The Prideful, Arrogant President of Chick-fil-A
Why ignorance of human sexuality is dangerous.
There is, of course, the little problem of God, so often the common denominator in human conflicts. Cathy’s thunderous sermon about the hazards of upsetting this irritable arbiter of our souls resonated with the religious right. So let us deconstruct Cathy’s words to see if we might better understand their seduction:
I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist
at Him and say ‘we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage’
and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant
attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.
Cathy does at least preface this by saying, “I think,” but otherwise this to me is the hoary language of a man who has little familiarity with texts that were not [ahem] dictated by the Almighty and who has therefore missed out on so many infinitely more talented and intelligent authors, those who were more godly than God. On opposing sides of that yawning moral crevasse dividing liberals and conservatives, a gap that has widened several new inches by this surprise Chick-fil-A quake, the rhetorical turns of phrase we find in Cathy’s Armageddon script tend to mean very different things. For instance, for liberals, “prideful” would be read in this context as “scientifically literate,” “arrogant attitude” is perhaps best translated as “open-minded,” and “audacity” means simply, “the courage to think for oneself.”
In my first book, The Belief Instinct, I explain how scientific studies are revealing how the human brain conjures up the subjective feeling of a morally concerned God that “communicates” his displeasure to us through natural disasters and other misfortunes. (Notice that in cases such as Cathy’s warning of God’s wrath, the believer never asks exactly how God causes such natural events, but only why he does so.) God may seem real, but he is almost certainly all in our heads—a complex cognitive illusion melded by mindless evolutionary forces. At the very least, the chances of there being a God disproportionately focused on the sexual behaviors of one particular creature, a depilated primate, out of the billions of distinct species that have ever walked, flown, crawled, slithered or hopped upon his earth, is so minuscule that the idea requires a prodigious degree of egocentrism to entertain. Actually, that, Mr. Cathy—this frail assumption of yours that human beings are the epicenter of life on this planet—is where most liberals apply the word “arrogance.”
My other book, Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That?: And Other Reflections on Being Human, is a collection of essays dealing mainly with the science of human sexuality. In it, I play tour guide through a number of research areas that are especially relevant to Cathy’s rumblings about marriage equality. These include the developmental origins of sexual orientation, the mental processes thought to underlie homophobia, and the startlingly high rates of depression and suicide in gay youth.
One of the great frustrations faced by science writers is that, more often than not, we’re preaching to the choir. People who really need to be exposed to critical scientific information regarding homosexuality are, frankly, either too unintelligent to understand the research or—more unforgivably—they’re perfectly smart enough, it’s just that they’re too incurious about the deep complexities of human psychology to bother to learn. Now, for many subject areas in science, such cognitive dullards and intellectual sloths are easy to ignore, even when they display remarkable naivete. To be unaware of the chemical composition of water, for instance, is certainly sad, but such ignorance is usually pretty harmless. But with a basic scientific understanding of sexual orientation, ignorance can be sinister. Knowledge may not trump hatred in all cases, but for most reasonable individuals, it tends to facilitate humanity.
Jesse Bering is the author of The Belief Instinct and Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? (July 2012). He is a frequent contributor to Slate and writes the "Bering in Mind" column for scientificamerican.com. His next book will be on the curiously scandalous science of human sexuality. Follow him at www.jessebering.com, on Twitter @JesseBering, or try adding him on Facebook.