August 7, 2007

Vetting the Problem

Over at the Anglican Communion Institute Inc. website, a rather strange posting has appeared. "Why Theology Should Precede Change" by a Dr. Jacqueline J. Keenan, critiques "To Set Our Hope On Christ" for relying on outdated science in its comments on same-sexuality.

First of all, I second Dylan's observation that Keenan's paper has nothing to do with theology. Second, and more importantly, it musters an array of papers which do not in fact completely counter what little "To Set Our Hope On Christ" actually says about the state of science:

Altogether, contemporary studies indicate that same-sex affection has a genetic-biological basis which is shaped in interaction with psycho-social and cultural-historical factors. Sexual orientation remains relatively fixed and generally not subject to change. [2.22]

Nothing Keenan presents directly counters or refutes either of these carefully nuanced statements. Yes, there have been some more twin studies, and all they show is that there appears to be some biological or genetic basis, and that rearing and upbringing very likely have a strong influence on the high correlation (far higher than random) of twinship and sexual orientation. That is more or less what the first sentence says. Then the fact that adolescent boys often appear to go through a same-sex "phase" but later become exclusively heterosexual (or so they claim...) hardly should surprise anyone. Or that women's sexuality appears to be more "fluid" than men's. After all, just how strong are those social pressures? The fact remains that few people who seek to change their sexual orientation are able to do so; even if some percentage of the poplulation find their sexual orientation changing of its own accord.

More importantly, however, the major questions TSOHOC raises have little or nothing to do with the etiology of homosexual orientation; which, as any moralist will tell you, is actually irrelevant to the subject.

The only thing science appears to be telling us that has any relevance at all, is that same-sex orientation appears to be a universal and natural part of the human condition; that is, that a certain percentage (whether 1%, 10% or 50%) of all people have such an orientation; and that therefore such orientation is not, in and of itself, "unnatural." Sexual orientation, whether towards the same or different sex, it is not arbitrarily and consciously "chosen."

The theological or moral question -- Whether same-sex relationships are morally good or not -- is not one for medical doctors or psychologists, or veterinarians, to rule upon.

Tobias Haller BSG


Anonymous said...

As a veterinarian I would have expected her to comment on the causes of homosexual behaviour in animals, of which I'm told there are numerous examples. Most recently for me was the example of two male penguins. I think it's clear that the cause of homosexual orientation is not well understood, but what does that have to do with how we treat our homosexual neighbor? Why can't we just accept that some people have a homosexual orientation. My son is gay and he has been with his partner for 17 years and I don't care what made him gay, he just is, and I love him.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Yes, John. That is a considerable oversight on her part. From the material I've read, it goes far beyond penguins.

But you are so on the spot with your observation that it isn't the origin of sexuality that is important, but the person.

Anonymous said...

You are certainly correct that "what is"--the domain of science--cannot define "what ought to be"--the domain of ethics or morality.

(Some have claimed that morality is explained by its evolutionary boost to survival. But that's not a scientific explanation of morality, but a theory that morality itself is an illusion.)

That's not to say that propensities and tendencies have no moral consequence. But it's more in the area of culpability. Some people very well may be less able to control certain sinful impulses. Those with such strong and presumably harder-to-control propensities will have less personal culpability than those whose engaging in depraved behavior is a matter of more conscious choice. But the morality of the act is little touched.

I'm not sure I'm convinced that what is commonly found is therefore "natural." All human societies have some incidence of murder. Murder is an expected fact, therefore, in all societies. Is it therefore "natural"? It is, in the sense of universally found. And, of course, Ms. Goodall has observed somethat that looks a lot like it among chimps. Still, I think most of us will still want to say, "murder most foul and unnatural." "Natural" in the moral sense does not mean "found in nature," or even "found in society," but "in accord with a certain conception of human nature."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the input, Rick. The Jewish tradition (until Hellenism reared its lovely head) had little use for what later came to be called "natural law" in which it wasn't what was "natural" but what appeared to conform to a divine intent for nature that was "natural." This, as most ethicists have observed, begs the question. Murder, for example, is not wrong because it is unnatural, but because it violates "the other."

Some time ago I worked on an essay on the evolution of morals, and will perhaps post it someday. It relates to much that you observe here, and the dilemma of seeking for moral guidance from an essentially morally neutral (or as the tradition would say, fallen) world. I would not, however, say that morality is an illusion if a biological or evolutionary basis could be found for it. It would, in some ways make more sense then as a part of God's creation, rather than a kind of add-on.

All of this does, however, relate to a theme running through several recent posts, and that is the importance of starting with a sound understanding of "what is" before moving on to "what should be." Description should precede prescription, though it is not limited to it.

Anonymous said...

"I would not, however, say that morality is an illusion if a biological or evolutionary basis could be found for it."

I've never seen a convincing explanation of how it would work. Normally we seem to have descriptions of how behavior that we would normally describe as "altruistic" selects for survival. And such behavior might very well be beneficial in that way. But that says nothing about whether one ought to so behave. I just wouldn't want to equate morality with the extent to which we are winning the race with the roaches.

Scientists and social progressives are often puzzled at the resistence of so many to evolution, and have to put it down to lingering fundamentalism and other strange causes. But the continual appeal to the evolutionary model, far outside the bounds of biology where it was first posited, accounts for a great deal of that mistrust.

Marxists, and laise faire capitalists, and fascists, all appealed to the notion of natural selection, and the continual warfare of all against all for the fittest to survive, to justify the most inhuman behavior, and as a foil to the Christian ethic of love. Nietzsche adopts it as his alternative to Christian "slave morality." Hitler in his table talk is very pleased with his grasp of these obvious modern essentials.

I don't say that there may not be something good come out of it, outside of biology. But its track record so far has been fairly dismal.

Anonymous said...

Here's some substantive data for our veterinarian friend:

"The University of Oslo’s Natural History Museum in Norway opened the first-ever museum display featuring animals exhibiting homosexuality. The exhibit, “Against Nature?,” features 51 species of animals exhibiting homosexuality, though the project coordinator indicates that homosexulaity has been observed in more than 1,500 species, and the phenomenon has been well described for 500 of them."

Source: BBC News (October 19, 2006).

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I see yr point; but I'd suggest that the folks you mention are cherry picking selected notions such as "survival of the fittest" and ignoring the emergence of altruism. I see this emergence as as "natural" as the emergence of consciousness. The wonderfully "unnatural" thing about self-giving love is that it is not just about the "good of the greatest number" or other such practical, utilitarian things, but represents a shift that, in my opinion, represents the culmination of God's creative act in giving freedom to creation, and when people choose to do the same (giving others freedom at cost to themselves) they are most fully realizing the divine image within. This is part of the "thesis" in the article I speak of. Perhaps I shall see if it can be worked up into a blog posting...

Fr. John-Julian, thanks for that citation. I'd heard about the exhibit. There are also a number of books and studies on the topic, including Bagemihl's Biological Exuberance. It seems perfectly clear that same-sex behavior is not a human "perversion" but part of a natural range of behavior. Again, whether it is moral or not is another question, but I think we can safely say that the earlier models that portray it as "choice" or "deliberate perversion" or "unnantural" can no longer be maintained. If it is wrong, it must be because of some recognizable moral principle that is being violated; and in spite of my repeated asking, I've never heard an explanation that didn't consist of begging the question.

Anonymous said...

Bagemihl's Biological Exuberance is an exhaustive compendium of homosexuality in the animal world; also see Joan Roughgarden's Evolution's Rainbow.

The twin studies are clear that there is a strong biological component. It is not a 100% correlation; almost no complex human trait DOES correlate 100%, so I am one geneticist who is untroubled by that. 50% is amazing.

Many people opposed to homosexuality argue some sort of natural law basis: that is, that if everyone were gay there would be no-one left. But it's not an absolutist thing. Human biology is littered with 10%-ers: traits that persist in the population because there is no selection against them at the level at which they are maintained. Witness, for example, left handedness, which despite our beest efforts to eradicate (with sinister and satanic labels, no less....sound familiar?) still persists. So what if a few people are left handed? A more striking example are recessive traits like sickle cell anemia, which we now know in the heterozygote confers an advantage by helping to resist malaria. It's only the inevitable poor homozygote-recessive that pays for this by the disease.

In terms of selection in complex functioning societies, there is an error in some to assume that all selection operates at the level of the individual, when clearly it does not. There is clearly altruistic behavior in many animal societies as well. Am I saying there MIGHT be an evolutionary selection to maintain a same sex trait? There could be. Or it could just be a relatively harmless variation, like left handedness and red hair, that persists because there is no selection against it. (All gay people have parents, after all.)

As for morality, well, I'll leave it to those of you with faith. I will say that I consider my faithful partnership to be to be a lot more moral than most "marriages" I see straight folk indulging in. And I agree with john larson, no one should be able to treat me worse just because I'm gay. In fact, my partnership (Marriage to me) makes me a lot more stable and productive as a member of society.

After all, I don't notice conservatives shouting slurs at people who are divorced. A little consistancy, surely?


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, IT, for the thoughtful view from a scientific perspective.

As to the argument "if everyone were gay there would be no population" I find it an amusing suggestion, in light of Saint Paul's expressed wish that the unmarried remain unmarried (and continent) just like him (1 Cor 7:8) if they can at all manage it. If everyone practiced celibacy there would be no population either!

No one is suggesting, as Paul did about celibacy, that same-sexuality is morally preferable to marriage. It is not a categorical imperative. But then, neither is marriage. Things can be held to be potential fields for good (or evil) precisely because of this; human relationships form the ground for moral activity, but in substance are not the locus of morality. (This is not to say we do not recognize some human relationships in their working-out to be immoral, but we are able to explain why: for example, involuntary servitude is an instance of an abuse of power and a violation of the Golden Rule, for who would want to be a slave against her will? It is an obvious contradiction to do to another what one would not want done to oneself; or in this case to will what one doesn't will for oneself!) This is why I have always held that same- and mixed-sex marriages (and yes I'll use that term in spite of the problems inherent in it for some) are themselves morally neutral, and it is the quality of the relationship that renders it moral or immoral.

BTW, I take the Golden Rule as the standard for morality. Not only does it make sense, but it has dominical authority! The best part about it is that it doesn't rely on the domincal authority alone, but is comprehensible even in a totally a-theistic context.

Closed said...

This begs the question in another way. After all, Augustine's theology of Original Sin began in response to how to explain theologically the increasing practice of the baptism of infants. More interestingly, our marriage doctrine arises from marriage actually having been lived out over centuries.

I'd appreciate your thoughts on my post just below the Anglican Model. We're having a discussion about ascesis, eros, and agape.

June Butler said...

My son is gay and he has been with his partner for 17 years and I don't care what made him gay, he just is, and I love him.

Thank you, John Larson. That's it, exactly. To me, it doesn't matter how folks get to be lesbian or gay. They are our neighbors, (or our kin) and we are commanded to love them and to practice the Golden Rule.

What I do hear in conversations with gays and lesbians is that that same-gender sexual orientation is, most definitely, not a "lifestyle choice". In fact, most take offense at that label. I must take them at their word, for whom better to hear on the question?

Anonymous said...

"a shift that, in my opinion, represents the culmination of God's creative act in giving freedom to creation, and when people choose to do the same (giving others freedom at cost to themselves) they are most fully realizing the divine image within."

I wouldn't necessarily argue too strenuously with you about this. I'd just say that terms like "creative," "freedom," "choose," and "divine" are no more terms comprehensible to physical science than "ought to."

Nor do I think it's quite accurate to say that ants are "moral" to each other because they cooperate, and because they put the good of the nest over that of the individual. What we normally mean by morality is a real imperative to choose one course of action over another, simply because one ought to be done, and the other ought not to be done, while retaining the freedom to act against that imperative. It is far different from simply apprehending my advantage (or my group's advantage, or my species' advantage, or my selfish genes' advantage) and pursuing it.

Anonymous said...

Tobias wrote: "It seems perfectly clear that same-sex behavior is not a human 'perversion' but part of a natural range of behavior. Again, whether it is moral or not is another question, but I think we can safely say that the earlier models that portray it [same-sex behavior] as 'choice' or 'deliberate perversion' or 'unnantural' can no longer be maintained."

I think this is an important point to raise. And I quite agree that same-sex behavior is by no means necessarily "deliberate perversion" or "unnatural." There are, after all, cases of heterosexual behavior that one may well characterize as "deliberate perversion" and "unnatural," so it won't do to single out homosexual persons for special censure.

However, I am puzzled that you describe same-sex behavior as also not being about choice. Unless we're talking about an addiction (i.e., an illness) or coercion, isn't behavior about choosing to do - or not to do - something? And isn't that the reason why we hold persons responsible for their behavior - precisely because they were free to choose or not to choose what they did?

I think this begs the question of the distinction between orientation ("being") and behavior ("doing").

I think one can make a good argument that sexual orienation is a relatively fixed (and, perhaps for some, a more-or-less absolutely fixed) matter. As a result, most persons cannot change their sexual orientation by exertion of the will, anymore than they can change their eye color or skin color by trying really hard.

But sexual behavior is another matter. That is a matter of the will. Regardless of whether I'm heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, I choose whether or not (and how and with whom) to act upon my sexual orientation. I am responsible for that.

It seems to me that if we say that same-sex behavior is not a matter of choice, then, ironically, we end up affirming some of the very same things that gay-bashers say - for instance, that homosexual persons aren't fully human; that they can't be trusted to control their sexual urges and actions; etc.

In summary, saying that same-sex behavior is not a matter of choice demeans the dignity of homosexual persons in one or all of the following ways:

(1) It equates homosexual activity with addiction (i.e., illness).

(2) It says that homosexual activity is non-moral, and thus not susceptible in any particular case - not matter how virtuous or how heinous - to moral praise or blame. We may find the behavior aesthetically (or sexually) attractive or repulsive. But if such behavior is not subject to the will, we cannot make moral judgments about it anymore than I hold the cliff or the law of gravity responsible for the rock that falls on my head.

(3) It applies a double-standard that holds homosexual persons LESS morally accountable for their sexual behavior than we hold heterosexual persons.

Based upon what I've read on your blog, I simply cannot imagine that you wish to affirm any of that!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks again. You are actually following exactly the same course that I laid out in the yet unblogged article in which I sketch an evolution of morality. In it, I make the point that mere altruism (the selfish gene expanded to the group) is only one step on the evolution towards real moral choice. The movement includes the step from consciousness to self-consciousness and then finally to other-consciousness that allows one to make a choice for the good of the other apart from any benefit to oneself.

What I suggest is that God, in creation, engages in a kind of kenosis in allowing that-which-is-not-God to come-to-be, and further expands this in giving humans the power to choose not to obey, or to obey voluntarily, then in the ultimate kenosis in Christ God-self-in-humanity submits to God in perfect obedience. The rise to consciousness, as figured in the second creation account, also plays a role -- the tree of knowledge being a symbol of the power to choose, in which people moved from the merely conscious to the self-conscious state (and saw that they were naked.)

I really must get about bloggifying that essay, but may not get to it before month's end as I've a number of other chores on my plate.

Thanks again for the continued throughful input...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Gay Scientist,
Thank you for the correction. I am writing in haste and slipped into talking about behavior when I really am talking about orientation. Sometimes my typing is faster than my thinking, and most of what you are seeing in the comments here is very poorly proofed! You have done that for me and I thank you for the correction.

I do think, though, that the distinctions between behavior and orientation sometimes fail to take account of the degree to which unacted desires are also morally culpable -- as in the 10th commandment, and Jesus' citation of sins of the heart. I would not want to limit morality only to external acts. But that is another topic entirely.

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

John Larson: wikipedia has a large List of animals exhibiting homosexual behaviour

I set this directly against akinola.

Anonymous said...

Just to make plain what "natural law" traditionally refers to, this is from the recent Catholic catechism:

"The natural law states the first and essential precepts which govern the moral life. It hinges upon the desire for God and submission to him, who is the source and judge of all that is good, as well as upon the sense that the other is one's equal. Its principal precepts are expressed in the Decalogue. This law is called "natural," not in reference to the nature of irrational beings, but because reason which decrees it properly belongs to human nature:

'Where then are these rules written, if not in the book of that light we call the truth? In it is written every just law; from it the law passes into the heart of the man who does justice, not that it migrates into it, but that it places its imprint on it, like a seal on a ring that passes onto wax, without leaving the ring.' (St. Augustine)

'The natural law is nothing other than the light of understanding placed in us by God; through it we know what we must do and what we must avoid. God has given this light or law at the creation. (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

That is a good scholastic definition of natural law. The Jewish legalists (such as Maimonides) rejected the concept altogether, since to them the Decalogue could hardly be conceived of as "natural" since God had to "give" it. Thus it is positive, rather than "natural" law.

Careful ethicists today warn that the major danger in the "natural law" tradition is that it can simply embody prejudices (or culture) without the capacity to challenge them. I think we see this in the sexuality debates in particular.

I can, however, agree with the thinking that undleries the opening two sentences. But rather than see this as "natural" I think it is simply easier to see it as "given" -- and indeed these two sentences reflect the Summary of the Law, which itself is a reflection of the two tables of the Decalogue.

In short, I agree that a natural evolution in human consciousness leads to a sense of "law" -- in fact, that is part of my essay on that development. It is in the application that I think we get into trouble, especially the tendency to enshrine other prejudices in the "natural" law. Even, for example, such notions as personal property might well be seen as cultural rather than natural -- and it might be possible to have a human society in which theft was a meaningless category.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as another gay scientist, I will simplify it by saying that expression of gay sexuality can be moral, or immoral. and this is NO different than expression of straight sexuality.

Sexuality expressed in the context of a faithful, committed, monogamous relationship is different than one-night stands or sex-as-itch-so-scratch-it. that kind of morality makes no difference for gay or straight.

Here's the rub, so to speak. If you say that gay orientation is not in itself a problem, but having any sexual expression thereof is, you assign perfectly healthy people to a celibacy to which they are not called.

I have been celibate, and was for many years. I have been partnered, and am fortunate to be so now. I am a much, much, much better human being as the latter than the former, and sex per se has nothing to do with it. It's about love, and intimacy, and the myriad of other things that accrue to a person when they make a permanent commitment to another.


Anonymous said...

"Careful ethicists today warn that the major danger in the "natural law" tradition is that it can simply embody prejudices (or culture) without the capacity to challenge them. I think we see this in the sexuality debates in particular."

On the other hand, if one rejects the notion that ethics are grounded in the divine will, and also rejects the notion of a universal moral sense operative by virtue of mere human nature, there is plenty of room for change, not only for sexual morality, but for all morality.

Once we are "beyond" those Christian or Enlightenment prejudices we may find that the brave new world can be rather brutal. If we are a bit chary of new moralities, it certainly isn't because the history of the last century or so hasn't given us reason to be so.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks IT. That sums up my position exactly: a faithful same-sex relationship is just as "moral" as a faithful mixed-sex relationship.

Rick, I do not reject the concept that ethics need to be grounded in the divine will. That is the Rabbinic and patristic position. The "natural law" tradition arising from Aristotle and developed in the medieval church seems to me to be a major part of our present problem. The idea that certain natural "laws" are "written on the human heart" -- i.e., "There are some things people just know to be wrong" -- is not only begging the question, but can in fact lead to the very abuses you cite from the last century. The arguments of the eugenicists were based on what they believed to be an objective truth of nature. Similarly, Hobbes' utilitatianism derives from his belief in a "natural" principle of seeking to avoid suffering and enhance enjoyment. One can, as in these instances, detach "natural law" entirely from any religious context whatsoever, leading to a system which may consider itself just but which is lacking in the "unnatural" virtue of mercy.

In short, there is, I believe, a "universal moral sense operative by virtue of human nature" but it isn't "natural" or "human" except by the divine act: it only comes about through the action of God in creation, redemption, and inspiration. Left to our "natural" selves we return to the law of nature red in tooth and claw.

I have begun work on bloggifying the essay to which I referred, and may post it before I head away for a brief vacation. I think it will explain much of where I am coming from. In the meantime, I refer you to the sermon on the feast of St. Aelred, which addresses some of these matters in another context.

Greg Jones said...

The point is that whether something occurs in nature or not has little bearing on its being Christianly ethical. Alcoholism appears to be naturally occurring as a predisposition -- but it ain't ethical -- for example. Similarly, the fact that men are generally more strong physically than women is natural -- but patriarchy ain't necessarily of the Gospel either. It does little service, I think, to the conversation to put much moral weight on whether or something is natural. However, it is valuable to be able to assert from science that something is naturally occurring, and not at a a mark of pathology, in the fact of those bigots who argue that same sex relationships are both unnatural and unhealthy. In other words, we need to look toward our theological resources to really come up with the teachings behind new interpretations regarding human sexuality -- but it does play some small part in the debate to be able to assert that something is 'natural and not pathological.' Alcholism, for example, is natural, but it is pathological. Patriarchy is natural -- in some instances but certainly not all -- but does not express the fulness of the Gospel. Etc.

Anonymous said...

But it seems to me that the Christian problem with dismissing the notion of laws "written on the human heart" is that such things are rather expressly asserted by St. Paul in the second chapter of the Letter to the Romans--which I assume you know, having practically quoted him. I know the beginning of Romans isn't everyone's favorite scripture at the moment, but I'm not comfortable dismissing it out of hand.

Paul of course is writing Greek in a world long Hellenized. But I would dispute the suggestion that a "natural law," though not phrased as such, is entirely Hellenic and foreign to the Hebraic world. The whole prophetic tradition is an appeal to notions of justice and mercy without specific touchstones in the Torah. Isaiah speaks to Israel, but he has an eye on the whole world, and he is certainly no simple scribe or exegete.

I think its also important to keep in mind the difference between the theological or religious use of "nature," the philosophical, and the scientific. In orthodox theology man's nature is good, the imago Dei, but fallen (we Christians argue about "fallen how far," and "how badly," and "to what end"). The philosophical use tends to look at notions of essence or definition in a way little favored today. For the scientist, nature is just "what is," apart from what should be or might be or can be (or even apart from "what is but can't be objectively verified").

It seems to me that what you say about our nature, and relationship to the divine, makes sense in the religious context, but not at all in the scientific one this discussion started out in--incidence of homosexual orientation in genetically identical individuals or in other animals.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

It may be we are talking at cross purposes here. I do not reject the notion that there are divine laws written on the human heart -- but that means they are precisely not "natural" -- but divine! The idea that people could be good "by nature" or totally on their own is, I think, very contrary to Paul's teaching in Romans: all have sinned whether under the law or apart from the law.

The prophetic tradition rejects a notion of natural law and insists that only God can engrave his law upon our hearts. This is the tradition from which Paul is writing, tho he is aware of the Hellenistic influences from the Wisdom literature (Romans strongly echoes Wisdom of Solomon, for instance). Ultimately, though, Paul rejects any resort to law, and insists on grace, which can be understood as God's divine principle poured into the human vessel.

What I was trying to get at in the comments about what science tells us about sexuality is that it is largely irrelevant to morality whether a condition, tendency, or affection is genetically based, a result of nuture, or a combination of the two. All such a finding can show us is that such a tendency is not "unnatural." On that ground, if that is what Paul meant in the latter sections of Romans 1 (and it isn't entirely clear that is what he meant), then he was simply mistaken. Homosexuality is perfectly natural. That does not mean it is moral. (Though I believe it can be.)

Does that clarify?

Anonymous said...

Tobias wrote: "Homosexuality is perfectly natural. That does not mean it is moral. (Though I believe it can be.)"

Tobias, I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only one who would find it very helpful if you would be willing to write and post a piece (or even write a book) that makes the case - against the criticisms so well rehearsed by scholars such as Robert Gagnon - as to how and under what conditions homosexual practice can be accepted by the Church as morally virtuous.

In fact, what we really need (and what has yet to appear) is a response to Gagnon's book THE BIBLE AND HOMOSEXUAL PRACTICE that both takes the authority of scripture and tradition seriously and makes the case for why the Church can embrace faithful same-sex relationships.

I mention Gagnon's work in particular because he makes the strongest and most detailed, exegetically-grounded biblical case against the possibilty of the Church accepting same-sex relationships.

As far as I can see, most moderates and liberals simply throw ad hominem stones at Gagnon, or they just ignore him. But his argument BEGS for a cogent response.

Clearly, you have a deep grasp of the relevant biblical texts and the Christian tradition.

In spite of its merits, I think that TO SET OUR HOPE ON CHRIST is not enough. We need a detailed response to Robert Gagnon.

What do you say?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for this further comment. I agree that TSOHOC was far less than it could have been, and that Gagnon's opus is yet to be addressed in detail; though I note that there have been a few responses to it from folks such as Walter Wink. (Of course, G responds immediately with more of the same!). However, I don't think his work has much impact outside the circle of those already convinced of the truth of his premises; which is where most of the problems arise. He relies much too much on Genesis as if it provided a template for all human sexuality (begging the question). There are a number of technical weaknesses as well; for instance, his assertion that porneia must have included same sex relationships -- a notion unsupported by any use of the word or its extended forms, and contradicted directly in the vice lists. Far from meaning essentially "any form of sexual indiscretion one wishes," the root has a fairly specific meaning of "whoredom" which easily explains all of the instances without the need to broaded the category. Frankly, I find so many "howlers" in Gagnon I can hardly take him seriously. His main weakness is to maximize any text that might even remotely deal with same-sexuality and at the same time minimize anything to the contrary. Ultimately, he doesn't really address the issue Walter Wink raises: that even if we are to accept that the Scripture is uniformly against same-sex relationships, are we thereby bound to adopt the same view if it can be shown that this opposition is culturally conditioned rather than divinely revealed? Gagnon minimizes or misrepresents the parallel arguments about slavery. One might, in the midst of the present financial crisis, wonder if the biblical injunctions against usury might have been better observed!

I did write a blow by blow commentary on the English "Some Issues in Human Sexuality" which relied on a few of Gagnon's false assertions. But to undertake a similar magnum opus against Gagnon would require a great deal of work; and my sense is that the tide of the struggle is already turning and Gagnon's work will be looked back on fifty years from now the way we look today at Bishop Hopkins' magisterial defense of the institution of slavery.