Ron Belgau

June 1998

Hello, everyone!

I hope nobody missed my column last month. I also hope Jeff publishes my column this month. It's only 11 days past the deadline...

Anyway, I'm taking 22 credits this quarter (normal full load is 15). Kids -- don't try this at home. So anyway, I've been pretty busy. But I'll try to put together something for this month, and I hope Jeff prints it.

Which brings us to a brief disclaimer: I'm writing this very quickly. I don't claim that it has the philosophical consistency of Plato. I didn't have the time to develop my points as carefully as I would like to. But I think I'm hitting an important point that deserves a lot of thought. If nothing else, I hope that this column gets some people thinking. I apologize for the hastiness of the argument, but I hope everyone will forgive me for that. As I look over it, I see many points which are not as clear as they could be. But I don't have the time to polish everything up perfectly. So please just ignore the faults, and think about the message.

We had our Student Body elections this month. Some of the "progressive" students on campus decided to run negative campaigns against several conservative candidates. I happened to talk to one of the guys who helped to organize the negative campaign, and he said something that really stuck in my head. All of the candidates they were opposing were Republicans; but he felt "torn" over opposing one of them, "because she is a woman." This guy has spent most of his college career supporting every civil rights cause you can name: domestic partner benefits for gays, affirmative action for racial minorities, various feminist causes.

But what shocked me about our conversation was that he was "torn" between his automatic impulse to oppose all Republican candidates and his automatic impulse to support female candidates. However, the phrase "automatic impulse" has another, simpler name: prejudice. If you automatically assume that all Republicans are evil, how is that different from automatically assuming that all gays are evil? Of course, some might say that people choose to practice a Republican lifestyle. But ultimately, to make blanket assumptions about all Republicans based on the behavior of the most extreme right wing of the party is unfair. Of course a lot of Republicans have a bigoted attitude toward gays. But then a lot of gays are promiscuous.

It is very interesting to me, because I see both the straight world and the gay world from the inside. I have lots of Republican friends, and am not out to all of them, so I get to hear their relatively unedited opinions about gays. I am also very involved in gay groups, and so I get to hear their attitudes toward Republicans. It is actually rather humorous to hear each side criticizing the other for the same basic reasons, and making the same basic mistakes about the other. Republicans stereotype gays. Gays stereotype Republicans.

So who's right? This brings up a very fundamental question about which I have thought a lot. Gays generally go out of their way to argue that we should tolerate everyone, and not have any absolute standards. But then we immediately start talking about rights. How in the world can we have rights if there is no absolute standard which grants us those rights? When the conservative condemns homosexual activity, we happily talk about tolerance and the absence of any absolutes and alternative lifestyles and so on. But when we want to condemn homophobia, we do not think that homophobic comments and actions are just one more alternative lifestyle to be celebrated in the rainbow tapestry that is our wonderful postmodern culture. We start using nasty words like wrong or evil.

When, for example, I say that the Southern Baptist's decision to boycott Disney is hypocritical, I mean something very definite. I mean that I expect that people should have a consistent moral standard which they apply in all situations. The Southern Baptists objected very strongly to Ellen. But they did not object at all to much more graphic shows portraying heterosexual sex before marriage and outside of marriage. Since the Bible also condemns those things, they are being inconsistent in getting upset about Ellen without objecting to the other shows as well.

But what right do I have to "impose my beliefs" on the Southern Baptists? A Southern Baptist pastor actually quoted the Bible verse, "Judge not, or you will be judged" to me when I told him that he was a hypocrite for boycotting Disney. After he had passed judgment on Disney, and repeatedly passed judgment on gays in various comments he made, he could not see that it was inconsistent for him to hid behind that verse when I told him he was in the wrong.

He is a hypocrite. But not much worse than most gays. Over and over again, gay Christians quote "Judge not, or you will be judged" and other verses like it. Over and over again they talk about tolerance and the absence of absolutes and the great benefits of diversity. But when a "homophobe" gets up and says that it's wrong to be gay, they jump up to condemn him.

I have heard a lot of stereotypes about gays from Christians. Gays are promiscuous. They're child molesters. But then I've also heard a lot of stereotypes about Christians from gays. They're bigots. They're hypocrites. Not all gays fit the stereotypes. And neither do all Christians.

I do believe in moral absolutes. And I believe that there is a moral law that does not discriminate based on race, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, mental or physical handicap or anything else. The basis of that law is "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Gays are included in that. If we are prejudiced against Republicans or Christians, we are bigots. We do not have a special exemption that says that we can't possibly be prejudiced because we're gay. We can be prejudiced because we're human and humans are pretty fallible. And sexual ethics are a part of that, too. Sexuality is an important part of human life, a very powerful part. Wrong use of it has caused a lot of people a lot of pain, either by broken hearts, unwanted and uncared for children, or STDs. I am not afraid to say that some things people do sexually are wrong, that they do not add a beautiful new stripe to the rainbow of diversity; they are an ugly swath of pollution blocking out the rainbow.

I agree that diversity is good, but only in saying that we don't want everyone to turn out exactly the same. A person can bring good to their community through carpentry, writing, engineering, painting, cooking, or any number of other professions. But they can also bring evil to their community through those professions. We want a diverse community with people with different gifts. But we don't want those gifts to be misused for evil. I hope my writing helps others to become better people and contribute more to their community. But Nazi propaganda writers used that gift to destroy their community.

You will notice that I have not explicitly defined what the "moral law" is, beyond saying, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." That is because I recognize that some of the things that I think are moral absolutes may simply be the result of my environment. I appreciate this more and more as I learn about other cultures. But that does not mean that there is no moral law; just that we human beings (myself included) don't always have it figured out perfectly. There is a lot of disagreement between different groups of people about exactly what the law says. But there's also a lot of agreement. Keep your promises. Don't murder. Care for your community.

I am not trying to convince anyone that I have the whole thing figured out and everyone should follow my list of rules. But I am trying to convince people that the vague "tolerate everyone" philosophy is childish and inconsistent. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is much more sensible. It tells us to respect others. But it also tells us that we can't just do anything we want, and demand that others "tolerate" us. It gives us the responsibility to focus more on how we are being unfair to others than on how others are being unfair to us. And it gives us the responsibility to figure out which actions are loving toward others and which are not.

I am not saying that you believe anyone who claims to have an absolute moral standard; many people camouflage their own prejudices as "absolute moral standards." You have to question such claims; but you also have to fairly consider such claims, because I really do believe that there are real absolute standards. Not everyone who says that something is an absolute standard is wrong.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the people who preach tolerance are right, and there are no absolute standards for anything. But if there are no absolute standards, then we can't say that homophobia is wrong. We can't say that we should be treated fairly. G. K. Chesterton once said, "The *rules* of a club are sometimes in favor of the weakest member; the *drift* of the club is always in favor of the most powerful." Gays have correctly realized that the best place to fight for equal rights is in the courts, and not through the legislative process. This is because the courts are driven more by strict and clearly thought through arguments that strive to fairly and evenly apply the protections of the law. The legislative process, on the other hand, is driven by slogans and popular opinion. The rule of law declares that all citizens have certain inalienable rights. The popular opinion would rather give preference to certain popular majorities and not to certain unpopular minorities.

And if we need the protection of the law, we probably should be a little less cavilier about telling everyone that there are no absolutes. In a world without absolutes, there are no hypocrites. I can only say that the Southern Baptist pastor I referred to before is a hypocrite because I practice what he preaches. I believe in the moral law. I believe that my actions are accountable to it. And therefore, I have some right to hold his actions accountable to it. But if I rejected any claim the moral law made on my life, how could I demand that others live up to it?

Tell me what you think! E-mail me at rbelgau@hotmail.com.

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