Sunday, April 04, 2010

Christians' rights

While recovering from the Easter Triduum - in my case, getting home at 3am from the FSSP church in Reading this morning - I was interested to read a blog post re-tweeted by Fr Finigan:

It is always interesting to see atheists and gay activists defending the rights of Christians: Peter Tatchell now seems worried that freedom of speech is being lost by the homophobia legislation. This chap Neil Midgley is concerned about property rights: why should B&B owners have to welcome gay couples into their homes?

Perhaps Tatchell has created a monster he can't control. But as I've said on this blog before, these kinds of arguments don't work. No one is going to take any notice of them because they don't cohere with some basic assumptions of the debate, the assumptions of what we might call the 'liberal argument'.

The point of the homophobia and equality legislation is to protect each individual in his pursuit of whatever conception of the good he chooses to have. For him to be able to make this pursuit, which is a private quest if you like, others' liberties must be curtailed: people must not kill him, steal from him etc.. Systematic discrimination against him would stop his quest as effectively as systematic physical attacks, so it must be prohibited in the same way and for the SAME REASON. The basis of morality is the individual's pursuit of his conception of the good; what impedes this is bad, what facilitates it good.

So where does freedom of expression and property rights fit in? They have no force of themselves. They were convenient slogans during the American Revolution but they aren't fundamental. The fundamental question is What impedes an individual's pursuit of his chosen conception of the good? The freedom of expression of a street preacher and the property rights of a B&B owner, if used to block the fulfilling of someone's conception of the good, must be restricted.

What of the freedom of the preacher and the property owner to pursue their own conceptions of the good? Sorry, this won't get us anywhere because these people have conceptions which involve the unjust oppression of others. They are, if you like, criminal conceptions of the good, like ones which involve torturing children.

So what should we say in defence of the preacher and the B&B owner? We need to reject something more fundamental than the application of the liberal argument to these particular cases. We need to reject the liberal argument itself.

At the core of it is the idea that if not all conceptions of te good are equally rewarding, it is at any rate more important to be free to choose one's conception than it is get make the right choice (or to be kept from making really bad choices). But once we have this out on the table, we can see it is totally implausible: no parent or teacher believes this, and the government doesn't either. The life of a drug addict, to give just one example, oppresses no-one but we are thoroughly educated and indeed coerced not to choose it. The liberal argument is based on an absurd fiction.

We can win the argument. But not on the liberals' chosen grounds.

-- Post From My iPhone

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