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Dr. Warren Throckmorton Christian Blog and Commentary

Elena Kagan's sexual identity - who cares?

  • Warren Throckmorton, PhD
    Warren Throckmorton, PhD is Associate Professor of Psychology and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy at Grove City College (PA). He co-founded the Golden Rule Pledge which advocates bullying prevention in evangelical churches. His academic articles have been published by journals of the American Psychological Association and he is past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association. He is the author with fellow Grove City College professor, Michael Coulter, of the book, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President. Over 200 newspapers have published his columns. He can be reached at ewthrockmorton@gcc.edu.
  • 2010 May 12
  • Comments

I just read this post (The meme that will not die) at the Moderate Voice referring to questions about the sexual orientation of Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan, and my reaction is in the title of this post - Who cares?

I don't. I suspect the 24-7 news cycle drives a lot of "news" which is really just curiosity about the private business of famous people. I see it as reporters and pundits playing out their dispositional attributions about the vague or unknown. In social psych class (which is now all over but the shouting - no, wait, I hear shouting), I teach about the fundamental attribution error. By that, social psychologists refer to the tendency among those in individualist societies (read: the U.S.) to assume observed behavior is due to personality traits of the behaving person(dispositional attributions) as opposed to the situation within which the behavior is occurring. So when some learn of a middle aged woman who is not dating a man and is not married, they might make an attribution about her sexuality, rather than her situation or other circumstances of life. Making sense of what others do is one of the fundamental cognitive jobs of humans, even though we are often incorrect, thanks, in part, to the bias toward dispositional attributions. When comes to our own behavior, we are often quick to see the role of the situation ("Lord, it was the woman you gave me"; "if only people knew what I had to put up with"), but when it comes to other people, we are not as likely to cut them situational slack. 

In any case, about Ms. Kagan's sexual identity, I don't care. Nothing in my theological outlook requires it; I don't think what excites her neurons will be of overwhelming impact in her legal decision making. I am much more interested in how her neurons conspire to inform her about the role of Supreme Court judge (interpret, not make law). And you know, on the issue of qualifications, conservative Ken Starr thinks she is a pretty bright person. Ken Starr, Baylor University's incoming president, is no liberal.

Am I wrong?