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Fr. 443

November 22, 2013

Something like this distinction is implied in Stout’s article when he writes that showing someone’s homophobia or irrationality can only proceed “by determining that the people’s stated reasoning is insufficiently coherent to be taken at face value” (idem.). For if the reasoning is insufficiently coherent or the person’s reasons do not hold together, then it seems permissible to describe that person’s positions as mere “rationalization”, where “to rationalize” means something like the attempt to explain or justify a behavior or attitude with reasons, even if these are not logically consistent, true or appropriate. Hence, a rationale is not the same thing as a reason, which is taken to be, if not true, at least logically consistent.

To come back to the discussion of irrationality, it is not helpful to claim that someone is an irrational homophobe, but this says nothing of attempts to show that the reasons offered are not reasons at all. In fact, the burden of proof and here lies with the interlocutor rather than the believer who, prior to discussion, has had little reason to examine and work on the unreasoned elements present in his or her beliefs. It thus falls to the interlocutor to consider the coherency of the position being advanced.

That said, the interlocutor is to approach this evaluation with some care, as much will weigh in the evaluation of the believer’s rational entitlement to this or that belief. After all, rational entitlement is a context-sensitive affair or a function of: the socio-economic background of the individual; past and present social environments; the information available to the individual; the relation between the beliefs in question and his or her larger network of beliefs; amongst others.

Accordingly, the notion of rational entitlement espoused here proves close to that of justification on a coherentist view in epistemology, according to which an individual’s beliefs are to justified in view of the network or background of beliefs relevant to his or her context. More importantly, the need to proceed in as careful a manner as that outlined above entails that the evaluation of such beliefs proceed on a case-by-case basis. Wholesale indictments of larger groups or collectivities risk obscuring the factors informing background of beliefs peculiar to the individual.

To return to the case at hand, it is clear that homophobia qua rationale is “hateful in its motivation and cruel in its consequence” (idem.). Moreover, were this a perfect world, it simply would not exist. Consequently, giving voice to such motives in the public sphere is bad or, more accurately, morally deficient. Yet this proves the case regardless of the form of expression in which those motives are being put forward. As Stout remarks, “all of this holds regardless of whether religious premises are at work in anyone’s arguments” (idem.). He expands on this point by adding:

“If the difference between the civil rights activist’s appeal to Psalm 72 and the televangelist’s appeal to Leviticus 18:22 is that the former is motivated by a love of justice, while the latter is motivated by cruelty, what does the issue have to do with religion? A person’s love of justice can be expressed in his or her political acts, sexual relationships, selection of friends, works of art, behavior as a sports fan, interpretation of scripture, or vision of the eschaton” (ibid., pp. 15-16).

In the end, the just or unjust, accepting or hateful character has little to do with the form under which it is expressed; this would amount to just another form of essentialism and would, as a result, ignores the particularities of epistemic or rational entitlement. Any of these forms can be corrupted by hateful feelings and sadistic intent. Wherefore the importance of unacknowledged motives in this account.

Yet Stout does not view this as a reason to let religious claims off the hook, as it were. This holds to an empirical claim, for, as Stout sees it, religion is often used as a vehicle for the expression of such feelings, motives, intents, etc.. Furthermore, as these religious expressions often enter into the political realm, perhaps more frequently and more naturally than the modes of expression given above. Accordingly, the public of interlocutors is to be charged with the unending examination and evaluation of such claims to test whether they do in fact pass as reasons or mere rationalizations.

This is not, however, sufficient reason in itself to outlaw religious expression from the public sphere. After all, there are various sorts of believers who give voice to their views or beliefs in the public sphere. Of these, Stout will characterize three more or less broad kinds of opponents to homosexual marriage.



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