Saturday, March 7, 2009

"Historically, many of the greatest philosophers have argued that homosexual acts are morally objectionable."

I haven't posted for a while, because for the past month I've been deeply immersed in my dissertation. And it looks like I'll be at that for a couple more months still. But something happened that I thought I needed to share with you. I accidently signed a petition asking the American Philosophical Association not to penalize Christian colleges for discriminating against gays and lesbians in their hiring practices. Twice. I accidently signed the petition, and then I did it again.

Actually, I signed the petition on purpose, but I tried to attach a comment explaining that while I didn't agree with discrimination, I did agree that the schools had the right of religious freedom and if the schools had theological reasons for discrimination, then they should be allowed to hire whoever they wanted. But the comment function on the online petition didn't work. So now it looks like I support the cause without reservation. Oh well.

Here's a link to the petition. It's actually a counter-petition in response to a petition asking the APA to censure the Christian colleges. Here's a link to that original petition. As discriminatory schools, it specifically mentions "Azusa Pacific University, Belmont University, Bethal University, Biola University, Calvin College, Malone College, Pepperdine University, Westmont College, and Wheaton College", many of which I would love to work for, and two of which I have already worked for.

Anyway, here are my comments on the counter-petition -- the one I signed but don't entirely agree with:

This petition's distinction between act and disposition is compelling. It says "Institutions can require their faculty to agree to abide by ethical standards that forbid homosexual acts while not ipso facto discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation." In other words, they are not technically violating the letter of the APA anti-discrimination policy. This should be enough to allow these schools to avoid official censure.

At the same time this distinction is somewhat disingenious in that a job candidate at most of the schools in question who was open about having a "homosexual orientation" and did not "repent" of that orientation would be disqualified for the job -- even if he or she promised to remain celibate and to abstain from "homosexual acts". In other words, many of these schools really do discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

But for me this is an issue of religous freedom. As the petition points out, the discriminatory schools are simply "abiding by their long-standing and coherent ethical norms" -- despite the fact that, as I believe, their ethical norms have turned out to be false. Their position on homosexual acts is deeply grounded in their theological system such that they could not change their position without giving up their entire religious way of life. For that reason I believe these schools should have the right to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

This may or may not be a right we wish to reward with government funding (see my post on Prop 8), but a private organization such as the American Philosophical Association -- which was founded (according to the APA website) "to promote the exchange of ideas among philosophers, to encourage creative and scholarly activity in philosophy, to facilitate the professional work and teaching of philosophers, and to represent philosophy as a discipline" -- should allow for a diversity of moral viewpoints.

P.S. The petition's appeal to authority (quoted in the title of this post) is not exactly convincing. Most modern philosophers see appeal to authority as a logical fallacy. At the same time, it is fun to notice that many excellent philosophers have signed the petition. My favorite is Alasdair MacIntyre. Predictably all my Biola professors and collegues signed. Also: Peter Kreeft, Hugh J. McCann, Alvin Plantinga, Peter van Inwagen, Linda Zagzebski. Even my fellow Hume scholar Donald W. Livingston.

1 comment:

Brandy said...

Super interesting.

It is difficult for me to think through this issue free from emotional baggage, having graduated from one of the schools listed, having been kicked out of another listed, and dating someone who went to yet another listed.

On one hand, I understand the appeal to religious freedom. Yet, on the other hand, I think that professional academic organizations have ethical mores of their own, one of which I think should be non-discrimination. Plus, I think the request of the original petition to at least "clearly mark institutions with these policies as institutions that violate our anti-discrimination policy" is entirely reasonable.

I hope for the day when these schools will not have these policies. I too would love to work at many of the schools on the list they cited. Unfortunately, simply because of the fact that I am in a relationship with someone of the same sex, I cannot.