Monday, January 03, 2011

Who’s Afraid of Discourse?

If you have not heard of it, the Manhattan Declaration is an ecumenical public document stating the basic, historical Christian position on the sanctity of life, marriage and civil responsibility. The whole statement can be found here, and is worth your time if you are interested in these things. The document is argued well, has a reasonable tone, simply puts forth a brave and clear Christian position on a few of the more controversial issues in our culture today, and calls for civil discourse. So, naturally, it has its enemies.

Enter the cultural left.

Apple has banned the Manhattan Declaration iPhone app from their App Store. Here are some of their reasons:

Apple is telling us that the apps' content is considered "likely to expose a group to harm" and "to be objectionable and potentially harmful to others."

More and more, the cultural class that claims tolerance as its greatest virtue shows itself to be the most intolerant of all. It is not just that the bulk of the cultural left is favorable to both abortion and gay marriage, it is that they have lost all ability to discuss them with reason and civility. Instead of arguing against the details of the Declaration, its detractors want to censor it and call it bad names.

The Declaration itself, on the other hand, is a tremendous example of the Christian mind and conviction in the public square. Instead of resorting to name calling or censorship, the Christian thinks out-loud. The Christian has faith in the truth and in the practice of God-given reason.

In addition, the Declaration is a great example of Christian action in the public square. If the Christian truly believes that truth is a freeing and beautiful thing, the act of standing for the truth is an act of compassion for their neighbor. It is a weak and sickly “love” indeed that placates people with false and destructive hope.

I encourage you to engage with the Declaration, and if you feel able, sign it.

18 comments:

Ritchie said...

What's the problem here? Apple have simply refused to let themselves be a soapbox for religious intolerance.

The Manhattan Declaration App was homophobic and offensive. But even if it was not, would you be so tolerant, I wonder, about Apps promoting Muslim, Hindu, or atheist principles? Because Apple can hardly grant a platform to one religious view and not others. The alternative is a blanket refusal to everyone.

It is not intolerant to censor offensive voices. It is sound business practice to remain religiously impartial, and that means not allowing others to impose their religious views onto others.

Phil Steiger said...

Apple is a private company and the issue isn't whether or not they have the right to deny apps. But your implication that they do so across religious lines is dubious at best.

The issue, as so well exemplified by your comment, is that their kind of opposition to the MD is thoughtless and emotive. Your mindless use of the invective "homophobic" is such an example.

I would challange you and the objectors to the MD to rise to its level and produce arguments against it.

Ritchie said...

Emotive? Mindless? Can I draw your attention to the following paragraph:

"The impulse to redefine marriage in order to recognize same-sex and multiple partner relationships is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the erosion of the marriage culture. It reflects a loss of understanding of the meaning of marriage as embodied in our civil and religious law and in the philosophical tradition that contributed to shaping the law. Yet it is critical that the impulse be resisted, for yielding to it would mean abandoning the possibility of restoring a sound understanding of marriage and, with it, the hope of rebuilding a healthy marriage culture."

Homophobia, pure and obvious.

If it is a "false and destructive belief that marriage is all about romance and other adult satisfactions, and not, in any intrinsic way, about procreation and the unique character and value of acts and relationships whose meaning is shaped by their aptness for the generation, promotion and protection of life," then why are infertile couples allowed to marry, or women even after they have gone through the menopause? They too are incapable of breeding, which is apparently the one and only consideration for marriage.

The truth is that people marry for all sorts of reasons - companionship, loneliness, love, financial security, the list goes on. It is as mindless as it is arrogant to claim there is only one 'purpose' for marriage and that all others are null and void.

That said, there are a lot of things in the MD which are, to put it politely, 'fictitious'. The image painted of Christians in ancient Rome in the preamble is rather amusing, and the claim that Christianity was responsible for laying the building blocks of democracy is HILARIOUS. The claim that it abolished slavery moves from hilarious to demonstrate a truly shocking nerve to whitewash history. Then come shameless calls for credit for women's rights and (most jaw-droppingly of all) care for those with AIDS in Africa, when the Pope's opposition to condoms is a MASSIVE factor in keeping AIDS alive on that continent.

Christianity has rarely been at the forefront of societal change. In fact in most cases it has fiercely resisted and fought against the freedoms and rights which people have fought tooth and nail for, only conceding defeat after the battle is lost, and then having the nerve to later white-wash history and claim credit for advancing these causes.

Dan said...

"Christianity has rarely been at the forefront of societal change. In fact in most cases it has fiercely resisted and fought against the freedoms and rights which people have fought tooth and nail for, only conceding defeat after the battle is lost, and then having the nerve to later white-wash history and claim credit for advancing these causes."

This is quite a sweeping statement. What evidence do you have that it is true? Keep in mind that there are many >"Christians" who would agree with you. Do you hold these statements to be true about these Christians as well?

Ritchie said...

Dan -

You are right to a point. Of course there are people of differing opinions, even if they share a religion. Which just demonstrates my first point - a person's religion does NOT dictate their morality.

Nevertheless, the MD is claiming that credit for such things as democracy, women's rights and the abolishion of slavery belongs with Christianity. Which is obviously nonsense.

Established church doctrine spoke out against each of these during the times when they were contentous issues of the day. If you were a person at the time with no strong opinion of your own and turned to church officials to guide you in these matters, they would have told you to reject these liberal notions every time.

Of course there will be people who stand up for moral issues such as humanity, compassion and reason whatever their religion, and I don't doubt many who fought the fight of slavery abolishion, etc., were indeed religious. But they were acting AGAINST the decrees of the time of their own religions.

Which makes it all at once humourous, sad and outrageous when someone tries to claim these social advances as feathers in the cap of religion.

Phil Steiger said...

Dan-

Feel free to keep on posting - I have been busy lately and unable to really engage here for a few days.

But there seem to be a couple of problems with Ritchie's point of view so far. First of all, his position on the MD preamble and the relationship between Christianity and social reform is historically misinformed. The details of the preamble are simple hisorical fact, even if they are relative novelties to us.

Secondly, It seems we are at logger-heads with invectives like "homophobic" and argumentation. It doesn't do any good to simply quote the MD at length and pronounce it homophobic. Emotive labels like that are "thought stoppers" and not thoughful.

A better place to criticize the MD is with an argument for homosexual marriage, a pro-choice position, or (ironically enough) against civil discourse.

Ritchie said...

For your first point, the details in the MD's preamble are not historical fact, they are absolutely fiction. I'll grant there were Christians in the abolishionist movement, but who do you imagine they were fighting against? The fervently religious Confederate states put a Christian slogan on their official seal, and repeatedly insisted slavery was the will of God. And the thing is - they were right (theologically, not morally, obviously). The Bible does indeed indorse slavery. While the abolitionist movement was made up of not only Christians but atheists and free-thinkers such as Abner kneeland and William Lloyd Garrison. If you think Christianity deserves the credit for abolishing slavery in USA, then why does it not also deserve the blame for instituting it in the first place?

We find similar problems on the other issues. The Bible preaches obedience to your master and a rigid hierarchical social structure. The Kings of Europe were supported for centuries by claims of rule by divine right, and the church a powerful tool in keeping the masses content with their lot and obedient to their lords. Even Jesus' words and deeds are closely reminiscent of, if anything, communist ideals. Nowhere is democracy ever championed.

And the whole issue of AIDS in Africa is just too outrageous. The Pope's stance on condoms condemns thousands to needlessly contracting this devastating disease. In fact, in March 2009, Pope Benedict XVI actually had the gall to claim condoms make the problem WORSE. People will DIE from this ignorant nonsense spouted by this pompous charlatan.

On your second point, I think I need only point out that marriage between two consenting adults is not anyone else's business. Imposing restrictions on who a person can marry based on your own religious bias is imposing your religion onto others. As recently as the 1960s, interracial marriage was illegal. Today would anyone dare talk about 'ALLOWING' interracial couples to marry? The obvious reply is simply 'What right do you have to stop them?'

If I were to marry a black woman, I imagine it is easy to see someone calling such a marriage a sham, or an erosion on the institution of marriage to be racist. A declaration that gay marriage is so is no less bigoted.

All that matters in the case of marriage is law, and that is what inspired such documents as the MD. Slowly the political tide seems to be turning in favour of same-sex marriage, with five US states now recognising it. The laws banning them are being challenged and overturned. Yet the MD calls for us to 'not comply' with such laws and refuse to recognise such unions. Exactly what this entails is, admittedly, unclear. But this document was clearly written as a reactionary piece of propaganda to halt the tide of public support for same-sex marriage (and other issues) by appealing to religiously-motivated bigotry.

And may I point out this is an excellent example of religion opposing social reform YET AGAIN! No doubt in a century or so, when public opinion views same-sex marriage in exactly the same light as interracial marriage (that it is a total non-issue), Christians of the day will be proclaiming how Christianity deserves the credit for making same-sex marriage legal!

Marty said...

Ritchie,

I’m a little late to the discussion here, but I couldn’t help but be intrigued about all the supposed controversy here. After repeatedly requesting a civil discourse from Phil you continue be argumentative and still less than thoughtful in your descriptions of Christ as reflecting communist ideals and referring to the “ignorant nonsense spouted by the pompous charlatan.”

How is it that a stance recognizing the authority of Scripture regarding a social issue such as marriage or life for that matter makes one guilty of the inexcusable crime of “imposing your religion onto others”?

Aren’t you doing the same?

Apple’s “soapbox” is a little less than stable now as well, since they appear to have compromised their own stance regarding pornography by allowing a Playboy web-based app.

It appears to me that Phil summed it up quite nicely in his original post:

Apple is telling us that the apps' content is considered "likely to expose a group to harm" and "to be objectionable and potentially harmful to others. ... More and more, the cultural class that claims tolerance as its greatest virtue shows itself to be the most intolerant of all.”

Ritchie said...

Marty -

I apologise if you find my language abrasive or offensive. But I do not believe I have crossed a line of civil discourse. If you disagree then I shall try to be less emotive.

For the record the pompous charlatan I was referring to was the Pope, not Christ. And I stand by my claims that Christ's message was more reminiscent of communism than democracy. Did Jesus not command his followers to sell all their possessions and work for the benefit of the poor and weak? Consider Acts, 2:44-45 "And all that believed were together, and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need." How is this sentiment anything other than communistic - common ownership, no private property and distribution of goods based on need?

Don't get me wrong, I am not championing communism. All I am doing is challenging the idea that the Bible champions democracy, or for that matter, capitalism, which also seems to get lumped together in the minds of the American right.

"How is it that a stance recognizing the authority of Scripture regarding a social issue such as marriage or life for that matter makes one guilty of the inexcusable crime of “imposing your religion onto others”?"

Scripture has no default authority over mankind. Some people who believe it might think it does. And therein lies the problem. A Muslim, a Jew, an atheist, or any other non-Christian should not have any moral obligations or opinions from the Bible forced upon them. To do so is to impose the Christian religion.

"Aren’t you doing the same?"

I don't see how.

"Apple’s “soapbox” is a little less than stable now as well, since they appear to have compromised their own stance regarding pornography by allowing a Playboy web-based app."

My suspicion is that the app is going to be more restictive than presently feared. But even if this were not the case, how exactly has that undermined their stance on the MD app? The issue there is about religious propaganda and homophobia. Again, I am not championing the Playboy app (necessarily), merely pointing out that they are two seperate issues.

Your final quote seems misplaced. The harm Apple are referring to is the bigotry which will likely stem from the mindset which considers gay marriage a sham or erosion of marriage. The harm here is quite real. On the other hand, what harm is there in responsible adults being allowed to view (probably rather censored) pornography on request?

Dan said...

Ritchie

So... what you're trying to say is that things like Christianity, homophobia, and the Manhattan Doctrine are immoral.

Ritchie said...

I'm not sure 'immoral' is precisely the word I'd choose.

There are many forms and branches of Christianity; all unified, to a greater or lesser extent, merely by a belief in Jesus Christ as the Messiah sent by the Abrahamic God. Such a belief in itself is not immoral. Though the accompanying doctrine may encourage people to act in bigoted, hateful or immoral ways (just as it might also encourage them to act in caring, forgiving, moral ways).

The Manhattan Doctrine is more specific. It is factually inaccurate, bigoted, prejudiced, and a rather shameless piece of propaganda. Does that classify it as 'immoral' in an of itself?

I'm more comfortable classifying homophobia as immoral, however. It breeds contempt for, and enables the suffering of, people who are gay through no fault of their own. That makes it pretty immoral in my book.

Dan said...

So let me see if I’m understanding you correctly. When Christians appeal to scripture, which is clear about the sin of homosexuality, to determine whether or not homosexuality is immoral, that is immoral. But when people determine that homophobia is immoral ex nihilo, or based on something so subjective or ethereal as their“comfort level”with it, then that is not immoral or bigoted? Is that your position?

Ritchie said...

"When Christians appeal to scripture, which is clear about the sin of homosexuality, to determine whether or not homosexuality is immoral, that is immoral."

It is not immoral to look up what the Bible says about homosexuality. Nor is it immoral base your beliefs on what it says in the Bible (stupid, perhaps, blind and gullible, definitely). But when a person says or does bigoted, homophobic things, that does make them bigoted and homophobic, and yes, I suppose such behaviour is immoral. If you do immoral things, those things remain immoral, even if you try to justify it with 'The Bible backs me up'.

"But when people determine that homophobia is immoral ex nihilo, or based on something so subjective or ethereal as their“comfort level”with it, then that is not immoral or bigoted?"

Homophobia is immoral because it leads directly to human suffering. People suffer greatly, and even die, at the hands of people acting from their homophobia.

I think my sense of morality is rather uncomplicated - actions which increase happiness or lessen suffering are good. Actions which increase suffering and lessen happiness are bad. And even though many actions produce a combination of suffering and happiness, still the standard holds; more happiness = good, more suffering = bad.

Now let me try to assertain your position. My impression of it is: 'If it's endorsed in the Bible, it's fine'. Would that be accurate?

Brian B said...

Hi Ritchie! Hope you don't mind if I jump in here.

You said:
I think my sense of morality is rather uncomplicated - actions which increase happiness or lessen suffering are good. Actions which increase suffering and lessen happiness are bad. And even though many actions produce a combination of suffering and happiness, still the standard holds; more happiness = good, more suffering = bad.

No doubt you're aware that many Christians - esp. those of the sort that would endorse the MD - sincerely believe that engaging in homosexual acts "increases suffering and lessens happiness."

I'm guessing you would disagree with their factual claim about the causal relation between homosexual behavior and resulting suffering. But supposing that this is what someone sincerely believed - and something for which they thought there was good evidence - would you still think it was immoral for someone to act on that belief?

Here I hope to "complicate" your "sense of morality." You might think it's natural to distinguish between some act's being good or bad on the one hand, and some person's being blameworthy or praiseworthy on the other. Indeed, it's reasonable to distinguish between acts that are good and bad, and those that are obligated and prohibited.

For instance, if you sincerely believed (and had good evidence) that person X was about to drown, and you were in a position to save them, it seems that you would have an obligation, all else being equal, to attempt to save them. But suppose that X wasn't about to drown - they were just playing around, and by attempting to rescue them, you ruined their fun (and, of course, got yourself all wet).

I say: you would have been blameworthy for failing to attempt a rescue; it would have been wrong to refrain from doing so; what you did was the right thing, and you were morally obligated to do it.

But, of course, you actually "increased suffering and lessened happiness" compared to letting them have their fun. In that sense, what you did was "bad."

As you can see, then, the word "immoral" is too imprecise. More interesting to speak in terms of obligation, blameworthiness, right and wrong, rather than just "good or bad."

Back to the question concerning MD: supposing (as seems reasonable) that its supporters take themselves to have good evidence that homosexual behavior will cause more suffering than happiness, do they have an obligation to act on that belief, even if they turn out to be mistaken about their evidence (i.e. wrong about whether homosexuality causes more suffering)? Or are they blameworthy for opposing something that they believe is bad?

No good (or fair) yelling at the would-be rescuer for "doing something bad," even if it's true that he did something bad, is it? So, do you see a relevant difference? (That last question is not rhetorical; I can imagine several possible ways to distinguish the cases. But I'd like to hear how you view the matter so far.)

It might help, in answering, to distinguish various things that have been unhelpfully lumped together under the banner of "homophobia." For instance, we should distinguish the mere belief that homosexual behavior is wrong, from opposing gay marriage, from acting in a hypocritically judgmental way toward homosexuals, from targeting them for abuse, etc.

Ritchie said...

Brian B

You're more than welcome to jump in.

I agree with much that you say about morality in principle. Terms such as 'good' and 'bad', are rather clumsy and imprecise, and in reality the world around us is made of moral shades of grey. Obligation and prohibition play a part too. There is also the issue of intent - I would not call trying to 'save' a 'drowning' person who was just fooling around bad because your intentions were good. Intent plays a huge part in morality. For instance, last year a man cut me with a blade. Was he a mugger attacking me, or was he a surgeon performing an operation? I would ascribe exactly the same act (cutting me with a blade) a different moral value based on context and, more specifically, the intent of the person performing it.

You seem to imply that people such as those who wrote the MD have a moral obligation to act on their sincere beliefs (that homosexuality is harmful). But the thing is, if you're going to act on such beliefs, I say you have a social obligation to make sure those beliefs are accurate. For example, if blind bigotry causes you to vote a certain way on gay marriage, then you are inflicting your prejudice on those who will be affected by the outcome of such laws.

Which leads us to (what I suspect is) the key question; is homosexuality harmful/wrong? And if you think so, the onus is on you to show it.

I myself have heard many arguments attempting to prove such a point, all of which have been deeply flawed. Appeal to scripture is common, but flawed, since scripture contains sanctions of so much behaviour we reject. Many might claim to get their morality from the Bible, but I strongly believe no-one ACTUALLY does. To do so would be to endorse slavery, corporate guilt (the idea that entire communities share the guilt of acts performed by individual members), inherited sin and, under the right circumstances, rape. We reject such notions, which are sanctioned in the Bible, because our moral code does NOT stem from it. So merely using the argument 'The Bible backs me up' in a moral debate is rather hollow.

Homosexuality is simply a preferred behaviour different from the majority - rather like being left-handed, which I always find a very perseptive analogy. It's just preference for a mode of behaviour which is different from the norm. A gay person has as much choice in being gay as a left-handed person does in being left-handed. A gay man might condition himself to sleep with women, just as a left-handed person might condition themselves to write with their right hand. Does that make them hetrosexual/right-handed? And the heterosexual/right-handed majority might have trouble understanding these 'different' minority preferences. Gay/left-handed impulses may well seem, to outsiders, unnatural, counter-impulsive or wrong. But all it takes is a little tolerance to see not everyone is the same.

Ritchie said...

I do acknowledge that the people who wrote the MD probably feel that they are trying to help gay people. They probably don't think what they are saying/doing is homophobic because they don't mean it in a hateful way. They just want to 'save' people from homosexuality. The problem is the inbuilt (homophobic) assumption that homosexuality is something that people need to be saved from.

Imagine I started an organisation that tried to 'save' people from having red hair. We went out armed with statistics about how redheads lead more miserable lives (they get bullied so much), or famous murderers or bad people who were redheads. We even handed out free bottles of hair dye so that those afflicted could correct their shameful condition. Some redheads might be offended at the idea that red hair is something they need saving from. Are these people simply being stubborn, and vain, too proud to see the truth of the 'curse' of red hair? Are they the tools of the Devil sent to corrupt our children into believing that public displays of red hair are acceptable? No matter how earnest or well-intentioned my desire might be to 'save' people from red hair, it would still be misguided and bigoted.

Exactly how far should my sincere and earnest beliefs that red hair is shameful be defended? Don't I have a right to my beliefs? Don't I have a moral obligation to act on those beliefs? Especially when I have the power to vote on whether redheads should be allowed to reproduce (Produce more redheads? Not likely. Redheaded children might get bullied at school... won't someone think of the children?!?!).

A silly analogy used to illustrate a frighteningly real problem.

Finally, on homophobia. Of course, some people will always hold homophobic beliefs, just as some people will always hold racist beliefs. Can't do anything about that. Some people are just bigots. And the sad thing is, they are entitled to those beliefs. It's when they start ACTING on them that we can start to object.

It's sad that we're still legally trying to establish who is entitled to basic human rights. But surely the attitude we should be trying to foster is one of tolerance? Only a few decades ago, interracial marriage was a hot political subject. Even if I have never had a relationship with, or even been attracted to, someone outside my race, it would be tolerant of me to acknowledge that some people do when I go to the voting booths. I should consider more than my own experiences/preferences when voting on who is allowed to have a relationship with whom. THAT is the sort of attitude we should be nurturing. THAT is the sort of society I want to live in. And THAT is exactly the sort of attitude which the MD diametrically opposes - by reinforcing this insubtanciated and bigoted belief that homosexuality is something corrupted/dirty/perverse/malformed/unworthy/less legitimate than heterosexuality.

Sorry to ramble.

Brian B said...

"But the thing is, if you're going to act on such beliefs, I say you have a social obligation to make sure those beliefs are accurate. For example, if blind bigotry causes you to vote a certain way on gay marriage, then you are inflicting your prejudice on those who will be affected by the outcome of such laws."

I agree. Unfortunately, for some issues there's just no getting around "imposing your morality" on others. Consider the abortion debate: if it is legally prohibited, then one set of people will have the morality of others "imposed" on them. And if it is legally permitted, another set of people will have the morality of others "imposed" (in a different way, of course) on them. One decision leads to (the perception of) an imposition on the most private matters of freedom and conscience; the other leads to (the perception of) the permission of unjustifiable homocides against the most vulnerable in our society. This makes me think that the charge of "morality imposition," on its own, doesn't have as much bite as it may at first appear.

(Same thing with, say, racial segregation in public schools. Either way the law goes, someone's deeply-held moral convictions are "imposed" upon. So, the mere fact that a given law will impose one group's morality on another can't be anywhere near a sufficient reason for rejecting such a law.)

So I think you're right that a key question is "is homosexuality harmful/wrong?" An interesting question here, though, is this: when it comes to, say, making public declarations like the MD, what kinds of facts, evidence, or sources should be permitted in answering the question of whether e.g. homosexuality is wrong? It sounds like you're inclined to reject certain sources or types of evidence altogether.

But this strikes me as entirely question-begging. To put it one way, you are "imposing" your view of morality (this time concerning what kinds of evidence or reasons are permissible when it comes to defending a view in the public square) on everyone else. So, shouldn't you - being the one who is arguing that "using certain kinds of reasons or evidence is harmful/wrong/inappropriate" - have the onus to show that your particular standard for "public" argumentation is the only permissible one?

I'm sure you see the problem: we seem caught in a potential (vicious) regress. Do you have a view about "public reason" that might help break the apparent impasse? What non-question-begging principle can you put forward - one that relevant parties to this debate would accept - that would show that your way is the right way?

Meanwhile, as I said, I do think MD supporters have an obligation to say something about the key evidential claim - that homosexuality is wrong or harmful. But of course they do say at least something about that. It's just that you find their arguments unpersuasive (and, of course, vice versa). Neither side has provided reasons that the other finds convincing (probably because their rational starting points are too far apart). But then why should MD supporters privilege your claims? Both sides sincerely believe that failure to act on their respective beliefs will cause harm, and that it is therefore their obligation to act. This phenomenon manifests in many of our public debates; I myself am not clear on how one ought to proceed. You? (Appealing to harm won't cut it; appealing to "morality imposition" won't do. What's left?)

Ritchie said...

"...for some issues there's just no getting around "imposing your morality" on others."

While this is true, let's put this into perspective for a moment. Take the issue of gay marriage. For a gay person, this is a huge issue. It impacts them deeply. Being allowed (or not) to marry has massive consequences for a person's social standing, personal rights, self-esteem, legal status, personal life and happiness... What would the potential imposition on, say, you be if gay marriage passed? That you would be living in a country where gay people would be allowed to marry? Big whoop. Let's be honest, it really doesn't impact on you personally much at all. It just gets your goat because you disapprove of OTHER PEOPLE doing it. Gay marriage would not be an imposition on you - unless you consider it an imposition on whether you can impose your opinions on others.

Again you are making a case for holding and acting on bigoted opinions without having to care about the consequences on other people. At some point anyone who is not the most entrenched and stubborn of bigots has to take a look around and see if their opinions actually match up to reality.

"when it comes to, say, making public declarations like the MD, what kinds of facts, evidence, or sources should be permitted in answering the question of whether e.g. homosexuality is wrong? It sounds like you're inclined to reject certain sources or types of evidence altogether."

Interesting that you mention such words as 'facts' and 'evidence', when the MD is painfully thin on those. THE MD is an emotive appeal to Conservative religious values with little relevence to facts, evidence or the real world. For all it's condescensing disapproval of homosexuals, all it actually puts forward as evidence for the immorality of homosexuality is Bible quotes. The authors seem to think their audience will simply assume or accept the Bible is inerrant, or at least a powerful authority on human morality - propositions which are either obviously untrue, or at least far from being established. To people who do not simply take as granted the Bible's inerrancy/authority, the MD is, at best, speculative rhetoric.

And as far as rejecting sources of evidence, I am merely trying to filter out the relevant from the irrelevant. Not everything ever written about gay people is going to be relevant on a debate on whether we in the twenty-first century should permit gay marriage.

Relevant evidence would include case studies, controlled experiments, surveys, and personal anecdotes. Plenty of which attest to homosexuality being an involuntary and natural disposition, and actively harmful when suppressed. What is YOUR criteria for accepting evidence? Do you only accept evidence when it backs up the Bible?

Again, let us be honest, you are only peeved because I am rejecting A PARTICULAR source of 'evidence' - the Bible. But what is it's relevence to us today? It is a 2,000 year old book. Societies change - words on a page do not. If we built our society solely on what the Bible sanctioned we would build a state whose values never grew or changed in step with our understanding of the world - a state, by the way, which would permit slavery, genocide and inherited sin.

"Both sides sincerely believe that failure to act on their respective beliefs will cause harm, and that it is therefore their obligation to act. This phenomenon manifests in many of our public debates; I myself am not clear on how one ought to proceed. You?"

Simple - present evidence to support your case! That is the best way to get people to change their minds - SHOW them that their beliefs do not match up to the real world.

But of course, this rather relies on the other person having an open mind. Someone who sincerely believes their holy book trumps absolutely any, and any amount of, evidence you put in front of them is not likely to ever change their mind, and will probably never appreciate how closed-minded they are.