Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Homosexuality Debate, Majoritarianism, and the Moral Argument


It seems that the Straits Times Forum is progressively discouraging any contributions that relate to the homosexuality debate in Singapore. I have not seen any such letters for the past one week. But in the last 6 months, there were at least a dozen of such letters weekly; of course, most were from the homosexual minority.

Since renowned Singaporean gay activist Au Wai Pang of www.yawningbread.org (and friends) had made some bizarre, and sometimes amusing, arguments in favor of sodomy and homosexuality in response to my brief letter, I felt it appropriate to write a concise response to at least two arguments being perpetrated in cyberspace in my next two posts.

Christians can always furnish them with a sound rebuttal using Scriptures. But in a secular debate, we Christians have to contend with one hand tied behind our backs. Why so? A secular debate, especially with the gay rights activists in Singapore, demands that we "do not use religion." But this de facto exclusion of religions does not include the exclusion of atheism, agnosticism, and secular humanism, all of which are religions in their own right.

So, pro-gay lobbyists have in effect established their humanistic presuppositions even before we can argue what those presuppositions should be. For example, can they prove that there is no God (i.e. epistemology)? Surely not! They, however, demand that we must leave God out of the equation in this allegedly secular, amoral debate.

To be sure, they are seeking political momentum in their quest to repeal S377a. Apart from the perennial chant, "Bring them out unto us, that we may know them (Gen. 19:5)," the gay rights activists want the law and the church to accept same-sex marriages and same-sex family units as legally, politically, socially, and perhaps, morally viable practices.

The Moral Argument and Majoritarianism

And here is a question to those who criticized my proposal that the majority consensus should determine what constitutes morality within a secular milieu, "How else would you determine morality?"

Those acquainted with the philosophy of religion would realize that to concede to a moral argument, you are basically acquiescing to the ‘moral proof’ for the existence of God. And the homosexuality debate cannot escape a moral argument. The allegation that S377a is legally unfair and discriminating is in fact a moral argument from pro-homosexual lobbyists. How would you contend that something is unfair unless you have a moral standard or rule by which you can measure your statement with? Without an objective moral standard, nothing is either fair or unfair. Everything is relative, and what is unfair for you may be absolutely fair for us. So please do not impose your sense of unfairness upon us just as you demand that we do not impose our "moral standards" upon you. The truth is, gay activists in Singapore are aggressively attempting to impose their sense of unfairness upon the general population’s sense of unfairness.

Is this not fair then?

Pro-homosexual activists, if you were to contend for subjectivity in the realm of morality, you are again shooting yourself in the foot. Advocates of Social Darwinism and secular humanism are strong supporters of relativistic moral values. But even these advocates are absolutely certain that their moral code is absolutely correct. Is not that absolutism? Besides, these advocates would never argue for morality based upon a minority consensus.

Now here is the main point: gays in Singapore cannot claim that S377a is "not fair." Nevertheless, I have heard a multitude of moans and groans, "But it is unfair for us! You must practice the Golden Rule of Reciprocity."

Let us be clear about a few points. Gays claim that what is morally wrong for the majority may not be morally wrong for the minority of homosexuals. And this is called moral relativism. Moral standards are relative, so they say. All right. For the sake of argument, let us accept this point and call it point A.

Gays also claim that S377a is "unfair." Again, let us be charitable and accept that point as well. We call this point B.

But my point to you is this: you cannot accept both points A and B. You can either accept point A or B. Not both. Again, I hear a multitude of disagreement, "Why not, you bigoted Christian homophobic extremist?"

Have patience, my fiends. Allow me to explain the simple logic behind my point that your points cannot be viable points in any sensible arguments. Point B claims that S377a is not fair. My question for gays out there, "Is this absolutely or relatively unfair?" For your point to even make any sense you have to say, "It is absolutely unfair." So, to rephrase your statement, "S377a is unfair for homosexuals, and it is unquestionably, absolutely, and intolerably unfair."

Now, let me come to point A. Since you had claimed, and even emphasized, that moral standards are relative, how could you turn around, betray your faith in moral relativism, and claim that anything is unfair?

To make a statement stating that anything is unfair is to make a moral argument and a moral statement stating that something is indeed unfair according to a moral standard, which has to be absolute in nature. If the moral standard that you abide by is indeed relative and fluid in nature, then there is nothing that you can put a finger on and say, "This is unfair!"

Is not that a fair statement?

For those who have concerns regarding majoritarianism within a democratic society, I would recommend David Beetham’s Democracy and Human Rights (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1999), 18-26. As this is a complex political question regarding the validity of democracy, equality, and the power of voting, I will leave it to Beetham to answer your questions.

As Beetham had aptly concluded, "we do not have to accept a stark contrast between majoritarian and consensual procedures, neither do we have to accept direct and representative democracy as mutually exclusive antitheses. Not only does a representative assembly, to be accountable and responsive, depends upon an active and alert citizen body, and on a variety of forms of direct participation in the associations of civil society; it is also possible, as the Swiss and other experience shows, to give political authority to a representative assembly while leaving an ultimate power of decision on legislation in the hands of the citizens themselves. (p. 25)"

I will publish an unpublished letter to Straits Times Forum in my next post, which will answer the question of, "What about the Golden Rule of Reciprocity?"

6 comments:

Domch said...

Vincent,

You make several dubious claims in your latest post. Please permit me to point them out.

Firstly, you play pretty fast and loose with your use of the term 'religion'. Atheism and secular humanism would be far more accurately defined as philosophical views or systems of thought, rather than 'religions'.

You also use the term 'humanism' as if it had no relation to Christianity. This is again pretty careless. Humanism is a broad category of ethical philosophies that affirm the dignity and worth of all people, based on the ability to determine right and wrong by appeal to universal human qualities — particularly rationality. It is a component of a variety of more specific philosophical systems, and is incorporated into several religious schools of thought. Christian humanism is a well-established school of thought within Christianity - its proponents include Thomas More, Soren Kierkegaard and Blaise Pascal. So again, more conceptual clarity or precision would improve your argument.

I find it bizarre that you refer to Genesis 19:5. Gay men and lesbian women in general are not the sex-crazed maniacs that you attempt to caricature them as. I have no idea how you could possibly say that it is a "perennial chant" among gay rights activists. This statement unnecessarily diminishes your case, and suggests really, that is prejudice that is motivating your repeated posts on the issue.

You write that "Those acquainted with the philosophy of religion would realize that to concede to a moral argument, you are basically acquiescing to the ‘moral proof’ for the existence of God." I find this problematic. Morality or moral systems are essentially systems to distinguish between right and wrong behaviour. While some moral systems have a religious base, there are others which do not. Just because I believe that in the concepts of right and wrong doesn't mean that I necessarily believe in the existence of a creator deity.

The concept you employ, however, that seems to me to be in greatest need of clarification is 'morality'. You use this as if it were an unproblematic word, and as if everyone agreed with your usage of it. In what follows, I quote several paragraphs from the Stanford Online Dictionary of Philosophy which expresses the difficulty I experience in reading your blog post. This is taken from: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/morality-definition/

"When “morality” refers to the codes of conduct of different societies, the features that are essential are that morality is a code of conduct that is put forward by a society and that it is used as a guide to behavior by the members of that society. In this descriptive sense, “morality” can refer to codes of conduct of different societies with widely differing content, and still be used unambiguously. However, there are now other descriptive senses of “morality.” In the sense most closely related to the original descriptive sense, “morality” refers to a guide to behavior put forward by some group other than a society, for example, a religious group. When the guide to conduct put forward by a religious group conflicts with the guide to conduct put forward by a society, it is not clear whether to say that there are conflicting moralities, or that the code of the religious group conflicts with morality. People who are members of that society and also members of the religious group, might differ with regard to the guide that they accept. They are likely to regard the guide they accept as the true morality.

"In small homogeneous societies people do not belong to groups which put forward guides to behavior that conflict with the guide put forward by their society. There is only one guide to behavior that is accepted by all members of the society and that is the code of conduct that is put forward by the society. For such societies there is no ambiguity about which guide “morality” refers to. However, in those large societies where people often belong to groups that put forward guides to behavior that conflict with the guide put forward by their society, they do not always accept the guide put forward by their society. If they accept the conflicting guide of some other group to which they belong, often a religious group, rather than the guide put forward by their society, they will not regard the guide put forward by their society as a true or genuine morality.

"This reveals an ambiguity in the original descriptive sense of morality that has two essential features: that morality is a code of conduct that is put forward by a society and that it is used as a guide to behavior by the members of that society. This ambiguity was not recognized because of the concentration on small homogeneous societies. Does “morality” refer only to those guides to conduct put forward by a society, or does it refer to guides to conduct put forward by other groups as well? There is another related ambiguity if the “code of conduct put forward by a society” is not “used as a guide to behavior by the members of that society.” Which of these essential features is most essential? The recognition that people in a society do not always accept the code of conduct that is put forward by their society presents problems for the descriptive sense of “morality” as the code of conduct put forward by a society and which used as a guide to behavior by the members of that society.

"However, it is not useful to adopt a definition of “morality” as meaning the code of conduct accepted by the members of a society because in many large societies, not all members of the society accept the same code of conduct. Nor is it useful to adopt a somewhat more general definition of “morality” as the code of conduct accepted by the members of a group because it is not only always possible, it is often the case, that not all members of any group accept the same code. A natural outcome of these problems is to switch attention from groups to individuals. If what is important is what code of conduct people accept, and members of a group do not always accept the same code of conduct, then why be concerned with groups at all?

"This consideration leads to a new descriptive sense of “morality.” “morality” is taken to mean that guide to behavior that is regarded by an individual as overriding and that he wants to be universally adopted. [See R. M. Hare, Moral Thinking] In this sense of “morality,” it refers to a guide to behavior accepted by an individual rather than that put forward by a society or any other group. But “morality” does not refer to just any guide to behavior accepted by an individual, it is that guide to behavior that the individual adopts as his overriding guide, and wants everyone else to adopt as their overriding guide as well. This sense of “morality” is a descriptive sense, because a person can refer to an individual's morality without endorsing it. In this sense, like the original descriptive sense, morality has no limitations on content. Whatever guide to behavior an individual regards as overriding and wants to be universally adopted is that individual's morality.

"When people explicitly talk about the morality of a group other than their own or of a person other than themselves, it is usually clear that they are using “morality” in a descriptive sense. However, when a person simply claims that morality prohibits or requires a given action, then the term “morality” is genuinely ambiguous. It is not clear whether it refers to (1) a guide to behavior that is put forward by a society, either his own or some other society; (1a) a guide that is put forward by a group, either one to which he belongs or another; or (1b) a guide that a person, perhaps himself, regards as overriding and wants adopted by everyone else, or (2) is a universal guide that all rational persons would put forward for governing the behavior of all moral agents. When a person uses “morality” to refer to a guide to conduct put forward by a group, unless it is his own group, it is usually only being used in its descriptive sense. No one referring to morality in that sense of “morality” need be endorsing it. When “morality” refers to a guide to conduct accepted by an individual, unless that individual is himself, it is usually being used in its descriptive sense. However, if the individual is referring to his own morality, he is endorsing it. Only (2) is always the normative sense of “morality,” but a person might hold that the morality referred to in (1), (1a), or (1b) is also the morality referred to in (2)."

I'm sorry to have subjected you to all that, but I hope it helps you to see why the term 'morality' needs to be defined and used more carefully than you're doing, at present.

Lastly, it seems to me that you construct a false dichotomy between moral absolutism and moral relativism. There are other points along what is arguably a cline or continuum, rather than two poles. Personally, I believe that moral pluralism represents a better way forward for society. An example of moral pluralism is the idea that the moral life of a nun is incompatible with that of a mother, yet there is no purely rational measure of which is preferable.

sincerely,
Dominic

vincit omnia veritas said...

Dear Mr Dominic Chua,

Gay activists like to call others names, isn’t it (i.e. prejudiced)?

As a teacher, I would give you the credit that you have a good logical mind. The statements in your post, however, astound me.

Here are just a few points for you to take home:

1) Morality concerns what is right, and what is wrong.

The term “moral pluralism” is by itself an oxymoron. Can two sets of moral standards be both right? Yes or no?

You quoted, “[Morality is] the code of conduct accepted by the members of a society because in many large societies, not all members of the society accept the same code of conduct.”

The quote you used is basically advocating the “morals are mores” argument. That is, moral commands are considered community demands. This implies a cultural relativity of morality. A good exposition of the various philosophical loopholes in such a moral view is given in any reasonable philosophy of religion text.

As a primer, your view commits the “is-ought” fallacy (Hume). Just because something is the practice does not mean it ought to be. It is the case that people are cruel at times; they hate and kill. This in no way means that ought to be the case. Likewise, even if the entire community in a certain village has a preference for same-sex rectal intercourse, this does not mean that ought to be the case.

Secondly, if each community is right, then there is no way to solve conflicts between communities and nations. Whatever each one believes is right – even if it means the annihilation of each other – is right.

Thirdly, we must ultimately seek that which is right (i.e. the truth, or the universal moral law, or the natural law, or that which is right in itself). Murder cannot be both right and wrong. A tribe might consider the hunting of humans as fun, and the right thing to do. That is the moral “right” in that tribe. Singapore thinks that hunting humans for their heads is murder, which is wrong. If you claim that one group’s moral stand is right, and the other wrong, what moral standards are you subjecting yourself to?

But you have just shot yourself in both feet by saying that, “[Morality is] the code of conduct accepted by the members of a society because in many large societies, not all members of the society accept the same code of conduct.” So do we say that both are right? Do we accept all moral codes and rules as being viable, even if they contradict each other? Do you think that this is coherent and logical?

2) You said, “… yet there is no purely rational measure of which is preferable.” That is my point. This is irrational. You know it, but you want to push the same arguments down our throats.

“No purely rational measure” = “no universal moral law.”

When you claim that S377a is unfair, by what moral rules are you making that statement? Why is it unfair? As you have claimed, “There are other points along what is arguably a cline or continuum, rather than two poles.” Following your logic - “[there is] no purely rational measure [of right and wrong]” - there is really nothing essentially unfair. It is a continuum within a range of moral “preferences.”

So why do you gay activists continue to allege that the Ministry of Home Affairs is being unfair in retaining S377a? There is nothing really unfair about it. It is unfair for you, but fair for the rest of us! This is called – moral “pluralism.” And don’t impose your moral sense of unfairness upon our sense of unfairness.

There is no point deconstructing sentences into individual words or terms, and trying to redefine them to mean what you want them to mean. You have not even attempted to answer any of the arguments put forth in the post.

Very unconvincing.

3) Finally:

You wrote, “Just because I believe that in the concepts of right and wrong doesn't mean that I necessarily believe in the existence of a creator deity.”

But you have just made the argument that there is really no right or wrong. What is right for you may not be right for me (i.e. moral pluralism; “no purely rational measure” of right and wrong). You see, right is no longer right; it is meaningless to assign the word “right” to any set of concepts or notions.

Tell me, since there are no absolute “rights” and “wrongs,” what do you mean by “I believe … in the concepts of right and wrong?” Can you define “right?”

Concerning “right,” Merriam Webster says:

1 : RIGHTEOUS, UPRIGHT
2 : being in accordance with what is just, good, or proper *right conduct*
3 a : agreeable to a standard b : conforming to facts or truth : CORRECT

By incorporating your logic, allow me to add this: righteous, upright, just, good and proper are all meaningless words that do not reflect any form of conduct. What is righteous, upright, just, good and proper for one community can mean the exact opposite for another. That, Mr Chua, is your sense of right and wrong. This is called moral pluralism.

Sincerely,
Vincent

vincit omnia veritas said...

Dear Dominic,

In my haste, I have forgotten to clarify this allegation of yours. My post says “secular humanism,” not humanism. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_humanism

You may read its dogmas in the updated Humanist Manifesto III at:

http://www.americanhumanist.org/3/HumandItsAspirations.htm

Sure sounds dogmatic to me. My claims will not be “dubious” if you have read my post carefully.

Sincerely,
Vincent

Abel N. said...

Vincent,

Sharing this thought of inconsistency within secular world. (of liberal influence)

Like in USA, the homosexual orientation are consider 'wired' from birth. Nothing could change it. If that is really so, it means the sexual predator, paedophile, were also wired from birth.

Thus consequently, in order to protect the society, the crime of paedophile, and sexual predators should be punishable by either death penalty or life time sentence.
But that's not the case, most of the time they were consider 'sick psychologically' and thus instead of long jail time, they were send to psychiatric for treatment.
In relatively short time they were released and commited the same crime again and again. (some treatment again and again)

What to make out of those cases ? Everything are about interest/lobby/money talk.
There were many industries depending on brokenness of society. Psychiatrics, lawyers, doctors, etc.

In case of Singapore, I believed there must be 'interest' involved too.

~Abel

Dave said...

:) well, christianity contains a consistent philosophical view of life and the world, and its system of thought too hehe...

ok not the 'heaven is so real' variety but the christianity as exemplified in Kuyper's Stone Lectures.

Chee Soo Kiat said...

Vincent is missing a crucial point. Whether you believe morality is absolute or relative, there is certainly a plurality of moral opinions, and you have to ask on what basis the state can choose between them. On matters of public morality, such as theft, criminal damage, violent crime, clearly a central authority is necessary. But on what basis is the state entitled or even qualified to be a moral arbiter on matters of private morality? And if it is, whose sets of morals must it adopt? Must it always take the majority view? And how does it determine that? What if that results in the effective persecution of a minority culture or religion? If the majority supports a party that aims to exterminate 6 million Jews for the private matter of their faith, must we accept that as a legitimate expression of popular morality? Clearly not. The only way to ensure against such abhorrent outcomes is for the state to remain neutral between the private morality of its citizens. That way Vincent can keep the articles of his faith and refrain from homosexuality, while I can be true to my beliefs that gay sex is a simple physical act that is a natural joyous expression of my affection for my partner. Incidentally, I happen to believe that the Abrahamic religions are morally pernicious, (as well as utter nonsense), but I would not expect nor want the state to interfere in your right to believe them.