(Editor’s note: A philosopher who is not associated with this blog asked if we would publish his thoughts about the recent SCP controversy. They are produced below).
If you’re reading this, you’re surely aware of the commotion caused by Richard Swinburne’s recent address to the Society of Christian Philosophers (SCP). I wasn’t there, but as I understand it, Swinburne’s jarring conclusion was that homosexual sex is immoral, for reasons independent of those typically offered by Natural Lawyers and their sympathizers. Predictably, philosophers who disagree with Swinburne’s view publicly expressed their outrage. As a result, the President of the SCP, Prof. Michael Rea, released a statement in which he implied that Swinburne’s talk threatened the SCP’s goals of facilitating diversity and inclusivity.
Prof. Rea seems like a really nice guy, but his response leaves me feeling cynical and wearied. I’m an openly gay philosopher at a top-five program, and these issues are terribly important to me because I struggle daily to reconcile my sexuality with my faith. This stuff makes a difference to how I might lead my life, a phenomenon that is sadly rare in contemporary analytic philosophy. If a philosopher like Richard Swinburne has something to say, I need and want to know. I want to lead a Christian life, and I’ve grown to think that means living a celibate one. I’m not sure though! I want more debate. So, please, don’t scare any dissident philosophers away from the podium. Unfortunately, apologizing for someone who presents controversial moral views and implying that they hinder the SCP’s goals of diversity and inclusivity may (even if unintentionally) do just that.
I ask this not because views like Swinburne’s are without cost. When I read arguments like Swinburne’s, my heart sinks a bit because I worry that they might be sound. I miss my last boyfriend and sometimes regret telling him I couldn’t ever marry him in good faith because I suspect gay marriage to be incoherent and gay relations immoral. It’s f*cking rough. But, for all that, please don’t protect my feelings. For, as philosophers, our vocation is the pursuit of truth and the virtuous life—and that’s surely worth the sweat and tears.
A note about being a gay orthodox Christian in philosophy: As I mentioned, I’m open about my orientation, and I’ve never encountered even a shred of homophobia, neither at my current institution nor at the conservative Christian one I attended as an undergraduate (of course, I don’t intend to speak for other LGBTQ philosophers). But if ever I move to another institution, I don’t know whether I will be openly Christian, or at least not openly an orthodox one, and I certainly won’t be openly politically conservative. Not until I get tenure. At a previous institution, one philosopher changed offices rather than share with the department’s token Evangelical. The cur had recently published on the immorality of homosexuality, you see. At my current university, one philosopher told me she would “never be friends with a conservative,” because anyone worth the trouble would long since have abandoned such odious views. Those were her words, uttered sincerely and unironically. We’re bigots, you see. It will be awkward if she ever realizes her gay confrere voted for Romney for his positions on social issues. (So, if any of you have figured out who’s writing, please be discreet. Until I get tenure. Then hoist the goddam Jolly Roger.)
Prof. Rea, I know you’re trying to help. Perhaps you think that if our secular friends just see us as compassionate people, they’ll be nice. Who knows, maybe they’ll take us more seriously and even convert some day! If that’s your attitude, I don’t think it’s stupid. I don’t even really think it’s wrong. Truly. Most philosophers I know are basically tolerant of ideological diversity, at least to a point. Certainly, once they get to know us they’re great company. Or maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe you think that a weird lecture from an elderly Brit really does cut people deeply. Either way, beware that publically slapping Swinburne’s hand has costs. If you shut down conversation, even in a nice, veiled way—while protesting that you’re not formally cutting off anyone’s microphone—you deprive people like me of whatever the next brilliant, wise Christian philosopher has to say about something that matters deeply. The gay Christians I know need to have this conversation (and there are more of us than one might guess). We have two dogs in this fight, as it were. Let them fight it out. Please, take pity on us, and leave Richard Swinburne alone.
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