On the one hand — aside from his silly and tendentious characterization of the traditional Christian view of sexuality as “anti-gay bigotry” — Leiter does make legitimate points concerning the Swinburne debacle. He also notes the characteristically imperious devices of the academic left, a la Stanley, Kukla, et al. (Fortunately, Leiter has not generally chosen to partake of these sorts of tactics himself.)
On the other hand, Leiter does manage to address the actual content of my remarks.
I suppose the best response is to do what one would do with any interlocutor: Acknowledge the good, and admonish the bad. However, given the context, it is probably more fitting to address the bad first, and save what’s good for later.
This is for two reasons: In the first place, Leiter’s rebuttal is not convincing in the slightest (Sad!) and, as he says, some of us are “adults with real jobs and limited time.” So I will try to keep my response to only one post. However, I do think this is a good opportunity to investigate the charge of “anti-gay bigotry” that is taken to be a justification for the supercilious rhetoric which, if not taken to its full by Leiter, is certainly exhausted by “propagandists” like Stanley and his kin. This seems more important given the context. So, in a follow-up post, I will add some of my own comments on the Swinburne controversy, specifically in relation to the charge that Swinburne exposed himself as a “bigot.” This is more relevant and more consonant with the general tenor of our posts here lately.
But concerning Leiter’s response to my comments:
First, Leiter simply does not address the point that Swinburne and natural law theorists (which, by the way, Leiter made no effort to distinguish) only morally condemn particular actions. But I am no more a bigot for disapproving of a particular form of sexual act than are the over-represented vegans in my department who condemn — maybe even strongly condemn — particular gustatory acts of mine. Are they anti-carnivore bigots? Obviously not.
Second, Leiter does not address the fact that the arguments given against homosexual activities are meant to apply to the exact same activities, even when performed by heterosexuals. If disapproval of certain non-marital sex acts makes me anti-gay, then it also makes me anti-straight; but if I judge these two groups in a morally equivalent way then there is no reasonable basis for calling my views “bigotry.”
Similarly, these same arguments are fully taken by their proponents to entail moral condemnations of other, predominantly heterosexual vices, including divorce, polygamy, fornication, adultery, and even contraception. Keep in mind that at this point I am not even addressing whether these arguments do entail such conclusions; the question here is simply whether putting these arguments forward is to “display irrational animus.” And if the arguments against homosexual acts constitute “anti-gay” bigotry, then, by this sort of reasoning, the above condemnations must be even more an expression of “anti-straight” bigotry; but, again, to call a general misanthropy of this sort “bigotry” is to make the term completely vacuous.
Obviously, my point about qualifying some bigotry as “actual” bigotry was to contrast it with Leiter’s false notion of “bigotry”: The mere moral disapproval of a certain sexual activity. This, of course, is not bigotry at all.
This law-like failure of leftists to distinguish so-called “homophobia” from actual homophobia makes comparisons to Nazis, such as Stanley’s, seem reasonable. For instance, Stanley understands “homophobia” to be “that sickness that has led people for thousands of years to kill my fellow human beings for their sexual preferences,” proceeding to specifically identify Oxford don, Richard Swinburne, as one so afflicted.
This is the sort of rhetoric that gives bite to the leftist charge that we are “beyond the pale,” and that justifies all manner of hatred and venom toward conservatives with traditional moral views. It is the sort of rhetoric that encourages the social exclusion of Christians and conservatives from the academy. But would academia really be better off without Anscombe? Or Finnis? (Or, apparently, Scott Soames?)
(Side-note: I am glad to hear that Leiter teaches Finnis and Murphy, and that he is not dismissive toward their views, at least on other matters. However, in that case, it is not clear to me what the intended effect of the scare-quotes around “natural law” in the phrase “natural law theorists” was supposed to imply. That those who oppose the libertine zeitgeist are not really natural law theorists, but mere “natural law” theorists? I don’t know.)
In fact, I suspect that Leiter is close to very few devout, conservative Christians. Of course, he has no experience whatever of my interactions or personal attitudes toward the homosexual people in my life. Nor, probably, of the conservative philosophers who have argued about these things. If so, then it turns out that I was only half-right: Leiter’s a priori judgment extends not only to arguments he has never heard, but also to psyches whose acquaintance he has never enjoyed!
Of course, maybe Leiter does not mean to condemn particular individuals, but is instead conducting some sort of a priori faux-sociology. In that case, I suppose we can extend Leiter’s a priori powers to the motivational sets of nearly half the country; it is not clear that this makes his case more reasonable. It is unlikely that he has a reasonable understanding of the attitudes or outlooks of Christians who happen to have a moral stance different from his own. He does not realize that, in their daily lives, Christians are among the most kind, hospitable, and understanding people you will meet — including toward homosexuals — and that most of them are only ever willing to judge conduct rather than hearts.
And so he has no evidence for thinking that such people are “homophobic” as opposed to simply disagreeing with a certain sort of activity he finds unproblematic.
Now, much of this is avoiding the main issue: Are the arguments any good? I said: “The most reasonable conclusion I can draw from the evidence is that Leiter either doesn’t understand the argument or he does not know how to refute it.” Leiter suggests the following alternative possibility: “Life is short, the world is full of idiotic arguments that depend on absurd premises, and this is particularly true when it comes to arguments inspired by religious dogma.”
Maybe. But more likely, based on the evidence I have (viz., Leiter’s failure to discuss or rebut in any way the actual arguments), Leiter, beholden to the spirit of the age, holds to a sort of unjustified belief in liberal morality, analogous to the sort of unjustified naturalism and secularism widely-held in the academy that I mentioned in my earlier comment.
Admittedly, this gives rise to another possibility that Leiter and I both may have overlooked. Maybe Leiter has simply fallen into the same tendency as the rest of the academic establishment: A tendency whereby philosophers simply do not want to discuss these arguments, because it is easier to magisterially declare them wrong a priori — “beyond the pale” — than to have to engage in any serious way with one’s deep-seated commitments. Unfortunately, this is precisely the sort of attitude that creates a seemingly unbridgeable gap between conservatives and liberals in the academy. And it is not clear to me that this is even what Leiter would like to see happen. But it is the inevitable effect of a widespread rhetoric that reduces serious thinkers (like Finnis or Anscombe) to mere “bigots.”