NPR, bias, and an insight on gay “marriage”


The attempts to de-fund NPR as part of budget cuts have prompted a lot of angry reactions from NPR defendants. On one hand, they claim that NPR is objective and diverse. On the other hand, the vast majority of the objections seem to come from very liberal quarters. I’d be willing to bet that if a poll were taken, a solid majority of NPR employees and listeners would be liberal Democrats. Basically, many NPR defendents are arguing that Democrats are balanced and objective, and Republicans are biased, ignorant, and politically motivated.

I fell justified in saying this, because I listen to quite a lot of NPR podcasts, and the liberal slant is as clear as day. From what I’ve heard (which is hours and hours of programming), NPR is no less biased than a lot of the conservative radio and TV programs that NPR defenders love to malign. I grant that conservative media can at times be hateful, xenophobic, simplistic, sensationalistic, and insensitive. However, it’s also true that NPR can be smug, elitist, condescending, simplistic, relativistic, illogical, and insensitive. And both sides can be quite blind to their own biases.

Perhaps, since NPR is at least partly funded by the government, there should be some effort to have more diversity of political affiliation represented therein. Or maybe there really is more conservative programming available on NPR and I’ve just missed it (but I doubt it).

So, you might ask, why do I, who am conservative on many issues, bother listening to NPR? Because they also have great interviews and human interest stories, fascinating science programming, and coverage of a diverse range of arts and music. It is often insightful, and helps me see things from a different perspective. I hope it doesn’t get defunded.

Today I ran across a good example of liberal bias mixed with real insight. I was listening to the “Fresh Air” podcast of an interview with Dan Savage and Terry Miller, a homosexual couple who have made a website to give encouragement to depressed teens who are being bullied because of acting or self-identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual. No real argument is presented to justify the acceptability of homosexual behavior; it is assumed that the listener agrees. Liberal bias! Obviously, I agree on the basic idea that teens with problems need help and support, and no one should be bullied. However, just as obviously, I have some profound disagreements with their philosophy and their ideology.

That said, these men are smart, and one of them pointed out very clearly that there is a profound inconsistency in our society’s objection to homosexual marriage. Here’s what Dan Savage said:

You know, people who are against gay marriage talk about gay people wanting to redefine marriage. The irony is that straight people have redefined marriage to a point where you can’t logically make a case for excluding same-sex couples from it. It’s no longer a gendered institution. It’s the, you know, union of two legally autonomous individuals and there isn’t a male role and a female role. There’s just – and it’s whatever they say it is. It can be monogamous or not, for life or not. There could be children or not. It can be a religious ceremony or not. It’s entirely up to them.
[starting at minute 36 of the interview – full transcript here]

He is right on target. When contraception becomes widely accepted, when it is considered unenlightened to say that men and women have different roles in the family and moms and dads are not interchangeable as such, when divorce becomes a viable option and civil unions and cohabitation are run-of-the-mill, when single parenthood is normal… what is left of the real (traditional) meaning of marriage?

It ceases to be understood as a sacramental, spiritual, physical, indissoluble union beween a man and a woman based on the spiritual, psychological and biological complementarity of the two equal-but-not-identical sexes, for the purpose of mutual, life-giving love. Marriage becomes nothing but a contract of convenience, a legal recognition of a more or less stable commitment between two people. Unless the true meaning of marriage is reaffirmed and restored, there is no way to logically deny homosexuals the right to the watered-down idea of “marriage” that seems to be predominant in the West today.

So, while I agree with the point that Dan Savage made in the quote above, I disagree with his conclusion. He thinks that gay marriage should be permitted in the USA (he is legally married to his “husband” in Canada); in reality, we should work to restore a correct understanding of marriage as an intrinsically heterosexual institution. The push for homosexual “marriage” is – at least in part – a symptom of the profound crisis of heterosexual relationships.

For the Catholic Church’s explanation of the nature of marriage, see the Catechism, paragraphs 1601 and following.
For the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, see paragraphs 2357 and following (towards the bottom of the page).

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About Matthew Green

I am a translator, origami artist/teacher, and photographer, a blogger, former philosophy professor, and I love to sing. You can see my photos on Flickr and buy prints of some of them on Fine Art America. You can find me on Instagram, Twitter (@mehjg), and in various and sundry other social media sites on the web.
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9 Responses to NPR, bias, and an insight on gay “marriage”

  1. “He thinks that gay marriage should be permitted in the USA (he is legally married to his “husband” in Canada); in reality, we should work to restore a correct understanding of marriage as an intrinsically heterosexual institution.”

    I would be behind your conclusion, if the USA were a Catholic or Christian country. It is not. It is a secular one that happens to have a lot of Christians in it.

    The simple fact that you need not be Christian or even religious in order to be legally married in the USA proves that.

    • I understand why you feel that way, and in this article I refer to marriage as a sacrament, hence I bring theology into the question. However, if we leave the sacramental, spiritual aspect out, it is still possible to understand on a strictly rational basis that there is something unique about the relationship between a man and a woman – psychologically and biologically – that simply cannot exist between two women or two men, and that such a relationship merits certain legal status or recognition that differs from that which ought to be afforded to other relationships. There are strictly rational and scientific explanations for why sexual activity between members of the same sex is disordered and unhealthy, whereas sexual activity between a man and a woman is in accord with human nature (although only appropriate in certain contexts) and intrinsically ordered towards the good of the spouses and towards procreation. There are also strong rational arguments for other aspects of marriage (like monogamy and permanence)… But they are not arguments I can put forward in a single blog post, or in a comment on a post, and in some cases they require some philosophical groundwork.

      In other words, I would argue that marriage is the name properly given to a certain special kind of natural relationship between a man and a woman regardless of one’s religion – that this is a truth of reason, accessible to atheists as well as theists, although faith adds depth to it – and that this relationship can and should have special status under law, even in a secular country.

      However, would support the idea that people should be able to grant certain legal rights to other people with whom they have some relationship of dependence and/or intimacy, such as hospital visiting rights, insurance coverage, etc. (not adoption of children, though). I would not make it a specific exception for homosexuals; there can be other kinds of (non-sexual) relationships that are practically equivalent to family relationships. I don’t think it would be a problem to allow anyone to legally define someone as effective “next of kin”. That would cover a variety of situations, including homosexual relationships. It would stop somewhere short of being “civil unions”. There could probably be a lot of valid debate on this topic…

  2. “There are strictly rational and scientific explanations for why sexual activity between members of the same sex is disordered and unhealthy”

    Sorry, but no there aren’t. I’ve actually studied this. Homosexual sex is no more inherently harmful than heterosexual sex.

    “It would stop somewhere short of being “civil unions”. There could probably be a lot of valid debate on this topic…”

    So you want to hold on to the name that existed long before your religion was every thought of? Is that what this is all about? The word ‘marriage’?

    • I’ve studied this a bit too, and from what I’ve read, homosexual sex is in fact more inherently harmful than heterosexual sex. I guess since neither one of us is a scientist, we both have different sources that we trust. I won’t go into gory details here, but it also just seems logical to me that there are problems with putting sexual organs in the digestive system (and that covers some of the least deviant of common homosexual practices).

      It’s not just about the word “marriage”. I thought it was clear from what I said that what most matters is recognizing that “there is something unique about the relationship between a man and a woman – psychologically and biologically – that simply cannot exist between two women or two men, and that such a relationship merits certain legal status or recognition that differs from that which ought to be afforded to other relationships.”

      I also recognize that there can be other situations where, based on other kinds of relationships, with or without a sexual aspect, certain rights might also be applicable (like the right to visit someone in the hospital and make healthcare decisions). Such rights can be recognized without condoning all the specifics of such relationships. That is not the same marriage, just under another name.

      And, words do influence what we think, so we need to use them carefully. Marriage is the word traditionally used to describe a certain kind of relationship. As Dan Savage accurately observed, the word has, in practice, come to mean something else. I think we need to bring it back to it’s former usage.

      • “I won’t go into gory details here, but it also just seems logical to me that there are problems with putting sexual organs in the digestive system (and that covers some of the least deviant of common homosexual practices).”

        From this, it seems your knowledge of the sexual activities of homosexuals ended on the playground.

        “I guess since neither one of us is a scientist, we both have different sources that we trust”

        True. I trust real scientists and researchers with real data backing up their conclusions.

        “there is something unique about the relationship between a man and a woman”

        I disagree.

        At least in that it is somehow better or ‘m0re special’ than the relationship between any two people who love each other, regardless of their gender.

        “Marriage is the word traditionally used to describe a certain kind of relationship. As Dan Savage accurately observed, the word has, in practice, come to mean something else. I think we need to bring it back to it’s former usage.”

        So you would return it to its origin…the contract between a man and another involving the purchase of the daughter of one of the men?

      • Regarding the sexual activities of homosexuals, I know there is more to it, but what I mentioned is what most mimics the heterosexual act that fulfills the biological purpose of sexuality. Heterosexuals also engage in sexual activities that do not fulfill that purpose, and I contend that anything that is not at least proximately ordered to the kind of act that does fulfill that purpose, is disordered.

        You seem to automatically presume that, since I disagree with you, I must not have scientific sources. I did not make the same presumption about you. In fact, the sources I have read do seem to have scientific value and data to back them up. However, if we are honest, I think we both know that data can often be used for different goals. Different researchers can come to different conclusions, even using the same data, and even if they are working in good faith. Much depends on the philosophical and ideological framework that the scientist brings to the lab. This is not to say that I don’t think we can arrive to the truth, I’m just that to say “I have a scientific study to prove it” doesn’t necessarily make something true. So we are back to the question of philosophical groundwork, and whom you trust.

        On what grounds do you say that the natural, intrinsic ability of an act to produce life, and the dynamics of the different but complementary psychology of men and women, is not different and in some way more special that a relationship that lacks those things? I don’t mean to degrade any true human love and friendship. Loving friendship between two men or two women can be very strong and very special. However, by nature, same-sex love is simply different from love between a man and a woman, and the physical relationships possible between them are different.

        I would certainly agree that the recognition of a woman’s equality to man in dignity and value and rights is important. But in both cases, I think there is the same basic idea of marriage as a heterosexual relationship for the good of the spouses and the establishment of a family.

        Here is some of the kind of data I read that state that homosexual activity is more unhealthy than heterosexual activity (assuming that heterosexuals stick to the only kind of sexual act that is procreative). It seems mostly well documented to me, although some of the sources in one article are of less scientific value. It is also fairly explicit in the details.

        from the Family Research Institute
        From the Catholic Education Resource Center

        From a psychological perspective, what I have read on the website of the (somewhat controversial) NARTH makes a lot of sense to me.

      • By the way, I don’t mean what I said about scientific studies as a cop-out. I listed two of my sources; if you give me links to yours, I’d be happy to read them. That way we could figure out if we disagree about the definition of terms, the sources of the data, or the interpretation thereof (or maybe something else). I suspect that we might both have to give more nuanced explanations of what we mean in order to nail down the disagreement and, if it is a disagreement about facts and if the scientific data comes down clearly on one side or the other – come to an agreement.

    • From the viewpoint of a secularist,pro-abortion-rights lifelong Democrat,I would maintain that homosexual sex being homosexual automatically constitutes a harm.If sexual dimorphism evolves in a species,that automatically determines opposite-sex sexual relationships to be the exclusive norm for that species,and all deviations from that norm to be deplorable.(Their being observed in no way implies their being justified…in a reasoning species we should see there is no excuse).Unlike Father Green I have no particular brief for the reproductive intent or capacity of the parties or the orifices penetrated…reproduction is a detail that takes care of itself within the pattern of uniformly opposite-sex relationships,but a responsible government must not permit that pattern to be violated with impunity.Who goes into the bedroom is a public matter,distinct from the private matter of what goes on inside.

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