Sunday, April 22, 2012

Vox Dei

This is a companion piece to my last entry.

Thomas Aquinas was an interesting guy. He wrote during the eleventh century, a time when not only the ability, but the opportunity, to read or write were still quite rare compared to anything we have known in the past century. Despite this he still managed to pen a vast twenty two volume work, Summa Theologica, exploring his ideas. A lot of his concepts were copied very closely from Aristotle and reinterpreted in theological terms, though I don't think that makes them any less relevant.

Indeed he is frequently regarded as one of the more important Christian philosophers. He was made a saint in 1323, but that's far from where his honor ends. In 1567 the Roman Catholic Church liked him so much that they gave him a fancy title, “Angelic Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church”, which gave his writing a special authority in all matters Roman Catholic.

Central to Aquinas's thought is the notion of rationality. He believed that the architect of the universe was a supremely rational being. As such, the very fabric of the universe, or rather existence itself, was based in rational terms. Thus, Aquinas felt it was up to humans to use the natural light of reason to discover what he called the “Natural Law” and discern between “good” and “evil”.

Now, Atheists have done a lot of work to separate the notions of rationality and theism, even painting theism as inherently irrational, yet despite this you will still find people who believe. Regardless of your perspective on whether or not there is a god, or no god, or thousands of gods who are really just emanations of Brahman, I argue that it is important to consider theological arguments if only because they are still so influential on so many others.

For Aristotle, “the good” was that which all things strive after, for Aquinas, it was slightly different. “Good” is an end, and all things which humans have a natural inclination to are thusly “good”. This desire for the good was one of many natural inclinations people have including a natural drive for intercourse, and the preservation of human life (the two do pair rather well together).

Again, Summa Theologica, is a vast work spanning twenty two volumes, so my distillation of Aquinas is a little simplistic to say the least. However, if we are to conclude that it is rational to treat others fairly, equally, and with a general respect for their inherent dignity as humans, it does seem to apply, in a Thomist sense, that these are more than just “good” ideas. Indeed, while planning this entry I came across Martin Luther King using this exact argument in his famous “Letter From A Birmingham Jail”.

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

This is Article I of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 after WWII. While it was the first document of its nature to gain such global recognition and participation, it wasn't the first time ideas such as these had been put forth. In the late 1700's these very same Enlightement ideals were at heart of both the American and French Revolutions.

“Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.”

This is Article I of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, which was penned when the rebels in France overthrew King Louis XVI and prepared to recreate their government on just terms.

Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights.”

This is Article IV.

If we are to accept these as just principles, then we must accept their full consequences. This often stretches further than we would like to imagine. That is the problem of dealing in absolutes like “all human beings”.

This extends naturally to the disabled, and as devotees, if we wish to be treated equally, as every other marginalized and oppressed group does, then we ought to act in accordance with such a maxim. This means taking care to ensure that our actions do not bring harm to the disabled, their families, or anyone else for that matter. I've spent a great deal of time focusing on just this point.

Though such a powerful idea stretches even further.

ENDA is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The basic idea is that it will prevent discrimination in hiring and employment for LGBTQ people. It's a fairly basic, even “good”, idea. It is one which, matches quite well with much of what we've already read (providing that we control for the blatant sexism from Aquinas up through the French Revolution) That being said, it has never managed to pass.

In 2010 ENDA looked like it had a chance of
finally passing and there was a lot of buzz about it not only in LGBTQ circles, but in the media at large. This cause célèbre was so great that arch conservatives decided the best way to combat the horror of gay, lesbian, bi, and trans* people being able to work without being fired based on their orientation and/or identity was to start lying about it.

One of the more notable efforts came from the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC). This was their take on the issue,

In the next few weeks, President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and their homosexual and transgender allies will attempt to ram through the so-called Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
What you may not know is that ENDA normalizes and provides special federal protection for 30+ bizarre sexual orientations listed by the American Psychiatric Association – the so-called “Dirty 30.” These 30+ fetishes include behaviors that are felonies or misdemeanors in most states.
ENDA’s “Dirty 30” includes such bizarre criminal acts as incest, pedophilia, prostitution, beastiality, and cross-dressingIf we don’t act today, Obama and Pelosi will normalize these disorders by federal law on April 21!
In a moment of candor, liberal Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) openly admitted on the House floor that the “Dirty 30” would be covered by federal law. In fact, he wants the Dirty 30 to be given special protection! In his own words: “all of these philias and fetishes and isms that were put forward--need not live in fear because of who they are.”

Of course none of this was true of ENDA or the American Psychological Association who they slavishly reference. It is worth noting that the TVC has such a strong record of providing blatantly false information as tried and true fact, that they have been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Of course they habitually maintain that as a matter of faith, and thus, supposedly, natural law, people ought to be allowed to continue biased employment. Puzzling.

This is an explosive issue on its own, but becomes particularly relevant to devotees when we examine the “Dirty 30” that has the TVC in such an uproar.

Here is what their PDF on the so-called “Dirty 30” has to say.

What Is A ‘Sexual Orientation’?

"Paraphilias"(formerly called sexual deviations) listed in the Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision
(Washington: American Psychiatric Association, 2000). This list includes both
paraphilias coded by the APA and paraphilias (not otherwise specified – NOS).
This is not a complete list of paraphilias, but only a sample.* These are deviant
sexual orientations or sexual attractions that are still considered abnormal.

1. Apotemnophilia - sexual arousal associated with the stump(s) of an
amputee ”

Yup, number one on the list is good ol' apotemnophilia. Amp devs. They somehow forgot about abasiophilia, and I'm not sure why. Maybe they thought it would be redundant to list two philias which link sex and disability. Or perhaps they thought it was realistic to expect the “filthiest” of Democrats to support amp devs, but laughable that they would consider anyone else. It doesn't really matter though.

What's happening here is devotees are being used as a pawn by the right to advance their homophobic agendas. What is lost in the fracas over Gay and Trans* rights is how we are being used, framed, defamed, and abused. As the right attempts to pin us to the LGBTQ movement in the hopes that our “dirtiness” would delegitimize them, we are disowned by “normal” society. Following naturally from there, the LGBTQ movement disowns us because we are seen as delegitmizing and in doing so pushes us down as well.

In the end you find both groups arguing, though not so explicitly, that we don't deserve this same protection which everyone else does. This isn't based on any process of rational thought, but rather the mechanisms of politics, power, and popular appeal. Our rights are sacrificed and forgotten, and in doing so they work to betray the universality of human rights that has been proposed for well over two hundred years across the world.

The idea of human rights is that they apply to all humans. The problem with bills like ENDA is one of strategy. It provides but a pinprick in a canopy of oppression. I will concede it is a fitting and necessary pinprick, but still one which accomplishes just an iota of the grand project of human rights.

In the end we will waste more energy by trying to pass legislation which enforces human rights for one group at a time. Why ought we support a bill that does not solve the entire problem, but only a portion of it? Why ought we accept as legitimate governance which does not act in line with the ideals which it claims to uphold? Why would we stand idle in the face of such flagrant hypocrisy?

...though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

No comments:

Post a Comment