Arguments Against People Are Not Always Tu Quoque

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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72 Responses

  1. Jason Kuznicki says:

    When it comes to choosing representatives, we need arguments for and against people. We absolutely must consider their character.

    Yes, we should consider stances on issues, which must be in some sort of balance with the character factor that we don’t need to work out right here.

    And whenever it does come down to evaluating character, by all means yes — ask if they guy is a hypocrite. On that basis, and as a same-sex marriage advocate, I’m completely fine with saying that anyone who kept his own child a secret for many years isn’t fit to be a U.S. Senator. He flunks the character test, and he’d flunk it even if he agreed with me.

    Does that count?Report

    • Absolutely, but I was trying to say something slightly different: That if a person or a group of people is arguing we must relegate a certain group of people to second-class status because they do X, it’s acceptable to point out that those same people have been doing some form of X for years. In fact, I think it’s necessary, because it sheds light on the fact that theres more going on than simply the X everyone points at.Report

      • mark boggs in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        You mean that their opposition is not the principled opposition they insist it is but something more closely aligned with the “ick” factor of gay sex? (Gasps)Report

  2. I agree with this – when used in this particular manner, the argument is just a particularly harsh way of exposing an inconsistency in the anti-SSM argument itself. It essentially amounts to asking: “if allowing SSM would amount to condoning sin/undermining the purpose of marriage/etc., and such policies should not be permitted, then why do we continue to recognize the validity of marriages where one spouse is an admitted adulterer?” or even the reductios “Should we start requiring couples who divorce because of adultery to start refunding their tax savings from filing jointly for every year in which adultery was occuring? Should couples who reconcile after adultery be charged with tax fraud?”Report

  3. Sam says:

    Goodness – this is now a war (discussion) being fought (discussed) on three fronts (comment threads).

    My only disagreement here is with two, and maybe not so much with two, but with the exclusion of a 2.5 maybe. Although the Biblical argument is potent, I don’t think you have to make the Biblical argument to get at the issue of animus as a motivating factor. If you can show that the individual proposes nothing that would in anyway affect his OWN existence (and, in Domenici’s case, his own moral failings), I think we can then begin to consider the possibility that he’s being dishonest when he says this about the institution of marriage itself and not about some personal distaste for homosexuality.Report

  4. Admit it. You wrote this because you forgot to put up a Thursday Night Bar Fight.Report

  5. Kazzy says:

    This is what I thought Sam was arguing all along. Or at least what I thought. And I’m a good dude. And Tod’s a good dude. Clearly we’re right.Report

  6. Jaybird says:

    I have a handful of really awesome arguments in support of SSM. There’s the whole matter of taste vs. matter of morality thing, there’s the whole “Marriage In The Eyes Of God” vs. “Marriage In The Eyes Of The State” distinction, and I even have a handful of counterarguments for if someone brings up that SSM necessarily leads to Plural Marriage.

    I have arguments prepared to deal with religious folks, I have arguments prepared to deal with folks who want to “protect marriage”, I have arguments prepared to deal with folks who are fans of tradition above all else.

    I am ready to get into the weeds here.

    For the life of me, there are so many very *INTERESTING* arguments to have on the history of marriage, the purpose of marriage, the amount of jurisdiction a society should have over such things as marriage…

    And, instead, we’re talking about a politician.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

      You know why there’s no nationwide SSM? It’s not because of interesting discussions about the purpose and provenance of mariage, It’s because of the fishing politicians.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        If the argument is “This politician’s infidelity is an opportunity to unseat him. Lord knows, he needs unseating and we can replace him with someone who will accurately represent We The People”, then awesome.

        I suppose we’re far enough away from Clinton to pull that off.Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to Jaybird says:

      And, regardless of the (in)evitability of plural marriage given same sex marriage – what strong and consistent arguments are there against plural marriage anyway?

      In Canada, the laws against plural marriage were recently upheld by the supreme court, on the strength of what seemed to me like some very flimsy arguments indeed.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to dragonfrog says:

        “It’s an absolute PITA — possibly entirely impossible — to arrange an equitable legal arrangement between more than two people that covers the basic stuff a marriage does”.

        It’s a really, really potent argument. Civil marriage — the bit the government cares for — is basically a mutual and equal power and authority sharing arrangement.

        Bob and Cindy are married. Bob gets into an accident and is unconcious on life-support. Cindy is, due to her marriage (and absent any post-marriage legal changes, all of which require a lawyer) the one to make the call on Bob’s treatment. If it was Cindy in a coma, Bob would make the call. (Fair and mutual exchange of authority)

        Now, say there was Tina — Bob’s other wife. What happens to Bob if Tina and Cindy disagree on treatment?

        That’s just one tiny aspect — medical authority. Such power of attorney stuff and decision making abilities (for each other, for their mutual children, etc) is just PART of the whole ‘civil marriage’ setup — there’s tax issues, issues of responsibility for debt and a lot more.

        It’s not insolvable, but it’s not really possible for three people to have the same sort of equitable arrangement as two, which means “solving” such a problem requires, well, a lawyer and a lot of time to go through the possible permutations and figure out how the authority and responsibilities break down.

        Doing it “automatically” like a civil marriage does is, well, difficult to impossible. It’s simply the sort of thing that doesn’t lend itself to a boilerplate, simple solution — not an equitable one, leastwise.

        Historically, such arragnements have given the man a great deal of power, and the women little to none — and even then the ‘first’ wife held more authority than the ‘second’. While THAT arrangement would be simple and uniform enough for a government to use as a boilerplate (or default) setup, it’s not one that could be applied here.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Morat20 says:


          What I think you’ve demonstrated is that the arguments against plural marriages are entirely different than those against SSM, meaning there isn’t even a slippery slope linking the two.Report

  7. zic says:

    The Senator in question – an many, many others on the anti side of the SSM debate – argue that because it is considered a Biblical sin, those that “practice homosexual lifestyles” should not be granted the same equal status under the law.

    I would question any policy a Senator promotes solely based on Biblical text. Something about the first amendment. Just imagine an argument for legislation raising taxes to fully fund welfare needs based on the words of Jesus’s oft-repeated instruction to provide for the poor. . .Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to zic says:

      The question on the floor seems to be whether Domenici’s personal life reflects upon his ability to pontificate upon the importance and meaning of marriage. His affair indicates that he failed to live up to his own ideals. Evidence of a sustained or repeated affairs would suggest that he does not take those ideals very seriously.

      In either case the substantive argument is different than the argumentor. It is the argumentor’s credibility that is at issue. The argument is valid, or not. The argumentor is credible, or he is not. A valid argument from an impeached argumentor is still valid, but less persuasive.

      Where we get into trouble here is confusing credibility and persuasiveness. Domenico fails to persuade regardless of the validity of his arguments — and it doesn’t help his cause that not only do the arguments come from a hypocrite, but substantively they suck, too.Report

      • zic in reply to Burt Likko says:

        The question on the floor seems to be whether Domenici’s personal life reflects upon his ability to pontificate upon the importance and meaning of marriage. His affair indicates that he failed to live up to his own ideals. Evidence of a sustained or repeated affairs would suggest that he does not take those ideals very seriously.

        But isn’t the question of his oath to uphold the constitution as a US Senator also in question? That ideal hold that our government will not endorse a particular religion; yet here he is, asking that our government endorse a particular view of marriage based on his religion.

        To me, it’s his integrity in carrying out his office, not his marital fidelity, we should debate when we question he trust we should give him as he not only pontificates upon the topic of Same Sex Marriage, but decides US Law on the topic.Report

        • Mark Thompson in reply to zic says:

          I’m not sure this is relevant given that Domenici has been retired for 6 years.Report

          • Somehow in all the hubub, I either forgot that or didn’t learn it to begin with.Report

          • zic in reply to Mark Thompson says:

            /facepalm. Too much shoveling manure in the sun today.

            It does not change the moral calculus in using Domenici’s worth based on his personal actions as a metric for judging the credence we should give his message. He still fails for promoting policy that endorses his religious belief despite his knowledge that the First says the government shall not endorse a particular religion.

            If a particular religion is unconstitutional in general, is that also not so in part? We won’t tell you to be Christian anywhere else, but in this one thing, you must abide by a brief sentences in the Christian Bible, themselves still subject to debate?

            It’s not just his affair that makes him a failed messenger; rather the contrary. The bible claims adultery as a sin, one of the ten biggies (which, btw, does not include homosexuality) but it’s also got second wives and concubines all over the place; there’s a whole lot of wiggle room on that one.

            It’s his failing to comprehend separation of church and state that gets me, for this is not religious duty it’s civic duty, and this is a debate about the conflict between religious tradition and civic right. Domenici fails to garner trust in the realm of civics.Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to Mark Thompson says:

            Really? I thought that after his public, humiliating disgrace, he just took a few months off and then came back and started spouting off about Christian morality as if nothing had happened.

            Oh, crap, that was Domenech. I guess it would be ironic if Domenici had copied him.Report

            • In another thread recently I opined that the last refuge of the scoundrel is not patriotism, but piety.

              I don’t know if Domenici claimed that he’d got right with God after his scandal broke. But it wouldn’t surprise me — it’s a common page in a lot of political playbooks.Report

  8. Kolohe says:

    Your Mama is a Tu Quoque.Report

  9. Chris says:

    Since we don’t seem to have any evangelicals here, or at least any who are willing to speak up, and since it seems quite clear that some people (particularly Sam, but others as well) aren’t familiar with the way they think about these things, I thought I’d act as one for a minute to present the case that Sam’s argument is nothing more than a fallacious use of ad hominem to quoque.

    First, I’m a method actor, so let me give you a short description of my prep work. While I was raised Catholic and am now a post-theist (thanks Jaybird), I grew up in the heart of the Bible Belt, with a bunch of friends whose parents worked for the Baptist Sunday School Board in Nashville, and spent much of my early adulthood hanging out with attendees of Olivet Nazarene University, Cedarville University, Cornerstone University, Trevecca Nazarene University, and a few other (I had one friend from Bob Jones), and remain friends with some of them today (some of whom are still fundamentalists or evangelicals — there’s a difference — and some of whom are now, if not post-theists, at least something close to it), so I have spent my entire life around conservative Christians. On top of that, about 10 years ago, my parents left the Catholic Church and became evangelicals themselves, albeit relatively liberal ones. So while, unlike Jay, I’ve never been an evangelical or fundamentalist myself, I know them pretty well, and feel comfortable acting as one for the moment. If I make any mistakes, Jaybird and anyone else who knows them better than I should feel free to make corrections.

    First, while almost all of the evangelicals I know today are anti-gay marriage (I know a few who aren’t), there are two general types of positions that the anti-gay marriage evangelicals take. The first is a strong opposition, which would include supporting laws against homosexuality generally, and gay marriage in particular, and even campaigning or donating to people who campaign for these laws. The second, weaker opposition, involves simply not voting for legalizing gay marriage (and perhaps not voting for politicians who are explicitly in favor of legalizing gay marriage). In my role as evangelical, I’ll be taking the strong position, but let me briefly mention the weak position, which I think is wholly immune to any of Tod’s three arguments, and not even touched by Sam’s fallacious one.

    The weak position says that homosexual behavior is a sin, and while the holder’s of the weak position would be disappointed if gay marriage is legalized, they’re not particularly motivated to oppose it. However, because it is a sin, they cannot, as Christians, vote for a law (or a politician who supports a law) that would condone a sin, because to allow another to sin is itself a sin. So, these people would also not have been able to vote for laws that legalize adultery, or any other sinful act, and probably would vote for laws that outlaw it again, but aren’t going to campaign for such laws because, again, their opposition to these behaviors in others is weak. Most of them, I think, would say that sinning is a decision that people make, and the reckoning is between the sinner and God, so the laws of man are ultimately superfluous. Again, the only reason they won’t support laws that legalize a sin is because to enable a sin is itself a sin.

    OK, now let me step into character. Hold on, I have to read some Corinthians and some Book of Revelation… OK, got it. Hi, my name is (what’s the opposite of Chris? Jim, Jim is the opposite of Chris) Jim, a Southern Baptist from (what’s the opposite of Tennessee?) Birmingham. I would give you my testimony, but I’m short on time, so let’s get into it (suffice it to say it involves something about me hitting rock bottom, getting on my knees and praying to Jesus to save me, being saved, then burning all of my secular music and buying Jesus Freak and listening to it in my car incessantly).

    I am opposed to gay marriage for two reasons: because according to the Bible homosexuality is a sin, and because it is harmful to the Biblical institution of marriage, which is between a man and a woman. Now, some here have argued that because I vote against gay marriage laws, and I support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, but I haven’t spent any time supporting new laws that make adultery a crime or make divorce more difficult, if not illegal altogether, I am a hypocrite who only supports legal consequences for the behavior of others, and not my own (potential) behaviors (it goes without saying that my wife and I, who met at Samford and married when I was 20 and she was 19, have never even thought about divorce, and neither of us has ever been unfaithful). This is absurd! It completely misunderstands the evangelical position!

    I could point out that getting rid of modern divorce laws, and outlawing adultery, are of course things that I would support, but that the secularization of American society has made such things impossible, but some folks here have argued that this is a form of cowardice at best. While I think that’s a shortsighted view born of bias against Christians, I will point out that there are more Biblical reasons for not actively pursuing these laws in the same way that I and my fellow Christians are pursuing ant-gay marriage legislation and opposing pro-gay marriage legislation. Adultery is a sin, but it is not, for most people (outside of California and New York, at least), a way of life. People don’t get married in order to commit adultery. Adultery laws don’t make it possible for people to live in a constant state of sin. It is possible to commit adultery once, and then repent. Gay marriage, on the other hand, commits one to living in a constant state of sin. Legalizing adultery made it possible for people to commit a sin. Legalizing gay marriage makes it possible for them to live in constant sin. For Christians, these are two different categories of things, and it is much more important to oppose a constant state of unrepentant sin than it is to oppose isolated incidents. While we are opposed to the secularization of society, one sign of which legalized adultery certainly is, we are much more opposed to the extreme secularization that promotes a life of constant sin. We are concerned for the souls of every man, as Jesus taught us to be.

    You may be thinking, “But Jim, doesn’t divorce allow someone to live in a constant state of sin as much as gay marriage?” Yes, it does, and you have hit on what amounts to a crisis among the evangelical community (see, e.g.). Divorce is a tricky subject, in part because so many Christians are going against the Bible and seeking divorce. However, we are trying to do something about this. We are opposed to no-fault divorce laws, because they incredibly harmful to families, especially children, but the path around them is a difficult one, both politically and culturally. While we evangelicals have not been fighting to overturn no-fault divorce laws directly in most places, we have at the state and federal levels been fighting for laws that will undermine those laws: covenant marriage, for example, as well as laws that require longer waiting periods before a divorce can be awarded, requiring premarital counseling, various “community marriage policies, and in states where it is politically feasible to do so, we are fighting to do away with no-fault laws in the hope that their success at saving families will inspire other states where the current political climate is less friendly to the Christian worldview to reconsider their own no-fault laws.

    So, even if we ignore the fact that Sam and others have argued that the behavior of a few prominent Christians calls into question the motivations of all Christians on the subject of gay marriage, an argument that even the most secular philosophy and rhetoric professors at liberal universities would point out is illogical, the other part of their argument, that we are fighting to outlaw the sins of others while ignoring our own possible sins, is clearly factually incorrect and fails to understand the Christian reasoning behind opposition to gay marriage.

    OK, this is Chris now. Jim is too polite to say this, but I think it’s clear that Sam’s own position is born of ignorance and bias. It is undoubtedly the case that Christians, like all of us, are imperfect, and often fail to live up to their ideals. For Sam’s argument to be anything but fallacious, it would be necessary to show that a.) their arguments for opposing the legalization of gay marriage are built on precisely the same foundation as their positions on adultery and divorce, which as Jim points out is not true, or b.) their behavior, in committing adultery and getting divorces, shows that they don’t actually hold the ideals they claim to hold, which would require that holding ideals always means living up to the. Sam’s argument fails on both these points, and combined with the fallacious aspect of the argument, I think this means that his argument is toothless.Report

    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Chris says:


      I appreciate the length and the depth of your response. I still disagree, for each of the following reasons:

      1. None of things that evangelicals are apparently proposing to do to straight people is the same as what they’re proposing to do to gay people, because in every policy proposal you’re describing, straight people still end up with more fundamental legal rights than gays do. That is precisely the sort of evidence that I would describe as fundamentally hypocritical. Until Evangelicals are willing to stick their own with the same sort of legal exclusion from institutions that they’re willing to damn gays with, they’re being hypocrites.

      2. Divorce and adultery have done more damage to the institution of marriage than gay marriage literally ever could. One is far more obviously a threat than the other, and yet Evangelicals only demand second class citizenship for gays. Straights are never – NEVER – to be punished in any sort of substantive way for their assault upon the institution of marriage, whether they have engaged in divorce, in adulterous affairs, or more severely, any of the sorts of abuse that can exist within marriage.

      3. There is no state in America that is “less friendly to the Christian worldview.” No state regulates Christian marriage; no state regulates Christian partnering. Christians (Evangelical and otherwise) are free to do whatever they want and states will repeatedly honor their commitments.

      4. I fail to see “bias” in calling (some) Christians cowards, especially if those (some) Christians refuse to attack obvious social problems simply because they’d risk taking a political hit. If they truly believe in what they claim to, political damnation should be a minimal price to pay. I note that there are sects of Christians who have no issue being political outsiders while still championing their own worldview: the Quakers and Amish come immediately to mind, although there are others. But Evangelical Christians seem to want not only want political power but also to pay no cost for doing wanting it, so they very carefully tailor their message. There’s a reason they’re not out there campaigning against straight people, and that’s because they recognize that damning straight people everywhere would be calamitous politically. So they pick on easier targets who are less likely to damage them politically. It has only been within the last few years that we’ve seen the tide begin to shift on the Evangelical assault on gays; older, more hostile populations are dying out and younger, more tolerant populations are filling that void; Evangelical political leaders will eventually have to choose if total political marginalization is worth the cost of pursuing the war against social mores.

      5. Yes, Christians are imperfect, just like we all are, except that I don’t propose laws to regulate Christian behavior, and (some) Christians routinely propose laws to regulate everybody else’s behavior. That is not a, but the, key difference.Report

      • Chris in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        Sam, I think you’ve missed the main point: the arguments against gay marriage and the arguments against divorce/adultery are different, to the evangelical Christian, from a Biblical and political point of view. They’re simply not the same, and marriage is only one part of it (the living in sin is, in my experience, the bigger part of it, and you’ve ignored that).

        Also, if you don’t think that conservative evangelicals think that some states are more hostile to Christianity than others, you have never ever had a conversation with a conservative evangelical Christian about politics or secularization. I recommend you try doing so. You could start by hanging out over at Evangelical Outpost. Those people tend to be fairly intelligent.Report

        • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Chris says:

          1. If you’re asking me to acknowledge that Evangelicals make distinctions between gay marriage and adultery, I’m happy to do that. I’m asking YOU to acknowledge that Evangelicals make distinctions between gay marriage and adultery, only giving a legal fig about one of those two things. Gays are to be punished by the state for being gay; adulterers/divorcers/abusers are free to do whatever they’d like.

          2. Evangelical Christians are free to pursue the punishment of those that live in sin. I welcome them to do so. In fact, I welcome them to wage all out war on the straight community, at least to the same degree that they have on the gay community. But they won’t – which is precisely my point.

          3. I recognize that Evangelical Christians believe that there are states hostile to them, but I don’t define “hostile” as “They won’t do what we want to people!” I’ll be willing to reconsider when Evangelical Christians are forbidden from marrying, adopting, visiting one another in the hospital, etc.Report

          • Kimsie in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            Then reconsider, sir.
            Based on the Cali law about no more reeducating gays into straights.Report

          • Chris in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            “only giving a legal fig about one of those two things”

            Again, if being willing to expend political capital on hopeless causes is your measure of the honesty of a person’s statements about their values, then the only people whom you are going to consider honest about their values are people with no political capital. I think you’re being unfair, and making an argument with no real empirical or principled basis here.

            I’m pretty sure evangelicals are very serious about adultery, they just don’t have any clear legal path to doing something about it. If they did, I do not doubt that they would be fighting to make adultery if not a crime, then something that results in penalties of some sort (civil, perhaps). And again, adultery ~= gay marriage, from an evangelical point of view, so it makes little sense to say that not pursuing legal remedies for one sheds any light on their true views of the other.Report

            • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Chris says:

              Of course they have a clear legal path to do something about it (whether it is adultery or divorce or whatever). They are free to make it an issue, to champion its opposition, to refuse to vote for candidates who don’t back their positions.

              What they don’t have is a winning legal path. They’re not going to get adultery banned; they’re not going to get adulterers right to (re)marry stripped from them. They attack gays because they know they can attack gays and, up until the last few years anyway, not lose political capital doing so. They don’t attack straights because they recognize that they’re more likely lose political capital doing so. I don’t think (some) Evangelical Christians are stupid. I think they’re making political calculations. I think that those political calculations are where the hypocrisy comes from. And I think that those political calculations are what makes CLEAR the difference between what they care about and what they don’t.

              What has done more damage to the institution of marriage: gay marriage or adultery/divorce?Report

              • Chris in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Sam, two points:
                1) You answer your own argument with a damning counterargument (see above and below about wasting political capital).

                Sorry for the all caps, but you seem to be ignoring that point altogether.Report

              • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Chris says:


                1. Yes, and the fact that they’re not wasting political capital on the things that they claim to believe indicates that they must not believe in those things very much.

                2. It is remarkably convenient the way in which these two sins are defined differently. I guess it just happens to benefit straight people in a way that it doesn’t benefit gay people. God works in mysterious ways.Report

              • Chris in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Sam, the sins aren’t defined differently. I ask this seriously: are you completely unfamiliar with “Biblical” Christianity, that is fundamentalism and evangelicalism (they are two different things) in American Protestantism? You certainly seem to be. The difference is between committing a sin and later having the opportunity repent (because one is no longer committing the sin), and committing a sin and never having the opportunity to repent because one continues to commit the sin. Gay marriage commits people to a life of sin. Adultery is a sin that can, of course, become a lifestyle (that’s what divorce does, but see above about how they are choosing to expend their political capital on the issue of divorce), but adultery can be a one time sin, or a 3 times sin, or a 10 times sin, or whatever. Gay marriage is by its nature, to an evangelical, constant sin. Now, gay sex is, like adultery, a one time sin, or a 3 times sin, or a 10 times sin, etc., but gay marriage is a life of sin.

                Honestly, if you don’t understand this distinction and why it is a principled one, and not merely a convenient one, then I don’t see any point in having a conversation with you about the values of evangelicals. On top of that, I find that your position on their values, namely that they don’t actually have the values they say the have, because a.) some politicians cheat and b.) they don’t expend political capital in the way that you would want them to means that you can speak to whether they actually hold their values, to be incredibly condescending.

                I know you think you’re better than them. I think that’s your problem.Report

              • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Chris says:


                You’re welcome to assume anything about me that you’d like. There’s certainly nothing stopping you from doing so. But I’ll disagree with the idea that “I think you think you’re better than them.” I don’t think I’m better than them.

                I think that they’re (and by they’re, I don’t mean all Evangelical Christians, but rather, the ones who propose to use the state’s power to oppress gay citizens while leaving straight citizens virtually untouched as a means to protect marriage) being hypocritical at best. Even the policy solutions which you described that would affect straight people do not function in the same way that the policy solutions which affect gay people would.

                Meanwhile, we probably need to also discuss convenience. It is convenient that their understanding of the world leads them to conclusions which most hurt those that are least likely to be members of their own communities. It is convenient that their understanding of the Bible happens to lead to conclusions that they’re willing to accept and not ones that they’re unwilling to accept.

                I’ll note though that we’re not having this discussion broadly; I don’t just believe that (Some) Evangelical Christians do this. Everybody does this.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                the fact that they’re not wasting political capital on the things that they claim to believe indicates that they must not believe in those things very much.

                Limited time and resources means we cannot achieve everything we would like to achieve. So let’s say I have only enough resources to make a serious shot at accomplishing one thing, that I value thing X and thing Y equally, and that one of those things I am more likely to achieve than the other. What choice should I make?

                1. I could choose to pursue the less likely thing, which would diminish my odds of achieving any of the things that I want.

                2. I could choose to put my efforts into each simultaneously, even though I do not have resources to do so, which would reduce my odds of achieving any of the things that I want to zero.

                3. I could choose to purse the more likely thing, which would increase my odds of achieving at least one of the things I want.

                By your logic, it seems that one and three would demonstrate that the premise is false, that I don’t value X and Y equally. So to hold to my beliefs, I must make the self-sabotaging choice of 2.

                Your logic does not allow for such a thing as strategic choice.Report

              • Sam Wilkinson in reply to James Hanley says:

                My logic does allow for strategic case, but it does not allow me to believe that they care about both issues equally. The strategic choice is what tells us what issue they care more about. The strategic choice reveals priorities.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


                1. If they choose the one they care most about, that’s not defined as strategic. That’s just following one’s preference order. There’s nothing strategic about doing the thing you most want to do.

                2. The strategic logic demonstrated above explicitly allows for choosing one case over the other when both are equally desired. You didn’t address that, but it is the critical part, the element that goes straight to the heart of your claim and formally shows that while your claim may be true enough in many cases, it cannot be strictly, absolutely, true.Report

              • Sam Wilkinson in reply to James Hanley says:

                I think Chris’s acknowledge of rank anti-gay bigotry in the Evangelical community is what should give pause when assuming that both cases are “equally desired.” If we knew of no evidence that suggests that homosexuality might be the driver here (rather than the defense of marriage), that might be one thing, but we have PLENTY of evidence making the bigotry clear.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                But it’s not specifically the issue of SSM opponents I was addressing with my example at 3:25 p.m. I was addressing the broader issue of your belief that actions always and necessarily determine a person’s real beliefs; that a person’s choice of X over Y necessarily proves they like X better.

                My example refutes that by showing that it is logically possible to choose one equal thing over another without revealing an actual preference for the thing chosen over the thing not chosen.

                That doesn’t mean we normally do, and it doesn’t mean people’s actions often do reveal their true beliefs contra their own words. So your belief may hold true most of the time. But it cannot hold as an absolute truth, because logic demonstrates that in at least some cases a choice can be made between two equally valued things without in actuality valuing one of them more than the other.

                What my example implicitly relied on is the concept of expected value. Think of a game show where the host tells you there is a 20% chance that there is $1,000 behind door number 1, and an 80% chance that there is $1,000 behind door number two. Which do you choose? If you’re rational you choose door number 2 because it has a higher expected value (80% x $1,000 = $800) than door number 1 has (20% x $1,000 = $200). That doesn’t mean you valued one $1,000 prize more than another. That means you just rationally calculated the odds between two equally desirable outcomes.Report

              • Sam in reply to James Hanley says:


                Respectfully, I want to simply say that I disagree with you. My working assumption is that those who choose A instead of B preferred A to B, not that they were both equally desirable. I assume this in all cases. I presume it because, to my mind, their action shows that one meant more than the other. It might be that A’s costs were less than B’s, but that reasoning is of no concern to me; all that matters is that A was preferred to B.

                I’m not sure then what it says about religion though if we see religious peoples as making cost-oriented choices about what will be easier for them to inflict upon their opponents.Report

              • Chris in reply to Chris says:

                I’ll expand on the all caps portion. Most of the evangelicals I know these days are of the weak opposition sort (see my first comment). Most of them aren’t worried about whether Jason’s marriage is going to harm their marriage, or their childrens’ marriages, because they really don’t think it will. What they are worried about is Jason’s soul, and Jason’s husband’s soul, and the souls of everyone who chooses to live in what they view as a state of sin. And while these people are not, for the most part, likely to give money to the Family Research Council in support of an anti-gay marriage campaign, if a referendum on gay marriage is placed on their ballot, they will vote against gay marriage every time.

                Now, is there a lot of anti-gay bigotry among evangelicals. Duh! Does the fact that some politicians cheat on their wives suggest that’s the case? Obviously not.Report

              • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Chris says:

                I don’t know what to make of that second paragraph. Are you saying that anti-gay bigotry is unrelated to the different ways in which (Some) Evangelical Christians propose to treat gay marriage and adultery/divorce/abuse?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Of course they have a clear legal path to do something about it …What they don’t have is a winning legal path.

                Eh, Chris kind of blew it with the inclusion of “legal” in there. But I’m pretty sure he meant that they don’t have a clear, remotely-possible-of-winning, path to making any laws punishing it it. His whole point was about picking one’s political battles carefully, after all, not about whether one could, as a matter of law, pick some particular battle.Report

              • Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

                Yeah, I really meant political rather than legal.Report

              • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Chris says:

                The picking of political battles is what tells us that there is more going on here than a simple “defense of marriage.” Because, and I ask again, what has done more harm to marriage: gay marriage or adultery/divorce/abuse?Report

              • Chris in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                On top of your ignorance of evangelicals, you seem to be ignorance of political rhetoric. “Defense of marriage” is the marketing slogan. Sin is the justification, to evangelicals. Since you seem to be completely unable to address this, I’ve reached my peak frustration level for a civil conversation. Have a good one.Report

              • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                So (Some) Evangelical Christians lie in their marketing? I feel like that God fellow had something to say about that, but then, I’m not an Evangelical Christian.

                (Please note: I posted this in the wrong comment subthread, deleted that, and posted this here. My apologies for not knowing how to operate simple commenting systems.)Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                So (Some) Evangelical Christians lie in their marketing?

                Choosing to emphasize one element of the issue rather than another is not the same as lying. Are you really that guy who specializes in always demonizing his opponents by presenting them in the worst possible light? Because if so, I have to say that I’m not sure I see as much daylight between you and your opponents as you’d probably like me to see.Report

              • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:


                I was asking Chris a question. He’s the one who said that “defense of marriage” is just a marketing slogan, not really what Evangelicals mean. And he has argued here that the issue isn’t marriage, but rather, individual states of sin. Codifying gay marriage into law would be codifying constant sin on the individual level. Evangelicals are seeking to protect gays from that outcome apparently.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Chris said it “is the marketing slogan.” You rephrased that as “just a marketing slogan.”

                There’s a difference. I hope we don’t think so differently that you can’t see that, or think your rephrasing doesn’t matter.Report

              • Chris in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Sam, I really see no reason in having a conversation when you automatically go to “lying” based on what I said. Seriously, if you don’t think your biases are showing, you’re not looking hard enough.

                So, I will answer this last question, and that’s it. Feel free to respond, of course. Last word is all yours should you choose to have it.

                No, it is not just a marketing slogan. It is the marketing slogan because it will appeal to people for whom “LIFE OF SIN!” is not as much of a deterrent, which is to say most people who aren’t hard core conservative Christians. Marriage is, however, one of their motivations, as evangelicals take marriage very seriously (both personally and, as I said in my initial comment, politically, though in the latter context, they have had to be somewhat creative about it). So no, they’re not lying, they’re framing and choosing to focus on one aspect in their campaigns because it is the aspect with a broader appeal. Honestly, if you would just go out and have a conversation with some evangelicals about this, you would know this already, and you would be able to get rid of this animosity that breeds your “What, they said one thing and not the other thing? They must be lying! They don’t value what they say they value!” approach to them.

                Like I said, check out Evangelical Outpost. They’ll point you to other places, as well.Report

              • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:


                1. You don’t know who my friends are and aren’t and I’m not interested in providing you with snapshots of them. Sufficed to say, I will simply disagree with you about who I have in my life.

                2. Describing something as “the marketing slogan” doesn’t exactly give me reason to trust in it, given what marketing is.

                3. Is the issue preventing gays from engaging in perpetual sin or is it the defense of marriage as an institution? You keep saying that Evangelicals take marriage very seriously, but then you ask me to believe that taking marriage very seriously isn’t the same thing as risking political capital on it. I’m sorry, but I can’t do that. Those who take issues very seriously risk their political capital on it. Martin Luther King Jr. risked his life on the things that he believed; Evangelical Christians are apparently unwilling to risk being politically unpopular to champion the things that they “take very seriously.” That’s a dichotomy which frustrates both of you, I realize, but I’m not going to mislead you about what I’ve concluded.

                4. Again, what has damaged the institution of marriage more: gay marriage or adultery/divorce/abuse?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Chris, remember when we were talking about BGE and GM and what Christianity was going to turn into?


              • Chris in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Jay, yeah, that’s another level, and I suspect on that level, Sam and I would agree about Christianity. I think Christians are earnest in their beliefs and values, to the extent that anyone truly can be without becoming an ascetic, but I also think that Christianity has, in 20th century parlance, fetishized itself and turned its values into objects with little connection to anything whatsoever. One only has to listen to the sort of pseudo-Biblical logorrhea that comes out of so many Christian mouths when they’re talking to each other to see this.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                The morality that’s coming to replace the old one? I suspect you’ve been arguing against it for the last little while.

                Lightning not included.Report

              • Chris in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Oh, I thought that’s what you might mean, but I felt a little weird saying so. Perhaps you’re right. It’s definitely the sort of morality I see in a lot of post-Christians.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                I’m not looking forward to the version that didn’t have to overcome Christianity first.Report

              • Sam in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Sorry to eavesdrop, but what’s the morality that’s coming?Report

              • Chris in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                I imagine it will be a lot like the Communism that didn’t have to overcome Capitalism first.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                on xbox…

                will answer tomorrowReport

              • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

                Chris, I agree.

                Sam, it’s in Nietzsche. We kinda get into it here. (It starts around comment 134.)Report

      • Chris in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        Also, if you judge a group for its political actions based on whether or not they are willing to spend political capital on hopeless causes, no mainstream political group in America is going to come out looking very good.Report