Ethics: August 2005 Archives

Eugene Volokh has some interesting numbers on Americans' attitudes toward homosexuality over time and in different age groups. A few of his observations are noteworthy. Over half of Americans are still opposed to any homosexual sex as immoral. I wouldn't have guessed that it was over half, but then again I've lived in blue states my entire life. The most interesting element is that there doesn't seem to be much of a shift in attitudes within each generation over time. In some age groups there's no statistical shift. That means that exposure to gay people and portrayals of gay people in the media doesn't change people's attitudes to whether homosexual sex is wrong, even if it will lead to people's being more accepting of gay people, as it almost surely does. This also shows that a large enough percentage of the population must be able to consider gay sex wrong and yet accept gay people. I wonder if these distinctions are easier for people to make if they happen to think gay sex is wrong than they are by those who don't. In my experience, it's the latter group that seems unable to consider the possibility that anyone could take both of those stances, even though a large percentage of Americans do exactly that.

One of Eugene's conclusions is less sure but very interesting. There seems to be a bigger change in these attitudes in the generation that grew up before 1973. That means this isn't at all a result of the gay rights movement but is more likely a direct result of the sexual revolution. Those who were young during that movement are the first generation to approve more of homosexual sex. It's true that later factors explain why the next generation is more approving than the previous one, but the big change was simply the sexual revolution, and then those raised in that period communicated their values to those in the next generation effectively enough that the next generation had more permissive attitudes.

What becomes clear in the comments is that the 55% figure for who thinks gay sex is wrong is a marked contrast to the 80% of Americans who associate themselves with the major theistic religions. Now it's true that some of those people are involved with liberal religious groups that don't take their scriptures seriously enough to accept what they say on this issuue, but I don't think those people are over 25% of the population (some of the 55% are surely non-religious to begin with, though I suspect not many, but that would mean more than 25% would associate with the main religions while approving of gay sex). I don't know the numbers on all those. Does this make more sense if you do know them, or is there an alarmingly high percentage of Americans who say they follow a religion but don't really believe what that religiohn teaches?

Factcheck.org has taken on a NARAL ad against John Roberts [Hat tip: Eugene Volokh]. Apparently they said he "filed court briefs supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber". Not only did his case have nothing to do with the bombing that they showed in the ad, which was seven whole years later than the case in question, but the case wasn't about the issues they say at all. It was about a blockade, which his brief says is illegal. He calls these people criminals, yet somehow that counts as supporting them. The only thing he says that might remotely be construed as supporting them isn't really supporting them but criticizing the argument of those who said their crime also falls under an anti-discrimination law in addition to whatever else made it illegal. Roberts pointed out that it doesn't fall under an anti-discrimination law, because they were blockading men as well as women. It's thus not discriminating against women. I'm trying to figure out how that line of argument counts as supporting the bombing of abortion clinics, which their imagery is designed to convey.

If this is the best they can come up with against this guy, they have little chance of derailing the nomination. That they stoop to outright and obvious lying to accomplish it rather than the standard misleading political rhetoric shows how desperate they are to prevent someone they know very little about from getting in. That just seems downright irrational, given that the extremist right hates the guy (with much derision directed at Bush while they're at it) even more than groups like NARAL. [Clarification: the ProLifeBlogs post is not an example of the extremist right but merely provides a link to a commentary piece by an extremist right news magazine that I won't link to if I can at all help it. Since I can link to someone who links to it, I avoid the problem.]

The most ironic thing about the NARAL ad, which Factcheck.org unsurprisingly didn't point out, is the reason NARAL says Roberts shouldn't be confirmed. The ad ends with the following statement: "Call your Senators. Tell them to oppose John Roberts. America can't afford a Justice whose ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans." Indeed. It's pretty bad to excuse violence unless you have a very good reason for thinking the violence is justifed because of a much more important moral principle. I even think it's much, much worse to excuse unjustified violence than it is to cause the violence oneself. It's too bad they don't realize that they've just condemned the very reason for the existence of their group. Whatever else abortion is, it's clearly violence against a developing human organism. The whole point of their group is to defend violence. If they really wanted to criticize those who excuse some of the most hidden violence in the country, they should go after themselves.

It is fairly clear that giving of our firstfruits to God is a moral action. Poll question: is it also a moral obligation? That is to say, it is good to give to God; is the converse also true--it is bad to not give to God?

For the sake of simplicity, we'll use the word "tithe" to mean the firstfruits which we give to God, and "tithing" to mean the givign of said firstfruits. Understand that this is a rather broad use of the word and it can include but does not imply the narrower meaning of the Jewish commandment/cultic obligation nor does it imply any percentage of income.

For the record, I think that we do indeed have a moral obligation to tithe. What do you guys think?

[Note: I'm just looking for a yes/no with an optional short rationale. I'm not really looking for discussion on this one. We can save the persuading and refuting for a subsequent post.]

I've seen quite a few claims that Bill Frist has abandoned his pro-life principles by proposing federal funding for using stem cells from embryos that will be discarded anyway. See IntolerantElle's post and the links from there for examples. This post started as a comment on her post.

I think this argument goes too far. Frist isn't necessarily inconsistent on this. It's not clear at all that he's contradicting his pro-life stance. What he's proposing is that it's no more wrong for someone to kill these embryos by extracting stem cells than it is simply to throw them away. They will be destroyed. There's no way to prevent that given the current law that these embryos are the property of parents. He's suggesting that in destroying them the stem cells should be retained so that at least this immoral action can have some good consequences.

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