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‘Error Has No Rights’

Ben Stevens writes at First Things: [1]

If you have paid any attention at all to the current [2] and ever-livelier [3] dialogue between the LGBT movement and the Christian community, you have no doubt heard the question being asked of Christians everywhere: Do you realize how bigoted your views are? This is of course a trick question, and Christians are not doing themselves any favors by trying so hard to answer it.

A number of different suggestions have been made as to the most civil and sensible way for Christians to respond to accusations of bigotry, but the best is to simply point out what is being ignored in the accusation itself: the fundamental realities of modernity.

Stevens then quotes the eminent sociologist of religion Peter Berger’s observation that the condition of modernity is one of a highly contentious pluralism. Why? Because you can take so little for granted. Things you thought were settled questions — that were, in fact, settled questions — no longer are. Stevens adds:

To the extent that a society becomes “modern,” then, it will be packed with people who hold to widely divergent beliefs and values, any of which may be questioned. And the glue of this system is not that we all agree with one another but that we make a commitment to not always equate disagreement, or even disapproval, with bigotry.

Following this logic, to the extent that the LGBT movement calls any disagreement with its own premises an expression of bigotry — which is to say, irrational hatred — it might be thought of as an anti-modern movement. Recall, then, Pius IX’s infamous 1864 anti-modern document, the Syllabus of Errors [4], which, while not using the precise phrase, depended on the principle that “error has no rights.” Similarly, the position of many LGBT activists and their supporters seems to be that to opposition to their position is not only incorrect, but so immoral it doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously (because that is ascribing a viewpoint to “bigotry” implies).

Stanley Fish says holding a double standard — one standard for one’s allies, another for one’s enemies — makes sense. [5]He discusses this in criticizing those who pointed out that liberals excused in Bill Maher and others what they condemned in Rush Limbaugh. Excerpt:

If we think about the Rush Limbaugh dust-up from the non-liberal — that is, non-formal — perspective, the similarity between what he did and what Schultz and Maher did disappears. Schultz and Maher are the good guys; they are on the side of truth and justice. Limbaugh is the bad guy; he is on the side of every nefarious force that threatens our democracy. Why should he get an even break?

There is no answer to that question once you step outside of the liberal calculus in which all persons, no matter what their moral status as you see it, are weighed in an equal balance. Rather than relaxing or soft-pedaling your convictions about what is right and wrong, stay with them, and treat people you see as morally different differently. Condemn Limbaugh and say that Schultz and Maher may have gone a bit too far but that they’re basically O.K. If you do that you will not be displaying a double standard; you will be affirming a single standard, and moreover it will be a moral one because you will be going with what you think is good rather than what you think is fair. “Fair” is a weak virtue; it is not even a virtue at all because it insists on a withdrawal from moral judgment.

I know the objections to what I have said here. It amounts to an apology for identity politics. It elevates tribal obligations over the universal obligations we owe to each other as citizens. It licenses differential and discriminatory treatment on the basis of contested points of view. It substitutes for the rule “don’t do it to them if you don’t want it done to you” the rule “be sure to do it to them first and more effectively.” It implies finally that might makes right. I can live with that.

Ah. Useful to get that learned.

The challenge to all of us who live in modern societies is to figure out how to defend what we believe is morally true while living with a decent respect for those who disagree with us, and having a decent respect for their liberties. It’s hard to do, in part because not all positions, or people, can be reconciled. It’s even harder when you find people who are only using the language of liberalism — especially words like “dialogue,” “diversity,” and “tolerance” — tactically. The strategy is always the same, though — and in that sense, I’m not being sarcastic when I say that Fish’s argument really is useful to get learned. It will keep you from being surprised when the apostles of Fairness and Tolerance turn out to be anything but.

133 Comments (Open | Close)

133 Comments To "‘Error Has No Rights’"

#1 Comment By savia On March 21, 2012 @ 2:48 pm

JonF and Another Matt,

There can be such a thing as objective views on marriage.

Once again, you fail to make the distinction between people and ideas and actions.

If gays get the same rights and benefits from civil unions, why fight for a marriage?

#2 Comment By savia On March 21, 2012 @ 3:44 pm


There are two sides to this issue on the origins of homosexuality. The liberal side argues that to accept ones sexuality means to be sexually active.

The conservative side denies that such a thing exists.

Can there be a third way?

#3 Comment By savia On March 21, 2012 @ 4:00 pm


I am opposed to redefining marriage, because if anything is allowed to be marriage, nothing will end up being marriage.

#4 Comment By savia On March 21, 2012 @ 4:59 pm


There are some civil and sacramental marriages that share the same features.

For instance, a civil marriage that is held valid by a church, can also be made sacramental.

This is where conflict ensues, because so far it does apply to civil marriages, that are valid until proven otherwise.

Changing the definition of marriage, would unfortunately include excluding gay marriages from the list.

This is where Rod sees a battle ensuing with one side being accused of discrimination.

How long will distinctions be kept in a culture that views them as bigotry and discrimination?

#5 Comment By John of Dorset On March 21, 2012 @ 5:53 pm

JonF, your last paragraph to me is simply repeating your use of the fallacy of equivocation, and refusing to grasp that natural law is based on the nature and essence of things, and not simply what exists in nature. If you will not even try to grasp my argument on that then you can hardly say much against it. The problem is you have a ‘severe problem’ dealing with Christ’ reality and Christ’s wisdom, which is written in our very souls so we have no excuse for not following it. You take the common sense of modernity over the truth of Christ and then lash out at those who point out Christ’s wisdom; the unanimous verdict of Scripture, Tradition, the Fathers and Christian wisdom.

The sacrament of marriage is one of the two sacrament (along with baptism) that does not require a priest. It only came to require a priest, in the Middle Ages, to prevent men marrying women and then running off. Even in traditional Christianity marriage is not an institution that is simply the product of the Church, it is a natural institution, the Church and State may regulate and sanction it, they may even undermine it, but the institution of marriage is neither civil nor created by the Christian Church.

We, as humans, may do what we like with our institutions. But that does not mean their nature actually changes. We may call folly wisdom, as you do, but that does not make it. And sooner or later the nature of things, Christ’s order and wisdom, will avenge itself on us for such outrages.

Siarlys Jenkins, fortunately calling arguments opinions is not refutation.

#6 Comment By John of Dorset On March 21, 2012 @ 6:01 pm

Another Matt, your gay friends are not arbitrarily barred from getting married. There is no such thing as ‘gay marriage’, it is a contradiction as marriage is a natural institution; the natural outcome of the nature and ends of human sexuality and romantic attachment.

Society, of course, has the power to remake its institutions. It can call black white if it wants, call falsehood truth, and vice virtue. But that doesn’t make them so. The state can create rights and institutions for homosexual relationships and call them marriage. That doesn’t make it a marriage. In the end such unnatural folly just pushes us, as a society, towards more that is unnatural, inhuman and immoral.

Institutions like marriage are complex things in any society. They rely on a complex network of ideas, functions, and needs. Who is to say that by changing the basic ideas and functions of marriage this will not make it less of a healthy institution for heterosexuals? This seems even more likely when we consider the very nature of marriage. Though of course it comes as just one more blow to an already maimed institution in our society.

#7 Comment By Another Matt On March 21, 2012 @ 7:17 pm

If gays get the same rights and benefits from civil unions, why fight for a marriage?

As far as the law is concerned, what is the difference? You’d fill out the same paperwork and check a couple of sex/gender boxes either way, and you’d have the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities. If you sleep better calling one a marriage and the other a “civil union” or a “garriage” or whatever you want, that’s fine with me.

#8 Comment By savia On March 21, 2012 @ 8:18 pm

Another Matt,

The law has to change to deconstruct gender. For example, there is no such thing as a husband and a husband, because the traditional meaning of husband meat to take a wife.

It’s this gender-bending that has societal consequences.

#9 Comment By savia On March 21, 2012 @ 8:23 pm


If I am not mistake, you are Eastern Orthodox right? You might want to look up your own theologians and philosophers on the nature and essence of things.

The first principle of philosophy is existence. You can’t think if you don’t exist.

#10 Comment By John of Dorset On March 21, 2012 @ 8:34 pm

Which is a good reason not to give in on ‘civil unions’. These are about trying to give, unnaturally and foolishly, most of the realities of marriage to homosexual relationships. Conservatives who are fine with civil unions but think they are stalwart defenders of traditional and natural marriage are fools.

#11 Comment By John of Dorset On March 21, 2012 @ 10:07 pm

I myself am a high church, somewhat Platonic, Anglican who is basically on the threshold of converting to Orthodoxy; I am Anglo-Orthodox if you will. I have no idea how one could be a proper, practicing Orthodox Christian and not object to homosexuality, biblically, doctrinally, philosophically, and of course spiritually. The same goes of course for just about any sort of traditional Christianity I can think, but Orthodoxy must figure as the denomination perhaps least likely to budge on such basic truths and beliefs.

#12 Comment By Rod Dreher On March 21, 2012 @ 10:56 pm

I have no idea how one could be a proper, practicing Orthodox Christian and not object to homosexuality, biblically, doctrinally, philosophically, and of course spiritually. … Orthodoxy must figure as the denomination perhaps least likely to budge on such basic truths and beliefs.

Yes, you would think. But you would be surprised at the knots people will twist themselves into to compromise on this very clear-cut issue.

#13 Comment By Another Matt On March 21, 2012 @ 11:00 pm

John of Dorset:

…refusing to grasp that natural law is based on the nature and essence of things, and not simply what exists in nature.

You have a very long way to go to show that essentialism is the “true” way of looking at things and not just merely a useful stance in some circumstances. After you’ve done that, you’ve still a very long way to go to show why “gay” is not just another form of human sexuality, or as JonF points out, you’ll need to show why those who perceive a clear, natural telos for gay people are unambiguously wrong to do so. And even if you can do that you’ll have to show why the state should care, given the legality of thousands of other things that violate “natural law.”

There’s a reason that nearly all people who accept aristotelian/thomist natural law are religious – the rest of us buy neither the premises nor the reasoning.


For example, there is no such thing as a husband and a husband, because the traditional meaning of husband meat to take a wife.

So… the man who speaks of his husband is literally unintelligible? Nope. I don’t buy it – you know exactly who the reference of the label is if you know the couple. Even if all that is legal is a “civil union,” they’re going to use whatever language they want to talk about each other.

This is probably no longer the space for this conversation – I think we’ve probably said enough to each other… I’m happy to respond but I don’t want to annoy our host.

#14 Comment By John of Dorset On March 21, 2012 @ 11:29 pm


One of the problems is the terrible job Christians and social conservatives have done defending their position on this issue.

Appeals to scripture are of limited value socially, because only those who accept its authority will pay much attention; indeed even many who do accept Scripture are willing to advocate its authority over matters of law and government.

Tradition has its role to play, but it is not much in fashion in modern society, and besides on its own it can only carry so much weight. It may be a useful supporting force, but it will never carry the field on its own.

We must intertwine our arguments on these topics with Christian wisdom, Christian philosophy. Whether we couch them in Patristic or more Scholastic terms, in more Platonic or more Aristotelian language, we need to appeal to classical natural law conceptions.

#15 Comment By John of Dorset On March 21, 2012 @ 11:48 pm

Another Matt, well I don’t suppose this is the best setting to do a full defense of classical natural law or essentialism. I would start though by pointing out that the rise modern, anti-teleological and anti-essentialist assumptions, including in popular culture, is related to the rise of irreligion in such a way that only if we assume that the rise of irreligion is related to purely rational progress must we automatically assume the rise of anti-teleological and anti-essentialist assumptions are as well.

As Edward Feser points out, Realism is still a valid philosophical position, and indeed nominalism tends to basically either end in incoherency or to subtly rely on Realist positions. An essence is simply the nature of a thing, that which makes it what it is and that through which we intellectually grasp it for what it is. This is not perhaps the place to give a full defense of essentialism, but I do not think any other view at all coherent.

When it comes to the status of homosexuality it likewise seems obvious that it is unnatural. Not only do you have the almost universal dislike and disgust of it, and from a Realist position such impulses are to be given a certain weight. But you also have the fact it uses sexual functions and romantic faculties that are clearly intended for heterosexual reproduction, in the broadest sense, and relationships and simply subverts these ends. This is the sure sign of a defect. As is its lack of ability to produce the kind of balanced reunification of the poles, or genders, of humanity, thereby bringing married couples to a fuller, more whole humanity. It promiscuity is related to this last aspect of it, and to its subversion of natural human sexual and romantic processes. I see no problem in showing the obvious unnaturalness of homosexuality. Of course it will not convince everyone, you never can; you can find some who will argue against just about anything.

JonF simply, and repeatedly, commits the fallacy of equivocation by ignoring how classical natural law uses the term nature and rather uses it to just refer to anything that exists in nature.

When it comes to the state, it is certainly true we do not ban everything immoral or unnatural. However, marriage is at the centre of society, so we can certainly make a good stand on undermining it for the utter contradiction of ‘homosexual marriage’.

#16 Comment By John of Dorset On March 21, 2012 @ 11:49 pm

– that should have many ‘even many who accept scripture are not willing to advocate its authority over matters of law and government.’.

#17 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 22, 2012 @ 12:15 am

Why John, to paraphrase a sappy movie title, identifying an argument as purely a matter of opinion and preference means never having to offer a refutation.

If I share your opinion, no refutation is necessary. If I have a different opinion, no refutation is possible — or necessary. That’s in the nature of being an opinion.

#18 Comment By savia On March 22, 2012 @ 1:15 am


I am an RC. C.S. Lewis in the “poison of subjectivism”
argues that some things cannot be changed, because there cannot be a new sun in the sky, or a new primary colour on the spectrum.

The modernist will argue that holding on to this somehow makes you an enemy of progress, democracy and the free republic.

You can’t win with this crowd.

#19 Comment By savia On March 22, 2012 @ 7:52 am


I brought up civil unions on the grounds of friendship. I do know gays who live chaste lives. I do think there should be a way to separate this from marriage. Only married couples should be allowed to adopt.

I know this does not sit well with liberals, who think that gays who are not sexually active are repressing themselves or with conservatives who don’t think it’s possible to re-direct one’s sexuality.

#20 Comment By Another Matt On March 22, 2012 @ 11:19 am

C.S. Lewis in the “poison of subjectivism”
argues that some things cannot be changed, because there cannot be a new sun in the sky, or a new primary colour on the spectrum.

“Primary color” is not an objective property of light; it depends entirely upon which wavelengths a photoreceptor pigment responds to optimally. This is “arbitrary” in the sense that we could have evolved with different photoreceptors. But it’s not meaningless – we learn something about humans by seeing how their biology does in fact currently work.

Humans may eventually evolve in a direction such that color vision is no longer trichromatic, or no longer a product of red, blue, and green receptors, in which case new primary colors would have evolved. Plenty of other animals are tetrachromatic. Color is an emergent product of evolution, not a property of light. Same thing goes for, e.g. “sweetness” in flavor – there’s nothing in sucrose that makes it objectively or essentially sweet.

#21 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 22, 2012 @ 12:23 pm

Trichromatics aside, there are obviously some things that are what they are, and cannot be changed because we change our thinking about them. For example, the earth always revolved around the sun, no matter that for centuries, people believed the opposite, based rationally on what our senses told them.

When it comes to interpreting the meaning of what is, objectivity fades into subjective preference. I believe there is a God who made all that is, seen and unseen, but I can’t prove it to the satisfaction of someone who does not. Homoerotic emotions exist, but what their significance is, reasonable people may differ over, and obviously do.

I respect a person who finds their own sex attractive, believes they are called to lead a chaste life if they cannot marry a person of the opposite sex, and does so. I don’t hold this example against someone who believes their homosexual desires are a gift from God, and tries to live in a monogamous couple.

#22 Comment By savia On March 22, 2012 @ 5:15 pm

Another Matt,

Lewis was referring to the creation of new values or moral codes.

In the absence of an underlying moral code. Good becomes whatever people are conditioned to approve of.

So if people persecuted homosexuals yesterday, they persecute homophobes today and then can go back to square one tomorrow, since they are only bound by what society deems is good or bad.

It’s a case of might makes right.

#23 Comment By savia On March 22, 2012 @ 5:20 pm


There is a difference between being pre-disposed to something such as a same-sex attraction and arguing that it’s determinism the same as the colour of someone’s eye.

It denies the presence of free-will.

With your last statement there seems to be a law of non-contradiction.

Homosexual acts are either objectively wrong based on the essence of things, or they are not. We can’t argue both ways.

#24 Comment By John of Dorset On March 22, 2012 @ 5:33 pm

Another Mat, colour is something whose causal mechanics, for us, involve the wavelengths of light, but whose experience involves phenomenal qualities that are not reducible to these mechanics. This means that colour could well be, and is, not simply a product of evolution. Rather our ability to experience colours may evolve.

Savai, why give homosexuals mock marriages? There simply is no such thing as ‘homosexual marriage’; any parody on marriage for them is an attack on marriage.Any defender of traditional marriage is foolish if they accept civil unions.

#25 Comment By John of Dorset On March 22, 2012 @ 9:09 pm

As Edward Feser points out the endless debates over whether homosexuality is genetic are irrelevant to whether it is natural in the classical natural law sense of nature. A clubfoot may be genetic, but it is still not natural, though as it has nothing to do with choice it is not a moral issue.

#26 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 22, 2012 @ 9:11 pm

savia, we obviously DO argue both ways, therefore, we CAN. It is an observable fact in the debate in this very space.

You cannot argue both ways without being either schizophrenic or a hypocrite, nor can I. But among a sizeable group, all these opinions may well be represented.

Because it is genetically predetermined that I have hemoglobin in my blood, does not mean that I lack free will. WHETHER homoerotic temptation is a free will choice or is genetically or biochemically determined, remains a matter of intense debate, with little objective evidence.

The essence of things? No a philosophical category I would hang a condemnation on.

#27 Comment By savia On March 23, 2012 @ 1:34 am


As John pointed out in the natural law sense of the term, things have a purpose and an end.

You just made my point for me. Genetic determinism is not the same as a pre-disposition towards certain behaviours.

So hemoglobin has nothing to do with free-will, unless you want to argue that it causes you to act a certain way based on determinism, an argument that the it used to support homosexual behaviour based on a appeal to determinism.

#28 Comment By John of Dorset On March 23, 2012 @ 5:11 am

The essence of things? No a philosophical category I would hang a condemnation on.

Then you are wrong. The essence of things is imprinted in our very souls, there is no real excuse for ignoring it. The truth shall set you free.

#29 Comment By Another Matt On March 23, 2012 @ 9:53 am

Determinism doesn’t preclude free will. Nor does reductionism preclude phenomenal qualia or “soul,” so long as one is willing to use that word as a metaphor.

Also, I wanted to mention that essentialism is probably the right stance for elementary particles and the fundamental forces – but at that level there’s only form and no substance, in the classic senses of those words. It’s one of the wonders of the world that so much can emerge from such small behaviors – when one speaks of “mere matter,” one really does have to justify using the world “mere.”

#30 Comment By John of Dorset On March 23, 2012 @ 7:09 pm

Another Matt, actually yes, reductionist materialism, which is vague in never really defining what it means by matter and the physical, and incoherent (falling victim to the argument of reason in its many forms and corollaries, being unable to explain intentionality or consciousness,, or quality etc., etc.,), does end up explaining away phenomenal qualities. Reductionist materialism ultimately ends in eliminative materialism, which is just sheer, incoherent idiocy.

So much does not emerge from small behaviours; the greater cannot come from the lesser.

#31 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 25, 2012 @ 5:03 pm

savia…. exactly what point did I make for you? Your rambling expostulation is becoming so convoluted I have no idea what you are trying to say.

#32 Comment By savia On March 25, 2012 @ 10:51 pm


You are right, you made no point, but did fail to make a distinction between genetic pre-dispostion and determinism.

#33 Comment By savia On March 26, 2012 @ 3:25 am


I have a question for you. How has sacramental theology shaped your understanding of the physical world?