Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A Little Lesson on Dignity & Fear

What better time to discuss the relevancy of human dignity and fear of divine retribution than the final week of June?

Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker makes a fine point about the first topic in his op-ed "Sniffing out the gay gene." Here are excerpts:

Homosexuality is a puzzle for biology, not because homosexuality itself is volutionarily maladaptive (though no more so than any other sexual act that does not result in conception), but because any genetic tendency to avoid heterosexual opportunities should have been selected out long ago....

Just as puzzling is the existence of homophobia. Why didn't evolution shape straight men to react to their gay fellows by thinking: "Great! More women for me!" Probably the answer lies in a cross-wiring between our senses of morality and disgust.

People often confuse their own revulsion with objective sinfulness, as when they dehumanize people living in squalor or, in the other direction, engage in religious rituals of cleanliness and purification. An impulse to avoid homosexual contact may blur into an impulse to condemn homosexuality.

Cultural conservatives like the talk-show host Dr. Laura Schlesinger ostensibly condemn homosexuality for another reason - that it is a "biological error." Actually, it is she who has made the biological error. What is evolutionarily adaptive and what is morally justifiable have little to do with each other. Many laudable activities - being faithful to one's spouse, turning the other cheek, treating every child as precious, loving thy neighbor as thyself - are "biological errors" and are rare or unknown in the natural world.

Regardless of where homosexuality resides in the brain, the ethics of homosexuality is a no-brainer: What consenting adults do in private is nobody's business but their own.....

Philosopher John Corvino discusses in his lecture "What's Morally Wrong with Homosexuality" that homosexuality is indeed a moral issue, insofar as morals and ethics are what determine how we treat one another. He then proceeds to show the idiocy of arguments against homosexuals: from having his student organization banned from Notre Dame because it was antithetical to Biblical standards (unlike the approved Jewish and Muslim student organizations) to being told by a Catholic priest that if everyone was gay, there wouldn't be any people. His response: if everyone were Catholic priests.... You see where that "logic" leads.

Thankfully, not all of us have to be queer, or Catholic, or even intelligent to have worth and dignity as humans and individuals.

Dignity is a good counter to fear. You'll recognize fear in these articles:

If only these "religious" radicals would spend a few minutes each day reading their Bibles or Korans, they'd see that what they are attempting to do is an abomination in the eyes of God/Yahweh/Jehovah/Allah/Ooga-Booga/Super Man: how hubristic is it for mere mortals to try to take away free will? And tsunamis, hurricanes, and even terrorist attacks are not punishment from the Big Ooga-Booga in the sky: the first two are caused by naturally occuring phenomena, and the last by social & political conditions. There is no fear in knowledge. Nor is there any fear in a true relationship with the divine. Oops, my own ooga-booga is starting to show! And so concludes another rant that started out with good intentions....

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