The Torah contains three kinds of laws, I’m told: mishpatim (laws for which ordinary, normal humans have good reasons to accept), chukim (laws for which there is no accessible-to-humans reasons to accept), and mitzvoth (laws that require divine revelation, but given such revelation, reasons can be found after the fact). So, in morality, suppose we think of moral rules along these lines: there are rational rules, mysterious rules and post hoc rules. (I *don’t* think of moral rules in terms of these categories, but am trying to be charitable in the present context).
So most conservative Christians, as well as political conservatives, side with Chick-Fil-A in the recent controversy concerning gay and lesbian issues, but the same would apply to LBGQT issues more broadly. The question is whether they think of the rules as rational, mysterious, or post hoc.
I’ll restrict my remarks to the mysterian position, since I think it is the only defensible one.* And it is the one I hear from interviews done by news organization: something to the effect of “it’s God’s position (or the Biblical view) and they are just agreeing with it.” Though compatible with rational and post hoc views, I think such remarks are best understood as communicating a mysterian position–it’s an admission that the one interviewed doesn’t really have any knowledge of good reasons for the rule, but accepts it in spite of not seeing any good story as to why it is true, other than that God says it is.
And the rest below the fold.
So, suppose there are moral rules that are mysterian in character. We can still distinguish two such possibilities. One is like the speculation that sophomoric undergraduates confuse with philosophy: “suppose the universe is, like, a tiny speck on the fingernail of some enormous beast.” Right: if true, the truth in question is inaccessible to us. In such a case, we have no direct or basic or obvious empirical evidence to cite to rebut. In this way, such hypotheses are like many skeptical hypotheses: they leave us in an epistemic quandary of some sort, even if we are convinced it is rational to reject the claim in question.
In other cases, though, the claim is more like other cases in which one’s BS-o-meter kicks in. You tell me Obama isn’t a citizen, and my BS-o-meter kicks in. What that amounts to is having fairly direct or basic or obvious empirical evidence to cite as a defeater. So the only way for the claim to survive epistemic scrutiny is for the evidence in such a case to outweigh or defeat the defeater.
But in cases of mysterian claims, there can’t be any such evidence: otherwise the case would be one of a rational or post hoc claim.
It is interesting to note that the generational tendency here is (the younger, the more likely to agree that ) the LBGQT issue as a case in which there is an obvious case to be made on behalf of equal treatment and equal opportunity. I won’t rehearse the arguments because they are so obvious.
So suppose I’m right: the only defense of the conservative position here is mysterian, and suppose as well that there is an obvious case to be made on behalf of LBGQT’s. The conclusion to draw is that the conservative position simply can’t be true: it works only if the mysterian laws are more like the “speck on the fingernail” claim and less like the birther claim. But the laws can’t be like that unless the obvious arguments for equal treatment and opportunity are non-existent. And they aren’t non-existent.
Think of it this way: you have apparent experiences, testimonial or otherwise, that God is telling you to do something horrendous. Whatever confirms that it is horrendous behavior is an argument that your experiences are misleading evidence about what God thinks (there are suppressed premises here that I won’t bother to reconstruct unless pressed in comments to do so). And going mysterian at this point is rationally incoherent, since mysterianism makes rational sense only when arguments to the contrary are defeated by something.
In short: if you agree with the Chick-Fil-A guy, you need an argument other than one that appeals to mysterianism.
*The best arguments for classifying the rules as rational or ad hoc arise from the natural law tradition, and I think that won’t work. More important, I’m certain the conservatives, Christian and political, can’t find the natural law tradition a source of epistemic comfort here. The reach of that tradition is too much for them to stomach. The most obvious is in terms of its implications regarding contraception, but that implication only touches the surface. For a full accounting of the matter, see my colleague’s new book on the subject, soon to be released, (Alex Pruss, One Body: An Essay in Christian Sexual Ethics, described here.