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Moral reasoning 

Last week, my colleague Al Fonzi tried to hoist himself up a cross, playing like a persecuted minority when he claimed that I “defame believers” with partial analysis of the New Testament. In an ironic twist, Mr. Fonzi neglected to defend his fellow Christian and SLO High School teacher Michael Stack. Then he attacked my defense of Mr. Stack and interpretation of biblical scripture. However, he offered up not so much a rebuttal as an account of arbitrary and contradictory positions.

In my assessment of Stack’s claims, I never claimed all Christians were “bigots” or “haters.” The question motivating my essay was whether we should give any person “a free pass when they use religion to justify their bigotry and hatred” and my answer was a qualified yes. Stack is a bigot to be sure, and yes, he uses his religion to justify it, but as I pointed out, most Christians do not hold to his barbaric morality, and there is nothing specifically Christian about wanting to discriminate against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Nearly everyone has done it historically, and many faiths around the world still do it.

The real question is, does Mr. Fonzi actually stand with Stack, or with most other Christians and the rest of the civilized world? Mr. Fonzi criticizes Stack’s actions but then attempts a soft defense of the moral basis for Stack’s claims. He acknowledges that the passage cited by Stack “challenges the promiscuous sexual practices” including “homosexuality and all its derivatives.” So is Mr. Fonzi saying that homosexuality was considered a promiscuous practice back in the day, or that homosexuality should still be considered promiscuous?

“Promiscuous” practices involve “indiscriminate mingling” or “having multiple sexual partners on a casual basis.” Why would such practices deserve moral punishment? Only if such partnering is not open, honest, and consensual. Adultery, for example, where people violate a promise of monogamy, clearly causes unjust suffering to others, as do similarly deceptive practices among non-married couples. But the fact that such relations might be between two people of the same sex? Mr. Fonzi has to either acknowledge that there is no moral basis to discriminate against lovers merely because of their sexual orientation, or he must fall back on some arbitrary claim about what the Bible commands. But if he wants to uphold some form of biblical morality regarding homosexuality, why stop there?

Why not defend New Testament morality in all its glory? Surely Mr. Fonzi would uphold the morality of slavery, as is commonly done in the New Testament, as well as the subjugation of women. Why waste time complaining about a few gay people when there are women all over the place, unveiled, speaking rather than being silent, and some even have authority over men! Over men, I say!

These practices of women are all clearly challenged in the New Testament, so what sort of punishment should we impose? Here is where Mr. Fonzi must get really creative. He claims that “God’s death penalty” described in Corinthians actually “refers to spiritual death versus temporal, as we don’t live in a theocracy … .” Now, your guess is as good as mine as to how the fact that we don’t live in a theocracy changes the meaning of ancient words. Clearly, the strategy of applying metaphorical meaning to scripture allows people to make whatever they want out of words, and this is in fact one of the primary ways that biblical texts retain meaning, power, and inspiration in the modern world. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as those selective interpretations are not imposed on others arbitrarily. But claiming that the Bible does not call for the actual death penalty for gays is as believable as claiming that Donald Trump’s campaign had no communications with the Russians.

Yet apparently, because we live in a democracy, rather than a theocracy, things are different. Joy. What can this possibly mean? Is Mr. Fonzi implying that we can’t impose biblical morality just because we lack a biblical theocracy? If Mr. Fonzi did live in a biblical theocracy, would he think it appropriate to impose biblical morality? Would he then support the “temporal” death penalty for homosexuality, and other “promiscuous” practices?

Who is immoral? The person in a loving, same-sex relationship, or the person who, under the right political regime, would support their execution? Under what conditions should anyone support punishing, or denying the fundamental humanity and equality, to others because of their sexual orientation? For nearly everyone I know, Christian or otherwise, these are easy answers, backed up with clear moral reasoning.

We measure moral value by the good or harm we do to others, and on these scales Mr. Fonzi’s barbaric morality falls short.

Michael Latner is a political science professor and Master of Public Policy Program director at Cal Poly. Send comments through [email protected] or send a letter to the editor at [email protected].

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