The Unfundamental Conversion

Apostate: Jeremy Bentham (Chapter 7) AKA Kevin Swanson on Homosexuality. Again.

June 30th, 2014 | Posted by Lana Hope in Book Reviews | Philosophy

Content note: Homophobia, hatred, denial, and emotionally abusive language.

I return to review Kevin Swanson’s book Apostate. This time, we turn to chapter 7, entitled “Forming the Humanist Ethic.” This chapter focuses primarily on Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) with some discussion of John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), and Bertrand Russell (1872-1970).

I have begun to notice a few trends in Apostate. Each chapter highlights a different apostate, but it also highlights a different “sin” or current issue that Swanson wants to emphasize, condemn or rant about. For example:

Descartes’ focused on the sin of fortification.
Locke focused on bad doctrine in the church.
Rousseau focused on the terrible public education system.

With chapter 7, which focuses primarily on homosexuality, I wonder if Bentham has been chosen just so that Swanson can discuss homosexuality.  Although Bentham is actually famous for his utilitarianism ethics, and his essay that advocates for homosexuality was not published until the 20th century, this is the opening sentence of Swanson’s chapter:

Jeremy Bentham plays an indispensable part in the story of apostasy in that he was the first notable philosopher in the modern world who was a self professed atheist and an apologist for homosexuality.

A second trend I have noticed is a message pattern. The chapters are outlined as follows: X philosopher believed Y. X influenced the following A,B, and C intellects. X causes D,C,E, sins. Then Swanson inevitably says, as he does in this chapter, that the Puritans and first pilgrims did not have near as much apostasy and sexual sins. The puritans were near saints, y’all. That is pretty much the outline of each individual chapter.

Okay, now I will offer quotes from this chapter.

At the beginning of the chapter, Swanson offers a long block quote from G.W. Foote “a Bentham devotee and progressive in his own right.” Foote writes: “[Bentham’s] brain swarmed with progressive ideas and projects for the improvement and elevation of mankind; and his fortune, as well as his intellect, was ever at the service of advanced causes.” This quote is quite interesting to me, but Swanson does not even comment on that part of the block quote (so why did he quote it?). Instead Swanson just highlights that Bentham was clearly an apostate and turns to Bentham the pro-homosexual and Bentham the atheists.

The arrogance of this man [Bentham] is breathtaking — with him human reason sits enthroned, and unless God explains Himself to the satisfaction of human reason, He loses His right to exist. If Bentham is god, and his mind is the standard of rationality, then of course God cannot be God. After all, there can only be one God if we are taking about the ultimate source of truth, ethics, and reality. As long as Bentham is god, there can be no competition with him. However, we should politely disagree with this dead god (Bentham died in 1832).

Swanson provides no citation where Bentham claims to be god, so I will assume that Bentham never claimed that. If I am wrong, the burden of proof rests on the one who makes the claim.

This is also one of the most absurd arguments for why people are atheists that I’ve ever heard. So apparently Bentham thought he was god, and therefore, ruled out that there could be another god. First of all, he did not think he was god. Secondly, should he have thought that, it does not rule out the possibility that there is another god. Thirdly, most atheists do not believe there is only one source of reality, ethics, and reality; that is a claim that theists and the ancient philosophers taught (an athiest can believe in one ultimate source of reality, though, such as a metaphysical ground-of-being). Fourthly, none of this is why Bentham was an atheist. Bentham just did not believe there is a god. It’s as simple as that. Fifthly, referring to a human as a “dead” god and using such informal speech is very unprofessional.

Not surprisingly, Bentham was also the driving force behind the re-introduction of homosexuality to Western culture. He would defend homosexual activity as long as it is not produce “bad consequences.” [skip to another part of the chapter] Bentham condemns sexual activity that might become habitual or excessive. But in keeping with his utilitarian ethical theory, he refuses to recognize any moral difference between heterosexual activity and homosexual activity.

So Swanson has a problem that Bentham was pro-gay but offers no approval that Bentham believed in values like love and committment.

John Stuart Mill [Bentham’s student] was also the world’s most significant early proponent of feminism and gender egalitarianism, although once again Jeremy Bentham is still recognized as the grandfather of this movement. This was essential for the dissolution of the family in the Western world. Mill laid the groundwork for “free” sex, no-fault divorce, “liberated” women, abortion and abortifacient pills, and the destruction of the old socio-economic system that was based on the nuclear family.

I wonder if Swanson has read Mill’s essay “Subjection of Women.” It has nothing to do with any of the above. Mill advocated for equal education, work opportunities, and for the right to vote. He was not trying to dissolve the family.

According to Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Mill’s greatest philosophical influence was in moral and political philosophy, especially his articulation and defense of utilitarian moral theory and liberal political philosophy.”

Normally I overlook poor writing because it is hard to be perfect, but I wanted to point out that Swanson’s style is repeatedly as poor as his content. A good writer does not normally quote directly from secondary sources unless the secondary source is so profound it cannot be summarized better, unless one is trying to take issue with a writer’s word choice or idea, or unless one really needs a block quote because of the reliability of the scholar. This sentence definitely sidetracks us from the flow of the content. I would also point out that its common knowledge that Mill advocated utilitarianism. So we do not need to begin the sentence with “according to” because it’s too common of knowledge and does not belong to Standford. If he thinks this counts as research, he needs to realize is referencing common knowledge, not scholarly research.

Bertrand Russell, the secular godson of John Stuart Mill is probably the most famous atheist of all time, still highly respected by modern academics. . . . Russell is most famous for his pamphlet, “Why I Am Not a Christian.”

Why does Swanson not get an editor who knows basic philosophy? Russell is famous for his analytical philosophy, not his atheism per se. We read him for his metaethics and because he is the pillar of analytical philosophy.  In this way Russell is respected because he is a pillar and a genius. He was a prolific writer. He was so prolific his first drafts went straight to the printing press. Besides this, I am doubtful that he is the most famous atheist of all time. I might guess that Nietzsche is the most well-known atheist philosopher outside academia, but of course, there are well-known scientists, politicians, and historians too.

These [Bentham, Mill, Russell, and Wittgenstein] are the English philosophers that formed the worldviews of the modern world. Was it some strange coincidence that the English empire disintegrated between 1800 and 1970, the era in which the liberal ideas of Bentham, Mill, and Russell prevailed?

Wait? So the reason the British empire collapsed had nothing to do with the fact that we had colonized the whole world against the will of the people? Or do I just not know what Swanson means by “disintegrated between 1800 and 1970”? Either way, Swanson needs an editor.

When philosophers speak of a “worldview” they refer to a basic framework of propositions that concern the broad areas of reality, truth, and ethics.

Which philosophers speak of a worldview? Can we have an example? When I used the word worldview on a philosophy paper last semester, my professor crossed it out and said not to use the word.  As far as I know, it’s Christians who primarily use the word worldview in a philosophical context. Again, these are the kind of notes an editor would make.

It was Jeremy Bentham who took Aquinas’ challenge to build up philosophical knowledge on human reason in the area of ethics . . . Surely, Aquinas would never have embraced the sexual sins that Bentham endorsed according to his new moral criteria.

What? He is blaming Aquinas for Bentham’s ethics? And this has a cause-and-effect relationship, how? Besides the fact that this is not supported, it’s absurd. I have explained this before in my blog, but the modern era has a radically different assumption about the world. Where the premodern person thought we participated in the world’s goodness, the modern person thinks we create the world, create values, and are the shapers of the world (see Time as History by the Canadian historian George Grant). Whereas the premodern person believed language is divine or that language allows us to access reality, the modern person thinks language is a tool (see “On the Way to Language” by Martin Heidegger). Whereas the premodern person embraced mystery, the modern person is preoccupied by the scientific method. Whereas the premodern person thought knowledge was common sense and accessible, the modern person understands that knowledge is never directly accessible (see Kant’s Critique). Of course, there is much disagreement among moderns about the reliability of the mind, senses, language, etc, but modern people nevertheless are very rigorous in trying to justify beliefs or solve new philosophical problems that were brought to light by the scientific method and problems in epistemology.

Utilitarianism, which Bentham and Mill advocated, was a modern solution to ethics. Whereas premoderns had virtue ethics, or Christian ethics, moderns need a new normative ethical way to regulate right and wrong conduct. Explaining normative ethics will derail this post too far, but Aquinas had nothing to do with the problems modernism created for ethics.

What remains after 200 years of Jeremy Bentham and these humanist ethical theories is unrelenting ethical chaos. What would the “liberals” of the 18th century think of homosexual marriage, transgendered six-year-old children, and government-funded orgies at state universities?

Sometimes I have no idea what is going on in this book. It’s just so random in places.

The breakdown of all moral standards is evident also in modern art forms, language, music, movies, news casts, dress, billboards, textbooks, novels, the practice of law, and documentaries. The murder of children is called “choice,” and the murder of the elderly is “humane.”  Miserable, unnatural perversions are “gay and rejoicing” activities. The abomination of witchcraft is sold to children as harmless.

I want to know how Bentham is responsible for this? The man has been dead for nearly 200 years.

Christians are now referred to as “homophobes,” accused of hating or fearing homosexuals. . . . Bentham’s ethical theory is in the driver’s seat. Christians who subscribe to God’s holy law in all their spheres of activity and influence, Christians who preach the law as a means of convicting sinners of their sins and driving them to Christia, Christians who use the law as a restraint to the potential wickedness of men, are treated as intolerant, narrow-minded, and criminal. It is only the Christians who hold to God’s authoritative, unchanging standard in order to call incest and cannibalism evil.

Swanson is fearful of homosexuality. He talks about how gays will destroy the world in a significant proportion of his online podcast.  See the hashtag #KSwanComedyHalfHour on twitter for this backed up. Right Ring Watch also has documented this.

Somewhere between 1700 and 1900, most of the organized Christian church in Europe and America took a strong stand against the Law of God. They created an unhealthy dichotomy between law and gospel, and took on new ethics of the apostasy. By the 20th century, there were plenty of Christian socialists, prohibitionists, suffragists, fundamentalists, progressive, and other do-gooders. But few were interested in using the law of God to define human ethics.

This needs to be way more specific in order to make sense. What exactly was this shift in mindset? What denominations? What went on in the 18th and 19th centuries specifically? Right now this is too general to make sense, especially given that Swanson has grouped fundamentalism in with progressive ideas. He needs to explain the connection.

Next he talks about some problems in Utilitarianism. Several of his reasons I can agree with; I am not content to define an ethical standard by the happiness it creates for the greatest number of people. So truly, Swanson and I have much to agree with on this point. But after a few paragraphs, he again regresses to weak support:

Could the greatest good and the highest form of happiness come about by suicide, or by elimination of the species? Some might argue that we humans are a miserable lot, and evolution should take another course.  . . . Why are we bound to salvage the human species? Perhaps it would be better to destroy the globe, and start over with some other solar system.

Swanson clearly misunderstands Utilitarianism. The whole point of utilitarianism in the general sense is that people can create social programs, technology, medicine, and governments to increase happiness. The point is that because of utilitarianism, mankind can overcome their fate and overcome the terrible evils and exploitations. So we can’t say, “it’s good to eliminate humanity” and advocate utilitarianism at the same time; utilitarianism claims that we won’t have to eliminate people because we can and will create a happy society. In order to understand this, think about the rise of the social sciences in the 19th century, the rise of medicine, science, and technology, and the kind of governments and social programs we have today. This is modern normative ethics and modern society at work. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that modernity has run a long course, that global wars have happened, that we fight anyway, that we get sick anyway, and that happiness has not increased (please think twice before suggesting that rich, white countries are happier than third world countries who may not have the identical human rights or social programs as America). BUT John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham lived pre-world war I. They had a different perspective, and that is okay.

Interestingly, although Swanson makes Russell out to be a carbon copy of Bentham and Mill, Russell himself turned away from Utilitarianism and began to develop meta-ethic theories. Russell lived in a different century. He would have seen ethics very differently than 19th century philosophers.

Okay, now I will quote the homophobia remarks.

[T]he God of the Bible does not tolerate [homosexuality] with his covenant people, nor with pagan states like Sodom and Gomorrah (as is clear from Judges 19 and Genesis 19). That is why the influence of Jesus Christ upon the civilized world resulted in the virtual disappearance of these pagan practices. Wherever a Christian society develops, homosexuality eschews the light and settles back into the closet.

There is a more insane position than those who think we should just perform magic on gay people so they will be straight. Or maybe it’s all equally crazy. Very next sentence:

For example, the Roman Caesar Phillip the Arab, influenced by Christianity, is recognized as the first Caesar to introduce a law against homosexuality (penalizing male prostitution). By the end of the 4th century, legislation against passive homosexual acts was incorporated into the Roman Empire. The Theodsian Code, a compilation of laws published in 429 AD, included “death by sword” for homosexual coupling. This virtually put an end to public advancemet of homosexuality in the Western world . . . until Jeremy Bentham.

This is sad. He is commending Caesar for having laws against homosexuality and putting people to death by sword, and condemning Bentham for advocating for gay rights. And then to top this, he actually believes Bentham increased the number of homosexuals.  Two sentences later Swanson references Offenses Against One’s Self, which Bentham wrote in 1785 but was not published until 1931; Swanson claims this was the first attempt among Bentham’s followers to open the door of homosexuality and pedophilia.

Next Swanson says that at least pedophilia is still condemned in the USA. He says this is “Clearly, the influence of Jesus Christ and His followers upon Western civilization.” Does he honestly believe that the only reason nonbelievers condemn pedophilia is because of Christians in the world?

Next Swanson quotes all the statistics of homosexuality and sodomy in various western countries. He still cannot get than we would still be advocating for gay rights even if Bentham had never been born.  Although I certainly do credit Bentham and maybe some other utilitarianists with seeing beyond just the rights of white men (and for that I am thankful), moderns, in a way, were too busy bringing people into conformity and creating progress to listen to Bentham (look at how it took over a century for Offenses Against One’s Self to be published). However, in my opinion, postmodernism, not utilitarianism, has finally has allowed us to embrace LGBTQ people as we have realized that we can have multiple narratives, multiple histories, and multiple lives, and that we don’t need everyone to conform to the same narrative. Postmodernism has ultimately dismantled utilitarianism and the notion of progress, which has allowed for LGBTQ and rights of minorities. I admit that this claim of mine belongs more to theory than fact (see Foucault, Bhabha, and Charkrabarty); I have attempted to explain why modernism leads to conformity and discrimination in past postsI have also defined postmodernity.

The spirit of Jeremy Bentham has swept across the planet like a cloud of locusts. Over the last twenty years, thousands of homosexual clubs have spread into public high schools [.]

Once again, Bentham gets the blame for all this, and the brave LGBTQ people who have stood up get no credit for what they have done for LGBTQ people.

Bentham’s ideas did not come into full fruition until the 1990’s, and the harvest will come about in the next fifty years (in our children’s generation). What will be the final results of this man’s awful legacy?

Swanson’s Logic: Bentham spoke, for 200 years nobody listened, and then 200 years later, everybody listened. Come on, now. I fully agree that ideas and discoveries can have consequences for centuries, but in this case, Bentham’s personal belief that it was not unnatural to be gay has no direct causal relationship to 21st century politics, or at least he has failed to cite and support that claim. In general Swanson needs to remember this: if you can’t back up your claims, don’t publish them in a book that charges money.

Next Swanson lets us know that “some sins are more noxious to God than others” and that homosexuality is an abomination. He also adds that homosexuality has been released in so much force that “it was as if Satan himself was released from the pit.”

Pedophilia is wrong because rape, homosexuality, and sexual behavior outside the bounds of marriage are wrong.

So raping children is the same “sin” as homosexuality and premarital sex? Somehow the fact that Swanson makes this claim is not surprising anymore.

As we have seen in the earlier chapters, the separation of human reason from the influence of sacred doctrine created the realm of “natural law.” However, if one reverts to “natural law,” he will eventually use it to excuse all kinds of atrocities! Animals kill their mates, eat their young, and engage in homosexual activity all the time. If men are animals, then what in the world is rape? What might have been “natural” in natural law AC 1600 is quite different from what it is in AC 200.

In the classical sense, which comes from Aquinas that Swanson referenced in the earlier chapters, natural law is derived from the rational characteristics of human beings, not from their activities. The point of natural law is that ethics is objectively true and not something we just create. So this idea that we are just animals and that rape is permissible is not classical natural law.

Using Bentham’s utilitarian principle, legislators argue for hours over how a certain gun regulation will decrease crime or increase crime. each side brings their limited biased studies to bear on the debate. . . . What they fail to understand is that cause-and-effect relationships are very hard to establish [.]

Swanson needs to heed his own words. He has been making faulty cause-and-effect conclusions throughout this whole chapter  and book. The two I referenced here was 1) Swanson claims that Aquinas is responsible for Bentham’s ethical theory 2) Bentham is responsible for 1990s politics and 21st century LGBTQ rights.

Secondly, this is pretty funny that he brought gun regulations into this chapter. So random.

Biblical law is careful to preserve the family as the foundation of human society, and prevent the sort of destruction we are experiencing now in the Western world. That is why there are laws against the sexual sins of adultery (Deut. 22:22-25), fornication (Deut. 22:28), homosexuality (Lev. 18:22), bestiality (Lev. 20:15) and certain forms of incest (Lev. 18:6-17), 20: 10-12). Some believe these Old Testament principles only apply to God’s covenant people, but Leviticus 18:27, 28 gives the basis for these laws and applies the principle to pagan nations as well.

Since he says these laws are still in effect, I am wondering if Swanson has looked these verses up to notice that it says put people and animals to death or force a rape victim to marry her abuser? If he is advocating for a return to those laws, that is scary. If he is not, once again, why did he not get a better editor.

Next time: Emerson!

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  • sgl

    re: “Normally I overlook poor writing because it is hard to be perfect, …”

    i agree. however, you made a typo in the post title, left out an “e”, spelling it Jermey (“germy”?) bentham. LOL.

    re: “… and government-funded orgies at state universities”

    ummm, did you give a footnote for that? ’cause i went to state uni’s. (undergrad and grad) somehow, i missed out on these orgies. and i didn’t even realize that state funding was even an option, either!! 😉

    but more seriously, most people don’t actually think, they just have thought-stopping sound-bites that sound like a reason for something, but those sound-bites don’t actually make sense if you think about. seems like this book is merely a polemic designed for the prejudices of pseudo intellectual christians in the culture wars.

    • Lana Hope

      If you’ve read my blog a while, you know I naturally write with a lot of typos. But at least I ramble for free. 🙂

      yes, he did. You should check out the link:

      • sgl

        re: “If you’ve read my blog a while, you know I naturally write with a lot of typos.”

        yes, i know. i usually don’t notice them (i’m horrible at proofreading), and rarely comment on them. but since i wanted to make snarky comment about the “orgy” anyway, and your typo was juxtaposed with your quote about “poor writing”, plus it was in the title of the post hence more noticable, and finally because the typo made it look like “germy” which i thought was funny too. 😉

        re: “orgy”
        thanks for the link. interesting. wonder how long before they’re sued for sexual discrimination, since they allow couples and single ladies in, but not single guys (except 2 days per week). 😉

        perhaps they can satisfy the religious folks like swanson by posting st augustine’s prayer at the door during the “orgy” sex club night: “Lord grant me chastity and continence but not yet.” 😉 swanson likes austine, doesn’t he? so that should make everything ok, right? 😉

        but seriously, seems like a bunch of fuss over not very much of an issue. don’t like, don’t participate. re: gov’t funding, there’s lots of other gov’t funding things that i doubt they protest against, so methinks they doth protest too much.

        so, once again, inciting an emotional response from people, so their critical thinking skills are overruled, just to herd them in the direction you want them to go. sadly, this sort of thing seems all too common throughout the political spectrum. hopefully your review is giving some folks a reason to not get caught up in it.

        anyway, that’s probably enough (too much!) about what was a side issue anyway.

  • I probably should have left the same comment on your Rousseau post, but it fits here as well. If you hadn’t noticed, Swanson’s writing – including lots of the weird ideas you noted – are buzzwords from Christian Reconstructionism. “Spheres of authority,” “God’s law,” and so on, are all Rushdoony ideas about society, theonomy, and theocracy.

    • Lana Hope

      I have seen glimpses of this, but have not studied it as much as you.


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