Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Consent

I blogged about consent before. That I was becoming more and more convinced that consent was a bit of a myth when it comes to sex. John Zmirak has written on a broader notion of Consenting Adults:
But in fact, things are darker than that. We have another maxim, which crept into Western souls via “worldly philosophers” such as Machiavelli and Hobbes – the principle of the “consenting adult.” Any time someone uses this phrase, he is saying (under his breath) that none of us is the least bit responsible for each other. If folks make stupid choices, that’s not our problem. Even if we are the ones who tempted them to make such a choice – if we have exploited them personally, economically, or sexually – we are still scot-free: “She was a consenting adult;” “That schmuck should have known better,” we tell ourselves, and smirk.

Instead of an ethic that rests on reciprocity, on admitting the unique value of every person because he’s a fellow human, we treasure a heartless, pragmatic ethos that shrugs at suffering and confusion, a Darwinian willingness to pounce on our neighbor’s mistakes. So “consenting adults” work in sweatshops overseas making our iPads, or sweat before cameras enacting our porn, or wake up alone in the bed where we’ve left them when we were finished with our desires. No individual rights were violated, no crime was committed or contract broken – so the modern secular conscience has nothing meaningful to say.
This is so true. We look at the world as an individual. We want to avoid evil but we are mostly willing to use people to get what we want. If we can manipulate them into giving consent then anything goes. That is just not the way God calls us to approach relationships. Loving your neighbor does not just mean not using force to impose your will on them. It means willing their good. Just getting them say Yes allows you to take advantage of people.

It essentially puts a limit on the dignity of people. If they are needy then anything goes. If someone needs a job or needs a boyfriend then they can't say No even if the terms and conditions violate their dignity. Liberals object when unsafe working conditions are involved. Conservatives object when impure sexual relations are involved. Yet only the most extreme examples of this are labeled immoral. A lot of times there is a superficial recognition of the other person's dignity. It just does not go very deep. We take our cues from what others are doing. What are other companies doing? What are other couples doing? The trouble is the worst example becomes the standard and things degrade over time.

We need to grasp that if people use each other and don't love each other they both lose even if they both get what they want. When you reduce human relations to mere transactions and ignore the chance to move your brother or sister forward on the road to sanctity then we all lose. We gain in the world but lose in our soul.

I think the notion of consent when it comes to sex has more problems than this because of the nature of sex and the difficulty we have being honest with ourselves and our potential partner in matters of intimacy. Still right out of the box consent is just not good enough. It assumes people have the required knowledge and freedom to say No. Often they don't. When they don't we are morally obligated not to violate their dignity as persons.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Liberal Atheists

One of the big problems in dialogue with atheists is definitions. What do you mean when you talk about atheism? Catholicism has that too. People say Catholics are in favor of artificial contraception based on a poll of Catholics done somewhere. Still with Catholics we can be precise. Catholicism is defined by the church, by her official teachings, by the bishops, and by the pope. It is not defined by what anyone else who might claim to be Catholic might say. We have something called liberal Catholics. They claim to be Catholic and accept many Catholic teachings but with some important exceptions. They are an important part of the Catholic church. Many of them hold positions of power in Catholic institutions. Still their adherence to the faith is not consistent.

I wonder if it would make sense to use the same language to describe atheists. To me, atheism has an extreme form. That would be pure materialism:
  1. That human religion and spirituality can be wholly reduced to psychology. All experiences of God, love, beauty, morality, miracles, etc. are just things the human brain creates. There is nothing supernatural out there that we are interacting with.
  2. Psychology can be wholly reduced to biology. Our brains are just bio-chemical machines. They do what they do. Outputs are wholly determined by inputs.
  3. Biology reduces to chemistry. There is no soul or anything non-material involved in the human person.
  4. Chemistry reduces to physics. That implies that there is no room for choices. We do what we do just like gravity does what it does. At our lowest level we are matter and every following the scientific laws matter and energy follows.
This is an extreme position that has many implications. Atheists are not known for thinking through these implications. Catholics have been thinking through the implications of their world and life view for thousands of years and we are still at it so atheists have some catching up to do. One of the benefits of Catholic/Atheist interaction is both sides do this more. I think the more both sides understand atheism and Catholicism the more attractive Catholicism will be. Of course, I don't expect atheists to accept the word of a Catholic on such matters!

Anyway, the point is many atheists don't believe this pure form of atheism the eliminates not only God but any form of supernatural entity like virtue or beauty or purpose. Some claim to accept these 4 points but deny some obvious implications like nihilism or the loss of moral responsibility. Many assume widely-accepted Christian ideas they like will continue to be widely accepted. So atheists vary from pure atheism. It is a little like Catholics vary from pure Catholicism.

So that is why I am wondering if calling them liberal atheists makes sense. They are influenced by atheism but in an inconsistent way. More orthodox atheists will point out that they are picking and choosing. We can have cafeteria atheists like we have cafeteria Catholics.

It is not perfect because both atheism and Catholicism have influence even with people who would be insulted at the suggestion. Some liberal Catholics are also subconscious atheists. They think with anti-supernatural assumptions. Some protestants would see Catholicism as an evil ideology but the still think like certain truths are revealed by God and should be accepted as infallible. So language gets hard.

Bl John Henry Newman saw Catholicism and Atheism as the poles and various forms of protestantism and secularism in the middle. He thought compromise was inherently illogical. The deeper you thought the more you would drift to one pole or the other.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Thinking of Pleasure


Apparently pleasure is associated with some brain activity involving these chemicals. What is more, when someone is addicted to something, say drugs, they get too much stimulation of their brain from drugs and they become uninterested in normal enjoyment. So they no longer get pleasure out of joking around with a friend or reading a good book or taking a walk in the woods. The drug highs have made the brain insensitive to these kinds of stimulation by providing a super-stimulation that dwarfs those. We see that as a bad thing. My question is why? What makes it bad? We can look at the addicted person and see that their personality has been totally flattened. Sober people are all unique and beautiful. Addicts are all the same. They don't care about anything but their next high. But so what? Isn't it judgmental of us to suggest there is something wrong with that?

This connects with the notion that you hear often in sexual ethics that pleasure should drive morality. It can't be wrong when it feels so right. What does that really mean? Can an otherwise immoral act be made moral by dopamine and serotonin? We don't go there with drugs. We want to preserve the persons ability to make good choices according to some other sense of goodness. A goodness normally associated with the the brain's sense of pleasure but not identical to it.

This is not a problem if you believe the brain is not the end of the story. You just say the brain is getting goodness wrong. It is defective. That is intuitive to us. We treat addiction as a psychological problem. But what if you believe the brain is the end of the story as far as goodness goes? What do you say when the brain's sense of goodness seems out of whack? Do you just bow to what the brain says, even if it is the brain of an addict? You can make exceptions but then you have to base that on something. Some standard that applies to all humans that does not depend on whether they agree with it or not.

That is a huge philosophical step to take. That is that my mind is not enough to determine right and wrong. Not only do these things exists but my ability to discern them through intuition or reason is going to be fallible. So I need someone to impose morality on me. Catholics talk about not imposing a morality but just proposing a morality. Still it can't be something I make. It has to be something that makes me. It is the terrifying but liberating step of removing yourself from the center of your world.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ten Reasons Why Greta Christina Is An Atheist

Greta Christina's post was mentioned on Strange Notions as something that explained why someone would believe in atheism. She lists 10 reason.A bit long but such is life.
1: The consistent replacement of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones.
Apollo When you look at the history of what we know about the world, you see a very noticeable pattern. Natural explanations of things have been replacing supernatural explanations of them. Like a steamroller.
Why the sun rises and sets. Where thunder and lightning come from. Why people get sick. Why people look like their parents. How the complexity of life came into being. I could go on and on.
All of these things were once explained by religion. But as we understood the world better, and learned to observe it more carefully, the religious explanations were replaced by physical cause and effect. Consistently. Thoroughly. Like a steamroller. The number of times that a supernatural or religious explanation of a phenomenon has been replaced by a natural explanation? Thousands upon thousands upon thousands.
Now. The number of times that a natural explanation of a phenomenon has been replaced by a supernatural or religious one? The number of times humankind has said, "We used to think (X) was caused by physical cause and effect, but now we understand that it's actually caused by God, or spirits, or demons, or the soul"?
Exactly zero.
There is a bit of a philosophical error here. Things don't have natural explanations or supernatural explanations. Things have both. I am created by God. I am also created by the procreative activity of my parents. Those are not competing explanations. One does not replace the other. In philosophical terms they would be called the immediate cause and the ultimate cause. Finding the immediate cause does not eliminate the ultimate cause. Knowing the sun rises and sets because the earth rotates does not mean God does not give us a new beginning every 24 hours. It tells us how God accomplished this. It does not tell us why. Everything we previously understood about why God gives us such a  rhythm of life still applies.

The wonder and amazement might be reduced. Then again it might be increased. It does become more of a choice. The lack of scientific explanation kind of forces us into awe. The idea of the earth being a big ball 25000 miles around spinning once every 24 hours could awe us but it does not have to. Mentally we can shut it down if we want to.
Given that this is true, what are the chances that any given phenomenon for which we currently don't have a thorough explanation -- human consciousness, for instance, or the origin of the universe -- will be best explained by the supernatural?
Given this pattern, it seems clear that the chances of this are essentially zero. So close to zero that they might as well be zero. And the hypothesis of the supernatural is therefore a hypothesis we can comfortably discard. It is a hypothesis we came up with when we didn't understand the world as well as we do now... but that, on more careful examination, has never -- not once -- been shown to be correct.
She continues with the same error of discarding something a natural explanation is known to exist or is likely to exist like we have to choose one or the other. The trouble is the natural explanation does not answer all our questions. It tells us how. It does not tell us why. There is an assumption here that the why question can be left unanswered. That does not work. So atheists end up in nihilism just because it is the non-answer to the why question. They might try and manufacture meaning in some superficial way but they avoid a big answer to such a big question just because natural science allows them to.
2: The inconsistency of world religions.
This one is kind of lame. Just because it is not easy to sort out the various truth claims does not make them all wrong. Many of them can be largely right. One of them can be completely right. 
3: The weakness of religious arguments, explanations, and apologetics.
Again, not really a reason.  People make weak arguments for true things all the time. It does not make them false. Often people just sense God in something or someone and can't convert it into a coherent argument. We have words to describe such things but atheists tend to sneer at those words.
4: The increasing diminishment of God.
This is essentially the same as #1 and is wrong for the same reason. When a farmer prays for rain and it rains God is not diminished by the presence of a meteorologist who can explain what physically happened to produce the rain.
5: The fact that religion runs in families.
 This is kind of like #2 and just as irrelevant to the truth or falsity of a religion.
6: The physical causes of everything we think of as the soul.
Brain in thought The science of neuropsychology is still very much in its infancy. But there are a few things that we know about it. And one of the things we know is that everything we think of as the soul -- consciousness, identity, character, free will -- all of that is powerfully affected by physical changes to the brain and body. Drugs and medicines, injury, illness, sleep deprivation, etc.... all of these can make changes to the "soul." In some cases, they can make changes so drastic, they render a person's personality and character completely unrecognizable.
Again we are back in #1 territory.  The assumption that a scientific explanation of how something works implies a lack of a spiritual connection. The physical and spiritual dimensions are hugely intertwined. That does not mean the physical won't make sense on its own. It will.
7: The complete failure of any sort of supernatural phenomenon to stand up to rigorous testing.
She gives a link to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. I found their article on Fatima. I would say they completely failed to explain anything. They recited the usual stuff, "mass hysteria and local meteorological phenomena." But their skepticism disappears when deal with these "more tenable" explanations. Like just saying the words "mass hysteria" make it credible that 70,000 people would experience the sun dancing when there was nothing happening. Or maybe asking how 3 children predicted this local meteorological phenomena so far in advance and why the locals were unaware of their own local weather patterns. Catholicism never demands this much willful stupidity. It is quite sad to see such intelligent people who worship reason have to embrace such irrational ideas.

To be sure, many miracle claims are proved false. I think that is her point, that the majority of investigations that something like the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry do end up finding nothing. How often do they just dismiss real evidence and how often do they actually debunk a false claim? I don't know. They are not exactly impartial. The Fatima article proves that. I do think most claims are false. I tend to be a skeptic. Are all claims false? No.

8: The slipperiness of religious and spiritual beliefs.
Gianttwister_2Not all religious and spiritual beliefs make testable claims. Many of them have a more "saved if we do, saved if we don't" quality. If things go the believer's way, it's a sign of God's grace and intervention; if they don't, then, well, God moves in mysterious ways, and maybe he has a lesson to teach that we don't understand, and it's not up to us to question his will. That sort of thing. No matter what happens, it can be twisted around to prove that the belief is right.
That is a sure sign of a bad, bad argument.
Popper Here's the thing. It is a well-established principle in the philosophy of science that, if a theory can be supported no matter what possible evidence comes down the pike, it is a completely useless theory. It has no power to explain what's already happened, or predict what will happen in the future. The theory of gravity, for instance, could be disproven by things suddenly falling up; the theory of evolution could be disproven by finding rabbits in the pre-Cambrian fossil layer. These theories predict that these things will not happen; if they do, then the theories go poof. But if your theory of God's existence holds up no matter what happens -- whether your friend with cancer gets better or dies, whether natural disasters strike big sinful cities or small God-fearing towns -- then it is an utterly useless theory, with no power to either predict or explain anything.
I agree with here that most of these things don't make good arguments for Christianity. So what? We are not trying to come up with a theory that can predict experimental results. That is what science does. Religion is not science. That does not make it false or useless. It needs to be evaluated on its own terms. We are not constantly trying to revise our religion. We want something that won't throw us into spiritual crisis when we hit a physical crisis. If only want a faith makes you immune to bad outcomes then you are bound to be disappointed.
9: The failure of religion to improve or clarify over time.
Our understanding of the metaphysical world is exactly in the place it's always been: hundreds and indeed thousands of sects, squabbling over which sacred text and which set of spiritual intuitions is the right one. We haven't come to any sort of consensus about which sect has a more accurate conception of the metaphysical world. We haven't even come up with a method of deciding which sect has a more accurate conception of the metaphysical world. All anyone can do is point to their own sacred text and their own spiritual intuition. And around in the squabbling circle we go.
All of which clearly points to religion, not as a perception of a real being or substance, but as an idea we made up and are clinging to. If religion were a perception of a real being or substance, our understanding of it would be sharpening, clarifying, being refined. We would have improved prayer techniques, more accurate prophecies, something. Anything but people squabbling with greater or lesser degrees of rancor, and nothing to actually back up their belief.
This is a real strength of Catholicism. It does improve and clarify over time. Many religions are based on a revelation that has ceased. That can be of some value. It can give us timeless truths. The trouble is knowledge of the physical world is growing fast. It can cause us to question whether some of these timeless truths were understood correctly. How can we be sure? Religions that have no new revelation don't have a good answer. This includes bible-only Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc.

Catholicism does improve and does clarify God's revelation in relation to modern thinking. For example, modern thinking led a lot of people to believe that contraception and female ordination must be OK. Reproductive technology has change. The role of women in society has changed. Certainly the traditional teaching on these issues needs to be reviewed. The magisterium was able to clarify for us that those prohibitions remain in force.

On a more positive side Vatican II clarified for us that salvation outside the visible church may happen. That protestants can be seen as separated brothers rather than merely heretics. That Jews should not be blamed for the murder of Jesus. These are modern ideas that the magisterium clarified were in fact improvements to the faith.
10: The complete and utter lack of solid evidence for God's existence.
SlashCircle.svg This is probably the best argument I have against God's existence:
There's just no evidence for it.
No good evidence, anyway. No evidence that doesn't just amount to opinion and tradition and confirmation bias and all the other stuff I've been talking about for the last two days.
And in a perfect world, that should have been the only argument I needed. In a perfect world, I shouldn't have had to spend the last month and a half collating and summarizing the reasons I don't believe in God, any more than I would have for Zeus or Quetzalcoatl or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
The first question I would ask is what sort of evidence is she looking for. If you are talking about physical evidence then I would wonder why. Sure there are some miracles that offer some physical evidence. They have their place. Still looking to prove the existence of God just from the physical is quite strange. It is really setting yourself up for failure.

We don't believe in God based on one thing proving God exists. We believe because everything proves it. The transcendent comes into our life over and over from all directions. Everything time we experience beauty or love or death. When we reflect on life. When we are wronged. When we are inspired.

There is a spiritual sense we have. We know when something or someone is touching our soul. We trust our physical senses not because can prove them reliable, we can't. We trust them because they are the best source of information we have. Our soul sense is the best source of information about the spiritual world. We don't need proof God exists any more than we need proof we are not a brain in a vat. It is simply the rational thing to believe.

Friday, May 10, 2013

No True Scotsman

The No True Scotsman fallacy is a subtle form of begging the question. The term was coined by Anthony Flew:
Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again". Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a thing". The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again; and, this time, finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, "No true Scotsman would do such a thing".[2]
This comes up a fair bit when dealing with abstract ideas that are imprecisely defined. You can play with the definitions and make it unfalsifiable and still get away with it rhetorically. Consider a dialogue like this:
Protestant:  Evangelical protestants agree on all important matters of doctrine
Catholic:    They don't agree about the Eucharist
Protestant:  That is not an important matter
Catholic:    What about Rob Bell? He denies the doctrine of hell.
Protestant:  Rob Bell is not an evangelical
So what started as an impressive statement about the unity of evangelicals ends up being not quite so impressive. Like Hamish McDonald the evangelical thinks he is making a true and meaningful statement. One has a notion of a true Scotsman in his mind. The other has a notion of a true evangelical in his mind. They both want to convince themselves that the community they consider themselves a part of does not have a problem. Scotland does not have a crime problem. Evangelicals don't have a heresy problem. The trouble is they are wrong. Any reasonable look at the data shows they are wrong.

With the evangelicals what has been happening really since the reformation but in an accelerated way over the last 100 years or so is constant change in doctrine. They have responded in two ways. They have declared many doctrines to be unimportant. and they have declared may groups of people to not be Christian. So they agree with fewer and fewer people about less and less. But none of this is precisely defined. It can't be. Every protestant has a different notion of what it means to be Christian and who has rejected some essentials of the faith. So being a Christian is like being a True Scotsman in the sense that what it means can change over time and change from person to person and really becomes just a vague notion in people's heads.

Against all this we have the doctrine of infallibility. It is very precise. This is the Catholic faith. People don't agree with it? So what? It does not depend on anyone's agreement. It is falsifiable. All you would have to do is find one logical contradiction in what is defined infallibly. But most of all it shows that the Catholic faith has the character of truth. That is it does not change from person to person. It transcends time and culture.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Religion and Violence

Richard Beck has a post on religious intolerance that Christian H pointed me to. 
There is a certain configuration of religion that is highly explosive:
1.) Certainty: A feeling that what is right vs. wrong or moral vs. immoral is a FACT that is obvious to everyone and universally binding.
2.) Ingroup: The creation of an ingroup and an outgroup.
3.) Infrahumanization: Viewing the outgroup as less intelligent, honest, or righteous because they disagree with the ingroup.
4.) Victimization: A victim mentality justifying aggression (overt or psychological) toward the outgroup.
He zeros in on the first one as the problem. That is if we become certain about our religious ideas then we are on the road to intolerance and possibly violence.It becomes immediately self-refuting. He identifies an ingoup and an outgroup. That is religious moderates are good. Religious fundamentalists are bad. He sees the fundamentalists as less intelligent and less honest. In fact, they do great hard to society by portraying this certainty about religion. So then what should society do to solve this problem that these pesky outgroup people are causing? One can see how this can cause aggression against fundamentalists.

The trouble is he has identified the wrong step. You can't keep people from being certain of their religion. People are going to order their lives around a central truth and seeing that truth as tentative is unnatural. Just like when Beck rejected fundamentalism with great certainty. People are not tentative by nature especially when dealing with moral outrage.

What I see as more important is step #3. I think that is the step where Catholics should always get off the religious intolerance train. We cannot dehumanize those who disagree with us. Yes, Catholic history is full of examples of this. Despite this Catholic teaching has developed into an understanding that no people group should be diminished no matter how wrong their faith and morals are.

Vatican II went so far as to say that the holiest of Catholics can learn something new about God by dialoguing with the most mistaken people. Why? Because God interacts with everyone on a spiritual level. God does not refuse to talk to anyone. This means that if we want to know God, and that is what we should want, then it makes sense to talk about matters of faith with anyone and everyone we can. Aggression towards any group is therefore ruled out not because Catholicism might be wrong but because Catholicism is a work in progress and anyone can contribute to that progress.

It occurs to me that any belief system, whether religious or political or whatever, needs to have this. That is a teaching that values human beings that oppose the system. That is what democracy and human rights are about. They flow from the Christian notion that all people are made in the image of God and that trumps any religious or political wrongness they might have. The trouble is not that we hold our doctrines strongly but that we think right doctrine gives us greater dignity as persons. It does not.

So the danger of intolerance comes from any belief system that does not include that basic dignity not just for non-believers but even for those who energetically oppose the system. This is where so many governments have failed. How do they deal with the opposition? It is also a place where God is mind-bogglingly generous. He allows people to oppose Him and to influence others to oppose Him and even allows them to corrupt His church and other important institutions. Why doesn't He just zap them? Yet He avoids aggression. He does not force them to become Christians and he does not prevent them from doing great harm.

This does remind me of what Pope Benedict said at a meeting of world religious leaders at Assisi. He even made sure atheists were invited. Then he denounced all violence justified in any way by the Christian religion. He was giving the leaders of other world religions an opportunity to condemn those who used their religion to justify violence. The awkward fact was that one religion represented there was used to justify a lot more terrorist acts than all the others put together. That would be the Muslim religion.

When you look at why that is, it comes down to what Beck calls infra-humanization. They just don't have clear teaching on respecting the human dignity of non-Muslims. In fact, they have a long tradition going back to Mohammad himself of using very brutal violence against the enemies of Islam. That is a huge problem because saying what Mohammad did was immoral would be denying a central teaching of their faith. It would be similar asking a Christian to say something Jesus did was immoral. The difference is Jesus never killed anyone.

The thing to note is the difference is in the content of the religion and not the certainty of it. We should not fear those who hold to a faith as strongly as Osama Bin Laden. The question we should ask is what that faith teaches. Does it teach that those who reject that faith can be dealt with violently? If so, we should be concerned .

This is precisely why we should be concerned about atheism. Sure there is a history of violent atheists but that is not the big reason. Atheists don't look to previous generations of atheists the way Catholics and Muslims do. So no atheist will get violent because the Nazi's or Communists were violent. Still they have no doctrine that says they need to respect the human dignity of their opponents. So there can be an atheist Osama Bin Laden. There can never be a Catholic Osama Bin Laden.

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Gay Anglican Reflects On Obedience To The Church

Wesley Hill wrote an article at first things about the church and sex.
When I was in seminary, one of the hot topics we students debated was where each of us stood on the matter of women’s ordination. In our evangelical world, this issue was talked about in terms of “egalitarianism” (i.e., women are equally gifted alongside men and are called to serve at every level of Christian ministry) versus “complementarianism” (i.e., women are equal in dignity and worth but are called to different forms of ministry in the church than men are, and women are not permitted to be “elders” [presbyteroi]).
This was a huge issue in my church when I was protestant. What struck me is how everyone had an opinion on it. Everyone had a biblical justification for their opinion. The strange part was I didn't feel the biblical arguments were the reason people were on the side they were on. There were liberals and conservatives and they all ended up on the side you would expect them on and dutifully used the biblical texts and arguments that would get them there. I just had the feeling everyone started with the answer they wanted. I was double-minded. I really didn't start with any answer and wanted to accept whatever the bible had to say on the matter. I could not figure out what that was. So Sola Scriptura didn't really work for me. It worked well for all those who knew where they wanted to end up. It just did not work well if you just wanted to end up where ever God was.
It was only later, after seminary, that it occurred to me that our debate was, among other things, odd. We students interrogated each other, and each of us felt a (mostly self-imposed) obligation to settle “our position” on the matter. But in retrospect, I view that as strange—because whether women can be ordained to diaconal or priestly/pastoral ministry is not a question that can be “settled” by an individual Christian, even one who’s been to seminary and been ordained. Rather, that’s a matter for churches to decide. Even in the Baptist church to which I belonged at that time, it made no real difference what I as a seminarian thought on the matter; nor would it have made much difference if I’d been a pastor or elder there. What mattered is what my denomination had decided and whether I wanted to remain a part of it, working within its confines or else kicking against the goads.
He is getting closer. A matter for churches to decide?  But does it not matter how churches decide? The Baptist church does decide these matters by voting. If you might become a pastor or an elder you might be asked to vote on the matter some day. The truth be told there is likely to be much church politics over the issue. I can see having a spirit of obedience but is that really compatible with a church government that can be changed by consensus? If we are called to "preach the word in season and out of season" (2 Tim 4:2)  can we really do that if what qualifies as "the word" can change based on whether it is in season or out of season?
Some of the current discussions I follow, and am a part of, regarding gay and lesbian persons in the church, remind me of those seminary discussions. I read blogs and talk with friends who are trying to decide whether they, personally, are “Side A” (i.e., believing God blesses and affirms monogamous same-sex partnerships) or “Side B” (i.e., believing that God calls gay and lesbian Christians to abstain from gay sex). Listening into these conversations and participating in them myself, I find myself dwelling more and more on how this way of framing the discussion marginalizes the communal, ecclesial context in which all Christian ethical judgments must be made. Now that I am a member of the Anglican Church in North America, it matters very little, in one sense, what I believe about same-sex unions. My church has rendered a judgment on the matter, and so my question becomes, “Am I willing to be submissive to that judgment or should I look for another church?” (Or the bigger question: “Why am I a member of the Anglican Communion and not, say, Catholic?”)
I still think the matter of what God actually thinks has been lost. Are we willing to be submissive to the judgement of the church knowing that God works through the church to lead us to truth? But does He work through the Anglican Church? If Christian ethical judgements are to be made in a communal, ecclesial context then how are we to judge when leaving the church is the ethical thing to do? Can anything unethical be made ethical by starting a new church and thereby having a favorable communal, ecclesial context? King Henry VIII seemed to think so.

Or perhaps I could go for a bit more complexity and say, “Am I willing to (a) be submissive, (b) look for a different church, or (c) stay put and work for change?” If I harbored “progressive,” “Side A” convictions on homosexuality, I could see my role as an Anglican as akin to that played by James Alison or Andrew Sullivan in the Roman Catholic Church: to be a prophetic voice of dissent against an ancient prejudice. Or if I held “traditionalist,” “Side B” convictions in, say, The Episcopal Church, I could view my role the way someone like Christopher Seitz views his: I would be called to defend historic Christian teaching on homosexuality in a church increasingly unsympathetic to it. The one thing I couldn’t do, in any of the above cases, would be to behave as if my “personal” views on the question were the most important, decisive thing to focus on.
Is not anything but the submissive choice really putting the focus on your personal views? I am not sure how he thinks  James Alison, Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Seitz avoid this. I am still looking for a difference between a political fight and discerning God's will. If you think of churches like political parties then you would have the same choices in politics. Either (a) ignore the issue, (b) change parties, or (c) work to change the position of the party you are in. Do we believe Christians have anything better available to them? He seems to think so. He sees something as more important than his personal opinion. He does not dare say it. That a church needs a special grace of God to arrive at the right answer or it is not worth anything.
This, I take it, is not unrelated to the point Rowan Williams made, over and over and again, when he was asked about the apparent discrepancy between his own “private” inclinations to find some way to bless same-sex unions and the Anglican Communion’s opposition to such blessings. Shortly after he became Archbishop of Canterbury, Williams told Time, for instance: “I’m now in a position where I’m bound to say the teaching of the Church is this, the consensus is this. We have not changed our minds corporately. It’s not for me to exploit my position to push a change.” In other words, even the bishop who is primus inter pares cannot allow his convictions to be elevated unduly.
So what good is he? We need to know the Word of God. If God does not speak through the Archbishop of Canterbury then who does he speak through? At least the Catholic church makes the claim that the pope can do more than just offer one more opinion. That in some circumstances he can discern the Word of God for the church. That the special grace of infallibility can get us out of this uncertainty trap. Sure we need to scrutinize that claim. We need to look at scripture and tradition and history. Still it has at least a chance of being true. The claim that God is simply silent and nobody can know more than their own fallible opinion is just not good enough.
So where does this leave us individual gay Christians in our various churches? Certainly each of us must act. We cannot put our lives on hold. Even though our churches may take a long time to give us the counsel we need to act rightly, that doesn’t mean that we’re able to wait that long before we embark on life-altering courses of action. A well-meaning Anglican priest once said to me, “We don’t yet have the mind of Christ on the issue of loving, faithful same-sex partnerships.” Well, even if I believed that to be true, that wouldn’t remove the urgency of my own choice: should I pursue such a gay partnership or remain celibate? That’s not a decision that can be deferred indefinitely.
This is precisely why a non-answer or a changeable answer  is not good enough. People need to make choices. We can't ask someone to make huge personal sacrifices based on an ethic that might be repudiated in a few years. We need to know what God really thinks and we need to know it with certainty. The same is true of female ordination or abortion or divorce. Moral issues matter.
It is, though, a decision that can be recognized as not a matter for my own “personal” judgment only. Or, putting it a bit more precisely (and positively), if I am to act according to my conscience, I have to recognize that my conscience is in need of communal formation. As Alan Jacobs put it, writing about his decision to leave The Episcopal Church several years ago,
I believe that I acted according to what Cardinal Newman long ago called “the supreme authority of Conscience… the aboriginal Vicar of Christ.” For Newman, conscience is anything but “private judgment”: it is, rather, the testing of one’s own private judgments, and sometimes those of others, against Scripture and against the long testimony of the whole church of Christ. And if we test those judgments so, and invoke our consciences, we enter perilous territory: as Newman reminds us, the fourth Lateran Council (1215) affirmed that Quidquid fit contra conscientiam, ├Ždificat ad gehennam—Whatever is done in opposition to conscience is conducive to damnation.
Of course Newman followed this line of thought to it's logical conclusion and joined the Catholic Church. You can do it in an ad hoc way. That is you look at the long testimony of the whole church on a question like gay marriage but then you don't do the same on questions involving the papacy or the Eucharist or the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the church. If you are consistent and test your private judgements on all matters all the way back then you will end up Catholic.
If I am a Christian, then I belong (like it or not) to the Body of Christ. By virtue of baptism, I am no longer “my own person”; in belonging to Christ, I also belong to the other members of his body, the church. And so, these days, I find myself less and less interested in asking where each gay Christian, myself included, “stands” on the question of the morality of gay sex. Instead, I want—even, or precisely, as an Anglican—to explore the question Eve Tushnet, a Roman Catholic, raised recently: is there a way to see my own convictions as somehow less important than the matter of my membership in the church of which I’m a part?
I don't know how you get away from infallibility here. We tend to be quite sure of ourselves. If the church teaches something and we disagree with it then we are going to have this idea that maybe the church is wrong and we are right.  Even when we accept that the church is wiser than us in general we tend to think on this issue the church is actually wrong. In my experience on the female ordination question both sides were very firm. A vote of the synod in the opposite direction convinced almost nobody they were wrong. Without any notion of infallibility everyone just went straight to the conclusion that the church is wrong. That is the way these things are. Opinions are deeply held and changing them does not come easy. Unless you can say that this is the true Christian faith and it is not going to change the vast majority will be unmoved.