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This Post Is Not About Gay Clergy

Posted by Rick · August 4th, 2006 · No Comments

I’m not totally sure where to put this one.

A friend writes about the recent reports of a man who is defending himself against charges of sexually assaulting young boys who have physical or mental handicaps. My friend says,

This is what happens when Pandora’s Box is opened. This is one of the major arguments of the traditional Christian believers that once you loosen the definition of what ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is, you start a descent down a ‘slippery moral slope’ from which you cannot recover.

This IS one of the arguments currently being used against gay clergy. They are asking if we don’t draw the line here, where will it move to next?

As much as the argument creates fear and division, in a purely ethical sense it’s a reasonable question. The concept of right and wrong has been dramatically redefined in the twentieth century and is being debated with a new energy in the twenty first.

Subtract the politics and the sexuality and you have an honest question. If a church (or any group) is to retain its identity, then it has to have boundaries to its core values. If one of the core values is inclusive acceptance of people trying to be better people, then when do you exclude people?

My question to you is in a legal sense, how do you balance this guy’s claim that his religious freedom is being impinged versus keeping the community’s children safe? If his argument is upheld in any sense, doesn’t that require an examination of all previous similar cases?

I’m not going to answer any legal questions put to me while I’m sitting here awaiting the results of the California Bar Examination I just took last week. I will, however, address the implicit — erroneous — logic of these statements.

To showcase the illogic of the argument, let’s make it more clear:

Here is what happens when we allow people to question traditional Christian ethics. This is one of the major arguments of traditional Christian believers that once you allow people to reject traditional Christian orthodoxy, you’re screwed.

(And) this is one of the arguments currently being used against gay clergy. Traditional Christians are saying, “if we let gays have rights within the Church, don’t we have to give those same rights to child molesters?”

But don’t let yourself be confused about political correctness pertaining to clergy; I’m asking an honest question here. It’s true: If the Church doesn’t firmly stand up for its core beliefs — whether they’re about the gay clergy or something else — then the Church will lose its identity!

I think the key to understanding the illegitimacy of this argument — as you might guess by my use of italics — centers around the “if we do this, then don’t we have to do that” question. And the answer, from a purely logical point of view, is “no.” If we call a round red thing an apple, we don’t have to call a round orange thing an apple, too.

You might say, “We aren’t talking apples and oranges here.” But we are. A round red thing and a round orange thing aren’t (necessarily, anyway) the same thing. So, too, a person who advocates sex among adults who legitimately consent is not the same as a person who advocates sex with children who can not legitimately consent.

And the idea that if we move the line from point A to point B, then we’re abandoning the validity of having lines at all is just a fallacy. Specifically, this form of slippery slope argument is — as the hyperlinked article explains — related to the straw man fallacy. This particular argument — that if we allow gay clergy, then we cannot argue against child molestation as a religious rite — may very well be an argumentum ad captandum; however popular, it is not logical.

It happens that people draw lines for all kinds of “reasons.” Some make sense; some don’t. Yet I doubt anyone would really believe that if we allow people to start wearing clothing made of mixtures of wool and linen — forbidden shatnez in Judaism — that this means we’ll have to allow murderers to take the pulpit instead of sending them to prison.

The fact that we have to draw lines somewhere or nothing is forbidden is a truism. It is true and uncontestable. Like a lot of truisms, though, it means almost nothing, standing alone.

Perhaps I’ve misunderstood my friend’s contention. Maybe he really means to argue that without shatnez, it’s really not Judaism. Maybe. But even if that’s true — and I’m not going to take the time to delve into that argument today — that doesn’t mean that without shatnez, you can’t have a religion.

If it did, I’d have to give up my preference for 100% cotton underwear.

Categories: Religion


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