Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Response to James White

Dr. James White was kind enough to respond to my Open Letter (see previous blog post) on the July 31st episode of his Internet radio show/Podcast "The Dividing Line." I'll place a link to the program at the end of this post. I want to first of all express my gratitude to Dr. White for doing this. He is certainly a busy man, and if you listen to this program you will get a taste of just how busy he really is. It is certainly a point in his favor that he was willing to do this. The response I am writing now is not directed at Dr. White in the same way. I am not asking for another response from him (though I will not object to one). I simply feel that it is appropriate to share my thoughts on what he said.

Dr. White did exactly what I requested of him. I asked him a specific question, and he gave me a fairly specific answer. My original concern was with the issue of gay marriage as a legal right, and why he saw fit to oppose it by force rather than just hold to his opinions and let others do the same. I wanted to know why he would personally vote against it. I was not, in my original question, concerned with his thoughts on how sinful homosexuality itself is, as that is fairly obvious given his religious convictions. I wanted to know why he thought it was the government's responsibility to enforce his convictions in this case, as I did not think he was being consistent. Why should gay marriage be singled out as something that should be illegal, given that there are so many other disagreements between Christians and non-Christians that never see one side demanding government intervention?

This was apparently based on a misunderstanding on my part, if not a twofold misunderstanding. I say twofold because, though I am not completely sure of this, I believe Dr. White would actually support a much more strenuous overhaul to the concept of marriage in our legal system. This would mean that I was operating under a misunderstanding when I said that gay marriage was somehow singled out by him. Dr. White made his position very clear when he said that homosexual couples should not receive the same benefits as heterosexual married couples because they do not contribute to a stable family structure that produces and raises children. According to Dr. White, the primary (if not only) reason the government should give any benefits to married couples at all is to promote the production of citizens and their care. Basically the idea is to protect and promote the family unit.

Presumably, then, Dr. White would support a denial of the rights of marriage to any couple of any gender who resolutely decided not to have any children. Judging by his statements in the show, he would consider this "personal hedonism," a lifestyle of selfishness.

Well, fair enough. I should have considered this before I jumped to conclusions. I actually am willing to let this go, as it is at least consistent with his presuppositions. There is one problem I have though. For the sake of argument, let's leave aside Dr. White's other objections to gay marriage for the time being. I wonder what his argument would be against heterosexual couples who wanted to adopt children rather than have any of their own, either because they couldn't or because they simply chose not to. Like it or not, orphans will always be around, for one reason or another. If Dr. White thinks that these heterosexual couples should be allowed to marry and adopt, why would he argue against a homosexual couple who had exactly the same intention? Again, I understand that he probably has a million other objections to this, but I want to know what the argument would be based on his beliefs, stated on the show, about why the government gives these benefits in the first place. 

I also wonder what Dr. White would say about benefits to homosexual couples that aren't based on the infamous "tax-payer dollars." Does Dr. White oppose the rights of homosexuals to be present in hospital rooms with their partners while they are dying? What about things like next-of-kin rights, or the right to claim an inheritance, or custodial rights of various kinds? What about the ability to make decisions in case of a medical emergency? Are these to be denied them as well, or only the ones he resents paying for?

The reason I am harping on this issue so much is that it is one of the few things he said that is relevant outside of the Christian worldview. Much of what he said was simply a reaffirmation of the Christian position on homosexuality, or on the world in general (I found the line "to be the land of the free and home of the brave requires morality and ethics that came from the Judeo-Christian worldview" to be especially entertaining). This was not unexpected, especially given the audience he was speaking to. I should not expect a presentation on the Dividing Line to be like one given during a debate. One is for an audience who already shares his worldview, and the other is not. Quite frankly, I think it's a little refreshing to see someone who is so strong and unapologetic in his convictions.

My other major misunderstanding was assuming that Dr. White considers gay marriage to be bad for the world only because God does not condone it. This is apparently not the case. He believes, rather, that there are observable, traceable negative consequences of the redefinition of marriage. He believes that once we allow homosexuals to marry, we will be well on our way to a collapse of society. I don't think that he believes, as some Christians do, that gay marriage will destroy the entire nation all by itself, but rather he considers it a link in a larger chain of sin and corruption that will, together, bring this nation crashing to the ground.

He seems to think that it all starts with the destruction of traditional marriage. All I can really say in response to this is that I find very little actual objectivity here. Isn't it true that everything Dr. White said about what happens when gay marriage is made legal in a nation are things that are already happening in this country, and have been for quite some time? We are already seeing people take marriage less seriously. It has already lost its place, in the minds of most, as a lifelong contract. Does Dr. White really expect us to believe that gay marriage can and will be the straw that breaks the camel's back? I understand that he thinks that this redefinition of marriage does not help to move things in the right direction (meaning a direction that is consistent with the Christian view of marriage), but I do not see how it is big and bad enough to warrant the kind of legal resistance he is proposing. Should we legally redefine marriage as a bond between one man and one woman for life, therefore making divorce a breach of contract and therefore an offense punishable by law? The point is, you need to be pretty damn sure that gay marriage is going to cause the enormous problems you think it is going to cause if you want to justify making it illegal.

This is why I doubt that we have any real objectivity going on here. What I am about to say may be off track a little, and it may seem like total speculation, but remember that I used to be a believer, and one who made a lot of the same claims that Dr. White makes. At the very least, I know how I used to think. You see, it does not really matter what the cause and effect relationship is between gay marriage and the collapse of society. There will always be Christians who claim that such a relationship exists. In fact, it does not matter how or why a nation falls. There will always be some Christians who will say it is because that nation turned away from God. It is really no different than the man who claims that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for the licentiousness behavior on display at Mardi Gras. There is no falsifiability possible here.

Dr. White has openly said on multiple occasions that all of human history reveals the plan of God, and even that entire nations have been risen up to be made examples of, either as receivers of God's grace or as receivers of his justice. Don't you see what's going on here? If you are a Christian, I beg you to hear me out on this and at least give it some thought. There is absolutely no way to verify or falsify this. Dr. White can look at absolutely anything that has happened in human history and see God's hand in it. Could you give me one single example of a case where he could not? Give me one example, factual or hypothetical, of an historic event that could not be made, in some form or another, to illustrate the hand of God. If you give this enough thought, you will begin to see the problem.

Think about it:

"All nations who reject Judeo-Christian ethics will collapse."
"Well, what about those that haven't?"
"Well, they will, they just have inertia."
"Okay, so Japan must have a whole heck of a lot of inertia, then."
"Well, yeah, but they've had all these other problems, which are caused by the fact that they don't follow God."
"Well what about the fact that secular societies have lower crime rates?"
"Well, maybe they do, but they have more hedonistic sin, so the evil is balanced out, plus ours is bad only because God is chastising us because we are supposed to be his nation and therefore he is pulling the plug on common grace, plus the inertia of those other nations will burn out eventually...."

....and on and on and on. I'm not suggesting that Dr. White himself would use all of these arguments, but I can assure you he will think of something in every single case.

He gives himself away when he brings up the health issues surrounding homosexuality. This is an argument I would never, ever have used when I was a believer. It's just too dangerous to go around claiming that the prevalence of disease is an indicator of moral wrongness. That's a slippery slope I don't want to go down. But, it does make my point about objectivity. Dr. White does not feel obligated to be consistent on this point. What if I were to challenge him by pointing out that breast cancer is more common among black women than it is among Asian women? Do you honestly think he would bat an eye at that consideration? Of course not. All he would have to say is that, in the case of those women, we are simply seeing the impact of original sin on our bodies in one way or another. But when it comes to homosexuality, it's clearly the direct result of a sinful lifestyle. Again, it's unfalsifiable.

So, I do understand where Dr. White is coming from when he expresses his fear that gay marriage is one more pound of dirt on the grave of civilization as we know it. According to the Christian worldview, anything that is condemned in the Bible but condoned by a nation will be just that. And honestly, there is not really much I can say about it, since there is no data that he would accept as evidence to the contrary. If gay marriage becomes legal and problems arise, he will say "I told you so," no matter what the nature of those problems might be. If no problems arise and things are just business as usual, he will simply sit back and say "just you wait. It's coming."

There is no way to reason with someone like this, and I for one am concerned about it. This kind of thinking is dangerous because it prevents one from honestly looking at the issues. It's an almost childish lack of seriousness that is being portrayed here. Yes, we do have to take a look at what we are going to allow to be placed under the banner of "marriage." Yes we do have to find some way to deal with unplanned pregnancies and the financial burdens placed on single mothers. These are tough issue that require tough consideration. The Judeo-Christian worldview has simple answers for everything. Everything is either in harmony with God's character or it isn't. From a secular perspective, these things take deliberation and discussion and reasoning and attempts to find consensus. Christians may criticize us because our answers aren't as readily available as theirs are, but in all honesty, is that really a mark in their favor? I don't think so.

This is all I really have to say in response. Like I said, much of what Dr. White had to say was simply a reaffirmation of the Christian position on the issue, so I don't have a lot to say about it. But I do appreciate him taking the time to answer my questions. Rest assured that "The Dividing Line" has at least one (though presumably many more) devoted fan who is not a believer.

I do have some things to say about Dr. White's comments regarding apologetics and the dangers of getting into it without a proper spiritual foundation. Quite a lot, actually. But, I want to save that for another post I'm working on that deals more specifically with presuppositionalism. Be on the lookout for that in the coming days.

The Program -

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