Assumptions (Axioms) are Key

David Schraub makes an interesting remark over at The Debate Link, which I think is wrong in principle. Hopefully he will point out where he thinks I am wrong. He writes:

Can I just highlight this statement, by the way? “Perhaps our dissenting colleague believes that one can condemn homosexuality without condemning homosexuals. If so, he is wrong.” That is very powerful language–rare to see in a Court opinion. It also is absolutely right, and in many ways the crux of the analysis Reinhardt is making. This line of reasoning may be uncomfortable for many, but I think that they are the ones who should be doing some soul-searching if they can’t find a meaningful distinction between anti-gay and anti-Semitic or racist speech (see below).

The crux of this is the categorical statement that one “cannot condemn an act X without condemning the actor”. J. Reinhardt (and a consenting Mr Schraub) it seems are at odds with and dissenting with basic canonical Christian doctrine. So that leaves us with three possibilities,

  1. J. Rienhardt and Mr Schraub are wrong and that a statement about an action X can be made without condemnation of the actor.
  2. Their statement is right and Christian theolgians are all wrong
  3. Or of course, I am wrong and misunderstand both J. Rienhardt and Christian theology.

One of the essential doctrines we are taught common to Christian ethics is the teaching “love the sinner, hate the sin”, which means one must explicitly do the opposite as inferred by the statement, that is to put it in parallel form to the above, “one is to condemn the act X but cherish the actor.” Thus I’m going to assume that #3 is not the case (my misreading of Christian teaching). So it seems that the Christians are exhorted by their teachers (and preachers) to do what Mr Schraub and J. Reinhardt claim is impossible. If Mr Schraub is right, and this is the crux of J. Reinhardt’s analysis then … somebody is wrong and that error might be an important point.

What is it that informs the Christian logician that his statement condemn + love is tenable, when condemn => condemn is unavoidable. How might a Chrisitan logically condemn a sin without condemning the sinner. Well, the axiom which makes this possible is that the Christian believes that all are so condemned in the same manner. Thus the condemnation assumed by J. Reinhardt and Mr Schraub is avoided in that the condemnation does not single the actor out but merely classifies the individidual as belonging to the category of mortal human, which to say the least is not a very elite group. So the result is that J. Reinhardt and Mr Schraub are right unless one assumes that the condemnation applied is universally applicable to all and therefore not condemnation per se, in that the condemnation amounts to saying that I condemn the act X and therefore the actor is like me, in that he/she does things which I condemn.

For the Christian there is some confusion in this particular clash of worldviews. On the one hand, we have groups of people participating and celebrating actions which are viewed by (many or some) Christians are sinful. The confusion arises in wondering why individuals choose to celebrate such actions. How, in the public square, to confront such activities and celebrations is something Chrsitians are enjoined (by their love for the actors/celebrants) to do. How to do that in a loving fashion is the challenge. But I think it is clear that the syllogism proposed by these two legal scholars is wrong and the theologians win this hand. How that impacts our the legal case I will not presume to muse … but that might be an interesting question better handled by the gentlemen at, say, Mirror of Justice. It is likely that in the syllogism is wrong (one can condemn X without condemning the actor) but that in the case in question this was not done and that the actor was condemned alongside the action.

Finally, I’ll close with a comment on the particular case at hand. I think it the actions of the student are not particularly well in line with a Chrisitian approach to the issue at hand. While I myself am not versed in the teachings on homosexuality in the Church and Scripture so I cannot comment in any useful way on whether homosexuality is sinful/shameful or not. But, it would seem to me if a person did feel that homosexuality is a sin, then the slogan on a T-shirt “Homosexuality is Shameful” would better be replaced with the two phrases “Homosexuality is Sinful” and “I am Sinful”, which at the very least would confuse the reader as to what the person was trying to say and engender some level of discourse on the topic. While it is well known that satire and humor can be a more effective weapon in brining a message across than many other more confrontational approaches, I am partial myself to obfuscation and confusion as a method of getting people to think new thoughts.

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7 comments

  1. Saturday’s Easter Vigil was the most memorable of all. First, because I had consciously prepared myself for Easter through my Lenten preparation. Second, because I became Godfather for my dear friend Sharon.” Mark at Pseudo-Polymath points out that”Assumptions (Axioms) Are Key”: “In a recent court case, the majority opinion contained a key argument that seemed to me to be counter to a basic tenet of Christian teaching. Who is right, logically speaking?”Anthony at Fides et Veritas

  2. Blogotional says:

    convertors on lawn mowers indeed, they run an hour a week with maybe 5% of the emissions of an automobile running the same time. Sheesh! Bad therapy advice – live and in color. I feel sorry for this person, urged to conform instead of blossom.Deep Thoughts by Mark Olson, not Jack Handy – oh and these are serious. Most horrifying headline in history:

  3. “I am partial myself to obfuscation and confusion as a method of getting people to think new thoughts.”

    I’m sorry–I just had a humorous thought that Mark Olsen = the alter ego of Judith Butler. THAT would take me by surprise.

    Okay, now to point proper. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not any expert on Christian theology, so these will be more generic responses. First of all, I think it’s really clear that this sort of condemnation as part of universal condemnation was NOT what was going on here (and I think you agree–as you say at the bottom, this guy didn’t really conduct himself in a particularly good Christian manner).

    The more meaty response comes from the point Reinhardt and I are making about attacking a integral part of ones personhood. Recall that this was a critical part of why Reinhardt ruled the way he did in this case (and how he distinguished it from, say, “Democrats suck”).

    If I’m a liar, and you say “David’s a liar, which is shameful, but I still love him as a person,” that makes sense. Why? Because its an good bet that lying is not integral to my sense of personhood. It doesn’t attack the essential “me.” I might feel miffed at the attack, but since I’m either agnostic towards or, more likely, in agreement that lying is bad, there is no attack on my identity at the fundamental level.

    But one’s sexual identity (and plenty of other identities) are much more tightly knit into ones sense of personhood. Now imagine a 19th century racist remarking on Blackness (which he conceives to involve certain normative traits (presumably negative ones) that are inherited biologically, perhaps as “Ham’s punishment”). “Blackness is a shameful condition that leads to [indolency/brutishness/mental inferiority/what have you]. We should keep it tightly controlled, and make sure it does not spread to contaminate the white race. I don’t hate Black PEOPLE–in fact, I pity them for their condition–but the condition IS wrongful and sinful.” In fact, this was the rhetoric of many white racists during that time period.

    Or take a topic closer to your heart, Mark: religion. “Christianity is a shameful religion based on Satanic principles.” Can you honestly tell me you wouldn’t take that as an attack on your personhood? Or would you accept the speakers claim that they do not hate YOU, only your state of sin? I don’t think that’s plausible.

    The statement “love the sinner, hate the sin” works–but only sometimes. It assumes detachability of the sinner’s sense of self and the “sin” being critiqued. Where that isn’t possible (race, religion, sexual orientation), the sylogism breaks down.

  4. Mark Olson says:

    David,
    Two points in reply, first placing the burden of deciding identity is on the wrong side, and second your examples seem to miss the axiom that it is not condemnation only if the condemning is inclusionary not exclusionary.

    On the first, to expand, condemning a person for lying you find as not necessarily condemnation of the actor because (you assume) that is not the basis of the actor’s identity. Perhaps he is a con-man or rogueish type (sales?) and his ability to lie convincingly is formative of his identity. Then by your analogy it is condemnation of the actor and therefore should not be said. In the case in court, sexual identity is held to be the sort of thing (as opposed to political) more fundamental. I might find that to be a categorical error of the era and that our elevation of sexuality to such primacy is the fault for many of our societies ills. Does that enter into the factoring of this discussion, that is that your identification of sexuality as a being always part of a persons identity imagery places sexual condemnation in a different category. But if this identification is not universal, or in fact in error, does that not highlight the problem of insisting on identification and avoidence of issues which might be “primary identification symbols” for the “actors” targeted by the condemnation of action X?

    On the second, none of your examples demonstrate the inclusionary nature of the Christian condemnation. Your three examples, lying, blackness, and Christianity, none of them are inclusionary (except perhaps lying). We all tell lies, so calling me a liar is not exclusionary and therefore not necessarily condemning me personally. However, we are not all black nor worshippers of Satan so those condemnations are exclusionary singling a person or group out from the crowd. The difference in the Christian condemnation is that it highlights our simlarities (we all sin) and then tries to focus on the solution (repentance, grace, salvation, et al). To demonstrate that your point remains valid you have to show how inclusionary condemnation also condemns the actor.

  5. jpe says:

    Well, the axiom which makes this possible is that the Christian believes that all are so condemned in the same manner.

    I don’t think this does much for you. It seems you admit that the gay person is condemned, but everyone is condemned. That doesn’t answer the charge, but concedes it.

    The only plausible way the Christian can hold that the sin is condemned while the sinner is not is by positing some kind of amorphous soul that exists independently of the actions of the subject. I expect that many types of Christians are sympathetic to this idea, but to those of us that don’t hold this soul/individual distinction, it’s – literally – non-sense.

  6. Mark says:

    jpe,
    I also don’t hold to a separation of body and soul, but I still don’t think I’m wrong. What I mean by “not condemning” the sinner is that he is in now way singled out by the condemnation. He is condemned in the same way with or without (before and after) the condemnation of the sin. The gay person would be still condemned if he was not gay so condeming homosexuality is independent of his condemnation.

    The only way you might propose this remains condemnation of the individual is if you thought that the homosexual person singled out for condemnation would be sinless except for this one sin, which I would not think to be the case anyhow. That is non-sense. 🙂

  7. I wonder if the original statement using taking condemnation to mean something much less. In one perfectly reasonable use of the word ‘condemn’, you are condemning someone whenever you say what they’re doing is wrong. Condemning in this sense is just saying that the act they performed was wrong. Dictionary.com lists this as the first meaning of the term. Merriam-Webster lists it third. In that sense, you can’t condemn homosexuality without comdemning homosexuals, at least if you mean by ‘homosexuals’ those who are actively involved in a lifestyle of same-sex relationship.

    But of course this is a classic equivocation. When Christians say they aren’t condemning gay people, it’s not to say that Christians don’t consider the gay lifestyle wrong. It’s to say that it doesn’t constitute some lower category of person, it doesn’t mean gay people are thoroughly immoral in a way everyone else isn’t, it’s not saying that this should affect how the person is treated, it’s not singling out that sin as opposed to any others, and most especially it’s not to take that condemnation of the behavior as indicative of the kind of relationship that the Christian will seek to have with the person. In that sense it’s very different from the kind of condemnation that I would express against am unrepetant child molester, whose actions are not just harming themselves and other consenting adults.

    Since ‘condemnation’ is a slippery term, the response you’re dealing with here is trying to get away with something illegitimate. It gets a very quick acceptance that condemning homosexuality is condemning the person based on a really light sense of what condemnation is, and then it relies on a much more serious sense of what condemnation is to argue that the Christian’s condemnation of homosexuality is much worse than it really is.