The sociology of the gay marriage debate

Australian Frank Furedi, a professor of sociology at the University of Kent,  looks at the sociology of the gay marriage debate, how the cultural elite are using the issue to achieve moral superiority over the non-elite.

From a sociological perspective, the ascendancy of the campaign for gay marriage provides a fascinating story about the dynamics of the cultural conflicts that prevail in Western society. During the past decade the issue of gay marriage has been transformed into a cultural weapon that explicitly challenges prevailing norms through condemning those who oppose it. This is not so much a call for legal change as a cause: one that endows its supporters with moral superiority and demotes its opponents with the status of moral inferiority.

As a result, it does not simply represent a claim for a right but a demand for the institutionalisation of new moral and cultural values. This attitude was clearly expressed last weekend by Trevor Phillips, chairman of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission. The burden of his argument was to accuse Christians, particularly evangelicals, of being more troublesome than Muslims in their attitudes towards mainstream views. In particular he warned that “an old-time religion incompatible with modern society” was driving Christians to clash with mainstream views, especially on gay issues. Incidentally, by “mainstream” he naturally means views he endorses.

Phillips’s use of language implies opponents of gay marriage are likely to be motivated by “old-time religion”, which is by definition “incompatible with modern society”. From this standpoint, criticism or the questioning of the moral status of gay marriage violates the cultural standards of “modern society”. What we have here is the casual affirmation of a double standard: tolerance towards supporters of gay marriage and intolerance directed towards its opponents.

The declaration that certain values and attitudes are incompatible with modern society tends to serve as a prelude towards stigmatising and attempting to silence it. That is why the so-called enlightened opponents of “old-time religion” more than match the intolerance of those they denounce as homophobic bigots. . . .

In the US, questioning the status of gay marriage is often depicted as not simply a rhetorical expression of disagreement but as a direct form of discrimination.

Consequently, the mere expression of opposition towards a particular ritual is recast as not a verbal statement but as an act of discrimination, if not oppression.

As American journalist Hadley Freeman wrote in The Guardian, gay marriage is not a suitable subject for debate.

“There are some subjects that should be discussed in shades of grey, with acknowledgment of subtleties and cultural differences,” she wrote, before adding that “same-sex marriage is not one of those”.

Why? Because “there is a right answer” she hectored in her censorious tone. The phrase “there is a right answer” represents a demand to silence discussion. And just in case you missed the point, she concluded that opposition to her cause should be seen for what it was: “As shocking as racism, as unforgivable as anti-Semitism.”

It is worth noting that the transformation of gay marriage into a crusade against sexual heresy coincides with the cultural devaluation of heterosexual marriage. In contemporary times, heterosexual marriage is frequently depicted as a site for domestic violence and child abuse. . . .

Paradoxically, in some quarters the idea that marriage for heterosexuals is no big deal coincides with the cultural sacralising of a same-sex union.

via Where gay matrimony meets elite sanctimony | The Australian.

HT: Joe Carter

The ethics of evangelism

Representatives of the World Evangelical Alliance (evangelicals), the World Council of Churches (mainline liberal Protestants, plus the Orthodox [why?]), and the Pontifical Council on Inter-religious Dialogue (Roman Catholic)  meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, issued a document entitled “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct.”  It affirms the importance of evangelism (a.k.a. “proseletyzing”), but sets forth some ethical guidelines when doing so.  You can download the document at the link, but here is a news account summarizing the points:

There are three main parts that make up the Recommendations for Conduct.

The first part provides a biblical basis for Christian mission, asserting the Christians should follow the “example and teaching of Jesus Christ and of the early church” in their witness and that “conversion is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit.”

The second section outlines 12 principles Christians are called to follow in witnessing of Christ in a manner consistent with the Gospel. These include: acting in God’s love; living with integrity, compassion and humility; rejecting any form of violence; and offering respect to all people.

The document concludes with six recommendations to all Christians, church bodies, mission organizations and agencies.

They are: study the document; build respect and trust with people of all religions; strengthen religious identity and faith while at the same time deepening knowledge and understanding of different religions; advocate justice and respect for the common good; call on governments and representatives to ensure religious freedom for all people; pray for the well-being of neighbors, recognizing prayer is integral to the Christian life and of Christian mission.

via The Christian Post

See any problems with this?  Can you think of other ethical considerations or applications that should guide one’s “witnessing” or a church’s evangelism efforts?

UPDATE: Christianity Today has a fascinating article on what these new rules for evangelism mean and what they leave out. I think I’ll do a post on that next week.

Bachmann or Romney?

It looks like the GOP presidential nomination may be a contest between Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney.   So far Romney seems to be leading, but Bachmann so far is outdistancing the alternative candidates.

On Bachmann’s Lutheranism, which we talked about earlier, she has been a long-time member of the Wisconsin Synod, though when reporters and her opponents in her last Congressional election found out that the Book of Concord calls the Pope the anti-Christ, that was sure to cost her the Roman Catholic vote.  She disavowed that particular confession and reportedly is no longer a member of that denomination.    I suppose that particular teaching would prevent any confessional Lutheran from winning a big election.  Still, no one should leave a church out of political considerations.

So, we may have to choose between a  Mormon or an ex-Lutheran.  Or, from another perspective, a moderate who might beat Obama or a conservative who wouldn’t have a chance.  Or would she?

Which one would you vote for?  Or would you just as soon vote for the incumbent?

 

GOP 2012 race: Does it boil down to ‘purity’ vs. electability? – CSMonitor.com.

Marshall McLuhan’s Christianity

The late Marshall McLuhan was the pioneering scholar of media and the information environment, recognizing how technology was changing the culture and predicting what is now happening before our eyes.  He was controversial and cutting-edged with some hailing him as being a seminal thinker on the level of Darwin, Freud, and Einstein.  Did you know he was a conservative Catholic?  Jeet Heer tells about how McLuhan came to Catholicism–G. K. Chesterton was a big influence–and how the neo-Thomism of Jacques Maritain influenced his thought.  You need to read the whole piece, but here is a sample:

McLuhan’s pioneering studies of popular culture were part of a sea change in Catholic intellectualism, as the Church gave up the siege mentality of earlier decades and tried to offer a more nuanced and positive account of modern life. As well, the Church began to move away from its defence of authoritarianism to support pro-democracy political movements around the world. McLuhan underwent his own political evolution: the young man who admired Franco became the academic who engaged in a long correspondence with Pierre Trudeau. And while The Mechanical Bride condemns the comic strip Blondie for undermining the patriarchal ideal of the man as the natural head of the household, in later writings, such as Understanding Media, McLuhan deliberately eschewed traditionalist strictures, because he thought it was more important to understand the world than to condemn it. As he told an interviewer in 1967, “The mere moralistic expression of approval or disapproval, preference or detestation, is currently being used in our world as a substitute for observation and a substitute for study.”

On moral matters, he remained very conservative. He was adamantly anti-abortion, for example. But part of his achievement as a mature thinker was his ability to bracket off whatever moral objections to the modern world he might have had and to concentrate on exploring new developments — to be a probe. Indeed, although he joined the Church as a refuge, his faith gave him a framework for becoming more hopeful and engaged with modernity. This paradox might be explained by the simple fact that as he deepened in his faith he acquired an irenic confidence in God’s unfolding plan for humanity. In a 1971 letter to an admirer, McLuhan observed, “One of the advantages of being a Catholic is that it confers a complete intellectual freedom to examine any and all phenomena with the absolute assurance of their intelligibility.”

Indeed, his faith made him a more ambitious and far-reaching thinker. Belonging to a Church that gloried in cathedrals and stained glass windows made him responsive to the visual environment, and liberated him from the textual prison inhabited by most intellectuals of his era. The global reach and ancient lineage of the Church encouraged him to frame his theories as broadly as possible, to encompass the whole of human history and the fate of the planet. The Church had suffered a grievous blow in the Gutenberg era, with the rise of printed Bibles leading to the Protestant Reformation. This perhaps explains McLuhan’s interest in technology as a shaper of history. More deeply, the security he felt in the promise of redemption allowed him to look unflinchingly at trends others were too timid to notice.

via “Divine Inspiration” by Jeet Heer | The Walrus | July 2011.

I’m not sure of the exact connection between St. Thomas Aquinas as media theory, though McLuhan was not alone in working out the connections.  (Could anyone explain?)  Another major scholar in this vein was Walter J. Ong, a Jesuit.  Nor are Roman Catholics the only theologians who explore the implications of media and technology.  There was the French Reformed thinker Jacques Ellul.  And the Jewish Neil Postman.  And the American evangelical Arthur Hunt.

I would just add my own discovery:  McLuhan was also interested in classical education.  His doctoral dissertation was on the media implications of the Trivium.   I have a copy that I intend to read one of these days.

Anyway, I suggest that McLuhan may be a good role model for other Christians in their intellectual pursuits and cultural influence.

FURTHER THOUGHTS:  If you read Marshall McLuhan today, you will be amazed at how well he analyzes the new information technology and its impact on the culture and how we think.  And then you will be even more amazed that at the time the medium he was analyzing was not the internet but television!  But what he says not only holds true but predicts what happened as electronic media progressed.

Jesus vs. Family

The New Testament reading at church last Sunday was Matthew 10:34- 39.  Pastor Douthwaite pointed out that if the reading had come one week earlier, we would be hearing it on Father’s Day :

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

First of all, I’m curious how you would apply this text.  We tend to associate Christianity with “family values.”  And yet, according to this passage, they are not always going to be the same.   Clearly, when one member of the family becomes a Christian and the others belong to some other religion or no religion, this passage applies.  But how else?  Are we are sometimes tempted to idolize our families?  Can we turn our family into a little cults?

Our pastor handled the text in a very helpful way, as is his wont, observing that of course God honors the family, an institution that He Himself established, protecting it in three of the Ten Commandments.  And yet, Jesus does bring a sword.  Read what he says in the sermon linked below.   I loved his conclusion, in which he develops the point that “water is thicker than blood”:

By virtue of your baptism into Christ, there’s a new family to which you belong. A new family that transcends the bounds of time and space. A new family that will not last just for a time, but for eternity.

So even though the world will tell you that blood is thicker than water – that our earthly family relationships create a kind of bond that should not be broken by the things of this world that, by comparison, are like water . . . but Jesus is teaching us that the truth is exactly the opposite. For in our new family, our new life, water is thicker than blood. The water and Word of Holy Baptism creates a bond that is greater than any other on earth – not just a bond that we have with each other, but the bond that we have with each other by virtue of our being united in Christ. It is Christ that holds us together, Christ who gives us hope, Christ who by His blood gave power to this water, Christ who makes us all brothers and sisters and children of our heavenly Father, in Him.

And so in Christ we have a family and life that we cannot lose. Not because we’re so great, or because there won’t be any strife and disagreements in the church – there will be! We’re still sinners. But because we are united in the One who is greater than our sin, who gave His life to give us life. And so it is exactly in losing your life in baptism, losing your life in repentance, losing your life in service, losing your life in Christ – you find a life that is even greater. A life that will have no end.

All of which is not to say our earthly families are not important – they are! But since we’ve just had two marriages here this past month, perhaps something that is said at many marriages can help us understand. For it is said that when two people get married, we’re not losing a son, we’re gaining a daughter.

Well by faith, that is what happens here. In Christ, we’re not losing our earthly families, but gaining a new family. And so we have not just an earthly Father, but now a heavenly Father and also many earthly fathers and mothers, and grandparents, and brothers and sisters, and children and grandchildren! Time may take away our earthly families, space may separate us, and the Word of God may divide – but look at how richly God has rewarded those who abide in the truth of His Word! With a family that does not compete against Him for love and loyalty, but which is created by those very things. With a family that does not depend on us to keep it together, but one which He keeps together. For that which God brings together, He will keep together. Together in Him. United through Baptism, bound together by the Word, strengthened in forgiveness, and fed by the body and blood of the very Son of God! The Son of God in whom we are all sons of God. . . .

That’s why we put this baptismal font front and center in the church. For it is the font and front and center of our lives. We put it here so that you can’t look at the altar or the cross without looking also at it. So that if you walk up to this altar, you must go by it. So that it remind you that this is why you’re here; that water is thicker than blood. That no matter what happens in this world, no matter the divisions and struggles, no matter the sin and death – nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. He has claimed you as His own, and you are His. Born again into His family. Or as St. John would later proclaim: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are” (1 John 3:1).

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 2 Sermon.

Children’s right to buy violent videogames

Kiddies, you are now free!  Free to play Grand Theft Auto!  The Supreme Court has ruled that you have the constitutional right to play violent video games!

States cannot ban the sale or rental of ultraviolent video games to children, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, rejecting such limits as a violation of young people’s First Amendment rights and leaving it up to parents and the multibillion-dollar gaming industry to decide what kids can buy.

The high court, on a 7-2 vote, threw out California’s 2005 law covering games sold or rented to those under 18, calling it an unconstitutional violation of free-speech rights. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia, said, “Even where the protection of children is the object, the constitutional limits on governmental action apply.”

Scalia, who pointed out the violence in a number of children’s fairy tales, said that while states have legitimate power to protect children from harm, “that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”

Justices Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas dissented from the decision, with Breyer saying it makes no sense to legally block children’s access to pornography yet allow them to buy or rent brutally violent video games.

“What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting the sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?” Breyer said.

Video games, said Scalia’s majority opinion, fall into the same category as books, plays and movies as entertainment that “communicates ideas — and even social messages” deserving of First Amendment free-speech protection. And non-obscene speech “cannot be suppressed solely to protect the young from ideas or images that a legislative body thinks unsuitable for them,” he said.

via Can’t ban violent video sales to kids, court says – Yahoo! News.

OK, but there is a difference between reading about violence and what you do to play a video game, in which you actively though virtually commit the violence.  I wonder too what other constitutional rights children can claim over and against what their parents say.


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