83 Problems

Posted on 2017 September 10


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Love God and do what you will. — St. Augustine

Early in my teens, one afternoon it hit me like a ton of bricks: I really wanted to get involved with girls. It was clear as day, as if someone suddenly had switched on the sun. Within months I had a girlfriend, the first of many.

My university owned a small farm, with crops and herds. One day, driving past, I glanced up at a grassy hillside to see one cow mount another. It seemed comically futile.

Years later, I learned that female gulls occasionally pair-bond with each other and lay eggs. They tend them carefully, but the eggs never hatch.

Arguably, something genetic is going on in each of these cases.

Why do religious conservatives believe gays have chosen their lifestyle? Why do they insist genetics has nothing to do with it?

The Bible, here and there, seems to prohibit gayness. It would be absurd and sadistic for God to create it only to punish it. Thus, it can’t be — it mustn’t be — genetic. Therefore gays have chosen their lifestyle. Moreover, gays might try to convince our children to become gay. Then our children will produce eggs that don’t hatch.

This creates a serious rift between members of the gay community — who generally believe they were “born that way” — and religious conservatives, many of whom refuse to have gay friends, as this might condone what they regard as a conscious, sinful choice.

But there could be a workaround.

Let’s pretend we’re in seminary, where today’s exercise is to argue, debate-style, in defense of gays under Biblical law. (Fear not, students: it’s just a way to strengthen thinking by considering the other side of a dispute.) What might we say?

“In God’s universe, children sometimes are born crippled or diseased or into extreme poverty, or their relatives abuse them, or wars ravage them, or they have developmental disorders, or they’re just plain ugly. Any of these conditions might tempt a soul to abandon God and curse His Creation. Being born gay is just one more stressor, one more source of temptation, one of many paths that might pull us away from God’s law. Nearly all of us are born with such stressors, and all of us must cope with temptation. Thus God creates challenges for each of us to overcome. Gayness is but one of those.

“What’s more, gays and straights alike partake in activities — usury, eating shellfish, and so forth — that today seem normal and acceptable but are condemned in the Old Testament. And Christians find in the Book of Hebrews a New Covenant that states, ‘The old law is obsolete.’ So perhaps gayness isn’t the capital crime it once was.”

Not bad. Of course, it doesn’t fully resolve the political rift outside the seminary. Evangelicals who accept this pro-genetic “not their fault” argument in defense of gays might still refuse to concede that the old law is obsolete with respect to gayness. But at least they might develop an increased sense of compassion and understanding. After all, “There but for God go I” (and Catholic priests).

If you’re gay and/or on the Left, you might respond, “Why bother? We’re dominating the political battles. Conservatives can go hang.” True, Progressives have been winning the social arguments, slowly but surely, for decades. But the Right still forms a huge block of voters. And when their families must watch gays snogging in the streets, or when their small businesses must cater to gay ceremonials or face legal consequences, they get upset. “God says we shall do one thing, and the State insists we do the opposite!” It’s arrogant to assume, on this issue, that the Right will simply relent and go quietly. The Trump presidency is ample proof of that.

Both sides would do well to remember that life ain’t easy (if it were, we’d all be good at it) and everyone has tribulations. For those on the Right, Jesus said, “Let he who hath not sinned cast the first stone.” And for the Left, keep in mind that “Pride goeth before a fall.”

The Chinese have an old saying: We’re each born with 83 problems. Throughout our lives, every time we solve one, a new problem takes its place.

Thus we really have no time to harangue others, not when we face 83 problems of our own.

Besides, say the Chinese, the secret to life is simply to avoid getting an 84th.