The salient role of God in moral discourse is to operate as a completely trumping moral authority against whom no human claims have standing.
The standard use of this trumping moral authority is to justify stripping categories of people of their moral protections.
The standard form of this justification is to declare the existence of that category of persons is a moral flaw in the order of the universe which is the fault of the members of that category.
So, Islam claims that everyone is obligated to accept that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His Prophet: failure to do so is a grievous error which can only be fully resolved by submitting to these revealed truths. Hence Christians, Jews and other “people of the book” have accepted the truth of the One God but not the truth that Muhammad is His Prophet. That makes them worse than Muslims (who have accepted both) but better than polytheists, atheists and so forth who have accepted neither declared truth: they have not even acknowledged the One God.
The existence of full infidels is a moral flaw, the existence of partial infidels is also a moral flaw (though not as bad and it is better if they are under the rule of Islam, and so have submitted to the rule of the laws of God) but, in both cases, the flaw is in the people themselves for failing to acknowledge these revealed truths. The obligation of Muslims is to work towards a future where these flaws no longer exist. (Which means, of course, that apostasy—rejection of either or both of the previously accepted two truths—is treason against the fundamental purpose of Islam, the aim of history itself, and the sovereignty of God, so punishable by death.)
Islam may have incorporated this logic in its fundamental principles, but it did not even come close to inventing the basic structure.
Centuries before Muhammad was born, Christians had developed the same logic against Jews and pagans. Jews were the Chosen People who had produced the Messiah but failed to follow Him. That was a profound failure on their part—indeed, not merely a rejection of God’s purpose, but of their reason for being the Chosen People. Worse, in order to not force Christians to face the embarrassment of—when the Empire became officially Christian—accepting allegiance to, and responsibility for, a Deicide State (given Jesus was killed by Roman soldiers according to a Roman style of execution under the authority of a Roman official), Jews were held to be guilty of killing the Messiah, the Son of God, and thus of Deicide.
Jews were, however, treated better than pagans, for they did at least accept the One God. Jews may have been a repressed and despised morality, but paganism was utterly illegitimate and increasingly treated as such.
Nevertheless, the failure of God’s Chosen People to accept the Messiah they had produced was a profound flaw in the cosmic order, one that was the fault of the Jews themselves. It also provided an explanation for the embarrassing failure of God’s Chosen People to follow the Messiah they had produced: it was their wilful moral perversity in refusing to follow the revealed truth. It was all their fault, a fault they could assuage only by accepting the truth of Christ.
In just the same way that Muslims later claimed that the embarrassing failure of Jews and Christians to follow the Prophet who was the completion of their tradition was all their fault, a fault they could only assuage by accepting the truth of the Prophet being the seal of the Prophets. Indeed, Islam took the principle further than Christians did, since Christians at least acknowledge that the Jews had it basically correct until Christ came along and provided a new Covenant. Islam, by contrast, claims that God’s message has always been the same, the Jews and the Christians just wilfully distorted it. Which made the failure of Jews and Christian to become Muslims all the more egregious.
In both cases, the principle was drawn that it was clearly outrageous to treat those who did accept God’s revealed truth as morally or otherwise equal to do those who did not. Hence the Muslim notion of dhimmis being derived from the Christian treatment of Jews under the Christian Roman Empire.
One can see the structure of the argument clearly. God is the absolutely trumping moral authority against Whom no moral claims can be made; God has purposes revealed in the universe; failure to follow those purposes is a wilful failure which is the fault of those who so fail; it reveals their profoundly flawed moral character; a flaw that can only be assuaged by repenting of their error. In the absence of such repentance, it is outrageous to treat those who conform to God’s purposes as the moral, social or legal equal of those who wilfully fail to do so.
So, the Muslims applied the argument to Christians and Jews, the Christians applied the argument to Jews. Who did the Jews apply the argument to?
The queers. (I.e. those who fail to conform to the strictly binary conception of sex and gender.)
And everyone hates the queers
The classic version of this structure of reasoning, later adopted by the Christians, was Philo of Alexandria’s marriage of Platonic natural law theory with scriptural Revelation. It was built into the structure of the universe created by God that the purpose of sex was reproduction, that sex was legitimate only between males and females, a purpose confirmed by scriptural Revelation. To have erotic desire for one’s own sex was a profound flaw, a failure to conform to the natural order and binding scriptural injunctions. To act upon such erotic desires was an abomination, a profound betrayal of God’s purposes (as manifested in the natural order and scriptural injunctions). So clearly, the scriptural punishment should be followed and they should be put to death.
To put it another way, God really, really cares about the mechanics of sex so the mechanics of sex is not merely a religious issue, it is a profound moral issue and so should be a legal issue—indeed, a capital crime: as it was for centuries in Latin Christendom and still is in much of the Muslim world.
The connection between this argument and its application to the Jews is not merely some reasonable inference. We can see it operating quite directly in, for example, the preaching of St John Chrysostom, who takes Philo’s reasoning against queers and then applies to the Jews.
So, the pattern is that the Jews apply the reasoning using God to strip a category of person (the queers) of their moral protections on the grounds that it is their fault for failing to adhere to God’s purposes, the Christians then apply the take reasoning and apply it to the Jews themselves (and the queers). The Muslims then take the same reasoning and apply it to the Christians, the Jews, and the queers.
So, the one thing that can unite the Abrahamic religions in Jerusalem itself, is that they all hate the queers: they all claim that God finds their aspirations—and any acting upon those aspirations—hateful. The Jews then apparently do not notice that the Christians and Muslims apply the logic to them, the Christians apparently do not notice that the Muslims apply it to them.
The queers, they’re different.
Actually, no, really, they are not.
The dynamics of vulnerability
Indeed, not only does one get exactly the same accusations being mounted against the queers as against the Jews (they betray God’s purposes, they prey on children, they corrupt any institution they touch, they are engage in conspiracies against the righteous and God-fearing, they are agents of the evil one, to treat them as equals is an insult and a betrayal of basic traditions of society) but, across history, Jew-hatred and queer-hatred display similar intensities in hatred because they share two essential characteristics.
In both cases God—the ultimate trumping authority against whom no claims can be made—is used to justify stripping them of moral protections. And they are a small minority, so very vulnerable: the cost of engaging in hatred of them is low. The combination of vulnerability and that the moral authority being cited is absolute in its authority leads to range of hatred from the casual to the intense.
Both the Jews and the queers fall foul of the dynamics of picking on small and vulnerable minorities. For who, after all, is more vulnerable than people who are a few percentage points of society? This vulnerability is even more intense for those who come into their sexuality and gender identity as isolated individuals in an overwhelmingly heterosexual family and social milieus—Jews are at least raised in Jewish families, and, until the Holocaust, being Jew was never an explicit capital crime.
In both cases, a small and vulnerable minority has to be characterised as profoundly corrupting, otherwise it is just a very large majority monstrously bullying a small and vulnerable minority.
They also both fall foul of the dynamics of monotheism. In the case of the Jews, the dynamics of hijacking a revelatory tradition (particularly given its notion of a single, authoritative view of reality): in the case of the queers, the sexual and gender dynamics of monotheism.
With the One God, sex is not part of the divine except in its creative (i.e. reproductive) aspect. So sex—except as reproduction—does not connect us to the divine, it separates us from the divine. So, the mechanics of sex becomes a Very Big Issue that gender exists to manifest. Hence sex that is explicitly not reproductive, indeed fails to conform to the purpose of having the two genders, does not merely separates us from the divine, it defies the divine. One is “betraying” both one’s sexual nature and one’s gender nature. Hence Zoroastrianism (as a proto-monotheism) also anathematises same-sex activity (indeed, classes it as demonic), despite not sharing any scriptural tradition with the Abrahamic religions.
By defining gender and sex purely in terms of reproductive role, monotheism thus designates categories of people who should not exist (those whose sexual orientation or gender identification does not conform to the notion one’s psyche is properly defined by one’s genitals). Clearly, the defining of gender in terms of reproductive role is false: in particular, same-sex attraction and orientation is part of the human. But a theory with the authority of God is taken to completely trump the mere existence of queers. No human testimony counts against God. Their existence becomes defiance, and thus their fault. Monotheists become possessors of a theory of human nature whose “obvious truth” is much more important that other people’s mere existence, for it is a theory with the authority of God.
As for the dynamics of hijacking a revelatory tradition, both Christians and Muslims claim to represent the completion of the prophetic tradition of the Jews. So, the failure of the Jews to follow along in said completions is embarrassing and only explicable—given the “obvious” truth that they do represent the completion of said tradition—in terms of wilful failure. There is nothing wrong with the Christian or Muslim revelations, only the Jews for not following them.
But, here’s the thing about the wilful-failure-to-adhere-to-absolutely-trumping-moral-authority argument. It is perfectly able to be secularised.
The secularisation of excluding flaws
Jew-hatred and queer-hatred have obviously been directly secularised, with spurious “science” used to justify hatreds derived from religion.
But this notion of wilful failure to conform to the proper structure of reality is, after all, precisely the grounds on which Leninists claim the right to tyrannise, appropriate and kill. The completion of history is the absolutely trumping moral authority against which no human moral claims are permissible. Failure to adhere to the clear truth of the Marxist revelation (sorry, “scientific analysis”) of the underlying dynamics and purpose of history is clearly a wilful failure. Hence …
In particular, the labour theory of value, and its concomitant theory of exploitation, creates classes of economic agents who shouldn’t exist. Now the labour theory of value is false and the theory of exploitation a product of a false theory of value and a conceptual shift game. But that just increases its parallel with the monotheist theories of sex and gender.
And the grounds on which the Nazis operated. The Aryan race is the pinnacle of humanity, there are no moral claims to be made against its profound authority. Anything which frustrates the success of the Aryan race (the achievement of necessary lebensraum, the preservation and intensification of its purity) is a wickedness with no standing. Hence …
Now, it is true that Nazism had categories from which no redemption was possible, while Leninism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism all permitted the possibility of exiting from your grievous failings. But, in practice, that made much less difference than is often claimed for it. It all still justified stripping categories of people of their moral protections up to, and including, mass murder. (In the case of queers, since they are scattered throughout human populations—which makes them particularly vulnerable to profound isolation—the most “mass” the murdering gets is homicidal moral panics, but that is a result of the dynamics of scattering, not some difference in the dynamic of hate: as the concentrating effort of the death camps illustrated.)
It is all still about contesting people’s basic humanity and claim that their failure to conform to “proper” humanity is their fault: either for wilfully “betraying” their humanity or being deeply inherently flawed in their humanity—or even not being “really” human in the first place. You can tell where a society is on the bigotry scale by which groups it is acceptable to contest the basic humanity of, and to what degree.
So, in modern Western society, it is no longer acceptable to contest the humanity of blacks, Jews or women: to imply they have betrayed their humanity or are some lesser form of the human. But it is still widely acceptable (though increasingly less so) to contest the “proper” humanity of the queers.
Sometimes this is done explicitly, as in the Vatican’s categorisation of homosexuals as metaphysically flawed (“objectively disordered” due to being oriented to an “intrinsic moral evil”). Sometimes, it does in a way that is only implicit, or even entirely unconscious.
“You are different, why should you be included?” is the argument for maintaining various exclusions. The more contestable the existence as “proper” versions of the human, the weaker the arguments have to be to “satisfy”. If the ordinary humanity of queers was uncontested, the argument would be “we are human, why should we be excluded?” and excluding people on the basis of their sexuality would seem as outrageous as doing in on the basis of religion, skin colour or hair colour.
The claims of queers are discounted because they are taken to be outside some defined notion of how humans are, or “properly” are. The presumption of illegitimacy is so traditional, it is invisible, as is the harm it causes.
For example, the way it is taken as perfectly reasonable to make same-sex acts morally problematic. That this then requires the same-sex attracted and oriented to be at war with their own nature is taken to be beside the point. That is just an unfortunate consequence that they have to deal with (and is their fault for being that way in the first place). Their nature and aspirations are secondary to worrying about the mechanics of sex.
Yet the mechanics of sex is not a moral issue: it is a religious taboo issue, but it is not a moral issue, for it does not violate life or property, it does not interfere in how other people live their lives: so it does not violate people’s moral protections.
Issues of rape, consent, adultery, infection, protection of minors, integrity and so on apply to sexual behaviour generally, but not to same-sex behaviour specifically. Same-sex activity violates certain claims about how people ought to be, but that is a different matter. Same-sex activity is simply part of what it is to be human, given that humans are sexually diverse.
The notion that, for example, government policy can change human sexuality is deeply silly. Government can punish people for being different: that it is very good at. But it cannot change human sexuality. In particular, it cannot change the reality that humans are sexually diverse.
But, if that sexual diversity is taken to be illegitimate, if society is taken to require adherence to a norm of how “real” humans are, then the difference is taken to outweigh being human, because one is not human in the “proper” sense, and so can be excluded.
Hence, letting same-sex oriented people serve openly in the military is taken to be “social engineering” when it is the exclusion that is social engineering: attempting policy that is at war with how people are.
The notion that marriage has to be “defended” from the queers is precisely a notion that they are an improper, illegitimate, corrupting force: on the “outside” of “proper humanity”. But what is being defended are notions of masculinity, femininity and sexuality which are false: for it is precisely because they are false that the contrary cases which prove they do not, in fact, define the human have to be excluded, belittled, de-legitimised.
Same-sex marriage is taken to be an “experiment in human nature”, when it is insistence that law ignore the fact that same-sex couples exist, build lives together and even raise children which is the “experiment”. A longstanding one that has clearly failed: people remain sexually diverse. A failure that imposes all sorts of costs on families: alienating parents from their children, making adolescence for an isolated and vulnerable group much more traumatic than it needs to be, encouraging people to hide from their own sexuality in cover or desperation (or simply forced) marriages. But these are failure and costs that have been traditionally hidden, because the harm to people whose existence is illegitimate is hidden, or massively discounted, harm. That only occurs because of the people who “should not exist” and so is their fault. Just as that this “natural” option of presuming heterosexuality while repressing, denying or excluding same-sex relationships rests on brutal repression of preceding traditions is equally invisible.
When the Hawaiian governor recently vetoed a civil unions bill because it was creating civil unions an equivalent of marriage and therefore should be decided at referendum by the voters of Hawaii, she was explicitly—by the example she cited of opposing views—stating the legitimacy of the notion that heterosexuals should have more rights than homosexuals: that to treat them as equal was offensive. Since this view is taken as legitimate, deciding whether to treat queers as proper versions of the human, thus full citizens, and so entitled to equal protection of the law was contentious, hence the voters at large needed to do it. (Just as, not all that many decades ago, treating Jews as the legal equals of Christians was regarded as outrageous and offensive.)
Taking it that institutions should legitimately acting as if queers do not exist, as if their existence is illegitimate, is the default option, the “natural” option. Operating off a (false) theory of what defines gender and which treats the existence of millions of people who are living proof it is false as a unfortunate reality to be repressed.
What has changed is the ability to repress and discount. The traditional ancien regime used judicial (and private) violence to make sure such burdens remained socially invisible. As that repression recedes, the claims for status as ordinary human beings steadily work to the surface. But that is hardly an unfamiliar pattern. It is also an interactive one. The tradition of exclusion was imposed by brutality, maintained by brutality and is collapsing as the necessary enforcing brutality is being withdrawn.
To put it another way, the previous withdrawal of moral protections is now itself being withdrawn.
The function of morality
We have morality so we can live together. The underlying issue is not how people ought to be (that cannot be established pre-moral judgement), but how people ought to act given how people actually are. Given how people actually are, how should we behave towards each other? Morality exists to provide us with moral protections: constraints on behaviour so we can live together. Stripping people of moral protections attacks the function of morality, since it casts people outside the moral community.
Which, we can presume, is not likely to be done to the powerful, but only the (relatively) powerless, since we particularly want the powerful to be bound by moral protections. (Back to Jews and queers being small minorities.) But it is also what makes the authority of God so perilous: absolutely trumping authority must trample those of mere people, mere mortals. A morality that takes human claims as central—that starts with how people actually are, rather than taking their existence as contestable—that is more likely to be humane, in all senses. It is also more likely to be a morality based on how people actually are, rather than a theory of how they ought to be. Conversely, the absolutely trumping authority of God makes is so much easier to authorise discounting of people as they are, since the authority of God is so trumping.
Since morality is about moral protections, what offense against moral protections does people being homosexual do? Particularly given that sexual orientation is established either at birth or very early in infancy (so we are talking literally about human nature as it actually is)? None, that is specific to same-sex acts. That some people are same-sex attracted and oriented violates certain claims about how people ought to be, but that is a different matter.
What harm does anathematising homosexuality do? A great deal. It alienates parents from their children, makes adolescence much more traumatic than it needs to be, drives people to undertake various destructive actions to hide from, or deny, their own sexuality, creates a miasma of fear and dishonesty. This without even considering the horrific punishments periodically imposed on individuals for engaging in homosexual acts. (How many same-sex acts is one person being burnt alive “worth”?)
There is no “homosexual problem” just as there was no “Jewish problem” or “black problem” or whatever. It is entirely a construct of certain theories about people and society, not how things actually are.
But if your existence is illegitimate then the notion that it is anathematising homosexuality—the denying of moral protections—which is the moral problem is invisible since any problems with flow from an illegitimate existence are “those people’s” problems for existing.
What anathematising homosexual acts and homosexuality does do is that it signals one’s sense of virtue: that one is one of God’s people, a defender of “decency” against those people. All the things that anathematising Jews did for Christians (or still do for many Muslims). Virtue, identity, status: all in one package and without actually having to give anything up.
It is a potent brew for preachers, clerics and priests to sell. So they do. That organised religion has a tendency to anathematise homosexual acts just proves the same-sex oriented are an easy (i.e. isolated and vulnerable small minority) target for clerics and priests to pick on to act as moral gatekeepers and sell effortless virtue against.
Just as it was easy to do so against the Jews. Hence one gets anti-gay activists selling effortless virtue parading themselves as “heroic” defenders of “moral decency” against the nefarious corruption of the queers, just as there were anti-Jewish activists who sold themselves as exposing and opposing the malevolent conspiracies of the Jews.
With “what God wants” as the ultimate trump card, authorising it all and discounting any human misery caused on the way through. Misery that is the fault of those who have failed to conform to “God’s purposes”, the purposes of the absolutely trumping authority against which no human claims count.
ADDENDA One way to read the second principle of Gospel Christianity—love thy neighbour as thyself—is that it bars using God to deprive people of their moral protections. Hence the utility of Philo of Alexandria's exclusory logic to priests and preachers acting as "gatekeepers of righteousness" in justifying denying people the status of being moral neighbours. It is precisely when the love-thy-neighbour principle is subverted (as has obviously been the case with Jews and queers) that the behaviour of organised Christianity converges with that of Islam—as I noted here—because then the authority of God is not balanced by anything that gives human claims effective standing.
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