Four Questions Richard Cohen Won’t Answer


Richard Cohen of the Washington Post wrote a February 4 column calling the Pences “bigots” because of their belief that homosexual behavior is morally wrong (a position held, of course, not only vice-presidents, but by evangelical Christians, but by Roman Catholics, Muslims, Jews, etc.), claiming that “it is simply wrong to foster a belief that homosexuality and same-sex marriage are immoral.” Now, to label Cohen’s reasoning as “simplistic”, his moral compass as “skewed”, and his Biblical understanding as “deeply flawed” is low-hanging fruit, so I won’t do that.

Instead, I’d like to pose some questions that Mr. Cohen, I daresay, would be loathe to answer. I do so in order to demonstrate that evangelical believers should not fear–but rather take courage–when people like Mr. Cohen say such ridiculous and inaccurate things about us. I’ll not get the chance to ask him face-to-face (though I’d relish the opportunity), but I think that these simple, several questions would unmask a lot about a fellow who can easily sit in his corner office and lob hand grenades at evangelicals, but who likely has never even considered his own inconsistencies, the ramifications of the position he has chosen to take, and (almost certainly) the hypocrisy of writing as he does.

Question #1 in demonstrating the fact that Mr. Cohen speaks as an emperor with no clothing: “can you envision ANY sexual scenario involving two consenting adults which you would find ‘immoral’? Does such a scenario exist in your mind?” I’ll offer some examples, starting with an easy one: sex outside of marriage. Given that a majority of adults today–including some who would call themselves “Christians”–profess to have no moral qualms with fornication, I’d expect Mr. Cohen to give a thumbs-up. But let’s move on to some other possible scenarios (pardon the somewhat graphic nature of at least a couple of these): would Mr. Cohen find polygamy to be morally objectionable? Seventeen percent of Americans, according to the most recent polling (2017), see this as an acceptable practice, but I have no idea which side of the fence Mr. Cohen is on here. What about group marriage, the idea that, say, four men can marry three women? It might seem nutty, but that should be no barrier to our asking the question, as “gay marriage” seemed nutty a quarter-century ago. Would Mr. Cohen endorse group marriage as a morally-acceptable option? Let’s go further: would Mr. Cohen have any reason to object morally to an arrangement involving a 35-year-old man and his 60-year-old mother? That disgusts us with good reason, but I would like to know if it disgusts Mr. Cohen as well.

Now I suppose it’s altogether within the realm of possibility that Mr. Cohen has no moral qualms with any of those scenarios, but I’m going to make the assumption that he does, that he cannot bring himself to say that a man and his mother in a relationship of this nature is a moral thing. Given the benefit of the doubt, question #2 is in order: “on what basis do you make the judgment that this behavior is morally wrong?” OK, you would be willing to call it “immoral”, but why? Is there some standard outside yourself to which you make your appeal, Mr. Cohen, someTHING or someONE to whom you defer when make determinations about moral rightness or wrongness? If so, what is it? Or do you instead look inward, fly your moral sense by the seat of your own moral britches, and “call ’em as YOU see ’em”? Now, Mr. Cohen, it seems fair to say, is uninterested in the Bible’s guidance on issues of morality; as a non-Christian, that’s to be expected, and is his right, of course. But if he seizes the prerogative to say something is “simply wrong”, we reasonably should demand that he supply the answer to this question: WHY is it wrong?

In order to ask question #3, I’m going to make the assumption that he does not appeal to any authority outside his own “inner moral compass” in order to answer moral questions. If I’m wrong, then the question loses some of its value, but still has value with regard to anyone else who derives their sense of morality from within, so here it is: “why should anyone feel compelled at all to adopt your definition of ‘morality’ as being right, or as binding on them?” The evangelical believer says, “this behavior is right/wrong based upon God’s revelation in the Bible”. We don’t always live by it; we don’t always like it, perhaps. But we appeal to a standard outside ourselves. Vice-President and Mrs. Pence believe and act as they do because they submit to the Bible as their standard for moral guidance, and as is true for all believers, they would wish that all would do the same. But if Mr. Cohen can point to no outside, objective standard upon which to base his sense of morality, why should anyone agree with his determinations? He could just as well say, “I think every bedroom should have pink, polka-dotted curtains”, to which we could in amusement say, “nice opinion”, but we would feel no obligation to either agree or act upon his personal opinion. The very same is true with regard to his sense of morality: he’s entitled to his opinion, but why should we care what it is?

The final question goes back to question #1 and builds on it, making the assumption that he finds at least some forms of sexual arrangements morally wrong (might I suggest that in the event he doesn’t, we have a whole ‘nother set of questions to raise). Question #4 is this: if you also find some sexual scenarios to be morally wrong, why can we not call you a bigot just as you called the Pences (and evangelicals, et al, bigots)? What’s the difference? Of course there is none; if the Pences are “bigots” because he disagrees with their moral stance, there is nothing to prevent another person from applying the same moniker to Mr. Cohen, with exactly as much credibility. If he morally opposes group marriage, those who advocate its morality can just as credibly call him a “bigot”.

I doubt Mr. Cohen has seriously thought through these questions, of course; folks deep into the zeitgeist such as he rarely do, content as they are to drift along with the mob and crucify those who attempt to swim upstream. But the point is that we need not cower before people who criticize us, but fail to consider the ramifications of their own beliefs. We should instead be ready to ask such questions and, as we are able, engage those with the courage to answer them with the wonderful gospel of saving grace in Christ, available to all of us broken people.

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