Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The subjective objective standard

Lately, in the furious debate over gay (or "same-sex") marriage, I've been hearing a trope I hadn't heard before, the "objective standard". Here's Mike Huckabee, for instance, talking about evangelical Christians leaving the GOP if the party drops its hard line on gay marriage:
"And it's not because there's an anti-homosexual mood, and nobody's homophobic that I know of," says Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor, "but many of us, and I consider myself included, base our standards not on the latest Washington Post poll, but on an objective standard, not a subjective standard."
[That link will go stale pretty quickly; sorry.]

Any group of zealots, reactionary or radical, tends to develop a tortured relationship with language. Huckabee's insistence that those who cannot abide gay marriage aren't in "an anti-homosexual mood", for instance, can't easily be justified. In other fora, those who share Huckabee's insistence are reduced either to claiming a love of "thousands of years of tradition" (that is, of traditional marriage) or the familiar "love the sinner, hate the sin" trope that Christians employ in many contexts. It all rings hollow to me, and if I actually cared what people like Huckabee thought and tried to probe their feelings, I suspect they wouldn't like what they found out about themselves any more than I would.

However, let's focus on that claim of "an objective standard".

Objective has a number of senses, but the two that I think convey what Huckabee meant are

having reality independent of the mind
expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations
Huckabee is not quoted explaining the source of the objective standard to which he and others subscribe, but in other fora that standard has been identified as the Bible. In other words, Huckabee and likeminded people arrogate to themselves objective morality, disdaining other viewpoints as non-objective — mere opinion rather than wisdom.

Why is their standard truly objective? Clearly, in their minds, it's because the Bible is the (inerrant) word of God.

What about the rest of us, who don't subscribe to their religious beliefs? To them, we're ignorant and our objections are irrelevant.

Let me tell you, Gov. Huckabee, that you can claim your standard is objective, but your claim doesn't mean anything to the rest of us — except that your statement and attitude are outrageously arrogant. You claim absolute correctness not because you have a superior argument, but because of your putatively exclusive knowledge of God's word, not to mention your certainty of God's existence and infallibility. The rest of us, alas for you, don't buy that argument. You are therefore left to claim your righteousness in the same space to which all other absolute moralists are limited: your own mind and heart.

Discussion with you is a waste of time. The rest of us will just have to figure out how to make a better nation and a more civilized society without you and your equally arrogant brethren.

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