For the Bible Tells Me So

For The Bible Tells Me So

 

In order to simplify life, I normally try to avoid posting on this site what is also posted at the ISSI site. However, I just finished a longer review of the documentary For the Bible Tells Me So and thought it might of interest here as well. Here it is:

 

Have you ever found yourself on a mailing list from either a right-wing or left-wing political organization? They provide people who receive their materials with enough information to gain their support but not enough information to adequately address the complexities of the issues being highlighted. The documentary For the Bible Tells Me So by Daniel Karslake comes across like this to the viewer. It is at its best when it tries to convey different experiences among families sorting out the relationship between religion and sexual identity. But it more often than not presents interviews with selected theologians and church leaders in ways that fail to adequately address the central issues in both biblical studies and scientific research on homosexuality.

 

The documentary opens with some interesting quotes. For example, Peter Gomes, author of The Good Book, suggests that perhaps the Roman Catholic church was correct in medieval times to keep ordinary people from reading Scripture for themselves – to limit the reading of Scripture to those who are qualified to read it. Lawrence King refers to people who adhere to a traditional Christian sexual ethic as having a “5th grade education,” suggesting that any intelligent person would not interpret Scripture as saying that same-sex behavior is a moral concern. Mel White refers to what conservatives do as akin to what happened under Hitler – under Hitler – in terms of “telling a lie” over and over again until people believe it. This give the viewer some idea of how these very important and substantive issues are going to be addressed throughout the documentary.

 

For example, the segments that follow do not address the broad biblical themes and principles regarding human sexuality, nor do they address even most of the biblical references to sexuality, its expression, or homosexuality; rather, the documentary focused primarily on the Holiness Codes in Leviticus and offered commentary by revisionists with respect to how best read these passages today. This was probably the greatest disappointment in the documentary. Rather than engage how biblical scholars interpret these passages in context, the documenary focuses more on conveying apparent inconsistencies as so obviously ridiculous as to not be taken seriously, which does not lend itself to a meaninful discussion of hermeneutics (the interpretation of Scripture). This is particularly unfortunate as hermeneutics has been argued as the area many Christians see as central to the moral debate on homosexuality. (There is a brief discussion later of Sodom and Gomorrah and recent interpretations of “inhospitality” as well as a very brief interview with Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, that hints at what the documentary could have been had there been an interest in genuine exchange of scholarship in this area.) 

 

The section on science was similarly disappointing. It focused primarily on etiology of sexual orientation with some discussion later on attempted change. The discussion of etiology is limited to males. The documentary states that this is because there is more research on males than females, and this is factually correct. However, there is also greater fluidity among female sexual minorities, and one recent study reported it was normative to have both same- and opposite-sex attraction among a sample of female sexual minorities, most of whom changed identity labels over time. Limiting the discussion to males could be seen by critics as serving the purpose of conveying something about the immutability of sexual orientation that has to be argued for and supported by science rather than portrayed through a limited review of a handful of studies. The immutability argument is strengthened by limiting the discussion to males, and then generalized to gay males and lesbians in ways that is quite misleading. In fact, the section on etiology focuses primarily on twin studies, saying that research shows up to a 70% concordance rate for gay male twins. This is highly misleading to those who are unfamiliar with this line of research, as the studies here suggest very little input from biology. (The most frequently cited study is by Michael Bailey, who in a 1991 study reported a 52% probandwise concordance rate for gay male twins. This shrank to 20% in the 2000 study when Bailey used a more representative sample. But the true concordance rate is even less than that – more like 11% – once you understand how “probandwise” concordance rates are calculated; to learn more about this, see the review in Homosexuality on pages 72-80.)

 

In any case, the twin and birth order studies mentioned at one point are contrasted later with the idea that homosexuality is a choice. This distinction between what is biologically based (more like left handedness) and choice confuses what is actually volitional about sexuality and what is the central concern (e.g., behavior) in a Christian sexual ethic.

 

There is an interesting section on those who participate in religion-based ministries, such as those affiliated with Exodus International. The documentary conveys this information through a cartoon that dismisses the experiences of those who identify as ex-gay, suggesting that they only change behavior and that the use of varied approaches suggests that nothing is helpful. These ministries are portrayed as fear-based and merely helping people to suppress their urges. This section also emphasizes the risks associated with such suppression of sexual attraction, such as shame and guilt. From an informed consent standpoint, risks are an important consideration that need to be discussed, but the documentary only cites anecdotes here and fails to mention studies of reported change of sexual orientation, such as the study conducted by Robert Spitzer, and the benefits reported there of not only experiencing change of orientation but also decreased self-report of depression.   

 

The documentary focuses on James Dobson, Beverly LaHaye, and a few others as the main spokespersons of conventional religiosity. There really is no recognition that the move away from a traditional Christian sexual ethic is such a radical departure from orthodoxy in the areas of sexuality and sexual behavior. Again, some recognition of this and contrasting interviews with serious biblical scholars would have helped the viewer better understand the complexities associated with the ethical debate among Christians (more like the book, Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, by Dan Via and Robert Gagnon).

 

Toward the end of the documentary is a portrayal of violence against sexual minorities. This is a sobering, painful section to watch and represents another important area for all people interested in the welfare of others. It is a topic on which both “sides” can find common ground, as Christians stand against acts of violence against gay and lesbian persons. However, the approach taken in the documentary is one that links traditional Christian sexual ethics with violence against gays and lesbians. To offer a truly substantive contribution, this assumption of a link has to be established and supported rather than just assumed and asserted. Also, logically, the moral stance has to be evaluated on its own terms even in cases in which people misuse that understanding to justify harm to others (for a discussion of this, see Homosexuality, pp. 12-13).

 

The documentary is at its best when it tells the stories of various family members and how they have sorted out how best to respond to loved ones. This is perhaps because there are different families represented. Although the majority have very positive outcomes of family tensions being resolved through acceptance, reinterpretation of Scripture, or unconditional love, there is one family in particular that conveys some of the challenges faced when parents do not accept revisionist interpretations of Scripture. This is perhaps more representative of help-seeking families, as they are often conflicted and want assistance in sorting out these complex issues. This is also an important consideration for families as the challenges are great when families feel they need to navigate how to be loving but not affirming as far as their conscience will allow. 

 

There is a need for a resource that helps people of faith sort out the complex issues related to biblical studies and scientific research. For the Bible Tells Me So is not that resource. In the end the documentary is a disappointment as it fails to even attempt to show a balanced discussion of either science or religion. It will likely be embraced by those who agree with it a priori and dismissed by those who disagree with it a priori… much like the mailings you get from either right- or left-wing political organizations. It may persuade those who are unfamiliar with either the scientific research or biblical hermeneutics, but it will do so by not providing a balanced portrayal of the most substantive issues.

APA Resolution on Religion and Prejudice

Last fall the American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) Council of Representatives passed a resolution dealing with religion, religion-based prejudice, and religion-derived prejudice. The citation is as follows: American Psychological Association Council of Representatives. (2007). Resolution on religious, religion-based and/or religion-derived prejudice. August, 2007.

 August 2007

 That Council adopts the following resolution as APA policy:

 Resolution on Religious, Religion-Based and/or Religion-Derived Prejudice

Introduction

Prejudice based on or derived from religion and anti-religious prejudice have been, and continue to be, a cause of significant suffering in the human condition. APA’s policy statement on Prejudice, Stereotypes, and Discrimination provides operational definitions for prejudices, stereotypes and interpersonal and institutional discrimination. The resolution specifically states, “prejudices are unfavorable affective reactions to or evaluations of groups and their members, stereotypes are generalized beliefs about groups and their members, interpersonal discrimination is differential treatment by individuals toward some groups and their members relative to other groups and their members, and institutional discrimination involves policies and contexts that create, enact, reify, and maintain inequality (American Psychological Association, 2006) .” Prejudice directed against individuals and groups based on their religious or spiritual beliefs, practice, adherence, identification or affiliation has resulted in a wide range of discriminatory practices. Such discrimination has been carried out by individuals, groups and by governments. Examples of non-governmental discrimination based on religion include social ostracism against individuals based on their religion, desecration of religious buildings or sites, and violence or other hate crimes targeted towards adherents of particular faith traditions (U.S. Department of State, 2004). Prejudice and discrimination based on religion and/or spirituality continue to be problems even in countries that otherwise have achieved a high level of religious liberty and pluralism. Governmental discrimination based on religion has taken both covert and overt forms. Current examples of covert religious discrimination include government surveillance of religious speech, pejorative labeling by governmental bodies of certain religious groups as ‘cults’ with a resulting loss of religious freedoms, and a lack of legal protection for citizens that are from non-majority faiths who are victims of religious hate crimes (Center for Religious Freedom, 2001, 2003; U.S. Department of State, 2004). Prejudice based on or derived from religion has been used to justify discrimination, prejudice, and human rights violations against those holding different religious beliefs, those who profess no religious beliefs, individuals of various ethnicities, women, those who are not exclusively heterosexual, and other individuals and groups depending on perceived theological justification or imperative.

Indeed, it is a paradoxical feature of these kinds of prejudices that religion can be both target and victim of prejudice, as well as construed as justification and imperative for prejudice. The right of a person to practice their religion or faith does not and cannot entail a right to harm others or to undermine the public good. This situation is further complicated by the increasing tendency of individuals to identify as ‘spiritual’ apart from any identification or affiliation with a religious tradition (Hill & Pargament, 2003). It is as of yet unclear what impact on the relationships between spirituality and prejudice this increasing trend towards non-institutionalized spirituality may produce.

While many individuals and groups have been victims of anti-religious discrimination, religion itself has also been the source of a wide range of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors towards other individuals (Donahue & Nielsen, 2005). Several decades of psychological research have found complicated relationships between measures of religiousness and measures of prejudice (Allport, 1954/1979; Allport & Ross, 1967; Gorsuch & Aleshire, 1974; Spilka, Hood, Hunsberger, & Gorsuch, 2003). Dozens of studies have reported positive linear relationships between measures of conventional religiousness, such as frequency of church attendance or fundamentalism scale elevations, and measures of negative social attitudes such as prejudice, dogmatism or authoritarianism (Altemeyer, 1988; Altemeyer & Hunsberger, 1992, 2005). Yet, Allport (1950) and his colleagues (Allport & Ross, 1967) observed that the relationship between religion and prejudice is curvilinear rather than linear, with highly religious individuals having lower levels of prejudice than marginally religious adherents. This finding has been relatively robust over numerous subsequent studies on religion and prejudice using self-report measures (Batson & Stocks, 2005; Gorsuch & Aleshire, 1974). Recent research, using non-self report measures, has found an even more complex and varied sets of relationships between diverse types of personal religiousness and prejudice indicators (Batson & Stocks, 2005). As Allport (1954/1979) concluded “the role of religion is paradoxical. It makes prejudice and it unmakes prejudice” (p. 444). While religious motivations and rationales for violent conflicts, social oppression of religious outgroups or norm violators, and the reinforcement of prejudicial stereotypes are readily adducible, it is also true that religious motivations and rationales have been key factors contributing to prosocial developments such as the abolition of slavery (Harvey, 2000; Herek, 1987; Hunsberger, 1996; Rambo, 1993; Rodriguez & Ouellete, 2000; Silberman, 2005; Stark, 2003). This complex relationship between religion and psychosocial variables has led to multiple models of the relationship between forms of religiousness and psychological adjustment (Allport, 1950; Altemeyer, 2003; Batson, Schoenrade, & Ventis, 1993; Krikpatrick, 2005; Watson, Sawyer, Morris, Carpenter, Jemenez, Jonas, & Robinson, 2003). A common motif across these models is that it is the way one is religious rather than merely whether one is religious that is determinative of psychosocial outcomes (Donohue, 1985). It is important for psychology as a behavioral science, and various faith traditions as theological systems, to acknowledge and respect their profoundly different methodological, epistemological, historical, theoretical and philosophical bases. Psychology has no legitimate function in arbitrating matters of faith and theology; and faith traditions have no legitimate place arbitrating behavioral or other sciences. While both traditions may arrive at public policy perspectives operating out of their own traditions, the bases for these perspectives are substantially different.

WHEREAS religion is an important influence in the lives of the vast majority of people, is ubiquitous in human cultures, and is becoming increasingly diverse throughout the world (Brown, 2005; Eck, 2001; Hoge, 1996; Genia, 2000; Richards & Bergin, 2000; Shafranske, 1996); and

WHEREAS the American Psychological Association opposes prejudice and discrimination based upon age, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or physical condition (American Psychological Association, 2002); and

WHEREAS, psychologists respect the dignity and worth of all people and are committed to improving the condition of individuals, organizations, and society; and psychologists are aware of and respect cultural, individual, and role differences among individuals, including (but not limited to) those based on ethnicity, national origin, and religion (American Psychological Association, 2002); and

WHEREAS the American Psychological Association has recognized the profound negative psychological consequences of hate crimes motivated by prejudice (APA council, 2005), and

WHEREAS prejudice against individuals and groups based on their religion or spirituality, and prejudice based on or derived from religion continue to result in various forms of harmful discrimination perpetuated by private individuals, social groups, and governments in both covert and overt forms (Balakian, 2004; Center for Religious Freedom, 2001, 2003; Marshall, 2000; Yakovlev, 2004; U.S. Department of State, 2004); and

WHEREAS the experience of pluralistic cultures which embrace religious liberty shows that a variety of religious faiths and non-religious worldviews can peacefully co-exist while maintaining substantial doctrinal, valuative, behavioral, and organizational differences, (Byrd, 2002; Eck, 2001; Marshall, 2000); and

WHEREAS understanding and respecting patient/client spirituality and religiosity are important in conducting culturally-sensitive research, psychological assessment and treatment (Hathaway, Scott, & Garver, 2004; McCullough, 1999; Richards & Bergin, 1997; Shafranske, 1996; Worthington & Sandage, 2001); and

WHEREAS evidence exists that religious and spiritual factors are under-examined in psychological research both in terms of their prevalence within various research populations and in terms of their possible relevance as influential variables (Emmons & Paloutzian, 2003; Hill & Pargament, 2003; King & Boyatzis, 2004; Miller & Thoresen, 2003, Weaver et al., 1998), and

WHEREAS contemporary psychology, religious and spiritual traditions all address the human condition, they often do so from distinct presuppositions, approaches to knowledge, and social roles and contexts and, while these differences can be enriching and may stimulate fruitful interaction between these domains, they also can present opportunities for misunderstanding and tension around areas of shared concern (Emmons & Paloutzian, 2003; Gould, 2002; Haldeman, 2004; Miller & Delaney, 2004; Van Leeuwen, 1982), and

WHEREAS religion and spirituality can promote beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviors that can dramatically impact human life in ways that are either enhancing or diminishing of the wellbeing of individuals or groups (Allport, 1950; Altemeyer & Hunsberger, 1992, 2005; Silberman, 2005; Stark, 2003),

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association condemns prejudice and discrimination against individuals or groups based on their religious or spiritual beliefs, practices, adherence or background.

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association condemns prejudice directed against individuals or groups, derived from or based on religious or spiritual beliefs.

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association take a leadership role in opposing discrimination based on or derived from religion or spirituality and encouraging commensurate consideration of religion and spirituality as diversity variables.  

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association encourages all psychologists to act to eliminate discrimination based on or derived from religion and spirituality.

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association encourages actions that promote religious and spiritual tolerance, liberty, and respect, in all arenas in which psychologists work and practice, and in society at large.

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association views no religious, faith or spiritual tradition, or lack of tradition, as more deserving of protection than another and that the American Psychological Association gives no preference to any particular religious or spiritual conventions.

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association will include information on prejudice and discrimination based on religion and spirituality in its multicultural and diversity training material and activities.

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association encourages the dissemination of relevant empirical findings about the psychological correlates of religious/spiritual beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors to concerned stakeholders with full sensitivity to the profound differences between psychology and religion/spirituality.

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association encourages individuals and groups to work against any potential adverse psychological consequences to themselves, others or society, that might arise from religious or spiritual attitudes, practices or policies.

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that psychologists are encouraged to be mindful of their distinct disciplinary and professional roles when approaching issues of shared concern with religious adherents.

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that psychologists are encouraged to recognize that it is outside the role and expertise of psychologists as psychologists to adjudicate religious or spiritual tenets, while also recognizing that psychologists can appropriately speak to the psychological implications of religious/spiritual beliefs or practices when relevant psychological findings about those implications exist. Those operating out of religious/spiritual traditions are encouraged to recognize that it is outside their role and expertise to adjudicate empirical scientific issues in psychology, while also recognizing they can appropriately speak to theological implications of psychological science.

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that psychologists are careful to prevent bias from their own spiritual, religious or non-religious beliefs from taking precedence over professional practice and standards or scientific findings in their work as psychologists.

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association encourages collaborative activities in pursuit of shared prosocial goals between psychologists and religious communities when such collaboration can be done in a mutually respectful manner that is consistent with psychologists’ professional and scientific roles.

References

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Allport, (1979). The nature of prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. (Original work published 1954).

Allport, G.W., & Ross, M.J. (1967). Personal religious orientation and prejudice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 5, 432-443.

Altemeyer, B. (1988). Enemies of freedom: Understanding right-wing authoritarianism. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Altemeyer, B. (2003). Why do religious fundamentalists tend to be prejudiced? The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 13, 17-28.

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Altemeyer, B., & Hunsberger, B. (2005). Fundamentalism and authoritarianism. In R.F. Paloutizian & C.L. Park (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality (pp. 378-393). New York: Guilford Press.

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Batson, C.D., & Stocks, C.L. (2005). Religion and prejudice. In J.F. Davidio,P. Glick, & LA. Rudman (Eds.), On the nature of prejudice: Fifty years after Allport. (pp. 413-427). Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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Stark, R. (2003). For the glory of God: How monotheism led to reformation, science, witch-hunts, and the end of slavery. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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Yakovlev, A.N. (2004). A century of violence in Soviet Russia. (A. Austin, translator). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.