Is Civil Marriage for Gay Couples Good for America? That was the topic of a relatively recent debate between Douglas Wilson and Andrew Sullivan and it is currently serving as the topic of this blog. The link to the debate is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhxteVaoLjY
I am a big fan of Douglas Wilson in many ways. I particularly enjoy his debates. He has utterly destroyed Dan Barker in two debates, both available on Youtube, and I found his debate movie, Collision with Christopher Hitchens to be most entertaining. Along with his black-coffee Calvinism and his insightful academic blogs, I consider myself a fan.
This debate was not his best. He admitted it himself. He said that he was not feeling well and the lighting was severely distracting and it made it difficult to read his notes.
However, I think he uncharacteristically got caught up in a misguided approach. In his debate with Dan Barker on a political issue, they ended up debating the existence of the Triune God of Scripture the entire time. This is because Doug gets it. Every debate is a debate about God and authority. Every debate is a debate about ultimate presuppositions and worldviews. If the Bible is true, homosexuality is immoral. If the Bible isn’t true, it might be moral. That is why a debate on homosexuality should always end up being a debate on the truth of God. Thus, the debate topic “Is Civil Marriage for gay couples good for America” is actually a debate secretly titled “Is the Triune God of Scripture the sovereign King over America?”. If He is then our answer is simple.
Douglas did get there towards the end of the debate. Since he stumbled and fell there instead of guided the debate there intentionally, it came across to most as simple circularity and an inability to answer questions. For example, Andrew Sullivan asked him for specific negative consequences that have happened in states that have legalized gay marriage, and Doug responded by saying, “Well, if you consider gay marriage to be a negative consequence.” At which point, Andrew responded by pointing out his tautology. And it is one. But the question, nay, the debate, required it. The ultimate question this debate title begs is what even is “good” and who gets to decide? That’s the point.
Sullivan still did not do very well. At one point in the debate (during the Q and A portion) Sullivan’s double standard was shown. Doug admitted his argument was one based off of authority and religion. Sullivan was convinced this was when he won. He continued to stress and point out that Doug ended the debate by jettisoning rational, secular, public discourse that all can agree on, but instead turned to authority.
However, Andrew Sullivan’s entire thesis was religious. Again, that’s the point. During the entire debate Sullivan plucked emotional heart strings with sad stories of homosexuals being mistreated and hurt. He appealed to the immorality of excluding people off of “biological” properties. He did list one “secular” argument. He mentioned that divorce rates were lower in states where gay marriage was legal. But, again, who says divorce is bad for society? Statistics don’t give you “goods”. You don’t get morality or “oughts” from statistics; you get statistics. Any secular argument one can give is still standing upon religious presuppositions. By what authority are we supposed to appeal to in order to properly interpret statistics as “good” or “bad”?
Every debate is a religious debate. Every debate is a debate about authority. Sullivan flip flopped throughout this one. He was happy to offer religious, emotional, moral arguments the entire debate then crucify Doug for appealing to religion.
The reason Doug didn’t do very well in this debate is that he allowed Andrew Sullivan to be much more religious than him. Andrew Sullivan was the most religious person on that stage that night.
His religious presuppositions and his ultimate authority should have become the entire focus of the debate. Instead, he got away with attacking Doug’s and then hiding behind a guise of secular, democratic discourse.