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Rick Warren is technically correct

Not a phrase I ever expected to find myself typing. A statement by evangelical celebripastor Rick Warren is causing a lot of rage throughout the liberal blogosphere (aka, the blogs I happen to check in the morning):

“Here’s what we know about life. I have all kinds of natural feelings in my life and it doesn’t necessarily mean that I should act on every feeling. Sometimes I get angry and I feel like punching a guy in the nose. It doesn’t mean I act on it. Sometimes I feel attracted to women who are not my wife. I don’t act on it. Just because I have a feeling doesn’t make it right. Not everything natural is good for me. Arsenic is natural.

Honestly my first reaction when reading this was “wow, Rick Warren understands the naturalistic fallacy!” He’s totally right that the “naturalness” of something doesn’t lead to ethical judgements. Arsenic is even the same example I frequently give!

But that’s where his understanding ends. Just because nose-punching and gay sex are both natural urges doesn’t make them morally equivalent. Warren knows this, but leaves his source of ethics unsaid – the Bible. The reason this statement is so repugnant to liberals is that we base our system of morals on minimizing harm. Oddly I saw no blogs explaining this, probably because Warren’s source of morality isn’t exactly a secret. But I think it’s important to emphasize how repugnant it is to base your system of ethics on some random old book instead of the well being of others. Punching someone in the face causes harm; gay sex does not.

Well, unless you’re into the kinky stuff. But hell if I’m going to attempt to explain the concept of consent to a religious conservative.

Comments

  1. OverlappingMagisteria says

    I agree. In the interview Piers Morgan makes a big deal out of whether or not people are born gay. But it’s irrelevant. If it causes no harm, then its not wrong.

  2. says

    Further to this, Warren’s statement is IMO similar to the propensity of climate science pseudoskeptics to begin with statements that are, strictly speaking, true (e.g. ‘climate has changed a lot in the past’) but then infer false conclusions from them.

    His argument appears to go:
    P: LGBTQ sexual behaviour is conceded to be natural
    P: Not all natural things are good
    P: (implicit) The Bible says LGBTQ sexual behaviour is bad
    C: Therefore, LCBTQ sexual behaviour is bad

    Why hello, non sequitur.

  3. Greta Christina says

    Totally agreed. “Born this way” is just about the worst argument for LGBT rights that there is. It’s likely that some people are born with an increased propensity for sociopathy and violence, but that doesn’t make it okay.

    Of course, “my god says it’s nasty” is just about the worst argument against LGBT rights that there is. So it’s a wash. And we’re back to the zany idea that we decide what’s right and wrong based on whether it hurts people or helps them.

  4. gulielmus says

    I agree with you, but there’s another point Warren ignores (by design in these sorts of arguments). Homosexuality is more than sex; it can be an expression of love.

    By focusing on the mechanics or the “act” of sex and ignoring the most intensely human of emotions, people like Warren allow the subtle dehumanization of their targets. It allows them to paint a caricature of two stick figures having sex “the wrong way,” and to make the conversation about the sex, rather than the individuals having it.

  5. danielsmith says

    Maybe you have accidentally figured out why all religious people hate sex so much! They’re all into really kinky shit but haven’t learned about proper consent. Since they can’t imagine sex without things like face-punching, they just can’t understand sex not being evil. You should really reconsider your whole ‘explaining consent to fundies’ position.

  6. says

    @4 Greta:

    2nd worst argument, IMO, is that we need to have tolerance for people of different viewpoints, behaviors, etc…anything along the lines of “We must learn to accept all differences.”

  7. says

    Agreed.

    And I’ll add another gripe: Bloggers who are attacking Warren for “saying homosexuality is like arsenic” need to have their reasoning skills tuned up.

    It’s perfectly legitimate to take an agreed-upon evil (like arsenic or Hitler) to make some general point about what facts are morally relevant or irrelevant.

    Warren is wrong about the immorality of homosexuality, but using analogies to make one’s case is a perfectly respectable form of arguing.

    It’s politically effective to shout, “OMG, he just compared our love to poison!!!” but it’s not intellectually honest.

  8. says

    The fact so many people can’t wrap their heads around consent is one of the things that makes me really sad and worry about humanity. At least Warren isn’t comparing gay sex to pedophilia like so many other anti-gay nutjobs (talk about not grasping consent).

  9. says

    Personally, the ability to start off sounding logical & reasonable before turning crazy is much scarier than just what is said. I completely agree with the quote you posted- if it was a full transcript, I would feel like punching someone. Nothing requires a healthy dose of skepticism quite like a rational sounding argument.

    And to join the Greek Chorus- awesome to see you blogging again :-)

  10. piero says

    I have some gripes about “consent” being touted as a sort of indisputable argument. Paedophilia is wrong because children are regarded as incapable of consenting to having sexual intercourse in a fully informed, mature fashion. Yet I’ve met some teenagers who would run circles around many adults in that respect.

    What if I consent to being killed and eaten? It happened in Germany not so long ago.

    What if I consent to wear a burka? To be beaten with a stick no thicker than a thumb? To be paid a miserable salary for an extremely dangerous job?

    Consent is only meaningful when you are fully free, i.e. never.

  11. sc_2a76a8528077a0dfa457dde1c0476131 says

    Societal norms be what decide many of these issues. Apparently the Germans take offense with beastiality. Americans are spooked by the number thirteen, and the Japanese fear a different number that sounds like death. These issues need to be open to discussion and debate, and not decided by a random text (constitution or holy book) from the past. Things change.

    Always a treat to hear from you Jen, I trust your studies are progressing well….

  12. hatstand says

    No one bases their morals on the bible. If they did they would be locked up.
    Instead, Christians project their morals onto the bible. It is more of an excuse to hate than a reason.

  13. poxyhowzes says

    I once had a letter published in a local newspaper on the naturalistic fallacy. It went something like this (although I used real sentences and paragraphs!):

    So..being LBGT is “unnatural”?
    Well, so is wearing clothes and shoes (See Genesis 3)
    In fact, wearing clothes is an “outward and visible” sign of our (original) sin (again, Gen. 3)
    On the other hand, what is VERY natural is the phenomenon of fruits fermenting. Even animals are known to get drunk consuming naturally fermented fruits.

    There is an inescapable conclusion to be drawn: We should all PARTY NAKED.

    I liked the letter, but I usually respond much more succinctly to “but it is unnatural!” with the phrase “so is wearing shoes!”

    PH

  14. JohnM says

    Good to see you, Jen! Hope this is a prelude to regular blogging again, you’ve been missed. It is good to see that Warren understands the naturalistic fallacy, since his falls for so many others. But I have to disagree with you on one point. I don’t think that he does know that nose-punching and gay sex are not morally equivalent. Well, sorta but he thinks gay sex is worse.

  15. sunsangnim says

    Welcome back!

    I love the little pause when he starts talking about his feelings. I almost thought he was going to say he was attracted to men.

  16. says

    Good to see you again!

    Re: young Master Warren, however, I’d qualify that by saying that his understanding stops at the linguistic. He isn’t even really “technically” correct, in that you can’t separate his explanation of the naturalistic fallacy from his flawed connection between that and his “moral” take on nature.

    He gets the “natural isn’t “good” part but then goes on to make the same false moral judgement, only the opposite way; “natural is bad if nature isn’t the way I like it”.

    Nice of you to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I’m afraid that IMO he’s still an idiot.

  17. RunningDogs says

    >>>The reason this statement is so repugnant to liberals is that we base our system of morals on minimizing harm.

    It’s righter to say “minimizing inequality.” Liberals seldom say “what harm could our preferred policies cause?” The focus is on equalizing the outcomes between those viewed as powerful and those viewed as historical victims. Or on minimizing the wealth gap.

    >>>Punching someone in the face causes harm; gay sex does not.

    All sex is risky. Gay male sex is generally riskier than straight.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/578386

  18. loreo says

    “All sex is risky. Gay male sex is generally riskier than straight.”

    harm (plural harms)
    Injury; hurt; damage; detriment; misfortune.
    That which causes injury, damage, or loss.

    risk (plural risks)
    A possible, usually negative, outcome, e.g., a danger.
    The likelihood of a negative outcome.
    (Formal use in business, engineering, etc.) The potential (conventionally negative) impact of an event, determined by combining the likelihood of the event occurring with the impact should it occur.

  19. RunningDogs says

    I:ITSTPWW,

    >>>Lesbian sex is least risky, so go fuck yourself asshole

    True. Lesbian sex doesn’t regularly involve tearing of anal or rectal tissues combined with very high partner counts and top / bottom switching.

    Why “asshole?” My comment wasn’t insulting to anyone. Conservatism looks highly evolved. A lot of what they holler about for stupid-seeming reasons (e.g. Jesus, Torah, Mohammed) can actually be pretty destructive.

    ___________________________

    loreo,

    When people say “risky sex” they’re talking about risk of harm.

  20. Aurora_Belle says

    @RunningDogs
    When you say “gay sex is riskier than straight sex” you sound pretty homophobic.

    Certain types of sex can be riskier than others, but they are not exclusively “gay” or “straight”. Penetrative sex is inherently riskier than non-penetrative sex, because the risk of fluid transmission (and therefore infection or pregnancy) is higher. This is true of both straight couples and gay male couples.

    Having unprotected sex with multiple partners is also risky, but this is true of any sexual orientation.

    None of the above are inherent traits of being gay. So the false association is what offends people and is what is getting you called out. If this isn’t what you intended to do, I suggest you try for more specific language in the future.

  21. amm says

    But I think it’s important to emphasize how repugnant it is to base your system of ethics on some random old book instead of the well being of others.

    Basing one’s ethics on, say, a book on ethics might not be so repugnant.

    The problem is that the (Christian) Bible isn’t an ethics treatise. It’s a grab-bag of history, legend, poetry, and political tracts. It’s a fascinating read. But trying to extract an ethical framework from it is like trying to do so from a random collection of news articles from the century or so of New York Times archives.

    FWIW, my understanding is that Jews, for instance, use only the parts that are clearly written as commandments, and all branches of Judaism recognize that interpretation and adaptation is necessary; they only disagree on _how_ to interpret things.

  22. RunningDogs says

    @Aurora_Belle,

    >>>None of the above are inherent traits of being gay.

    The data indicate that rates of HIV infection among gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) are more than 44 times higher than rates among heterosexual men and more than 40 times higher than women.

    http://www.bilerico.com/2010/03/us_gay_mens_astonishing_hivstd_rates.php

    As practiced in the US, sex between men carries much higher risk of contracting STIs than sex between women or sex between men and women. This doesn’t have anything to do with homophobia; it has to do with the average differences between men and women.

  23. Nathair says

    This doesn’t have anything to do with homophobia; it has to do with the average differences between men and women.

    Do the differing risks of STIs between various genders, orientations and sexual practices not therefore demand mandatory universal celibacy? Or should we let the lowest risk groups slide and regard anything other than lesbian monogamy as immoral and totes icky? I find it suspect that it is only in the case of men having sex with men that the statistical risk becomes relevant and noteworthy to you. But what really earns you a hearty Fuck You Very Much is that, in terms of actual harm, a statistical increase in STI risk by sexual practice pales into utter insignificance compared to the immense damage done by thuggish heteronormativity of the Warren ilk, which you appear to be defending in your own small way.

  24. RunningDogs says

    Nathair,

    >>>Do the differing risks of STIs between various genders, orientations and sexual practices not therefore demand mandatory universal celibacy?

    No, but sex between two men just tends to be really risky. Since its likely that men have always been much more promiscuous with other men and it’s true that top / bottom switching combined with anal sex introduces a lot of complications, then sex between men has probably always lead to more STIs than other options.

  25. Nathair says

    sex between two men just tends to be really risky.

    You should really read beyond the first sentence.

    The problem is that the statement was made that “we base our system of morals on minimizing harm” and your response was “Well, man on man sex increases the risk of STIs” as if the entire scope of “harm” was “a statistically increased risk of contracting an STI.” It is not. Further, as the link you yourself provided discusses, the appropriate moral response to this increased risk is to take steps like increasing education efforts to reduce that risk. Contrast that approach with simply declaring MSM “evil” or campaigning to continue denying basic human rights to the entire LGBT community. Where then do you see the most harm?

    …and you have the arrogance to accuse liberals of a limited, dogmatic approach to morality.

  26. RunningDogs says

    >>>The problem is that the statement was made that “we base our system of morals on minimizing harm” and your response was “Well, man on man sex increases the risk of STIs” as if the entire scope of “harm” was “a statistically increased risk of contracting an STI.”

    I was making two unrelated points. It would be really easy for a con to say that cons are focused on “minimizing harm” because they want to maintain institutions that they view as bedrock to a decent and increasingly wealthy society. The major difference between cons and liberals is that liberals are focused on equality of outcomes; cons are not. This is not reductive or insulting to liberals. I’m a libertarian and it’s easy to see that what we obsess about is governmental coercion, which liberals only tend to mention in a few contexts. It

    >>>Punching someone in the face causes harm; gay sex does not.

    >>>Well, unless you’re into the kinky stuff.

    Just. Kinky sex is distinguished from non- mostly through stylized submission/dominance and violence. Gay male sex is about lots of anal and rectal tearing combined with top/bottom switching and high promiscuity.

  27. Nathair says

    This is not reductive or insulting to liberals.

    This is what you said.

    Liberals seldom say “what harm could our preferred policies cause?” The focus is on equalizing the outcomes between those viewed as powerful and those viewed as historical victims. Or on minimizing the wealth gap.

    That is enormously and quite obviously intentionally insulting.

  28. RunningDogs says

    Nathair,

    How often do liberals question their go-to tool for solving all problems: government? The thing that separates government action from free enterprise is coercion; governments are allowed to take money from people in any amount that is legislated, to use capital controls to stop citizens from fleeing with their own money, to outlaw ownership of free market money (gold), to outlaw almost any behavior (driving without seatbelts, negotiating contracts with the insurance companies they’d prefer, selling of Four Loko, etc.) I have never heard a liberal say that government is by its nature dangerous and tyranical and that it should be sharply limited. Basically, every liberal I come across is calling for more elements of society to be policed without asking “how are we trampling upon people’s rights?”

    They’re more inclined to say something obviously wrong like “the government is us” than to say “the government is the biggest gang and it should be feared.”

  29. Ichthyic says

    Running Dog is a running joke.

    he’s using a red herring to hide his homophobia in.

    seen it before.

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