30 May 2008

The displacement of reason

On 15 May 2008, I spoke at a Catholic forum titled, "What's wrong with homosexual acts? Viewpoints from psychology and societal implications". You shouldn't be surprised at the theme. Religious forums tend to be like that - not so much an open-ended enquiry to search for answers, but an exercise in shoring up the faith. Here, for the record, is the (long) full text of the talk. Complete text.


HanSolo said...

You chose some pretty interesting examples to compare with homosexuality, e.g. blond hair, disapproval of skimpy clothing by Muslims.

Some are genetic and others are learnt social behaviours.

The question, as always, is what is the cause of homosexuality.

Many think it's learnt, that's why they are against gay marriages. They fear wider acceptance of gays will result in their children becoming gay.

Perhaps you can point to studies that show a genetic component in homosexuality.

But you'll never be able to prove that the cause is 100% genetic. As long as there's a chance my children can "learn" homosexual behaviours, I will oppose any attempts to legitimatise homosexuality.

I don't mean that we should discriminate against homosexuals, but homosexuality shouldn't be encouraged nor be considered acceptable.

Anonymous said...

hansolo, it's interesting that you chose the word "legitimise" as what you oppose. How about "legalise"? Do you think gay people should be thrown in jail? Or do you think they should merely be threatened with jail (as in 377A)? The reason you gave is that "many think it's learnt" but as Alex pointed out, isn't the burden of proof on you, not him, since you are the one who wants to take away someone's rights and freedoms? What gives you the right to limit someone's freedom based on what someone "thinks" to be true? You should produce studies showing that homosexuality is learnt, failing which, you should support legalisation.

Anonymous said...

Alex, how was your speech received? Did they ask any questions?

Anonymous said...

>> I don't mean that we should discriminate against homosexuals, but homosexuality shouldn't be encouraged nor be considered acceptable.

Isn't that discriminating?

Raymond said...

Bravo Alex! Your presentation was excellent and well argued. Indispensable!

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Anonymous, 30 May, 11:02

As I recall, I got only one question from the floor. Most of the questions were directed at Father Paul Goh.

(I wrote about what Goh said in his talk in the second half of the article 'Cuba holds anti-homophobia event')

The question that I recall receiving was something to the effect of whether the Catholic Church holds that homosexual orientation is intrinsic, and whether it is in fact intrinsic.

My reply was that I was in no position to explain the Catholic Church's position especially since I wasn't Catholic myself. As for whether heterosexual and homosexual orientation are intrinsic, I said that all the available evidence is that they are. There is no evidence, to a scientific standard, that they aren't - as I said in my talk.

(You notice I never say sexual oreintation is genetic - and frankly if anyone confuses "intrinsic" with "genetic" then that person does not understand science.)

I went on to emphasise that the point of my talk was not about whether heterosexual/homosexual orientation was intrinsic or not, but to apply reason: Even if it is not intrinsic - for which there is no evidence - what good reasons are there to discriminate?

Non-intrinsic is not by itself any reason to do so, because as with religion, personal choice can and should be respected, unless there is overwhelmingly good reason to interfere with it.

I trust these points also apply to Hansolo's comment above.

The Weeping Saint said...

Thank you for speaking up for us at a Catholic forum. I am a gay Catholic and I have tried my best to practise my religion sincerely. But it is very difficult to remain part of a religion that still considers us 'intrinsically' disordered. The physical and mental trauma, the years spent in guilt and silent suffering. This is the silent tragedy of the gay Catholic. Alas, Alex, Christianity will never change because it believes that certain things are immutable. I loved attending Mass and devotion to Our Lady.

At the end of the day, a very kind priest told me that Catholicism is very harsh for gay people. I realised the truth and I am studying Buddhism now, and I hope to embrace this faith. I cannot expect the Church to change its teachings, and I must be courageous enough to leave the Church.

Anonymous said...

I'm a regular reader of your blog, but this is a particularly excellent entry. I didn't go for the talk itself of course (I'm not Christian - and personally from a normal Asian/Buddhist background, for quite some time I had no idea why people had such a problem with gays and lesbians... Did it irk them in the way kissing irks small children?)

But this entry really made my humble self go wow. I am particularly enlightened by the clear definition of rationalization versus reason. And calling a spade a spade - in that whether homosexuality is inborn or not, when you look at it frankly and rationally there is honestly nothing wrong with it at all. It is the distorting eyeglasses of fear-mongering that are wrong... I strongly agree that interacting and growing up with gay/lesbian people is the best way to really understand them - it honestly saddens me that parents may go as far as accepting and understanding other gays but dislike it in their own family, when their children are the ones who need that understanding the most...

I'm definitely sending this around to some people, perhaps it will make some fence-sitters think a little bit more about the issue. Thank you for the writeup.

Chinese National said...

An excellent dissection of the fallacies that exist in the arguments of homophobes. However, reading some comments in this blog just reminds me of this remark: "The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of an eye: the more light you pour on it, the more it contracts". One day, people will realize how unjust discrimination against homosexuals is, just like the unequal treatment meted out to blacks and women in the past. History will judge very unfavorably today's homophobic bigots.

Anonymous said...

Hi Alex,

I am just surprised that they wanted to hear the other side of the story.

How was the response like?

Kai Khiun

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Kai Khiun,

The audience numbered about 50 - 60 people and I think my talk went over most heads, which I expected. I didn't inform the organisers what angle I would take.

My guess would be that they were expecting me, in a forum titled "What's wrong with homosexuality", to argue that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, and probably for this reason, they put me as first speaker to be followed by two reliably Catholic speakers.

What they didn't realise, I think, is that I would not make such an argument. To expect me to do so is offensive to me. It's akin to asking a Malay Singaporean to stand up before an audience of Chinese chauvinists to argue why they should accept Malays.

The very fact that they do not even realise the offensiveness of something like that testifies to the enormous gulf of understanding and the self-referential nature of their own thinking.

Nonetheless, my personal policy is that I will engage if I get a chance to - but on my own terms.

I thus expected that 3/4 of the audience would not understand what I was talking about, and I don't think I was off the mark. So be it. I don't wish to be "accepted" in any patronising way. I prefer to point out the other side's patronisation (or worse - self-delusion).

I knew from the beginning that I would lose my audience by taking the approach that I did, rather than speaking along the lines they were expecting, but I would never want to sacrifice my integrity for acclaim. Thus, the speech is more "for the record" than for seeking sympathy.

A more typical example of the intellectual level of the Catholic forum can be seen in leejean's review of another speaker's presentation. See leajean's blog.

cognitivedissonance said...

As part of some coursework this semester, I went to look for literature on the correlation between the attitudes of heterosexuals towards homosexuals, and the amount of individual-level interpersonal contact experienced. It may interest you to know that Gregory Herek of UC Davis has done extensive research work on this. It's pretty much a given fact from his work that more positive attitudes correlate with increased contact, for the studied populations. No data available for Singapore. Detenber et al.'s Oct 2007 paper on homosexuality (the famous one that got quoted by the ST and the keep377A people) did not study contact as a factor.

Joe90 said...

Hi Alex,

It might interest you to know that the latest issue of the Catholic News (the newspaper of the Catholic Church in Singapore) featured a report on this same forum where they quoted extensively from Bro. Michael Broughton, but they made no mention whatsoever of your talk, its content, your name, or even that you were one of the invited speakers. Now, I'm not sure whether this is a case of deliberate censorship on the part of the newspaper, or a case of poor reporting on the part of the reporter who wrote the article.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Michael Broughton's talk was a week before mine, so it may have been just a technical matter of print deadlines.

Catholic Writer said...

Dear Weeping Saint,

You and Alex misunderstand what the Catholic Church teaches about homosexuality. The Church does not teach that homosexual persons are intrinsically disordered.

The Church teaches that homosexual ACTS are intrinsically disordered, that is, not ordered to the function and form of the sexual organs. The Church also differentiates between homosexual ACTS and homosexual PERSONS, and does not say that homosexual persons are intrinsically disordered. The response that Alex gave in the talk asked how to differentiate between identity and behaviour.

The answer becomes clear when we realize that inclinations come before action, which comes before behaviour. A person's inclinations can be controlled (or he can let his inclinations control him). We can learn how to control our inclinations and not give in to them, just as we can control our inclination to eat more than we should.

When a person chooses to give in to his (or her) inclinations, it becomes action, and there's where the line of morality is crossed. Repeatedly giving in to our inclinations results in a habit that is formed which can eventually lead to an addiction. A person who cannot control his inclinations is an addict, and it is only such persons who believe that they must have something in order to survive.

This is what the Church means when she says that all Catholics (regardless of sexual orientation) are called to chastity. The word 'chastity' comes from the response to lust (and other unhealthy inclinations) which, like a child, needs to be chastised in order to be under control.

For those who are open to learning more about what the Catholic Church's stand is and where it comes from, the detailed reports from Catholic News are located in full here:

God bless,
Catholic Writer

Weeping Saint said...

Dear Catholic Writer

Asking a gay person not to have sex is like asking you not to breath. Sex is a normal function for all human beings - unless you deliberately choose celibacy for personal reasons.

As long as it is consensual and does not cause harm to others, there is no difference between heterosexual & homosexual sex. In Catholicism, the function of sex is procreational and that is why homosexual sex is seen as wrong - because you can't make babies.
Of course, if you followed this logic strictly, then infertile woman should not be allowed to get sex.

Go read the Catholic catechism section 2358 which states that "this inclination, which is objectively disordered...."

You cannot repress a person with a gay "inclination" and you must understand that being gay is more than an inclination. Being gay is like being male, or being Asian. It is not like having an inclination to overeat.

Sigh, even psychiatrists don't view it as a disorder anymore. In any case, responses like yours confirm my decision to leave Catholicism was correct.