be critical of LGBTQ+ matters and not be bigots.

Clarification 3. Calling a critic of LGBTQ+ names such as “homophobe” or “biphobe” or “transphobe” or “bigot” and then dismissing the critic’s arguments on the basis of his/ her alleged personality disorder (whether it’s a phobia or whatever) 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. The critic’s argument should be assessed on the basis of its merits.

(Note: If the arguer is in fact homophobic or transphobic, etc., 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 as well as texting and driving. Teachers are rightly intolerant of cheating on exams and bullying. Parents are rightly intolerant of children playing with matches.

If it is reasonable to think that a behaviour can seriously harm a person, then it is good to be intolerant of such behaviour. Tolerance of such behaviour would be not good.

Clarification 5. In the case of same-sex, etc. sexual relations, the public issues have to do (minimally) with balancing possible harm and freedom of expression.

So the following questions should be raised: Is there evidence for thinking that the relations in question have harmful consequences to self or others? Or not?

If there are such harmful consequences, are they sufficiently harmful to self or others so 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 responsible adults should not be afraid to ask (e.g., see my column Is promoting same-sex sex wise?). Questioning is not phobic. Nor is it bigoted or intolerant.

I conclude with this comment from Robert P. George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University: “Cowardice is a greater danger to our civilization than error. When people cannot muster the courage to speak the truth, error will triumph.”

Have courage, then. Boldly seek truth and speak truth. And do so lovingly, with gentleness and respect toward those who disagree.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College. The views expressed in this column do not always represent the views of Providence.)

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