As we ponder the "religious freedom" of Trinity Western University to enact its "Covenant," the time is ripe to reflect once more on how we arrive at our moral beliefs.
Recall that TWU, a Christian institution in British Columbia, wants to have its own law school and the recognition from Canada's Federation of Law Societies.
Like other religious institutions, it yearns for acceptance from wider society's legitimizing bodies of scholarship. The bad news, (but hardly new news), is that TWU wants to also inject into the institutional equation their "moral" policies.
That's where their "Covenant" comes in, as a voluntary, yet mandatory, agreement by students to abstain from "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman."
In other words, no sexual intimacy between homosexual men and women, or any other combination the LGBT community and the civilized world recognizes as "normal" as heterosexual sex.
It's no surprise that this moral equation, for a religious institution like TWU, is a matter of calculating an interpretation from a book about human sexuality written over twenty centuries ago -- the Bible.
It's an enigmatic, cryptic approach that needs to be abandoned: using a collection of writings put together before human rights and theories of justice had any footing in the world. Before moral theories and notions of justice were even a wisp in the human mind.
Instead, firmly entrenched in the mind and accepted into society's moral code was slavery, condoned -- even encouraged in the Bible, a book that also speaks of demons and witches and menstruating women as being "unclean." When the punishment for swearing at your parents was death. When the origins of the earth, our sun and moon, were still centuries upon centuries away from being grasped.
Could matters of human sexuality described in the Bible be an exception?
To appreciate the world described in the Bible -- whether in matters of science, ethics or sexuality -- simply reflect upon everything we've come to know in the past 2,000 years, and realize that its writers had little -- if any -- idea about any of it.
Today, a reasonably educated child is a dazzling oracle compared to any of the Bible's authors. And, reversed, if transported from ancient Palestine to modern day society, any of those same authors' faculties would be initially overwhelmed into a benumbed, then bedazzled, state of stupefaction.
And yet, these days, when it comes to reading and interpreting the Bible, and then making claims about the moral life, this procedural cluelessness fazes no one in the administration at TWU or like-minded religious organizations.
History provides no correctives; so once more the result is a convulsing, manufactured hybrid of compartmentalized thinking.
So how do we dislodge moral prejudice?
I have a challenge I'd put to the people at TWU. I think it is a helpful thought experiment for critically reflecting on our moral beliefs. I'd be happy to hear what moral theologians and philosophy professors at TWU make of it. But I won't hold my breath waiting for a response.
In any case, I've put it this way:
You have a value that you consider a solid moral principle. Trouble being, when you think about who else shares the principle, it is not shared by the most enlightened and thoughtful people in society.
Quite to the contrary, it is a belief venerated by the most brutish of thugs and roguish politicians the world over.
Worse, upon closer examination, you see that over time -- albeit with no lack of examples today -- this moral standard has been used by individuals, groups, and authorities to terrorize, incarcerate, torture, beat, even murder, countless people.
Keep in mind that the victims of the applied moral standard are well-adjusted members of society. They have, otherwise, normal lives. They have good mothers and fathers. They are good brothers and sisters. And friends. They don't, all things being equal, have any identifiable characteristics that distinguish them from other citizens and members of the community.
Except on quality: they are homosexuals.
Question: under these circumstances, should said moral value require further examination and thought?
To that end, as part of the reflection, does it matter that when Russia's secret police (or other rogue governments) are treating homosexuals sadistically, those watching back in Canada have a pronounced, shared "value" that homosexuals are indeed deviant? Most recently shown in the documentary Hunted in Russia, the sadistic treatment isn't just by the police.
It's nothing short of vigilante pogroms also carried out by ordinary Russian citizens, encouraged by leading Eastern Orthodox priests so morally enlightened to say "Gays are 'basically serving the devil.'" Even worse, that it's orchestrated by Mr. Putin, a man whom Angela Merkel has recently described as being out of touch with reality; "in another world."
Whether delusions of taking over the Ukraine or those about homosexuals, being in "another world" doesn't make matters more clear.
We can go on with more examples of shared values. And we should.
Does it also matter that people like the President of Uganda describes homosexuals as "... disgusting."
But of course we don't have to go so far to find examples of brutish, violent attitudes. British Columbia, itself, has enough sordid examples of mindless prejudice shown against those in the LGBT community.
At the end of the day, with this simple comparison of companions, mine is quite a simple moral challenge:
"Who else shares your 'moral' value?"
And if those who share our value look only to be a continued invertebrate species from the pre-Cambrian era, shouldn't that be enough to dislodge us from the assurance that the moral belief is good?
I'd even be happy to allow typical Christian evangelical parlance on this point:
"What would Jesus do?"
For me, I find Jesus's character to be enigmatic. But one thing seems to stand out about him: he wouldn't be hanging out with those sort of people. Christian or otherwise. Whether in Russia, Uganda, or Langley B.C.