Jason Thibodeau offered this comment in response to my article, “Homosexuality, Academic Freedom, and the Swinburne Controversy”:
“A good person, seeing that his worldview has committed him to claiming that a group of people are defective just because of the kind of person that they are attracted to, takes this as a reason to question his worldview. Swinburne, Feser, and others dig in and defend the morally repulsive conclusion.
“I agree that we don’t need arguments like Swinburne’s. But we need to allow people to defend them, if only so that the rest of us have a chance to rebut the morally bankrupt worldview which gives rise to such arguments.”
I’d like to make a few comments in reply. Let’s begin with Jason’s statement that on Swinburne’s view “a group of people are defective ….” The thing to note here is that within a Christian anthropology every person is “defective” or suffers particular disabilities (physical, cognitive, moral, etc.). So it is most emphatically not the case that one particular group is being singled out as defective over-against others.
Second, Jason expresses incredulity to the very idea that disability should be invoked “just because of the kind of person that they are attracted to…” Here Jason seems to object to the very idea that the the kind of persons to which one is attracted might be labelled a disability or dysfunction.
If Jason does object to this very idea, I disagree strongly, and I suspect most other people will as well. This is because we can identify individuals who have attractions to particular persons which are generally viewed as disability or dysfunction. A case in point: pedophiles (aka “minor-attracted persons”) are generally viewed as “defective just because of the kind of person that they are attracted to…” In other words, an adult who is sexually and emotionally attracted to children suffers a disability, one which needs to be treated and managed to ensure they do not act upon it. (Note as well how relatively progressive this is, versus the classic demonization of those who are attracted to children as mere “perverts”. For further discussion of the topic see my “Pedophilia and other unforgivable sins.”)
If a person agrees that pedophiles suffer a disability in virtue of their attraction to particular persons, then one must reject the claim that it is wrong in principle to ascribe disability to those who are attracted to particular persons.
Let me hasten to add that no association is attended here between homosexuality and pedophilia. Those are completely different topics and the historic way they have been blurred together has wrought great havoc and injustice. The only point I’m making here is that the pedophile example illustrates that it is proper (or, at the very least, defensible) to identify particular attractions with a disability.
Now what about the ninety year old man who is only sexually and emotionally attracted to 20-30 year old young women? (Ahem, I’m looking at you, Hugh Hefner.) That man isn’t a pedophile but he too arguably suffers a disability (e.g. an emotionally stunted character) in virtue of his lack of ability/interest to connect to those with whom he is a proper emotional and sexual complement.
Those like Swinburne who raise natural law arguments against homosexual attraction and thereby refer to it as a disability (or some equivalent) make a similar claim, i.e. that those who are attracted to the same sex suffer a disability in virtue of their lack of ability/interest to connect to those with whom they are a proper emotional and sexual complement (i.e. the opposite sex).
You can disagree with Swinburne and you can present arguments and evidence to support your claim that same sex attraction is not relevantly analogous to the two cases I have noted here. But one thing is clear: by doing so you concede the legitimacy of the general principle to which Swinburne appeals (i.e. that one can suffer a disability in virtue of the type of people to which one is attracted): you only dispute the propriety of his specific application of that principle.
Finally, let me say a word about Jason’s reference to Swinburne as holding a “morally bankrupt worldview…” It seems to me that this kind of totalizing and marginalizing rhetoric is unbecoming an academic. Jason may believe Swinburne’s defense of a natural law prohibition of homosexuality is false and harmful just as I believe Judith Jarvis Thomson’s famous (or infamous) defense of abortion is false and harmful. But in neither case do I believe it is helpful to totalize the objection by ascribing to one’s interlocutor a “morally bankrupt worldview…” not least because doing so will make it difficult for each side to understand and sympathize with the other.