Of Kentucky Clerks and Drowned Children or, What is Persecution?


Source: The Independent

Source: The Independent

Dominating my Facebook feed is the story of Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk, refusing marriage licenses to homosexual couples and subsequently going to jail for contempt of court. It seems everyone both liberal and conservative (at least among my friends) has fierce opinions on this subject matter.

Somewhat known, but not as covered, is the disturbing photo of Aylan Kurdi, the drowned 3 year old Syrian refugee who’s body washed ashore in Turkey. I do not think it an understatement to say it is at both one of the most powerful and gut wrenching photos in the history of photography. It’s nearly impossible for a functional human being to look at the picture and not feel some sense of anger or disgust. The photo of the man holding little Aylan’s body is eerily reminiscent of the photo of the firefighter holding the dead child from the Oklahoma City bombing. The loss of life is startling, but the loss of a child’s life is more than devastating, no matter the cause.

While both Muslims and Christians are fleeing Syria, both have faced immense persecution. They did not seek to be martyrs, they did not seek persecution, they didn’t draw some defiant line in the sand; they merely followed Christ and refused to abandon him. The point is, they didn’t try to make it to the spotlight, and it’s a good thing, because the American outcry against the murders of our brothers and sisters has been near nothing. The humanitarian crisis for the entirety of the population is on a level not seen since World War II (ironically when Europeans – the same people hesitant to take in refugees – were the refugees). This is actual persecution.

What Kim Davis is doing is not persecution. In the early days of Christianity, priests and bishops forbade Christians from joining the Roman military as well as other jobs. The reason (other than early Christians almost unanimously being pacifists) is that such jobs required them to perform duties that went against Christian beliefs. In other words, if the job required them to violate their religion, then they left the job. While in the United States we do have the freedom of religion, Mrs. Davis could certainly have quit her job and then proceeded to press her rights in court. If the court sided with her, then good on her. And if they sided against her, then at least she’d already work somewhere else. As it is, from an early Christian standpoint, it would have been better for her to quit. Either way, it’s not persecution when you’re seeking to make a political statement.

Regardless of where one falls politically on such an issue, the fact remains that even if you think Davis is in the right, why is she receiving your praise and not those who died for the faith? Why does she receive your prayers, but the millions of refugees barely receive your thoughts?

Real tragedy is occurring in this world and the body of Aylan is merely us peeking into the abyss of evil engulfing the Middle East. I’m not saying we can’t stand up for social issues, but we must put equal, if not greater, effort into stopping actual evils as they are in this world. If we’re willing to stand up for a self-made “martyr,” then shouldn’t we stand up for actual martyrs and victims of war? In the end, what honors Christ more: Refusing to hand out a marriage license, or taking in a family from Syria (Christian or Muslim) because they have no where else to go?

How quickly we forget that our Lord and Savior was a refugee into Egypt, escaping the bloody persecution and bloodshed of Herod. And today we have those made in his image escaping the same lands for similar reasons. But we choose to prop up a Kentucky county clerk over the lives of the innocent? No, I refuse to partake in such a system. The Gospel is for those without hope. The Gospel is for those who are desperate for a savior. The Gospel is meant to save man, not beat him into submission. We should petition our government to bring over these refugees; God knows churches (and many members) have the resources and the space needed to house them. Not every Christian in America can house a family from Syria, but many can. So instead of wasting so much time and energy into a battle we shouldn’t be fighting, let’s put it into serving those who are suffering. Put down the protest signs and placards, drop the petitions, turn off the news, and serve. In silent service is when the Gospel is loudest.

In between these two stories there is a theme that Christians need to observe, and that’s that we ought not exaggerate our suffering and persecution lest we compare ourselves to true martyrs and victims of violence. It is also a reminder to be happy of what we have, for while both Kim Davis and a homosexual couple might go home angry at their changing world (or at a violation of their rights), the fact is they get to go home. At the end of the day they still draw breath, they still have a place to lay their head, and they aren’t fleeing for their lives. They have no worry that tomorrow morning their bodies will wash ashore from drowning while fleeing to find a safer place to live.

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Great, Now We All Have to be Fabulous: On Gay Marriage and the End of the World


us_gay1Today the United States Supreme Court ruled that states can’t outlaw homosexual marriage. It’s a move that really doesn’t surprise anyone and of course will leave liberal activists saying, “It’s about time” and conservative activists decrying the decision as “tyranny from the bench.” Of course, the world has yet to end, it still turns, day turns into night, we all have jobs to go to, and life goes on.

Of course, reading mostly Christian websites, one would be left with the impression that the government has changed the entire definition of marriage and that the end of the world as we know it is upon us. We’re met with overreaction after overreaction, hyperbolic statements, and hypotheticals that will probably occur at some point in the future (decades, if not centuries, down the road), but not tomorrow. If – as Christians believe – marriage is established by God then marriage was never within the State’s domain. Technically, especially from a sacramental view of marriage, all marriage licenses have been an attempt by the government to reinterpret marriage and all have been equally invalid; under a sacramental view of marriage, only marriages within the Church (or later consecrated by the Church) are truly legitimate. What the State defines as marriage is by nature separate from what the Church defines as marriage (unless we’ve been in a theocracy all these years and I didn’t know it).

Think about it: how does this modern ruling impact the “sanctity of marriage?” The sanctity of marriage was gone long before the movement came about for homosexual marriage. When the American divorce rate is still high (especially for late Baby Boomers/Generation X’ers, and showing no signs of abating for late Generation X’ers/early Millenials), how can we say we hold marriage sacred? When the average American family will spend more time apart due to careers and daycare than they will together and such an economic system is rabidly defended by the same people who decry homosexual marriage, exactly what’s so sacred about marriage? Even on a more base level, for those who have done away with the sacraments, how can marriage be sacred? If there is no sacrament to marriage then it’s impossible for marriage to be sacred. In other words, we did away with the sanctity of marriage long ago, long before there was a movement for gay rights.

That isn’t to say there aren’t some reasons to worry. After all, it’s not impossible to imagine a scenario in which a church is sued because they won’t officiate a homosexual wedding or refuse to rent out their property for a homosexual wedding. If a baker is sued for refusal then what arbitrary line do we place between the baker and the church; regardless of one’s personal beliefs, both engage in a commercial endeavor. Why, then, should the baker be forced to participate but not the church? This is one argument that I foresee coming to the forefront of the next part of the debate. More than likely, people will idiotically attempt to remove the tax-exempt status from churches, forgetting that they exist based on donations anyway and would qualify as tax-exempt regardless of their religious nature (and to ban their tax-exempt status simply because they have a religious affiliation would be a gross violation of the First Amendment).

Yet, even if such a world came to be – and such a world will probably come to be within a few decades to a few centuries – Christians have only themselves to blame. Unlike persecution in the Middle East, where Christians suffer merely for existing, anything that would bear the semblance of persecution within the US was brought about by the hands of Christians. Rather than through prayer, love, and spreading the Gospel, we attempted to ban homosexual unions using the tools of the State. We tried to protect that which is sacred by utilizing that which is secular, which isn’t necessarily wrong (such as using the State to protect the sacred nature of life), but when it becomes the primary tool it becomes wrong. After all, “We war not against flesh and blood, but against principalities.” But for the past three decades the Religious Right has warred against everything, declaring war on people, using the government as a weapon, and such a tactic has consistently backfired.

Had Christians, early on in this debate, recognized that marriage doesn’t belong to the State to begin with and rather utilized civil unions, one must ask if today would have ever occurred. If the State dealt exclusively with civil unions and removed itself from the marriage game, then what would have changed? Rather, Christians attempted to enforce their view of marriage – a view that isn’t even solidified within the Christian community (as Orthodox, Catholics, and other sacramental elements differ on the nature of marriage than say, Baptists, Pentecostals, and so on) – upon a secular institution. They then used the natural to defend the supernatural. But as is the case, always, the natural ate up the sacred.

The world did not end today, nor will it end because of homosexual marriages. Perhaps, and one can only hope, Christians will realize they have to begin acting like Christians. Rather than ostracizing and creating political outcasts, or attempting to legislate the Gospel into existence, they will see the importance of living it. Maybe they’ll finally abandon the Religious Right, dying an undignified and very deserving death in the Republican primary (where all typical Religious Right candidates trail behind Jeb Bush and Donald Trump…welcome to America!). Then again, they probably won’t, but hey, I can dream, right?

OMG! DA GAYZ! or, Maybe We Can Finally Focus on the Gospel and Real Issues


If you disagree with me you hate meToday the Supreme Court ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act, which essentially said that the federal government cannot discriminate against homosexual couples. Many Christians (and non-Christian conservatives) who rallied against homosexuality felt like this came as a huge blow to their cause while many others celebrated this as a move towards equality. What I’m about to say is actually not an easy thing for me to say, which is probably why I put up the title that I did. In fact, what I’m about to say will most likely alienate me from conservative Christians, liberal Christians, and everyone in between and outside.

I’m very happy that the government is no longer allowed to discriminate against someone because of his or her sexual orientation. I admit it, when it comes to social politics I tend to be very libertarian (even my view on abortion is libertarian based because I believe the fetus is a human and therefore endowed with the natural right to life). Thus, I think the government should have nothing to do with marriage to begin with. It is not up to the government to decide what is and is not a mariage; that is up to religious institutions, individuals, local non-government communities, and so on. This is something I have previously written about; from a legislative view, I think state governments should only issue civil unions, and at that point who cares who it issues them to so long as there is not a victim?

The whole debate over gay marriage has been over who gets to define what is and is no marriage. The debate has been over the definition of the word marriage. That is not a debate the government should involve itself in. If an Episcopalian believes marriage is open to same-sex couples, then the government has no right to say, “Okay, but we won’t recognize your religious definition.” If a Baptist believes otherwise and therefore won’t wed a same-sex couple, then so be it.

Now that I have the conservative Christian crowd after me, let me grow that crowd and get the liberals to come after me as well.

I have many homosexual friends. I don’t believe they can help which gender they’re attracted to. No one wakes up one day and goes, “You know what, I think I like my same sex.” And no, they didn’t suffer some abusive relationship in the past. Most of them (if not all of my gay friends) grew up in relatively normal homes, they just ended up liking the same sex. But as an adherent to the Christian Tradition, the one that teaches that marriage exists for more than love and procreation, that it exists as an icon of Christ and the Church, that there is an economy to marriage that God developed, I believe that homosexual actions are sinful.

Now, before you skip to the comment section, let me answer a few things for you:

* No, I do not believe that being a homosexual, or even an active homosexual, will send you to hell. If being stuck in a sin and not even recognizing it as a sin sends us to hell, then I think we’re all doomed.

* Yes, I do believe unrepentant sin is a major issue and can harm our relationship with God. I do believe in hell (Hades) as well. But my belief is far too nuanced to simply slap into a post here. You can check out Dare We Hope All Men Be Saved? by Hans Urs von Balthasaar and Christ the Conqueror of Hell by Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev. Or you could read the Church Fathers, wherein you’ll see an incredibly complex teaching over Heaven, Hell, sin, and salvation. You’ll find a lack of consensus (though you won’t really see any universalism, you may see some hopeful universalists, those that hope all will come to Christ).

* I see no reason to treat my homosexual friends as “different” or as “other” when I wouldn’t do the same for a heterosexual couple that lives together, or a friend addicted to porn (which is far worse than homosexuality as porn encourages sex-trafficking and creates victims).

* I refuse to believe that a pastor who brags about the size of his congregation and is so prideful that he makes Napoleon seem humble is still “a flawed brother in Christ,” but a homosexual couple is going to Hell. That just doesn’t make sense because I fail to see where in the Bible it says that the unforgivable sin is having sex with another man. What about a Christian husband who cheats on his wife, divorces her, marries another woman, begins to attend another church, and then realizes he was wrong in what he did? Even though the Bible says he’s still committing adultery while staying married to his mistress – even though he knows what he did was wrong – he’s considered free and clear, but a gay couple isn’t? How does that make sense?

* I do think that sexual sins are existentially worse than some other sins because of what sex represents (they are not the worst sins, so long as there isn’t a victim involved). That is, while all sins harm our relationship with God, some sins can cause an existential crisis for us while other sins may not. That being said, homosexuality would fall in the realm of fornication, consensual pre-marital sex. Both are a sin by the standards of Tradition and Scripture, but one is not worse than the other. Being a homosexual is not akin to adultery, wherein there is a victim. It is not akin to child molestation, because again, there is a victim.

* No, thinking that homosexual actions are a sin does not mean I think less of homosexuals or hate them. You are more than what you do with your sexual organs. I think my sins are far worse than homosexuality, so it’s hard to hate people or think less of them when you think that in spite of their sin, they’re still better than you. Thinking that homosexual actions are a sin doesn’t mean I hate homosexuals, no more than thinking pre-marital sex makes me hate those who engage in it.

Again, I do think that homosexual actions are sinful can ultimately do harm one’s relationship with God. I also view arrogance and pride as sinful (and even harmful to others), but I find myself neck deep in those sins. If a homosexual is going to hell, then I’m probably destined with him because my sins are worse.

And that brings me to my ultimate point – perhaps now Christians can settle down and focus on the Gospel instead of needless political posturing. While I do think Christians should be involved in politics, especially to protect the innocent, what exactly has been accomplished by railing against gay marriage? How has the Gospel, the good news that we can be free from our sins, been spread or declared by using the government to make people holy?

There’s a huge movement within the far liberal components of the evangelical church called “Liberation Theology.” Liberation theology can come in many forms, but it essentially defies the government, makes it God, and seeks to enact religious ideals through revolution and the government. While adherents would probably take issue with my summary, that is essentially what it is in a nutshell. It really is a heresy because it strips Christ of His position and makes the government a god. It removes all the supernatural from Christianity (or most of it) and treats the Gospel as a social commentary, that salvation is here on this earth from oppressors.

Conservative evangelicals, however, have their own type of liberation theology. Instead of pushing for social justice, they attempt to push for moral justice. Instead of relying on the Holy Spirit to convict and change lives, they rely on Uncle Sam. More energy has been put into fighting the government recognition of homosexual marriages than has been put into serving the homosexual community or protecting them from bullying. This is conservative liberation theology, the idea that Christ will use the government to liberate us from “sinners.” And it’s just as much a heresy as its liberal counterpart.

In the end, I’m hoping that Christians will wake up and realize that there is a world that really is in need for Christ. I’m hoping they’ll realize that the United States government is not the Holy Spirit, nor is it Christ; it is finite. Why are we relying on the power of the finite when we are indwelled with the power of the Infinite?

At the end of the day, even if Christians “win” the war against homosexual marriage, what have they won? Has love been displayed? Will people go, “Wow, I can’t legally get married, guess that means I better stop being gay?” What has been accomplished? A nation isn’t made holy by its laws, but the laws do reflect the holiness of a people. If you want to see true change in this country then get out and live the Gospel. Go and serve people, regardless of their sexual orientation. Go and love them. If Christ, who is God and perfect and holy can walk amongst His creation, a creation where everyone has sinned against Him, say He loves them, and then die for them, surely you can be kind enough to at least say “hi” and treat them decently.

My questions/issues with the homosexual marriage debate


The issue of homosexual marriage is one of the more polarizing issues in our modern society, that almost goes without saying. Yet, it seems that whenever a state decides to take it upon themselves to define marriage as between “one man and one woman,” an overwhelming majority of people support such restrictions.

To me, however, the issue boils down to “What is the role of the government?” Let us simply accept that most laws are enacting some form of morality, especially major laws concerning marriage. Thus, the whole, “The government can’t legislate morality” argument doesn’t hold up; while they can’t make people act a certain way, they can declare that moral x and moral y will be codified, thus to act out against x and y comes with consequences. That being said, what is the role of the government in this morality?

I would contend that the role of the government is to prevent our freedoms from coming into conflict with each other, that is, to prevent us from harming each other. Thus, we have laws against murder because such an act harms an individual (or individuals). We have laws against rape for the same reason, against pedophilia, and monopolies, and the list goes on. Laws created that have nothing to do with protecting us from one another – such as seatbelt laws – tend to be viewed as arbitrary and almost tyrannical. Even some laws that prevent us from harming one another can sometimes be tyrannical if taken too far (simply look at TSA procedures).

The purpose of the government, then, isn’t to enact a theocratic form of government where the government follows God’s laws. Rather, the purpose of the government is to keep us from harming each other and to prevent outside forces from harming us. It eradicates exploitation (e.g. slavery, insurance companies taking advantage of the poor, etc), but doesn’t become a tyranny.

If I am correct on the purpose of the government, then there are a few questions concerning homosexual marriage:

  1. Why is the government involved in marriage in the first place? While I can understand civil unions for tax purposes and other legal rights, if we are trying to protect the “sanctity of marriage” then it seems absurd to bring the government into the mix. Few Christians would argue that the government is sanctified or holy, so how can the government protect what is ultimately a holy institution?
  2. We should respect religious liberty, meaning that if a state does allow for homosexual marriage a priest/pastor should not be forced to perform the ceremony. Likewise, religious institutions should be allowed to not hire people due to sexual preference (this even includes people who are living together in a heterosexual relationship). At the same time, if we respect religious liberty, what if a church wants to wed two men or two women? While some would argue that such a church has abandoned their Christian principles, it’s not up to the government to decide when that has occurred. By banning homosexual marriage, aren’t we also banning the right of some churches to practice what they believe? Again, this is why the government should probably move towards purely civil unions rather than marriage licenses.
  3. Is homosexuality inherently abusive or bad, that is, is it any worse than people engaged in open relationships or Hollywood marriages? While people try to bring up statistics showing the homosexual lifestyle is destructive, such statistics typically aren’t good arguments against homosexual marriage, even if one is arguing the morality of the issue. For instance, even if 95% of homosexual males had 50 partners or more (I’m making up a statistic to show a point), this wouldn’t show that homosexual actions are inherently destructive; it could simply be explained that by an action being taboo, the risk involvement increases. Besides, their heterosexual counterparts are catching up quite quickly. Furthermore, while it was true in the 80s and even 90s that homosexual activity tended to come with a higher risk, anymore when it has been normalized it’s almost no different than heterosexual couples. Many homosexuals are able to find stable relationships. Now, I must stress that this has nothing to do with the morality of the issue, but everything to do with the legality of the issue. Unless it can be shown that homosexual behavior is inherently destructive (and this can be disproven by finding multiple stable homosexual relationships, which has been done already…), one is left without an easy argument against banning homosexual unions.
  4. Even if we did show that homosexual behavior is inherently destructive, this still would provide great difficulty in “outlawing” it. The main reason is because of something I alluded to above; what do we do with open heterosexual relationships? In an open relationship, there is a tendency for one partner to get hurt. In addition, do we outlaw adultery? Do we outlaw divorce? What punishments do we place on those caught in such abusive situations? Do we really want to live in a nation where the government is in charge of instilling values into our families? Perhaps we should ban all marriages in Hollywood, or among celebrities. Since the divorce rate is higher for celebrity couples, why haven’t we passed a constitutional ban on Hollywood marriages, which are seemingly inherently destructive? There is just a lot of inconsistency here.
  5. Shall we ban fornication (sex before marriage) as well? If we’re following Biblical morality and want to protect the “sanctity of marriage” via legislation, then shouldn’t we also ban fornication? This situation is far more analogous to homosexual marriage than even adultery or divorce (where someone is harmed). The statistics behind sex before marriage are also staggering, showing that when both partners have engaged in premarital sex, especially with other people, the chances for divorce or adultery increase dramatically. In other words, the argument that by allowing homosexual marriage we will somehow destroy the fabric of our society may be true, but it’s no more true than the argument that fornication among heterosexual couples does the exact same thing. Thus, if we outlaw one, why aren’t we outlawing the others?
  6.  Perhaps one could argue that while homosexual activity isn’t harmful to others, it is harmful to the participants and therefore the government must stop it, but even this argument is full of inconsistencies and problems. For one, why not ban all homosexual activity, not just marriage if this is the case? But more importantly, how is this any more dangerous than couples who engage in open relationships, any more dangerous than adultery, any more dangerous than heterosexual promiscuity? I ask again, shall we enact laws against all of those actions as well? Should we pass a law saying that you can only get married once (as multiple marriages can ruin the institution of marriage)?

Ultimately, I’ve yet to discover a good argument from Natural Law on why homosexual marriage should be forbidden, other than “It’s not the job of the government to issue marriage licenses.” On this point I agree and think the government should only be involved in civil unions. But even if we reduce the government to civil unions, I’ve yet to see a reason to prevent homosexuals from engaging in those unions that isn’t simply arbitrary or inconsistent.

I understand that Christians want to protect the sanctity of marriage. But it’s not up to the government to protect what is holy; in fact, using the government to protect what is holy ultimately makes something unholy (as history has shown us). It makes sense to use the government to stop abortion as abortion creates a victim. It makes sense for the government to prevent certain types of drug use as the drug use is so harmful to the individual and the community that it simply can’t be regulated for positive use. But it doesn’t make sense for the government to try to protect the institution of marriage.

I would argue that traditional marriage is the foundation of a society and that as a society loses that traditional marriage, the society begins to collapse. At the same time, this stands far more true for divorce rates, abuse within marriages, and adultery than it does for homosexual unions. What is more important, however, is that since the traditional family stands as the foundation for a society, the government, by its very nature, can’t protect it; the walls can’t protect the foundation of a building. Only individuals through grassroots movement can protect the family.

Now, I must stress that I’ve made absolutely no comment on the morality of the issue. I would argue that while all legislation is the act of legislating morality, the two must still function on different codes. What is moral is dependent upon what aligns with our telos, or our function with God. God created us for a certain end and to go against that end is to be immoral. The law, however, must function on the code of preventing us from harming each other. The old maxim, “So long as it doesn’t harm you, what do you care” doesn’t work for determining what is moral, but it does work when attempting to legislate morality. For instance, it is immoral to blaspheme God because He has created us to love Him; but very few Christians would want to outlaw blasphemy against God. Likewise, even if homosexual actions are immoral, it makes little sense to outlaw them (or marriage).

In fact, since I’ve basically alienated myself from my conservative Christian friends, let me further my alienation from my liberal Christian friends by stating that I do believe homosexual actions to be a sin. God created humans for a certain economy (or telos) and when we violate this telos, we are committing a sin. Homosexual activity simply doesn’t fit within God’s design for humanity. The whole argument of, “Well I’m born this way” doesn’t fly in a world full of sin; while I accept and argue that homosexual attraction is, for many, an at-birth disposition, I don’t think this justified homosexual activity anymore than an at-birth disposition towards alcoholism justifies drinking.

However, I don’t view the sin of homosexuality (the actions, not the attraction; being attracted to the same-sex is no more a sin than a married man finding a woman other than his wife attractive) as any worse than other “sexual sins.” All sexual sins – with exclusion to ones where a victim is created, such as in rape or pedophilia – fall in the same category as going against humanity’s telos, specifically for sex. Thus, if we are willing to accept that one engaged in premarital sex can be a Christian, we should be able to accept homosexuals as Christians. That is to say, how we react towards those in sexual sin (such as pornography) should paint how we act towards homosexuals; we shouldn’t alienate homosexuals, but instead should love those in that sin as Christ loves us in our sins. If we can befriend someone engaged in some type of sexual sin, then certainly we can befriend homosexuals. If we can say a guy who is addicted to pornography is a Christian and will go to Heaven, certainly we can say the same thing of those engaged in homosexual activity.

All of the above considered, it should be understood that I’m simply asking questions and pointing out problems with the arguments I’ve seen against homosexual marriage. I would say that one negative repercussion I see coming with homosexual marriage is that it could inhibit religious liberty. Just as I argued for religious liberty in questioning the outlawing of homosexual marriage, I too will argue for religious liberty should homosexual marriage be allowed. This means that private charities, adoption centers, churches, or religious organizations should be allowed to practice their beliefs regardless of whether a government recognizes a marriage or not. If a Christian adoption agency doesn’t want to adopt out to homosexual couples (or even non-Catholic, or non-Christian, or non-Religious couples) then it should be their right not to do that.

In other words, the issue of homosexual marriage is far more complicated than, “God said it’s wrong.” There are a myriad of issues that must be tackled, specifically concerning the sanctity of marriage. It just seems to me that if we’re going to protect the sanctity of marriage via legislation, we must first (1) eradicate the First Amendment and (2) outlaw all other instances that challenge the sanctity of marriage (should we allow atheists to marry since nothing is sanctified to them?). To say that homosexual activity is “just different” from adultery, fornication, pornography, or the like just seems arbitrary.

In the end, perhaps there is an argument against homosexual marriage that isn’t tied into heterosexual activity. Perhaps there is an answer to my questions/issues. But thus far, the arguments I’ve seen against homosexual marriage have simply been problematic. Thus, for those that oppose homosexual marriage, one must find better arguments or realize that even if such an activity is impalpable to you, there isn’t a reason to outlaw it.