Union University
Union University Dept of Language


Attitude Adjustment

Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship

July 2, 2009 - During a gathering at the White House earlier this week in recognition of gay pride, President Obama suggested that those who fail to view homosexual relationships as anything other than normal are simply holding “fast to worn arguments and old attitudes.” (One imagines that the President likely has in mind the same group of folks whom he previously described as clinging “to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”)

The President’s rhetoric on this point is pernicious sophistry. By claiming that those who fail to recognize homosexual relationships as normal are merely clinging to “old attitudes,” the President aims to end public discourse. Moreover, the very idea that opposition to the normalization of homosexual relationships is merely attitudinal, as opposed to rational, presupposes that morality is mere prejudice.

In adopting this outlook, the President has tacitly endorsed a view known as “emotivism.” In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis described emotivism as the view that “all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker, and . . . that all such statements are unimportant.” On this view, to make a claim like “Homosexual activity is immoral” is merely to express one’s emotional disgust (i.e., “old attitude”) and nothing else -- the President’s implicit response to which is “Get over it!”

Such a dismissal is disconcerting. For if emotivism is true, then there are no rational grounds for public discourse about whether to extend marriage benefits to same-sex couples. And if there are no rational grounds for such discussion, then public policy decisions are exclusively a function of raw governmental power. Let us hope and pray that the President’s comments are not the sound of his muscles flexing.