Friday, September 07, 2012

Thought experiment: on homosexuality and “discrimination”

The big argument against the traditional definition of marriage these days is that it discriminates against those who want to marry someone of their own gender. Those of heterosexual preference can marry anyone they want, runs this line, while those of homosexual preference can’t; this, it is asserted, is discriminatory.

Leave aside that this isn’t necessarily so as a matter of fact (prohibitions on bigamy/polygamy, marriage of siblings, etc.), and let’s consider it as a matter of logic. Discrimination in law is generally understood to refer to situations in which the law is actually different for different groups. Pale-skinned people are allowed to vote, but people whose skin is dark, or who are known to be related to anybody whose skin is dark, are not allowed to vote. Male adults are allowed to vote, but female adults are not. People who have never been convicted of a felony are allowed to vote, while those who have a felony conviction are not. The law defines groups of people and explicitly extends rights/privileges to one which it denies to the other.

On this standard, is the traditional definition of marriage discriminatory? No. It does not define groups of people, nor is it applied unequally; it is one common standard which applies to everyone. The law does not say, for instance, that “straight people” can marry people of their own gender, but “gay people” can’t; that would be, inarguably, discrimination, because the marriage law would be different for different legally-defined groups. It simply says: this is marriage; within this definition, do what you will.

Why then the accusation of discrimination? Because the traditional legal definition of marriage forbids everyone to do what only some people want to do—thus the restriction is felt as a meaningful limitation by some people but not others. “You can do what you want to do, but I can’t, and that’s not fair.”

That may sound reasonable, but consider: that’s true of every law; by this standard, every law is discriminatory. Laws against drug use discriminate against addicts—I can put whatever substance I want into my body, since I have no desire to take anything illegal, but addicts can’t. Laws against polygamy discriminate against those who want to enter into multiple marriage—they don’t restrict me in any meaningful way, since I have no desire for more than one wife (I agree with Rich Mullins on that one), but those folks clearly aren’t free to marry whomever they want. Indeed, even laws against discrimination are discriminatory; I’m free to hire whomever I want, and I’d be free to rent to whomever I wanted if I had anyplace to rent out, but racists aren’t. It is the nature of laws to discriminate against those who want to break them.

Now, if that’s a form of discrimination, you need to realize that it’s a form which is not only defensible, but necessary—logically, intrinsically necessary, if there is to be any such thing as law at all. Laws draw lines, it’s just what they do. If you want to argue that a given line shouldn’t be where it is, by all means go ahead; but don’t argue that the mere existence of the line is unfair. When once you start doing that, you’ve started cutting a great road through the law just for the sake of getting your own way; and as Robert Bolt memorably had Sir Thomas More argue, that’s a really bad idea.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

De profundis

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice. . . .
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

Lord, be . . .
Lord, be peace to calm the storm.
Lord, be enough, for I am not enough.
Lord, be strength to bear these burdens.
Lord, be wisdom to mend my folly.
Lord, be knowledge, for I do not understand.
Lord, be light outshining the darkness.
Lord, be power to raise up my weakness.
Lord, be hope when I have no hope in myself.
Lord, be goodness to draw my heart.
Lord, be love to heal me, and through me to heal others.
Lord, be grace to set me free from fear of condemnation.
Lord, be faithfulness, for I don’t know how to trust.
Lord, be joy on a bitter road.
Lord, be promise when the way ahead is dark.
Lord, be the next step, for I am lost.
Lord, be healing in the midst of pain.
Lord, be music through the discord.
Lord, be justice against the evil in my heart.
Lord, be protection from my enemies, for they are great and I am small.
Lord, be who you are and have always been, because the waters are over my head.
Please . . .
Lord, be.

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”

Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Monday, February 14, 2011

Nitric grace

The gospel of grace is a universal acid that dissolves all the pretensions, presuppositions and preferences of this world order. If you're not feeling it burn, you're probably not preaching Jesus.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Credit and thanks

A couple weeks ago I put up a post called "God is in the real," talking about a lesson God had been bringing home to me that week; it was a point I had seen made somewhere before, but I could not for the life of me remember where. Yesterday afternoon, my lovely wife was good enough to point me back to the original post, and indeed, the author there put it much better than I did. I'm not posting an excerpt out of respect for her posted request, but I encourage you to click through and read it, as it's well worth your time.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Impertinent question of the month

When people find out my wife and I have just had a son after three daughters, most of the time we get some form of the same basic reaction: "Oh, so you kept trying until you had a boy, huh?" In a lot of cases, I suspect it's people trying to make sense on their own terms of the fact that yes, we just intentionally had a fourth child—they can't imagine themselves doing such a thing, except perhaps with some particular and significant provocation. In a sense, it's not completely false; as it happens, we picked out a boy's name years and years ago, and we rather felt that it would be sad if we never met the person to whom the name belonged. Aside from that, though, we would have been just as happy with a fourth girl. The gender isn't the point.

I don't want this to come across wrong, because I believe male/female differences are real and important and valuable; I believe the reality of our two sexes, and the deeper and more profound reality of gender of which our biological sexes are a concrete instantiation, matters more than we know. But my children are not abstractions, they are not generalities, they are not case studies—they are themselves. They are particular specific people, and the fact that three of them are girls and one is a boy is very much part of that, but it's only part of who they are as whole people, and I wanted them for themselves.

Yes, they are created in the image of God, male and female, as are their mother and I; but that's not all that defines them. They are creators and destroyers; they are accomplished sinners and saints in training; they are capable of genius and prone to folly; and so am I all of those things as well, and heaven help all of us as I try my best to do my part to raise them to be better and more faithful and more loving disciples and friends of Jesus than I am. Trying for a boy? No, as well say we were trying for a pianist (though judging by his infant fingers, we might have managed that); we were trying to welcome the child God intended to give us in trust, as his stewards, to raise in his name and for his glory, to join the others whom he had already given us in the same way. It's not about us or what we want at all, it's about him.

Though I will say, it's nice to have a baby sleeping on my shoulder again.

A new Day for the tax code?

Before Stockwell Day was a screamingly ineffective campaigner for Prime Minister of Canada, he was the treasurer of Alberta; and back in those days, when I was a graduate student in BC, he came up with the simplest and best tax system I've yet run across.

Alberta Treasurer Stockwell Day is proposing to de-link Alberta's provincial tax system from its federal counterpart. Instead of Albertans paying provincial tax on a percentage of their federal tax payable, a tax on a tax, they will instead pay a single rate of 11% on their taxable income, a tax on income.

This move to flatter taxation is to be applauded and Mr. Day has ensured that the move is beneficial to all income groups. [Part and parcel] with the planned move to the single rate tax is a substantive increase in the provincial basic personal exemption and spousal exemption to $11,620 up from $7,131 and $6,055 respectively. And Mr. Day has pledged to index the exemption to inflation to ensure that the hidden tax increase known as "bracket creep" is vanquished from the Alberta landscape. . . .

Alberta has now ensured that those with incomes under 11,620 pay a rate of 0% and everyone else pays 11% on their income above the basic personal exemption. So the effective provincial rate on someone earning $30,000 is 6.7% and the effective rate on someone at $100,000 is 9.7%.

Tweak the numbers to fit the current American situation, but the basic idea is right on: put all income into one bowl, exempt the first $X per person, and tax all the rest at the same rate. Cut the tax form down to a page, make the tax code transparent, drastically reduce the IRS payroll (and trim a lot of corporate bureaucracies as well) . . . what's not to like?

Oh, yeah, and boost the economy, too.

Atheism as dogmatic fundamentalism

This isn't a new observation around here, of course, but it's interesting to see an atheist come out and say it—in this case, conservative commentator S. E. Cupp; and in case you think it's because she's a conservative, in my observation, conservative atheists (such as the Denver Post's David Harsanyi) are no better about this than liberal ones.

Which brings me to the problem with modern atheism, embodied by the likes of Harris and Hitchens, authors of "The End of Faith" and "God Is Not Great," respectively. So often it seems like a conversation ender, not a conversation starter. And the loudest voices of today's militant atheism, for all their talk of rational thought, don't seem to want to do too much thinking at all. As James Wood wrote in The New Yorker, "The new atheists do not speak to the millions of people whose form of religion is far from the embodied certainties of contemporary literalism. Indeed, it is a settled assumption of this kind of atheism that there are no intelligent religious believers." . . .

Though more than 95% of the world finds some meaning in faith, God-hating comic Bill Maher shrugs this off as a "neurological disorder." His version of a quest for knowledge was a series of scathing jokes at the faithful's expense in the documentary "Religulous." . . .

It's these snarky and condescending rejections, not of faith itself but of those who profess it, that reflect a total unwillingness to learn something new about human nature, the world around us and even of science itself. While the neoatheists pay only cursory attention to dismantling arguments for God, they spend most of their time painting his followers as uncultured rubes. The fact that religion has inexplicably persisted, even despite Copernicus, Darwin and the Enlightenment, doesn't seem to have much sociological meaning for them.

The truth is, folks like Maher and Silverman don't want to know about actual belief—in fact, they are much more certain about the nature of the world than most actual believers, who understand that a measure of doubt is necessary for faith. They want to focus on the downfall of a gay pastor or the Nativity scene at a mall. . . .

When the esteemed theologian David Martyn Lloyd-Jones asked C.S. Lewis when he would write another book, Lewis responded, "When I understand the meaning of prayer." It was an acknowledgment that he—a thinker with a much sharper mind than, say, Maher's—didn't know everything. I implore my fellow atheists to take this humility to heart. There's still a lot to learn, but only if you're not too busy being a know-it-all.

Size isn't everything

I've mentioned before the pet store that I pass on my normal way to work. A couple weeks ago, their sign read as follows:


As if hamsters don't have enough self-esteem problems as it is . . .

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

God is in the real

I was reminded today of an observation I ran across somewhere—unfortunately, I have no idea where or whom to credit, and I know I won't be able to put it as elegantly as the original—that has been very helpful to me. God promises to give us everything we need to face every trial he sends us. He does not promise to give us strength for possible future trials we conjure up in our own imagination. If we live in the present and face the trials he sends us as they come, he is with us; if we project ourselves into the future to worry and fret about all the things that might go wrong later, we go alone. And in truth, we don't need to worry about the future, because God's in control of it—and when it becomes the present, he will be enough for us then, too.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Getting back on the horse

A couple days into October, I started having significant computer problems; I wound up having to get a new laptop, and what with one thing and another, it took a while—it was over a month before I had my new computer all set up and working the way I wanted. I did have computer access during that time, but it was somewhat limited, and so some things fell by the wayside. Including, obviously, this blog. Once I had the computer up and running, I should have gotten back to it, but I was completely out of the habit, and you know how busy November and December are for pastors . . . I do need to resume the discipline, however, and I'm finally stirring myself to do so. Keep at me. :)

Friday, October 01, 2010

Not quite irrelevant

Jennifer Rubin does us all a small service this morning over on Commentary’s “Contentions” blog in pointing out that at this stage, polls of GOP 2012 presidential contenders are basically meaningless. Interestingly, though, if you look closely at what she says, you realize they’re not quite as meaningless as they would normally be:

They are a function of name identification. The field is not set, the candidates have not yet engaged, and the inevitable unflattering revelations haven’t come.

While it remains true that there is much to happen between now and the 2012 primary season, that we don’t actually know who will be running, and that as Rubin says, “You actually have to see how the candidates perform and who cannabalizes whose voters,” there’s one partial exception to her argument: Sarah Palin. For Gov. Palin, those inevitable unflattering revelations have come, and been rehashed, and been beaten to death, along with a whole host of attempts to invent additional ones; there’s nothing left for enemies to dig up, it’s all out there.

Those who would marginalize her like to talk about her “baggage,” but the truth is, Gov. Palin doesn’t really have baggage. Change the metaphor, think of the sort of revelations Rubin is talking about as a political plague, and there’s a much more apt way to describe her situation: Gov. Palin has been inoculated. She’s already had that plague and survived. Yes, that has lingering effects, and yes, that will be a particular challenge for her to overcome—but the upside to that is a degree of immunity that will make it hard for rivals to take her down. The polling on them (at least most of them) is indeed before the “inevitable unflattering revelations” that will wipe some of them out and cripple others; hers is after, and well after. That is no small advantage.