Sunday, June 21, 2009

Change from within

I agree with my friend, Cobus, who argues that the New Atheists grossly simplify reality by ignoring the fact that many theists are not fundamentalists. I've offered a similar critique of the New Atheists in an earlier post.

So it's no surprise that the New Atheist literature – that which I've read so far – is totally silent on the way in which Christian thinking has changed over the last five years or so. One only has to read a book by Brian McLaren, or sit in on discussions amongst those who consider themselves part of the emerging movement, to realise that there are many Christians who are actively rethinking traditional ideas around spirituality, homosexuality, creationism, hell, and the role of religion in politics and society. I am honoured to know some of these Christians as friends.

It seems to me as if traditional Christianity – the type that emphasises vengeful justice above love and acceptance; advocates patriarchy; and places the defence of 'Truth' over and above the well-being of people – is slowly on the way out. But the fundamentalist is misguided when she claims that secularism and atheism are fully to blame for this change. Rather, it seems to me as if transformation is being spurred on by Christians themselves.

And this point is lost on the New Atheists: they are misguided in thinking that they, as outsiders, are the only ones who can lead lasting change by simply telling people how to think. Positive, sustainable transformation in any social system can only occur if it starts within itself. I believe Christianity is changing from within, and changing for the better.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My response to two arguments against homosexuality

In a comment to a previous blog post, Laughing Boy provided two reasons why secular society should reject homosexuality. First, that homosexuality is unnatural (as is doesn't allow for procreation); and second, that homosexuality is dangerous to society, because sexually transmitted diseases (SDTs) reduce the life-span of those involved in homosexual partnerships.

This got me thinking, and below is my response to these two arguments:

Homosexuality is unnatural
This argument wrongly assumes that if something is natural, then it is always beneficial or desirable. When it comes to human behavior, nature does not have to be prescriptive. If humans obeyed the 'natural order', we would have never been able to halt cancer with 'unnatural' chemotherapy, correct bad eyesight with 'unnatural' laser treatments, or develop 'unnatural' legal systems that discourage humans from using the type of violence we observe in the animal world. As humans, we owe much of our comfort and health to the 'unnatural'.

And the fact that nature is not prescriptive is also evident in human relationships: procreation, for many couples, is not the primary reason why they marry; they think outside the biological box and decide not to have children. Also, many heterosexual couples marry, despite the fact that they can't have children due to medical reasons. These couples choose not to adhere to the 'natural order'. Does it follow then that they should be banned from marrying in the first place?

And this whole argument is plagued by the question: how do we decide what is natural? One can easily argue that homosexuality is perfectly natural, because, by definition, humans are a part of nature, and thus everything we do must be natural. One can also argue that animals never sign marriage contracts, so marriage in itself is unnatural, and thus should be banned. Without a proper definition of 'natural', one can appeal to nature to argue against (or for) any kind of behavior.

Homosexuality is dangerous
HIV/AIDS and other STDs might be the cause of many deaths within the homosexual community, but does this make homosexuality dangerous? I would argue that it's not homosexuality that is the problem, but the sexual habits of homosexuals in general. Safe, responsible sex is an option that can significantly reduce the chances of contracting HIV/AIDS and other STDs. If all homosexual and heterosexual couples practiced safer sex, the harm to society would be reduced.