Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Deontology, homosexuality and the Word's of God
Aric Clark and I have had several discussions about a philosophical view or school, as he puts it, of ethics referred to as “Deontology.” That is, ethics understood as acts based on a moral law which must be followed regardless of the consequences. As the Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it, “a deontological theory of ethics is one which holds that at least some acts are morally obligatory regardless of their consequences for human weal or woe.”
Aric first wrote on this subject on his blog. You can begin here with his posting about homosexuality not being a sin. He goes on with his philosophical views from there. He also commented on my blog posting, A Warning. You will have to scroll down to read his comment and my answer.
Aric next wrote me a letter and suggested I might want to continue the discussion. However after reading through again and thinking about it I believe most of my answer still stands. Here are the parts from the letter that I am the most concerned with. (Aric has put my thoughts from my answer in italics.)
"And the most important thought here is the Word of God. We do not obey the Word of God simply because it is a moral command or even because we believe the Bible has authority, but because God’s words have authority. And the Bible is God’s word to us."
It doesn't matter exactly where you place the authority. It still comes down to authority/command/obedience. It is still deontological ethics. And belief absolutely comes into it at every stage. We believe there is a God. We believe God speaks to us. We believe the mechanism of that speech is the Bible.
"But the truth is that it is not compassionate to break the words of God and encourage others to keep habitually sinning."
Notice the rules language here. The problem from your perspective is that people are "breaking the words (rules)" which get their authority from God. You don't say so, but given the context, I'm willing to wager by "sinning" you mean - not following God's commands. This is deontological thinking through and through.
"I believe we all must be molded by God’s word."
In other words, we all must obey God's rules. Deontology.You might feel like this is a lot of semantics, but what I am after is a clear understanding between us of the type of thinking behind our arguments. Too often in polarized subjects like this we argue past one another comparing apples and oranges. If we can agree that the way you and I are coming to our conclusions are specific (very different) modes of thought, we can begin to compare those modalities and see why we differ in this regard. Most likely it will end with neither of us being persuaded of anything, but at least we might understand one another better.
I will also be direct and say that I think that the quality of moral reasoning behind conservative beliefs about homosexuality is in general, very poor. Biblical hermeneutics? Strong. But when it comes to the moral argument, "why is homosexuality evil?" conservatives tend to have very poor answers: "because the bible says so" or "because it is unnatural". These answers are examples of deontological ethics. Worse, they are examples of unreflective deontological ethics. At least Kant was thorough and intentional about his moral reasoning, even if he ultimately came up with an unworkable methodology.
Finally, I will ask a couple preemptive questions. Assuming that you acknowledge that your moral judgment on this issue is a form of deontological ethics, and assuming you likewise acknowledge that you take circumstances and consequences into account when making moral decisions in many areas of your life (for example: deciding how to discipline or reward your children in order to raise healthy human beings).... then we see that you use different moral reasoning methodologies selectively. How do you determine what mode of reasoning you will use for a given moral question? How did you decide that homosexuality called for a deontological approach? In an ideal world would all moral behavior come down to obedience to divine commands? In which case, why hasn't God given us commands sufficient to cover every situation in life?
These are my words to Aric. First off I apologize for not posting the whole letter. It is too long. And it is mainly the last part that I have an objection to.
I came to my faith in Jesus Christ not only by use of reason but because the Holy Spirit opened my heart to God’s word. Some people came to their conversion in a slow process as they grew up in a Christian home. It is almost a natural process and they are often unaware of the change. But for me, and many others, it was different. I read the Bible often as a child, I prayed, but I did not know what it meant to belong to Jesus Christ, to be redeemed. When I became a Christian it was an all at once experience albeit an experience tied deeply to the word of God. Because of the immediate event I became aware of my sudden need to constantly read the Scriptures, and I found them opening to me in a new way. (Although I was only fifteen I was very aware of this change.)
I bring this up because I want to point out that this is more than a cold agreement or disagreement with a moral law. I love philosophy and would love to somehow come at this with you from a philosophical position but I cannot. The way you have put your terms means that you are insisting, as a Christian, that God’s authority is just one of several choices. I as a Christian do not believe I can even begin to argue with you from that point of view.
I obey God’s word because I love Jesus Christ. He is after all my Lord. Once he is Lord—reason is important—after all it was Anselm who wrote, "Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this, too, I believe, that, unless I first believe, I shall not understand." But when you simply use God’s word as an example of a supposed moral authority I will not enter into the debate. Because, first must come the debate about God’s word and his authority.