Tuesday, May 03, 2005

On the way to Monsey

So I'm driving in the car with my mother, going up to Monsey, naturally, for Pesach. We get into a rather deep discussion, which is unusual for my mom and I because we don't often sit together by ourselves for that long. We have a good relationship, which is great, we just don't have many "deep" talks. It was completely calm and good-natured the whole time, but that was probably because she doesn't know what I really think.

Anyway, we're talking and it starts getting interesting when she brings up homosexuality. I don't recall why it came up but she says that homosexuality must surely be caused by unresolved psychological issues from childhood. Similar to the causes for all the sorts of phobias that people have.

I say that I don't find that as likely since homosexuality crosses all social boundaries. Rich, poor, "broken" families, happy families, white, black, yellow, religious, secular, etc. They all have their homosexual individuals. I also relate some studies that have been done comparing homosexuality rates among twins and how they match more than not. And responding to her claims of "unnaturalness" I give her a few examples of homosexuality seen among animals. And species like bonobos which all appear to be bisexual. I say that I believe homosexuality to be a congenital condition, caused by factors in utero, not some sort of psychological ruining in early or later life.

Eventually, it comes down to her saying that if homosexuality is congenital, then how can they be held guilty under the rules of Halachah? How can God create such a person? The answer I want to say is that if God doesn't exist or if God doesn't actually care if a person is homosexual then there is no issue. But I can't say that, so I say that an individual is just as faultless if the causes are from early childhood and a person is simply victim of their psychology.

We enter into the meaning of morality. I bring up classic Socrates and Kant and she says that morality has no meaning except from what God gives it. Something is only good or bad because God says it is. And she says that she can conceive of a universe where such things like murder and child molestation are moral. Homosexuality, she says, is on the same side of morality as murder. Morality, in Torah, is given by God as a guide for how to live in this universe. Were it another universe, the guide could be completely different.

I don't tell her that such a conception make the terms "right" and "wrong" arbitrary, with only local meaning. But I do recognize that it is a workable scenario, even though I disagree. An immoral act to me can only be defined as an act which hurts another person. And that would be true in this universe or any other. But I don't say so.

She then relates how she says Rabbi Blumenkrantz (or Blumenfeld..something like that anyway) proves the existence of God. It's the typical watchmaker argument and I tell her that Rabbi Blumenkrantz didn't make it up, William Paley did so hundreds of years beforehand. I give her a couple of the weaker objections to the argument, e.g. we know of watchmakers, but not of worldmakers and so the analogy is flawed. But I leave out evolution and cosmology (which largely explain our world without divine molding) since I know that that would upset her. I also mention how if the world is so perfect, why is there evil? An imperfect world suggests that no perfect creator made it.

Our conversation deepens to the question of theodicy. She says that any "bad" is really for a good purpose. If not for the Holocaust, we wouldn't have Israel. I say that if God is omnipotent, I would think he'd be able to get us Israel even without the Holocaust. Any bad in this universe is here either because God put it here or because he just couldn't make a better universe.

Eventually she ends up going to the place where theologians always seem to end up: the mystery of God. She says that there are things which we simply cannot understand. Just as a cat cannot understand the issues of men, so like a man cannot understand the ways of God. Why is there evil in this world? God only knows.

You can't argue with incomprehensibility, so I don't really respond. God is incomprehensible so how can we make sense of anything?

She asks me, are you asking serious questions or are you just saying all this for the sake of argument. Inside I'm crying out to say, Yes! These are serious issues! But, I give a third answer, that "I'm just discussing." And she seems to take that to mean the latter option.

She says that the fact that I still have my faith says something in it of itself to the strength of the reality of God. And I'm laughing and crying inside thinking, Oh! If only she knew!...if only she knew...but I say nothing.

She relates a story of my grandfather, her father who died when I was a child. How he used to play devil's argument on all sorts of issues like these. And I wonder if maybe he was like me. And I wonder if maybe in those "devil's arguments" he was actually showing a little bit of his real self. But I doubt it.

My grandfather, my zaide, was a good man. Came to America from Poland a few years old and struggled in his life to support his family, not having much of an opportunity for advanced education, but as a quick learner he was able to become very valued at his work where he did jobs far beyond what his title might suggest. I don't know what he thought of life. Having died when I was only a child, I never had the opportunity to discuss with him any of the "big" questions, of politics, of religion. I don't know if he would have enjoyed it or become impatient with me. I do remember him fondly though. Taught me how to play chess which we played every Friday night after dinner while everyone else went to their beds to read or to sleep.

Anyway, my mother enjoyed our conversation. I did too, though I felt unfulfilled. So much more to say, left unsaid.


Vilda Chaya said...

What do you think would happen if your mother found out where you stand? I have found, in my life, that mothers can sometimes handle more than we give them credit for. I am not saying this would be the case for you, necessarily. I don't know your mother. I am just saying I have been surprised by the capacity for growth, love, and flexibilty of mothers. And believe me, I know mothers who have been tested on this -- not the least of which is my own.

Orthoprax said...


I'd expect a quick emotional outburst, depending how the news breaks maybe a few weeks of either arguments and/or sad/angry looks. Maybe we'd have a few of these sit down long drawn out talks that I haven't had in years.

After that she would probably humor me, thinking that I'd be back on the horse soon enough. But eventually, an acceptance but a distinct impression of her feeling disappointed.

It probably wouldn't be _that_ bad, but it's not something I'm looking to happen. Right now she thinks I'm amazing...I don't want that to change.

Vilda Chaya said...

I can totally appreciate that. In all honesty, my atheism is probably the hardest thing for me and my mother. I think accepting my queerness was easier for her than my lack of faith. Still, I think she is glad she knows, rather than have a easier closeness based on falseness. I'll have to ask her about that, but I think I know what she'll say.

alex said...

"An immoral act to me can only be defined as an act which hurts another person."

I'm sure somewhere else on your blog you elaborate on this definition. Where might that be?

For surely, the following acts hurt:

I was spanked when I did something wrong once.

Taxes hurt me.

The pawn shop that opened up next door hurts my business.

And on the flipside:

It doesn't hurt the deaf fellow when you call him a %#&!$%. Thus, it's not immoral?

Orthoprax said...


What I meant is that for an act to be immoral it must _at least_ include the characteristic in which it delivers harm to another. That's not the only qualification though.

If no harm, then the act is not immoral - though the intention may be. But doing harm in itself isn't necessarily immoral. And some instances, like cursing out a deaf man, may not produce direct harm, but indirect harm may be just as bad. It depends.

alex said...

Thanks for the clarification.
Can an intention be immoral? (Kindly CC)

alex said...

One more question, if you please. assuming there was no indirect harm with the deaf man, that it was just you and him in a room, was your cursing him out immoral? (CC)

Orthoprax said...


"Can an intention be immoral?"

I think so, yes.

"assuming there was no indirect harm with the deaf man, that it was just you and him in a room, was your cursing him out immoral?"

I would say no. Is there something morally wrong in cursing out a person who can't hear you in general? Muttering to yourself in private, for example. I don't think so.

Might not be the healthiest thing though.

Anonymous said...

Assume homosexuality is learned, so what? Most human sexuality is learned; why do some men prefer blonds? Why do many enjoy all sorts of wierd and unnatural sexual habits that only humans preform (secretly behind closed bedroom doors)? Because human sexuality is largely based on human phsychology and everyone enjoys different things.

no one

Orthoprax said...


You're right, but it is a useful argument to show that homosexual urges are not a choice and therefore those who feel them cannot be morally blamed for them.