Same-Sex Marriage & the Rule of Law

Today the Supreme Court of California upheld Proposition 8, and many proponents and opponents of the measure have reacted strongly to the ruling without even bothering to attempt to understand it. I've already seen many bloggers condemn the members of court without even suggesting they've at all considered the actual issue under review. The court cannot simply overturn a free and fair vote without a very clear legal basis. If one reads the majority decision and honestly disagrees with the legal analysis, then I have no objection. If one simply laments the decision and its effects, I sympathize. But it's downright ignorant and irresponsible to condemn the six justices who supported the ruling as bigots without even knowing the rationale for the ruling.

I know I'm only a second-semester law student, but I've really come to appreciate how little the general populace understands the concept of the rule of law. My first instinct upon hearing the ruling was to find a copy of the decision and try to understand the issue and the reasons for the decision. I've gotten lots of experience examining this type of document, and while I don't expect everyone to be able to understand it themselves, they can all at least find basic summaries in news stories. It's not at all difficult to educate oneself in the age of the internet.

Let's be clear: I'm a strong supporter of same-sex marriage – I voted against Amendment 2 here in Florida, which was stronger than Prop 8 because it also constitutionally prohibited civil unions and anything which resembles civil unions – but I'm an equally strong supporter of the rule of law. If the court could overturn this vote, then they could just as easily also overturn a future vote which would legalize same-sex marriage. With current demographic trends, it's only a matter of time until same-sex marriage is legal in California and, eventually, the rest of the country. I hope to live to see the day when it's legal here in the Bible Belt!

The court did its constitutionally appointed job, so there's no shame on them. There is instead shame on the Californians who voted for it out of bigotry and those outside of the state who organized and financed support for it. Your days as a majority are numbered.



Reason & Compassion

The two keystone virtues of Humanism are reason and compassion. I've recently come to appreciate that on this blog, while I've emphasized the former thoroughly, I've somewhat neglected the latter. Since I believe this life is the only one we have, that we should make the most of it, and that we're happiest when we work with others to improve the world, my goal in writing should be to truly help others rather than simply entertain my readers by discussing the absurdity of religion.

It's easy enough to point out why a belief is false; it's more difficult, and more productive, to identify why it's believed and address a believer's deeper concerns. Let's look at an example. Modern science quickly and easily dismantles the creationist worldview as a matter of fact, but we need to realize the centrality of a creationist's belief that God is in total control of the universe and thus of their lives. We can, and we should, explain why their beliefs don't match reality, and we need not always be gentle in doing so, but we can't forget that creationists are humans just like ourselves who happen to have a mistaken viewpoint. If one is to make any progress in promoting any idea, it does no good to simply dismiss anyone who disagrees as stupid. We need to appreciate that creationists don't cling to a non-scientific view of the universe because they're truly convinced by the evidence that it's correct; they cling to it because they're afraid of what it means if it's wrong. It's important to explain, therefore, how evolution has provided us with an instinctive morality and the ability to reason, and that the sciences have given us a greater understanding and control of our lives than religion ever did. It's important to make them understand that accepting evolution doesn't equate with descent into moral anarchy. Laughing at believers can be fun, but it has only entertainment value and should never be the majority of my religious commentary because it serves only ourselves. Showing believers they don't need to believe in the supernatural in order to be happy, on the other hand, is a work of both reason and compassion.

The non-religious generally understand the practical impossibility of truly hating the sin while also truly loving the sinner, but I have failed to realize that in hating religious belief, I end up hating the religious believer. It's unacceptable, however, to have greater concern for an idea, whether that idea be religious or secular, true or false, than for humankind. Since my innate tendency is to do otherwise, I must focus more on loving the irrational person than hating their irrationality. None of this should at all imply that I should ever back down from communicating or defending my disbelief, simply that I shouldn't let winning every argument and pointing out every logical error forever trump all other concerns. Perhaps the most frustrating experience in life is attempting to have a conversation on a particular topic with a person who has adopted an irrational stance toward it, but that doesn't excuse me for becoming upset when I should anticipate the probable reaction from the beginning. It is irrational, and thus hypocritical, of me to expect others to be rational. I shouldn't even respond in kind to those who antagonize me. There is little virtue in treating people well who return the favor; there is, however, much in rising above pettiness and treating others with the compassion they have not earned.



Being Positive

Yesterday I finished taking my first set of finals in law school. I studied more for those four exams than I did combined over the course of six years pursuing two undergraduate degrees, when I found studying for tests mostly superfluous. I've also moved into a new apartment with my wife in a different part of the city. I mention all of this to explain my lack of activity on this blog in the past few months. Not only have I had very little time to actually write, but I've been so busy with my education, my marriage and our new dwelling that I haven't given religion much thought except where it happens to intersect with my daily life.

At some point, however, it seems there's really nothing more for me to say about humanity's innate tendency to think and act irrationally. I really tire of being so critical and negative, even when I think the target in question is fully worthy of all the disdain I could ever muster. I don't even know whether there's really something positive to promote in Humanism. Its ideals are so high-level as to be practically useless for daily living, and the non-religious tend to be so individualistic that we have difficulty organizing and building real communities. I intend to concentrate on developing my own personal virtue without reference to any ideology or philosophy.