This evening, for the first time, I watched the first two episodes of Richard Dawkins’ series The Root of All Evil. You may be surprised that I hadn’t seen them before, but I was busy when they were on TV. I rarely watch much television—not out of any principled stance; just because I got out of the habit.
But this entry is not going to be about my TV habits. It’s not even going to be about Richard Dawkins, his programme, or religion. Rather, it’s going to be based on something Richard Harries, then Bishop of Oxford, said in an interview in the second episode. The bishop was of the view that, although there are several prohibitions of homosexual behaviour in the Bible, modern Christians should take a more tolerant stance. His main reason for this is that the Bible was written in a time when people did not understand homosexuality and saw it as something people choose to do. Now, however, science has shown that some people are simply attracted to the same sex and cannot change. Homosexuality, in other words, is not a choice.
This view is extremely common. All over the internet, while religious fundamentalists (and even some fairly unfundamentalist types) scream that homosexuality is a choice and a sinful and dangerous one at that, others scream back that this is rubbish and that gay people are born that way.
This fundamentally misses the point. If homosexual behaviour is wrong, it shouldn’t matter whether or not people are born with an inclination to it. If some people are born with an inclination to do sexual things to children, it doesn’t make it justifiable to do so. To put it another way, if people chose their skin colour, would racism be a reasonable response to some people’s choice of black?
Well, that’s two of the standard extreme comparisons covered. I’ll mention the Nazis some other time. The point is that the question of why some men like kissing other men is irrelevant to the question of whether or not they should. To look on, not really approving, and say, ‘Ah well, they can’t help it…’ is simply patronising. It’s patronising even if you do approve! Just because I really want to do something doesn’t mean I can. I have a natural inclination to punch people in the face when they say things like, ‘Don’t worry: it may never happen!’ or ‘Come one! Let’s see that smile!’ In the latter case, one punch doesn’t seem quite enough. This inclination may or may not be something I was born with. Either way, I keep my hands to myself.
The same is not true of my sexuality. In fact I’ve had several boyfriends. And I’m not even gay—I’ve had several girlfriends too! So in some sense, this was something I could help. I have no memory of not being attracted to both men and women, but my acceptance of that fact and decision to act on it has been partly a matter of choice. Of course, for exclusively gay people, the choice is between sexual fulfilment with the same sex, an unhappy relationship with a member of the opposite sex, or chastity. It may well be that two of those choices propel them willy nilly into the first—if you’ll pardon the expression. For me, however, it was a choice between waiting for a woman to come along or taking, if you’ll pardon the religious reference, the man before me.
So why, on several occasions, have I chosen the latter? Why am I currently in a relationship with a man [or was when I wrote this] when I could wait to find a woman I’d feel sexually fulfilled with? Well, mainly because I don’t think homosexual behaviour is wrong, or immoral, or harmful, or bad, or negative, or anything like that. I don’t believe in God because I see no evidence that such a being exists; in the same way, I don’t exclude the possibility of loving a man because I see no sensible reason why I should.
Nor, as far as I can tell, do a lot of even the most vicious homophobes. I have yet to hear a reason why homosexuality is wrong that is not either based on a holy book or what looks like a post hoc rationalisation of some prejudice. Where does this prejudice even come from? Maybe people are just born prejudiced. That, however, doesn’t make it OK.