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Craig Young on “Bare Backing”

August 21st, 2007 by Matt

Craig Young is shocked by statistics about “bare backing” being prevalent in the Gay community. Bare backing in case you don’t know is the name Craig gives to un-protected anal sex. Young is shocked because it suggests there exists a “parallel world where Paul Cameron tells the truth.”

To understand this you need to understand something of Craig’s methods. Many critics of homosexual conduct have been for some time citing studies and evidence which suggests that homosexual conduct, as typically engaged, in is dangerous. Craig Young’s standard response has been ad hominem; he notes that one source sometimes cited in support of these claims is Paul Cameron and, according to Craig, Cameron was kicked out of the American Psychological Association for falsifying one of his studies. Craig fails to see that this is not an adequate rebuttal. First, even if Cameron’s work lacks credibility he is often only one of many sources these authors use. Contrary to what Craig seems to think you do not refute numerous studies by showing that one of them is false. Second, the fact that Cameron was kicked out of an organization for falsifying his research in a particular a study does not mean that every study he wrote or authored was shonky or bad.

Despite his initial shock at discovering that merely attacking the character of one scholar does not establish the falsity of a thesis. Craig attempts a predictable save. The prevalence of unsafe sex amongst homosexual men is actually the fault of evangelical Christians not of the bare backers who actually do it.

[T]he US Christian Right has had some dark successes in curtailing LGBT rights and mainstream HIV/AIDS prevention programmes. This has meant that the US LGBT communities are far more ghettoised than most other international LGBT communities, so it tolerates distorted antisocial behaviours that are one response to segregation from the rest of one’s society. What else could one call the cowboy bareback DVD producers that prey on young gay men barely past the age of consent that appear to be the backbone of barebacking?

Craig here argues as follows: dangerous sexual practices are a response to segregation from society and segregation from society is the result of moral condemnation from Christians in that society. Ergo these Christians are responsible for the dangerous practices. Now something like this argument is common, like many common liberal arguments I reject it. Here is why:

This argument suggests that people (in this case certain Christians) are responsible not just for the foreseeable causal consequences of their actions. But also for other peoples free responses to these actions (or at least such responses which one can be expected to predict) Young suggests that because it’s foreseeable some people choose to respond to Christian condemnation of homosexual conduct by forming a segregated culture, and its foreseeable that this culture will respond to segregation by condoning and engaging in “anti social behaviour”. It follows Christians are responsible for the behaviour.

I think this understanding of scope of moral culpability is false. Consider the following example from Augustine. Suppose a man approaches a woman and tells her that he will kill himself if she refuses to have sex with him. Does that mean that she is a murderer if she refuses?[1] Her refusal would not constitute homicide even though his death is a foreseeable result of her choice. Although she foresaw his or her death, she did not cause it. It was caused by the free decision of the tempter to commit suicide.

In an excellent article, Alan Donagan notes that historically Christian and Jewish casuistry agrees with Augustine on this point. Christian ethicists typically…

limit an action’s effects, and a fortiori what its agent intends to bring about in doing it, to those that follow from it in course of nature and the ordinary operation of social institutions, and not from the free reactions of others to it.
(Thus actions in the ordinary course of business, for example, those of postal officers in delivering a letter that has been mailed, are not counted as free reactions.) The principle on which they do is that a free reaction to an action, is a ‘new action’ (‘novus actus’), the effects of which are their effects, and not those of the action to which they are reactions.[2]

If we apply this point to Craig’s analysis his argument falls down. Christians who condemn homosexual conduct do not cause people to engage in bare backing. In fact by condemning homosexual conduct they are explicitly telling them not to engage in it. If a person does it anyway, then they doing so in defiance of their will and hence without their consent consequently any negative consequences that follow are the responsibility of the “bare backer” not the person opposed to bare backing.

I think the same line of argument addresses Craig’s second argument,

And how could the blanket censorship of targeted adolescent gay HIV/AIDS prevention education not have resulted in a situation where there are young men who see nothing wrong in having unsafe sex- possibly because they’ve been isolated from metropolitan gay communities where they would have gotten that message?

Putting to one side Young’s mistaken definition of censorship, here the same problem arises. The Christian expresses a volition that people not engage in homosexual behavior they believe that such behavior is wrong. Because they believe this they also refuse to help people engage in such conduct, that would make them complict in wrongdoing. A group of adolescents refuse to listen and do it anyway as a result they die. Craig suggests that this means that Christians are responsible for these deaths. This follows only if people are responsible for and culpable for the foreseeable actions of other people even when these other people are acting contrary to their expressed desire and as I argued above this is false.

There is something even worse about this line of argument however: if it were true it would mean that any person can require me to assist them in any behavior they wish merely by threatening to do something worse if I do not. Such a principle essentially sanctions black mail and creates an obligation to collaborate in any wrong no matter how grave in response to a threat to a third party. Even worse, if the blackmailers carry out the threat they make us responsible what happens and not them. I can help but think this is a terrible distortion of ethical analysis

I think it’s clear then that Craig’s analysis is mistaken. I will add a final note: Barebacking is an activity that occurs between consenting adults. Both parties agree to engage in causal unprotected anal sex. Now people like Craig have been arguing for some time that homosexual sex is permissible, precisely because it’s engaged in by consenting adults. Denials of this principle have been denounced by Craig’s news group Gaynz as bigoted, oppressive etc. Hence it’s hard to see how they can consistently oppose barebacking. Of course they may believe that barebackers need to be informed of the dangers of the practice. Such things as the fact that their partner is likely to have had hundreds of previous ones, that there are dangers associated with anal sex etc. The problem is that Craig and Gaynz have decried claims like this as false, as scaremongering etc. So I guess the question we need to put to Craig is this. If people who engage in same sex behavior are typically not promiscuous but enjoy relationships as stable as their heterosexual counterparts. If homosexual sex is not dangerous and there is nothing wrong with any sexual activity between consenting adults. What’s wrong with bare backing?

Craig should stop being bigoted and be celebrating the sexual diversity that exists within his own community. The fact he is not celebrating shows that he cannot consistently live with the ideology he expounds.

[1] Augustine, On Lying, 9.
[2] Alan Donagan, “Moral Absolutism and the Double-Effect Exception: Reflections on Who Is Entitled to Double-Effect?” Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 16 (1991): 498.

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