A Prelate’s Petitio Principii

…Or, a bigot begs the question. John Sentamu explains why he objects to same-sex marriage. It’s a staggering piece, chock-full of circular arguments and some breathtaking disingenuousness. A prime example of the latter is his opening:

I will be the first to accept that homosexual people have suffered discrimination and sometimes worse through the decades and that the churches have, at times, been complicit in this.

Er, at times the churches have been complicit in this? Dear God, Sentamu, your Christian church has our blood on its hands. It has been the powerhouse of discrimination and violence against us for centuries, and remains so in many cases, the Roman Catholic Church and the African Anglican churches to name but two.

I think it’s instructive, as one of the commenters on this piece has done, to use Sentamu’s opening words and replace the targets of his piece. It throws into sharp relief Senatmu’s bigotry:

I will be the first to accept that slaves have suffered discrimination and sometimes worse through the decades and that the churches have, at times, been complicit in this. There is much penance to be done before we can look our enslaved brothers and sisters in the eye. But that baleful history does not diminish the need to speak the truth in love.

I firmly believe that redefining society to embrace emancipation would mean diminishing the meaning of life for most people, with very little if anything gained for black people. If I am right, in the long term we would all be losers.

Of course, if someone should ask, “how will my household be affected if servants can be free to come and go as they please?”, the answer is: not at all. But let me put the question another way: what sort of a society would we have if we came to see all social relations primarily in terms of equal rights? Society is designed to meet the different needs of its different members in different ways. It is the model of the just society that responds intelligently to differences rather than treating everyone the same.

While I am a strong supporter of justice and equality of opportunity for all people, I want to insist that with those rights go our responsibilities to one another. These are enshrined, I believe, in our legal definition of human property. Would we be a better society if we made the master-servant relation simply a private contract between two individuals, with no wider implications of society and property rights? I do not believe that we would. The issue is not the implication for any existing household,  but the implication for people in the future, when the social meaning of bondage has been changed and, in my view, diminished.

Drawing parallels between the proposed emancipation and the introduction of same-sex marriage ignores the fact that there is more than one paradigm of equality. For me, sexual equality rests on the doctrine that there is only one dominant race – the white race – and any difference of treatment on sexual grounds is therefore unjustifiable. But there is another view, based on the complementary nature of blacks and whites. In short, should there be equality between the races because a black man  can do anything a white man can do or because a good society needs the different perspectives of blacks and whites equally?

We’ve moved on from the days when people, including influential churchmen (they’re always men), could say something like the above in polite society. Sentamu may well believe that he is speaking the truth in love, but he is not. He is preaching the same old hatreds that have bedevilled humanity down the centuries.

Sentamu is likely to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury. I’m glad I’m no longer a Christian.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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4 Responses to A Prelate’s Petitio Principii

  1. jlbeeken says:

    First I thought I was reading something written 200 years ago. Then I thought I was reading something written by a 13-year old hacking his homework together. And then I got to ‘same-sex marriage’ and figured it must be somewhere in present times. And then I read ‘next Archbishop of Canterbury’ and I had to step out for some air. A re-read might kill me.

  2. novocoboro says:

    “Marriage is built around complementarity of the sexes, and therefore the institution of marriage is a support for stable families and societies.”

    This one sentence blows Sentamu’s argument out of the water. Let us take the first clause.

    By asserting such, he maintains that the coming together of two persons in a commitment of lifelong devotion can only be predicated on their being reproductive entities. This dehumanises the individuals involved into merely reproductive organisms. In none of his preceding argument does he make the case for the commitment of one person to another of the same sex as having any validity other than to diminish marriage for others. If he reduces marriage to the complementarity of the sexes, then he does not allow for the humanity of the people involved. The divorce rate testifies that complementarity of the sexes is the least reason to hold marriages together.

    The second part of his statement is not logically dependant on the first. If the institution of marriage leads to stable families and societies, then surely extending marriage to stable couples, of whatever sex, can only lead to stable societies. If such unions result in the succesful nurturing of children, does that not support stable families and societies?

    In bringing children into the argument against same-sex marriage, the antagonists not only dehumanise parents into a sexual function, they hold the children hostage to a specious argument.

    Equality never forces unjustified change on anyone. It only redeems justice for all. Sentamu is under the misguided assumption that, with no sociological or spiritual justification, same-sex marriage will diminish the institution of marriage. He offers only vague defense, and scant justification.

    His Grace’s arguments are ill-considered and badly thought out, and so may be discarded.

  3. Geoff Coupe says:

    Sentamu’s piece continues to gain responses over at The Guardian site. The majority are pointing out that he’s got it wrong. Example:

    Dr Sentamu, you have said the ‘there is still much penance to be done before we can look our homosexual brothers and sisters in the eye’

    Let me make it very clear to you that as far as I am concerned, there is NO penance that your church or the catholics could ever do to make up for the abhorrent acts of hate and discrimination that your church and the Catholics have either perpetrated or been complicit in against the gay community. Unspeakable and immeasurable damage has been done and forgiveness is not on the cards. I cannot speak for others in the gay community, but I would not imagine that I am alone in this view.

    I do not advocate that you should not be allowed to practice a religion such as yours, despite my personal views on it. Yet you feel it appropriate to tell people like me that we cannot get married?

    Your view comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of sexuality and humanity. You cannot choose your sexuality any more than you can choose the colour of your eyes, your are born with both and as such, both are worthy of respect and protection as immutable qualities. The same cannot be said of religion, as it is a choice of belief.

    I grew up in the 1980’s it he era of the unequal age of consent and section 28. We were not even allowed the small crum that is civil partnership. I had your religion shoved down my through and as a result, I was made to feel that there was something wrong with me. We are now thankfully moving to a stage where people like you and your organisations are become increasingly irrelevant. Hopefully soon you will not be allowed to sit in our legislature. You wil slowly be reduced to a faith allowed to practice so long as you do not harm others, and that is your right and is as it should be.

    Marriage does not belong to any one religion or faith, (though it was originally a pagan construct). It is something that belongs to all humans and as such I as a human have the right to marry someone of my choice. The government is simply trying to make it so that this right is reflected in our civil law. This will not degrade marriage, but will enhance it as a fully inclusive institution. Your church and others like it will not be forced to participate in or host such marriages. You will be able to continue to follow your narrow view. Given this fact, why is it so hard for you to accept this compromise?

    You have referred to marriage and children. Firstly, not all straight marriages involve children. They are no less valid than those who do. Secondly, gay people (and hopefully myself one day) have children, either through adoption or other means. Should this not mean that following your logic, gay people should marry to (In your words) create a stable foundation for the raising of children. I suppose you think that it’s dangerous for children t be raised by gays and therefore that the childre of gay parents are a lost cause, undeserving of the benefits (such as they may be) of marriage. I would just say that in my view, it is not necessary for parents to be married or for there to be two parents for a child to grow up and be raised successfully. I a living proof of this, but I am just following your arguments.

    Here is the thing. My view of marriage as someone who is not allowed one, is that it is my chance to stand up in front of the people I love and proclaim my love and commitment to the person I have chosen to spend my life with and to receive their blessing. It is a privilege which I would not take lightly or use frivolously. What is so wrong with that? What hate must you feel to deny another human being this joy?

    I would write more, but I have no words which I consider to be appropriate in retaliation for such reckless hate. Keep to your faith and beliefs if you must, but do not them and your position to inflict your faith and beliefs on others. Your actions are not something which would be enforced by your god. I would go as far as to say that he would be ashamed.

    However, I see that the countering voices are still there, Such as from the interestingly named “forequality” commenter. Oh, whoops!, the Guardian moderator has already removed it. Pity. I wanted to reproduce it as an example of how pitiful some people’s prejudice and bigotry can be…

  4. Pingback: A Prelate’s Pork Pies | Geoff Coupe's Blog

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