April 2, 2008

In Response to Rick

Dear Rick,

You misunderstand my point about "Hate the sin; love the sinner." I am not suggesting a simple converse, i.e., that if you love the sinner you must love his or her sin. That is a straw man. What I am saying, based on careful observation of the history of the practice, is that those who say they are merely critiquing the sin quite often end up attempting to take the role of God in judging the sinner, and punishing her. Certainly we are called to work against sin, but Jesus' sole advice on the subject is to work against it in ourselves, not in others.

As to desires, it is perfectly appropriate, as you suggest, for the Buddhist to see all of her desires as something to be suppressed and denied, or even better ignored, as the Zen school might say -- desires need not be wrestled with because they do not exist. ("no mirror, no dust.")

The Christian tradition, beginning with Augustine, appears to make a similar claim -- perpetuated in Anglican formularies -- that concupiscence is itself a partaker in sin. (The Jewish tradition, on the contrary, asserts that desire, while it may be "evil," is actually crucial in building up the world; a notion not unlike that found in Greek mythology and philosophy, in which Eros is the beginning of creation.)

Jesus' counsel is that we work on our own desires rather than trying to fix others; in fact he singled out that one desire -- the urge to "fix" others -- for condemnation. His harshest critique was directed against those who, while not entering the kingdom themselves, obstructed others by establishing a system in which people who were unable to abide by the rules so imposed gave in to despair. To cause despair in others, leading them to come to think they cannot live a Christian life, is a very serious matter. From Christ's standpoint, the most serious. By establishing and perpetuating (on very slim evidence) a tradition that proscribes the fulfillment of human desire in morally analogous ways (faithful, monogamous, permanent), to a large portion of the population (larger than many believe), on the basis of unproven concepts of natural law or the cultural traditions of a pre-scientific world, thereby leading to despair or separation from the Church for many who would seek to live a moral life on the basis of what Christ actually taught, is, as I say, a perilous and un-Christ-like course.

I do not deny that natural law has its uses. But if one is to employ it, one must be very careful that the "nature" informing the conclusions be accurate. Sound principles of logic must come into play. This is where science and human reason come in.

The problem with the Vatican's pronouncements that same-sexuality be singled out as "objectively disordered" is that it assumes to know the "order" or "purpose" for which sexuality exists, and state that same-sexuality of its nature does not fulfill that order.

Science (and human reason) challenge that claim. Leaving aside language of "purpose" (end, or goal) it is at least clear that sex does not in fact have a sole function; and that these various functions are separable in nature and, if you will, by "design." The Roman position, deriving from an inherited faulty understanding of human anthropology and biology (that the male is the "active" principle in human reproduction and the female a passive vessel, to cite only one aspect of the erroneous basis for the so-called natural law tradition), is logically incoherent, and morally flawed. Science will not tell us the "purpose" of a given phenomenon, but it can tell us when there is clearly more than one "function" possible, and logic can then open other possibilities for discussion as to purpose, end, or goal. (Of course, the tradition actually acknowledges multiple "ends" or "goods" for sexuality; but then arbitrarily says they cannot be separated from one another. As I have already shown in my previous articles, not only can they be separated, but they are -- by nature! The mouth is used for eating and speaking, and it is well not to do both at the same time. The male sexual organ also has multiple uses, and I dare say is also best used for one or the other. You see -- there is no logical basis for an "inseparability" of functions.)

I have, as I say, spelled this all out in great detail in the other articles I have posted. I have pointed out precisely why it is logically incoherent to hold that the "purpose of sexual acts is procreation." (When sex was wrongly understood as the planting of a seed in fertile soil, male homosexuality was seen as a grave fault, and female homosexuality went unmentioned -- this in itself reveals a major flaw in the "moral" understanding of sex.) You have responded to these with the same reassertions again and again, never once offering any clear evidence for the truth of the traditional and flawed "natural law" argument other than its mere restatement. I'd be glad just for a simple answer to the question, "Why can the various functions of sexuality not be separated?" or "Why is a same-sex relationship more culpable than an infertile mixed-sex relationship?" I have yet to receive an answer.

By the way, have you noticed how the very notion of "purpose" is itself an instance of concupiscence? A Buddhist, at least of the Zen school, would say that purposefulness is itself a result of desire, and hence flawed. Given we are not Buddhists, I have articulated the "purposes" of same-sexuality as the establishment of stable relationships, the care of children (though the Vatican thinks this impossible, too), the gift of one person to another (also denied by the Vatican, which sees same-sexuality as inherently "selfish" -- though without explanation) and so on. These are all functions and/or purposes. Who is to say these functions or purposes are less "moral" than mere breeding -- which, when separated from these other purposes is hardly commendable in and of itself. (It has long been noted that in elevating procreation to a position of prominence, the tradition inadvertently assigned moral weight to a biological function we share with animals. It is the human capacity for love, fidelity, and self-giving that has moral value, not the capacity to breed. More questions for you: Does breeding gain a moral value when carried out by persons? If so, what is the moral value? What is moral about it?)

Speaking of the Vatican, I reviewed the document "The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons" yesterday. It is full of logical fallacies and begged questions; assertions dressed as truths. It also indulges in some very questionable theology. (The relation of the society of persons in marriage to the inner life of the Trinity is, for example, a wild notion when applied to sexuality. One would think the suggestion of linking sex with the relationship of the Father and the Son would send up red flags all over the place! Yet this is blandly suggested in the document. The notion that the image of God resides in the society of male and female, also advanced by John Paul II, is a direct contradiction of orthodox doctrine, as spelled out in Aquinas. This is the phenomenon I have noted before: the tendency to do bad theology when seeking to bolster an argument against same-sexuality -- and a sure sign the argument is faulty.)

So, Rick, that is the lay of the land. I reject the Roman teaching on this subject as logically incoherent. That does not mean you and others are barred from accepting it; but you must do so on the basis of faith in the Magisterium rather than on the basis of reason -- unless you can provide a reasonable argument that stands up to examination and doesn't beg the question. If you would like to assay a response to any of the questions I raised above (in boldface), I'd be glad to see what you have to say.

Tobias Haller BSG


Malcolm+ said...

The problem with "hate the sin, love the sinner" is not that it is bad advice or bad moral theology. Indeed, it is perfectly sound, totally in keeping with the gospel imperative and fully in keeping with the loving mercy of a God who loves us.

No. The problem is that many (most? - though admittedly, probably not all) of the people who say "hate the sin, love the sinner" mean only the first half of it.

FranIAm said...

I feel like I am speaking out and I don't necessarily have the theological background to do so.

So really - what I will say is this- if procreation is the point of human sexuality, how does that then function for me? A Catholic woman who got married at age 49?

There will be no procreation here, miracles not withstanding. So am I to understand that the sexual expression in my marriage is inappropriate?

Again, I feel a bit unqualified to be in this conversation. I do not have the theological education for it and I also lack some of the skills of reason shown by Tobias.

That said, I have to say that every time I see or participate in a conversation of this kind, I find myself frustrated.

What is it that is so damned important to people that they must forever rail on about the so-called sin of homosexuality?

I simply fail to understand the weight assigned to this by many Catholics and the lack of weight assigned to far more pressing issues. At least IMHO.

I know that you moderate comments Tobias, so if mine does not belong here and you don't publish it, no offense will be taken.

Jay said...

That is one of the most clearly expressed thoughts on this subject I've ever come across. While clearly based in scripture and theology it is still accessible by we poor mortals. I got so excited reading it that my eyes would skip ahead wanting to follow the trail more quickly than mind, which wanted to stop and savor each step.
I'll be reading and re-reading this . Many thanks.

Tobias Haller said...

Malcolm, my point exactly: so much better in this as in much else to follow Jesus' advice.

Fran, your comment is to the point. The Vatican pastoral letter I mentioned makes my skin crawl when it suggests that the way people strikingly reflect the image of God is when a man and woman bear children. How does this make a childless couple feel? (Besides being a very strange notion of the nature of God's inner workings in the Trinity.) I think it may be a case of "Block that Metaphor" gone to the extreme. But you are quite right to raise the issue, as it is all part of the logical incoherence of the traditional teaching, which is forced to come up with exceptions and excuses rather than to deal with the actual evidence.

Jay, thanks for the kind words. Glad to be of help.

Christopher said...

And of course, hate those peoples sins, but don't notice mine. It tends to lead to self-righteousness of the type that a solid Original Sin doctrine is meant to prevent.

Anonymous said...

Fran, the Catholic Church does not teach that the end of marriage is procreation. Sec. 1654 of the Catechism states, "Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. The Church teaches that the end of marriage is the one flesh union of man and woman of Gen. 2:24. The reproductive act is the "sign" of the one flesh communion. That is why two persons of the same sex cannot engage in a one flesh communion because the one flesh communion is reproductive in behavior if not in effect. The reproductive act requires two persons of the opposite sex.

phil swain

Tobias Haller said...

On the contrary, Phil, the Roman church most definitely teaches that 'union between the spouses is intimately linked with the end of procreation" and that "the conjugal act is by its nature ordained to procreation resulting in the increase of the People of God." See Decree for the Armenians (1439), Casti Connubi (1936), Gaudium et spes (1965 ¶50) Humanae Vitae (1968, esp ¶12). It is, of course, quite true that the Church does not deny marriage to infertile couples. But it does see procreation as an "end" or "good" of the conjugal act.

The statement "the one flesh communion is reproductive in behavior if not in effect" is typically irrational. What in the world is an act that is "reproductive in behavior if not in effect"? Do you mean, an act which, if the couple were fertile, could result in reproduction? But that is is rather like saying, "If I had been born in France I would be French." One might refer to it as an act of attempted reproduction. (Which brings us back to the Roman teaching that deliberate avoidance of reproduction is wrong -- precisely because it is assumed to be the proper end of the conjugal act. See the sources cited above.)

But speaking purely rationally, if an act does not result in reproduction, it is, by definition, not a reproductive act, but may be an attempt at performing a reproductive act. For some, no such attempt can result in an actual reproductive act, and so cannot properly be called an "attempt": a woman with a hysterectomy, a man after prostatectomy, or a same sex couple. I believe that all of these can still "have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms."

Tobias Haller said...

I neglected to add, that this form of argument is really a thinly veiled restatement of the premise: only a man and woman can engage in sex. Fallacy: petitio principii. Construct it as a syllogism and you'll see.

It reminds me of Lewis Carroll's illogical, "I'm so glad I don't like asparagus because if I did I should have to eat it — and I can't bear it."

At some point I really ought to catalog all of the fallacies and logical flaws one encounters in these discussions. That doesn't mean, of course, that the premises may not be true; just that the arguments used to support them fail for various reasons. If one wants to accept the teaching on the basis of the Magisterium's authority, or one's reading of Scripture, well and good for them. But those not persuaded that the Magisterium is trustworthy, and with a different reading of Scripture, will well come up with a different opinion.

J-Tron said...

Far more interesting to me than the reproductive debate is the question of how to understand the grace of a same sex union. I agree that the comparison to the Trinity is... well... a little creepy. But to my understanding, the chief image of marriage in scripture, besides the image in Genesis, is the description in Ephesians where the union of man and woman in marriage is likened to the union between Christ and the Church. It seems that Paul (or whoever actually wrote Ephesians) sees an important gender equation that runs through this concept of marriage. Where do you see gay and lesbian unions in relation to that? Are they marriage in the same sense as Ephesians describes it? If not, what is such a union to be understood as, theologically speaking?

(As a side thought, it's always been interesting to me that the Church is both the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ... I'm fascinated by the notion that Christ's "Body" is then in some sense feminine.)

Anonymous said...

Fran, you wrote, “What is it that is so damned important to people that they must forever rail on about the so-called sin of homosexuality? I simply fail to understand the weight assigned to this by many Catholics and the lack of weight assigned to far more pressing issues.”

I hope I wasn’t “railing.” And in fact I jumped in late, on a different issue, the suggestion that it was somehow a serious sin to assert that Christians had “disordered” desires. I tried to point out that that’s a fairly widespread and fundamental observation, and one that certainly extends far beyond Christian circles.

One of the problems with these "hot button" issues is their distorting effect on other matters. When I pointed out to Toby that the CDF had never spoken of "disordered persons," but of acts and desires, he found that distinction disingenuous, and asserted it was impossible to "hate the sin and love the sinner."

So, again, this isn't really so about homosexuality as about how these topics that are cared about so deeply can distort our perspective. The fact that we so glibly repeat a slogan like "hate the sin and love the sinner" shouldn't disguise the fact that that is precisely what we must do, and that it is very, very difficult.

To put it into a little different context (one that I know you've thought about because of the "foot-washing comments on your blog), however much we oppose violent adventurism of our national leaders, we must not, as Christians, hate them. That fact, though, that we mustn't hate them, should not keep us from confirming that, yes, we hate war, and the needless deaths of tens of thousands of innocents, and the cavalier corruption of our own institutions.

Why is homosexuality such a hot button issue? I don't know. Why did a generation tear itself apart in the 16th century over justification? Myself, I don't see the proposed changes as being better, or more closely conformed to the teaching of Jesus, or more condusive to human happpiness. But they are really quite peripheral. Frankly, I don't think I've ever heard homosexuality mentioned in a sermon my whole life--though you'd imagine from the blogs that that's all Catholics talk about. There's a lot of strange perception going on, too.

--rick allen

P.S., Toby, I'll try to get to your questions, too, but I have little time these days, unhapppily.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks for this comment. As to Ephesians, note that Paul also analogizes the relationship between Christ and the Church with Master and Slave, and Parent and Child, in the same epistle. The section on "subjection" begins at verse 5:21 and is then illustrated with three "analogies." Notice how in each case reciprocity is envisioned. The fact is that people fixate on the marriage analogy, and then carry it to some extremes (the very thing Paul was trying to avoid when he clarified that the "mystery" he is referring to is not marriage, but "Christ and the Church" -- a clarification lost in many translations.) It is the problem of giving to symbols more weight than they were intended to carry. (No one would suggest slavery is "good" just because Paul used it as an analogy for the Christ/Church relationship!) I think the same problem arises when we confuse or confound various images, such as Bride and Body. As I say, block that metaphor!

Rick, it amazes me that you seem so blithe about what for many people is a life and death matter. It is a hot button question, even if you are not capable of seeing it as such.

The reason, btw, I think hate is wrong even when applied to sin is that it is a matter of the emotion, not the will. It serves no purpose. We can oppose sin "dispassionately" and thereby more effectively. We then are protected from edging our hatred over to the person rather than their sin. It is that simple. We will find it difficult to "speak the truth in love" if we have hatred in our heart or on our mind.

Meanwhile, I welcome an attempt to respond to one or more of the questions I raised. I would suggest you try to frame premises or statements with which I could agree to start with. The primary reason these conversations don't go very far is the tendency to take as given the very thing in quesiton.

Meanwhile, I had another thought this a.m. about Phil's assertion that the conjugal act is always "reproductive in behavior if not in effect." Reproduction is an effect, a result. To define an act in terms of its result, and then assert it is somehow still the same in the absence of that result, is the core of the logical dilemma. It is rather like saying that playing a piano without strings is musical in behavior if not in effect. It goes against the very nature of what it means to be "musical" -- which is to say, producing music.

Anonymous said...

Dear Fr. Haller,
A couple of points.

First, as for hatred of the sin (and not the sinner):

You offer as your reason why you "think hate is wrong even when applied to sin" the following: "it is a matter of the emotion, not the will. We can oppose sin 'dispassionately' and thereby more effectively."

I think you are quite right that hatred is one of the passions (the auctoritates tell me it is a component of the "concupiscible appetite", along with love, delight, sorrow, pain and others). But supposing that emotions ought to be left out of our moral accounting strikes me as a tremendously flawed approach (though historically quite popular, among certain Stoic-leaning philosophers). I doubt there is much of anything we can truly do dispassionately. That is why a great part of cultivating moral virtue consists of schooling the passions to delight in, and be pained by, the right sorts of things. Now love is a passion, and its object is what is evil. Hatred is its flip-side. The object of hatred is what is evil. Now assuming you agree that there is evil (whatever you want to say about its precise nature or ontological status) and that there is sin, and that you agree that sin is human moral evil, then to say one of hatred's objects is sin seems pretty unobjectionable. The danger you refer to, "edging our hatred over to the person rather than their sin", is only a danger if we have not gone through the proper sort of moral training so that we love, and hate, the right objects. But if we have gone through the right sort of training, then hatred, a strong negative passion, is by all means the correct response to evils, including moral evils.

Second, as for your invitation and suggestion to Rick, "I welcome an attempt to respond to one or more of the questions I raised. I would suggest you try to frame premises or statements with which I could agree to start with." Your questions are:

(1) "why can the various functions of sexuality not be separated?"
(2) "Why is a same-sex relationship more culpable than an infertile mixed-sex relationship?"
(3) "Does breeding gain a moral value when carried out by persons? If so, what is the moral value? What is moral about it?"

You mention that you'd be "glad just for a simple answer," but I fear that a simple answer is something you'll never get. You'll have to settle for a fairly complicated and rigorous answer to your questions if you want (a satisfying) one at all. But given your insistence on "sound principles of logic" (your dislike for "assertion", "begged questions", and "logical fallacies") and on good "science and human reason" determining the results of this sort of discussion, I can't imagine you'd object to long answers!

I'd have to read your previous articles to give one myself, though. I'll content myself for now with saying that your claim "it is logically incoherent to hold that the 'purpose of sexual acts is procreation'" cannot be true, for various reasons. Here are a couple: (1) incoherence is not strictly speaking a logical notion at all (perhaps you're thinking of inconsistency, which IS a logical notion, applying to sets of propositions), so your formulation is flawed from the get-go, and (2) multiple ideas "cohere" to the extent that they can be understood, or believed, in conjunction with one another. If there are multiple ideas in the phrase you mention at all, then surely they can be at least understood in tandem, even if one wishes to reject the truth of one or all of them. You can say that the idea "the purpose of sexual acts is procreation" is true or false, but not logically incoherent. Nor is this a trivial point to make, since you lobbied similar criticisms of Roman Catholic and Natural Law positions throughout your piece.

I'll agree that your way of framing the argument against the Natural Law position on sex and procreation is an interesting one, and as such merits more thought than I can give it right now. Hope to return to it some time.

yours in Christ,

Tobias Haller said...

Dear pseudo-Adeimantos,

Thank you for this careful response. I respect your opinion that hatred can be usefully directed against sin without its being directed against the sinner, but it appears to me you are more optimisitc about this than I am. What, after all, does it mean to say one detests, for example, torture, in the abstract apart from the acts of specific torturers. What, really, does it mean to say one "hates" an action in the abstract; that is, what is the actual "object" of the hatred -- an idea? I think it is precisely the ontological status of the object that is in question; and my concern is that in practice the object shifts from the idea or concept to the actors deemed guilty.

Of course, my second and primary reason for disliking hatred is that Jesus counsels against it, except when applied to oneself -- and he invites us to be as rigorous as we like there, even to the point of mutilation.

As to the Q&A, I would prefer short answers, beginning with premises to which I can agree without further argument, and then moving on from there. I have read widely in this subject, and find that this is where most of the problems begin -- either with a disquised conclusion assumed as the premise, or a premise that is not agreebaly true. (I invite you to read, for example, "The Pastoral Care of the Homosexual Person" from 1986 with a highlighter in hand, and observe the number of assertions presented without supporting evidence.

You are mistaken concerning incoherence. It is a term in logic, and refers to ideas that are disconnected; that is, a failure of a conclusion to follow from its premise is a case of incoherence; the non sequitur is incoherent, not necessarily inconsistent (though it may be that as well.) I realize the word has other meanings, such as "unintelligible" but it is distinquished from "inconsistency" which is, I think, more a matter of application (using a term with multiple meanings in the same syllogism, for instance, is a case).

What I was saying in this instance is that it does not follow that because "certain sexual acts often result in procreation" (a premise I think we can agree is objectively true) that "procreation is the purpose of sex" -- or further, "the only licit/moral purpose for sex."

The introduction of "purpose" is, as I think I noted, already a step from an objective statement to a presumed intentionality. It does not follow logically, but introduces another assertion. It is, thus, incoherent with the original statement (which reflects reality), and fails to connect with it except by sharing a term. My claim is that the statement "the purpose of sexual acts is procreation" is false, because incoherent with reality: it does not, in fact, "cohere" with or follow from the evidence, for instance, that not all sexual acts are procreative, and many are incapable of being so. (The argument proceeds with other unstated premises underlying them, such as "that action in accord with the purpose for which a thing exists is good and otherwise bad" -- again, an interesting idea, but really a totally new one for this argument. This premise forms a basis in natural law -- but is it, in itself, a provable statement, or a mere assertion? What if things have multiple purposes?

My suspicion of the Natural Law tradition (and the RC tradition which until recent years rested so heavily upon it) does indeed rest on the suggestion that too many such premises, assertions or propositions are thus introduced into the arguments, or just assumed without elaboration or proof. There is much critique of the natural law tradition available from far wiser folks than your servant. Even the short article in the Westminster Dictionary of Ethics does a rather good job of point out its weaknesses, and its tendency to beg the question in making too many assumptions. There was also a wonderful critique of John Finnis (a leading Natural Law guy, actually rather fond of lobbing "incoherence" against other systems! Of course, natural law folk think they are being very coherent, resting their arguments on sound bases. The problem is their bases aren't always very sound, but simply enshrine their prejudices.) I can't recall the author of the critique off hand.

So what I am looking for is argument from agreed premises to agreeable conclusions, by a coherent and logical course. You are welcome to pitch in if you like.

Anonymous said...

"So what I am looking for is argument from agreed premises to agreeable conclusions, by a coherent and logical course."

...done in internet sound bites between four and four-thirty in the morning. This I don't know I can do.

Where do we begin? I suppose we are talking about theology. What is it? A reasoned exposition of the faith, with specific reference to what is right and wrong. Where does it start? In Christianity, it begins with the foundational materials of the revelation of God in Christ, the biblical materials. They are not exactly self-interpreting. So there must be a sound understanding of what they mean.

Now here we are already diverging in "agreed premises," I suspect. I needn't go into the disputes over sola scriptural that divided Catholic and Protestant in the West 500 years ago. Aside from slightly different canons there is a weight given to Tradition in Catholicsm which is less pronounced in Protestantism, though contiemporary Anglicans do not, of course, go nearly so far as, say, strict Calvinists in repudiating it.

And then we have the question that you seem to have taken as decisive, the role of science. Now I have more limited view of what science can do for theology and ethics. Of course it helps, to the extent that it reveals to us the laws of nature. But it cannot leap from the "is" to the "ought."

Example. We are accustomed to speak of murder as "unnatural." I suspect that there is someplace in the literature reference to the assumption that the beasts kill for food only, and do not engage in the deadly behavior which is seen among humans every night on the six o"clok news.

Now recently, in my lifetime, it has been discovered that chimps engage in behavior that looks very much like murder. Groups of males will seek out an isolated male and literally tear him apart when there is a conflict.

I don't dispute the science, the accuracy of the discovery. But I am not inclined to change my opinion about George Bush as a result, to see aggressive, deadly violence in a more favorable light. That murder is now seen as "natural" for our closest animal relative in no sense convinces me that I should cease calling it "unnatural" for humans, because my conception of human nature is not descriptive, from what we actually do, but based on what we are created for in the Christian revelation.

--rick allen

Anonymous said...

Toby, I will try to get to your specific questions sometime this weekend.

In the mean time I can't help but express some disagreement about the value you place on a "dispassionate" disapproval of sin.

God knows my temperament certainly leans to the Stoic side. But I cannot think that is always an advantage.

If one seeks a "proof-text" about hating evil there is of course Amos 5:15. I know "proof-texts" are singularly unconvincing. But I cite that verse because in comes in the context of one of the most-cited chapters in the prophetic literature. Read the whole chapter, and tell me whether Amos' passionate engagement with the evils of his time would have been more effective had he been a little less emotional.

--rick allen

Tobias Haller said...

A few quick things, as I too have much to do today (April 15 looms..)

You are quite right about the sound-bites. This may not be the best place to carry out a discussion of this weight.

At the same time, premises that can be expressed in a few words can be more easily tested. (Recall Belasco's advice to a young man who told him he had an idea for a play: Send it to me on a postcard. The young man replied, I couldn't possibly fit it on a postcard. Belasco said, Then you haven't got an idea.

My experience shows that when prose multiplies it becomes easier to slip in the unstated premises that deform the discussion and lead to fallacious conclusions. That's why attempting to reduce things to short statements that can be agreed to is a good place to start. Just as diagramming a sentence can teach us about grammar, a parsimonious explanation of ethical principles can be instructive.

Although the Biblical materials are rich and complex, certain principles can be derived from them that can be agreed to. For example, I base my ethics on the principle "Do unto others as you would be done by." We have this principle on the highest authority, and I accept it as capable of "rationalization" and employment in a coherent ethical system.

It shouldn't surprise you that I quite agree with you about the so-called "law of nature." Science can tell us what is, not what should be. (In fact, I believe science teaches us that nature is built on a principle that is in some respects the inverse of the principle I cite above -- it is based on survival through the exploitation and use of other entities. As Whitehead observed, "Life is perpetual theft.")

I do not look to nature for my ethics. (One of my reasons for rejecting "natural law" at least in that form.) My point about science was not that it can tell us right from wromg: but that it can tell us when we have advanced a premise that is discordant or incoherent with reality. For example, "Same-sexuality is wrong because it is 'unnatural.'" Well, that is a false statement if by "unnatural" one means, "contrary to the natural world" for in the natural world it is quite common. That doesn't make same-sexuality good (I've never made that claim, btw -- I hold it to be morally neutral, just like mixed-sexuality). But it does falsify the premise.

Now, of course, my interlocutor will say, "By 'unnatural' I mean 'not in concert with the ends for which sex is intended.'" This is the "natural law" position. The problem with this assertion, as I noted above, is that it begs the questions, "Moral value is to be found in the use of things in advancement of the end for which they are intended" and "sex is intended for procreation." Or she might say, deploying another form of "natural law" -- "But all people inherently know it to be wrong." Obviously a weak argument since it wouldn't need to be made if it were true! In fact, there are many social constructs and prejudices common in many people. This is one of the flaws in natural law cited in the Westminster article I refer to.

The point here being that if I don't accept those assumed premises, I won't accept the final term of the argument. The premises are the very things that need to be proven if we are to get anywhere.

I am well aware of the passage in Amos. As a preacher, I know how it is possible to make very emotional statements without actually becoming emotional. So I would not necessarily assume things about the inner emotional life of Amos. In any case, I believe Christ calls us to a higher standard, and it is the one by which I attempt to abide -- not to hate, but to forgive.


Anonymous said...

"Why is a same-sex relationship more culpable than an infertile mixed-sex relationship?"

I'm sure I have nothing new to add to this question. I don't come at it as a matter of philosophical ethics, but as a matter of theology. And there, as I think I said in an earlier post, what we have to do with is the reasoned exposition of the Christian revelation, in scripture alone for classical Protestants, in scripture and the tradition for others.

From the prohibitions of the Torah, from the strictures expressed in the New Testament epistles, from the prominence of male and female in the creation stories, from the use made by such accounts by Jesus in expounding the significance of those stories for marriage, from prophetic utterances, and from narratives of patriarchs and kings and prophets the tradition has articulated a concept of sexuality which locates its proper exercise in marriage between man and woman.

I know that the authority of both scripture and tradition are not univerally accepted. I am also quite aware that there is a contemporay trend to reinterpret those sources of our understanding of sexuality. I don't find anything particulary objectionable about revisionist re-thinking of these kinds of things. I just don't find them particularly convincing.

So, the main reason that I find no problem with infertile couples is that the tradition finds no problem with them. Is that philosophically incoherent? I don't think so.

There is first only a problem if male and female, father and mother, are distinguishable only by accident. You tend to think they are; I think not. We can argue about it, and have to some extent, but it's not a question that science really can answer for us. I say there is a difference in the two because of human nature. I know you disagree.

Perhaps I should continue in another post before the computer gods are tempted to eat this one.

--rick allen

Anonymous said...


As to the notion of "infertile couples"....well, even today, with our biological sophistication, we can't always say in advance that a couple will be infertile. We all know of cases when the unhappy couple, after giving up trying, is suddenly found expecting. And I'm not sure why the Church should be making those kinds of prognostications.

A recurring theme in scripture, beginning with Abraham and Sarah, is the couple thought infertile which turns out to be nothing of the sort. In those quaint days it was thought to be a blessing.

There is also that question people keep bringing up of infertility due to age, as if the bringing up of children were something completed at birth. Yes we all hit an age of infertility, but, if we think that marriage might have something to do with bringing children into the world, it certainly makes sense that nature should stop the births in time for us to actually nurture, raise, and educate the children.

So, what about those late-life, presumably infertile marriages? The tradition has had no problem with them? How are they different from gay unions?

Here I am just expressing a view of my own, but my sense is that those typically make perfect sense as filling a paternal or maternal vacuum. If I may give an example from my own life.....my father died much too young, and some years later, in her sixties, my mother remarried. Obviously none of us expected step-siblings from this marriage.

But afterward, it was interesting to me how this new step-father, who himself had a fifty-year childless marriage, stepped into a paternal role, not only with those of us who were pretty much on our way in life, but for grandchildren whose trauma from awful divorces almost left them fatherless.

Here again we get to that question from the last post, the fungibility of men and women. Is it better to have a father and mother, or two fathers? I would affirm the first is preferable. I'm sure you would say there's no real difference. But if paternity and maternity are not in fact the same thing, then there is some justification for late, obviously non-procreative marriages, in that those important roles are re-taken up when ended untimely by early death.

--rick allen

Anonymous said...

"Does breeding gain a moral value when carried out by persons? If so, what is the moral value? What is moral about it?"

Well, if we ask for a "proof-text," there's 1 Tim 2:15. Yes, I'm being half-facetious, but for many it is an uncomfortable statement, but I think it does reflect a fundamental Christian judgment that child-bearing is a blessing.

Again, I suppose that I have to emphasize that human procreation doesn't end at birth. We not only raise children to adulthood, feed them, care for them, read, to them, nurse them through sickness, encourage them when discouraged, re-learn algebra to get them through it--well, you get the idea--but such paternity or maternity doesn't end when the children hit adulthood. For better or worse we remain our parents' children our whole lives, as our children remain our children. This is the fundamental human relationship which begins with sex and procreation. It is very much a moral relationship. It is, in fact, the relationship that Jesus most commonly analogized to in teaching the nature of God.

Needless to say, our own time is characterized by a massive abandonment of children by their fathers, in my view a sin crying out to God which makes objections to homosexuality almost trivial by comparison. We live in a time of much mere "breeding," by absent fathers. I know that there are social and historical reasons for much of this, but I don't think it a matter the Church entirely powerless to address.

--rick allen