Jamaica has earned itself notoriety in recent years for anti-gay hate crimes that seem to be condoned to some extent by the country's law enforcement agencies. The US based human rights organisation Human Richts Watch has ensured for some time now that the world gets to know about the Jamaican state's failure to protect the civil rights of its gay citizens. You might want to read the full report of Human Rights Watch, particularly in light of what follows below.
True to form, Christian church leaders have been quick to respond to the charges made by Human Rights Watch. As usual their near-pathological homophobia is carefully cloaked under the guise of 'ethics' and 'morals', which is somewhat amusing, considering the criminal history of the Christian churches the world all over.
One would expect journalists to take one of the basic tenets of journalism ethics seriously, namely to report in an unbiased manner about the issues at stake. A Jamaican paper, the Jamaica Gleaner has instead taken it upon itself to propagate the religious ideologies that are at the heart of anti-gay hate crimes.
This post documents how that works: the paper published on February 18, 2008 a piece which quotes uncritically Christian leaders in the country making mostly unintelligible, and arguably offensive remarks about homosexuality. In fact, this was the 'lead' story of the day, if one assumes that the article's URL is anything to go by. The article was carefully 'balanced' by deploying subheadings such as 'Immoral in every way'.
Fair enough, you might say, may be they published a biased article. After all, the Caribbean is known to have somewhat Neandertalish views on the matter at hand. Surely, however, the paper would have published a couple of letters to the editor that were critical of the stance taken by the church leaders and probably even of the journalist who permitted himself or herself to be used as a tool to propagate sectarian views as 'news'.
Well, this is how the story continues. I decided to write a brief letter to the editor outlining logic errors in the church leaders' stance. This is what I had to say:
Your article ‘Gay lobby rebuked - Church says won't accept homosexual lifestyle in Jamaica’ in today’s Jamaica Gleaner was brought to my attention by one of my students. As someone who thinks about ethics professionally, I am surprised about many of the assertions made by your country’s religious leaders. For instance, they claim that homosexuality is abnormal and that that is one good reason to disapprove of it. There might be good reasons to disapprove of homosexuality, but its abnormality is not one of them. Lots of things are abnormal in the same sense that homosexuality is abnormal. Normality defines a statistical average, no more, no less. No doubt then, homosexuality is abnormal – in the same sense that driving a Rolls Royce is abnormal (ie a minority of people do it). Statistical claims are insufficient to base moral judgment on. It would be a logical fallacy to do so.
Equally, they claim that homosexuality is morally wrong from a ‘physical’ stand point. This statement is unintelligible. Things that are morally wrong are wrong for moral reasons, not ever for physical reasons. It’s like saying that blue is bad because it’s hot. It’s an error in category.
They also suggest that homosexuality is morally wrong for social reasons. There may be good social reasons to condemn homosexuality, yet they have not been provided by the church leaders you mention in your article. The impartial observer must wonder what these good social reasons might be? The evidence in support of the claim is certainly missing.
There are more such oddities in the church leaders’ line of reasoning: they also say that the majority of Jamaicans deem homosexuality ‘wrong’. Assuming this is correct, what is the moral value of knowing this? Assume, for the sake of the argument, that the majority of Jamaicans thought that Chinese or German people were racially inferior. That tells us nothing about the fact of the matter, because the majority of Jamaicans could be mistaken. The same is true for any value judgments the majority of Jamaicans make on homosexuality or any number of issues. Ethics is distinctly not a matter of majority vote but of sound reasoning. Sadly this seems lacking in the statements put forward by Jamaica’s church leaders.
Professor of Philosophy
Ontario Research Chair in Bioethics
Queen’s University, ON, Canada
Well, you gathered from me having to reproduce my Letter here, that the paper chose not to publish this Letter to the Editor as it didn't fit the propaganda the paper decided to support in its 'news' section. Another breach of journalism ethics.
The paper instead chose to publish a Letter to the Editor in support of its campaign, which more or less reiterated the church leaders' remarks, peppered with the usual bunch of quotes from the Bible. I give you a brief flavour of the letter in question so you are enabled to judge how serious the editorial failing of the Jamaica Gleaner has been in this regard.
'The Bible, therefore, clearly and unequivocally condemns homosexual acts (Gen 1:27-28; Gen 2:24; Matt 19: 4-6; Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1 Tim 1:10 etc.). There is also no scientific evidence to confirm homosexual activity as a normal behaviour. Homosexuality is neither an entirely innate condition nor is it unchangeable. The so-called 'gay gene' has never been found.'
My Letter clearly dealt with the claim from abnormality as well as some others, yet the paper chose not to give its readers a chance to make up their own mind by permitting the other side of the argument to be heard. In rhetoric the continuing repetition of arguments is called 'propaganda'. Note also that propaganda usually relies on the selective or misleading presentations of the facts of the matter. Something this letter writer also happens to be guilty of. As the grand master of propaganda, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels pointed out himself, 'The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly - it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.' This precisely describes the strategy followed by the Jamaican church leaders, their local paper, and assorted letter writers over many years by now.
One would have expected a professionally edited newspaper to publish a critical Letter from an expert who has written on this issue in leading international bioethics and medical journals... The Jamaica Gleaner chose not to. A sad indictment indeed.
For what it's worth, here's a link to a paper I published (with colleagues in the US and Australia) some 10 years ago on the ethical issue of sexual orientation research as well as the ethics of homosexuality, it deals with most of the 'arguments' put forward in the campaign items published under various guises by the Jamaica Gleaner. It's been reprinted in a number of bioethics textbooks as well as gender and feminist studies text books. Mind you, there is even a Russian translation :-).