Archive for May, 2007

Quote on Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism however is more of a mindset than a theological position to be honest. I ran into fundamentalist liberals while at Harvard. They were so utterly convinced of their liberal opinions about the Bible that no amount of evidence or logic could convince them otherwise.
– Ben Witherington III

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Good thoughts on living a meaningful life, from John Perry.

I was browsing around on the site of a guy that I really dig – John Perry, a philosopher at Stanford, and I found this short little interview-type article on him. Judging by his personal site, and the Philosophy Talk radio show he hosts, he’s very concerned with being able to bering the tools of precise thinking to normal people, so that they can live meaningfully, and this little article is an example of that. Very practical for college-age people. Enjoy!

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When freshmen ask his advice about what courses to take, John Perry has the arithmetic ready. “Take one-third of your units to learn to do something that will give you a salary for the rest of your life,” Perry, the Henry Waldgrave Stuart Professor of Philosophy, tells them.

“Then take one-third of the units for what you owe Stanford, to fulfill requirements. And finally take at least one-third for yourself, to find out who you are and what you really care about. It will be much more expensive to have a nervous breakdown in your ’50s than to find out who you are while you’re in college.”

Perry, the final speaker of the academic year in the noontime “What Matters to Me and Why” series, shared his guidelines for a satisfying life with an audience of students, faculty and staff in Memorial Church on June 3. Noting that he had been invited by several freshmen in the Cultures, Ideas and Values track he teaches, Perry said he had pitched his remarks to undergraduates.

A specialist in the problem of personal identity and the philosophy of language, Perry currently directs the Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI), which he helped to found. He joined the Stanford faculty in 1974 and has served as chair of the philosophy department, receiving a Dinkelspiel Award for undergraduate teaching in 1990.

Perry has been known, even counted on, to add welcome twists of levity to dour debates at meetings of the Faculty Senate, and he didn’t disappoint in the quiet setting of the side chapel. Explaining that he had lived his life and organized his talk around four issues, Perry ticked them off to accompanying laughter:

Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.

What you care about determines who you are.

Happiness is the product of the pursuit of your goals and not a reasonable goal in and of itself.

Size matters.
Perry began his remarks by tracking down favorite moments from his childhood in the 1950s, growing up in Lincoln “a nice town in Nebraska that’s a little like if you took Sunnyvale and eliminated everything within 1,000 miles.”

A self-described “desultory student,” he said he had hoped to go to a military academy but was rejected by West Point and Annapolis because of poor eyesight. Instead, he enrolled at Doane College, a small liberal arts school near [Lincoln] where he planned to major in engineering.

“But I forgot to check whether Doane had a school of engineering, which they didn’t,” he said.

Perry also had anticipated that Doane would be a small enough school that he could play football, and he did land a spot on the varsity team in his freshman year. But his career was short-lived.

“At the end of the year, the coach came over, put his arm around my shoulder and said, ‘Perry, you’re small, but you’re slow.'”

The library, which he discovered had a smaller budget than the football team, became a refuge, and there Perry sorted out his choices of majors.

“I liked literature, except for the poetry part, and history involved a certain discipline and organization that I’d always found to be elusive,” he recalled. “So that left philosophy, which didn’t have a lot of facts or results to keep straight. As Hume puts it, any chain of reasoning more than three steps long can be ignored, so I became a philosopher and have been happy ever since.”

Plato’s Republic was a required book for an introductory course, and it apparently tipped the scales for him as a student.

“I was moved by the fact that here were these words that people had struggled with for thousands of years, and I was joining that group,” Perry said.

Perry and his wife, Frenchie, were married in their sophomore year at Doane and had two children by the time he finished his doctorate at Cornell University.

“My advice to students is to be born in 1943, and get your Ph.D. by 1968,” Perry told his listeners. “Because everybody got nice offers in 1968, but by 1969 the bottom dropped out of the job market and it’s been out ever since.”

Following a three-year teaching stint at the University of California-Los
Angeles, Perry joined the Stanford faculty in 1974.

“I never could get into Stanford as an undergraduate or as a graduate student, so I took the only route I could to get here as a faculty member, for which the standards are considerably lower.”

The Perrys spent six years in Soto as resident fellows, an experience he calls “one of the most unexpected, most meaningful things in my university career.” The couple had adopted a third child in the early 1970s and today they have 13 grandchildren.

“All our kids have been wonderful, although they go through a difficult period between [the ages of] 2 and 30,” Perry said. “But having kids really forced us not to be so self-absorbed, as I think a lot of people in my generation have been.”

Noting that he loves to windsurf and continues to build time into his schedule for that pastime, Perry urged students to plan their lives “so you get some moments of pleasure.”

Even more important, he said, is finding out what they care deeply about.

“A way of getting depressed, in case you want to have that experience, is to focus on things that you can’t do anything about,” such as the lifespan of the planet or the suffering of millions of innocent children, Perry suggested.

Instead, he said he tries to care about individuals and conceive of direct routes “from the things I care about to the actions I can take.”

“Appearance, money well, those things actually are fairly important,” Perry suggested. “But the most important things are a person’s values and beliefs, and what they care about. Caring is the difference between you and a rock or a chair.”

What happens all too often, Perry added, is that freshmen come to Stanford thinking, “I know I’m a premed and I’m going into medicine, going to make megabucks and cure at least one disease.”

But then, “they run into the problem that they could care less about whether a protein does this or that, and they discover that it just doesn’t work to derive what you care about from what you think your identity is.

“Instead, you’ve got to see what you care about first, find what turns you on, and then figure out something that works for you.”

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You can read more of Perry’s stuff at http://www.structuredprocrastination.com

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A paper on gender, ethics, and sexuality with an emphasis on homosexuality.

A great shift has taken place in the western mind recently. It has not taken place suddenly though. Much like the slow, melting fracture of an iceberg that takes many decades or even centuries, the great ideological splits that many thinkers are noticing are, like the sheaves of ice that break from the main, the result of gradual erosions in our intellectual inheritance. One such break from the ancient iceberg of western moral thought has been in the area of sexual ethics. Most notably has been the sudden rise in the acceptability, popularity, and fierce defense of the legitimacy of the homosexual orientation and lifestyle. Where homosexuals fifty years ago lived lives of (what they reflect on as) inauthentic self-denial adopted out of fear of oppression and even physical harm, homosexuals today (literally) parade the streets, crying out for social recognition and equality.
This is indeed a great change, and one that has ignited fierce debate, emotion, and (often violent) action. This paper seeks to contribute conceptual and practical clarity to the discussion through an analysis of the concepts of gender, sexuality, and homosexuality. I submit that, when these terms are properly understood, it will become evident that homosexuality should be seen not as a sexual orientation identical to heterosexuality. Instead, from an understanding of sexuality as the appropriate expressions of one’s gender, homosexuality is, by necessity, the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of one’s gender, and nearly always involves, in some degree, the adoption of certain expressions of the opposite gender. The significance of this point will be established early on by an objective understanding of gender. After a survey of these concepts, I will move to address some of the social issues such as homosexual marriage, and homosexual child rearing, drawing the conclusions that homosexuals should not be allowed to marry or rear children. Lastly, through an analysis of the concept of tolerance, I will make a few practical suggestions as to how the disciple of Jesus Christ should live in an increasingly pluralistic, relativistic, and homosexual society.

Gender
The first concept that must be clarified if we are to come to a clear understanding of sexuality in general, and homosexuality specifically, is the concept of gender. Traditionally, gender has been understood to have two forms, maleness and femaleness. The –ness phrasing immediately suggests that gender is a property that someone may possess, or instantiate. Following our common, intuitive notion of gender, nearly all cultures have taken the same stance on gender as a two-type property. In this discussion, though, it will be necessary to go beyond our intuitions and analyze gender as a property.
All properties fall into one of two categories; first, there are complex properties that, upon analysis, turn out to be an amalgamation of other properties. For instance, being cube-like is a complex property that involves other properties such as having six sides, and being three-dimensional. Second, there are simple properties that cannot be broken down into other, simpler properties. Examples of simple properties might be being yellow, existing at three o’clock on march 4th, or having shape. The question now arises, which of these two categories does gender fall into? Can it be broken down into constituent properties, or are we left to simply acknowledge that it exists?
If gender is analyzable (that is, able to be broken down into other sub-properties), then what properties comprise maleness and femaleness? Two approaches to gender, neither of which are mutually exclusive, may be taken here. The first is an internalist perspective that sees gender as a property of one’s soul (if one is a dualist) or of one’s psychology. The second perspective is an externalist one that sees gender as determined by one’s biology.
What would differentiate between genders on an internalist perspective? It may help to start with our experience and intuitions about men and women and work from there. Characteristically, maleness and femaleness have been associated with various dispositions toward certain behaviors, social roles, and character traits. The typical man is disposed toward performing tasks verses organizing, tends toward domestic and professional leadership roles more naturally than cooperatively assisting the leader, has, until recent history, almost exclusively been the provider for the home verses the keeper and maintainer of the home, and has, in the family unit, naturally fulfilled the role of disciplinarian more so than the role of nurturer. Women, most often, have taken the complementary roles mentioned above.
Whether or not these characteristics (among many others) actually are gender, it is undeniable that, through culture, time, and society, males have been expected to naturally assume these roles, to the extent that those who have foisted this supposed responsibility are most often thought to have denied their gender, earning such obviously pejorative labels as unmanly, sorry, and weak. Interestingly enough, women who fail to possess these characteristics are rarely, if ever, thought badly of.
If an internalist perspective provides a satisfactory understanding of gender whereby we may determine a person’s gender by assessing their behaviors, dispositions, etc. then some radically counterintuitive conclusions result. One such conclusion is that a person can easily choose to change their gender at any time by merely adopting or developing certain dispositions or actions. To flesh out the absurdity, on a purely internalist perspective, a person who otherwise has the biological makeup normally considered male, actually becomes a female when they adopt the role of (say) nurturer, or home maker over against the role of disciplinarian or hunter/provider. Since few positions are more counterintuitive than this one, and since it seems to flow naturally from a pure internalistic perspective of gender, we must conclude that such a perspective is inadequate.
A more intuitively consistent option (though one that suffers from its own difficulties down the road) is the externalist perspective that defines gender purely in terms of a person’s biological makeup. This black and white approach yields simple criteria for determining a person’s gender: most often, whatever set of genitals a person has gives you the answer. This checking-between-the-legs approach to gender proves inadequate though since, because of certain genetic abnormalities, the occasional child is born with ambiguous genitals . The externalist may not be in too much of a bind here though since, in the majority of these cases, genetic testing reveals the person to possess either XY (male) or XX (female) chromosomal structure. The ambiguity then is caused by either an enlargement of the clitoris to resemble a phallus in cases of female genital ambiguity, or an extremely small penis and often an incaved scrotum prior to testicular descent.
So the externalist at this point may seem to have won the day. One shouldn’t be too quick to jump the wagon here though since recently, recent discoveries have turned up cases where a person seems to be, by all externalist accounts, genuinely ambiguous between both sexes. Such cases come in two varieties. The first instance is where a person is born both with ovarian and testicular tissue, and may be chromosomatically either XY or XXY. In such cases both sorts of tissue are present, though often underdeveloped, and occasionally are both functional .
The second, more confusing example of ambiguity between genders is called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. With AIS. a person is actually biologically male; they have totally normal testis, and are genetically XY. The ambiguity arises when a their body fails to develop the ability to process the hormones that cause their body to develop in distinctly male ways (facial hair, a developed penis, deep voice, testicular descent, etc.). The result is that, during gestation, the person’s penis remains underdeveloped, resembling a clitoris at birth, the testicles fail to drop, and the scrotum inverts, forming what appears to be a normal vagina but which is actually abnormally shallow. Such a person will process testosterone and DHT to an even lesser extent than females, which leaves the body to develop in exceptionally feminine ways, having very large breasts, almost no body hair, etc. All the while, such a person has no ovarian tissue, and a fully functional set of testicles still in the abdomen.
Most people with AIS live their whole lives not knowing they’re actually male by most biological standards. Only when they undergo abdominal surgery and find their testis, or seek a medical explanation for discomfort during sex because of their shallow “vagina” do they discover their biological identity.
These cases present a serious puzzle to the externalist. A simple check-between-the-legs approach won’t work here, and even the more sophisticated genetic analysis leaves one either with the conclusion that the subject is either both male and female, or is neither male nor female entirely. Either conclusion has shown that the externalist perspective is something totally short of providing a hard and fast method for determining gender, either because it fails to recognize a third, much less common gender that resembles a mixture of both, or because there really are only two genders but, at this point, we are without the technology to make any determination in these difficult cases.
One conclusion that the reader could draw from all this is that gender is a flexible thing since the internalist criteria aren’t unchanging constants in a person, and the externalist criteria are lacking in certain cases. This would make ample room for the homosexual, trans-gender, or otherwise sexually abnormal person to legitimize their lifestyle by simply asserting that sex between two men or two women or whatever isn’t wrong, since maleness and femaleness are very flexible, nearly indefinable characteristics, or possibly mere vacuous social structures imposed on people.
At this point though I suggest that the reader punt to his (and the historical testimony of nearly everyone else’s) intuitions and assume that gender is a natural, unchanging part of a person’s identity. This allows us to remain faithful to our intuitions, but leaves the complications unresolved. I think though, that resolution can be found after one simple intellectual step – seeing gender as an unanalyzable property, though one from which certain biological and dispositional traits should naturally flow. Such an understanding is not all that uncommon. Take for instance the property of intelligence understood in the general sense of having the ability to reason. Nearly every human person has this property. And this is a property from which certain dispositions and characteristics should flow; for instance, one should be conservative with their resources, should refrain from senseless, self destructive behavior, etc. In light of the fact that senseless people are in the extreme majority today, we can see that it is not at all absurd to take a similar stance on the issue of gender. But what about circumstances where gender is undeterminable? First it’s not a serious problem that there is a miniscule proportion of people whose gender we cannot determine. One could simply suspend judgment in such cases, choosing to focus on the obvious ones (since he will most likely never run into an unobvious case). We behave similarly in the case of intelligence, making no hard judgments about the comatose or invalids whose intelligence cannot be easily determined.
The final position on gender, then, should be that there are only two genders, male and female, and that one’s gender is inflexible and unchanging, but that moral judgments that require a determination of a person’s gender should be reserved for cases where there is no genetic ambiguity, which will leave us able to make such judgments in almost every case. At this point, one also has every right to retain the intuitive, historically evident conviction that one’s gender confers an obligation to embody certain behavioral characteristics. This point will be especially important in the next section.

Sexuality
The second concept of great importance to understanding homosexuality is sexuality. Homosexuality, by nearly all current understandings, and even grammatically, is thought to be a type of sexuality ( hence it is etymologically signified not by an entirely new word, but by merely tagging a prefix – “homo” – on to the beginning of the word). Most homosexuals, and indeed most people, think of homosexuality as a relationship identical to heterosexuality in every way with the single exception that one member of the relationship has been replaced with another person of the same sex as the remaining member, and sexual expressions then vary slightly, but remain nearly the same. I suggest that this is an inadequate view of sexuality because it fails to sufficiently tie together the concepts of sexuality and gender, leaving them awkwardly segregated.
Only recently, within the last few hundred years, has sexuality been seen in a narrow, functional sense as a disposition toward a certain type of act (erogenous stimulation) with a certain type of person (with the same sex, for homosexuals, and with the opposite sex, for heterosexuals). If sexuality is seen as merely erogenous, genital stimulatory acts, then certain acts such as necrosexuality, dendersexuality, etc. seem to fall well within the lines of legitimate sexuality. This is something we certainly want to avoid since it is obvious to all (except the necrophile or whatever) that such actions are not legitimately sexual, but are actually perversions of sexuality.
An adequate view of sexuality that excludes such strange practices from the realm of the legitimately sexual is then needed. We find such a view in pansexuality . This is the view that sexuality is not defined by acts, but by gender. Sexuality here is seen as the whole of one’s actions, dispositions, feelings, desires, and affections that are determined, or largely influenced by one’s gender. Sexuality, then, is as innate part of one’s identity as gender, and in some way colors all of a person’s actions. Furthermore, since gender is an objectively and immutable part of a person that obligates a person to certain actions and dispositions, and since these actions and dispositions are sexuality, sexuality is as immutable and unchangeable as gender, and is actually obligated of a person.

Homosexuality
With this understanding of gender and sexuality, it becomes clear why I hold that homosexuality is not at all a different, but equal, sexual orientation, like heterosexuality. Since our genders are objective and unchangeable, and since they not only provide a basis and motivation from which to act in ways that accurately express our gender, and since these expressions and motivations are our sexuality, it becomes obvious that homosexuality is a mis-sexuality, or an antisexuality. It is so because it involves one (either consciously or unconsciously) ignoring one of the dispositions inherent in their sexuality – namely, attraction to the opposite sex – and replacing it with a disposition of the sexuality of the opposite gender – attraction to their (the other gender’s) opposite sex. The homosexual man, in reality, has not simply chosen, or found himself to have, an alternative sexuality; he has suppressed his own, and adopted a woman’s .
It would be ignorant, insensitive, and mean-spirited to suggest that all, or even most, homosexuals make a conscious choice to suppress the dispositions involved in their own sexuality (often to the extent that they have no recollection of ever feeling this disposition) in favor of another, opposed sexuality. The vast majority of homosexuals have been slowly driven to this departure from their own identity through a slow process of being denied affirmation of their gender-identity. Such affirmation comes from someone of the same gender, though acceptance, affection, encouragement, and affirmation that they are, in fact, whatever gender they are. Denial of this affirmation leaves one uncertain of their manhood or womanhood, and leaves them carrying the felt need for such establishment of their identity through the above-mentioned means. It is at this point that the sexual perversions of media, entertainment, and society at large indoctrinate the soon-to-be homosexual with the false belief that the only intimacy between people is sexual intimacy. The soon-to-be homosexual unconsciously buys into this message, and through this lens reads his felt need for emotional, and to a real extent physical (though not sexual, in the popular sense of the term) intimacy with someone of the same sex as a sexual need. This self-misunderstanding leads the person to unconsciously sexualize this need for affirmation through intimacy, and sets the stage for them to misunderstand themselves as “homosexuals”, wherefrom they adopt inappropriate sexuality.
This accounts for the rampant infidelity and inconstancy of homosexual relationships (to make no mention of a similar problem among heterosexuals, which has a much different cause in my mind). Since a “homosexual” is really living a life of inauthentic sexuality, he or she will never find what they need in a homosexual relationship because they believe their desire is for sexual intimacy for pleasure and love, when the need is really for emotional, intellectual, and personal intimacy for the sake of mutual self-affirmation and betterment.
All of this gives us a clearer view of homosexuality from which we make a moral judgment. Homosexuality is certainly wrong. It is contrary to the design and intention of gendered persons. This, apart from any specifically religious claim, is evident from a quick survey of human anatomy. Men are not designed very well at all if they are meant to have sex with each other, and the same goes for women. A high view of sex sees sex as the instancing of the biological and spiritual unity of two people, sought for the sake of intimacy, not pleasure (but from which pleasure is derived as a gift), from which life emerges out of loving, selfless unity. This relationship and expressive act is not even possibly achievable between two people of the same sex since non-coital acts of sex reduce the body to a means of getting pleasure, not the medium for experiencing unity and communal life.
One is left to conclude that homosexuality is then morally wrong, not primarily on consequentialistic grounds (though homosexuality does yield terrible consequences both for society and the individual), but on the grounds that it is a twisting of the nature of a person into something they can never truly be. A man or woman will always be a man or woman, and expressions of their gender will always be appropriate to them and required of them, though they may not come easily at all to some people. This is a struggle common to all of humanity though. Just as having one gender or the other confers responsibilities upon a person, being a person has its own obligations. Everyone, for instance, ought to be kind, courageous, honest, loyal, sincere, forgiving, just, generous, modest, self-controlled, wise, faithful, and loving. I do not know a single person to whom many of these come easily, and I know several people who could cite life histories that would legitimize their difficulties in being any of these, and I myself would say that there are opposing characteristics, such as arrogance, impatience, and dishonesty, that are so common to me I am tempted to place them in my identity. Even so, certainly none of this absolves us from the responsibility to develop these characteristics. Being a person requires them of us.
In much the same way, being one gender or the other requires certain traits of us like special aesthetic appreciation of the beauty of the opposite sex, and the personal and social characteristics intuitively understood to be tied to either gender. Men ought to provide for and protect their families, value women in special ways, and may even have a special obligation to instance courage and justice depending on social arrangements. Likewise women ought to care for and nurture their families, value men in a special way, and develop other womanly characteristics.

Social Issues

Having taken a holistic view of gender and sexuality, it should be easy to conclude that homosexuals have no right to marriage if marriage is to be understood as something more than mere committed friendship. Marriage is a relationship that cannot be achieved, in principle, between two men or two women from the simple fact that both genders include complementary qualities, the combination of which is marriage. To address the legal question, though it may be argued that the state ought not to legislate controversial moral positions without good reason, it is certainly the case that the state ought to illegalize any practice that would eventuate its demise. Homosexual unions (civil or otherwise) are just such a practice. To legalize them would redefine the family, converting it into an environment bent on propagating the confusion that built it, and since homosexuality is wrong both morally and in its intellectual assumptions, it is only reasonable to think that an environment where it is accepted as right or even morally neutral will only promote further immorality and confusion, creating a downward spiral of greater and greater immorality and confusion. For this reason, homosexual couples should also be prohibited from adopting, fostering, or in any way rearing children.
In the end, to answer the legal questions related to homosexuality, we need not even look for future negative consequences. Since the practice of homosexuality is immoral, it is inwardly and outwardly harmful to those who practice it, and to the society that is influenced by it. Since it is intellectually vicious, it is as damaging to our minds as our souls. Homosexuality is then a wrong in itself, and should be avoided at all cost for the sake of the society.
As a disciple of Jesus Christ, one encounters difficulties that nearly dwarf legal ones, in regard to homosexuality. We are living in an increasingly pluralistic, relativistic, and homosexual society, and we are commanded to be the light in its darkness, and to love those around us in a substantial way. The loudest cry, in this milieu, is for tolerance, and in this cry is hidden a great key to our response, for the concept of tolerance presupposes another concept – disapproval. No man tolerates that which he approves of. So, if we ought to be tolerant (and we ought to be), we ought to seek to live out tolerance in all that it entails, both civility and disapproval. There should be no lynchings, hate-filled pickettings, or idiotic tirades against homosexuals. Instead there ought to be civil, intelligent dialogue over this important moral issue, always keeping in mind that, though we are commanded not to be homosexuals, such commandments fall under the second greatest – to love your neighbor as yourself.

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