‘Daring’ to be Different

By DeusExMacintosh

My year nine English class wrote me a joint letter once. It asked me to kill myself in order to improve everyone else’s educational experience (I was disinclined to acquiesce to their request).

It was the culmination of a two-year program of uncontrolled bullying at a supposedly “good” Australian GPS school that included the more usual name-calling, chair-saving (as in “sorry you can’t sit there I’m minding it for someone” who never comes), mockery and outright theft together with a complex campaign of psychological warfare and periodically, piss in my locker. I had to put up with it for a further two years until I dropped out at the end of year eleven.

During this time my “friends” would helpfully sit me down every six months or so and try to explain what I needed to do in order to fit in better. Pretend to be less smart. Join in the cliques. Pass.

There was just one problem – I couldn’t. Not wouldn’t. Couldn’t.

I wasn’t concerned by principles (religious or profane) or some growing teenage awareness of my rights to freedom and liberty, I simply found it constitutionally impossible to be other than myself. Faking it would have been WRONG. I can play perfectly well with others it’s just that most of the time I don’t actually want to and I’ll be quite frank about it.

Was it just that I was so obviously a loner? I wasn’t obviously disabled then or over-performing academically. I would come third or fourth in the swimming carnival but wasn’t good enough for the school team. I wasn’t overweight and we all had to wear the same uniform so it wasn’t my choice of clothes, and it certainly wasn’t my sexuality as I’m a pretty extreme hetero-normative who has never fancied another girl in her life. I was utterly average in every way. I still have no real idea why the hate campaign continued for so long, or why it got to the stage where staff began joining in, but once I’d become the target it was apparently impossible to simply leave me alone.

It felt particularly unfair as the “difference” wasn’t my fault. It was never a choice on my part, just an observable fact. I was probably the last student in that school’s history to be given detention for “dumb insolence” (no I’m NOT that old, I’m apparently just that expressive). In fact the only other area in which I felt something similar is religion. I had a pretty clear view pretty early on about what I believed as well as who I was, though it took me a while to discover that it was actually called “being a Quaker” rather than “having an attitude problem”.

It’s also why I get such a laugh at part of Pilate’s address from the bench in Bring Laws and Gods where he’s talking to counsel after a witness has been excused.

‘The Jerusalem Temple offers services and sets prices. If they set those prices in our currency then there would be no problem at all, but they demand scrip and control the exchange rate. That’s just another way of setting a high price.’

‘Exactly, Procurator.’

‘That’s not the point. If people don’t want to pay that high price, they should worship a god that accepts cheaper offerings. The god-market is competitive. Your client’s attacking the right of merchants to set prices.’

Claudia repressed a strong desire to collapse in a fit of the giggles. She’d suspected her husband would say something like this when the money making exercise otherwise known as the Jerusalem Temple had first been exposed to public scrutiny in the wake of the riot.

‘There aren’t a great number of alternatives in Jerusalem, Procurator.’

‘Are you suggesting that the Temple is a coercive monopoly, Don Linnaeus?’

‘I am, Procurator. Jews are born to their religion, and in this city at least, the law suppresses alternatives. And if they want to make sacrifice, they have to come here.’

As Pilate doesn’t seem to understand, religion isn’t always voluntary. For a start there’s fashionable speculation even by prominent athiests like Richard Dawkins that religious belief may in fact be an evolutionary adaptation. Archaeological evidence certainly shows that Early Man has been burying his dead with prized tools and food for a journey, for anywhere up to the last 350,000 years – which would seem to suggest that they at least accepted the possibility of some kind of life AFTER death. Historic thinkers like Jefferson have been careful to make a clear distinction between what we’d now consider “spirituality” and specific church doctrine. The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Jefferson describes him as having

… little use for the “sectarian dogmas” which were commonly called “religion,” yet he believed that “the moral precepts, innate in man,” were essential. The latter constituted “true religion.”

Gods and churches may come and go over the eons as mankind’s understanding has evolved, but religion lives on. These days sectarianism can be generated over issues as ephemeral as sporting teams but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that historically, most wars have been over religion and theological differences (with the possible exception of the pagan Far East). Internecine rivalry has been especially bloody in intra-religious schisms, such as Catholic/Protestant Christianity or Shia/Sunni Islam. The Christian Reformation was so bloody that the Anglosphere (particularly US founding fathers like Jefferson) have been determined to separate the institutions of The Church from those of The State ever since, having witnessed the bloody results when one makes a tool of the other.

The argument becomes one of how to balance the conflicting rights of one group over another without the bodycount. My Jurisprude-in-residence (SL) has tried to explain to me that this is simply a matter of Claim Rights vs Liberty Rights…

A claim right is a right which entails responsibilities, duties, or obligations on other parties regarding the right-holder. In contrast, a liberty right is a right which does not entail obligations on other parties, but rather only freedom or permission for the right-holder. The distinction between these two senses of “rights” originates in American jurist Wesley Newcomb Hohfeld’s analysis thereof in his seminal work Fundamental Legal Conceptions, As Applied in Judicial Reasoning and Other Legal Essays.

Liberty rights and claim rights are the inverse of one another: a person has a liberty right permitting him to do something only if there is no other person who has a claim right forbidding him from doing so; and likewise, if a person has a claim right against someone else, that other person’s liberty is thus limited. This is because the deontic concepts of obligation and permission are De Morgan dual; a person is permitted to do all and only the things he is not obliged to refrain from, and obliged to do all and only the things he is not permitted to refrain from.

In the case of competing religious values, belief itself would be a Liberty Right but your specific theism and related practices might potentially be downgraded to a Claim Right in the interest of public order.

SL and I have disagreed about the negotiation of minority group rights where Islam and Assistance Dogs are concerned for example. Her argument is that it becomes a question of capacity – the Liberty Right to religious belief has to be downgraded to a Claim Right in this instance because the Muslim belief that dogs are “unclean” is trumped by the rights of disabled people to have a life, basically because you can choose your religion whereas “no one has ever said please God, make me disabled”. I have to disagree with her on this. For a start because there are recognised sexual fetishes around disability and amputees (sometimes mistaken for apotemnophilia which is actually a form of Body Integrity Identity Disorder) but mainly because I’m honestly not sure how voluntary religion actually is. For example I have absolutely no idea how it is possible for someone to “convert” to a religion in order to marry the love of their life. If I believed in what Catholics believed then I’d be Catholic (or Jewish, or Muslim etc), not a Quaker. For some of us religion isn’t software that you install as you go along in life, it’s more like an operating system that provides the platform on which you build and install all your IRL apps.

I’ve been thinking about these issues this week whilst financial warfare has raged across the Australian blogosphere over what appears to be a conflict about the opinions of two minorities about each other – those who are Christian and those who are LGBT. Easy argument you might think – you can choose your religion but you can’t choose your sexual orientation therefore Christians should just shut up and cede the Claim Right of religious belief to the trumping Liberty Right of the LGBT community to a peaceful and equal life.

Peace and Equality are two of the four Quaker testimonies – the Religious Society of Friends actually has no creed beyond the universal agreement “That there is that of God in everyone” – so I’m all for a peaceful and equal life. But in fact I believe in equality not because I am a Quaker, rather, I am a Quaker because I believe in equality. That is significant. In 2009 we became the first church to publicly support gay marriage which is unusual given the traditional hostility of the three main monotheisms towards same-sex attraction. Personally I feel extremely offended by Muslim behaviour towards my dog… but I have difficulty denying them the Liberty Right to feel that way even though we disagree. I wish I had a solution.

But I’d like to suggest an experiment to those in the LGBT community who’d like to see Christians like those commenting on the Muehlenberg article over at OnLineOpinion excluded from public discourse entirely. What if people like Muehlenberg don’t believe that homosexuality is a perversion or abomination because that’s what their specific scriptures tell them, but from a deep instinct that same-sex attraction is WRONG? What if that instinct comes from the same well of conscience and conviction that your understanding of your own sexuality comes from? And if it does, or even might, how does this make you any better than those who want to bully you for being “a fag”?

I really despise bullies… because it’s been my experience that when we can’t live with difference, people are inclined to die.


  1. Posted February 15, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Oh DEM, I hope you read “how arrogant” in my last comment as tongue-in-cheek. I loved your translation quibble and will be digging around it.

  2. Posted February 15, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    No probs, Dave.

    KVD @47: SL tells me that “Fighting freedom’s cause in freedom’s way” was a WW1 Australian slogan used by those fighting for a ‘no’ vote on the conscription referendum. Logic being that if you are fighting a war for “freedom” it needed to be with an equally free volunteer army otherwise you poison the entire enterprise at source, morally.

  3. Posted February 15, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] : Yes… For some hilarity from papal arrogation see the film Dogma (gotta love the casting for god)

    btw: Just thinking… Adam did the deed with Eve, made from his own rib… making Eve genetically XY but surgically altered…

    Placing an emphasis on the OT and Paul’s recapitulations can be sooo awkward.

  4. kvd
    Posted February 16, 2011 at 3:44 am | Permalink

    Thinking more about Lorenzo’s definition of “natural” in 45 above, I’m still interested in a basis of that definition. I didn’t realise that homosexuality in this discussion was restricted only to the views of the RC – or even to RC, Protestant, Jewish and Islamic faiths – which is what I meant to encompass in saying “God’s various PR agencies”. But Patrick and Dave seemed to do so in following comments, which is fine – if that was where Lorenzo intended to lead them.

    So, was Lorenzo was giving a wider philosophical context? That aside I think [email protected] was perfectly correct in his understanding of the word “nature” as used in preceding commentary.

    DEM – thanks for correction re SL quote. The meaning you gave to the phrase was as I understood it, and I agree with it.

  5. Posted February 16, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    [email protected] If you think Pell is more conservative and rigid than the current Pontiff, you are sadly mistaken. Benedict is, apart from anything else, something of a Platonist: never a good start.

    Also, the CDF is the descendant of the Roman Inquisition. The Spanish Inquisition was an instrument of the Spanish Crown and much more oppressive.

    On the broader issue of natural law thought, Catholic/Orthodox theology is based on a marriage of Scriptural Revelation with natural law theory. It is based on St Paul using ‘para physin’ (against nature) in his Epistles. This is not remotely Judaic concept.

    Based on the metaphors and language St Paul uses, he is almost certainly channelling Philo of Alexandria, who married Hellenic natural law theory to Judaic scriptural revelation. Philo was extremely influential on various Church fathers (there was even a, completely spurious, legend he converted to Christianity), notably St John Chrysostom.

    If you want to see natural law theology ranting against homosexuality, read no further than St John’s Homily on Romans 1, 26-27. (Compare it to Philo: scroll down to section XXVI.)

    As to the question of how we discover something’s proper nature, by direct apprehension of reality and the natural law written on our hearts is the answer. For a modern, sophisticated philosophical statement of the relevant metaphysics, David Oderberg’s The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Law (pdf) is the go.

    The question of “how do we know?” is an excellent one. The notion that natural law identifies the norms built into the structure of the universe I regard as patent nonsense, flatly contradicted by the history of natural law theory itself. Natural law definitions of ‘proper’ nature operate on the basis of norms they themselves project into the phenomena by where they draw their boundaries.

    Modern natural law theory also comes in more ‘agent-centred’ forms such as John Finnis and Robert George. (Finnis and Oderberg are both Australians.) The application of natural law theory to the marriage debate can be seen in George et al‘s What is Marriage?. You will be startled to learn that polygamous marriage is not, actually marriage. Despite what the Bible says.

  6. desipis
    Posted February 16, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink


    I’m guessing the use of the word ‘natural’ is about evaluating something based on how it meets the functional role it is seen to have within nature. The functional role of sex is seen to be continual propagation of the species. The functional role of sexuality is thus to coerce individuals into engaging in sex, which in turn propagates the species. Therefore sex and sexuality which do not have the purpose of propagation (such as homosexuality) fail to fulfill their functional role and thus could be labeled ‘unnatural’.

    Of course making such an assessment involves a superficial interpretation of the purpose of sex and sexuality, ignoring much of the social and psychological functions.

  7. kvd
    Posted February 16, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Hello desipis; my thought was Lorenzo was being ironic. With the insight he continues to demonstrate here, I don’t think he would ever so easily cede authority to the Roman Catholic Church via that Papal bull statement; and it’s far more a social justice issue than a religious one – as you say.

    But that’s just my opinion and as I said before, I’m happy to be corrected

  8. Posted February 16, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] The Catholic/Orthodox position is that the Church — understood as the body of believers — creates Scripture. This is why tradition is authoritative. Yes, it makes priests really important. But the Catholic Church’s key decision principle has always been what best maintains/protects/extends the authority of priests.

    On your point about the Gospels being unhelpful: indeed, for they are the Church of Caiaphias more than the Church of Christ. They want to use God to strip people of moral protections, making them therefore the ‘gatekeepers of righteousness’, when Christ preached precisely the opposite — you are not allowed to use God to strip people of moral protections.

    [email protected] I am explaining the natural law position which, in the Christian tradition, is the Catholic/Orthodox position. But that is where the concept of homosexuality being “unnatural” comes from. So it matters not at all the animals do it. They are acting against the proper function of sex – fulfilling the procreative form. (It was originally fulfilling the procreative function [Aquinas], but that barred infertile couples: prior to that it was procreative intent [Clement] but was also deemed too restrictive — hence my point about the natural law tradition itself failing to demonstrate the ‘direct apprehension’ and ‘definitive moral conclusions’ it purports to.)

    [email protected]

    I’m guessing the use of the word ‘natural’ is about evaluating something based on how it meets the functional role it is seen to have within nature.

    Correct, with the above caveats.

    Of course making such an assessment involves a superficial interpretation of the purpose of sex and sexuality, ignoring much of the social and psychological functions.

    Yes. Lurking behind it all is a “created definitively” notion which is wildly at odds with how biology actually works.

    [email protected] Yes, I am merely explaining. I regard it as profoundly pernicious nonsense with an ugly track record of unilaterally stripping categories of people of moral and legal protections according to the going obsessions. So, in the case of the Catholic/Orthodox tradition, queers, Jews and other religious dissenters and intellectual dissenters (sex, religion and thought).

    Aristotle, for example, used it to justify slavery — there were, allegedly, ‘natural slaves’. It has also been used to justify women not having short hair (St Paul) and not working in the fields (Gerald of Aurillac) and not lending at interest (since the function of money is exchange and it is unnatural for coins to self-propagate). Since the conclusion gets to choose the ambit of its premises (remember all those same-sex acts in nature not counting) it can justify anything which one can seize on an appropriate aspect of nature to support: since all the contradicting cases simply become “improper”. Very useful if one wants a technique to support religious doctrine, useless as a serious mode of analysis.

  9. Posted February 16, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    I would also point out that Philo of Alexandria is primarily responsible for the notion that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was about same-sex activity. Not rape, abuse of hospitality, idolatry, hating the people of Israel or the other sins the Old Testament actually ascribes to them. As a reading of Genesis 19, it’s a nonsense. But it fitted in with the Levitical anathematisations and natural law theory’s “the sole legitimate function of sex is procreation” analysis. It also embedded the notion of purifying extermination into Judaeo-Christian thought: that the unilateral stripping of moral protections from a category of persons extends to killing them. An idea which continued to have a life of its own.

  10. kvd
    Posted February 16, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Lorenzo. That simply confirms my respect.

  11. kvd
    Posted February 16, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    And I want to record that I think it entirely unfair that [email protected] pops into place well over two hours after desipis’ comment, and my own reply thereto. Or something 🙂

  12. Posted February 16, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Sorry kvd, the spaminator finds all of you tasty from time to time.

  13. Posted February 16, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    I take it as read anything that has two or more links in it will go into moderation.

  14. Posted February 16, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Yes, there seems to be a definite uptick in spamming.

  15. Posted February 17, 2011 at 1:03 am | Permalink

    [email protected] – my Pell comment was because of how many oz politicians would swoon at the notion of an Oz pope, and forget Zappa’s observation that there’s a big difference between kneeling down and bending over. Conroy would probably put the vatican in charge of the netfilter.

  16. Posted February 17, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    And I’ve just removed 892. This is getting really excessive.

  17. kvd
    Posted February 17, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Just a guess, but with the amount of cross-linked traffic generated over the OLO thing in the past ten days, I’m guessing you make a more interesting target.

  18. Nick Ferrett
    Posted February 17, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Or SL’s moving a lot of cash out of Nigeria

  19. kvd
    Posted February 17, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Maybe get Jacques to institute a shell script which a) disables comments and b) disables the comment form processing script from AEST midnight to 6 p.m. (London 1 p.m to 7 a.m?)

    Commenters would get used to it, with goodwill – some of us might be saved from shooting from the lip – and it would give you guys more time to concentrate on the production of content rather than “gardening”.

    A script like that is probably four lines of code, which just sits there doing its thing in the background. Write once, and forget till next OS upgrade. (Dave would tell you I’m sure) I used that sort of stuff quite a lot in a prior life.

    You could even sell it as a responsible move – keeping “the workers” noses to the corporate grindstone. And that’s another 2c I’ve spent.

  20. Posted February 17, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Quite. It occurs to me that Pell would be competitive: conservative white from outside Europe. Still, it is hard to see the College of Cardinals continuing to ignore Latin America, Africa and Asia. That is where the Catholic Church has most of its believers and, leaving aside Latin America, where it is expanding.

  21. Posted February 18, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    Sorry guys, I’ll email Jacques and see if he can beat the (virtual) hamsters back into submission…

  22. Posted February 18, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Permalink


    It wouldn’t really be possible to isolate the script to a single blog.

    There are three contributing reasons to the increase in spam, over and above the “supply side”:

    1. The growing archive creates a larger surface for spammers to try and attach comments to.
    2. The increasing page rank of Ozblogistan blogs makes them more attractive.
    3. The increased speed of the server makes it quicker, and therefore more attractive, to spam.

    Club Troppo has it worst. In a 15 minute period last week when Akismet stopped working, 110 spam comments were placed in moderation.

  23. Posted February 18, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    From what I could make out, almost all the spam was aimed at a single entry, on which I’ve disabled comments. That should cut back on it for a bit.

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