Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Slippery Slope of Religious Logic

marriage equality will lead to bestiality?
Last week I debated the "Slippery Slope" of marriage equality with the Deacon. You're lucky if you're not familiar with this argument. The premise is that any argument about marriage equality that has to do with not legislating morality - free, consenting adults should be able to marry whomever they choose - could also work for polygamy, and maybe even bestiality and pedophilia.

As I type this I can barely stop from punching my own screen.

This sort of thinking has kept religions from social change - and good people from religions - for millennia. This legalist, logical purist righteousness is the shield religious organizations use to prevent change and preserve the structures of injustice from which they benefit.

But the Deacon - who was pushing my buttons for giggles, and isn't actually a homophobe IRL - was persistent. I'm glad he was because it's a common argument in Church groups, and now I have a solid rebuttal that touches some major issues  in modern religious language. In two parts: rebuttal from theology and rebuttal from philosophy

Logic is not a Christian value. Not in the same way that compassion and love are Christian values. But it's the use of Aristotelian logic and reason (via Thomas Aquinas) that keeps Christianity from embracing those Gray Areas. Thomas applied the same type Aristotelian logical thinking that was so helpful in early physics and math (it actually wasn't) to issues of morality, spirituality, and religion.

Thomas is the medieval source of the legalism that plagues Christianity. It is the same legalism that Paul yells at in Galatians, and that Jesus fights in the Gospels (from last Sunday):
And [Jesus] said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.' You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast to the tradition of men." Mark 7:6-8
The "Slippery Slope" fallacy relies on the kind of logical legalism that Jesus and Paul fought against. Christians should be motivated by compassion, not legalism and logic. I think the Gospels make that obvious.

There is another, secular argument against the slippery slope. Context matters, social cues change, and what's right and wrong evolves over time. Hegel might call this the spiral of history. Every year is not like the preceding year: we all change over time, so it is natural that our views evolve. According to this logic, it is perfectly valid to say that a view is "right" this millennium that was "wrong" last millennium. Thus, "right and wrong" are not absolutes built into the machinery of the universe, they are social constructs that evolve with our society.
Today we are not called to judge every conceivable issue, today we are only called to judge the issues that arise today.

I think we've evolved to the moment for marriage equality. I do not think that our path through history will lead us to bestiality, but we have to leave that to our descendents.

Activists, keep raising issues whose time has come!

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