Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Homosexuality and the Law: Uganda might look to Britain

The news that Lillian Ladele, a Christian registrar who refused to register civil partnerships as a matter of religious conscience, has lost her appeal against dismissal suggests to me that the Ugandans, who are currently considering draconian (see here) legislation regarding homosexuality, might actually have a point.
The outcome of this case, as it stands, means that traditionalist Christians could soon be excluded from all public office and employment. All that is needed is for applicants for any post to be asked their views on homosexuality —whether or not they accept it on an equal footing with heterosexuality. If the answer is ‘No’ (as it must be for the traditionalist Christian), then that may be deemed sufficient grounds for them to be unsuitable for such employment or to hold such an office.
Alarmist? Let us consider a little bit of history.
In 1967, the Sexual Offences Act partially decriminalized homosexual acts in England and Wales by allowing such acts between ‘consenting adults (defined as those over 21) in private’. In our present context, it is important to be aware both of the motivation and the scope of this act. The motivation was compassion and consideration for those who were subject to legal sanction and social opprobrium for what was seen as a ‘victimless’ action.
The scope of the act was simply to take a specific area of human sexual behaviour out of the realm of criminal law. Thus, the Wikipedia site [mis]quotes a passage from the Wolfenden Report of 1957, whose conclusions provided much of the framework for subsequent debate and legislation:
... unless a deliberate attempt be made by society through the agency of the law to equate the sphere of crime with that of sin, there must remain a realm of private [morality and immorality which is, in brief and crude terms], not the law’s business ... (Wolfenden Report, 1957)
Significantly, however, the Wolfenden Report went on,
To say this is not to condone or encourage private immorality ...
In other words, the Wolfenden Report was produced, and the subsequent debate was conducted, on the assumption that there was such a thing as private immorality, into which category homosexual acts might well fall. Nevertheless, given the social acceptance of other private acts of immorality (which in those days would, for most people, have included sex before marriage or adultery within it) it was appropriate to rule that this ought no longer, in certain circumstances, to be ‘the law’s business’.
This itself was to recognize a long-standing trend to distinguish, in a society which generally regarded itself as ‘Christian’, between the ‘unlawful’ and the ‘sinful’, and was arguably itself an outcome of a Christian doctrine of sin. (Notably, a number of Christian theologians contributed to the Wolfenden Report and —something which would be unimaginable today —the Committee included the Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford and the Minister of St Columba’s Church, London.)
The Christian doctrine of sin sets a standard which no law could possibly address. When Jesus said that anyone who looks lustfully at a woman has committed adultery in his heart, he made it thereby impossible for the law to regulate any and every sin. Though English law had, in some ways, reflected an ‘Old Testament’ background (for example in defining the ‘prohibited degrees’ of marriage), it had never seriously tried to use the Sermon on the Mount as a model for what should be ruled illegal. Indeed, a major point of that Sermon is that this could never be done.
At the same time, however, there were clearly other pressures at work, challenging traditional, ‘Christian’, morality. The austere fifties gave way to the ‘swinging’ sixties, and quite rightly there was talk of a ‘sexual revolution’, helped on its way by the advent of the contraceptive pill.
Even so, there was clearly no outwardly declared intention in the passing of the Sexual Offences Act to effect a radical transformation of society, such that what was formerly regarded by most as ‘sinful’ would become to be regarded as one amongst many and various ‘norms’.
More than that, had anyone sought to argue, in the debate surrounding the Act, that less than half a century later it would possible for a Christian registrar to be sacked for refusing to ‘marry’ homosexuals, the person making such an allegation would surely have been dismissed as not merely alarmist but as slightly insane.
Yet here we are, experiencing yet another instance of the principle of ‘unintended consequences’, for the legalisation of homosexual acts has been followed by the normalization of homosexuality, which has now been followed by the criminalization of opposition to homosexuality. (Interestingly, the legalization of contraception was itself another example. In debates at the Lambeth Conference over a number of decades, bishops warned that the widespread availability of contraception would lead to a breakdown in social morality. Eventually, however, the ‘compassionate’ argument for ‘family planning’ won the day —and the doubters were also proved right.)
The question which must now be asked, frankly, is whether social normalization of homosexuality can co-exist with Christian morality. Currently, the answer would appear to be that it cannot, for despite all the talk of religious ‘rights’, it is quite clear that they are trumped (in Spades) by the acceptance of society’s sexual norms. At very least, this suggests that the Ugandans might look to our experience before making any decisions regarding their own situation, for the exercise of godly compassion in our case has clearly not resulted in a more godly society.
Revd John P Richardson
15 December 2009
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  1. Dave Rattigan, St Catharines, ON15 December 2009 at 21:48

    Lillian Ladele, unless I've misread the story, refused to carry out an essential part of the job she was employed to do. If you're a public officer, employed to carry out public duties, what right do you have to choose which parts of the law to comply with?

    And how does Ladele's case lead to anyone with a negative view of homosexuality being sacked from a public office? Surely only if those views infringe on their duties, as in Ladele's case?

    I am horrified by the brutal legislation Uganda is considering - but I am far more alarmed to hear a priest in my own country (and my own church) concede Uganda's point.

  2. Another reason to kick out the anti-Christian government in the UK and insist on the legal protection of conscience and Christian faith.

    Mark B.

  3. David Rattigan, just to observe that the law entitles me, as a registrar of marriages, not to carry out weddings where I have a conscientious objection, namely in the case of divorcees, even though the law allows them to marry. Had the legislators wanted to include such a provision they could have done, and no one would have been the worse off for it.

  4. But divorce is not something protected under equality legislation. The rights of gay and lesbian people are, and so they should be

    Which means that your view is one which is tolerated but has no legal standing - and neither should it in a liberal society. You are entitled to your view, but cannot impose it negatively on others in the public sphere.

    Your religion is institutionally homophobic and should be treated as other views of its ilk - see the BNP for comparison.

    'Conscience' means nothing if all it aims to do is legitimise discrimination.

  5. I used to live in your parish. I've counseled and trained counsellors there. I'm horrified by your utter ignorance of the facts in the case. Horrified!

  6. Merseymike, the thing is, as you've noted in another post, we have different beliefs. The problem is that in some areas these are irreconcilable. The question is whether our society is willing to make an effort to accommodate those differences. Unfortunately for our future, force and the law are being used to override conscience, and we need to recognize what sort of society will result.

  7. Tony, as far as I can see, you've ignored most of what I've written and simply reacted, rather than responded. Also, I'm not sure that the work you've done with counsellors, whether in Ugley or elsewhere, has much bearing on this. Sorry.

  8. David R you have misread the story. When Lilian was first employed, conducting same sex marriage was not a requirement of her job as a registrar. It is the council who have arbitarily changed her job description, and chosen to ignore her religious convictions, which is arguably illegal under religious discrimination laws.

  9. Your ignorance and homophobia makes me hope dearly that your church continues to lose influence in thsi country. Uganda is proposing a law to arrest and kill gay people - state sanctioned murder of an entire group. And you see their point? This is yhour Christian love it seems

    Ms. Ladele was employed to do a job - officiate civil marriages - NOT impose a religious test on people accessing government services. What's next? A fundamentalist muslim registrar refusing CIVIL marriages to people who are not veiled? How about other civil servants refusing to provide services to homosexuals because they share her bigotry?

  10. sparkindarkness, I doubt whether there is much arguing with you as I don't think you've really given much consideration to my overall argument. You apparently think that any objection to same-gender sexual acts can only be a matter of 'bigotry'. I wonder if you have every considered the case that they might just be wrong - and that therefore Ms Ladele is making a good point.

  11. Let me be sure I'm clear on what you are saying here. Because Ms. Ladele has lost a job after refusing to perform duties which were required of the position, the mass murder and imprisonment of hundreds, possibly thousands of people could be justified?

    There is nothing stopping traditional Christians from holding down any job they wish, public or otherwise. Thousands of them manage just fine. Then only become unsuitable for the job when they refuse to actually DO the job. What else could be allowed if Ms. Ladele's appeal was granted? Could she also refuse to marry couples who had been divorced previously, or had children? Could teachers refuse to teach children who were born out of wedlock, or speak to parents who were divorced? Could doctors refuse to treat pregnant women who weren't married, or were gay? Where exactly do you think it should stop?

    With genocide, apparently, rather than the Christians involved growing up, dealing with the fact that not everybody subscribes to their belief system and doing the jobs they signed on for.

  12. Louisa, all I can advise is that you go back and read the article again.

    The core argument of the article is neither a blanket approval of Ms Ladele, nor a support for legislative proposals in Uganda which I actually described as 'draconian'.

    I'm not going to explain what the argument is, because its up there in the text!

  13. Revd Richardson,
    I do think that your statement that persons who oppose equal footing for homosexuality with heterosexuality could not be employed is incorrect. The fact is that when you accept a job, you have to be willing to carry out this job, even the parts of it that goes against your own morals (unless it is doing unlegal acts). I am sure that you agree that if someones morals tell him not to marry persons of different color, such person would still be obliged to perform such a marriage. That does not mean that he cannot have the view that interracial marriages should not have equal footing with marriages within a race but simply that his morals cannot trump what he is employed to do. Similarly, a libertarian who does not believe in income taxes could still work for the tax authorities but while at work he would have to put his views on taxes aside. An a devout Muslim, opposed to demanding interest on loans, woudl still need to charge the agreed interest when working for a bank.
    You undoubtedly know that rastafarians believe in smoking pot. This is part of their belief. Should they also be alloved to do that while working? You would probably say no. So I assume that your true view is that traditional Christian values should trump obligations that follows from your job but not other views?
    In a country that believes in freedom of religion and equality, how does that work?
    Kind regards
    Ricky SA

  14. The atheist 'Merseymike' talks as if it were self-evidently clear what 'rights' are. They are not.
    In the absence of a transcendent Principle or Person who determines right and wrong and punishes transgression, 'rights' are simply a social construct: how one human group decides to organize its life.
    Atheism is a moral nullity, waiting to be filled by a particular will to power, as Nietzsche perceived.
    Human rights is, au fond, a Judeo-Christian concept about the right treatment of the imago dei.
    Atheists may hate Christians, but it is really God they are angry with.

    Mark B.

  15. I told everyone that the "orthodox" in the West are just as savage, bigoted, brutish and ignorant as in the Third World. I was absolutely right.

    Here we see a fine argument for withdrawing their legal protection, don't we? After all, a more liberal society, one that allows religious conservatism, has not made a more tolerant society . . . has it? Here's one that's all for Uganda's crush-the-fags law, despite the clever little verbal tricks to pretend "Oh, I wasn't saying I really approve!" A first-year seminarian could see through that double-talk.

    Go into your "orthodox" ghettos and lock your gates behind you.

  16. “the legalisation of homosexual acts has been followed by the normalization of homosexuality”

    In other words, as year follows year, ever fewer people in Britain get screwed up about homosexuality, ever fewer people are prepared to condone discrimination against gays, and ever more people (including Christians) regard same sex relationships as morally and socially acceptable.

    The influence of secularism, you might say, reflecting the age in which we now live. True! When it comes to enlightenment, it’s not altogether infrequently that the secular world gets there first.

  17. William, you won't be surprised to hear me say that I believe our culture's attitude to homosexuality is as foolish as its attitude to sexuality generally.

    Just as a hint, look at the different ways we in the West regard the AIDS crisis, which has killed millions and affected the lives of millions more, with the global warming issue.

    Our moral sensitivity towards the one is quite different from our moral sensitivity towards the other. For AIDS, the moral imperative is to discover ways in which we can carry on behaving the same, with the underlying attitude that no one can really be expected to exercise self-control. With global warming, the moral imperative is to condemn our past behaviour and urge restraint, on the grounds that we 'must change' if we are to survive.

    Why the difference, I wonder?

    Future generations may well look back on this (as I'm sure eternity will) as a mad period not of enlightenment but of loss of reason.

  18. For the record, here is what I wrote on 31 October regarding the proposals currently before the Ugandan legislature. Unfortunately, I only posted it on the other blog I maintain, and people may therefore not be aware of it. I would point out, however, that in the post above I describe this legislation as "draconian", which my dictionary defines as "harsh and excessive". Headline reports of this article saying that I support or condone that legislation have not taken this on board. (It is hard to 'condone' what one regards as 'harsh and excessive'.)

    "My immediate personal reaction -since someone is bound to ask -is that it is clearly extreme in places, most obviously in suggesting the death penalty for homosexual acts with an under-18 year old. Why not, I find myself asking, a similar death penalty for adulterers or fornicators?

    I also cannot help wondering why this is felt necessary in Ugandan society, when there is already legislation in place. My personal inclination is that in any humanly-ordered society, criminal punishment is inappropriate for sexual impropriety. That which is immoral should not always be illegal."

  19. I recognize fully the part that promiscuity has had in the spread of AIDS. As for self-control, I have nothing against it; in fact I’m all for it, but I do not regard self-control as inconsistent with an enlightened attitude to homosexuality and with the acceptance of gay relationships.

    I agree with you that we have come a long way since the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, and probably much further than those who framed that Act ever envisaged. Even after the passing of the Act, we continued to be abused and discriminated against in all sorts of subtle and not so subtle ways, but now each year that passes sees a diminution in the attitudes that cause such injustice. To borrow some words which the late Sir Oliver Lodge wrote in quite another context, “through the haze and mists of the twilight we catch the glimmer of a rosy and hopeful dawn.” Thank God.

    I would add that I do not in any way support the harassment, by time-wasting police investigations or otherwise, of those who continue to express anti-homosexual sentiments. I think that we should let them rip, providing that they do not engage in or incite violence against us. I am simply thankful that their obscurantism no longer determines public policy.

  20. There is hypocrisy here when it is considered that the Archbishop of Canterbury said that he believed homosexuality was not a sin but would uphold the teaching of the church on this matter. Clearly private belief did not impinge on official practice. If this is acceptable (and I would say it should not be), why is it not acceptable for a christian to honestly state their personal belief that homosexual acts are sinful but that they can be trusted to obey the law of the land and do the job they are employed to do? If the action of their job impinges on their moral conscience they should change their job.

  21. a former traditionalist16 December 2009 at 16:16

    "...but woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven against others. For you neither go in yourselves, neither suffer you them that are entering to go in." Matt 23.13 Jesus says not one word about same sex couples or attraction, and makes no effort to defend traditional marriage (they will neither marry nor be given in marriage...).

    He doesn't seem to be on the same side that you are here. He does do a lot of condemnation (because conservatives are right that he isn't all sunshine and flowers and acceptance) but almost all of it is directed at religious, conservative people seeking to uphold that old time religion. I would think that your coy endorsement of religiously sanctioned murder ("I endorsed it but not really, go read what I said" game not withstanding) places you under a lot of the condemnations that he expressed. Whited sepulcers and so on. Better to have a millstone and such. Are you sufficiently scared of being judged as a Pharisee on that day? You may do all sorts of things in His name but if your concern was more with the law than with welcoming and feeding the outcast can you not be certain that His word is true when he tells the conservatives in Matt 7.22 to depart into darkness?

    You believe that you are upholding the will of God. But so will all of those whose focus was on the law and the traditions that are told to depart into darkness while those who loved and cared who didn't even know Jesus are welcomed. Matt chapter 7 has strong words and convinced me to give up my conservative ways. Maybe you too? Maybe that wandering Galilean had no idea what he was talking about - but I would trust him over any felt psychological need to uphold order and law and authority. Our psychological needs to uphold traditional teachings and authority won't save us. The Jesus who fought with the upholders of tradition and good order, who was despised by the good respectable people, that is who will save us. Don't harden you heart to the advice that I am trying to offer you here brother. Rethink this sort of thing that places one deeply on the side of the pharisees.

  22. I think the points raised so courageously by Vicar John in his blog are valid. Unfortunately the commentators have not addressed them.

    "Instead of being moulded by this world, have your mind renewed, and so be transformed in nature, able to make out what the will of God is, namely what is good and acceptable to him and perfect." Romans 12 v2 (Philips)
    I wonder if you've noticed that secular society is actively engaged in all kinds of activities to force people into its mould, even using the full force of law, fines and imprisonment.
    Perhaps we all ought to enjoy our freedom of speech, conscience, thought and action while we can.

  23. a former traditionalist16 December 2009 at 17:25

    no, anonymous, I think that I addressed the core the real issues raised very well.

    as to enjoying your freedom to chase others from the gospel out of an attachment to every jot of the law and the splinter that is in others eyes, please take care that your liberty does not become a stumbling block for others

  24. former traditionalist, I'm impressed that you're still very traditionalist on the idea of Jesus coming as judge, and the eternal damnation of the wicked - a doctrine which we should all approach with fear and trembling. I'm also glad that your concern is for my salvation from such a prospect.

    I would note, however, that the former Pharisee, turned (by our Lord) Apostle, Paul, was quite clear that same-sex sex was not God's plan and purpose for human kind - on the contrary. If my mistake is to take a cue from him, then the fault lies further up the line.

  25. To former traditionalist. I'm afraid you have not adressed the core issues to my satisfaction. As I understand Vicar John's blog, the issue is not about homosexuality per se, but about the power secular society is gathering to itself and its use (misuse) of that power.
    "What sort of society is that creating?" is a pertinent and urgent question Christians in particular should be debating and praying about.
    Ken Hyde

  26. Dear Christian Brother.

    Please read the Ugandan legislation being considered!!!

    Would you really have myself, as a same sex attracted Christian arrested and sentenced to life in prison? Would you really have it that my family and friends be arrested and sentenced for up to seven years in prison for failing to report my sexuality to the government?! As if it were there business? If I were HIV positive would you really have it that I be executed if I stumble in my celibacy even once?

    Please Vicar, I beg of you to repent of this wickedness in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    I didn't choose my sexuality, and surely I shouldn't be punished for it.

  27. Aaron, I can only say in reply, please read my article (again, properly). Sorry if I sound frustrated but my opening sentence refers to "draconian legislation" currently being considered in Uganda.

  28. Yes, John, choices do need to be made, and I think the bottom lione is that in civil society, discrimination against gay and lesbian people is unacceptable, as is choosing who you wish to register if that is your job

    Religion cannot and should not be cited as 'conscience' if the outcome is to discriminate against others.

    I think the compromise is that you are allowed to continue to hold your beliefs, but that they must not be imposed on others if the outcome is to discriminate within civil society - whicb is and should be effectively secular

  29. Mike, I think there are actually two issues here. One is the relationship between various possible secular visions of society and people of faith. The other is the overall understanding of sexuality, from any perspective.

    On the latter, it is not at all clear to me that the prevailing view of sexuality is right - even from a so-called 'secular' viewpoint. To use a consciously sweeping generalization, it might be argued that AIDS is nature's way of telling us we are not built for promiscuity.

    More could be said, but it is late!

  30. since the vast majority of persons with AIDS and HIV today are heterosexuals I assume that you will speak out strongly against heterosexuals having sex. Yes?

    I assume also that you intend to say that blood transfusions and organ transplants are under the wrath of God for the numbers who have contracted HIV/AIDS in such a way?

    Or is it just the gays that God intends to punish the gays with AIDS and the vast majority of those who suffer are "collateral damage"? God is in that case either a cruel and capricious monster, or his aim is rather off. Which is it?

    May we also assume that you intend to say that God opposes the following as against his will because of the vast numbers who have contracted deadly diseases: living in tropical climates (malaria/ yellow fever), being a child (polio), being a woman (breast cancer) being of African ancestry and having a child (sickle cell anemia). Go on then, try to explain why we shouldn't be consistent with your warped and perverted understanding of diseases.

    I'm sure that you can create some ugly set of exceptions that shows that just the gays deserve an ugly death. Let's hear it. Or is it simply that you are a cruel and vicious man who has no business being in a teaching position in the Church?

  31. Doctors, who similarly had the law change under them, still have (I believe) the right to avoid taking part in the abortion process. It's a sign of one change in society's attitude to disagreement, that Lilian Ladele has not been allowed this possibility.

    I's a very difficult position to hold, that "A is right and B is wrong, but the law does not need to prevent you from doing or believing B". You are liable to misunderstanding from both sides. That is the position John is arguing for, which the Ugandan parliament seems to be turning away from, and which the UK has turned away from in a different direction.

    Another difference between a Pharisaic point of view and the gospel, is that the gospel attitude says: "I am a sinner like you, but here is the Saviour". I don't have to be judging someone, to be warning them of the judgement to come.

    Dom W

  32. Anonymous, you ask, “since the vast majority of persons with AIDS and HIV today are heterosexuals I assume that you will speak out strongly against heterosexuals having sex. Yes?”

    Let me repeat what I said to Merseymike, namely, “it might be argued that AIDS is nature's way of telling us we are not built for promiscuity”.

    Two words in this sentence are particularly important: “nature” and “promiscuity”. Mike does not believe in God, so I was not constructing a theological argument, hence the reference to “nature’s way”, not “God’s way”. In effect, I was saying “This behaviour is not consistent with biology, irregardless of theology.”

    Secondly, “promiscuity” refers to “frequent and transient sexual relations”. It is by no means confined to, though it may of course include, homosexual relations. So I have already done what you suggest I should do in speaking out strongly against heterosexuals having (promiscuous) sex. That is the meaning of the sentence.

    As to “the wrath of God”, since this was a suggestion made to fit Mike’s (atheist) framework, it strictly speaking has nothing to do with what I said. The rest of your questions might, therefore, be pertinent to a discussion about God and suffering, but simply miss the point.

    Sorry, to sound blunt, but that is the way it is.

  33. What have either AIDS or promiscuity got to do with civil partnerships?

    People are going to be gay whether you like it or not, so it makes sense to give some structure within which committed relationships can flourish.

    And it is absolutely clear that homosexuality is a minority variant and thus is part of 'nature's way' - natural law theorists are entirely wrong in their belief that everything has to be ubiform whereas diversity is very much part of the pattern

    Of course, you are entitled to your view, but it really has done nothing to convince people in the UK. Perhaps the regressing world of the begging-bowl handlers suits you more? I trust they will be withdrawing their constant requests for money given how wicked our society is? I would only give money to thirld world countries with compulsory birth control provision in place, so on those issues I am to the right of you!

  34. Dear John,
    I guess you will be more careful next time you write on the gay issue! Gay sex supporters seem to assume the worst of traditionalist Christians so one has to take their context into account.

    I think that your para. on contraception is actually the heart of the issue. Heterosexual society has separated sex from reproduction and indeed from commitment. It can hardly, therefore, object to gay sex. Much of the debate in this area has the feel of a proxy war: it allows people to bash the church for being anti- gay when the underlying issue is one of promiscuity which is what concerns most people.

    God bless, but we need to be 'as wise as a serpent and as innocent as a dove' in this area.

  35. John,
    I think what people are saying kind of proves the point you were trying to make (which has been obscured and twisted somewhat).

    Surely there are enough registrars that one doesn't have to work against her conscience? She is preventing them, merely not wanting to participate. Same as Drs re: abortions. I know people on adoption panels, where the panel has said, "we know your views, it's fine we won't put you in any awkward positions". It can be done, with next to now effort.

    But the posts here have really missed the point. When someone here says that people have to do their job, unless it's illegal, isn't that the defence of guards in concentration camps? Now I'm NOT comparing the 2 (not that that would appear to stop people saying that I am). But the point I am making is that when it comes to morality we have to listen to our conscience. For some e.g. Christians, they believe morality has been revealed to them by God and ultimatly must answer to him. In the case in point, she wasn't preventing any legal rights.

    To accuse John, or Christians in general of being anti-freedom, when in fact what they are saying is, "I think it's wrong, because of something I believe God has told us. But it's a free country, do as you please - within the law". and surely part of the point of divine revelation is that it will at times appear counter-intuative (that's why God had to say something).

    Where as the majority of posts are saying. "It is immoral to criticise or disagree with us". Now of course the Christian may be totally off the wall. But what if the "us" are wrong. It is worrying how some of the posts above deal with the suggestion that they may have got something wrong. It seems, well, undemocratic.

    Darren Moore

  36. What's the matter, John? The gays got you down? The outrage you are seeing in the comments is disbelief that you would defend the indefensible. But that's not what you are doing, is it? Why, you wonder, does everyone keep missing that small word "draconian."

    The point is, John, that your article supports the spirit, if not the letter of the Ugandan bill. Every line drips of nostalgia for the good old days when a good Christian could discriminate against gays in the name of personal faith with impunity.

    So how to restore order? In your opinion, the Ugandan have the right idea, don't they? They're just going about it the wrong way. The death penalty too harsh? Perhaps chemical castration a la Alan Turing will do the trick. It's all about striking the right balance, isn't it? Oppress them just enough to get your message across, but not so much that you lose your claim to Christian compassion.

  37. Anonymous, the questions I, and others have to address, are (a) whether same-sex sex is essentially immoral and (b - separately) how society should deal with different views on this, now that the prevailing view is that it is not.

    Clearly I, and the Christian tradition, take the answer to the first question to be 'yes'. Same-sex sex, whilst a compelling desire, should be resisted. The reasons for this viewpoint have been covered in detail by a multitude of authorities, including the Bishops of the Church of England, so I won't go into them here.

    However, our society now accepts same-sex sex, just as it accepts sex outside marriage, which Christians also believe to be immoral.

    The key question then becomes (b). In my view, it would be more likely to produce an approximation to justice for as many as possible if society allowed latitude to those whose conscientious understanding of sexuality precluded having to endorse or encourage that which they believed to be immoral.

    To the extent that society refuses to do this, it will exclude, by means of law, those whose conscience cannot accommodate to the majority viewpoint.

    As I have said before, that which is immoral does not have to be illegal. We are now in the paradoxical situation where objection to what was once immoral and illegal is now seen by many as itself immoral and is producing legal conflict - note the number of respondents who have said that Ms Ladele should do 'what the law requires'.

    My view on Uganda, therefore, is that they might have a point in not wanting to wind up like us. How they avoid that, without draconian legislation, I do not know - and I do not advise the latter.

  38. Hello John,

    a little quibble: I suggest your second paragraph is indeed 'alarmist', because it's arguable that Lillian Ladele's case could have been avoided by Islington council. If you read paragraph 74 of the recent appeal judgement you'll see that Neuberger says Ladele needn't have been designated a civil partnership registrar and suggests this wouldn't have fallen foul of any regulation. Islington chose to adopt a policy and course of action (am hoping this is a fair reading) resulting in Ms Ladele being designated as a registrar of CPs. But apparently other local authorities do manage to accommodate Christian staff who hold similar views to Ms Ladele.

    If all this is valid perhaps some of the fears Lillian Ladele's case has prompted, could be calmed...?

    Moreover, the story of this case has been told, understandably enough, in terms of a conflict of rights. But I'd like to flag up that this way of telling it obscures the fact that at root it is (I suggest) a disagreement over a question of truth. Is it true that homosexuality is a pathology, or not? If it is then Ms Ladele is right in holding the view she does, and witnessing to it; and same-sex sex is always wrong. But if it is not true, then same-sex sex is not always wrong and can potentially be part of a self-giving relationship (he said, wishing he was speaking from experience....) - and of course we're thrown back to a problem this case spotlights: how to live together with strongly conflicting views on the issue.

    You and I debated this at length on the CAM blog nearly 3 years ago now, John - I'm not about to dig all that up, but would just pose the question whether you think there can be a mutual giving of self in a same-sex relationship, as there can be in a marriage?

    in friendship, Blair Hunwick (Croydon)

  39. Some pertinent facts that so many, pro and anti, fail to mention are - homosexuals live, on average, 20 years less than heterosexuals. Homosexuals are much more likely to live promiscuously and are therefore much more likely to contract aids or venereal disease, they are much more likely to be involved in an abusive relationship, abused drugs or alcohol, suffer depression and other mental illness. Many blame these facts on society's attitudes to them but the problems show no sign of decreasing in frequency as society becomes more accepting. In the light of this what kind of parent, friend or society is going to encourage homosexual acts or lifestyles? Not me for one.

  40. Hi Blair,

    Thanks for your contribution and, incidentally, for giving a full name and location - unlike some commentators!

    Your statement about the contents of the appeal judgement actually makes me more worried, rather than less. If Islington could indeed have taken a different approach in the case of Lillian Ladele, was there not a decision made at some level which sought deliberately not to accommodate her (Christian) views? (I have not read the supporting material, but I'd be interested in the link.)

    I would point out, however, that my article was not essentially about 'justice for Lillian Ladele'. If it were indeed the case that the law required people to act in ways that would go against Christian conscience in certain areas of employment, then Christians might find themselves excluded from those areas. My real concern is that this might apply in an increasing number of areas of public office.

    Some have argued (elsewhere) that this exclusion would not be 'forced' on Christians, as they would be the ones making the choice. However, the choice to impose those laws, and not to operate flexibly, is one that others might be willing to make, despite knowing (or even because of knowing!) what it would mean for Christians. Choices work in more than one way.

    Thus my key concern was not where the law is, but where society (and its laws) might be in a few years' time. And hence my references to past legislation and its benign, and even Christian, motivation in this country having 'unintended consequences'.

    Of course this is also a disagreement over truth, though I would question whether the only way of phrasing that is whether homosexuality is a "pathology". It depends how you define pathology.

    It seems to me self-evident that homosexuality is a misdirecting of the natural sexual impulse - whether we are talking humans or the famous penguins. Just because a thing occurs in nature does not thereby make it an equivalent to other naturally occurring phenomena. I think of the way that male sticklebacks can be fooled into 'mating' with decoys, for example. No one would argue that this is the same as real mating, and arguably the same is true of same-sex pairings or other behaviours in animals.

    As to whether there can be "a mutual giving of self in a same-sex relationship, as there can be in a marriage", my answer would be no, precisely because it is a same-sex relationship, not an opposite-sex relationship. It cannot be the same because it is not the same. That does not, of course, preclude any mutual giving of self - and here I would instance David and Jonathan, despite the hazards this might entail in current debates.

  41. Hello John,

    here is the link for the judgement in the case of Lillian Ladele:


    Note paragraphs 74-75...

    Reading your response to what I wrote, I think you have a point - reading paragraphs 54-61 of the judgment left me with similar worries, not so much about Christians only as about what 'freedom to practise religion' in general actually means, given the case history cited in those paragraphs. There seems a marked trend towards relegating 'belief' to a 'private' sphere that in some circumstances, can have no expresion in public. I'd be interested to hear what you think of that section. But, contradicting my previous comment, maybe some of the fears Ms Ladele's case has prompted, are indeed valid...

    Unsurprisingly I'm continuing to disagree when you turn to homosexuality. "Just because a thing occurs in nature does not thereby make it an equivalent to other naturally occurring phenomena" - indeed not, and that isn't a strong 'pro-gay' argument. "I think of the way that male sticklebacks can be fooled into 'mating' with decoys, for example. No one would argue that this is the same as real mating..." - again, indeed not, but why is this a valid analogy for human same-sex relationships?

    "As to whether there can be "a mutual giving of self in a same-sex relationship, as there can be in a marriage", my answer would be no, precisely because it is a same-sex relationship, not an opposite-sex relationship. It cannot be the same because it is not the same". I wasn't trying to suggest same-sex and opposite-sex relationships are the same, but that the potential self giving within both relationships is the same. You say this is not possible "precisely because it is a same-sex relationship" - but what is it about the fact of it being a same-sex relationship that makes it so? This all sounds somewhat a priori - what about observation, experience?

    OK, I'll quit the bombarding with questions. Must admit I have sidestepped your "It depends how you define pathology", because I don't know how I would define it, so maybe I shouldn't have brought that in. Google says the Collins dictionary gives 3 definitions for it:
    1. (Medicine) the branch of medicine concerned with the cause, origin, and nature of disease, including the changes occurring as a result of disease
    2. (Medicine) the manifestations of disease, esp changes occurring in tissues or organs
    3. any variant or deviant condition from normal

    ...well, I guess the debate would be over 3. But I'll leave off there for now!

    in friendship, Blair (Croydon)

  42. With regard to whether or not homosexuality is pathological, the prefix comes from the Greek word “pathos”, meaning “suffering” or “disease”. In this literal meaning of the word homosexuality is clearly not pathological. In an article entitled “Are Homosexuals Sick?”, published in “New Blackfriars” in January 1989, the late Fr Gareth Moore, O.P., wrote:

    “A gay person’s suffering, if he or she suffers, is not like the suffering which is due to any illness or other medical condition. It is possible to be quite happy and a homosexual. Homosexuality is not like malaria; it is not unpleasant just to ‘have’ it. It does not make you come out in boils or give you a fever, and it does not kill you. Any suffering involved in being gay is a matter of other people’s reactions and general social attitudes, which may or may not be internalised. Of course, if a gay man does reject himself because of his homosexuality, there is something internal about this; he carries his condemnation around with him, he is never going to be happy and may well wish he was not gay. This can, if you like, be regarded as a condition, a sickness. But then his condition is his tendency to reject himself, his inability to accept himself; it is not his homosexuality.

    “The fact is that, if I am a gay man, my homosexuality does not of itself cause me distress; but it may distress other people, and then it is they who call it a disease. And their distress is not sympathetic distress, distress at the fact that I am distressed. It is not the sympathetic response that might be called forth by my suffering from malaria. In fact, it is not what would normally be called distress at all, but plain hostility.”

    That says it all, I think.

  43. William Fisher,

    It hardly "says it all". I am sure many addicts (to alcohol, smoking, gambling, whatever) would say they are happy and it is only other people's reactions which cause their suffering. That doesn't mean we believe them. Likewise people with mental illnesses who don't recognise their own illness. Surely we must let God determine, and reveal, what is good and bad for us, what will be conducive to our ultimate happiness?
    Plenty of medics (when they're not afraid of being sacked for politically incorrect comments) would argue that homosexual intercourse is physically damaging in and of itself (regardles of AIDS etc.)

  44. Thanks for the Gareth Moore quote, William. I'm a fan of his A question of truth : some powerful arguments there. Is the article you refer to available online anywhere?

    Neil: slightly bemused by your comment in that the Gareth Moore quote is, as far as I can see, about simply being homosexual (not my favourite word) - ie not about having same-sex sex. So I'd like to question your analogy wih addictions and mental illnesses - on what basis do you make this comparison? Also, in your last sentence, is it a fair reading that by "homosexual intercourse" you mean anal sex between men? On the same grounds, are you also against anal sex between a man and a woman? Lastly, why do yo not believe what gay people say about ourselves?

    in friendship, Blair Hunwick (Croydon)

  45. Neil,

    Rather a poor analogy, I’m afraid. Homosexuality is no more an addiction than heterosexuality is. To be addicted to alcohol, smoking or gambling you have to DO something: you have to start drinking alcohol, smoking or gambling. To be homosexual you don’t have to do anything at all. I knew that I was gay long before I DID anything about it, i.e. I found that all the people to whom I was erotically attracted were people of my own sex and that none of them were of the other sex. For years as a teenager and in my early twenties I tried simply to ignore the fact, hoping that it would go away. It didn’t. I’ve now long been glad that it didn’t: I don’t believe that God would want me or any of my gay friends to be any other way – even if you might.


    With regard to Gareth Moore’s excellent article in New Blackfriars (Vol 70, No 823, January 1989) I’m afraid that it’s not available online, as far as I’m aware.

  46. William, although it might be true that to be homosexual, you don't have to do anything, it is sometimes true that to be one something is done to you. There are many homosexuals who say that they were seduced into homosexual activity at an early age and who presumably became 'trapped' into associating sex solely with homosexual sexual activity. Sexual addiction and homosexuality also appear to be strongly linked with 47% of active US homosexuals estimating the number of sexual partners as being in excess of 500.
    Unless the 47% are suicidal then they are clearly addicts. Why is sex addiction and homosexuality so closely linked, if this is a 'normal' condition? If smokers are treated as being responsible for their own medical problems, should not these people be regarded similarly culpable?

  47. Well, Steve, I can assure you that nothing was done to me to make me homosexual. And people aren’t seduced into homosexuality any more than they are seduced into heterosexuality.

    I’m aware that there is plenty of homosexual promiscuity – a lot of it is a vain attempt to “make up for lost time” – and that there is sexual addiction among homosexual people just as there is among heterosexual people, but homosexuality as such is no more an addiction than heterosexuality is.

  48. William, are the people who say they were seduced imagining it? Of course they're not. It happens.
    Sexual addiction amongst homosexuals is at a wholly different level to that exhibited by heterosexuals and is considerably more dangerous to those involved.
    Why do homosexuals have to pretend that there is no 'down-side' and that every problem is mirrored in natural relationships when the statistics prove that neither is true.

  49. Steve, I'm not saying that people are never seduced; of course that happens. What I'm saying is that people don't turn gay as a result of being seduced, any more than people turn straight as a result of being seduced.

    I suggest that you look into the matter of sexual addiction among heterosexuals; you might be surprised at what you find. What are your statistics on problems in natural [sic] relationships, and where did you find them?

    An elderly (now deceased) relative of mine was a pharmacist in the medical corps during World War 2. Much of his time was spent in dispensing prescriptions and injections for V.D., as it was then commonly called. His stories of what heterosexual soldiers (including married ones) got up to when they were away from home and there were no restrictions on them would make your hair stand on end.

    But none of this detracts from the main points, viz. that homosexuality per se is not an addiction any more than heterosexuality is, nor is it pathological.

  50. Steve, there’s another point that I’d like to make. The word “seduce” seems often to be given a somewhat elastic meaning. If, for example, a 16-year-old boy non-coercively comes onto another 16-year-old boy, who responds freely and willingly, then that is hardly a seduction.

    I have also heard people who cannot come to terms with being gay describe their first homosexual experience as a seduction which “led them into homosexuality”, when it’s perfectly clear, from the circumstances that they recount, that it happened in a gay venue or other place where they knew in advance that they were likely to be picked up and where they had willingly and knowingly gone for that very purpose. People who are not already homosexual or bi-sexual in orientation are highly unlikely, to say the least, deliberately to place themselves in such a position. Since heterosexual people are rarely dissatisfied with their orientation, even if they are dissatisfied with their sex lives, they never describe an analogous heterosexual experience as a seduction which “led them into heterosexuality”.

    If, however, we’re talking about adults sexually abusing children, then that’s another matter. Dr Richard B. Gartner, an American psychotherapist who works with the National Organization on Male Sexual Victimization and has dealt regularly since 1988 with men who were sexually abused as boys, has concluded from his experience that such abuse very seldom if ever makes boys grow up homosexual, but that such abuse does have very serious repercussions on their later lives in terms of acceptance of their sexuality (whether heterosexual or homosexual), ability to make friends, form relationships, and even to cope with life generally. Dubious claims that people are “turned gay” by such abuse merely distracts attention from the very grave damage that it in fact does. (Richard B. Gartner, “Betrayed as Boys”, 1999)

  51. Thanks for the reference William - and 'hear, hear' to your latest comments.

    in friendship, Blair

  52. I think the Lillian Ladelle case blows away the myth that Equal Opportunities creates a society that is totally inclusive and open to all. Equality has another edge to it that is very exclusive. Every community is both inclusive and exclusive - I wonder when secularism and christian liberals will wake up to this? One distinctive of christianinty is not that we are not exclusive - but our exclusive truths should make us humble seek the best interest of those who we disagree with. how can this not be a good thing?

  53. William, I am aware that many previously exclusively heterosexual men fighting in North Africa in the last war became involved in homosexuality (an ex-colleague of mine from years ago was in the same line as your relative). However according to him, this did not arise because they were "no restrictions" but because there were NO WOMEN (they were fighting in the desert!). A very different situation to the one you imply. He also told me that such men were often shunned when others became aware of their activities and that such men tended to socialise only among themselves. It just demonstrates what, I suppose no-one would dispute, that some men will take sex wherever they can find it if their first preference of partner is unavailable. Cowboys and prospectors were known to indulge in homosexual practices (and sometimes bestiality) for the same reason.
    Statistically an active homosexual is MUCH more likely to have been the object of predatory homosexual approaches at a young age than a heterosexual according to the statistics I have seen. Go to http://fathersforlife.org/Table_contents_gj.htm#Gay_Issues for statistics that appear to me to be at least as reliable as those you quote. I don't think any changes of heart are going to occur here and accepting that this is to some extent 'off topic', I sign off and hope that you enjoy the stats (there are lots and lots of them but I suppose that you won't believe any of them).

  54. Steve, just to clear up a misunderstanding, I wasn’t referring to heterosexual men who became involved in “situational homosexuality”, but to the incredible promiscuity of heterosexual men with French and German women.

    No, I don’t believe the statistics. As soon as I went to the web page that you indicated the name of Paul Cameron leapt out at me. Paul Cameron has been thoroughly discredited. I see that the website also recommends the works of Jeffrey Satinover and Scott Lively. Say no more.

  55. As always an excellent posting.The
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  56. Bathmate,

    For more information about Paul Cameron:



    Re Scott Lively:


    Information about Jeffrey Satinover will be found in one of the side-bars on:


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  59. Thanks for this post... however I am afraid that I have to disagree with it, for two reasons.

    First: Lillian Ladele’s defeat was a victory for common sense and over bigotry and prejudice. Jesus presents us with no ‘if’ or ‘buts’ on his teaching concerning marriage – it is a permanent state and divorce is only possible because of infidelity. Do we hear of Ladele complaining having to marry divorcees is against her religious convictions? No, we don’t. She is a local government officer and it is her job to enact the law. Before the advent of civil partnerships the law, happily recognised same-sex couples when it came to calculating benefits (i.e. if one half of a couple went to claim benefits s/he would not be treated as a single person, unless s/he could PROVE they were not cohabiting!) hence it is a good thing the law now recognises same-sex couples exist for positive reasons. Let Ladele and her prejudice get over it. I was a local government officer for years, as a social worker in Westminster and latterly in cancer care in London; I had to support people I would have much preferred to give a good kick up the backside or report to the immigration services, but I did my job and hope I never betrayed my own personal feelings. And to be quite brutal, 14 years of working in local government in London has taught me many of the more vocal ‘Christians’ from churches in London are just ‘vocal’; little from their beliefs seem to permeate their actions in the work place (unless it is a means of getting out of certain tasks!). ‘We must be for ourselves in the long run. The mild and generous are only more justly selfish than the domineering.’ Emily Bronte

    Second, I grow rather tired of Christians believing they have a monopoly of morality. The notion that personal ‘immorality’ is purely a modern phenomenon is, I believe, part of our own self-obsession and the facile belief that the past was better than our own times. We like to believe there was some halcyon era where men and women were not burdened with the problems of the present. Illegitimacy has been common from the year dot – as many English monarchs have proved. Thomas Jefferson’s DNA has turned up in the decedents of his slaves. Hence it is fairly certain that the times we are a-living in are no more ‘immoral’ than those of our antecedents. Indeed, I am sure many could, with just a little digging around, find family ‘secrets’ indicating this. So the question needs to be asked, why is there a belief, mainly propagated by the religiously inclined, that if we all crammed into the churches again and stuck our noses in the Bible, society would be transformed into a bastion of moral uprightness and the problems of the world would disappear? There appears scant evidence to believe this would be the case.

    A look to the most overtly Christian nation, the USA, proves this point. High rates of divorce, teenage pregnancy, murder, violent crime and social inequality – and there is no evidence that these problems are any less in the Bible-belt! Yet secular, liberal democracies, such as those of northern Europe have much lower rates of teenage pregnancy, a higher age when young people have sex, lower rates of divorce, violent crime and murder, and less poverty and social inequality. Despite the fact many of these nations have very low church attendance. What are these nations doing right that overtly Christian societies are doing wrong?

    Indeed it is a sad fact that the ‘social morality’ of Christianity – looking after ‘widows & orphans’, social justice and equity etc. has only been brought about by secular democracy – the churches may have been fuller and the Bible better known in Victoria’s time, but did this make for a better society? In the facile mind of bigoted Christians, yes – the historical reality is rather more depressing...

    I’d stay quiet about personal morality – it has long been more of an ideological goal than a tangible reality in even the most Christian societies.

  60. Dear Problem, you obviously have some strong convictions about morality. Indeed, without being rude, I would say you are very 'moralistic'. I'd be interested to know - from whence come these convictions?

    On the question of behaviours in the US, I have recently read, though do not have the reference immediately to hand, than when nominal religious opinion (even "born again" statements) are eliminated in favour of actual religious behaviour such as regular churchgoing, there are indeed real differences between active Christians and others - even in the Bible Belt!

    But to return to morality - what do you think, and why?

  61. Dear Ugley

    Thanks for this - see my blog, I think it answers your questions. Though I will say that even if “there are indeed real differences between active Christians and others” you have to ask the question why there is such a difference in the social morality of overtly Christian (or Muslim for matter) countries to that of the secular democracies of northern Europe: divorce, teenage pregnancy and crime statistics tend to suggest something is amiss somewhere between practicing individual belief and building a socially moral society. I’d be very interested in the reference you mention, as I am at present engaged in writing a PhD where I am examining the difference ‘faith’ makes to social welfare (preliminary findings suggest, very little, in our Western model – and even (looking at the extensive body of research I have had to trawl through from the US) in the US, state/religion partnerships tend to favour the state’s needs rather than religious philanthropy).



  62. Steven, I will try to track it down, but no guarantees, as I didn't make a note! Keep watching the blog.

    I've had a very brief read through your blog, and found it interesting - but all the way through the top (Damascus Road) post I kept having these 'yes but' moments. What is the nature of an 'overtly Christian' society? What about the fact that Christianity has long been a 'minority sport' in this country - is Christian moralism the same thing?

    And always the bottom line: how do we define 'morality'? (How do we know, for example, that our society is 'more moral', unless we equate this with 'egalitarian', when it simply becomes a description: "our society places more emphasis on outward equality"?)

    I wonder, out of curiosity, if you have read Callum Brown's The Death of Christian Britain, and what you thought of it.

    A book I haven't managed yet to read, but which may be relevant (!) is Simon Schama's The Embarrassment of Riches which has something to say on the religion/culture interface.

    As to Western Culture generally, I found Jacques Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence posed the fascinating question of 'what next', now that we've more or less ditched formal religion.

  63. PS to Steve, this is not what I had in mind, but I presume you are familiar with the work of the Barna Group, eg here. You have to read their stuff very carefully to see how they identify different religious groups - eg distinguishing between 'evangelical' and 'born again'.

  64. I note that you seem to be fishing as to where I get my moral base? I presume this is related to Biblical morality? Well, I am sorry to disappoint you on this one, but although there undoubtedly is a Judaic-Christian element to Western morality, there are other elements that inform our present day morality – as there were none-Jewish elements that informed early Christianity (e.g. there are elements of Roman Law and Greek philosophy evident in the N.T.).

    It is part of the folly of those who believe religion is the answer to the world’s problems to believe it exists outside human action and is inert to human ideas and the influence of social phenomena. Morality is a complex thing and without wishing to be overly simplistic, it is possible to argue that if Christian morality is a constant then it would be exhibited in the same manner throughout history. However this is not the case.

    Whatever, it saddens me that religion has a habit of wittering on about man’s failure and need for God; denying than humanity may have and can produce some pretty good morality of its own (indeed it has...). The problem with religious morality is that people like yourself (i.e. ministers of religion) get it into their heads they know better than the rest of us how we should lead our lives and this always ends up rather messy in the end – esp. as there are a good proportion of clergy who aren’t particularly good at leading their own lives and hence give bad press to the good job others do. It is perhaps part of the success of our northern European neighbours that the emphasis on individual accountability and responsibility for the social whole has produced societies that have achieved and that don’t have the problems many religious leaders lay at the feet of modernity. Perhaps we need the same sort of wake up to both individual and corporate responsibility and accountability. But do we need religion to tell us that? I don’t think so...

    Yes, I think you are quite right, Christianity, in England, has been a minority occupation for many years. Accurate figures are hard to come by, but it seems agreed that there has never been an occasion in England of 100% church attendance and that even in the Victoria era (often regarded as a halcyon period of the English church (despite it being a far, far more unfair society with much greater social problems than we have today)) church attendance was just short of 50%. Indeed if it were not for some cultural memory of Christian involvement at certain point in our lives, it is doubtful many would achieve even nominal Christian status. Hence it would make sense, in this day and age, to disestablish the church and wholly secularise civic society once and for all. People can believe what they like in private; but let’s face it, Christianity has had 2,000 years to come up with the goods and hasn’t really been able to deliver has it? Sure there is the odd pocket here and there of a community that manages for about a generation and then it all goes tits up. It would be interesting to speculate as to why. I think my Bronte quote gets to the heart of the problem... Our own selfishness will always ruin things in the end – though I note liberalism and secularism are often blamed... Well, they’re useful scapegoats, but the reality is much more complex.

    Yes, I have come across this problem some Christians have with the notion of ‘egalitarianism’ (I was sat opposite John Milbank at a dinner a few months ago and he got quite animated in his condemnation of the idea!). I agree it does have drawbacks, but I think if coupled with individual and corporate responsibility and accountability, it would work. The question has to be asked why it is so repugnant to some Christians – it is because it rather diminishes their importance? I rather imagine this could be, at least in part, be a contributory factor towards this antipathy.

    I have had a look at the Barna website, thanks for the link and for the book references.

    To be me thinks...



  65. Steven, that was quite a sermon!

    Obviously you have a strong moral base. I just don't know what it is yet. You're dead right I was "fishing" for it, as I think it is important. Do you think other people ought to follow your moral base? Dare I say it, do you think you are better than those who don't? Are you a consistent example of it in practice, and does it have the answer to the world's problems?

    Obviously you don't have much time for religion (though I gathered from your blog you're more of an agnostic than an atheist). If God isn't the problem, it seems to me there is only one thing that is - namely us. You can give us a good idea (love your neighbour, the 'golden rule', Dawkins's 'super-niceness', or Singer's "Tit for Tat"), but in the end, as you say, it always goes "tits up".

    What is the answer?

  66. Would love to comment - but have a PhD to write and I sometimes find getting into pointless debates on the internet a self-made distraction. I learned as a novice monk, that when you find yourself getting overly interested in things that aren’t really your concern, it is probable either that you have more important things to do or that you trying to avoid certain problems in your life.

    As ditching religion sorted out a good proportion of my problems overnight (esp. now my monogamous and committed relationship with my male partner is in its seventh year and things just keep getting better) I can only conclude I am procrastinating... Hence really need to get on.

    N.B. I note you have a rather patronising and pathologising link to True Freedom Trust on your webpage... Is it there because you have problems with homosexuality or because despite the fact Evangelical Christianity has little, if anything to offer homosexuals at least the existence of such an organisation can at least make it seem as if there are ‘acceptable’ answers to the question Evangelical Christianity has shown very little wisdom on over the years.

    I have a post par written on my experience of being a homosexual in an Evangelical church and of my involvement with TFT. Keep a look out for it, you may find it interesting.



  67. Steven, I too have things to do, so will happily drop it there.

    The TfT stuff is because I'm a supporter - I did speak at a Conference of theirs a few years ago. Maybe you were there?


  68. Thanks - No I certainly was not at TFT's conference – I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than attend such an event!

    I don’t know what is worse – Christianity when it imbibes an unhealthy quantity of bad humanist/man centred psycho-babble and presents it as a means of overcoming personal and sexual unfulfilment (cf. TFT) or Christianity when it becomes overly obsessed with what people do with their dangly bits in private.

    As noted in my own post on my blog, my experience with True Freedom Trust was okay, though even then I found it like much Evangelical Christianity, worshipping at the shrine of the self. I was initially put off the organisation when a gay acquaintance said that he had attended a counselling session in which he thought he was being seduced by the ‘ex-gay’ counsellor. I didn’t believe his story at the time; however the ‘ex-gay’ counsellor – who at the time was married and had two children, then went and left TFT and his wife and proved his “cure” was not as thorough as TFT proclaimed it. (By an odd coincidence, a few years later this guys wife became a friend of friends of mine (in my blog I change the location and church, for obvious reasons) and it seems there may be a grain of truth in my acquaintance’s claims.

    One of TFT’s one-time favourite speakers became a regular correspondent with me and I was somewhat shocked when he shared with me that he felt a fraud standing up at Spring Harvest one Easter, stating how a homosexual person can lead a fulfilled and contented life with a loving church when at the same time he was under the care of a doctor for depression and taking anti-depressants.

    For many years I played along with the lie that a celibate homosexual can lead a happy and fulfilled life in ‘loving’ church. Indeed it was forcing myself to live this lie that led to my own bout of depression in the early 90s. After much soul searching and at the tender age of 39, I decided enough was enough and was fortunate enough to meet my partner and the pair of us have been happily together for the past seven years and go from strength to strength in our committed, monogamous relationship. Friends and colleagues have been quick to note the change in me as a person, since I met my partner. I am nicer to be around, more together and a lot happier – two of these friends are also Evangelical (or theologically orthodox – both acknowledge the limitations of Evangelical Christianity) CofE clergy – their acceptance of my relationship has been a revelation to me. Thankfully I think it has also been a revelation to them; since both were anti homosexuality yet last summer one of them lent us his holiday cottage – there’s growth and development if ever I saw it.

    I think Desmond Tutu has the right idea – perhaps you could take a leaf out of his book? I have spent the odd spare half hour looking through your blog and you seem to mention homosexuality a little too often! You asked me in the above, what should we use for our moral base. I thought about this over the course of the week and I think empiricism is a good start – by this I mean, using what evidence tells us works. Christian morality is fairly fluid and is useful up to a point, but can also get entrenched in prejudice and bigotry (as this blog demonstrates with regard to homosexuality). None Christian morality exists and (as I am sure I keep boring you with this example) appears to work very well in secular liberal democracies. Long may it continue – along with free speech. I would fight tooth and nail for you to peddle your Gospel of Condemnation - though I would also fight to ensure its pernicious influence is kept within Christian communities and well a way from a society that has learned it doesn’t need priests and pastors – history tells us they never did much good in the past, hopefully they will remain absent from our future.



  69. Welcome back, Steven!

    So if I've got you right, your core moral principle is basically utilitarianism: "If it makes you happy, go for it," and the intellectual base for this is that we see certain things make people happy and certain other things make them unhappy, and therefore we ought to opt for the former.

    My guess is that this has been a popular approach since 'the year dot', especially in the area of sexuality. And of course it's fine - provided you actually are happy and provided after death there's just more happiness.

    The problem comes, I guess, if you're not in the 'Goldilocks Zone' of life - young(ish), healthy and happy in a prosperous secular liberal democracy - or if everyone around you isn't committed to Utilitarianism.

    Like Chris Rea put it: “Oh every night a baby dies, and every night a mama cries. Why do those men do what they do, to make that person black and blue?”

    I don't think he thought this was the answer, but it certainly prompted him to pose the challenge, “Tell me there's a heaven, where all those people go.”

    If there isn't then I'm not sure what the answer is for those who lost out on 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'.

    The view our culture seems increasingly to adopt is that the oblivion of death is the ultimate answer to the problems of life.

  70. You appear to give a pejorative inflection with regard to utilitarianism! I was rather surprised, when researching the history of philanthropy in England, that there was a good deal of co-working between utilitarians and Evangelicals during the 19th century – esp. with regard to factory and educational reform; similarly utilitarian/humanist philosophy was influential in a good deal of 18th & 19th century philanthropy in England. As it is certain there is no such thing as inert or separate religion – that is, religion is always in a dialogue with the social, political and economic present both influencing, but usually being influenced – there is probably a good deal more utilitarianism in Evangelical Christianity than might be imagined. I would suggest the ‘health & wealth’ gospel, explicit in some flavours of Evangelicalism and implicit in many others (as a stroll around a Wesley Owen bookshop easily demonstrates) illustrates utilitarianism’s influence on Evangelical Christianity.

    It is rather sad that the wonder of humanity is so often derided – yes there are many problems in the world and in Britain, but rest assured, when the churches were fuller and the Bible better known, there were far far worse problems. The life of your average Victorian labourer or factory worker was considerably nastier than ours today. That aside, utilitarianism is a little more sophisticated than a quote from the American Declaration of Independence and it rather grieves me that Christianity is proffered as an answer to the world’s problems. Let’s face it, it’s had 2,000 years to alleviate the problems of the world – yet, it seems to have caused a good many.

    I am a big fan of the oblivion of death – the idea of eternity is rather scary; who wants to live forever? For many years I worked as a palliative care social worker in a cancer unit at one of London’s major hospitals. I worked with anyone aged 16+ who had a terminal diagnosis of cancer (it was my experiences in this job that helped me on the road from Christianity to agnosticism). One thing I found rather odd about the more overtly religious (of various creeds – and not least Evangelicals) was their fear of death. Many sensible people get to a point in their treatment when they realise quality and not quantity is the important thing in life. Yet there were a disproportionate number of religious people who would plough on, wanting more and more treatment despite the fact their quality of life was compromised by this treatment (academic research has come to the same conclusion see: http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/301/11/1140).

    You have to ask yourself why there is a greater tendency toward this ‘treatment at any cost’ among those whom you would imagine would be looking forward to meeting their maker. Hence although the oblivion of death is acceptable to the non-religious, death itself seems something of an anathema to a disproportionate number of people with a faith. This seems very odd to me.

    The whole business of the soul, an after-life and final judgement is absent in the Torah. It seems probable that Christianity is some fusion of Jewish beliefs with those of other Middle-Eastern, Greek and Roman religious ideas. Personally I think the desire for an afterlife is rooted in the conceit that is an essential component of religious belief. ‘Surely I was created for more than just this life on earth?’; it ties in with the ‘I am sinful – i.e. another (aka God) actually takes notice of what I do...’ followed by ‘Jesus died for me!’ and then of course there is the prayer – all that chatter in the head, a virtuous way of being self-obsessed! The more I dwell on the subject of religious belief, the more convinced I become that it is a great deal of egotistical nonsense!

    Yeah – the oblivion of death is not an unsavoury thought – though for those of us who have the humility to accept it, we tend to ensure our lives count for something; and for many this means both to ourselves and for the benefit our neighbours.

  71. Steve, I think those who imagine they have come to terms with death as oblivion have not really appreciated what non-existence means.

    Perhaps some religious people fear death more than the irreligious because they understand something the irreligious don't.

    Meanwhile, like I said utilitarianism has a lot going for it, provided you're reasonably healthy and happy, or can make yourself so. For a lot of people, of course, this will never be possible, and I wonder what your view is on them - and their 'oblivion at death'.

    I was also thinking about the chap you referred to who left his wife and children because he wasn't really ex-gay. I trust you felt glad for him that he'd finally overcome his denial, rather than pleased he'd been 'caught out'.

  72. Thanks for the reply – I’ll begin with your second point.

    I felt rather sorry for his wife, children and those whom had put their hope in him (tho’ it was a rather a foolish thing to do – rarely do any of us come up to the mark, when hope is placed in us!) – and of course for the man himself. I find it curious that you think I’d be pleased he was ‘caught out’. A very odd (and unsavoury) ‘take’ on the situation. Or that I’d be pleased he finally overcame his denial – I don’t know if he was in denial. All I do know is that four people’s lives were wounded by the simple fact a homosexual man decided to get married and couldn’t live by the promises he had made – whether he was pressured into this decision by social convention, religious belief, self-belief or just plain old love, who can say. No one in their right minds could be glad either way about the net result, would they? We’re talking about a family being broken up, children losing a father, economic hardship and loss of social standing. We’re talking about shame and hurt and anger. No one can feel glad about any such things. My point in mentioning the story is that there are no simple answers to the question of human sexuality.

    My own acquaintance with the organisation raised serious questions in my mind as to the validity of the organisation. Not unlike other Christian charities, you sometimes have to ask for whom do these organisations exist? As I note in my longer blog post on the organisation and linked issues, the purpose it best serves is fellowship and support – though I suspect it is promoted as an answer to something that doesn’t have an answer. I thought the fusion of Charismatic Christianity and psychodynamic counselling that the organisation appeared to promote at the time a dangerous combination. Looking at the website the organisation appears to have moved on a little, but it is odd symptom of our age that ‘organisations’ have to be formed. To borrow from John Milbank, it is the parish or local church that should be meeting these needs. If someone does not feel their sexuality is compatible with their understanding of faith based morality, surely their church should be the place where they can be best supported. The fact that all too often this does not happen is rather sad, don’t you think?

    As for your first comments – emm it is pretty obvious you’re a through and through Evangelical! I do find the arrogance of Evangelicals staggering!! In many ways they remind me of the weak kids who sucked up to the school bully for protection and status – only in this case it is the Bible and the cultural association of religion and social power they use to assume an omniscience their intellect has not been able to provide. I can assure you, having sat with many people who are dying, some people are well aware of what non-existence means. Your comment on the irreligious appears to come from the same school. The more I read of this blog the more distasteful you appear – no one minds opinions, but to think you know better than the person dying, their ability to understand a situation?

    I wouldn’t get so het up about oblivion – or non-existence: we’ve all had knowledge of it because once we didn’t exist. I think oblivion is the most sensible and pragmatic hope at one’s demise. But, I am open to the possibility there may be something else.

    As for utilitarianism and the health and wealthy – I don’t really understand what you’re getting at. I don’t think history demonstrates Christian based morality in society provides a comprehensive means of supporting those who are not healthy and wealthy? There will always be haves and have-nots (cf. Jn 12: 8) no matter what moral foundation is in place. Secular, liberal democracy – with a sense of individual responsibility appears to come up with the social goods Christianity has never managed – and ironically it’s also the best means of ensuring religious freedom!



  73. Steven,

    I'm glad you felt for the man and his wife and children. I wasn't sure this was the point you were making, hence my raising it. They would be my feelings, too. I'm afraid I have read things online where it has seemed to me that carping, rather than sympathising, has been the thought behind a comment, but I'm glad that's not you.

    On your second point, I agree entirely! You probably won't like it, but you might be interested in this post I put up three years ago ("Have I been at this that long?" I ask myself).

    The 'death' issue is a big one, though. I don't agree we've had 'knowledge' of oblivion from not existing. We know what it is to exist, and we know we once didn't exist. But knowing (or at least thinking) we will cease to exist is a new one.

    The real question to me, though, is what it means about life for those who, as I've said, do not, or cannot, or did not exist in the blessed zone of being reasonably happy. What good is utilitarianism, in any form, to them?

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