Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Prager on Gay Marriage, Appeal to Tradition and Nothing More

Ok, it is time to start getting this blog back to blogging. And what better way to start than to take aim at Dennis Prager, this time on Gay Marriage?

But first a hat-tip to a great new blog I recently found, Rust Belt Philosophy

It was there that I first wrote a rough draft of this post in response to Larry's critique of Prager's article against equating prohibitions against gay marriage to those against interracial marriage.

Now on to some intellectual stompin of Prager. First, he really is pretty damn sloppy with the terminology.

"First, there is no comparison between sex and race."

Yet there is comparability between sex and race. But doesn't he really mean to say between sexual orientation and race? Of course both biological sex (i.e. male/female) and many of the phenotypic characteristics associated with the social construct of race are biologically determined, and thus comparable. Although the scientific jury may still be deliberating on this question, there is evidence and arguments that at least some homosexuality is biologically influenced. Regardless, it simply is not a given that racial identity and sexual orientation are not comparable. Prager fails to make his case on this point. And Prager can hardly make his case unless he employs some common and agreed upon terminology, or defines his terms.

The heart of Prager's argument against same-sex marriage is that it is contrary to "moral norms". He writes:

The second reason the parallel between opposing same-sex marriage and opposing interracial marriage is invalid is that opposition to marriage between races is a moral aberration while opposition to marrying a person of the same sex is the moral norm.

But wasn't the prohibition of interracial marriage at one time considered a "moral norm" by many, just as Prager and his ilk consider the prohibition of same-sex marriage a "moral norm"? Just because some segment of a population considers something a moral norm does not justify it as moral or immoral.

Prager claims that Judeo-Christian values are the source of "moral norms". The implicit assertion is that these "Judeo-Christian values" are something timeless and consistent. This is a total fiction. So called "Judeo-Christian values" are re-invented for contemporary use, and often different groups of Christians and Jews are at odds over what these values are.

Take slavery for example. Slavery was a"moral norm" in ancient Israel, and condoned in both the Old and New Testaments. Defended by pro-slavery Christians of the ante-bellum South, and fought against by Christian abolitionists in the 1800s. These are just basic facts of history that anybody should know, especially somebody like Prager who pretends to be some kind of authority on the Torah. So will the true "Judeo-Christian" values please stand up?

To be fair, same-sex marriage is probably contrary to so-called Judeo-Christian values if those are to be based on the Bible. This is Prager's only argument, it is fallacious, and that is no basis for a morality based on reason.

Finally, what is most offensive is that Prager attempts to speak for secularism and humanism:

"On the other hand, no religious or secular moral system ever advocated same-sex marriage........They have no problem doing this because they believe they are wiser and finer people than all the greatest Jewish, Christian and humanist thinkers who ever lived."

Talk about hubris! Prager often scorns secularism and humanism, and now he presumes to speak for it? It is apparent he doesn't understand that secular-humanists are not committed to dogmas of the past. It simply does not matter that great humanist thinkers of the past might not have endorsed gay marriage. We base our morality on reason and evidence, not on the authority of some past great thinker.

It also might occur to the less dim-witted that the demand for marriage equality for gay folk is an extension of their movement for greater acceptance in general. Gay rights have made tremendous strides since the late 1960s. They were hardly in a position to make such demands even a short 50 years ago. Thus it was not an issue on the front-burner during those times of the great humanist thinkers of the past. If it had been, who's to say they would not have endorsed same-sex marriage? Certainly Prager is in no position to know!

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