Over at Friendly Atheist, Hemant posted this billboard from a Christian group:


Of course, it’s an “ex-gay ministry”‘s you-can-change-being-gay billboard that’s been Photoshopped to make a rather hilarious point. And the church wasn’t happy with the comparison. That sparked some discussion on Hemant’s blog. Here’s an example of one of the comments:

That’s just not right. What’s worse is, they try to perpetuate that idea that homosexuals can change.

Well, I agree that it’s not right. But I think the discussion of whether people who identify as homosexuals at one point of their lives do so out of pure genetic determinism or pure personal choice is tainted by social norms; the politically-correct views of the accepting left and the it’s-really-hard-to-find-a-hermeneutic-to-get-out-of-this-one views on the Christian right. So, I wrote a rather long comment, and I didn’t want it to just get buried, so I gave it a nice new home here on my friendly blog:

I think it’s important to consider the issue of choosing sexual orientation. It’s very politically incorrect to say these days that (any) people choose their sexual orientation, but let’s talk this through. Hear me out please (no pun intended). First, no one has found a single gene that causes homosexuality in a simple Mendelian way (although many, like Dean Hamer, have tried). Much research needs to be done, but the most you can say is that there is a genetic predisposition. Having a predisposition for something–let’s say liking cheetos–is not synonymous with being “born that way.” However, there can also be a tremendous influence on a developing fetus from its chemical environment during pregnancy, and this is one very likely way in which a predisposition for one sexual orientation develops.

That said, there are most certainly a number of people whose predominant sexual orientation from birth is homosexual, with no desire for the opposite gender. A much larger proportion of a population is predominantly heterosexual, with no desire for the same gender. There does exist a group in the middle though–many of whom choose to identify as bisexuals–whose orientation is more fluid. What exactly influences these people to identify as homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual? You can bet that their personal developmental psychology plays a role, as well as social norms. Many of these ‘flexible’ people may choose to identify with a group that is not discriminated against (heterosexuals) due to outside pressure. I would bet this is where many of the “conversion” stories come from. A biologically informed opinion would include the factoid that many traits are determined by a complex interaction of genes, developmental environment (pre- and post-natal), social norms, and personal choices.

So, it’s important to recognize that sexuality, for a significant portion of the population, is much more fluid than many people would care to admit. So a Christian ministry can certainly hope to ‘convert’ some people (which is all the more reason to resist such “ministries” that cause people emotional harm). Quoting another comment:

I’m pretty sure he missed the real meaning, it’s not really that Asians don’t choose to be Asian, it’s that there’s nothing wrong with being Asian in the first place.

And that’s exactly what the response should be. It is much easier to respond “I was born this way,” but it’s simply not true for everyone. It’s harder to argue that “because the Bible says so doesn’t make it wrong,” but that seems to really be at the root of all this. Thoughts?

14 Responses to Heteroflexuality

  1. johannesclimacus says:

    You’re exactly right.

    On the Christian side as well, there is a feeling that, if people are shown that homosexuality is a choice, then it is automatically a moral issue. That is not true.

    Dialogue concerning the morality of homosexuality should concern itself with whether or not sexuality is sacred and the context in which sexuality remains sacred, which for most Christians is a heterosexual, monogamous marriage.

    (I’ve often wondered, by the way, why many homosexuals insist that being monogamous is what matters. Why keep the monogamous requirement for sexuality’s sacredness, but reject the heterosexual requirement of sexuality’s sacredness? Are polygamous relationships bad, and on what basis if apart from a revealed authority?).

    Therefore, even if someone is born homosexual, the morality of the situation is still remains in question. For instance, someone may be born with a bent toward aggression, or even violence, but this does not justify acting violently.

    Anyway, you’re absolutely right in your analysis.

  2. globalizati says:

    Glad you liked it.

    The language you use to describe the morality of sexuality is similar to most Christians I know. However, there are inherent flaws with basing morality on a supposed divine revelation when there really aren’t good reasons to know that it’s actually coming from God (or if there is one). Muslims think they have an excellent basis for an objective morality, but I think you and I would agree they’re wrong. Ditto with Mormons.

    That said, while you’re right that the “context in which sexuality remains sacred” is, for most American Christians, “a heterosexual, monogamous marriage,” this model isn’t the only one given in the Bible. Most of Biblical history shows it’s ok to marry more than one woman (though we never hear of women getting equal rights on that one), rape captive women (Deuteronomy 21:10-14), or generally enter into about any sort of marriage relationship in which the girl has no say what happens… So, what I guess I’m trying to say is that even if you did get a revelation of objective moral truth 2000 years ago, it’s rather hard to get through all the subjective, muddying layers of the culture of the author, the context in which he wrote it (and it’s always a he, aint’ it?), who he wrote it to, and the myriad methods of interpretation.

    Therefore, even if someone is born homosexual, the morality of the situation is still remains in question.

    So true. Whether it’s moral or not seems to largely be a social construct…

  3. fairlane says:

    You’re argument on homosexuality is similar to schizophrenia. They believe people with schizophrenia have a “predisposition” for the disease and numerous factors influence whether the disease appears (Prenatal issues, environment, life stressors etc).

    It is possible some or even many people with the predisposition never develop the disease. Not that you’re saying homosexuality is a disease, but the root is similar.

    To me it makes sense that it’s biological. Our bodies are regulated by chemicals (hormones) including our sex. Some men are hairier than others as are some women. When you look at some homosexuals (I’m not saying all) it’s no stretch to say, “That guy looks really feminine or that woman looks really masculine.” I’m no scientist, but maybe some lesbians, for example, have higher levels of testosterone than “normal” females.

    Homosexuality is displayed in numerous species of animals so there has to be a biological connection or reason behind it. Obviously homosexuality is not beneficial from an evolutionary standpoint, but it exists and has always existed.

    Christians are afraid they’ll prove it’s biological and all those years of saying God hates gays will be thrown back in their faces.

    I don’t know if this made sense, I’m a tired, but I tried.

  4. globalizati says:

    The scizophrenia example is quite appropriate (though unfortunate since it’s a disease). I almost used it as another example of a complex genetic/biological/developmental condition, especially since the research on it has been rather more thorough then on homosexuality. Scizophrenia, while not easy to accurately ‘diagnose’ because of the fluidity of mental disorders, has subjects who are easier to identify for study than homosexuality, where many who would constitute a representative sample may still lead repressed lives as heterosexuals. In other words, whether one can (biologically speaking) define some as a homosexual for research studying its genetic/developmental origins is much more questionable, and most studies I’ve seen have sidestepped this by identifying subjects by sexual activity, which is not necessarily synonymous with biological disposition in a culture with overt pressures.

    As far as homosexuals being effiminite, this is certainly the stereotype. However, there are enough individuals who break that stereotype that I question it. Is it possible that we associate males who display some traditionally feminine characteristic with homosexual orientation because that’s the subset of homosexuals who have been glorified by the media (possibly because they’re “non-threatening”) and encouraged to self-identify as gay.

  5. globalizati says:

    Homosexuality is displayed in numerous species of animals so there has to be a biological connection or reason behind it. Obviously homosexuality is not beneficial from an evolutionary standpoint, but it exists and has always existed.

    Myth. Homosexuality is certainly favored from an evolutionary standpoint, otherwise it wouldn’t be around. The key is looking at evolutionary biology from a gene-centric view, not an individual-centric one. What that means is ultimately the individual is a vehicle for her genes. If one gene is found in many individuals and causes a behavior that kills off the individual (or prevents it from having offspring) but carries some fitness benefit for others who carry that gene will be favored. This is how you get behaviors such as altruism (which, by one biological definition, is activity which increases the likelihood of others to survive with no benefit to the individual), the most obvious and strongest example of which is a bias toward immediate family in our altruism (likelihood to protect one’s own children). In fact, some evolutionary biologists have suggested that homosexuality has survived/ flourished in the gene pool because of a connection with altruism and such.

  6. fairlane says:

    “In fact, some evolutionary biologists have suggested that homosexuality has survived/ flourished in the gene pool because of a connection with altruism and such.”

    I didn’t think of that, but I can see what you mean. However, I mean as a species it would not be beneficial to have a 50-50 split because obviously we have to procreate to continue our gene pool.

    What I meant about the “feminine male or masculine female” is that if a woman had higher levels of testosterone couldn’t that affect her sexuality, thereby showing that it’s “biological”? Sure some people “choose”, but are they really “homosexual” or are they simply experimenting?

  7. fairlane says:

    I understand that most homosexuals are not “more masculine or more feminine”. But there is no denying some are, and in my mind they could be the “proof” or at least evidence of the biological nature of homosexuality.

    Personally, I could care less if someone is gay or not, but it’s important to find out the root because it affects their standing in our society. If it’s biological it will become much more difficult for bigots to justify their bigotry.

  8. johannesclimacus says:

    Hello again,

    “If it’s biological it will become much more difficult for bigots to justify their bigotry.”

    That is the sentiment, but it’s just as irrelevant as the common Christian sentiment that says, “If it’s not biological, homosexuals will be made responsible for their actions,” by which they mean an engagement in what they understand to be sexual perversion.

    Again, the issue is whether the act of sodomy, again I say, the act of sodomy, is something perverse. Those who say homosexuals are an abomination are absolutely wrong, and sick, and bigitous, and either filled with hatred or extremely confused. The Christian ideal has always been to love the person regardless of what they have done, and yet at the same time to refuse to condone immoral behavior.

    You might’ve heard this as loving the sinner and hating the sin. People are never an abomination, no matter what they have done.

    Still, the central question should be: what consititues perversity, and on what basis do we constitute it as such?

    If sodomy is perversity, then it should not matter whether one is born with a tendancy toward it or not. If I am born with a tendancy toward violence, as some people are, that does not justify violent action. If I am born with a tendancy toward drug addiction or alcoholism, that does not justify a lifestyle of drug addiction or alcoholism. And if I am born with a tendancy toward homosexuality, that should not justify a homosexual lifestyle.

    Globalizati said, “Most of Biblical history shows that it’s okay to have more than one wife.” I know of only one example of this, of Jacob’s two wives. While this was not the way marriage was supposed to be (see the words in Genesis, which are repeated by Jesus concerning marriage) God still used it for good. That is making good of a bad situation; it does not mean the bad situation is admirable, desirable, etc.

    As for allowing men to rape captive women, this is the Deuteronomic text. Recall how Jesus said that God allowed lax divorce rules because the hearts of the Israelites were hard, but that this was not the way it was to be – in fact, there was to be no divorce at all except for adultery.

    Notice also that the passage cited says that the soldier was not to approach her till she has mourned her family for a month, and then the act of intercourse gives her the legal status of a wife (although i still believe it is barbaric, and that such laws of war were not how it was meant to be).

    But returning to the idea that “the moral law seems mostly a social construct.”

    I would like your opinions: Is there such a thing, for atheists, as sexual perversion? Is every and any act of sexuality, no matter how disgusting it might sound initially, merely a matter of taste? Of course, this leads to a broader question of the basis for morality as a whole.

    And remember, to say that there are moral actions that evolved is simply to say that actions which seem moral exists; animals display altruism as well as Machiavellian despotism, and both have contributed to survival of the species. So is one just as good as the other? Perhaps a discussion for another post.

  9. globalizati says:

    You might’ve heard this as loving the sinner and hating the sin. People are never an abomination, no matter what they have done.

    It’s good to hear you say that, but unfortunately (in my experience) people who are told their actions are an abomination suffer just as much psychologically as those who are told they themselves are evil. The distinction may be significant theologically, but it’s not really in its impact on people. Doubtless there is room for Christians to take a more tolerant, loving approach, but there’s only so far you’re willing to go.

    If Jacob is the only example of polygamy you can think of, you don’t know you’re Bible very well. David, a man after God’s own heart, had many wives, as did Solomon, Rehoboam, etc. If there weren’t such a wealth of scripture about it, you wouldn’t get goofy sites like Biblical Polygamy popping up, now would you?

    As for the laws of the OT being lax because the Israelites hearts were hard, that argument is rather odd. Basically you’re saying that because the Jews couldn’t keep from sinning, God went soft on them, and then suddenly Jesus came along and fixed God’s mistake. Why was it ok back then, and not now? It’s starting to sound like God’s law changed, or are you just a moral relativist? :-)

    It’s hard to argue that the laws of war “back then” weren’t how they were supposed to be when God specifically commanded the Israelites to do such things (slaughtering communities man, woman, and child, taking their wives, etc.). Did they hear the commands wrong, make it up, or has what is acceptable in God’s eyes changed?

  10. globalizati says:

    I would like your opinions: Is there such a thing, for atheists, as sexual perversion? Is every and any act of sexuality, no matter how disgusting it might sound initially, merely a matter of taste? Of course, this leads to a broader question of the basis for morality as a whole.

    I don’t see why any act between consenting adults would be blanketly labelled as immoral, sodomy included, based on the principles that the morality I follow is based. Certainly there are many ways in which sexual conduct (like any behavior) can be dishonest, hurtful, coerced, etc., and in that way those would be bad. Here’s a question for you though: is sodomy between a married man and woman evil in and of itself? Is the act of anal penetration bad by itself, or only when it occurs between two men? Between a man and his wife, isn’t “any act of sexuality, no matter how disgusting it might sound initially, merely a matter of taste?” If there is some line that may be crossed as being sinful, how do you determine that line?

    And remember, to say that there are moral actions that evolved is simply to say that actions which seem moral exists…

    Good point, and one often missed by atheists trying to argue that biology gives us an objective basis for morality. It does give us objective constraints (albeit in many ways looser than supposed inspired documents which seek to control people’s behavior) for what feels good or evil, but to suppose that this translates into what we ought to do would be committing the is/ought fallacy. The way in which most people behave (and in my personal opinion, should behave) is a complex interaction between these biological norms and social norms, and the degree to which each of those should be followed or ignored is and should be a matter of continuing debate. And you’re right, this would be a good separate post.

  11. fairlane says:

    The idea of “hate the sin not the sinner” is nothing more than semantics. A homosexual’s life is defined by homosexuality. Their relationships, what they do, where they go etc. By saying “homosexuality is abomination” you are saying everything about their life is “abomination.”

    The same can be said about heterosexuals. Our lives are in many ways shaped by our sexuality. Who we date, who we marry, if we have children, the places we visit. It’s who we are and shapes how we view the world and our lives. The same applies to homosexuals. “Hate the sin not the sinner” is a way to justify bigotry. And a great example happened not too long ago.

    When Albert Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Seminary, suggested homosexuality may be “genetic” he went on to suggest that if we could isolate the “gay gene” we should try to “alter” it if possible. In other words, tamper with the “precious unborn”. Eugenics.

    Christians all over the country were up in arms about his comments. Why? Not because he suggested Eugenics, but because he suggested homosexuality may be genetic.

  12. johannesclimacus says:

    My mistake Globalizati. The instances of polygamy I was thinking of were ones that are generally viewed positively. Most literature regarding polygamy that I’ve seen makes much of the problems that always accompany the polygamy of the Judaic and Israelite kings.

    These would be examples of how it would not be “ok to have more than one wife.” To say that David was a man after God’s own heart is not to say that he was perfect, and his mistakes should not be justified by resorting to that title.

    With regard to moral relativism, no, I’m not a relativist, but neither am I a fundamentalist arguing from the point of verbal plenary inspiration of the Bible, i.e. that the writer went into a trance and wrote everything down. I repeat that I am not an inerrantist.

    Thus my first reaction to the death and destruction in the Old Testament is to say that the writers and people at the time did not have the fullest understanding of what God was saying. (This topic certainly merits another post, but here is a good one that I’ve found on the issue of OT violence: http://aricclark.blogspot.com/2006/10/10-propositions-on-violence-in-old.html).

    I trust that you are well informed enough to be aware that fundamentalist theology is not the only kind of Christianity, and that it has been around only for about 150 years, as a reaction (I would specify that it is an ill-informed overreaction) to modernism. Please do not make the mistake of thinking that every Christian is a fundamentalist in order to come up with “Gotcha!” conundrums.

    For most Christians, the source of interpretation for the Old and New Testament is Jesus Christ, i.e. the testimony given about him through the Gospels. I suggest a detailed study of their cannonization, so as not to fall for the trap that says, “These books were simply forced into cannonization,” for it’s the same voice that says, “All reasoning/truth is coersion,” and ends the ability for anyone to dialogue and gives way to an endorsement of “might makes right.” That’s how reasoning and dialogue are killed.

    You wrote yourself that “it’s rather hard to get through the muddying layers of the culture of the author,” etc., yet that’s what Christians do and continue to do. We may criticize their arguments, but they should never be blown off if we have not considered them.

    Fairlane! For goodness sake! “Love the sinner and hate the sin” is NOT “nothing more than semantics.” Such claims are usually a cop out used in order to refuse to consider the issue.

    If I have a friend who does not know that their boat is going over a waterfall, can I not be motivated out of love to warm them of the peril? If I believe my friends are killing themselves, albeit unaware, with drug or alcohol addiction, can I not go to them out of love and implore them to stop hurting themselves? And can I not do the same, out of love, with my brethren whom I honestly believe to be hurting themselves spiritually and morally? This is sincere supplication, not devious coercion.

    Certainly other factors may induce people to act as they do: a disgust with the act, a feeling of hurt and despair, but for the mature Christian (and I am aware that most do not live up to this ideal, and that is why we continue to go to God to become more like our Lord, to grow into who we were meant to be), love should override them all. By what authority do you call this bigotry?

    If you say, “You’re simply lying,” then you choose to abandon reason and dialogue. You resort to conspiracy theories. For everyone’s sake, do not do that. You’re better than that.

    If you want to go by a Sartrian philosophy of “what I do and what I’ve done completely defines me in every way,” then there are fundamental difference that should be addressed in another post. But if you can separate the two, as Christians strive to do, by trying to sync who we are with who we should be, then I wouldn’t mind if you said that you despise Christianity while respecting me.

    Or what do you say, do you hate me personally as much as you hate Christianity? I don’t believe you do. Again, you’re better than that.

  13. fairlane says:

    You have a very passive aggressive way of communicating, and being a blunt person myself I must admit I find it annoying.

    “You’re better than that”

    Am I? Exactly what does such a statement mean? You don’t know anything about me. You don’t even know my name. As far as you know I could be a serial killer.

    It also comes across as placating and almost parental. But most of what you’ve said comes across that way. I’m sure I’m “projecting”, but…

    How do you “separate” the two? If I had a machine that took away your “Christianity”, what would be left? Who would you be? This idea that “Christians strive” to separate the two sounds nice, but I don’t see such a theory applied anywhere.

    Globalizati already pointed out the person whose behavior is called “abomination” surely isn’t going to make such distinctions.

    About “hating Christians”. No, I don’t hate Christians. I hate ignorance. If the ignorant happen to be “Christian” that is merely coincidence, a rather regularly occurring coincidence, but a coincidence nonetheless.

    I will say your comparison of homosexuality to drug addiction (which is considered a type of mental illness) doesn’t bode well.

    Honestly, I rarely engage in such conversations because they are innately circular. I have no interest in being converted, nor am I interested in converting anyone.

    With that I bid adieu.

  14. Tim says:

    The mistake is often made that if the bible reports a particular action that it wholeheartedly supports it.

    It was reported that Solomon was caused trouble by his many wives, and in the New Testament at least it is seen as morally preferable to have one wife (“An Elder should be a moral man, husband to but one wife” etc.etc.). There is nothing that I can find in the New or Old Testament that speaks positively of polygamy. It merely mentions that it happens and doesn’t seem to condemn it outright.

    For reasons why multiple marriage was only polygamous and not also polyandrous it might be useful to point out that, especially during times of war, there would generally be more women than men. In that culture and at that time being unmarried was unthinkable for people of both genders so if a man could afford it he would marry more than one wife. As marriage was seen as for the purpose of bringing forth children this may explain why homosexual acts were seen as less acceptable.

    Far from being permission for rape, the Deuteronomy verse was suggesting, in a time of arranged marriages, that time should be given for the woman to mourn with her family and an admonition not to treat her as property.

    I don’t like cut-and-dried answers to problems which are not cut-and-dried. So I’m not too keen on a lot of these ‘healing’ ministries. A ‘one size fits all’ approach to any issue can cause harm, but I also don’t like hasty conclusions about what the Bible does or doesn’t advocate. The Bible reports real, flawed people so you’re bound to find all kinds of stuff in there but as I said at the beginning, don’t mistake reporting for supporting.

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