Alan blogs at Downshore Drift and is a pastor in Alabama. This was originally published at his site on April 26.
Yesterday (4/25/2013), I saw an article on Slate by Erica Friedman, who writes about lesbian themed Japanese animation and comics for Okazu. Erica was answering a question from a reader asking why people who were against gay marriage were considered homophobic and irrational. Here is Erica’s response:
“Rationality is one of those things that is always relative. You can be anti-marriage equality and quite lovely otherwise, but unless you can come up with a non-religious, backed-up-by-facts reason why my wife and I should not be allowed to get the legal benefits assigned without question to drug addicts, child abusers, grifters, murderers, and politicians who happen to be in heterosexual relationships, you have no “rational” basis for your position. This is the crux of the matter. You are welcome to be against marriage equality, but chances are you have one of several reasons for your feelings and none of them are actually rational. The definition of marriage has changed many times over the years. It’s not rational to believe it has not. In my lifetime it has changed, when interracial marriages were made legal federally. So there is no rationality in insisting that the definition has not changed for hundreds (much less thousands) of years. It’s irrational to rely on the Bible as a guide, since men had multiple wives and slept with slaves in the pages of those books.”
I appreciate answers like this because we can all get our ideas out on the table and discuss them freely. I appreciate that Erica says that a person can be against gay marriage and be “quite lovely otherwise.” Many just call those against the proposal “hate-filled hypocrites.” So, she establishes a good starting point of a semblance of mutual respect in the conversation. I am happy to extend the same to her.
Erica’s error, I think, is in assuming that all arguments based in religion are ultimately irrational. I have been thinking about this for a while now and I don’t see any basis for that assumption. I mean, sure, if you assume that God doesn’t exist so anyone who claims that He does exist is de facto irrational, then yes, an argument based in religion is necessarily irrational. But, then you need to provethat God doesn’t exist or your own presuppositions are admittedly NOT based in rationality, but in your opinion, which is largely a faith-claim of your own. One could just as easily say that all claims that God doesn’t exist are irrational and that every belief that arises out of a disregard for the existence of God is a belief rooted in irrationality. But, then you would have to prove that God DOES exist to make that claim. Science can neither prove nor disprove God’s existence, so how about if BOTH sides stop calling the other side irrational and listen to what our arguments actually are? We might learn something and get down to the core of what we are really discussing here.
The argument FOR Gay Marriage is strongest when one takes a secular view of marriage as sanctioned by the state and defines it as a contract entered into by two people who express love and commitment to one another. By that definition, Gay Marriage is entirely legitimate and there is really no basis to oppose it. Allowing gay people to marry does not actually change the definition of marriage because they meet the requirements of being:
1. Two people
2. Who express love and commitment to one another
3. Who choose to enter into a contractual relationship
Under that definition of marriage that has been accepted for some time in America, there is no real reason other than irrational homophobia why Gay people should not marry. The definition has already been established and Gay people are finding their way into it. But, who decided that this definition that has been slipped into the discussion is ACTUALLY what marriage is? And, on what basis was it decided? This definition surely did not come from science, tradition, or human custom. It just kind of appeared because people started saying it. What was “rational” about defining marriage this way? Unfortunately, Christians didn’t really notice and bought into this redefinition as well a long time ago. The Gay Marriage debate was decided long ago on this point. Everything since then has simply been a foregone conclusion.
The definition of marriage that was previously accepted in the West prior to this WAS rooted in a Biblical worldview and understanding, however, in that it recognized that marriage was not just between any two people but was between a man and a woman because that is how God created the world and the social order. Feelings of love did not give marriage legitimacy – God’s design for humanity and covenantal love between a man and a woman gave it legitimacy. The primary reason for marriage was not for procreation (people are legitimately married even if they never have children) but to bear and reflect the image of God and to reflect the relationship between God and His people – Christ and the Church. Marriage existed as a means of reflecting covenantal, sacrificial love and became the foundation for families to live and to experience care and security in a difficult world. Children were raised in this environment and property and wealth was accrued and passed on. Marriage and family reflected an understanding of the created cosmic and social order that was rooted in a view of God and His will and intentions and His design. This was true across religions to an extent, by the way, because people are made in God’s image and bear His imprint, although the further you get from a Christian/Gospel perspective outlined in Ephesians 5:21-33 the more that marriage loses its cosmic meaning and becomes something else entirely – often something abusive.
Ultimately, the Christian is not arguing AGAINST Gay Marriage as much as we are arguing FOR a Biblical view of marriage rooted in God’s created order and the Gospel. We believe that the word “marriage” actually has a definition rooted in a Theistic worldview and that it reflects how God designed things. Our social institutions, like marriage, reflect our understanding of how things “work.” When we start with God and understand how He created the world, then Biblical marriage fits in that system in a very RATIONAL way. When we remove God or redefine him completely, we are then free to redefine marriage and everything else according to the new reality that we have created – and it all “seems” quite rational to us and the religious way seems irrational. But, we are talking about working from certain presuppositions here and one is not more “rational” than the other when you get down to it, at least in an objective sense.
There are good, rational reasons to say that Gay Marriage is not how we were designed and is not part of how we are to live and function in society. But, these arguments are rooted in an understanding of God and His revelation and how He created the world and humanity. And, it is completely valid and rational to say so. You cannot just eliminate the religious argument from the discussion and make an independently valid and verifiable point just like it would be unfair for me to eliminate the secular, ultimately atheistic argument with a sweeping rhetorical move.
In a free society like we are supposed to be living in, we are free to actually put forward different ideas and perspectives and discuss them and advocate for them. I actually have no problem with Erica Friedman and others advocating for their viewpoint. She is free to do so. But, just because some do not believe in God (I have no idea what Erica believes on that matter) or does not root their perspective in a Biblical framework does not mean that He does not exist just like the presence of belief does not mean that He does exist. In a representative Democracy, as America is, it is completely valid for people to vote and make decisions according to their beliefs and convictions – it is quite rational, actually.
What isn’t rational is to claim that one view is objective and therefore valid while the other view is not and therefore anyone who holds to a view that does not mesh with the Gay Marriage proposition is somehow irrational or homophobic. If people choose to live in an America that is not influenced at all by religious ethics or worldview, that is a choice that people can make. We have the governmental apparatus to make that choice. But, let’s just be honest about what we are doing and choosing. It is not about “rationality” or “irrationality.” What we are choosing is whether human beings can redefine reality however we best see fit in the moment based on the categories that we devise to suit our desires (essentially based on nothing more than emotional impulse), or whether there is a transcendent reality beyond us that is rooted in God and the created order. THAT is the discussion we are having and it has been going on for hundreds of years now.
And, it is a very rational discussion, despite what Slate tells us.