March 1995

Of Courage & Questions

Two striking and remarkable pieces in the December 1994 NOR: The first is John Cahalan's "A Liberal Case Against Gay & Lesbian Rights" with its remorseless conclusion that children are the victims of such rights -- and lifelong victims. I respect both Cahalan's courage and lucid analysis. Let this analysis be repeated by other writers a few hundred times, and it might slow or stop our headlong rush to destruction. Perhaps "headlong" (head-first) is not the precise word here.

The second thought-provoking piece is James Fitzpatrick's letter entitled "Economics Written by Poets." Like Fitzpatrick, I have been attracted by the Chesterton/Belloc writings on distributism. But Fitzpatrick asks the right question about this "great" image: "Who is going to be in charge…?" As he critiques distributism, half a dozen times he uses terms like "the state" or "state intervention" or "state power." In my opinion, anything run by the state will not only be inefficient -- a mess -- but will end up with the state grasping more and more power. I trust the state about as far as I could throw a mule or tractor. I trust the state as much as I trust big business. Not at all, that is. Decades ago at Yale, Prof. Ralph Gabriel, teaching U.S. intellectual history with his usual brilliance, said something I have never forgotten, or found an answer to: "What we are faced with…is giganticism in government or giganticism in business." What is the answer?

Sheldon Vanauken
Lynchburg, Virginia

Distributism Is Not Statist

Distributists do not advocate a welfare state or the kind of "social engineering" James Fitzpatrick worries about in his letter (Dec. 1994). Chesterton and Belloc considered distributism to be the "natural" economic order, with widespread property ownership and small-scale entrepreneurship. They favored small farming, but did not expect a return to an agrarian economy; they envisioned factories with every worker owning a part of the company. They promoted a guild system as an alternative to organized labor. They did not oppose entrepreneurs or even wealth.

Lesley Payne
San Diego, California

Slightly Stunned

John C. Cahalan's "A Liberal Case Against Gay & Lesbian Rights" (Dec. 1994) left me slightly stunned. His thesis is that if gay and lesbian lifestyles are legitimated -- i.e., are tolerated, are "open" -- then many adolescents will be drawn to homosexuality and "eventually millions" of them will be prevented from "successfully making…the choice of being a parent." Therefore, liberals who support "preventing abuse of gays" should nonetheless not support any laws that would "make homosexual behavior socially acceptable."

But homosexual behavior or "habituation," to use Cahalan's term, is not something one would choose for any length of time unless one is indeed a homosexual! The sheer negative social consequences of living as a lesbian or gay would quickly disabuse one of any romanticism about homosexual "habitation"! To worry that openly gay and lesbian people will somehow cause millions (is he really serious?) of adolescents to adopt homosexual behavior, and thus not choose parenting, is to set up a straw situation that is preposterous.

Furthermore, persistent behavior that is not part and parcel of one's constitution will not ultimately change that constitution -- i.e., from heterosexual to homosexual. If it did, individuals who attempt to be "straight" via marriage and parenting a family would not ultimately have to deal with the lie their life becomes. I have known too many men and women who, having struggled against what they thought was wrong about their lives, eventually have had to endure the pain of choosing honesty over social pressure and stop deluding themselves and their spouses, children, relatives, and friends.

As with all good liberals (from most of whom may God preserve us!), I am sure Cahalan considers himself tolerant. To quote from his article: "Certainly we should all combat gay-bashing and gay-baiting by every acceptable means…. Hate-crime laws against anti-gay violence may be justified." May I remind him of Thomas Paine's thoughts on the matter of toleration: It is not the opposite of intolerance, but the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms. The one assumes to itself the right of withholding liberty of conscience, and the other of granting it.

Jim McCrea
Piedmont, California

Ed. Note: The findings reported in Cahalan's article demonstrate that people with homosexual pasts can make the transition to heterosexual marriage; who's to say that those who succeed in doing so, with or without the help of social pressure, are dishonest? Likewise, people with heterosexual pasts have made the transition to homosexuality. Given the state of scientific knowledge, it is mere speculation to talk of one's sexual "constitution" as if it were preordained and unalterable. As Time magazine concluded in a story on research into a possible genetic predisposition to homosexuality (July 26, 1993), "Homosexuality is not simply programmed but is a complex expression of values and personality…. We may never know all of the story." If, as you say, it is not attractive to choose to be an active homosexual because of "negative social consequences," then to remove those consequences entirely by making homosexual behavior socially acceptable would presumably attract people to the homosexual community who would otherwise not be attracted, just as Cahalan says. Given how little we know about exactly why various people become active homosexuals, and given how much we do know about the disease, death, misery, and loneliness in the gay (gay?) community, it would be an act of social meanness to eliminate the social pressure, the social safety net, which has likely prevented people from entering that community.

Pure Sophistry

Let me see if I have John C. Cahalan's argument (Dec. 1994) straight. We should not allow homosexuals their civil rights because that would "make homosexual behavior acceptable." And if we did, we would be depriving "many adolescents -- eventually millions" of the choice not to be homosexual.

On the same basis, we should not allow smokers their civil rights because if we make their behavior acceptable we are depriving our young people of the choice not to be smokers. We should not allow gun owners their civil rights because if we make gun ownership acceptable we are depriving our young people of the choice not be gun owners. It may indeed be that these activities are undesirable, but this is a tortuous way of arguing the issue.

You can apply the same reasoning to any other behavior you find distasteful -- e.g., chewing gum. If it is socially acceptable, does that deprive me of the choice not to chew gum?

There are many socially acceptable behaviors of which I disapprove. But just because they exist openly, I don't feel I'm deprived of the choice not to engage in them. I'd be more deprived of choice, surely, if they weren't available as an option. When we tried to prevent people from choosing alcohol, we seemed to make more problems than we solved. When the Roman emperors tried to prevent people from choosing Christianity, it didn't have the effect they expected. Does repression ever work long term?

Education is a much better bet than repression. Arguments such as Cahalan's are pure sophistry. I am not entirely out of sympathy with the case he is trying to make, but such arguments weaken it.

Keith Hudson
Chaplain, Delaware Hospice
Dover, Delaware

Ed. Note: You seem to think that not to accord homosexuals special civil rights is repressive. But to accord homosexuals such rights, and thereby make homosexual activity socially acceptable, is also repressive -- of people, especially parents with sexually undefined or impressionable children, who have religious or moral objections to homosexual behavior. Orthodox Jews and Christians will be ostracized as "homophobes" and "bigots" -- indeed, it's already happening. Of course, if repression never works, gay rights laws won't work either. Be that as it may, perhaps you have never been swayed by social acceptability, have never, not even as a teenager, succumbed to temptation; perhaps when presented with a truly free choice you have always picked the right option. If so, you deserve a medal.

I Guess I'm Going To Hell

I've left the Catholic Church, because there are no clergy left in my city (whom I could find) and few layfolk who actually hold to orthodox Catholic doctrine as I was taught it 22 years ago in my inquiry class. There's no real basis for fellowship with other Catholics, so it was too lonely for me.

I checked out the Latin Mass people, and got momentary hope, but was soon disillusioned by their rigid and uncharitable fundamentalism.

So, I guess I'm going to Hell, but, oh well.

John Swanson
Pasadena, California


Bobby Jindal's intriguing tale ("Physical Dimensions of Spiritual Warfare," Dec. 1994) brings to mind an experience of my own with charismatic Christians. Six years ago I attended a faith-healing session. The healers, a couple in their mid-50s, seemed to be reasonably orthodox (as Pentecostals go). However, the time came for the wife of the couple to "anoint" everyone "in the Spirit." She virtually bounced down the center aisle of the Seattle Center, touching the forehead of the first person in each row, following which the people in the row would drop like a series of dominoes into their chairs. After the entire right half of the audience had been "slain in the Spirit," she worked her way across the left side, where I was sitting. I was open to being "slain," but only if it were legitimate and not a product of mass hysteria. She touched my forehead. I felt nothing. The person on my left went down, then another and another. Suddenly, I felt myself smashed violently into my chair by a rough, strong, and thoroughly invisible hand. My back was mildly strained.

I have no definite explanation. It seems unlikely that the Holy Spirit would treat a sincere seeker so shabbily. If Pentecostal faith healers are aided by a spirit other than the Holy One, then perhaps Susan's charismatic experiences in Jindal's article are not so perplexing.

By the way, my wife and I and our six children were received into the Catholic Church in December.

Robin Bernhoft, M.D.
Everett, Washington

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