I’m only writing once on Chik-fil-a

I’m only writing once on Chik-fil-a August 2, 2012

Seriously, I thought it was pronounced Chick-fil-uh.

That’s not the main reason I haven’t posted on this topic (though it did mean I was kind of embarrassed when the subject came up among friends).   This just seems like a news story where there are only a couple things to be said, and most people are just repeating them (but with more and more vehemence).  Anyway, here’s the selection of hackneyed thoughts I agree with, and then one probably not original one at the end.


Don’t use zoning to curtail speech!

And, frankly, don’t ever use zoning in response to a news story or problem that is less than, oh, let’s say, 6 months old.  Zoning is already a shuddering mess, and the last thing we need to do is weaponize it further.  The only winning move is not to play.

(Also, can someone please bribe the zoning boards in DC so we can have properly sized buildings here?)


Rod Dreher is right about the weirdness of politicizing every purchase

When something really terrible comes up about a business you patronize, it makes sense to pause and decide if you can continue to do business with them.  It makes most sense to give them up if the revelation is related to their product or business model (unsafe ingredients, brutalization of workers, etc).  I’m much more likely to boycott a business if it busts its union than I am if its executives give to anti-union causes or candidates.

There’s a certain amount of fungibility here, and I’m mindful of it, but I also don’t want every action I take to be a sortie in the culture war.  Back when I was at college, the flagship Blue State Coffee (a coffee shop that tithes some of its profits to progressive causes) opened up near campus, and some of my conservative friends didn’t want to meet up there, if we were grabbing a coffee.

I don’t want every meetup, every gift, every purchase to be something that requires extensive research and might be something that keeps me and my friends apart (how can you have a substantive fight about anything without a mutually agreeable coffeeshop?).  There’s a way to lower the stakes of your purchases, without hurting your cause.  See the next section.


Don’t ever just boycott, give to advocacy groups

I’m not sure what fraction of the sandwich purchase price goes to fund anti-gay marriage groups or what portion of an Amazon purchase goes to support legalization of gay marriage.  But I’m pretty sure it’s small enough that you’d have a much bigger effect just donating $5 or more to the advocacy group you actually back.  (In my case, that’s Lambda Legal).

If you think the group you’re boycotting is so awful, you can’t in good conscience support them, fine, don’t buy their products, but still give to the people who are rallying the troops to make institutional or cultural change.  If the stakes are high enough that buying a product means you’re complicit, then they’re high enough to make some time to volunteer or give.


And then match that donation with another contribution through GiveWell

In case you aren’t tired of me harping on it by now, GiveWell evaluates charities based on the empirics of what they accomplish, not just on the size of their overhead.  Imagine two charities, A and B.  Charity A has 20% overhead, and the remaining 80% goes to malaria nets.  Charity B has 10% overhead and the remaining 90% goes to buying kids toys.

You should probably give to Charity A.  The malaria nets are known to improve the outcomes of the kids they reach, so, dollar for dollar, you know your gift has changed someone’s life for the better.  Remember you’re not just buying warm and fuzzy feelings for yourself.

I like to use every time I make a donation (political or otherwise) to a group as a reminder to give to one of the groups reviewed and recommended by GiveWell.  So, whichever advocacy group you gave to in the section above, would you consider donating the same amount to one of GiveWell’s charities?

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  • Ben Crosby

    I am not sure you’re correct in your endorsement of Dreher’s column – I think that David Session’s riposte to Jonathan Merrit’s piece in the Atlantic is right on: http://www.patrolmag.com/2012/07/25/david-sessions/bad-reasons-to-eat-more-chick-fil-a/.

    To quote the most relevant section (although the whole piece is worth reading):
    “The premise is that politics and economics are separate realms, and we are “creating a culture” of division by dragging politics into such things as economic transactions. One could hardly better encapsulate the reality we live under, where economics have completely replaced politics. That’s pretty much the definition of classical liberalism: true politics, where human values are disputed, are expected to be sublimated by economic transactions. The winner is the corporation, which can now reap the profits of a society where no human value is allowed to be more important than a business deal. (If you question that orthodoxy, you’re likely to be labeled a “radical” or a “partisan,” or better yet, just “too political.”) This ideology owes its entire existence to the need for capitalists to keep human values out of the way of the market. Above all, it must keep politics a dirty word, because people who know what politics are and how to use them can cause trouble for capitalists very quickly.”

    • anodognosic

      I agree wholeheartedly. David Sessions is right on.

      Also, it’s worth keeping in mind that it was Chick-fil-a that politicized itself. Even if we insist on a separation between politics and economics–which to some extent we must, or as some commenters at Sessions’ blog pointed out, we’ll have to quiz every mom and pop store owners about their politics–surely if a corporation (rather than merely its owner–there, the case is less clear-cut) aligns itself with a political cause we find odious (and let’s keep in mind that Focus on the Family is about a lot more than just outlawing same-sex marriage; I don’t hesitate to call it odious), it is perfectly proper to boycott it. I think it’s the same with Blue State Coffee, which is an explicitly political company.

    • I’m going to second that. “Do no harm” in economic terms is difficult. If you can’t afford to shop at stores that don’t exploit their workers because you’re exploited yourself, that’s one thing. But if you can afford (with time, energy, and money) to shop at a place that doesn’t do bad things, I think there’s at least a small moral imperative to do so.

  • It really is adding a new horror to the Charity Wars by asserting that every person who donates to a cause they believe in should also donate to a cause GiveWell believes in, because the donor may be choosing a charity for foolish or selfish reasons, and GiveWell obviously has a more just and balanced view. How about we do this instead: I contribute to a charity I know about and agree with, and you do the same, and we don’t pester each other about it? What a concept.

    • leahlibresco

      The big benefit of GiveWell is that they check that the charities have some effect. I don’t have time to do audits on charities and check how effective their interventions are and read through the peer reviewed papers. I have to trust someone (and it’s sure not going to be the charity). I recommend GiveWell because I have scoped out their methodology and they’re focused of the results the charity produces, not only its budget structure (important, but only a piece of the puzzle, and the only thing a lot of charity recommenders focus on).

      I’m always glad to hear about other good audit groups, though. And I do think GiveWell does have charities to suit any political orientation. I’ve not really met anyone pro-malaria.

      • Yes that’s one side of the coin, but on the other side of it there are good reasons not to idealize GiveWell.

        1) Effectiveness is evaluated against values and not everyone shares their values.
        As a practical example, one of their standout charities is a hospital. About half way in their report there’s a bullet point mentioning that, among other services, it provides abortions (and more than twice as many as deliveries). I can easily imagine some nice Catholic granny hearing from her geeky grandchild that GiveWell is a trustworthy evaluator, browsing the list, maybe even reading the summary (which is silent on the question), giving to that hospital, and ending up an unwilling accomplice to murder. Now I don’t think the GiveWell people actually want to cheat that fictional granny, but I think on a gut level they simply don’t get that some people might have different values from the average retired Wall Street executive. If they actually were ideologically neutral this would be a font size 30 warning on the charity list.

        More abstractly, they talk an awful lot about DALYs. It’s hard to imagine another metric as evil as that. Perhaps measuring success of schooling programs by the number of white kids served.

        2)The focus on easily measurable aspect biases the evaluation if favor of metacharities
        Reducing effectiveness to numerical metrics is extraordinarily difficult. The famously disastrous effects of trying to do it for software development are somewhat cliché by now, but I think the lesson transfers to other complex goals. And charity is of course an extraordinarily complex goal.

        So far the practical GiveWell solution to that problem is focusing on narrow aspects that can be quantified. (Their theoretical solution would be DALYs, but luckily they don’t have the data.) There are things to be said in favor of that approach, but it clearly tends to isolate aspects of bigger projects. That in turn introduces a bias in favor of meta-charities that sponsor quantifiable aspects of broader charities on the ground.

        And in fact the two present top-rated charities both operate by giving grants to other people doing the actual good. The actual malaria net, for example, is only a part of providing people with it. You also need someone to distribute it and to explain its usage. It wouldn’t hurt if the distribution was accompanied by a latrine-digging program either. And all of this will go down a lot better if the people doing it already have a foothold in the local community. And the whole AMF shtick is dependent on that infrastructure being put into place by other charities that wouldn’t stand a chance with GiveWell. To put it uncharitably, GiveWell is biased in favor of parasitic charities and that’s not just a malaria pun.

        3) This is point-scoring morality.
        Basically a neighbor to love gets replaces with an optimization-problem to solve. It’s about buying utility rather than giving to people. I was hungry and after some complicated calculations you provided me with a physiologically optimal nutrient shake. Points 1&2 are really sub-aspects of this: If you try to reduce people to numbers you will end up ignoring their dignity (1) and complexity (2).
        4) The meta-charity structure adds overhead.
        Basically the people on the ground will end up with paperwork applying for small grants for small aspects of their work and then fulfilling the documentation requirements. It’s not that bad once, but it would be a significant part of their work if the meta-charity approach caught on big. Now one might say control overhead is better than wasting the money, but that argument pretty much depends on ignoring point 2 above. Focusing significant control overhead on the quantifiable aspects is just more waste if the actual waste/effectiveness questions are elsewhere.
        5) This, too, is about the donor’s feelings.
        In addition to the warm and fuzzy feeling the typical GiveWell directed donor gets the feeling of having given not only well but actually better than all those folks directed by their warm and fuzzy feelings. Basically it buys superiority in addition to righteousness. And I’ve even seen it as an excuse for giving less, because there’s still more effect.

        • More abstractly, they talk an awful lot about DALYs. It’s hard to imagine another metric as evil as that.

          I’ve got to reject vehemently to this. This is the first time I’ve heard of DALYs, but a quick read through the linked wikipedia article seems to indicate that this is simply trying to weight the value we place on a year of human life based on how much of that year is taken up by disease. Look, I understand if you find this distasteful- I wouldn’t be comfortable with looking a sick person in the eye and telling them “sorry, you’re sick, so I can’t help you”. But the fact is, there are limitted resources and we have to make some crappy decisions about how to best allocate those. You should feel disgust at the fact that there are limited resources, not at the people trying to make the best use of what they have. It seems pretty self evident to me that, if I absolutely have to choose, it makes more sense to save the life of someone who has 20 years of healthy life left than to save someone who has only 2. I don’t see what your alternative could possibly be. (Please correct me if I have misunderstood what DALYs actually are)

          3) This is point-scoring morality.
          Basically a neighbor to love gets replaces with an optimization-problem to solve. It’s about buying utility rather than giving to people.

          I think you’ve got it backwards- it’s love-point-scoring mentality if you are using your money in a sub-optimal way just because it makes you feel better. Charity (the act of giving money, not the Christian virtue) is about utility- but it’s the utility of what’s best for other people. I would argue that that approach is more loving than trying to maximize for your own personal experience of love (whether giving or receiving), or whatever exactly it is you’re trying to maximize for. If I’ve got a pile of $X, and I have to decide how to spend it on charity, the most selfish thing I can do is allocate it based on what makes me feel the best. The least selfish thing I can do is to not give a rip about how it makes me feel, and instead give it to where it will do the most good for other people. I understand, particularly from a Christian perspective, the desire to instill in ourselves a personal love for others, instead of an abstract distant one, but we can’t do this with our money when it comes at the expense of other people who need it more.

          If you try to reduce people to numbers you will end up ignoring their dignity (1) and complexity (2).

          I don’t think I agree with you that (1) implies ignoring people’s dignity. But that notwithstanding, I do agree with you that this is a difficult problem to solve. As you say, not everything maps well into numerical parameters. But it sounds like you’re saying “this is a hard problem which we’ll never get right, so we shouldn’t try”. I agree it’s a hard problem, and it may be that we never get it right- but I’m going to claim that we’re going to get it more right this way than by using any alternatve method. Reducing people to numbers isn’t perfect, but it seems a heckuva lot better than randomness. Can you offer a compelling alternative that maximizes the amount of good your money does better than the GiveWell approach? (I realize that we may disagree that the point of charity is to maximize the amount of good your money does, but that’s my metric. Feel free to offer an alternative that maximizes whatever metric you want to use)

          5) This, too, is about the donor’s feelings.
          In addition to the warm and fuzzy feeling the typical GiveWell directed donor gets the feeling of having given not only well but actually better than all those folks directed by their warm and fuzzy feelings. Basically it buys superiority in addition to righteousness. And I’ve even seen it as an excuse for giving less, because there’s still more effect.

          This really ruffles my feathers. It may be true that some people use GiveWell for the pang of moral superiority it gives them. Most don’t. And to categorize GiveWell as being about the donors feelings (not to mention pigeon-holing everyone who uses it as being self-righteous) seems pretty disingenuous when the whole point of GiveWell is to find the best charity to donate to independant of emotion. This is pretty backwards thinking. You might as well say that anybody who does anything good ever is doing it for the kudos- how dare they.

          You don’t look for the most efficient charity unless you think charities being efficient matters. I’m sure there are some people who use it as “an excuse for giving less”, but most people who use it do so because they want the money they give to do the most it possibly can. If that’s what people who use it value, then using it isn’t a self-righteous joyride, it doing the right thing. Frankly, I have a hard time conceiving of a framework where giving your money knowing that it’s not doing the most it possibly can is a good thing.

          For the record, I do think you raise some good points about the methodology GiveWell uses in (1), (2), and (4). The implementation might be suspect- but the goal or maximizing utility, to me, is not.

          • . This is pretty backwards thinking

            eh… I just reread this, and that sounds awfully inflammatory. Sorry ’bout that- I really just meant that I don’t think that is well applied logic

          • Skittle

            Two children. Child one is able-bodied, and with treatment can live 5 years longer than without treatment. Child two is blind, and with treatment can live 7 years longer than without treatment. How does your metric evaluate the relative values of those treatments? Are child two’s years worth less than child one’s years?

            And malaria nets are a funny example, because they’re so often cited as something westerners unthinkingly throw into a region, assuming it will be the most good they can do, without investing in education, support, or consulting the locals. Since, like condoms, they are ubiquitous, people find other uses. Malaria nets get turned into fishing nets for tiny fish, into clothing, rather than being used to protect people. Nobody asked the locals what they needed.

            I prefer giving to charities that aim for long-term improvement, with a lot of input from the people being helped: that isn’t going to show up on immediate metrics. But, at some point you have to surrender and go for the starfish principle. You know the story of the guy on the beach surrounded by suffocating starfish? You can’t waste time worrying about all the starfish you aren’t saving, or choosing not to throw the ugliest starfish into the sea, or giving money to a programme to pay a contractor to throw starfish into the sea: you need to start scooping and throwing, or you’ll have ignored that dying starfish lying next to your foot.

          • Don’t worry Jake, I’m not that easily offended. And I’d better not be, considering that I like being rather direct myself! (And the reason I’m answering late is early onset weekend laziness, not offense.)

            On DALYs, it’s true that ” if [you] absolutely have to choose, it makes more sense to save the life of someone who has 20 years of healthy life left than to save someone who has only 2″. But that example eliminates the actual conflict. If the choice was between saving two people who have nine healthy years each left or saving one with twenty healthy years left I would prefer the two. Same if it was was between 19 times one year and one time twenty years. Now you may disagree with those intuitions, but I’m sure you’ll notice it becomes much less obvious.

            But that doesn’t reach the most evil part yet. Skittle has already mentioned it as a question, so let me give the QALY answer: Blindness has an impairment factor of 60%, so the 7 blind years are only worth 2.8 healthy years. 2.8<5, so you save the healthy kid. Or to put it more generally, and all else being equal, blind people count as two fifths of a person. All else equal, it's better to save one healthy person than two blind ones.

            Even if blind people are on average willing to give up 60% of their remaining life-years for sight (which under third world conditions may me be a realistic assessment of the burden) that is still an obviously immoral approach. And it's not about the specific number either. It's just not OK to count disabled people as inferior and then to discount them accordingly.

            To put it slightly Kantian, people have a dignity, objects have a price, and the difference between prices and dignities is that dignities can't be settled against each other at any ratio.

            This doesn't mean that charity need to be entirely random. Some choices are fairly obvious. As per Leah's example, a kid profits more from not being infected with malaria than from new toys. Other questions are more difficult and therefore more arbitrary, like weighting long-term improvement vs. present alleviation of suffering. And some will be effectively arbitrary, like where exactly the charity does what it does. So yes, there will always be some hard choices. But: It doesn't help to move the hard choices to abstractions and then hide behind these calculations when we refuse to help actual people. That's still making the same hard choices plus counting some of them as less than human.

            On to the point scoring:
            What I mean is that these kind of approaches replace the real people with a mathematical construct about as close to them as CDOs are to real houses. And while I can and do love math, that is using “love” in a very different meaning than it is used with regard to people. Even if, per impossible, some real human actually had a utility function there would still be a subtle difference between me wanting to help them and me wanting to increase their utility. The actions would be identical, but the latter case is objectifying.

            On donor’s feelings, I’m just pointing out the Scylla to the Charybdis Leah warns us of. She warned us to “Remember you’re not just buying warm and fuzzy feelings for yourself”. This is a reasonable warning, because donating does give warm and fuzzy feelings and they don’t necessarily correlate well with actual usefulness. And since we are all fallen it makes sense to occasionally check if our actions actually align with our beliefs. There is a risk we are giving to something more visible and emotional than something actually more helpful. If we fall into that trap we are likely to come up with some quite plausible sounding excuses, so strong emotions should be a warning sign of potential irrationality. But, I say, GiveWell isn’t averting that problem. Hitting on a supposedly optimal solution does give a strong emotional payoff on top of the payoff already available from charitable giving. So, if anything, we should expect more danger of distorted thinking. So I don’t think GiveWell gets a presumption of rationality because the alternative is emotion-laden. I’m not saying everyone following their advice is irrational, just that this approach doesn’t protect from emotion-induced irrationality.

          • If the choice was between saving two people who have nine healthy years each left or saving one with twenty healthy years left I would prefer the two. Same if it was was between 19 times one year and one time twenty years. Now you may disagree with those intuitions, but I’m sure you’ll notice it becomes much less obvious

            I absolutely agree the right answer isn’t obvious, but that’s a long way from saying one of the options is evil. More to the point, even if you think 2 x 9 is better than 1 x 20 (I honestly don’t know if I agree with you or not, I’ll have to think about it), you’re ultimately still using a weighting funciton. Your weighting function might look more like ((# of people saved * 2.5) + total number of health-discounted years), whereas DALYs seems to simply be (total number of health-discounted years), but you’re still reducing this to a number somehow, no matter how distasteful you find it. For example, how would you choose between 4 people living for 3 years, 5 years, 6 years, and 11 years respectively versus 3 people living for 8 years, 17 years and 21 years? I’m not asking you to actually give me a formula, but I think it’s important to recognize that you have one, even if you’re not concious of what exactly it is.

            Blindness has an impairment factor of 60%, so the 7 blind years are only worth 2.8 healthy years. 2.8<5, so you save the healthy kid. Or to put it more generally, and all else being equal, blind people count as two fifths of a person. All else equal, it's better to save one healthy person than two blind ones.

            So it seems like you’re saying quality of life shouldn’t be taken into account at all? I think I just flat out disagree with that. I agree with you that blind people are not “2/5ths of a person”, but given a choice between saving a blind stranger in a third world country and a 20/20 vision stranger in a third world country, all else being equal I think I’d pick the 20/20. I guess I’m unclear- is your objection to the fact that we’re discounting years of life by standard of living, or the seemingly punitive rate at which we discount specific things like blindness? (would you be ok with a 10% discount rate? Or 5%? Or 1%?)

            Even if blind people are on average willing to give up 60% of their remaining life-years for sight (which under third world conditions may me be a realistic assessment of the burden) that is still an obviously immoral approach. And it’s not about the specific number either. It’s just not OK to count disabled people as inferior and then to discount them accordingly.

            Looks like you answered my question, I’m just in too big of a hurry to go back and rewrite 🙂

            I just flat out disagree with you that this is obviously immoral. I can certainly admit my ignorance and say that I have no idea what sort of qualiy-of-life-imparement-factor blindness presents in a third world country (or even in a first world country, for that matter), but I don’t think the answer is to ignore quality of life. For example, if I had to choose between saving nine completely healthy people and ten people who are going to be bedridden for the rest of their lives, I would choose to save the healthy ones.

            I think the disconnect here is that you see this as saying that bedridden people are worth less as people than healthy people, whereas I see this as saying time left on this earth is not the best measure of X, where X is the variable I’m trying to optimize (I would say X = human wellbeing, but I’m not married to that being the ultimate standard for charity giving. And I realize that’s a pretty fuzzy variable to begin with)

            the difference between prices and dignities is that dignities can’t be settled against each other at any ratio.

            We as people with resources are in the unfortunate position of having to establish an exchange rate between the two. In an ideal world, you’re right- we should never have to make this kind of choice. But we don’t live in that world, and we do have to make this choice. You can use a lot of different metrics to make your choice, but you still have to make it. Possible or not, you can’t escape from the obligation of deciding which one of those two sets of humans you value more

            It doesn’t help to move the hard choices to abstractions and then hide behind these calculations when we refuse to help actual people. That’s still making the same hard choices plus counting some of them as less than human.

            I’m not advocating for refusing to help people, just that we have an obligation to give the most help we can. Moving that hard choice to a mathematical abstraction seems like a perfectly reasonable approach to me- especially if my goal is actually to optimize human wellbeing. I don’t think it’s “still making the same hard choices plus counting some of them as less than human”- instead, I think it’s “still making the same hard choice, but making sure I get it right”

            there would still be a subtle difference between me wanting to help them and me wanting to increase their utility.

            I disagree here too. Perhaps we’re disagreeing on what “love” means? My loose definition of loving another person is desiring what’s best for them. We tend not to use the same vocabulary for love that we use for economics, but if we taboo the words with explicit connotations, it seems to me that we’re talking about the same thing. (Note that I’m not trying to increase their utility- i.e. what they can add to society- I’m trying to increase my money’s utility- i.e. how much good it can do for other people)

            For your last point, I’m pretty much on board with all your warnings that we ought to be careful that we’re not donating for the warm-and-fuzzies, and I agree that using GiveWell isn’t a fool-proof protection from emotion-induced irrationality. But I am saying that GiveWell is an attempt to remove emotion from the equation in favor of rationality, and it’s bizare to me to say that we get some emotional boost from tricking ourselves into thinking we’ve removed the emotion. That’s like saying the more we love our spouses, the less we actually love them, because we get benefits from loving them more. It might even be a little bit true, but it’s still loads better than the alternative. It sort of sounds like you’re simultaneously accusing GiveWell users of being not emotional enough (not actually loving people) and too emotional (getting an emotional boost from their presumptive super-rationality). Do you actually think they’re doing both, or am I misreading?

            You may never read this comment, but if you do, can you point out where exactly in this chain you think I’ve gone wrong? I think it would help me understand your position a little better:
            1. Humans have value
            2. In world of limited resources, we sometimes have to choose between which of two humans (or groups of humans) to save
            3. If forced to choose between saving two humans with equal standards of living, choosing the one with the longest expected life span is a reasonable (though not fool-proof) approach
            4. If forced to choose between two humans with different standards of living, their standards of living should be factored in to the decision along with their expected life span
            5. Certain disabilities lower the standard of living of human beings in third world countries
            6. If forced to choose between two humans with identicl expected lifespans but different standards of living, all else being equal we should choose the one with the higher standard of living
            7. If forced to choose between two groups of humans, we should factor in the number of people in each group, the expected lifespan of each person, and the standard of living of each person
            8. There are at least some cases, when forced to choose between two groups of humans, that the correct choice will be the group that has a smaller number of humans in it (i.e. 99 perfectly healthy people vs. 100 people on their death beds)

            I think if you agree with those statements, then we’re just haggling over the proper formula. But my guess is you’ll disagree with #4

        • Alex Godofsky

          Basically a neighbor to love gets replaces with an optimization-problem to solve.

          If actually trying to help someone as best you can sabotages your love for that person, I think the problem is with your love and not with the charity. It means that to you, charity is about engendering certain emotional states in yourself and not about helping the person.

          Basically, the logic should flow:

          1) I love these people!
          2) Therefore I want to help them.

          The logic shouldn’t be:

          1) I ought to love these people!
          2) I should sacrifice something of my own to engender that love, and call it charity.

        • Kristen inDallas

          Got to agree with Gilbert here. Jake says “If I’ve got a pile of $X, and I have to decide how to spend it on charity, the most selfish thing I can do is allocate it based on what makes me feel the best.”
          But I think that depends too heavily on the assumption that there is no value to other people in the giver becoming a better person, or in the relationships formed. I don’t do a ton of national/global level charity spending because I spend about every free dime I have on friends, people in the community, and local projects. You could look at it one way and call me selfish, because I give more to people and groups that will give back some good feelings. but I see it another way… I know myself and I know that if I put money into something I am more likely to see it through. When I give a few hundred to a local group that teaches music to disadvantaged kids, I wind up volunteering my time too. When I give $10 to the homeless guy I pass every day on my way to work, I can’t guarantee he won’t “just spend it on alcohol” but I am more likely to watch out for him. I remember that guy because I invested in him and even on the days when I don’t have anything to spare, we still trade waves hello. And I think that means something. And not just to me. If I sent a big check to amnesty international I probably wouldn’t think about it again until it comes time to declare it on my tax returns, other than as justification from disinvesting from the people around me. (Well I donated to XYZ, so I’m square with the world).
          Anyways, I’m not saying that no one should donate to global food distribution programs, or to cancer research or whatever else the big groups do. I know we need a lot of that stuff and I’m glad they get money from somewhere. But I think there is also value in some of us letting our heartstrings guide our wallets. There is value in taking a risky gamble on money being used (potentially inneficiently) because on a gut level we all need to know from time to time that another real human being cares about us as human beings. Souls are saved one at a time, not in bulk.

    • Lack of introspection about charitable giving and activity is a real problem. There are kids living in orphanages with parents still alive (in several countries, majorities of orphanage children have at least one parent still living), and orphanages have terrible health outcomes compared to almost any other situation. But parents can’t afford to keep their kids, while orphanages are raking in the cash. Thoughtless giving undermines economies and leads to massive amounts of waste and corruption, so poking at other people’s charitable giving is entirely legitimate.

      • Tom

        You’re right – and they’re brought to the orphanages by the police so that they don’t have to stay in jail for their crimes. “Orphanages raking in the cash?” Not my experience – but then again I’ve only experienced Catholic Orphanages.

        • Which do you think is more likely to receive help, an orphanage or a single parent? The PARENTS bring their children to orphanages because they can’t afford to keep the children.

          And I’m not saying orphanages are bad. They aren’t. But the way they receive funding that could be better used to keep children with their families is bad. I could see myself donating money to an orphanage, but I’d have to do a lot research first. Something that I imagine most people don’t do.

  • Dianne

    I’m only writing once on Chik-fil-a

    Good luck with that one! I predict a number of comments here that will simply demand a response and you’ll be unable to resist SIWOTI syndrome.

  • re: donating to GiveWell charities
    I’m not entirely sure of the best algorithm for distributing donations.

    For example- the company I work for recently held a “backpack drive” for local underpriveleged children who couldn’t afford school supplies. Sounds good, right? But each fully stocked backpack cost about $30. A malaria net costs about $5.

    It seems like the point of donating is to get the maximum utility out of this money for the wellbeing of humanity. But if this is the heuristic we’re using, the only viable strategy is to find the single charity that does the most good (however you define good) and donate exclusively to them. A donation to any other charity isn’t just a nice thing you decided to do in addition to donating to malaria relief- it’s more akin to stealing from the people who need malaria nets to give to the poor kid without a backpack (Worst. Robin Hood. Ever.)

    The problem with following this heuristic is that there are lots of good causes that are just never going to make the cut. Do I want to help inner city American kids get a good education and have a chance at success in life? Absolutely. Do I want a single American to get a good education at the expense of several life saving malaria nets? Probably not. And if we’re all being reasonable, nobody else would be giving to these charities either. Sorry, poor inner city kids, we’d love to help, but…

    I wonder what strategy other people use for deciding a) how much to give away, and b) where to give it? Leah’s strategy of logging charity pings for later use seems like a decent way to keep ourselves accountable to an ideal of compassion, but it’s not a great algorithm for getting maximum utility out of our resources. And outside of a virtue ethics framework, the point of charity seems a lot more about what our money actually does than about how and where we donate it affects us.

    • Trevor

      You don’t need to worry about what other people are doing. If everyone who donates to charity decided to only donate to malaria prevention, very quickly everyone would have mosquito nets and that would no longer be the most efficient charity, and you could switch to whatever the new best charity is.

      In a world where everyone agreed on how much good each charity did, and that one should only donate to the best charity, there would eventually be a bunch of charities with equal marginal utility for more money. If one charity’s marginal utility increased, everyone would donate to that one until marginal utility went back down to the equilibrium.

  • (Just giving a “here! here!” to the zoning comment with the possible addition of, “Government is complicated enough without people politicizing it”)

  • Alex Godofsky

    I’m frequently confused by the people who run around boycotting this and that and getting outraged at whatever the controversy of the day is. It just seems like so much effort and stress invested in doing something that won’t even have any observable consequences.

    I suppose if everyone thought this way then we wouldn’t have any “controversies of the day”.

  • deiseach

    Leah! Do you not know how this blogging thing is supposed to work? You are not supposed to put up a post of reasonable via media accommodation on a controversial topic of the day, you are supposed to pick a side and be outraged, absolutely outraged!

    My only comment on the whole thing (as a citizen of a nation without this brand of fast-food restaurant) is that the worst twits were the blinkin’ politicians who piled on the bandwagon with brags of how they were going to abuse their office to block any franchises setting up in their baliwicks. Chicago, I am looking at you in particular, because your brand of municipal governance has its roots in Irish parish pump politics (the late and original Mayor Richard Daley has his ancestral roots about fifteen or so miles from where I live, and may be a very far distant cousin, to the point where my father vehemently denied any relationship at all) so I can wag my finger in disapproval with a good conscience.

  • MumbleMumble

    So you commented on the Chik-Fil-A controversy without saying much about what you actually think of Chik-Fil-A (outside of pronunciation). Are they wrong to be promoting organizations that seek to expand the Catholic teachings into the political arena and deny homosexuals equal rights under the law? Or is that acceptable? Following your conversion, do you believe in the Catholic Church’s teachings on homosexuality? And do you believe that those teachings should be codified into state and federal law? And should billion dollar companies be trying to sway those kinds of decisions? Or is this really your only comment on Chik-Fil-A?

    • Hmm. Who’s denying homosexuals equal rights under the law? Marriage is not a right. It’s a privilege, with attendant rights and responsibilities, like driving and voting, something for which you must meet requirements and register or make application for license to exercise. That it would not be in the best interests of the larger society to extend this privilege further is not merely Catholic (and Baptist and Muslim and Hindu and Orthodox Jewish and Mormon and on and on) teaching, but the will of the people of the United States as enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton, and as affirmed on the state level wherever it has been put to the vote. If Dan Cathy wants to put his chicken earnings toward maintaining that status quo, it’s his damn business, just as it is the business of those who put their considerably larger profits toward overturning it. That’s not bigotry, that’s just how it works.

      • Steve

        By all means, it’s his business. It’s also bigotry–just because you have some religious tenet about marriage, doesn’t mean everyone subscribes to that. And in a pluralistic society such as ours, enforcing your view in such a manner upon non-subscribers strictly because you have the numerical advantage is very much bigotry.

        The argument that it is the law doesn’t hold water. Slavery, too, was once legal–indeed, it was embedded in the US constitution. Many Christians were steadfastly in favor of maintaining the institution. Were these individuals somehow not bigots, because it was the law of the land?

        • Erick

          I don’t get it.

          1) Chick-fil-A as a business does not discriminate against homosexuals. Homosexuals and even married/civil unioned homosexuals are free to go to any Chick-fil-A and they are served without prejudice. The owner used his right to free speech to talk about a cause he believes in, but all of a sudden Chick-fil-A is bigoted?

          2) What’s the basis for calling belief in marriage being just for a man and a woman as bigoted? Is the discrimination based on “fictional” difference? Because last I heard, the ability to procreate children was a real difference between heterosexual and homosexual couples.

          • Steve

            Are you ignoring the donations that go to anti-equality groups and have palpable effect (e.g., that abortion of law known as Amendment One in NC) accidentally or deliberately?

            Are you ignoring that marriage serves other functions in our society than the rearing of children accidentally or deliberately?

          • Erick

            Whether marriage has other functions besides promoting the procreation of children, the fact of the matter is that it is a real difference. And it is a difference that all current restrictions in American marriages have in common. Consanguinity is a marriage restriction, for example, because of the genetics involved in the procreation of children. Whether you agree that procreation of children should define marriage or not, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to call it bigotry.

          • Steve

            You’d have a fair point if Cathy had spoken out against non-procreative unions. But that’s not the subject he opined on. He raised his voice in support of biblical “traditional marriage,” which has absolutely nothing to do with procreation. Those who do not subscribe to Cathy’s view of the biblical marriage, much less what Christian scripture says on anything, have no obligation to heed his reason–and without actual support besides his own belief (and the collective belief of other Christians) in traditional marriage, it is indeed bigotry.

          • Steve

            Erick… (I’m a different Steve than the gentleman above). Are homosexual women unable to get artifically inseminated?? Are homosexual men unable to donate sperm, or get a surrogate to carry a child?? Should we then withdraw the marital rights bestowed upon heterosexual couples with children conceived in such a fashion??

            There are practical reasons for Consanguinity to be grounds for prohibiting a marriage such as a higher likelyhood of genetic problems in the offspring of such a relationship. You could debate whether the increased likelyhood of such disorders is grounds enough to legally prohibit incestuous relationships, but perhaps that’s a topic better suited to another day.

      • Bernadette


        I wonder if the rights/privilege divide that you draw here isn’t a bit dubious, especially with the examples that you provide.

        First, part of what defines driver’s licenses and voting as “privileges” is not merely that one must meet requirements and be licensed but also that these are “privileges” that can be taken away. A convicted felon can lose his or her ability to vote and if you rack up enough points against your license you can lose the freedom to drive. While you do have to apply for a marriage license and be of a certain age (that is to say, it meets some of the definitional requirements for a “privilege”), you can’t strictly speaking “lose” the right to marry; this seems to suggest that we, as a society, understand that marriage is different from the other examples you provide. I’ll even dare to say that it could be a recognition that there is something sacred about it.

        Secondly, while voting and driving may, at some level, be called privileges there is still a recognized right to equal access to them. Even employment—something that most everyone would recognize as clearly being a privilege—still operates within certain legal guarantees that the employment not be closed to individuals just because they belong to a federally protected class of people (of course, “sexual orientation” is not yet a federally protected class, but that’s another issue).

        Now, I realize that one common response to the equal access argument is that GLBT folks do have equal access to marriage because they aren’t barred from marrying, just from marrying somebody of the same sex. I wonder, though, if one couldn’t use the same type of logic to argue that anti-miscegenation laws didn’t limit equal access because, after all, folks of all races could be married they just couldn’t be married to one another. (Not trying to draw any problematic correspondences between race and sexual orientation here—I’m just trying to suggest that the particular “but GLBT people can already marry” argument [versus an argument about whether they deserve equal access] doesn’t seem to jive with the other ways in which we think about what “equal access” to marriage means.)

        I think, bearing these considerations in mind, that marriage (and equal access to the institution) falls much closer to the “rights” than to the “privileges” end of the spectrum.

        • Erick

          I think the most problematic argument for GLBT community is still the one that is least publicized. Marriage is about children, and the ability to procreate children is still a real difference between heterosexual and homosexual couples.

          In fact, marriage is a heavily discriminating institution in general. And it discriminates mostly due to reasons related to the procreation of children. Here is what liberals have to understand. We understand that homosexuals can love each other and engage is long-term relationships. But, for marriage, we just believe that “Love” is not enough. Relatives of close degree that love each other can’t marry. There are friends who have known each other since childhood who don’t marry.

          • Bernadette

            I don’t know if it is reasonable to say that the civil definition of marriage has much to do with childbirth beyond the consanguinity issue which is, in large part, about trying to insure the health and well-being of potential children. (It’s also worth noting that the laws regarding consanguinity are tied to the criminal definition of incest in a particular state. Thus, the state is concerned about preventing procreation between close relatives in any situation—not just in the confines of marriage.)

            We allow people who are infertile to marry, men with vasectomies and women with hysterectomies, etc., and we allow post-menopausal women to marry. Even if both partners are fertile, they are not required to promise to try and procreate to get a civil marriage (obviously this is different in the case of some religious marriages)—in fact, they could loudly declare that they will *never* have children and yet can still get a marriage license.

            Furthermore, unmarried parents are held just as legally responsible for the upbringing of their children as married parents (child support, etc.) and they have parental rights. All of which would suggest that the state largely sees child-bearing and rearing as essentially a separate legal category from that of marriage.

          • So infertile people shouldn’t marry?

          • Erick

            I’m only saying that there is no basis for calling those against homosexual marriage “bigots” on their face, which is a word pro-same sex marriage people like to throw around tactically against anti-same sex marriage people.

            Of course, there are bigots out there, but that doesn’t mean the institution/culture itself is bigoted. The discrimination comes with a very valid reason.

          • Erick

            Reluctant Liberal… I wouldn’t be against the idea that infertile people not be allowed to marry if we go by a “defined by procreation” definition.

          • Erick,
            That’s why the “defined by procreation” idea is wrong. (It is, btw, not what the Catholic Church teaches.)

      • Dianne

        Who’s denying homosexuals equal rights under the law? Marriage is not a right. It’s a privilege, with attendant rights and responsibilities, like driving and voting, something for which you must meet requirements and register or make application for license to exercise.

        So if a law is passed saying people named Joanne can’t get married, that’s fine, because marriage is a privilege, right? What about a law saying that Catholics can’t be president. This was a real issue in the 1960s when people were talking about how JFK would be subservient to the Pope and not look out for the best interests of the US. Surely being president is in no way a right and there are a number of restrictions on it already (age, birth place, citizenship, etc.)

    • Mr. Cathy of Chick-fil-A is not trying to promote organizations that expand Roman Catholic teachings. Mr. Cathy is a Baptist and most of the organizations that I have read that were donated to are Evangelical in outlook and very likely would have significant issues with most Roman Catholic teachings. Perhaps surprisingly, a significant number of Baptists and Evangelicals deny that Roman Catholicism is even Christian.

      What he is trying to promote is the idea of the Rockwell traditional family which he believes to have a Biblical basis and to be the cornerstone of society. He is not so much against “gay marriage” as he is pro traditional family which he believes is being devalued by government and being transformed into something that will cause the US to crumble.

    • deiseach

      Given that the inteview which stoked all the controversy was first disseminated by the Baptist Press, I doubt Chick-fil-A operates on particular Catholic principles (for instance, the allowability of contraception and divorce would have different applications).

      Besides, if President of Company A can give donations and back campaigns for “marriage equality” without media headlines about politicisation, then I see no reason why the President of Company B cannot donate and back campaigns for “traditional marriage” and be treated the same. If it’s political and unwarranted to donate to one side of a campaign, it applies to donating to the other side as well. If a business should stay out of that and not give support to side X, then a business should do likewise by side Y.

      Media and elected officials giving a bye to (or even more overtly, praising and supporting) side Z while hammering side F in the matter of question J is, by no measure, fair comment or democratic rule.

    • Emily

      And do you believe that those teachings should be codified into state and federal law?

      I think Leah has stated pretty directly that regardless of how and whether her beliefs about homosexuality change as a result of conversion, her position on legal marriage equality is the same because civil law shouldn’t privilege religious arguments. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

  • Gabe Murchison

    The beef that well-informed people have with Chick-Fil-A isn’t about the leadership’s comments — it’s about their donations to groups like Exodus International, the best-known promoter of “ex-gay” conversion therapy. If you put money in their pockets, you are paying to promote practices that are not only bigoted but that have been shown to cause serious psychological harm to those who undergo them. They’ve also given to the Family Research Council, which depicts gay people as child sexual predators and opposed the decriminalization of sodomy 2003. Comments can be comments, but I don’t want my money snaking into the pockets of extremely toxic organizations like FRC and Exodus.

    By the by, I don’t know what’s gone down in other cities, but Menino has clarified that he cannot and has no intention to actually prohibit Chick-Fil-A from opening in Boston. Those of us from Boston know that any comments he made to that effect were “Mumbles” being his blustery self, which we either love or tolerate well enough to keep electing him.

    • Chris

      @Bernadette: If marriage is defined as a lifelong contract that can only be dissolved upon the death of one or both of the spouses, then you can in fact lose the right to marry, for if you are already married and your spouse is living, you relinquish the right to marry again until after her death. Marriage is not even strictly speaking a right in a society which provides legal measures for terminating marriage contracts based on, for example, “irreconcilable differences” (divorce), since so long as a marriage contract is intact between two persons, it is illegal for either person to enter into a marriage contract with a third (bigamy).

      @Gabe Murchison: Empirical data suggests that “gay conversion” programs are at least moderately successful. After undergoing treatment many subjects experience fewer same-sex fantasizations. Moreover, I fail to see how such programs are “bigoted” inasmuch as most are freely entered by persons struggling with same-sex attraction. You might call them bigoted as a consequence of your moral approval of homosex, just as a moral santioner of drug use would call bigoted any program which purposed to convert drug users, but that doesn’t prove that such programs are themselves bigoted or coercive.

      • Bernadette

        Chris—In the case of laws against bigamy (and even in the case of the “lifelong contract,” a definition that does not exist in US law), you don’t “lose” the right to marry because you *are* already married, you are taking advantage of the right at that very moment. An analogy: just because you can’t cast two votes in the same election doesn’t mean that you’ve “lost” the right to vote.

    • deiseach

      Chris, even the figures I’ve seen bandied about by those unsympathetic to Chick-fil-A make it something like $1,000 each to Exodus Ministries (and see GetReligion post on coverage of their change of emphasis) and to the Family Research Council, about whom I know nothing.

      Those are not the kind of sums which will buy a whole lot of activity. I will contrast that with a figure plucked from the Arcus Foundation report for Religion and Values programmes in 2011, where in one single donation, they made a grant of “$90,062 to complete the development of theological and liturgical resources that provide the foundation for the blessing of same-gender relationships within the Episcopal Church.” This is an issue that is straining relationships within the Anglican Communion and is a matter of deep dispute over the direction of theology.

      Again, sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander. If donations to a religious entity are not desirable on one side, neither are they on the other. If it is legal and permissible for an outside institution that is not itself a religious body to give grants on one side of a campaign, then it applies to the other side.

      • Ryan

        Regarding your goose/gander issue. The problem people have with donations to these religious entities is not that they are religious entities, but that they support a cause they(and I, for that matter) believe to be wrong. Boycott is a perfectly legitmate way to protest such things. Nobody(reasonable) is trying to make such donations illegal by protesting them. They are emphatically disagreeing with them and trying to stop them, but not by the power of law. As to certain government entities claiming to deny chick-fil-a building permits… shame on them. Abusing power is not the way to do this.
        The rest of us, however, are being even handed about it. Chick-fil-a has every right to make these donations, and i have every right to disagree/protest/ try to convince them not to. You have those same rights regarding the donations on the other side. I fail to see how this is a problem. Objections do apply to the other side, just not from me. You misunderstand what is being objected to if you think otherwise.

  • Steve

    “Don’t ever just boycott, give to advocacy groups”

    Leah, thanks for making this point explicit. Once you have learned that some action you’re taking is harmful–e.g., giving your money to individuals that donate it to groups that seek to undermine your very identity–it’s important to take action to stop that cash flow. But counterbalancing it with real, valuable effort in the other direction–to actively resist the ones who are the genuine source of harm–is by far the more important action. I think the term the military uses is “force multiplication.”

    I do have a bone to pick with your framing of this. I admit, I once upon a time enjoyed those nuggets. But when I learned (years ago) of the company’s efforts in cultural warfare, I had no ethical choice but to stop feeding their coffers. This isn’t politicizing economic decisions–I don’t hunt down libertarian or liberal or conservative shops to target for boycott. But when you know an action you are taking contributes to morally heinous efforts, you cannot stand idly by and still call yourself ethical. I respect those who boycott JC Penney for the same reason–they view their money as going toward heinous things, and so not spending it there is a duty.

    But one of us isn’t trying to destroy the other’s identity, social freedoms, and in some cases, very lives. If that’s political, well, man is a political animal. 🙂

  • Chris

    As to Lamda Legal, why anyone like Leah– supportive as she is of the imperatives of universal morality and common decency– would continue to support a legal organization which publishes material tacitly approving and advising persons who “cruise” for anonymous gay sex in public restrooms, is beyond me. (For details, refer to Lamda Legal’s “Little Black Book.”)

    • leahlibresco

      Lambda Legal launched a national campaign today to fight police harassment and other harms men face when cruising for sex. Lambda Legal’s latest publication, Little Black Book, tells men who have sex with men about their legal rights if they are harassed or arrested while cruising for sex in public.

      The ACLU distributes pamphlets telling student about their speech rights in school and everyone’s rights when their car is pulled over. I’m in favor of these and the Lambda document you’re referring to. Without going into any of the debate over the moral character of gay sex, wouldn’t you Mirandize a suspected murderer? What is the point of keeping people ignorant of their legal rights?

      • Actually, I’m curious of one thing.

        Have you even written a post about the morality of sex? Not just gay sex, but sex in general, though admittedly with a focus on, say, anal sex, oral sex – tip of the iceberg stuff.

        And do you think the LGBT culture has a moral problem on its hands when it comes to sex and sex culture?

        • leahlibresco

          Not particularly and I don’t anticipate adding it to my lineup in the future. In all honestly, I like writing about theology and math and philosophy of medicine and pacifism a lot more.

          • Not particularly and I don’t anticipate adding it to my lineup in the future. In all honestly, I like writing about theology and math and philosophy of medicine and pacifism a lot more.

            Well, that’s a shame, but totally understandable. Thank you for the reply!

          • Actually… on reflection, I think I was too fast.

            You say you like writing about “theology and math and philosophy of medicine and pacifism a lot more”. Okay. But the impression I’ve gotten from your past posts is that the topic of homosexual, bisexuality, gay rights, gay marriage, etc gets a lot of attention from you. Now, that could be a perception problem on my part, or maybe something has changed. You certainly cited the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexual acts as a problematic area in the past.

            I didn’t suggest you “add it to your lineup”, like a regular series. (This Friday on Unequally Yoked – S&M and The Theology of the Body – how they relate!”) I just asked if you’ve ever written a post on the topic. Granted, it’s totally your call if you don’t or haven’t – it’s your blog, you don’t need my input. But I will say I think it’s a pretty important and neglected topic. Especially since the sexual acts are precisely what’s objected to by Catholic and most Christian teaching (remove the sexual acts from a gay relationship and, aside from the temptation towards sexual acts, it’s difficult to see what’s left that the Church opposes. Possibly something, but it’s going to be pretty minor.)

            Not to mention… I’d still like to know if you think the LGBT community has a moral problem on its hands regarding sex and sex culture. Certainly it’s not the case that they do and heterosexuals don’t. But whether under your current, theistic view or your past, non-theistic view, that seems like an appropriate question, and again a pretty major one. Is there something immoral about an orgy? How about a Bathhouse?

          • leahlibresco

            I think I know very little about sex and don’t have particularly salient advice. When friends wanted advice in college, I could trouble shoot communication problems, call out some ways of being disrespectful of a partner or objectifying them (which doesn’t just happen sexually). I’m a good problem solver, but I really don’t know enough about sex to be that helpful in that specific domain. I know that my intuitions are shared by almost no one, so I’m suspicious of them. (Example: by the time I was in college, I was concerned that kissing someone might be seen as condescending since kissing cut off talking and talking was more intellectual and personal than kissing).

      • Chris

        @Leah: The reason we Mirandize suspected murderers is to keep innocent people from being falsely accused, tried, and punished as actual murderers and to keep (for example) 2nd degree murderers from being accused, tried, and punished for 1st degree murder. Broadly speaking, Miranda rights are intended to allow suspects the means of protecting themselves against self-incrimination beyond what they are actually guilty of; they are not intended to provide suspects with a means of avoiding guilty confession.
        Lambda Legal appears not to understand this kind of distinction. Certainly an avant-garde lawyerly crew such as LL is aware that public sex is illegal in most U.S. states. Nevertheless, LL’s diminutively titled ‘Little Black Book’ is written not to inform homosexuals of their legal rights should they be wrongfully accused of public sex, but rather to advise homosexuals on how not get caught having public sex.
        It begins thus: “If you cruise in parks, bathrooms or other spaces open to public view, trust your instincts, be aware of your surroundings — and know your rights. While Lambda Legal and other groups are fighting against the ways police target men who have sex with men, having sex where others might see you and take offense can subject you to arrest, publicity and other serious consequences. If you feel unsafe, you should leave” –which, using a somewhat more blunt mode of expression, can be rendered: “Should you decide to have anonymous gay sex [n.b., ‘cruising’=anonymous gay sex] in parks, bathrooms or other public places, i.e., wantonly violate the law, it is recommended that you keep your head down and try to keep the noise to a bare minimum. Trust your insticts– the same instincts that told you it was a Good Idea to go in for sodomy with a stranger in a dirty highway restroom stall. Be aware of your surroundings– mindful of the difficult tautology that public places are synonymous with third-party viewership. Know that, while Lambda Legal is fighting against police hell-bent on arresting homosexuals, sex in public is actually against the law, meaning you might actually be seen and, as a consequence, might actually get arrested. Therefore, if at any point you feel “unsafe,”–that is, if the abject filth of the public restroom environment and middle-of-nowhere feel of an abandoned Route 66 rest stop, coupled with the eerie feeling of a complete and total stranger’s appendages on or about your person, doesn’t make you feel unsafe, but the logical possibility that, definitionally, you might be seen in a public place, and be caught literally with your pants down, does–then you might want to defer to the legal experts on this one and leave.”

        • Are you the same Chris who wrote this comment a while ago? If so, I got your intention seriously wrong at the time.

          But for the record, this time you are partially right. I think lawyers should advise people who have done bad things including on how to escape the punishments established for their actions. Defendants’s rights are not only for the innocent. But that is still different from advising them on how to commit those actions in the first place.

          • Chris

            @Gilbert: No, I’m a different Chris. By the way, I don’t like your wording. Lawyers, who, mind you, are still subject to the moral law, cannot advise clients as to how they can “escape” punishments that are prescribed for their offenses by lawful authority, without committing the sin of deceit. What they can do, is attempt to lessen their client’s sentence as much as possible within the confines of the law.

            The concern I have with Lambda Legal is that their “Little Black Book” actually advises potential criminals (i.e., those who engage in public sexual activity) as to how not to get caught doing it. Unless to engage in public sex is to be considered another form of ‘civil disobedience,’ and its practitioners the noble descendents of ‘An unjust law is no law at all’ civil activism of yore, then there is something deeply wrong about a legal organization publishing a guidebook for how to break state laws with impunity.

            That’s my take, anyway. Leah must follow her own conscience as to whether continuing to give to the likes of such an organization is in accordance with the moral law.

          • This might be a terminological problem. Suppose a murderer confesses to their attorney but not to anyone else and sufficient other evidence for conviction is not available. If they keep their mouth shut during the trial they will escape punishment and I think that’s what a good lawyer should advise. Of course you can define every success the lawyer can legitimately achieve as “lessen[ing] their client’s sentence as much as possible within the confines of the law”. You might argue that after all the law provides for these possibilities and I would argue that even if it does the goal it is shooting for is clearly frustrated. But really at that point it’s more about semantics than any real question.

  • SamuelM

    I have never commented here before but i feel i must for this reason:

    Until I read that opening sentence, I didn’t know how to properly pronounce Chick-fil-a either. (Granted, I’m not American and thus have never encountered a Chick-fil-a store before, i’d heard of it before this whole kerfuffle though). I assumed it was a short ‘a’ and it took me reading the word several times after your first sentence to figure out how else you could possibly pronounce it. Then I elongated the ‘a’ and it all made sense.

  • “If the stakes are high enough that buying a product means you’re complicit, then they’re high enough to make some time to volunteer or give.”

    I’m really going to have to take issue with this. Time and money seem to be two things that people most commonly lack. Making a blanket universal statement that one action of opposition isn’t enough puts demands on a lot of people who won’t be able to meet those demands through no fault of their own. I’ve got no issue with you promoting advocacy over boycotting, but you’re going a bit too far here.

  • Hibernia86

    While I agree that trying to block Chick-Fil-A from cities based only on who they give money to is wrong, but I do strongly disagree with Leah about politicizing purchases. Corporations are powerful entities that have significant power in the political sphere. Their political actions have major effects on people’s lives. American citizens should have some say in how that power is used. The best way to do that is to refuse to give money to companies which abuse their political power. When I pay a company, I am paying for everything that they do. I want Chick-Fil-A to make me a chicken sandwich, not make me a chicken sandwich and financially support hate groups. I doubt that people would ignore Chick-Fil-A’s financial contributions if they were given to the KKK. Why do those people think that it is okay to boycott a company for giving to a racist organization but not to boycott a company giving to a homophobic organization?

    I don’t think Leah’s opinion on the above matters has necessarily changed since her conversion (everything she writes could be written by a gay Atheist), but I do think the focus may have changed. If Leah had written this post a year ago, she might have mentioned that the zoning response is wrong, but I doubt that one of the main focuses of the article would be not to politicize purchases. I think she would have written about bigotry in America against gays and ways to fight it. (hopefully my analysis of Leah won’t distract too much from the first paragraph, which I think is the most important).

    • Chick-Fil-A is equivalent to KKK?

      • Hibernia86

        No, I’m saying that supporting a group that says that gays shouldn’t have the right to get married is just as bigoted as supporting a group that says that whites and blacks shouldn’t go to the same schools or drink out of the same waterfountains.

        • So, if someone believes that gays should have the right to legally get married, but not in a church – let’s say they believe that, even if gay marriage is ‘legal’, there very idea of ‘gay marriage’ is incoherent – are they bigoted?

          Leah is apparently in the process of becoming Catholic. If she adheres to Catholic teaching on this matter – even while supporting gay marriage in a legal sense – would she be a bigot?

          • Hibernia86

            If a church did not allow gay marriage within their church, then yes, they would be bigoted, but they have the right to be bigoted if they want. If a Fraternal order (like the Freemasons, Moose, Elk, Ruritans, ect) wanted to ban blacks from membership, they could do that legally but they’d still be bigots.

            Yes, if Leah felt that it was wrong for gays to get married, then she would be holding bigoted beliefs. That wouldn’t make her an evil person. But it does mean that she would unintentually doing evil. People who opposed racial integration of schools thought they were doing the right thing, but they were still doing something immoral. We need to help them understand their error, but it would be wrong of us to just accept homophobia or racism as just “another opinion”. It should be protested.

          • Alright, so if Leah opposes gay marriage, she’s a bigot. Thank you, loud and clear.

            That wouldn’t make her an evil person. But it does mean that she would unintentually doing evil.

            Alright. How’s “evil” being defined here? I mean, is this in violation of some religious teaching you adhere to? Some metaphysical claim about objective moral values?

            We need to help them understand their error, but it would be wrong of us to just accept homophobia or racism as just “another opinion”.

            Alright. First off, it’s not homophobia. Really, the biblical and orthodox Christian teaching regarding homosexuality has little to speak of regarding the inclination, and centers almost entirely upon specific sex acts. Anal sex, for example.

            If I think anal sex should be discouraged, even between man and woman, is that evil?

            By the way, again with the evil, but: let’s say sodomy is, in fact, a sin – again, even between a woman and man. Let’s say gay marriage is incorrect and spiritually harmful, to say nothing of harmful in other ways. Should I take it that you, unwittingly or not, are a supporter of evil in such a case?

          • Chris

            @Hibernia86: With respect to the words “bigot” and “homophobia,” they fall under the category of emotive speech as described in MacInyre’s After Virtue. Words are predominantly used to express concepts, but these words are merely mechanisms to express one’s disapproval, akin to expletives. “Bigotry” is “views I disapprove of,” and a bigot is someone who “subscribes to views I disapprove of.” “Homophobia” literally means “fear of homosexuals or homosexuality,” but in common usage means “‘hatred of homosexuals,’ hatred of which I, the speaker, disapprove of,” or “‘the opposition to the whimsical creation of homosexual entitlements ex nihilo,’ opposition to which I, the speaker, disapprove of.”

            That no one self-identifies as a bigot or homophobe is proof that such words are intended primarily to express disapproval, and not to represent a particular concept or a particular thing. That there is an essential connection to homosexuality within the definition of homophobia makes it less pliant than the definition of bigot, which is a catch-all sound emitted from the vocal chords to express disapproval of x, much like grunting or spitting after saying “x” is indicative of disapproval. Even so, the use of “bigotry” and “homophobia” to denigrate opposing views is a form of barbaric speech and a sign of sloppy thinking.

          • @Chris

            I just came back here to add something that you’ve already touched on.

            Talking of ‘bigotry’ and ‘homophobia’ is also, apparently, a… sign of bigotry.

            From Google’s define on bigoted: “Obstinately convinced of the superiority or correctness of one’s own opinions and prejudiced against those who hold different opinions.”

          • Hibernia86

            Crude, Okay, I thought the debate about objective morality might be drawn into this. The fact is that if objective morality exists then it is evil to try to block a person from marrying the person they love for no good reason. If objective morality does not exist, then I am free to say that I look poorly on people who try to block others from marrying the person they love for no good reason.

            Saying that banning gay marriage isn’t homophobia is like saying that forcing black to use different water fountains isn’t racism. When you discriminate against someone, you are being bigoted even if you don’t feel like you hate that person. People make all sorts of excuses for bigotry to make themselves feel better.

            If you say it is wrong to have anal sex without giving a good reason then that is certainly a prejudiced opinion. So would saying that holding hands is wrong or kissing is wrong or hugging is wrong without giving a good reason.

            If gay marriage is a sin, then yes, I would be unwittingly supporting evil. Likewise if Wahhabbi Islam is correct then I am unwittingly supporting evil and Bin Laden is a hero. But since both of those statements are so ridiculously unlikely to be true, they don’t really apply to the real world.

            I think the google definition of bigotry is very wrong. First of all, one can be convinced that the earth is round without being a bigot. That view IS superior and correct. And pointing out that someone is acting immorally is not prejudice. If I said that terrorists are doing evil, am I prejudiced against them? No, I’m just pointing out that they are being unethical. The same is true when I point out that those trying to ban gay marriage are acting unethically.

            Chris, bigotry does not mean “views I disapprove of”. For example, I find some of Lady Gaga’s costumes to be ugly. But that doesn’t mean that I think that someone who loves all of her costumes is a bigot.

            Yes, sometimes words like “racist” “sexist” and “homophobia” can be overused, but that isn’t true in this case. People on this thread are advocating that we should not give equal rights to gay Americans without providing any good reason for it which is by definition bigoted.

            The meaning of words doesn’t always follow the exact literal interpretation. For example, to use another related phrase, misogyny literally means “hatred of women” but if someone opposed voting rights for women they would be a misogynist even if they loved their wife and daughters because they hold discriminatory views against women.

            Whimsical creation of homosexual entitlements? That’s like saying that the civil rights era was a “whimsical creation of negro entitlements”. No, both civil rights and gay rights are about treating people equally, which is how you should be treating them anyway.

            The KKK does not see themselves as racist but rather as just supporting the view that the races can not live together and that non-white races are inferior. They view this as scientific, not discriminatory. But I hope you would agree that they are still racist. Similarly those who oppose gay marriage are still homophobic. If you deny people equal rights without a good reason, that is bigotry.

          • The fact is that if objective morality exists then it is evil to try to block a person from marrying the person they love for no good reason.

            No, it’s not. You’d need to provide arguments for that, because believe me, the counter-arguments to it (just gesturing in the direction of natural theology will manage this) are considerable in number and power.

            If objective morality does not exist, then I am free to say that I look poorly on people who try to block others from marrying the person they love for no good reason.

            Okay. Well, so much for evil then – it’s just shorthand for “what you / people who agree with you dislike”. It makes every bit as much sense in that context to regard your acts as evil, if someone else dislikes them.

            Saying that banning gay marriage isn’t homophobia is like saying that forcing black to use different water fountains isn’t racism. When you discriminate against someone, you are being bigoted even if you don’t feel like you hate that person.

            Like, say… barring child molestors from being employed near/with children, refusing to sell a firearm to a felon, etc? Those are discriminating acts. Are they bigoted? That can’t be right.

            So apparently it comes down to the justifications.

            If you say it is wrong to have anal sex without giving a good reason then that is certainly a prejudiced opinion.

            I think what you mean here is that ‘if you say it is wrong to have anal sex without having a good reason for this’ (you can’t really mean you have to repeat your reasons each and every time). Either way, whew, that’s a relief – that means quite a lot of the people who oppose gay marriage or sodomy aren’t bigots, since they have arguments (see, again, everything from natural law arguments to religious reasons to otherwise.)

            If gay marriage is a sin, then yes, I would be unwittingly supporting evil.


            No, I’m just pointing out that they are being unethical. The same is true when I point out that those trying to ban gay marriage are acting unethically.

            Well, they’re being unethical insofar as, apparently, that means “you don’t like that”. Further, it’s entirely possible for you to be wrong about your opinion. You recognized that earlier with your comments about how you may be unwittingly involved in evil in principle. You’re not ‘pointing out’ they are being unethical, because this isn’t something you can ‘point out’. You’d have to give an argument that they are, in fact, unethical. (Remember, you called people who oppose sodomy, gay marriage, etc on the grounds that they have to have a reason. They have reasons. Likewise, you need an argument for why they are evil or wrong.)

          • Hibernia86

            The argument for gay marriage is simple. Gay marriage doesn’t hurt anyone. It makes people happy. It provides people the chance to be with the person they love. If you want to ban it, you need to have a specific reason and neither you nor anyone else can come up with one.

            And you are wrong about the fact that if objective morality does not exist then anti-gay marriage issue should be treated as the same as the pro gay marriage side. Why should I? If objective morality didn’t exist then I’d have no moral obligation to allow the side I thought was harmful, the anti-gay marriage side. But if that bothers you so much, then stick to the belief that there is objective morality and you’ll see that that compels you to support gay marriage.

            Child molesters hurt people. Felons hurt people. Gay marriage does not hurt people. Your comparisons are false.

            I said you have to have GOOD reasons for banning anal sex. LOGICAL reasons. Even racists say that they have a reason for segregation (because they believe in black inferiority). But having a bad reason for something can still make you a bigot.

          • thomasc

            1) Is gay marriage really providing people with the chance to be with the person they love? In any of the countries where gay marriage is a remote possibility, they largely have that chance anyway. You don’t need the State to officially recognise you in order to spend your life with someone, and other restrictions (like who gets your property when you die or who gets to visit you in hospital) can be removed without it being “marriage”. Many of them can be entered into anyway, if you are organised.

            2) I think gay marriage does hurt people (or rather hurts everyone) in two ways. They both stem from what I think marriage is for, as an institution, and I think that is made clear by the burdens taken on by getting married more than the benefits, whatever they are nowadays.

            When a couple get married, they invite society at large to take an interest in (and to a certain extent enforce) their relationship. That’s what marriage being an institution is for.

            If a couple who aren’t married split up, it is no-one’s business but their own, even if some of their friends think it is a pity.

            If a married couple break up it somehow becomes society’s business. The Catholic Church may be unique in ruling out divorce entirely, but I think divorce is generally seen as something morally salient. It calls for reasons – if a married couple get bored, decide not to try to live up to their commitment at all, and just leave, they are doing something people are entitled to criticise. Similarly, if an interloper decides to try to break up a marriage, they are not just doing something bad to the person who is being betrayed, but they are doing something bad to the person they are having an affair with as well, and, I think, to society at large – this is why we have concepts like divorce and adultery.

            The courts’ divorce jurisdiction is also something that calls for explanation. Why is it that we think it is acceptable, when a relationship breaks up, for the State to move into that ex-couple’s lives and redistribute their property?

            I think the purpose of the social institution of marriage, as something society (even if only by social convention and pressure) enforces to encourage certain couples to do their best to stay together, is to provide a stable environment for the bringing into the world and the bringing up of children. That is what the institution is for, and is why society at large has any right to take an interest in these couples’ internal arrangements. If someone fails to live their marriage well, they are weakening the institution for everyone, and that is why society at large is allowed to know or care about their relationship. Courts are entitled to redistribute a couple’s property because there is an underlying assumption that one spouse will have given up work to a degree, because of children.

            I just don’t think it makes sense to talk about a committed gay relationship as covered by this institution. Theirs is not a relationship that gives rise to children – they may adopt them (as a single person might) or one of them might get pregnant independently (as a single person might) but this has nothing to do with their relationship. The problem gay marriage then gives rise to is that, if you have a certain kind of marriage which is clearly nothing to do with children, how can all the social concepts that go with marriage apply to that relationship? Why is adultery or breaking up any business of anyone except that couple? How can there be any virtue in trying to stay together forever – why is this something to aspire to? If the couple change their minds, they change their minds and it is no-one’s business but theirs.

            The fact that some married people are infertile makes very difference to the operation of the institution overall, and, besides, infertility has often been seen as a ground for divorce / annulment. If a couple explicitly deny that they want children when they get married, then I think the Catholic Church, for example, would say that they weren’t married. But calling a couple “married” who in principle want children but can’t have them (but would if they could) does not raise the problem of there being “marriages” that clearly are not even aspirationally connected with children. Gay marriages do raise this issue, and in that sense change the meaning of “marriage” in a substantial way.

            I think making this change does harm to everyone (albeit perhaps not very much harm). First, it is bad for everyone to use language sloppily, and I think it is simply a misdescription to say that “marriage” can cover relationships that inherently cannot produce children.

            Second, because it would mean that the concept of marriage would shift to being the stamp of a relationship where the parties aspired to stay together for life, and no more. (Of course, this may already have happened). This would mean that various incidental features of marriage are likely to atrophy, because they make no sense once you abandon “forming a stable environment for the bringing up of children” as part of the core purpose. If it is just about celebrating an intention to stay together, why is it society’s business to uphold that commitment if it appears to be weakening? Society has no general interest in people staying in one relationship all their lives.

            What is being undermined if the couple decide, for no particular reason, to go their separate ways? If all this is about is their commitment to each other, if they release each other from that then no-one else can really have an opinion on what they do. Similarly, the would-be gay adulterer, if he breaks up a gay marriage, would seem only to be harming the parties to the marriage.

            I think this would tend to elide the distinction between married and unmarried couples (depriving us of part of our social language), and weaken the social support for keeping marriages together (if it still exists).

      • loki

        “Chick-Fil-A is equivalent to KKK?”

        No, but the Family Research Council and Exodus International is equivalent to the KKK.

  • Given that America is a capitalist society, every purchase you make has a political impact. You vote with every dollar you spend, and even more so since the Citizens United decision (in fact, that may have made money the ONLY way to vote!). But I agree that in addition to shopping wisely, it’s great to give to organizations that are fighting a fight you believe in 🙂

  • Cato

    One thing I would LOVE to hear Leah talk about (and she may have i guess -I haven’t read all her stuff) is the issue of authority.

    Catholics do not just believe in God, a god who created and personifies morality. All that’s true, and is something Leah not only gets but seems to have been the key to her conversion. There’s more, and it may be a bit harder for someone coming from such a strong philosophical viewpoint: Catholics also believe that all human beings are so finite and limited in capability, both individually and collectivelly, that they cannot just derive all truth by themselves through their own abilities. There is much we CAN learn, but it is still limited AND can often easily go off-track into error without our awareness.

    This is why we NEED revelation – we need to be told by one who truly knows. This would include the ideas of Biblical inspiration but also, for Catholics, the guidance of the magisterium by the Holy Spirit, making sure thst what the Church teaches on matters of faith and morals is absolutely correct because it comes from God.

    Yes, the correctness is, ultimately, unprovable by the things of the material world (though, natural law will also not contradict it, and, when properly understood, verify it). These are things of faith.

    What it means is that, as a Catholic, if one properly understands and believes these things, that one accepts what the Church teaches about faith and morals – including homosexuality and gay marriage – not because their arguments are persuasive but because one in humility acknowledges one’s own limitations in understanding and submits to the guidance of God through the Church. Literally, because they say it is so and not because they have good supporting arguments – and the reason flows directly out of the nature of God, man, and morality. The infinite vs the oh-so very finite.

    /please pardon any typos. I’m typing this on my phone.

  • David Davies

    How about ‘Objective Reality’, hiberia86. Does it exist?

    You claim that “…if objective morality exists then it is evil to try to block a person from marrying the person they love for no good reason. ”

    My thinking on this is that ‘objective morality’ must correspond to and be anchored in ‘objective reality’, otherwise it is just arbitrary preference. Using the word ‘evil’ makes a judgement according to morality. If the morality you espouse is unhinged from reality, then so is your judgement.

    So. I much prefer to start from observations of the real world. Male and female humans have differences in their primary sexual characteristics. ‘M’ does not equal ‘F’. Therefore, M+M cannot equal M+F anymore than F+F can equal M+F. The vagina and the anus are not interchangeable. Sexual relationships between members of the same sex are inherently sterile. Sexual relationships between members of the opposite sex are potentially fertile. The level of love and affection (these are Good things) does not enter in to this observation of cruel, cruel reality. Only heterosexual relationships have the potential of producing new people and for this reason it is in the interest of society as organized into states to support and encourage the formation of those stable heterosexual relationships which we call marriages.

    I cannot agree to the ‘right’ to ‘gay marriage’ because there is no right to a thing which does not exist. The category of ‘gay marriage’ is a null category. It does not exist. It is like insisting that I call a mixture of gin and vodka a ‘martini’ when there is no vermouth. It doesn’t have the correct ingredients. And no amount of caterwauling about ‘rights’ will change reality.

  • hf

    On zoning: can you even hear yourself?

    The mayor of Boston wrote a letter angrily urging Chick-fil-A to stay out of Boston (but did not mention zoning). Many on the left correctly criticized him. Soon he said publicly that the CEO has a right to go there.

    Now, supposedly a “Chicago alderman” did say he would use zoning laws to keep the company out. So I can see how you think this needs saying, even though the story violates David Wong’s guideline #2 in a massive way.

    But Chick-fil-A is a corporation. They have lawyers. They had lawyers last week. What on Earth made you think this would go anywhere? Have you already started to think that your new community must have a point whenever they take a “stance”?