Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Jars of Clay thing: logic, gender, sex and culture

Reductio ad absurdum is a useful tool for testing the truth (correspondence to reality) of a premise by seeing if it's true in all cases. However it's also just that, a tool. Logically an argument can be valid (arguments should be valid, premises true and terms clear) if the claim is that 'gender and sexuality should be ordered a certain way.' Firstly, there is no contradiction if an exception is found, for example gay dolphins or consenting adults; because the original argument is contingent, gender and sexuality should be ordered a certain way. But secondly it's a fallacy to say 'gender and sexuality are whatever we want them to be because of those examples', that's making a inductive claim about the whole world based on a limited set of exceptions, an argument from selective observation.

At the moment it's very controversial to link a discussion of gender to the male and female sex organs. This isn't say that the expression of gender is cultural; with lots of regional variation but nonetheless the categories exist and Scripture wants us to affirm the cultural expression of distinct genders. In other words the Christian claim is that God made genetic gender differences and the cultural differences which flow from those genetic distinctions. Regional cultural variations, ambiguous gender at birth and variations in your internal sense of gender are not in of themselves logical arguments against affirming gender distinctions.

Sexual activity, like all of ordinary life has an existential effect on our psyche but like other ordinary activities (such as eating or travelling) shouldn't be the source of our identity. The essence of being human isn't our rationality, appetites, appearance or our sexuality. There are a range of sexual activities, desires and situations that we have access to; that's why those Old Testament laws focus on sex acts and not on sexuality. This is also why "same-sex attraction" is a more accurate term than "homosexuality", which seems to mean a certain set of cross-gender behaviours.

So the front man of Jars of Clay has come out in support of same-sex marriage, you can read out it here. My knowledge of the Christian music genre is limited, but for me they represented the archetypal Christian-band. After the Enlightenment, it seemed the world was divided between the real rational stuff and the esoteric irrational stuff, with the history of philosophy since then defending the primacy of one or the other. The variety of relationships between Gospel and Culture are often an echo of this philosophical history. Jars of Clay represented the impulse to Christianise certain aspects of the real rational world, 'see Christ does speak to the real world, this is a Christian pop-band.' I think this Jars of Clay thing signals the end of that particular approach to Christ and Culture. 


andrew westerman said...

In English, as in many languages, we have a variety of modalities for presumption (eg. apparently), usuality (eg. often), certainty (eg. might), degree (eg. quite), obligation (eg. should), intensity (eg. simply) and inclination (eg. gladly). They are so critical in establishing the relationships and meaning.

The use of "should" must have context and subjects in order to be meaningful. Removing the subjects and avoiding the context implies that the statement has universal acceptance or validity.

For example, we could say, "our society should accept gay marriage, since it provides full rights to gay people" which both establishes a context and provides subjects for the statement.

On the other hand, "gay marriage should not be accepted" admits no context nor subjects. The implication is, then, that this statement needs neither - that it establishes it validity outside the sphere of normal human experience, but expects to be applied within normal human experience. This is essentially dissonance (or nonsense).

"God created the earth." has a high modality of certainty. The implication is that this is known without question. Since it has never been known in this way, either by religious or not, this statement has no validity.

On the other hand, "God might have created the earth." has a modality which is rational, since it addresses what people do and can know. The argument then becomes what is meant by the term "God".

Luke Isham said...

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for the comment.

"Our society should accept gay marriage, since it provides full rights to gay people."

That argument needs some more context because two of the terms are unclear. In other-words I'd want to know what you mean by the terms "society should" and "gay."

Mike Westerman said...

Luke - I don't think using the tactics of our odious political class, that is, deflection, helps in serious argument. To quibble about what "our society" (which is the term that drops out of a normal reading) is self explanatory unless you wish to embark on useless sophistry in relation to every word. "Should" has been defined in Roo's response, and likewise "gay" by implication, meaning those seeking societal recognition as homosexuals, whether of mind or body or both is up to them. I would have thought a more direct response to the proposition you have singled out would have been to address why or why you do not accept the proposition.

Jon Eastgate said...

This is an interesting sideways way to slip into this debate Luke, very intriguing! There are two questions here for Christians which I think should be kept separate - both are live debates in the church. The first is whether gay marriage should be accepted within the Christian community. Is it OK for a Christian to be married to a person of the same sex, or indeed to be in a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex or even to have sex with someone of the same sex? (OK, three questions then). The other is, should Christians support, oppose or remain neutral on the issue of whether gay marriage should be recognised in the law of the country they live in (in our case Australia). Dan Heseltine's twitter conversation is ambiguous as to which set of questions he's responding to. Does he think gay marriage is OK for Christians? or does he think the loving thing for Christians to do towards gay people who are not Christians is to support their aspiration to have their marriages legalised? I'm interested in your viewpoint - I'm not in any doubt that you believe it is wrong for Christians but what is your attitude to how Christians should interact with secular society on this issue?

Luke Isham said...

Hi Mike,

An internet discussion can be a bit like a fight in a monkey cage, lots of dung flinging, movement and noise but not much gained. ;-)

It's Roo's sentence but I'm happy to interact with your interpretation. You've dodged the bullet on society should; I'd be curious to hear if you're thinking of a benign indifference or a legally enforced re-education. No clarity either on "gay" are you saying 'it's the whatever you want it to be approach'? That seems to be culturally where the broader debate is heading.

Luke Isham said...

Hi Jon,

(From that Twitter thread I don't that Dan Heseltine knew either!)

With the breakdown of gender categories we're finally allowed to talk about sexual activity separately from gender. (A silver lining to post-modernism!?) Not that sex is disconnected from being human but that there isn't a direct line between sexual activity/attraction and gender-specific behaviour. Culturally I sense there is the grudging philosophical concession that a single activity, appetite or cultural activity does not define who someone is.

I think it's clumsey of the church to start by publicly saying "we're against gay marriage". Not only is it hurtful to Christians with same sex attraction but who don't want to be labeled gay or who don't want to adopt cross-gender behaviour but it also misses the biblical injunctions against certain types of sexual activity and the biblical commands to maintain certain categories of gender.

Instead, a better approach for the church is to lay the correct philosophical basis for gender and it's cultural expression. We also shouldn't be spooked by the recent discussions about gender because Scripture has always been clear about the boundaries of sexual activity. Responding to same sex attraction is more of a personal pastoral issue then a publical cultral fight. Publicly, we need a compromise for us all to cooperate temporarily in the speaker's corner. However we also have to publically figure out what's best for human flourishing. Here the benefits of post-modernism petter out and the hard decisions of gender segregated toilets, school curriculums and marriage celebrants require both clear definitions and broader vision of what's best for everyone. But I don't know what the future holds.

Mike Westerman said...

Luke I don't think it's much of a bullet: should implies an obligation, so that's more than benign indifference, but it doesn't necessarily run to enforced re-education (we leave that to the Churches). Society has many ways of imposing sanctions on those who fail to meet societal norms.

Re "gay", again your attempt at verballing or pushing me into binaries fails. A person is gay if they declare that to be their orientation, whether privately eg to a partner or publicly by introducing themselves as same, and either by word or deed - it makes little difference which.

IMO society flourishes when people are secure. But security comes at a cost - it is best to focus the cost side on issues that really do cause harm, and avoid issues that merely disrupt conformity.

Luke Isham said...

HI Mike,

That's a good point "society should", includes a range of enforcement.

Not sure how I'm "pushing you into binaries" I thought I asked you an open-ended question about what you meant by 'gay'? Besides binary implies more then one option, so what was the other option I was supposedly forcing you into?!

However it seems you've adopted a more subjective definition of 'gay': "A person is gay if they declare that to be their orientation". Ultimately I don't think it's good for human flourishing for gender and marriage to be whatever we want it to be, so making legally enforced marriage a fluid thing doesn't seem good at all. However if you (and maybe uncle Andrew) mean a benign indifference to people's private domestic arrangements then I can live with that.

Mike Westerman said...

"Benign indifference" v "legally enforced re-education" or lack of an exhaustive definition v "whatever you want it to be" are binaries that deny room for the sort of definitions that society usually is comfortable with - not neat like outliers! IMO to be gay is part of personality that is, intrinsically subjective, arising from one's sense of who one is. That's not to say they have no objective form or source, like many other traits of personality. On the other hand marriage is an objective state based on arbitrary decisions of society.

Marion. said...

Thanks Luke. Excellent.