Monday, July 30, 2012

An Open Letter to James White

Dr. White,

When I was a believer, I considered you one of my most important role models. Back then, I wanted to pursue apologetics and spend my life defending the faith. Now, as an unbeliever, I still have the highest level of respect for you as an intellectual and as a very articulate defender of your beliefs.

I am writing you now because I am having trouble understanding your current mindset regarding the issue of gay marriage, and I hope that you can enlighten me. First of all, I want to commend you on recognizing the blatant hypocrisy that people on "my side" (I am a supporter of gay marriage, as I am sure you have guessed) of the argument consistently portray. It is the very definition of intolerance to attempt to prevent a company from establishing a place of business in a city because of beliefs that they defend. I could not agree with you more on this. Likewise, the amount of verbal abuse that is directed against those who express any disagreement whatsoever with gay marriage is appalling to me. Hate speech, as far as I can see it, is much more common on my side of the fence, at least in the public sphere. It is very disturbing to see people, no matter who they are or whose side they are on, attempt to coerce, intimidate, or otherwise require others to accept their point of view as dogma.

You will undoubtedly agree here. I have heard you in debates over the years continually join with your opponents in condemning the Crusades, or the Salem Witch trials, or whatever example your opponent might bring up of evils done in the name of Christianity. I have even heard you defend the rights of Muslims to display billboards with borderline violent images on them. I agree with you on this too. My point is, you recognize that people have the right to choose to follow the truth. They are not to be forced to do it.

The problem I am having, Dr. White, is with your insistence that gay marriage is somehow an exception. Why is it that, in this one case, you insist that the government enforce the Christian perspective? Why will you not allow people the right to make these choices for themselves? You say you are a defender of traditional marriage. Is it your opinion that heterosexual marriage is somehow made invalid by the addition of homosexual marriage? I suppose you would consider the term "homosexual marriage" to be an oxymoron.

The way I see it, this is either a matter of specific benefits, or it is a matter of vocabulary. What I mean is this: Is your problem that you do not think homosexuals should receive the same legal benefits that married couples receive? That seems like a very strange position to take, from a Christian perspective. I'm not quite sure what would motivate you to take that position. My hunch is that this is, for you, a matter of vocabulary. You do not mind civil unions that are, for all practical purposes, marriages, just so long as they are not called marriages.

If this is the case, I can totally understand your perspective. From a Christian point of view, they are not marriages. I have no problem granting you that (though there are plenty on "my side" who would call you a bigot even for that. I would disagree with them). It would be sort of like a heretical cult that denies the deity of Christ calling themselves "Christian." You would reject that, and rightfully so. But you would presumably not want legal action taken to force them not to use that name. I mean, you wouldn't, would you? Why is it that, in this one case, you support such action?

Maybe you feel that those on my side won't be satisfied with simply being allowed access to marriage from a legal perspective, but would demand that all religious people affirm their marriage as legitimate. Perhaps you feel that this would be intolerant on their part. Again, I would agree with you. They have no right to demand that you affirm their lifestyle.  Your worldview does not allow you to do that. But this is my whole point. Neither side has any right to DEMAND anything! They cannot legally force you to accept their marriage as valid, but neither do you have the right to force them to accept your limits on marriage. Your limits are a product of your worldview. Your insistence that marriage remain traditionally defined is a product of your worldview. I don't understand why you cannot seem to grasp this. It does not matter what you think about what beliefs our founding fathers held, or how many people in this country agree with you. What matters, when it comes to recognized legal rights, is that people have the freedom to make these decisions for themselves, rather than having it made for them on religious grounds.

You have every right to preach against homosexuality. You have every right to deny that these marriages are valid in God's eyes. Indeed, as a Christian, you are obligated to do so. But were it to come down to a vote, you would not be able to justify a vote against the legal rights of homosexuals to be married. Even when I was a Christian, I supported gay marriage, though I believed homosexuality to be a sin. I just couldn't get past this one issue. Is it my place to enforce my definition of marriage, even if it IS the "traditional" one, on anybody else?

Where am I missing the ball, Dr. White? I assume you have a logically cogent reason for your position, but I simply cannot see it. I consider myself to be inclusive and tolerant. Why? Because I support the rights of Christians to believe whatever they want to believe, and to tell those beliefs to whomever they want to tell them to. You have the right to your opinion on gay marriage, and those who want to silence people like you are being intolerant. I'll say it a hundred times. I'll come on the Dividing Line and say it. I am a skeptic, a supporter of gay marriage, and I am appalled at those on my side who want to force others to agree with them.

But the fact of the matter is, if you take legal action to prevent homosexuals from getting married, you are just as bad as they are. You are saying to the world, "My worldview says that your marriage is invalid, and I'm going to use my vote to make sure that my worldview is the only option for anyone to follow." Don't you see the problem here, Dr. White? It seems to me that you, by constantly pointing out the hypocrisy of the Left in this, are hiding your own intolerance. The pot calling the kettle black does not make the kettle white.


  1. I appreciated the consideration you gave in this post to Dr. White. I hope you're answered in kind. It is a good dialogue.

  2. Thank you. I think I will be. Dr. White has always been gracious to anyone who attempted respectful dialogue with him, at least in the debates I have heard.

  3. Hey Jay, thank you for clearly and concisely laying out the issues, and also, for the respect and humility shown here.

    I think July 31's Dividing Line is responding to this open letter, but I have not listened to it yet.

    I have a feeling that Dr. White will answer your question with something along the lines of morality. The Christian worldview believes that morality is objective and absolute. As you yourself admitted, when you were a believer, you believed homosexuality was a sin, aka, disobedience to God and absolutely morally wrong.

    So when you ask "How can one take legal action to prevent homosexual marriage", all you have to do is replace "homosexual marriage" with any other sin, and you have your answer.

    For example "How can you take legal action to prevent murder?" or "How can you take legal action to prevent bank robberies?" or "..rape?". It doesn't matter what sin you plug in to the question.

    Anyways you said:

    "You are saying to the world, "My worldview says that your marriage is invalid, and I'm going to use my vote to make sure that my worldview is the only option for anyone to follow."

    But don't people of all worldviews do this? For example, even atheists surely believe that some things today are just wrong. Don't they use their votes to make sure whatever they consider is "wrong" is not an option for other people? If a presidential candidate was campaigning to legalize, say, rape, wouldn't atheists, Christians, and everyone in between vote to make sure that he didn't win? In doing so they are forcing their worldview onto everyone else, making sure that rape is not a legal option for the few that would want it to be so.

    So the bottom line is that this is an issue of morality. Gay marriage by necessity recognizes homosexuality as no longer being wrong/immoral, and that is the problem that Christians have with it. So in voting against gay marriage, Christians are simply doing what even atheists do (or would do) if they voted against rape or murder or bank robbery being legalized.

    The only possible way confusion can arise here, on the part of the person confused by the way Christians respond to gay marriage, is if it is presupposed that this is not an issue of morality.

    And I understand that such a presupposition makes sense in an atheistic worldview. I think non-Christians should recognize Christian presuppositions, just as Christians recognize non-Christian presuppositions.

    If the non-Christian would recognize that Christians view this as an issue of morality, they wouldn't need to ask "How can you vote in favor of suppressing homosexuality?", because this is basically the same thing as asking "How can you vote in favor of suppressing __insert any other sin or crime here__?"

    Anyways, thanks again for the blog post, and I hope I came across as gracious and respectful as you

  4. Thanks, Skala. Dr. White was respectful to me, and I appreciate him taking the time to address my question. I'll probably post a response of some sort later this evening or tomorrow. I don't have much to say about his reply, but I feel it would be appropriate to say something at least.

    All I can really say in response to you is that, for me, it's more about what I consider to be the role of government. I actually disagree that my vote should be used to enforce morality as I see it. I think it would be arrogance on my part to demand that others follow my definition of right and wrong. I hardly have all the answers. To me, the primary purpose of our legal system is to protect people from other people, in whatever form that takes. Maybe this sounds politically naive on my part, and it may very well be. I'm not an expert on politics, by any stretch of the imagination.

    You are probably thinking that I have already contradicted myself, because to say that people should be protected from each other is to impose my morality. It is only insofar as my own beliefs about morality agree with that principle. This is not about objective morality, but about our survival in the first place. Even if we were amoral, we would still want to be safe and have the freedom to live our lives without having to worry about other people killing, stealing from, or raping us.

    Imagine, if you will, a species of animal with the reasoning capabilities of homo-sapiens, but with no sense of morality. Let's leave behind the idea of natural selection, and the development of moral intuition over time, and all that. Let's just assume that God dropped them onto the planet. Don't you think that they would come up with some kind of system of laws that limit how they treat one another, if only to survive in a world where survival meant group solidarity? Its either that or wipe each other out in a very short amount of time. I'm not suggesting that human beings are in a state similar to this. I'm merely suggesting that morality, as you understand it, is not exactly what I am talking about when I talk about what the government should and should not enforce.

    So you are right, in a sense. If I were to fill in that blank with anything that did not follow that principle, it would be inappropriate. For example, I think it is not a good idea to abuse alcohol. It can destroy your life if you aren't careful, and can also destroy families. But, I would never vote to make alcohol illegal, or even to enforce a limit on it. It simply is not mine or the government's place to impose these kinds of restrictions on people.

    This is why I do not support abortion. If abortion were illegal, it would make life much more difficult for a lot of people. We would have a lot more teen mothers with children they cannot care for. People would be less able to live their lives however they please, because they would have unplanned children to deal with. But, I still do not think it should be legal. In my opinion, allowing the murder of unborn citizens is to do the farthest things from protecting people from one another.

  5. (Continued from above...)

    So I actually do not think that this is an issue of morality. Or rather, it shouldn't be. You say that it is, for Christians, and undoubtedly many would agree with you. I did not get that impression from Dr. White. At least, that wasn't his argument. He believes that allowing a redefinition of marriage that includes homosexuality will in fact contribute greatly to the destruction of society. I think this is a dangerous line of reasoning, but I'll talk more about that in my response.

    I hope I don't come across as too naive. I have actually only been an apostate for about two years, and I still have a lot to figure out. A world without all the answers spelled out for me really is a challenge to trek through, and the climate is downright hostile at times. I am open to challenges to my theories of government (and on anything else), as they will undoubtedly help me in fully formulating my own worldview.

  6. I have posted my response to Dr. White. It is the latest blog entry, right above this one.

  7. You may want to look at this piece of moral and legal reasoning in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy:

    It comes more from a natural law perspective but it has some interesting argumentation.

  8. That is interesting. Thank you for sharing.

  9. I have semi-closely followed the gay marriage debate, and I wanted to say that your words and the manner you speak them in is very appreciated. On both sides of the aisle, rhetoric, straw men, spinning, and sound bite-ism muddy the waters and do nothing to contribute to the discussion. I would argue that they are not intended to clarify, only to inflame and impassion, but I digress.

    I know you didn't ask me specifically, but I've been told my position is a new one to most people, so i thought I'd share it.

    First off, the debate is not about legalizing gay marriage. Gay marriage is perfectly legal in all 50 states, and is commonly practiced. What is being argued is state and federal recognition of homosexual marriages, which is something entirely different. There are many emotional arguments for homosexual marriage, and most of them have nothing to do with the discussion at hand. You can live with, sleep with, proclaim love for, share finances with, inherit to, designate as medical liason, give attorney privledges to, and share your life with any person you desire. The state officially recognizing your relationship makes not one whit of difference.

    There are a few legal issues that are important, and most of those have to do with children and custody in case of separation. Since homosexual couples cannot have children by natural means, then this is an issue of adoption, not marriage.

    There is also the issue of tax breaks for married couples. These were put in place to a) encourage more children, which provides the basis of the next generation and b) recognize the greater financial burden placed on families. I would assume that you support greater taxes for those who can afford them, correct? Then you must also support less taxes for those who cannot afford them, correct? A married couple with children has a great financial burden they must care for. A tax break provides them greater ability to meet that burden. A homosexual couple with no children has no such extra burden, thus does not need the assistance. Some states allow homosexual couples to adopt, thereby granting them the extra financial burden, but that is a choice they make. It can't happen unexpectedly or on accident. It must be planned for and it takes a lot of money to do. It would be expected that people going through this process would have their finances already figured out and allowances made for the extra expenses.

    Just my two cents. I hope I came across as well as you did.

  10. Well said, N. I., and I appreciate your input. I think you have a pretty well balanced perspective on the whole thing, and I probably agree with you on more than you'd expect. I actually don't have a problem with tax breaks being given to heterosexual married couples that are not given to homosexual couples, for the reasons you mentioned. Given that these benefits were put in place for a specific purpose, it would be silly to extend them beyond that purpose just for the sake of what you rightly call "emotional" reasons.

    As for whether or not such benefits are or should be given to parents of adopted children, I honestly am not knowledgeable enough on the topic to comment on it. I don't have a clue how what kind of tax breaks are provided to parents who adopt rather than have children of their own, but I would of course argue that whatever breaks are given should be given to homosexual parents of adopted children as well. But this is all tentative, as I really don't have the necessary background knowledge to take a hard stand on it.

    That being said, I do still take a position that I suspect you would disagree with. I do argue for federally recognized homosexual marriages, and I am even arguing for a redefinition of marriage in a sense. Whether there are differences between homosexual and heterosexual marriages when it comes to things like specific benefits is not really relevant to the question of if homosexual marriage should or should not exist in any form. My whole problem is that I cannot see any logical reason, other than religious conviction, not to allow these marriages to exist.

    I have been married for six years, and I am still very happy in my marriage. But I am an unbeliever, so obviously I have what Christian's would consider to be a relatively low view of marriage itself. I do not think it is a sacred bond, a joining of two people into one flesh, etc. I do not think it is something that one is necessarily morally obligated to enter into in order to engage in sexual activity, nor do I think it is a commitment that one is bound to hold to come hell or high water.

    Given that this is my view of marriage, one might wonder what is left of it once you remove God and all the juicy tax breaks. Is there any reason to get married at all without all that? That's a relevant question, and a lot of people feel there isn't. But, many many more people disagree. There are plenty who think exactly like I do, that marriage is still special. It's the way I tell the world that I love my wife enough to make a commitment to her, and it's my way of saying to her that she is above all others to me and that I'll do whatever it takes to be there for her forever. It may very well be totally subjective, but for most people, that's not a problem.

    My whole point is, why not let others experience this, especially when there is nothing to lose? I know Dr. White thinks gay marriage will destroy traditional marriage. But as I argued in my response, I think it is very clear that this is based on a theological conclusion that is assumed before any honest examination of the issue is attempted. Other than this claim by him, I have yet to hear any reason given for taking such strong opposition to homosexual marriage, no matter what one's personal beliefs about it might be. I just don't see how one can justify making these decisions for others.