Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Configured Code of Society

(I have been debating the merits of gay marriage over at Vital Remants in the comments section, and at some point in the debate became amazed at the lack of respect for tradition in the arguments in favor.  It prompted the following paean to conservatism, slightly edited, from me.)

Concerns about such things as hospital visitation rights are red herrings. The real goal of gay rights activists is for official and public recognition of gay marriage as normal, wholesome and mainstream. If the little solvable problems were all solved, that wouldn't end the crusade. They want the marriage certificate. Today, many have embraced the notion of justice in the form of gay marriage. A couple of generations ago, gays were persecuted, often even by Christians. Who knows where it will be in a couple more generations? Justice that depends on man's good opinion is here today and gone tomorrow. Some scoff at the Bible as the single standard, but the truth is that there are Biblical principles for treating women and slaves well. The word of God has a way of working itself into men's consciences and causing sin to come to a head.

Today, many have embraced the notion of justice in the form of gay marriage. The claim is that rationality demands it, an odd position for anyone to hold who doesn't believe in God. Anyhow, interesting that rationality has been taking it on the chin even in the halls of philosophical academia for more than a century. That's what happens when God is rejected as the explanation. Philosophers have tried for centuries to derive reason and morality starting with man as the foundation, and mostly have wound up eschewing reason altogether. I believe in a God that created reason and morals. Good luck finding an eternal principle based on personal opinion.

Unfortunately, gay rights aren't analogous to women and slaves. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that being a woman or a slave is a moral failing -- unlike homosexuality, for which such indications are emphatically present. If you believe in Paul's authority as an apostle of Christ, you are compelled to take seriously his condemnations of immorality. (If you think he only picks on homosexuality, though, think again.)
In a democratic republic such as ours, the rights of Christians and non-Christians are, or should be, equally important. Slowly but surely, the legal barriers to the gay lifestyle have all but disappeared. Christians can no longer require gays to live in a manner that they approve of. But that's not what this issue is about. The issue is about requiring society as a whole, including Christians, to grant approval to gay relationships. Approval is a different thing than tolerance, and that's where the line is drawn.
Why can't gays just be happy with Christian tolerance? I know the answer. Liberals love to destroy institutions. They live for it. Marriage is just another notch in the holster. Some institutions have needed to come down and come down hard, no question. In case of slavery or Jim Crow, break glass and use liberals liberally. But not all institutions are bad, and many of them are essential to society in ways we can't begin to quantify.
I've met a few liberal computer programmers in my line of work, but most of the ones I have worked with are conservative. In fact, being a programmer myself, it makes me wonder how anyone can be a programmer and not be a conservative. Programming teaches you a lot about life by rubbing your nose in a number of important concepts. The limits of human reason. The fragility of complex systems. The difference between desirable and possible. You can change one line of code and have it break the entire system in unpredictable ways. The scary part is that no one person understands all there is to know about these systems. A lot of what passes for knowledge is wishful thinking. I see this every day.
Society is a complex system, too. We conservatives have our problems. We can be callous, for starters. But if there was one thing I would change about liberals, it's their willingness to breeze into the configured code of society and start hacking on it without a care in the world. Hope and change and all that. The change lives on when the hope is long gone. Liberals need to appreciate what we already have accomplished and to realize and respect how fragile the system is, and what they risk when they figure wrongly.
(Vital Remnants is a blog run by Martin Cothran, a philosopher and author of textbooks about logic.  He appears to be a Catholic -- are all Thomists Catholic?  He runs a hospitable blog and loves to discuss many of the ideas I think are important.)

1 comment:

marlinmike said...

Good post, Lee. We've had a similar discussion over at fractured paradigms. Here is the link: