Thursday, January 27, 2011


I don't, personally, believe in magic. On the other hand, I am not 100% confident in my disbelief in magic. I could be quite tolerant of a devout wizard who tried to sell me a magic potion. I don't think such things work, but I don't know that they don't. The reason that homoeopaths are scumbags is that they are selling their magic potions on the basis of scientific claims which are just. not. true. Eye of newt and gall of bat might summons up the ghosts of all the kings of Scotland, for all I know. But atoms do not remember things which used to be dissolved in them. They just don't. 

If I'd spent longer planning this essay, there'd  have been a clever pun on "homophobic" and "homoeopathic" in there somewhere.

It is one thing for a Muslim to say "I don't drink wine because it's against my religion to drink wine". It's another thing to say "You shouldn't drink wine because it's against my religion for you to drink wine." But it's different again to say "No-one should drink wine because everybody knows that the infidel introduces special cancer inducing chemicals into the grapes." The first two claims are matters of opinion and conscience; the third is just.not.true. Same for the Pope saying that the magic HIV worms can swim in between the atoms in the condom as -- opposed to "Using birth control is a mortal sin worth a century in purgatory or two hundred hail Marys."

Yes, I know the indulgence system was largely abolished after Vatican II.

So: is Mel claiming that homosexuality is wicked because it hurts people and causes pain, like getting drunk and telling lies about weapons of mass destruction? Or is she claiming that it is immoral because it makes little baby Jesus cry, like playing with your thing and eating flesh on Friday.? (Yes, I know the compulsory weekly fast was largely abolished after Vatican II. The Guardian has recently developed a thing about playing with your thing but so far as I can tell it's only wanking over pictures you found on the Internet which makes C.P Scott cry.)

So far as I can say, she says neither. She says instead that homosexuality is not "normal". Or, at any rate, she says that if children are bombarded with homosexual propaganda they will be brainwashed and lose their idea of "normal" sexuality. That sounds to me like a scientific claim, not a religious one.

But what does "normal" mean? If it means "natural" then homosexuality is perfectly natural, in that is occurs in nature: human beings, and indeed penguins, do it, and have always done it. If it means "consistent with social norms" then again, it is pretty normal, because lots of people do it it and most people don't mind other people doing it.

But that usage gets you into horrible circular arguments. I could say that public nudity is not "normal" because most people don't do it, and most people are freaked out when somebody else does it. But if I was advocating that we should get over ourselves and leave our pants off on hot days, there wouldn't be much point in appealing to the present "norms". It doesn't mean very much to say "We mustn't change our norms because that would involve changing our norms." Norms change all the time. I am reliably informed that in olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking. 

I suppose a traditional conservative says "We developed our norms gradually, over a series of centuries, and if you change them suddenly, the whole mechanism might come crashing down." That comes into Mel's thinking. She has a theory that Western rationality is based on the Bible (sort of possibly maybe true, debatably) and that it follows that if we depart from Biblical principles we will descend into irrationality and chaos. But this doesn't seem to involve reading the Bible and saying "How does Deuteronomy 23 apply to issue of detention without trial?" It seems to involve using the Bible as a fetish-object which makes the ways we do things right now the only ways that things can be done. And that the state of Israel is always right about everything. How she gets round the fact that, until very recently indeed, letting women vote in elections and work on newspapers was not considered "normal" I am not quite sure.

If you are going to sell me a magic potion, sell me a magic potion. If you are going to preach traditional morality then preach traditional morality. Don't wrap it up in weirdo language about what is and isn't normal. 



SK said...

You miss the third possible meaning of 'normal' -- as well as 'how things are in nature' and 'according to social norms', there's 'how God designed things to work in unfallen nature'.

Isn't the very first chapter of Studies in Words on the slipperiness of the word 'nature', and how it can mean either 'how things are' (a sort of post-Enlightenment, observation-based idea) or 'how things are supposed to be' (a more Aristotelian view of essential nature)?

Both of these are reasonable grounds on which to base an argument, and if the commentator means the second then it's a reasonable position; the only dishonest bit is if you equivocate between the two (something which both sides are guilty of).

Andrew Rilstone said...

"You miss the third possible meaning of 'normal' -- as well as 'how things are in nature' and 'according to social norms', there's 'how God designed things to work in unfallen nature'."

Like "not wearing any clothes", for example.

SK said...

Just like that. Winter is a postlapsarian thing.

Tim Ellis said...

No one in their right mind should have a problem with someone following their beliefs where they don't impact on others. "I don't drink wine because it's against my religion to drink wine". After all, why should it matter to me if you want to be teetotal, or vegetarian, or gay, or all or none of the above.

It can be more contentious if you want to impose your views on others "You shouldn't drink wine because it's against my religion for you to drink wine.". Here context is much more important. If this is a rule you apply to your own house, or to your place of business then it is more acceptable than if you want to stop any consumption of wine in the town/county/country/world. If I am aware of your beliefs and invite you around for a meal then it probably doesn't hurt not to serve wine, but if I am inviting a dozen people around, most of whom would normally expect wine to be served, then should I upset them all to avoid upsetting you?

If you limit your actions to just yourself, it doesn't much matter what your reasons are. If you choose not to drink wine, it is mostly irrelevant if you choose to do so because it is against your religion, or because you don't like the taste, or because you are a recovering alcoholic who can't stop at one glass, or because you believe a secret conspiracy is poisoning it with carcogenic grapes.

Things do become trickier when your choices have an indirect effect on others. Your decision to embrace naturism may not require that everyone strips off, but will still clash with other peoples preference not to see naked men on their morning commute into work. Even though your belief is personal, and theirs impinges on the behaviour of others, should public nudism be acceptable?

Should Andy Gray be sacked from Sky sport for holding outdated sexist views? or is it only a sackable offence when he airs them in public? or when he airs them in private and someone else makes them public? or should we surprised that anyome who watches Sky Sport even noticed the sexism?

Andrew Rilstone said...

Just like that. Winter is a postlapsarian thing.

God made us naked. Before the fall we were naked. Therefore clothes are not normal. Therefore Christians should not wear clothes. Therefore nobody else should be allowed to wear clothes AND any schoolbooks which even admit the existence of clothes are part of a plot by the Textile Lobby and shouldn't be allowed.

God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Melannie. Before the fall there were no gay people. Therefore, ther being gay is not normal. Therefore....