This post’s title acknowledges Robert Reilly’s important book*
In this post, I use the moral harm syllogism to sketch out what could have been implicitly the strategy for mis-leading people to abandon a belief that homosexual acts are immoral.
The moral harm syllogism is the following valid pattern of reasoning. See also The Moral Harm Syllogism.
Major premise: If X is morally forbidden, then harm ought to follow upon performance of X
Minor premise: But seriously no harm ought to result upon the performance of X.
So, when thinking seriously, we should not hold that X is morally forbidden.
The strategy for undercutting a belief in the immorality of a practice is to persuade a critical mass of people to assert the minor premises.
Or to put it another way:
When progressives make an effective case that a practice ought no longer be considered immoral they show that harm ought not follow upon exercise of the practice instead of making a factual case that harm does not follow upon exercise of the practice.
The tactics for implementing this strategy can be broken down into four movements. Concomitant with all these tactical maneuvers is a program of sympathetically portraying practitioners of the allegedly immoral practice so that we tend to wish them no harm.
A very powerful tactic is de-criminalization. De-criminalization says we ought not bring about harm through legal punishment. Of course, there is the platitude “just because it is legal does not make it right.” But the platitude ignores the fact of how powerful a policy of saying that we ought not inflict harm through our legal system is in fostering a belief that we ought not inflict harm at all.
Personally, though, even if I strongly supported de-criminalization of homosexual activity, I still thought homosexual behavior was immoral.
Legality does not wipe out all forms of punishment because there are still many social mechanisms for making people suffer for their behavior. Anti-discrimination laws forbid informal social punishments.
Personally, I oppose anti-discrimination laws with respect to sexual orientation. But for the most part I do not want there to be discrimination unless the discrimination is used to discourage promotion of homosexuality. Keep it in the closet and follow the “Don’t ask, don’t tell “ policy. So, since I think that homosexuals ought to suffer the personal discomfort of marginalization, I do not agree with a minor premise for the moral harm syllogism “Seriously, no harm ought to follow upon practice of homosexual acts.”
However, with sympathetic portrayal of homosexuals in the media, promotion of anti-discrimination legislations and gay-pride events, marginalization is vanishing. A single person, or just a few, cannot marginalize a group. Not even the Catholic Church is large enough to marginalize homosexuals in our society. Perhaps, then the question of whether social harm ought to occur vanishes because there is no social harm.
Let me add, though, that I feel sorry for people living in a house flying a rainbow flag. I think that the sense of self one must have to accept oneself as homosexual could be a pain which is some, or all , of the harm which ought to befall someone for homosexual practice. As I argued in my book**, if I accepted homosexuality in myself, I would suffer the despair of nihilism.
Another way of thinking that harm ought to follow upon practices considered immoral is to believe that in due course nature will bring about harm such as disease. Some might have thought that the AIDS epidemic was what ought to have come about and that we should have let it run its course. But there is a tactic which could be called the “therapeutic stance.” On this stance, we ought to minimize or eliminate all harm arising from natural causes. Since the therapeutic stance is widely adopted, the AIDS epidemic became a significant catalyst for leading us to think that harm ought not be resulting from homosexual activity.
Personally, I was ambivalent about trying to wipe out the AIDS epidemic. Nonetheless I made financial contributions to research to find causes and cures.
A fourth tactic is to lead people to think that it is positively harmful to try to correct homosexual behavior. We ought not even think that homosexuals ought to suffer the pain of trying to change their sexual orientation. Making reparative treatment illegal is a bit stronger than anti-discrimination legislation.
*Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything Robert Reilly, Ignatius Press, 2014
**My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. See pp. 72ff. for discussion of moral harm. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.
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Charles F. Kielkopf
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