|Richard Swinburne at MSU photo by Geoff W Sutton|
Before becoming a psychologist, I took a number of courses in philosophy. As I recall, many of the professors seemed to enjoy saying edgy things to engage students in thinking clearly about one thing or another.
Swinburne and Sex
Strangely, Professor Swinburne caused quite a stir last week when he made comments about same-sex orientation (his term, homosexuality) and other matters of sexual ethics in a talk on the subject at the Midwestern conference of the Society of Christian Philosophers (SCP). I'm used to hearing Christians offer reasons why same-sex orientation is morally wrong, sinful, and so forth.
Here's the link to Swinburne's talk on YouTube
What would be surprising to me at such a venue is to hear a defense of same-sex orientation as a moral good or perhaps not an issue worthy of moral judgment. Nevertheless, Swinburne's comments stirred a pot that bubbled up to the head of the president of the SCP, Michael Rea who posted an apology on his Facebook page.
Rea's apology provoked further discussion, which went in many directions. I'll post a few quotes and encourage you to read more to get a sense of how professors of philosophy write about same-sex relationships and the freedom to express diverse views. In addition, there are hundreds of comments offering even more ingredients to the mix.
J. Edward Hackett's reaction to the Swinburne talk.
Yesterday, I gave Richard Swinburne, the famous Oxford Christian philosopher, a piece of my mind. As one of the keynotes of the Midwest Meeting of Society of Christian Philosophers, he referred to homosexuality as a “disability” and a “incurable condition.” While Swinburne did not think homosexuality was intrinsically wrong in the same way that adultery was wrong, he argued (if that’s the right verb under some principle of charity) that homosexuality was extrinsically wrong. Homosexuality was a disability in the lacking of the ability to have children, and God’s commands of abstaining from homosexuality might prevent others from fostering this incurable condition in others.
My response was mixture of abhorrence and overwhelming anger, and I tried as I might to encounter this idea calmly.
I want to express my regret regarding the hurt caused by the recent Midwest meeting of the Society for Christian Philosophers. The views expressed in Professor Swinburne's keynote are not those of the SCP itself. Though our membership is broadly united by way of religious faith, the views of our members are otherwise diverse. As Preisdent of the SCP, I am committed to promoting the intellectual life of our philosophical community. Consequently (among other reasons), I am committed to the values of diversity and inclusion. As an organization, we have fallen short of those ideals before, and surely we will again. Nonetheless, I will strive for them going forward. If you have thoughts or feedback you would like to share with me, I would welcome hearing from you via email or private message.
Dreher refers to Swinburne's talk and the surrounding controversy. He includes additional quotes before referring to the "rot in academia." Dreher refers us to a book he recently read by Polish Catholic philosopher Ryszard Legutko. A particular quote caught my attention as worthy of consideration:
"Legutko, who lived under Polish communism and under Poland’s transition to liberal democracy, writes about how contemporary liberal democracy has adopted the communist habit of denouncing dissenters from its dogmas. He says this is politically useful to the left."
In a lengthy post, Feser observes some "odd things about Rea's statement." I won't repeat all of them here. Suffice it to say, I found Hackett's response surprising given the context of the conference and the known views of Richard Swinburne. And I was surprised at Rea's "apology." At the time of this writing, Feser's blog has 72 comments-- I'll leave it to you to wade through his opinions and the many comments at your leisure.
1. I support freedom of speech as long as it does not incite people to take harmful action.
I believe this is Mill's view. I hardly think the mild mannered Swinburne is encouraging anyone to do harm to members of the LGBT community-- especially those who would attend a philosophy conference.
2. I appreciate hearing views that differ from my own as they provide a basis to consider the merits of different arguments.
Frankly, I heard Swinburne speak on evil and suffering at Missouri State University on the 21st September. His arguments were not impressive but I'd like to see them in print to make sure I am clear why he failed to make a good case for his views. I'm applying what I've learned from neuropsychology— our memories are not perfect recording devices. I cannot apply my meager capacity for philosophical analysis without being able to carefully examine the arguments.
3. I didn't know I was on the progressive side of social thinking until I moved to the Midwestern United States.
That's where I discovered I wasn't as conservative as many locals. Context matters. I learned to listen closely to intelligent Christians. Some denounced extreme right wing views of vocal clergy but most hid their views in obscure metaphors and theological obfuscations. That's too bad but I suspect that's how they avoid the pain of expressing liberal views in a conservative context.
4. Given my experience noted in number three, I remain surprised by the reaction to Swinburne's lecture.
He articulates a conservative position quite clearly. It's the varied opinions among Christians that stimulated my own pursuit of differences on sexual morality, which I published in A House Divided earlier this year.
5. Some views were expressed with emotional-laden language.
I hardly think of philosophers as people with a passion. Stereotypes abound. It would have been more helpful if the philosophers disagreeing with Swinburne would articulate the bases for their disagreement.
Ironically, I gave a talk at the same conference on Saturday morning. My subject was moral psychology and philosophy and I used an example of same-sex marriage to illustrate moral foundation theory and the arguments conservative and progressive Christians employ. Here's the link to my paper. Everyone was no polite. I actually wanted more engagement.
6. Another odd event happened that reveals the community context.
At the same time as the philosophy conference, another group of people attended a Faith and Science conference where the them was the Biology of Sin. I also gave a talk there titled, "What is Sin?" I presented some data on the views of Christian counselors about sin-- many, but not all, considered same-sex marriage as sinful. Considering other data, I commented that Christian counselors were often not in sync with most Americans. During the question and answer period, one participant asked a rhetorical question to the effect of, "Is that (being out of sync) bad?" (Link to my paper).
I suspect my questioner might be more concerned with the importance of holding fast to the traditional interpretations of Scripture on matters of sexual sin. Nevertheless, in view of the discussion at hand, I think it serves a greater good to hear conservative and progressive voices on this and other topics.
(A commercial follows)
A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures