Okay, so this is a non-newsy, philosophical post. Consider yourself warned.

So, one of my students said, a couple of semesters ago, in response to another student’s remark about a text, “But isn’t homosexuality a sin?” This was totally not an attempt to start an argument or anything; the student said it like it was totally accepted and everyone believes it. You know, like this:

Student 1: Well, I’m arguing that Song really does love Gallimard and that if society would allow them to be together, they would have been happy.
Student 2: Even though Song lied to Gallimard?
Student 1: I think he only lied because he knew that Gallimard wouldn’t be willing to buck societal conventions in order to date him. Their relationship could have been open and honest and successful in a better society.
Student 2: But isn’t homosexuality a sin?

And I realized something (which I can only now blog about because I can’t really write about current students): while I try to be accepting of other points of view, etc., etc.–I just don’t accept this. I mean, it’s not like it would affect this student’s grade or anything, but it does change my view of the student. Because it’s ignorant. I mean, you can say a lot of things about accepting other points of view and respecting other people’s beliefs, but I don’t respect this. And only today did I realize that I have no obligation to pretend to accept it, any more than I would accept racism in my classroom. The student is wrong. Unfortunately he’s probably wrong because he’s always been taught this, not because he’s a bad person or an intolerant person by nature.

Anyway, the point is, so much for including disclaimers like “No matter what you believe about homosexuality…” in the classroom. I’m not doing it anymore. People who think homosexuality is sinful or bad are wrong. And as a teacher I think it’s my job to make the arguments that support tolerance and increased understanding, not to be politically correct. So much of what you’re taught as a teacher is that you should make your classroom as non-political as possible. Well, screw that. If you can read all of the texts I assigned to those students that semester and still say something so ignorant–without even thinking about it–then the nonpolitical classroom model doesn’t work.

Ordinarily, the things I do to promote tolerance include:
* Allowing ZERO homophobic, racist, sexist, etc., language from my students;
* Gently pointing out that their audiences might be offended by their [intolerant] arguments;
* Assigning readings that support my views and might broaden their perspective.

Well, add to that list–not feeling obligated to be nice or politically correct about idiotic statements like “homosexuality is a sin.” Honestly. A sin is something that hurts another person–abuse, or stealing, or saying mean things. Love–no matter what form it takes–makes the world a better place, not a worse place, and therefore cannot possibly be a sin.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Your Pedantic Husband on December 5, 2007 at 7:06 am

    I’m not 100% sold on your definition of sin (not that I am 100% sold on the NOTION of sin)–I think a fair argument could be made that there are sins against oneself, that self-destructive behavior could be seen thusly. HOWEVER, I’m also fairly sure that the student’s objection is coming from a Christian perspective, and I am fascinated by how easy it is for many Christians today to leap straight to condemnation of others, completely by-passing the basic notion of not judging others (or loving neighbors, come to that). I’m fairly sure the upshot of the “cast the first stone” story is that if you’re straight it’s none of your damned business whether homosexuality is a sin. Maybe it is a sin, but then maybe eating meat is a sin, too. Or maybe driving fuel-inefficient cars is a sin, or voting for women, or making fun of annoying coworkers, or picking your nose, or whatever. Jesus wasn’t building an army of sin police who would keep everyone else in line. Sin is between you & God. Including sins by your definition. There is the law of the land that we must live by, but surely it is not a sin (or at least not a big one) if you leave dog poop on the street in New York. Civil discipline is essential to keeping a sane society, but it is not necessarily tied to sin. And basically, to my understanding of Jesus’ teachings, sin ain’t nobody’s business but your own. If you hurt someone else, the law can deal with how to compensate the other person or how to protect society from you doing it again, but you are the only who can tend to what God thinks of it. If you hurt yourself, odds are no one’s going to stop you and you’ll still have to be the one who faces God. Stealing is bad for society & thus against the law, but the thief is the only one who can settle up their account with God. The same goes for anything commonly labeled as sin: the law faces the problem according to the impact on others, but the practitioner is the only person who can contend with its status as sin. Aside from some basic rules (oft-contradicted in the Bible, since it’s horribly inconsistent), the clarification of sin is utterly guess-work & intuition. No one else is going to come along w/ you for Final Judgement, whatever that turns out to be, so you alone have to decide what you believe is likely to matter, since you alone are theoretically going to have to spend eternity with the ramifications. No one else can make these decisions for you, and thus neither can you for anyone else. Particularly since homosexuality is a consensual practice, the participants each freely choose to enter into their own potential sin; no outside party is being accosted by it and therefore claims of societal harm are EXTREMELY tenuous and dubious (now that AIDS is more and more a straight disease–really, the risky-sex-and-drugs disease it always was–and population growth continues to be out-of-hand; what *are* the risks to society of homosexuality, aside from a pathetic “Sodom and Gomorrah/they’ll-take-us-all-down-with-them/Old-Testament” panic, which–to my eye–is a terrific argument for atheism, because if God *is* that stupid & petty, you may as well try your luck with non-belief?). This pushes homosexuality pretty exclusively into the column of “between the individual and God”; if your student is gay, then it may be a valid question for them to ask themselves, but your class discussion is not the appropriate venue for their search for a personal answer. If they are straight, then they need to worry less about homosexuals and more about the Big Mac they had for lunch, the SUV they drove while eating it, and the booger they removed afterwards.


  2. ok heather, i made it through your blog post, and i was going to post some silly or ridiculous comment like “but isn’t blogging a sin” and then i saw conor’s comment, and i actually kind of have a headache and really can’t make it all the way through that, then i saw some weird portuguese crap after that and now i am just confused.


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