Tuesday, November 26, 2013

When the Son of Man Comes, Will He Find Faith on Earth?

Something else I meant to say about Rod Dreher and Megan McArdle's complaints about same-sex marriage: They may be right about the effects of social change on conservatives like them, because they appear to have abandoned all opposition to homosexuality except for same-sex marriage.

It's been hard for a long time to find a religious conservative who'd cite Leviticus 20:13 and call publicly for the execution of perverts.  Even Orson Scott Card tried to claim that when he endorsed keeping sodomy laws on the books, he was talking solely about intra-Mormon business.  Sex between males hasn't been a capital offense in the United States for centuries now, and though the sodomy laws are still in force in some states despite Lawrence v. Texas, not many people want to defend putting homos in prison anymore.  Not publicly, anyway.  For a decade or more, bigots would call on the Bible to back them up in their opposition to "normalizing" homosexuality, but they seemed to have given up on actual State persecution of sodomists, and wanted only to be able to denounce us from their pulpits and force their kids into ex-gay boot camps.  Rick Warren, the evangelical hustler befriended by Barack Obama, is careful not to froth at the mouth when he talks about gays: he believes in "equality", he says, and is coy about issues like civil unions and hospital visitation.  Some old-guard reactionaries are still warning America that the Gayish Media are coming for your kids, but for media consumption they claim they'd just like to seriously "debate gay teen propaganda."  And they all complain that the Gay-controlled media "are not celebrating diversity.  They are intimidating dissidents."  But they don't object to intimidating dissidents -- they just want to be the intimidators.

Marriage appears to be their last stand.  They've pretty much given up on legal prohibitions of homosexuality itself, and on mobilizing majority disapproval against it.  They like to imagine themselves reading Leviticus 20:13 and Romans 1:26-7 behind locked doors by candle-light with a faithful remnant of real believers, just like the primitive Church in the catacombs!  And being true Americans and devout Christians, they are terrified of majority disapproval themselves.  Just being called bigots, or homophobes, or old-fashioned, brings them to their knees.  There's no need to throw them to the lions, or send them to Politically Correct Re-education Camp, or disenfranchise them.  Even name-calling may not be necessary.  Just a frown of disapproval seems to be enough to make them deny their Lord.

As a gay man who was born in a time when gay men and lesbians met behind drawn curtains and locked doors, even in big cities, when gay meeting places were raided and customers beaten up and humiliated, their identities exposed in the press, and who has seen a remarkable change of social attitudes in my adult lifetime, I certainly can't resist some Schadenfreude at the moral cowardice of such people.  When I came out, I knew I'd be subject to public hostility and disapproval, and sometimes I was.  But as long as I knew it was okay to be gay, and as long as I had some allies, I didn't need majority support.  It turned out not to be as hard as I feared at first, though of course I chose my terrain carefully, a fairly liberal university environment.   (Which didn't mean there wasn't antigay bigotry and violence there too.)

And much of that bigotry has melted away over the past several decades.  It's not gone yet, nor do I believe it will ever be.  As with interracial dating, which after decades of banning, a reactionary institution like Bob Jones University finally, sheepishly, admitted it didn't have a biblical basis to forbid, because the social revulsion against interracial dating had largely dried up, it appears that many people are finding that they don't really find homosexuality so horrible to contemplate anymore.  That doesn't mean they want to be gay themselves, only that it doesn't bother them in others, and a growing number of people don't oppose same-sex marriage for those who want it.  That's really not so surprising: although heterosexuals are less likely to marry than they were when I was a kid, the institution still has immense prestige.  In our culture, it's considered a Good Thing, something everyone should want to do someday, and since it is almost universally agreed that if you meet someone you really really really love and want to spend the rest of your life with, marriage is the obvious and necessary next step.  Given that bedrock belief, most people find it obvious that gay men and lesbians should feel the same way, and they can't think of a good reason not to let them marry.  It seems unfair not to let them.

McArdle doesn't appear to be religious, except for her Randite background (she used to blog under the name "Jane Galt," I understand).  I don't know what kind of social support network she has, though as a good rational Objectivist libertarian she should be prepared to stand utterly alone against the looters and moochers and other collectivist scum -- though what that has to do with opposing gay marriage, I have no idea.  Dreher, like most antigay Christians, has a community to back him up, so I don't really see why being in a righteous minority scares him so much.  Even if official persecution comes, however unlikely that is, he will, Scripture says, have his reward in heaven.  As an atheist I never had any such reassurance, and it's an interesting question, which I can't answer, why I never felt the need for it.  Perhaps in Dreher's moral universe that would be monstrous Pride.  But Christians have an ancient tradition of expecting and facing worldly opposition to their faith -- a paranoid delight in persecution, as Graham Shaw called it in The Cost of Authority.  The paranoia goes some way to explain why they're so sure that gay goons will invade their churches and force their ministers to say, "I now pronounce you wife and wife."  They love scaring themselves with the thought.  I suspect that a major reason they feel the need to do so is that many of themselves can't, when they search their hearts, think of any good reason to oppose same-sex marriage either.  But they have to.  The enemy is in themselves.

Despite all this, I'm not complacent.  If homophobia is declining in the US and England, as the sociologist Mark McCormack argues in his 2012 book, it is just as possible that it will return someday, like the tide.  There's still plenty of bigotry and violence around, along with racism, misogyny, and gut anti-Semitism.  People of good will must continue working against such things.  But if the job is turning out to be somewhat easier than we expected, that also means we can pause now and then to think about what we're doing and why.  The most dispiriting thing to me is the dishonesty and irrationality of so many people who are supposedly on my side.  Even if all antigay bigotry disappeared magically tomorrow, I'd still have to work against that.