Sunday, November 16, 2014

The “No Harm” Argument (a.k.a. the Do-It-Yourself Millstone)

Care to try on one of these?

How on earth did I get started on this subject?

Trying to deal with arguments for the acceptance of Christian same-sex relationships — and let’s be realistic: everyone I’ve read on the subject actively promotes full LGBT “equality” in the church, not merely the homosexualist agenda — is like trying to grasp a handful of jello. The proffered reasons for acceptance constantly change shape and direction. One could be forgiven for speculating that many such positions are actually Trojan horses: they present as reasonable concessions that mask the true intentions (and possibly even the true identities) of those who advance them.

Such tactics are typical of social progressives but one might hope (perhaps foolishly) to find professing Christians agreeable to recognizing a set of common principles to be employed in debate, if not always completely transparent about the goals they have in mind for church “reform”.

One such line of progressive reasoning is the “no harm” argument, well enunciated by John Shore. He starts by trying to establish that whether or not an act is harmful is significant in any discussion of sin:

“Christians evaluate the degree of sin, or even whether or not a real sin has occurred, by looking at both the harm caused by the sin, and the intent of the sin’s perpetrator.”

On some level this may be true, but the more significant question is not how Christians allegedly draw their conclusions about sin, but what scripture actually teaches about the importance of harm in evaluating degree of sin.

Degree of Sin

There is an impulse, perhaps, to quibble about the phrase “degree of sin”. After all, sin is sin, right? If it displeases God and hinders our fellowship with him, we shouldn’t be engaging in it, period. But on reflection, it is clear that while certain sins of omission or motive may remain undetectable even by the sinner and cannot reasonably be addressed in this life (faithfulness as a steward and servant, or the lack of it, for instance), other sins are obvious, and still others are more discreet but become evident as sinful from their long-term consequences. Then there is a class of sin that not only deserves but demands judgment by other believers.

So yes, all sin separates the sinner from God to some extent, but how we ought to respond to sin in the life of our fellow believers depends on both the available evidence and the nature of the sin involved. As long as “degree of sin” is understood this way, I think it is a biblical concept.

Harm and Degree of Sin

Shore has alleged that harm is a significant factor in determining the degree of sin, but I’m not sure he demonstrates this to be true.

Under Jewish Law, while harm was a factor in determining appropriate punishment (an “eye for an eye”), it was not a factor in determining degree of sin (guilt or guilt with mitigating circumstances). For instance, while taking a life was theoretically punishable by death, a person accused of murder who had acted without malice could flee to a city of refuge to have the degree of sin involved in his actions impartially determined. If he was deemed guilty of murder, he would die for his sin. If the verdict was manslaughter, on the other hand, he was allowed to live in the city of refuge unmolested until the death of the high priest, after which he could return to his home protected by law.

In this case harm and degree of sin were unrelated. An act could be harmful but not sinful, though it certainly had consequences.

Further, it is clear there are circumstances in which an act under the Law was extremely sinful but would not generally be considered “harmful” in a modern context.

I quote from the increasingly bizarre musings of Rachel Held Evans:

“Another argument that falls short is the argument that the severe punishment for male same sex behavior — the death penalty — suggests it was and is a more serious sin. We can’t forget that disobedient children were also to be stoned, along with a people who used the Lord’s name in vain and those who violated the Sabbath. Daughters of priests who fell into prostitution were to be burned alive, and in Ezekiel 18:13, the death penalty is applied to anyone who charges interest on a loan.”

This logic is worthy of a bit of parsing. Her argument here actually seems to break down as follows. Under the Law:

(A) Male same sex behavior was deemed worthy of death
(B) So were disobedience/prostitution/charging interest/blasphemy

But (B) are not serious sins in the view of Rachel Held Evans
∴  (A) is also not a serious sin

The only conclusion I am able to draw from this is that human reasoning is not the best place to start in determining degree of sin!

But, to be honest, I’m not at all sure that “degree of sin” is the best metric by which to assess what sorts of things are acceptable in the Christian life. In any case, perceived harm and degree of sin seem to be unrelated biblically. At least, nobody advancing the cause of same-sex Christian relationships has taken a reasonable shot at proving otherwise.

It should also be very obvious that sinful human beings bound by time and blind to the working of the human mind and heart are not the best judges of what is harmful. We cannot measure the consequences of any particular sin within our own hearts and minds, let alone calculate the effect of our choices on the lives of others. Our view of harm — in the midst of constantly experiencing it and dishing it out — is inevitably subjective.

We are a lot safer simply acknowledging that scripture requires particular sins be dealt with in particular ways, and accept the wisdom of God about such things whether or not it seems reasonable to us initially.

Demonstrable Harm

The reason I point out these deficiencies in John Shore’s “harm” argument is that he goes on to ask the following:

“As there is no demonstrable harm arising from sex within a committed homosexual relationship, and there is significant demonstrable harm arising from the discrimination against and condemnation of gay persons, what possible biblical basis can there be for not recognizing the vast moral differences between sex acts done within the context of a loving committed relationship, and sex acts of any other sort?”

As examples of things vastly morally different from sex in loving, committed relationship, Shore mentions “homosexual gang rape ... the orgies to which Paul refers in his letter to the Romans, the wild sexual abandon Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians”.

Two things: First, Shore’s pair of initial assumptions aside, the rhetorical conclusion of his question is not in dispute. He goes a long way to toast a straw man, in my opinion.

I don’t need Shore to convince me there is a vast moral difference between homosexual rape (which is a combination of the abomination of a same-sex act and violence against another human being), and an ongoing consensual-but-sinful relationship. Of course the person who commits the former is considerably more guilty.

In fact, I can’t think of a single Christian I’ve encountered who would not agree with Shore that such things are “different”. Add anger, violence, selfishness, public licentiousness (or any other sin or combination of sins) to a same-sex act and its wickedness is clearly compounded. There is undoubtedly a vast moral difference, if we must take the measure of such things.

Such relativism may demonstrate that committed, loving homosexual acts are LESS sinful than other behaviors. But I entirely fail to see how it makes them UNsinful, and I am even less convinced that they can be engaged in to the glory of God, which is actually the aim of the Christian life.

This seems to have been largely, if not entirely, forgotten in the effort to make excuses for human desire.

Second, Shore’s assumption of “no demonstrable harm” is … well … largely undemonstrated. He cannot possibly calculate the psychological and emotional damage done to children brought up in same-sex homes. He is not equipped to know what damage a homosexual perpetrates on his or her own reasoning apparatus (though I’m starting to see a few common symptoms of it, starting with the capacity for spectacular feats of rationalization). If the acts he assures others they are free to engage in turn out to be displeasing to God, he stands to be very surprised when he is called to account for his public views.

How much harm can a John Shore, a Matthew Vines or a Rachel Held Evans do to the hearts and minds of young believers struggling with questions about sexuality? I’m not sure it can be calculated, but I do know there’s a serious penalty that attaches to such approval.

1 comment :

  1. I pretty much have told where I stand on the morality and practice of homosexuality in my previous comments on this topic. However, this issue of harm had not been addressed and needs to be as you are doing here. It is one of the very sly and astute tactics adopted by the homosexual lobby, another one usurping the label gay for what is really a sad choice in live and another spreading the myth that homosexuality is inborn. The claim that there is no harm to that activity sounds OK on the surface because people think of harm usually in more obvious and noticeable terms like getting into an accident, or being the victim of crime. So it looks innocuous to the casual observer. However, with a little thought it is apparent that it is highly detrimental and harmful in many significant areas.

    Homosexuality would die out since homosexuals don't procreate if it was not by predatory behavior towards the young and innocent in society. So they continue to exist through recruiting by predation, preying especially on young males when caught in the hormonal turmoil and uncertainties of growing up. How do I know, well for one thing there have been many disdainful and unwanted attempts made on my integrity in my life and simply by observing what happened to other families. When such a person makes the wrong choice, it is not only harmful but tragic to the individual and his family that a life might now be lost in the mire of pure self-indulgence and sinful behavior. Most normal parents do not think there was no harm done. They would have preferred grandchildren and the joys of a normal family life. But of course they will not necessarily disown their child.

    The destruction of families when one of the parents goes wrong and comes out from undercover. The undesired approaches by people in power towards subordinates. Male prostitution, obscene sex parlors, obscene public displays in parades, obscene speech and joking in the public arena and even a whole civilization going wrong like ancient Greece where old men to young boy prostitution was institutionalized. Need I mention Aids and mental, emotional health issues and their cost to society. And do I need to mention the poor example given to others concerning issues of self-control, choosing addiction to drives instead of mastery over your base impulses. It is harmful and bad for society and our young all around. And it is shameful, negligent, and dishonest for the public to buy into the no harm done myth.