Sunday, May 18, 2014

Accusations Without Proof in America

The American Justice System holds two principles that I consider relevant to today's discussion:

  1. Innocent until Proven Guilty
  2. Guilty Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

These principles mean that guilt (not innocence) must be proven when an accusation is made and that the guilt must be proven to the extent that no reasonable doubts of the evidence or its interpretation exist in the mind of the person called to make the decision.  In other words, the burden of proof is on the accuser to establish that the guilt of the accused is clear and not that the accused must demonstrate that he is innocent.

The principles are good ones and are designed to prevent the conviction of someone based on false accusations and misapplied evidence – so long as justice is sought.

When justice is not sought, it becomes easy to turn the concepts into a mockery. Invalid evidence can be permitted and relevant evidence is rejected. This can result in the evils of the innocent being punished and the guilty set free.

This seems to be what is going on with how Christian moral teaching is being recast as bigotry today. The accusation is made that unpopular Christian teaching X is motivated by bigotry, and thus needs to be opposed. The practitioners of Christian teaching X are therefore bigots and can be ostracized, sued, prosecuted, etc.

Now if we applied the two principles of justice proclaimed by our Justice System to these accusations, we would recognize that the accusers are the ones with the burden of proof. They would have to demonstrate how the unpopular Christian moral teaching is rooted in bigotry. But that is precisely what is not done.

Take for example the Christian teaching on Marriage. The accuser makes the claim that "opposing same sex marriage is homophobia," for example. This is the point which the accuser is obligated to prove. But, instead of proving it, the accuser assumes it is proven and calls for action to be taken against the person who believes in and supports the Christian teaching on marriage – which does not accept same sex "marriage."

That's a dangerous idea. Imagine if I alleged that atheists were disloyal Americans because they could not be trusted to swear their loyalty to the country before God? I could seize on the fact of their disbelief in God and twist it to declare that because they couldn't swear sincerely before God (because they don't believe in God) that it meant they were actively disloyal towards America. Perhaps some atheists are disloyal citizens, but it doesn't follow from the fact of their rejecting oaths before God that they do so because of disloyalty. So if I were to claim, without proving, that all atheists who were unwilling to swear their loyalty before God did so out of motives of disloyalty, and got people to accept this without proof, I could bash all atheists who disagreed with my views even if they were not disloyal citizens.

People can recognize the injustice of my hypothetical (and to some extent historical) example above. But what is not apparent to many is that this is exactly the charge leveled against Christians who stand up for their beliefs today. It is assumed that Christians who stand up for the moral teaching of the Church do so with the motivation of intolerance. Since intolerance must be oppressed, says the unqualified statements of today, Christian teaching must be opposed. But when we look at the accusation, it doesn't hold together.

Q: Why is Christian teaching on marriage intolerant?

A: Because it rejects the legitimacy of same sex "marriage."

Q: Why is rejecting the legitimacy of same sex "marriage" wrong?

A: Because it is intolerant.

That's called Arguing in a Circle. The point to be proven (that opposition to same sex "marriage" is intolerant) is assumed to be true when the truth of the point is exactly what is under dispute.

The fact is, a thing can be opposed for many different reasons and not all of them are based on bigotry. Yes, the Westboro Baptists practice a hateful form of bigotry in their actions of opposing homosexual acts. But that's not the only motivation for opposing them. The entirety of Christians who believe that homosexual acts are wrong can only be condemned for holding the Westboro position IF, and only IF, the entirety of these Christians have the same views as the Westboro Baptists.

But in fact, the Westboro Baptists and their "God Hates F*gs" signs come nowhere near the teaching of the Catholic Church which decrees in the Catechism:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (2333)

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (2347)

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 566. [Emphasis added]

So, the Catholic who behaves like a member of the Westboro Baptist Church is acting against Catholic teaching in behaving unjustly. It's one thing to say:

2363 The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.

The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity.

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 568.

…and therefore reject sexuality being used outside of this context (it also rejects adultery, fornication, prostitution, mistresses, masturbation, divorce and remarriage, etc.)

It's quite another thing to say that we may do harm to those people with same sex attraction. The Catholic defense of marriage has nothing to do with the thugs out there who beat up people with same sex attraction. In fact, we condemn such behavior. It doesn't seek to deny that people with same sex attraction the same human rights others have. We say such behavior cannot be considered marriage.

We believe sexual relations can only be legitimately used in the concept of marriage between one man and one woman. We stand firm on this in the face of the polygamist, the adulterer, the fornicator and others. Even if they believe their behavior to be acceptable, we must say it is not.

However, we reject any claim that our beliefs are made out of malice or hatred for others, and we hold that no person can prove that our beliefs do have this malice and hatred. A just society will stop trying to persecute people for holding to our beliefs on the basis of a person claiming without justification that we act out of hatred.

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