March 5, 2011

Asking the questions

Mark Vernon's Guardian column has a great catchline at the head, and while the article as a whole doesn't quite live up to the pugnacity and poignancy of the slug, it is well worth reading. The catchline or slug is,

Why do we have such an unbalanced attitude to doubt, demanding certainty where there is none, and pretending to doubt what everyone knows?
This got me thinking about the level of certainty with which some approach the question of same-sex marriage: they are completely sure it is ruled out by Scripture, in spite of the fact that the evidence is indirect and circumstantial (that is, the Scripture does not rule out SSM in so many words, unlike, for instance Sifra on Aharei Mot in the Jewish tradition); and yet they take a very chary attitude towards the evidence of the experience of those who live in or witness the evident virtues of such longstanding relationships, and dismiss it as if living "experience" were somehow less reliable than their just-possible interpretation of ancient documents, venerable though that interpretation may be.

One can sense this tension in the papers and responses that grew out of the House of Bishops Theology Committee blue-ribbon panel of theologians and scholars, recently published in the Anglican Theological Review. I've just finished reading them and am allowing them to percolate before saying any more in detail, but I did sense, in the "traditionalist" papers and responses a growing awareness of this dissonance between ideology and reality.

The question is, in reference to Vernon's catchline, How long are people expected to submit to an unverifiable requirement when the experience of their own lives and of those closest to them casts more and more doubt on its veracity?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


June Butler said...

From Mark Vernon's column, I like Heidegger's understanding of the meaning of the Greek word for truth, aletheia, as "that which is disclosed or unveiled."

In the past, the answer to the question as to how long those of us in the Episcopal Church must wait has been "for a season", but it seems to me that several seasons have passed, and it's time to move forward.

Erika Baker said...

"How long are people expected to submit to an unverifiable requirement when the experience of their own lives and of those closest to them casts more and more doubt on its veracity?"

I think until enough of the "closest to them" are out of the closet and the fruits of their lives can be seen by all.

Those who are stuck in their anti-gay stance tend not to know any gay people, in particular not happily adjusted, partnered ones.
It's probably a generation thing. My childen and their friends have many more gay friends than we ever knew we had. They don't fall for the nonsense the church tries to tell them half as easily.

It's an view whose time is gone and that will rightfully die out over the next few decades.

Murdoch Matthew said...

Tobias, you say above about what I tried to say in 640 words on Thinking Anglicans (Feb 27 posting on Civil Partnerships, comments 78 & 79). Obviously testimony is personal and so biased; they don't see that the written (and received) word is opinion with a resonance chamber. There are facts to consider.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, GM, Erika, and Matthew. Ultimately reality triumphs over falsehood and error. It took a while for the geocentric model of the universe to give way to a more accurate understanding of the cosmos. The sad thing is that so many are still stuck in the social equivalent of a Bronze Age cosmology mistakenly upheld as Divine Truth.

In fifty years people will be as embarrassed to remember these times as I am to recall segregated beaches and lunchstands. Maybe sooner! In the meantime the opening of closets and the evidence of gay and lesbian Christians' lives will continue to offer evidence against which the pious shibboleths of former days will sunder and fail.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Murdoch, I checked out your comments o'er at TA. I had not followed that thread... and am kind of glad I didn't. One of the "heavy" posters there seems to have a very uncritical view of Scripture -- that critiquing any of it involves dispensing with all of it. Also a very poor understanding of the genetics of twin studies! Talk about a "resonance chamber!"
In spite of the optimism I expressed above, it does seem that there will always be people incapable of seeing reality. I'm told there is still a "flat earth society" and another group that still tries to defend a geocentric model for the universe. (I suppose, relativity theory-wise, one could see it that way, but it makes Ptolemy's system seem trivial by comparison!)

IT said...

You know any mention of genetics is waving a red flag in front of me. This is what I posted in the thread at TA:

First, the evidence is compelling that there is a strong genetic component to sexuality. Is it a single gene? no, of course not. Neither is height, weight, or handedness. Thus, we don't expect perfect correlation in twin studies, for example. And nor is it the only contibution, but it is significant.

Second, even chromosome identity is not absolute...there are indeed biological women with XY chromosomes.... for example, if they have androgen insensitivity syndrome! There are also men without a Y chromosome, thanks to a rare translocation. Biologists know better than to speak in absolutes. Would some others could learn that.

It would be as well if people who do not understand biology, science, and genetics, do not use misconceptions about these subjects to support their religious views. We saw that with the conservative theologians in the TEC Bishop's "theology committee" with equal lack of success. Stick to scripture, folks.

If you are interested in more about the genetics of sexuality,here are some resources.

Oh, and why do I get to deliver you a lecture? I'm a professor of genetics. It's what I do for a living.

Erika Baker said...

over the last few weeks I have on several occasions tried to introduce that particularly uncritical and particulaly "heavy" poster to your book.
I shouldn't think for a minute he'll read it, people who claim to be supremely interested in God's Truth only and who seem to know they already know it, rarely do.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, IT. I know that is your field, and welcome your further support of the evidence. It is astounding to me that people can look at the twin studies and not see the correlations, or who insist that it must be 100% or nothing (quia absurdum est, since even in some single-gene characteristics an environmental trigger is required to actuate expression!) This just goes to support my old saying, which is a trope on something Jesus said, "If you can't get your facts right about something that is objective and demonstrable, why should I pay any attention to you about things that are unverifiable opinions?" (cf. John 3:12)

Erika, thanks. You are my biggest publicist! I think, though, that the poster in question is disordered in his thinking, and rationality will not appeal to the particular willfully ignorant mindset. Also a Johannine sentiment, which ironically he quoted at one point. (3:19, 9:41) As I once said, refusal to see the signs of God's presence (the ones Paul assigns to the H.S.) is to reject the Holy Spirit.

Tim said...

Experience, and reflection on experience, as a tool to revelation? Goodness, Tobias. If you keep talking like that, people will think your last name was Hooker.


Lionel Deimel said...

… and pretending to doubt what everyone knows?

When I read this, I first thought of evolution and “creation science.”

June Butler said...

I was tempted to ask the "heavy" poster at TA if he'd ever had a mortgage or a savings account, but I realized that such commentary would probably add little to the discussion.

Paul said...

Tobias, I think that part of the problem is that the science of genetics has made enormous strides since most of us had any exposure to it. All I learned about was Gregor Mendl and the pea plant. Since that time, I have had the opportunity to look at biology textbooks from two kids, and I have learned quite a bit about the more recent work. It is much more complex than anyone ever dreamed, and we are just at the dawn of this new field of study. Or, so I read. The average reader also has problems processing a statement about "correlation", because statistics has not been as widely taught as it needs to be.

Of course, the pressure from creationists doesn't help.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the additional thoughts. Tim, Hooker it is! This is precisely what he meant by "Reason" -- something close to what we would call "common sense" combined with evidence.

Lionel, yes, that is another example.

Mimi, prends garde! On marche dans le royaume des usuristes!

Paul, you are right, and this is not aided by the abysmal state of science education in the US, exacerbated by fundamentalist Christianity and home schooling and producing generations ignorant not only of basic facts but of the scientific method, and producing textbooks governed by taste, not science. I was in 9th grade biology when Watson and Crick's work was just reaching the popular press, and my have we come a long way since -- but there are still folks who likely don't grasp it because the implications don't fit their belief systems.

IT said...

NOt to blogwhore (which means to do precisely that) but i set up a suite of genetics posts that may give some idea....

June Butler said...

IT, thanks for the link. I learned a lot, but I don't promise to remember it all. I hope I won't be tested. :-)

IT said...

Mimi, don't worry, you're teacher's pet....