Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Homosexuality Brought Up Twice

Homosexuality Brought Up Twice

By John Taylor; 2008 Oct 29, 12 'Ilm 165 BE

Reader Feedback
Testing My TQ
Is the unnatural wrong?

Reader Feedback

One of the fun things about running the Badi' blog is meeting nice new friends who write in with kind comments and questions. Ned Walker wrote,

So John ... I was reading your postings about homosexuality and the organization in Canada (BNASAA) that has got a forum on this topic and the Faith, and the topic in general which I suppose all of us think about and deal with. One of our local Baha'i friends has said that she would have a lot more success in teaching if this "issue" weren't in the way, undoubtedly true.  What I have been thinking about is from part of a letter from the Master to Martha Root, as it is quite insightful.

"Today the world of humanity will not find peace and tranquility except through these teachings and this darkness will not, otherwise, be dispelled, these chronic diseases be cured. Nay, these would, otherwise, be aggravated from day to day. The Balkans will not rest, but become worse than before; the subjugated natives will not sit quiet, nay they will cling to every instrumentality until the flame of war will be rekindled. Now popular movements will concentrate their entire energy upon the realization of their aims. The northern movement (Russian Sovietism) will attain great importance and will be spread. You should, therefore, endeavor with a shining heart, merciful spirit, and heavenly power and Divine confirmation in order to become a lordly Bounty to the world of humanity and become the cause of rest and tranquility to mankind." (Abdu'l-Baha, Letter to Martha Root)

The "gay movement" if you will accept this term as accurate, seems to qualify well as one of the "popular movements" mentioned by Abdu'l-Baha, even though the context is Balkan politics. The implications are much broader. If you want to discuss a bit, it would be OK with me.

JET: Briefly, one thing I learned from the recent Sexual Identity Conference at McMaster was that the Gay Liberation movement has changed considerably from its militant stance in the 1990's. Now it is less concerned with labelling anybody and everybody they can as gay in order to gain recognition. They are recognized, so they are getting over it. In 2008 there tends to be more celebration of the diversity of human sexual experience. As a result, gays tend to be more fractionalized and tolerant. Going by that, Baha'is do not need to fear the violent reaction from gays themselves that they might have ten years ago. On the other hand, society in general now accepts many non-religious presuppositions about homosexuality, and Baha'is, along with other faiths, are increasingly marginalized in our position.

As the speaker suggested, it is wisest to avoid giving sound bites about the Baha'i position and discuss it only when there is time to draw a detailed picture of the full context of our beliefs.

I lately got an enquiry from Carol Rutstien, and responded:

"If you are related to Nathan Rutstein, he was kind enough to pick me up hitchhiking in Sherbrooke Quebec, back in the 1980's. He is one of my favorite Baha'i writers... we talked about my getting published. I remain an unpublished writer, but now I can at least call myself a blogger. Thank you for your interest in my work."

She gave this generous reply:

"Thanks so much for your reply.  I have been enjoying your blog, however it's dangerous as there is so much to draw one in.  Its easy to get lost in all the topics, etc. But when I do have time, it is enjoyable to read. 
"I am Nat's wife. We were married for almost 51 years, when he passed away suddenly in May on 2006. Actually he died two hours after sunset on the 22nd of May. Its fitting that he passed on at the time of a Holy Day. Although I miss him every day I cannot be sad for long, as we enjoyed a very long and wonderful relationship together. We have four children who have produced 11 grandchildren, two of whom are serving at the Baha'i World Centre. 
"I wish you all the best with your blog -- and who knows, publication may still be in your future."

Carol's original inquiry was about a Shakespearian insult generator that I had written about a few years ago. At first I could not believe that I had written about such a frivolous, even morally questionable subject as Shakespearian insults, but sure enough, there it was on the Badi' Blog at:

And she was right, my frivolous moments are dangerous time wasters. Inspired by that insult machine I uncovered this euphemism generator at:

Here are some examples of the euphemisms it produced for me. How delicious some of unspeakable acts seem when covered over by a colourful turn of phrase. When they describe nothing at all, they are even more enticing.

"He spent every lunch hour at home, pinching the rubber lightbulb."
"They found him naked in the alley behind the bar, hazing the royal pickle." 
"She couldn't believe her luck as she discovered him burying the brass egg." 
"She seemed like a shy girl when they met, but a few drinks later, they were wielding the squid."

Ed always supplies us with interesting material, some of amusing time wasters as well. Like this, for instance,

Ed also offers some interesting selections from Secret of Divine Civilization about civil service. I will cite these later.

Testing My TQ

Another time waster, though a more serious one, I came across this morning while looking for a philosophy magazine to subscribe to (my father dumps piles of science magazines on me, and I figured that if I must read magazines, I would much rather be reading philosophy than endless popular science). I did not find one I definitively want, but one periodical, The Philosopher Magazine, had a fascinating teaser, a "philosophical health check" quiz. It measures the "tension" between your various beliefs and compares them to other readers of the magazine. You can take the test at:

They explain that "The PHC is designed to identify tensions or contradictions (a Tension Quotient) between various beliefs that you have. The PHC does not aim to identify which of your beliefs are true or false, but where the set of beliefs you hold may not be compatible with each other." I found it hard indeed to provide an answer yes or no to these difficult philosophical generalizations. Really, it was as painful as pinching the rubber lightbulb. But I did my best. Going over the instantly generated results, it turned out that I have a "Tension Quotient" of 47%. I was assured that the "average player of this activity to date has a Tension Quotient of 28%" What does that mean? They explain,

"It may help to think of the idea of 'tension' in terms of an intellectual balancing act. Where there is little or no tension between beliefs, little intellectual effort is required to balance both beliefs. But where there is a lot of tension, either one has to 'jump off the tightrope', by abandoning one belief; maintain one's balance by intellectual effort and dexterity; or else 'fall off the tightrope' by failing to reconcile the tension and holding contradictory beliefs."

As far as I can see, the main result of having a high TQ like mine is that I got far more feedback from this philosophy teacher's marking machine than others.

Since we started off with the question of homosexuality, and since my Baha'i inspired convictions about that evidently raised my already soaring TQ even higher, let us close today by looking at how stretched to the breaking point my beliefs about homosexuality are.

Questions 19 and 7: Is the unnatural wrong?
You agreed that: 
"Proper sanitation and medicines are generally good for a society."
And also that:
"Homosexuality is wrong because it is unnatural."
18191 of the 139281 people who have completed this activity have this tension in their beliefs.
Philosophical Engine: "You believe that something is wrong if it is unnatural. Yet you believe that sanitation and medicine are good. But aren't these also unnatural? What is natural about sophisticated modern sewage systems and the domestic supply of clean water? What is natural about chemotherapy or other sophisticated medical treatments?"

JET: Hmm. Our cat Malley finds it quite natural to lick himself all over to clean himself. Birds could not fly if they did not preen. Cleaning and expunging waste is "natural" to most if not all animals. The problem is that I have been forced by the excluded middle between "Yes" and "No" to conflate human "naturalness" with that of animals. What is natural to humans is, by definition, unnatural, that is, artificial. But matters of survival, including sanitation, are natural at all levels.
In the same way that humans use artificial tools, like sewage and water pipes, to sanitize our bodies, we use artificial tools to help our soul. For example, reason and the will regulate our moral condition according to what is natural to our highest nature.
If we assume that humans are animals and nothing more, then I agree that these ideas contradict. But the Manifestations teach that we have a dual nature, and that duality changes the presuppositions.

Philosophical Engine: "So the first problem here is that it is simply not true that most people think all things unnatural are bad. So that means being unnatural is no reason for homosexuality to be considered wrong. (There is also the question of in what sense homosexuality is supposed to be unnatural)."

JET: We have a spiritual and a physical nature, so if God's Representative tells us that homosexuality is not natural to the spiritual nature or compatible with eternal existence, we have to accept that on faith. So I do. It is pointless to argue about matters permanently beyond rational understanding that have been ruled upon by those we deem competant to do so.

Philosophical Engine: "The second problem is a logical one. Because something 'is' the case, it doesn't follow that it 'ought' to be the case. 'Cancer kills' is true, but that doesn't mean 'cancer should (in the moral sense of the word) kill'. So there is a problem in trying to derive matters of moral value directly from matters of pure fact."

JET: Okay. I will avoid the red herrings and go to the main argument.
We know that science understands nature by applying natural selection, survival of the fittest, to large populations. Elephants have trunks because they "should" have trunks, because they conduce to their survival.
There is also such a thing as "ethical selection." A handful of large world religions have survived for thousands of years, and they pretty much unitedly condemn and suppress homosexuality. Far, far more religions have competed with them and in the long run they lost out; and to varying degrees they all tolerated homosexuality. So in a broad sense revulsion for homosexuality must conduce to the survival of an ethical stance, if only by encouraging higher birth rates. Therefore regarding homosexuality as wrong and unnatural must be a desirable thing for any society that desires a stable moral order.

John Taylor


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