February 21, 2011

Of Fallacy and Falsehood

One of the things I have found so unsatisfactory in discussions on sexuality is the fallaciousness that makes up so much of the argument from the conservative perspective. I am not saying that the conclusions the conservatives reach are necessarily false — but that their arguments often are not really arguments. That is, they may begin with true premises and reach true conclusions, but the mode of getting from one to the other is not properly formed, and fails to prove what it intends to prove. One can, after all, reach a true conclusion by faulty means — but proof of the truth of a conclusion must rest on a train of what Hooker called “demonstrative reason.”

Let me give a simple example of a fallacious argument with a true conclusion. Let us for the sake of simplicity accept A and B as true. (It is admitted that a cat can lose a leg or two and still be a cat!)

A: Cats have four legs.
B: Augusta has four legs.
C: Augusta is a cat.

I hope you can see the problem with this syllogism. C is quite true (you can see from the photo!) but it does not follow from A and B by legitimate logic. It happens to be true, but not because of the argument! The proper syllogism, reaching a true conclusion if both A and B are true would be:

A: Cats have four legs.
B: Augusta is a cat.
C: Augusta has four legs.

So the problem with logical fallacies isn’t that they might not express a truth from time to time — much like Alice’s stopped clock which is right twice a day.* The problem is that a fallacious argument doesn’t actually prove anything, does not establish a truth by reasonable means.

There are, of course, literally dozens of logical fallacies — and you can find helpful summaries of them, with all their fancy Latin names, on any number of web-sites simply by searching for the terms logical and fallacy. Those who have followed the debates and discussions on sexuality will no doubt see how often certain of these fallacies are employed.

Perhaps the principal fallacy is the one that assumes the conclusion as a premise: “Same-sex marriage is impossible because marriage requires a man and a woman.” This may simply be a prevailing weakness of being a “reasserter” — some of whom become quite defensive when asked to do more than simply to reassert, and to demonstrate the truth of their premises as well as their conclusions.

Also common are the twin fallacies of reliance upon length of time a belief is held, or the number of persons who hold it. Neither, of course, proves something to be true; the antiquity or popularity of a tradition may simply show just how wrong people can be, once a truly reasonable examination of the premise or conclusion is undertaken.

The reason I raise this is that I long for a decent argument, but often find myself caught up either in a Monty Python-like cycle of mere contradiction, or facing a tangle of assorted logical fallacies.

Nor, of course, does simply noting the fallaciousness of an argument disprove the truth of a proposition; the problem is that argument requires more than a simple train of assertion and contradiction, but engagement with the substance of the premises to test their soundness. This is to say nothing of the occasional actual falsehood, or distortion of the facts either by carefully ignoring any evidence that doesn’t agree with the premise, or amplifying the evidence that goes beyond what is warranted. That is another difficulty entirely.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

*Update: the famed clock is described in one of the "Difficulties" Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) prepared for The Rectory Umbrella, a miscellany of short occasional pieces and drawings. It is, of course, exactly the sort of clock that Alice would have. I believe it can be seen in Tenniel's illustrations of her entry into Looking Glass House, on the chimney piece. The LGH version has a very snarky expression, no doubt very satisfied with itself at its precise accuracy twice a day. The advantage, of course, to Alice, is that between them she has the ability to be sure of the time precisely four times a day. How to do that? In LC's example, the clock says 8:00, and all you need do is "keep your eye fixed on your clock, and the very moment it is right it will be eight o'clock." To further protests, he advises, "That'll do... the more you argue the farther you get from the point, so it will be as well to stop." Which indeed sounds familiar.


Frank Remkiewicz aka “Tree” said...

Only somewhat off the topic -- how do you feel about the Hegelian dialectic?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I'm not a big fan of it. There are times that there is clear need for a synthesis out of the struggle of an idea with its opposite; but if one thing is "true" and its opposite "false" I don't think a meaningful synthesis can arise as a "half-truth"!

I would rather seek common ground as my approach. For instance, in the present sexuality debate, to find what is common (and moral) in same- and mixed-sex marriage: which is the virtue of fidelity and love. This was my approach in _Reasonable and Holy_: to show how SSM can in fact fulfill the definitional aims of marriage in tension with the mere focus on the anatomical/biological aspects. It is not so much as a synthesis arising from the conflict of thesis and antithesis, but as a natural outgrowth of what is truly important about marriage in the first place -- that is, that the locus of morality is not in the [purportedly] "complementary" genitals or genders but in the loving hearts of the couple.

Anonymous said...

"...Alice’s stopped clock which is right twice a day."

I'm having trouble thinking where this is in Alice.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Indeed, thomasthurman, the account of the clock appears in Carroll's "The Rectory Umbrella," but I have no doubt that the clock belonged to Alice. It is just the sort of clock one would have in a looking-glass world.

Then there are those cats...

Malcolm+ said...

A. Some dogs are Golden Retrievers.
B. My dog is a Golden Retriever.
C. Therefore, my dog is some dog.

A. Moderate Anglicans are disappearing.
B. That woman is a moderate Anglican.
C. Thherefore that woman is disappearing.

Fun with sillygisms

G said...

The entire corpus of "argumentation" against same-gender marriage would not pass muster in a first-year critical thinking course: the amount of goalpost-shifting and special pleading needed to reduce the sacrament to a biological function is just too extraordinary. And yet theology is the last place in the Academy where luminaries like Radner can be taken seriously for dogmatically repeating dictats long past their rational sell-by date. When I first became an Anglican, still in the afterglow of the heady days of Synod '04 and "integrity and sanctity" we used to speak of "conscientious disagreement" and "living dynamically with those who sincerely differ." I've become increasingly disenchanted with that kind of conciliatory rhetoric. Sincere beliefs are revised in light of new evidence. When an author like yourself demolishes the biological-determinist view as comprehensively as you have, anyone who persists in advocating its truth is not engaged in sincere debate, but mere ego protection. And if your ego is in need of protection from opposing views, it rather takes the salt out of the right's claim not to wish to condemn gays unduly but only to seek fidelity to Scripture etc. If that's the case, then surely you will jump when provided with a plausible model that allows you to be so faithful *and* not to condemn your neighbour.

June Butler said...

Tobias, the six philosophy courses I was required to take all those years ago at my Jesuit university counted for something. I learned a bit about critical thinking and spotting logical fallacies in spite of myself. All too many discussions show a lack of even a cursory knowledge of how to make a rational argument, and I must say that makes me a little crazy. (Should I say crazier?) It is to weep.

Paul said...

One of the things that really bothers me about the arguments of "reasserters" is their emphasis on the physical details of sexuality rather than on its emotional or relational content. I always thought that the primary contribution of Christian thought on this issue was the emphasis on relationship. This is what takes us out of our adolescent fascination with body parts into a mature appreciation of self giving love. The reasserter arguments seem very immature and adolescent to me, as if they had learned nothing since they were 17.

Closed said...

What if Augusta were missing a leg...quite possible.

Brother David said...

I am sure Christopher that Augusta would say, "We are not amused!"

June Butler said...

One of the things that really bothers me about the arguments of "reasserters" is their emphasis on the physical details of sexuality rather than on its emotional or relational content.

Paul, that troubles me, too. The reasserters' constant references to "what they do" converted me from homophobia. I don't think about what any folks do in private, and the constant references to "what they do" seemed somewhat sick and obsessive to me and served to push me to the other side.

Fr. J said...

I really appreciate this post, for the same reason that I generally appreciate your writing, because it aims for a reasonable and objective truth that can actually be discerned. There is certainly plenty of logical fallacy to go around, as I've found a great deal of conversation on sexuality (or almost any other controversial topic) is grounded more in emotion than in reason. It's funny, but when I read your post, I realized that if you switched around the words "conservative" and "liberal," I could have written it. In fact, my own slow change of heart from a "reappraiser" position to a "reasserter" position began when I started to realize just how many assumptions were being made by liberals. It has been a constant irritant to me that we are unable to talk about these things like adults. Not that we should push our emotions totally out of the picture--how can you when people's lives are affected?--but because emotional, gut reactions do not equal truth. I join you in longing for a decent argument.

Fr. J said...

By the way, I totally echo your sentiments on the Hegelian dialectic. As much as I appreciate the current Archbishop of Canterbury, his devotion to Hegelian dialectic is absolutely maddening.

Erika Baker said...

"I join you in longing for a decent argument."

One of the big problems with that statement, of course, is that this is not an equal debate at all, but it is one in which one group of people still holds actual power over another group of people and does their best to keep it that way.

If we had equal right and then had philosophical conversation about the religious rights and wrongs of it, each respecting the other's beliefs, the kind of conversation we have about every other theological issue, it would not be half as frustrating and desperately unjust.

Most of what upsets me is not the arguments used but the smugness with which one group of people sets itself up as the moral arbiters of my life and expects to be judge and jury at the same time while all I can do is plead with them as intelligently as I can manage. And they judge things that affect my life but that don't affect theirs in the slightest. The imbalance of it is appalling.
When they then use stupid arguments as well, it's enough to make feel really angry and really upset.

A real decent argument requires equality between the participants.

Fr. J said...

A real decent argument requires equality between the participants.

This is where we start to walk down the strange and sticky path that leads to an inability to even begin conversation. What is meant by equality? If by that you mean that everyone should have a right to speak, I would agree with you, to the extent that all sides can agree on the basic framework of the conversation (IE, arguing from scripture, interpreted through the lenses of reason and tradition). But if by equality what is meant is that all arguments must be treated as equally valid for the formulation of doctrine and practice, then we are not speaking the same language. A novel theological concept cannot be treated as equal to established doctrine that contradicts it, unless and until that concept is proven true in a way that is persuasive to the mind of the Church. The responsibility for persuading the Church to change its doctrine lies with the one who introduces the new theology.

I'm not suggesting that such a change is impossible, nor that the Church has no responsibility to defend the correctness of her doctrine. But I merely point out that the conversation does not begin on equal footing. The weight lies with the established teaching of the Church until proven otherwise.

One of the major problems with the discussion of sexuality in the Anglican Communion has been that the innovation of same sex marriage has come as a fait accompli. And so what is offered by reappraisers is not an argument to change doctrine but a practice that is already established in violation of doctrine. This has been the approach within TEC in the last half century on any number of issues. Sometimes the wider Communion has adopted the conclusions that TEC's majority has reached, sometimes not, but the process is always the same: Let's do this and then figure out the theology later. Such an approach, however well intentioned, renders good faith conversation almost impossible to achieve.

Erika Baker said...

Fr J
by equality I mean that whatever you may think of my arguments you should not automatically be in a superior position to me.

Whereas the reality is that traditionalists can decide to grant me my plea for same sex equality or they can deny it.
In my country the situation is that I have legal equality whereas the church treats me as inferior.
In the US the situation is even worse because although there is a more liberal church there is virtually no political equality for most same sex couples and there is real hardship in terms of pension rights, healthcare plans, visiting rights in hospital etc.

I can deeply disapprove of your arguments and it has absolutely no impact on your life.
You can deeply disapprove of my arguments and it helps to keep me in an inferior position.

For you, this may be a stimulating debate and you are looking forward to a nice and deep exchange with Tobias.
For me, this is a debate about my own life in which I am rather powerless.

Until both our voices have even weighting a genuinely fascinating, respectful and equal debate is not possible.

Brother David said...

You misrepresent the situation on the ground FJ. TEC and ACCanada have had these conversations and the AC has been free to duck their collective heads under the sand and pretend that the conversation about sexuality over the last 40 to 50 years was not occurring or to actually listen in on the conversation and perhaps participate. The AC chose the former approach and then feigned surprise at the outcome of the conversation.

The weight lies with the established teaching of the Church until proven otherwise.

I wonder how many millions of African slaves perished while that conversation occurred. History has taught GLBT folks that this method of conversation is unhealthy for us since it is our lives being discussed while we perish!

Fr. J said...


I don't wish to make light of the pain that you are describing. As you note, there is a real world effectiveness to these conversations. We are talking about people's live, not simply abstract concepts. But it appears that what you're saying is that a conversation about sexuality is not possible unless and until everything that reappraisers want is already taken for granted. If that's the case, then not only is conversation impossible on this topic, it's impossible on any topic, and the whole enterprise of communion is doomed from the start.

Fr. J said...

TEC and ACCanada have had these conversations and the AC has been free to duck their collective heads under the sand and pretend that the conversation about sexuality over the last 40 to 50 years was not occurring...

You illustrate my point. Personally, I think the number of years being assigned to this "conversation" by the PB and others is a little grandiose. No one was seriously debating questions of gay marriage in the Church in 1960. Nevertheless, even granting that there has been conversation of a sort on the subject in North America for a long time, that does not equal justification for us to act in violation of our own doctrine. Even if you don't believe that it matters in the slightest what marriage doctrine is held by the rest of the Anglican Communion or by the rest of the Church Catholic throughout time, it should still matter to you that your own church be consistent. TEC's marriage canons and prayer book rubrics have not changed, last time I checked, and yet violations of those canons and rubrics have abounded for years.

As far as I can understand it, the logic of the reappraiser position on this seems to be, "We have been talking about this for a long time, so naturally it's time for us to make changes." But that is a logic that is false on its face, in exactly the same way that Tobias' post illustrates:

a) Doctrinal revision usually comes after long conversations.

b) We have had a long conversation about changing our doctrine of marriage.

c) Our doctrine of marriage can now be changed.

Choose any other doctrinal argument and the fallacy of this becomes transparent. For instance, this is the exact same logic by which the Diocese of Sydney has argued for lay presidency at the Eucharist. Sydney has been arguing for lay presidency for years. The rest of the Anglican Church of Australia, along with the Anglican Communion and the witness of the Church Catholic, has consistently said no to these arguments. But Sydney is moving forward anyway. Why? Because they've waited long enough. They feel, in their own estimation, that they've engaged in the "conversation" long enough for the matter to be settled in their favor.

This kind of approach can never lead to unity or truth because the ones who take this approach assume that they already possess the latter and thereby have no real need of the former.

Erika Baker said...

Fr J
It's not about which arguments are being taken for granted, it's about the status those participating in the argument have.

If I look at past important debates about Christology, for example, about major things like the nature of God and of Christ, debates that were much more important to our faith than sexuality, there was real division, real passion, real importance. But the participants themselves didn't have different status, one group of arguers wasn't able to make or break their lives.

The debate about healthcare in the US was hugely important. There were different views, all passionately held. No argument was being taken for granted. But the crucial thing was that no one group of people had an automatic legally superior role in the political process.

If you could allow me the same freedom you have and THEN we have a debate about whether my life is moral or not, we would still be discussing something hugely important but without the imbalance that one party has the right to make decisions about the other.

I actually think this thought is so alien to you, the idea that you and those like you should be in the judgement seat so natural, that you don't even fully comprehend the outrage of the inequality.

The only example I have that struck me as forcefully was a time I spent in South Africa a couple of months before the first free elections. We spent a night in a lovely hotel where all the guests shared a meal at the table. The company was pleasant, educated, the conversation stimulating: What was the future of the country going to be like, how could blacks be empowered to be fully equal citizens, how could they be given the education to participate fully in society. Views were mixed, wine flowed, there was disagreement, laughter…. All those around the table where white. And not a single person even spoke to the serving staff – all of whom were black.
I have always wondered how they must have felt, faced with this group of people who believed they had to sole right to determine the fate of those who were serving them. Who were clearly oblivious to them as real people with real feelings and real lives. Who saw it all as a stimulating political conversation.
And I think they must have been seething with the helplessness and the inequality of it all.

Br Richard Edward Helmer BSG said...

As far as I can understand it, the logic of the reappraiser position on this seems to be, "We have been talking about this for a long time, so naturally it's time for us to make changes." But that is a logic that is false on its face, in exactly the same way that Tobias' post illustrates:

a) Doctrinal revision usually comes after long conversations.

b) We have had a long conversation about changing our doctrine of marriage.

c) Our doctrine of marriage can now be changed.

Fr. J, this is nonsense. It by no means reflects the "reappraiser" position or argument. Instead of scurrying back into abstraction, I urge you to hear and address the lived, incarnational witness -- what is real here from folks like Erika and Brother Dahveed. This is what The Episcopal Church has been engaged with at many levels since 1960.

Rather than painting the "reappraiser" position in caricature, how about you offer us robust defense of the "reasserter" argument to start the decent conversation you want to see? Or at least respond in detail to the arguments Tobias has outlined in R&H?

Else we are left with the usual dynamic of talking past each other.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I just want to pop my head in to say I am reading this interesting discussion and do hope to add a word at some point, but am facing a deadline and scurrying to finish a project. Thanks to all for the heartfelt discussion.

Fr. J said...


I wasn't suggesting that there weren't serious theological arguments being offered by reappraisers, including "Reasonable and Holy." I've attempted to be a part of that conversation, both here and elsewhere. What I was responding to was a particular line of reasoning, put forth by TEC leadership and echoed by Brother Dah-Veed's comment, that suggests that simply because an argument has been advanced, and been advanced a number of times over a long period of time, it is axiomatic that the argument must be accepted and change must happen. Please re-read the example I gave above of the Diocese of Sydney on lay presidency. They have serious theological arguments too. They've advanced them for many years too. Should they be automatically accepted? If not, then what's different there?

Br Richard Edward Helmer BSG said...

Fr J,

I'm not buying into your line of reasoning here. No one is honestly suggesting things should be automatically accepted because they have been discussed for a period of time -- neither the leadership of TEC or Sydney is suggesting this. What I hear Daveed saying (please correct me, D, if I'm mistaken) is that we reached a point of decision. The leadership of TEC was articulating a response to the accusation that our decision as a body was capricious or without serious debate or conversation. Whether you agree with the substance or outcome of that debate and conversation is an entirely different matter.

Again, you paint in caricature. It's a classic straw man argument. Let's talk substance.

G said...

"The weight lies with the established teaching of the Church until proven otherwise."

As Tobias has noted, it's people who are "in the dock," not doctrine. In any case, even if we were to accept that the traditional position be privileged at the outset, it has increasingly shown itself to be theologically threadbare underneath the surface, so that by this point I would now agree that the arguments are not equal in standing: that is, the "reasserter" line has been made and answered, and no counterclaim seems forthcoming, which in terms of argumentation would leave the "reappraisers" with the current last word and the opponents on deck to serve the ball. Unless those who profess to disagree with the likes of Tobias, John Corvino, Paul Gibson etc, intend to offer some reason for their continuing to hold out, they must be assumed to merely be spinning their wheels and fighting the "battle of New Orleans" over a tenet they have lost recourse to in the argument but wish to retain for emotional reasons. Instead we have 20+ threads like this one where people like you argue side points without giving us any more reason than we previously had to conclude that you have a theological reason for believing our families are a disgrace because of the packaging the come in.

When I see a comprehensive "Unreasonable and Profane" response, I'll consider the standing of the "traditional" argument. As it stands, I'm less and less confident in its existence.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Again, in a rush between meetings and parish work, but this conversation is causing thoughts to brew. Also, I'm reading the back and forth on the issue in the latest ATR, which is most interesting. More on that later, too...

Fr. J said...

Tobias, is the ATR stuff online anywhere? I'd be curious to see it.

Brother David said...

That was my point exactly R!

The conversation has occurred. TEC has reached a majority consensus in favor of GLBT lives. As far as I understand, TEC cleared up the canons regarding ordination and have determined that GLBT folks will not be denied ordination based solely on their sexual orientation.

Now TEC is engaged in the process of exploring the liturgies/rituals for blessing GLBT relationships in anticipation of authorizing new official services and eventually perhaps a new prayerbook or at minimum a new book of occasional services. Until then the TEC General Convention has requested that bishops with jurisdiction offer a generous pastoral response regarding blessing the relationships of GLBT couples, especially in dioceses where civil unions and/or matrimony are legal.

I am not part of that discussion canonically as I quarterback from my desk here in the AC of Mexico. But we were a part of TEC when this discussion began, and the outcome will have consequences here as we move in similar directions as the US and Canada on the legal civil front. In fact we are ahead of the US in that the Mexican Supreme Court ruled 11 to 2 in favor of the GLBT civil marriage law in the Federal District and ruled that marriages performed in the Federal District have legal standing with heterosexual marriages in the entire Mexican Union. Now we await the church as she slowly catches up.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr. J., at this point only the intro and preface are available at the ATR site. If they follow past practice, the rest will be posted in four to six months time.

So far I've read the main papers from both sub-groups, and am partway through the "conservative" response to the "liberal" paper -- and have to say I'm seeing the pattern of reassertion and somewhat smug dismissal that is unfortunately less than cogent. (i.e., saying, "that's a novel interpretation not in keeping with the tradition" isn't really a reasoned response, but a fallacy. The level of theological thinking and expression in the "liberal" paper is of the highest calibre, thought it is "novel" -- it does actually read at "theological" where the "conservative" paper gets bogged down in discussions of the influence of culture and a somewhat outdated review of scientific literature. Again, more to come as I grab some time... my annual parish meeting is coming up imminently!

Fr. J said...

I look forward to reading the ATR when it becomes available online. If the main essays are the same as the ones presented to the 2009 General Convention, I would agree with you that, from what I remember, the liberal paper seemed more theologically savvy than the conservative, but it's been a while so I wouldn't mind seeing them again.

Paul said...

One of the problems the traditionalists have is that the church hasn't thought very hard about sex for the past 2000 years or so. Traditionally, sexual mores were enforced by four forces: fear of pregnancy, fear of disease, the raw authority of the church, and the shame of the community. Which meant that winning a logical argument was unnecessary, and the church didn't bother forming one. Now, all of a sudden, they need a logical argument and they haven't got one. At least, not one that has any weight in the modern world.

Liberals, on the other hand, started this discussion as the underdog. So they have been honing their arguments for 30-40 years, whether or not anyone has been paying attention.

I just don't think the traditionalists are prepared for this discussion.

Fr. J said...

Since I'm clearly outnumbered several times over, let me ask a question to you all, my beloved interlocutors: Can you imagine a scenario in which you could be convinced that the traditional Christian doctrine of marriage is sound and that same-sex marriage is an impossibility? I mean this sincerely. I'd like to know. I can imagine the opposite, or at least I have a sense of the kind of criteria that would need to be met for my understanding to change. Is such a change of opinion possible from your end? In other words, is this conversation even really worth having?

Erika Baker said...

Fr J
For me, this is not a theoretical question but a judgment on my whole life.
I have, of course, thought about it carefully. But more important is the fact that I am experiencing God's blessing on my love every single day. I live the support, the comfort, the care we give each other. I experience the strength and the joint purpose our love gives us and how it empowers us to go out and serve Christ in this world to the best of our ability.

So, no, there is nothing in the world that can convince me that my marriage is not blessed by God, because from the beginning he has been its driving and its sustaining force.

June Butler said...

Can you imagine a scenario in which you could be convinced that the traditional Christian doctrine of marriage is sound and that same-sex marriage is an impossibility?

Fr J, I was there, but I don't see any possibility of going back to that position. Doctrine could not possibly trump my experience of the actual lives of same-sex couples, real people who love each other and embody the love of God and spread God's love to those around them.

I don't see how what you call doctrine, which I'm not even sure is doctrine, could possibly trump the reality of the loving relationships in the lives of people. Jesus taught us to love God and love one another and to do as we would be done to.

The argument from the other side is still far too dependent upon "what they do" with respect to the sexual relationship of same-sex couples, when a life together is about so much more than sex.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Popping in very briefly as I am still on the run, a few brief observations presented as theses:

1. Experience precedes theology. The church worshiped long before anything approaching disciplined theological reflection took place. And it is always "reflection" on an experience. As Anselm said, the theological exercise is "faith seeking understanding." Faith comes first. Theology is mystagogy.

2. There is not, nor has there been, a sound and consistent "theology of marriage." There are several different theologies of marriage on offer, all of them coming into existence long after the fact that people married and were given in marriage. These synthetic theologies are some of them mutually or internally contradictory. The current "theology of complementarity" is dangerously contrary to Christian anthropology and undermines the doctrine of the Incarnation. Apart from that, there have been no "theologies" other than reliance on the cultural facts of marriage beginning in Roman civil law. The "liberal" paper in the ATR (yes this is the same stuff that was produced for the House of Bishops, which was to have been embargoed but leaked, with some additional reflections) offers a comprehensive theology of marriage for the first time, and it can include same-sex couples.

Again, sorry for the popping in and out but this has been a week of meetings!

Br Richard Edward Helmer BSG said...

Fr. J,

Thanks for the helpful question. My brief answer is that until the “conservative” theological argument can demonstrate that same-sex relationships and marriage is destructive to people spiritually, physically, psychically, and emotionally, the answer is no. My experience has been precisely the opposite. I have seen numerous covenanted same-sex relationships that have been life-giving, transformative, and spiritually and physically supportive for both members of the relationship. More than that, I and others have been inspired in my own married life by this witness and have seen communities of faith enriched by these relationships.

The only destructive consequences I have witnessed have stemmed from dismissive reactivity to the recognition of SSM in our midst, not the marriages or relationships themselves.

I agree with Tobias that experience precedes theology. One way of defining theology is “faith seeking understanding” – faith is primary. It is lived. It is experienced. Only after that experience do we attempt to comprehend God’s movement in our lives, do we engage the work of theology. Our theology changes with our experience. It must, or God’s engagement with us isn’t real. In the particular question of same-sex marriage, Gamaliel’s charge in Acts is instructive in this way. Is this of God? It will last. Is it not of God? It will fail.

Scripture (revelation) and doctrine are relevant as they speak to our experience. Put another way, scripture and doctrine do not operate in an experiential vacuum. What I find most troubling about the “conservative” approach to SSM, with the colloquy in the latest ATR in mind, is that it presupposes that scripture and traditional doctrine can speak plainly and cogently to SSM using only the scant well-worn clobber verses (often connecting same-sex relations with idolatry), a narrow and somewhat literalizing reading of Genesis 1 and 2 (neglecting the considerable variety of marital states and perspectives in the scriptural witness; and centuries of Christian tradition in a wide variety of contexts), and buttressed with a “natural law” anthropology that simply does not fit the empirical evidence all around us. What this leads to – and for me this is telling – is a very strained attempt at a pastoral response to LGBT people in Christian community that distorts, objectifies, and alienates. This approach also appears to me to turn so-called traditional marriage into an abstract structure of “following God’s plan” and symbolism largely devoid of incarnational witness. Love and sexuality become disturbing objects to a worldview if not to our comprehension of the divine mind; sexuality is pressed into service for an understanding of marriage that is strikingly modern, abstracted, and utilitarian – for instance: marriage’s “use” or “real purpose” by God is biological procreation. (And then we on the “liberal” side are accused of Gnosticism!) The result of this theologizing prior to, or even over and against, incarnational experience is what we could call “violence by abstraction” to scripture, marriage, God’s love for our embodied life, and the lives of our sisters and brothers most intimately touched by the SSM question.

A healthier approach, and the more traditional one it seems to me, is to claim our embodied experience of SSM, and then explore questions of scripture, tradition, and reason like this: Does this experience coincide with the deeper themes of discerning God’s will in scripture? Does it fit Jesus’ summary (fulfillment) of the Law as love of God and love of neighbor? Do we find in it the fruits of the Spirit that Paul, for instance, claims? Do we find in them the fulfilling companionship Adam desired in the garden? Do we find these relationships transformative in the love of Christ’s death and resurrection that we are called to in our baptism?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks again for all the comments and thoughts. In particular, Richard, I appreciate your summary of the situation.

To answer Jonathan's question, I would say that I would definitely change my thinking if I found a reasonable argument in defense of the tradition. However, as Geoff alluded to above, when an at least plausible alternative can be offered to the "traditional view" -- one that actually makes coherent sense in an unbiased ethical framework that can consistently demonstrate why a given act is good or bad; under a demonstrable hermeneutic that makes good sense out of the "clobber" passages as relevant only to prostitution, rape, cultic worship, or cultural practices such as pederasty, or philosophical influences such as Stoicism -- and moreover, one that could preserve the peace of the church and benefit the lives of many of its members, the weight of the "traditional view" needs to do more in response than simply to reassert itself. I am perfectly willing to engage with novel arguments from the traditional side -- such as the recent emphasis on complementarity. But the old arguments have been weighed in the balance, and found wanting -- at least to the extent that they no longer sway the majority of bishops and deputies, and very likely the people, of the Episcopal Church, and other bodies beyond it.

Let me also highlight, however, that I do acknowledge that there are fallacies on the liberal side -- and one of them (which is also on the "right") is the "strength of personal conviction" fallacy. Personal testimony arising from experience may well be enough for the individual to know the error in the opposite position, and may be enough to sway some to change their minds. But the experience does need to give rise to reflection (theological or rational) and we are in the midst of this process. The problem for me is that the explanations and reflections have been forthcoming (some of them, IMHO, not up to the standard of critical thinking --- but neither have been the rebuttals.)

And I agree that mere time is not the issue. The reason time is stated is a response to the false claim "you haven't done the theology" that one often hears. The theological exercise has been going on for about fifty years now; for a while the cursory rebuttals were sufficient due to a heavy majority on the traditionalist side, but as that has slowly dissolved some movement has taken place. These latest essays in ATR present, as far as I can see, a very clear contrast between a somewhat insecure reassertion and a rather bold new vision that actually accomplishes some movement in a moral direction.

Br Richard Edward Helmer BSG said...


Many thanks, and apologies for echoing your Anselm quote a bit like a cheap Greek chorus! I sent my response before reading yours in full. . .

Would it be fair, given your concerns, to reflect that a substantial theological response must not only comprehend our experience but also help illumine and order it so that it is consonant with scripture, tradition, and reason?

Erika Baker said...

You talk of the liberal "strength of conviction fallacy".
That may be an argument for the national church, for an official change in doctrine.

But Fr J had been asking whether any one of us would conceivably change our own minds. And there, no, my personal lived experience is paramount.
Someone might come up with a very clever theological argument against my marriage and I might spend the rest of my life exploring why I would believe, no, why I would know it to be wrong, however compelling it might seem.

I still would not have the slightest doubt about my own love and that it is supported and sustained by God.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Richard, I suppose it depends on what one means by "consonance" -- as there is plenty of dissonance already in Scripture and Tradition (particularly on the question of marriage -- some of it even highlighted by Jesus himself in pointing out the Mosaic accommodation to human weakness as opposed to an original intent.)

I would rather take an Occam-like approach that said we need to "cover the evidence." That evidence includes the Scripture (which is, as declared, "testimony" or "testament" and hence treated in an evidentiary fashion) and the tradition (both in law and human experience), and reason, which includes theology, metaphysics, and common sense. All of this falls under a hermeneutical umbrella held ultimately by reason -- as all of these other data must be understood and reconciled to come to a conclusion. And even that conclusion must be provisional, as new data or new interpretations of old data may well come to our ecclesiastical attention. It is not a new revelation, but a new understanding, that is at work. And anything -- whatever its source -- that cannot "explain itself" or be explained, will reveal either a fault in the theory or a need for a different understanding of the evidence, or, in some cases, a conscious decision to say, "This does not apply."

Finally, I have to say that some things are not amenable to reason as such, or not terribly well. Does God exist? Anselm and others in that quest aside, I do not think Reason can offer us a definitive answer to matters that are purely "of the faith." But I would say that a faith doctrine cannot contradict what reason CAN prove. This is precisely why we can with some ease disregard aspects of the biblical world-view that are not consonant with ordinary scientific or other human knowledge. So to that extent "consonance" does play an eliminative role, if not an affirmative one.

Off the top of my head after a long day... forgive any errors or nonsense in what I've just written!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Erika. I was not speaking about personal experience -- obviously one's own experience has a high premium when someone tries to tell you you are wrong!

I'm referring to the use of experience in argument. Personal experience is just that -- you and I can testify till we are blue in the face that our relationships are holy, but that will not "prove" it to others -- though it may sway their hearts! But I was addressing the logical fallacy of "this must be true because my belief that it is true is so strong." It is a very special case of "appeal to authority" -- in this case the narrow authority of oneself or of those who agree with one. Hooker has a choice phrase or two about this way of thinking, but I can't lay my hand on it at the moment.

"UFOs exist because I have seen one." Well, let's look at that logically: UFOs may exist, but their existence does not depend on my having seen one; they would exist (if they do) whether I'd seen one or not. And while the witness may be sure in his belief, at most it may indicate a probability for others, not a certainty. Still, the as the weight of evidence increases (not on UFOs but on the fidelity and spiritual good of SSMs) enough may come to be swayed. But that is not a logical argument.

But as someone has said, you cannot use reason to argue a person out of an unreasonable position. Perhaps the reality is that opposition to SSM is largely emotional / psychological rather than reasonable, and the testimony is having its effect on those willing to open their hearts. This may, like faith, be a matter of heart and spirit rather than logic...

Paul said...

Can you imagine a scenario in which you could be convinced that the traditional Christian doctrine of marriage is sound and that same-sex marriage is an impossibility?

No, and this is why.

I would be concerned by what such a doctrine would do to lesbians and gays. I would be concerned about what this doctrine says about a God who creates people as lesbian or gay and then proceeds to tell them that they are denied the comforts and joys of intimate relationships.

One of my firm convictions is that people are more important than doctrine. If a doctrine ends up hurting people, it must be reexamined. I believe there is evidence for this perspective in the Gospels.

I am also concerned that by setting up this dichotomy (same sex = wrong, two sexes = right) we are looking at relationships in a very legalistic sense and looking at the wrong variables. In other words, we are asking the wrong question. There are plenty of unhealthy heterosexual relationships, just as there are healthy same sex relationships. Why would one (hypothetically, of course) be upset with a 50 year long same sex relationship, but see no problem with Brittany Spears getting married for 48 hours in Vegas?

The health (or holiness?) of a relationship is more complicated than that. It also varies over time as we all stumble, learn and grow. If we are going to get the answer right, we should start by asking the right questions.

Erika Baker said...

I am not sure that you can reason anyone out of any position.
It seems to me that a change of heart is always a pre-condition for being able to accept a reasonable argument one has previously dismissed.

If experience comes first, as you say earlier in this comment thread, then that applies to those who oppose homosexuality as much as to those of us who live it.

And so opposition to same sex relationships is melting away faster and faster- the more people are visibly gay and partnered and the more others can see that we live the same normal lives as anyone else, the more hearts are changed. And once hearts are changed minds follow.

June Butler said...

One of my firm convictions is that people are more important than doctrine.

Amen, Paul! That's what I was trying to say in far too many words.

Br Richard Edward Helmer BSG said...


It does strike me though, that personal and communal experience presents important evidence to the argument. By itself, experience cannot be a logical argument, but it can prompt a review of the tradition (including the lens with which we read scripture) and even its adaptation.

This assumes, of course, that experience is not mere assertion, but has living examples -- "incarnational witness" we might say.

To dismiss that as significant in our shared Christian journey is like dismissing Peter's experience when he meets Cornelius and the accompanying vision, or Paul's experience on the road to Damascus, or Mary Magdalene's encounter with the Risen Christ! Grantedm all had a great deal of work to do to convince their sisters and brothers of the significance. . .

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Paul, I think this is a good standard, along with the fruits of the Spirit. The motto "Do no harm" is a good one.

Erika, I agree that the positions one can be argued out of (or into) are probably fewer than we rational folks would like to believe. And I say that as an ENFP on the Myers Briggs scale.

Amen, Mimi.

Richard, as I noted above, experience precedes theologizing. I think of Peter and the sheet, which preceded even the meeting with Cornelius, but which informed it and made it possible. The Christian faith is not Euclidean geometry. If faith were simply a set of propositions, who would need to evangelize. The heart (soil) must be prepared for the word (seed) to take root, and this too is a gift of God. There is no revelation without reception.

Br Richard Edward Helmer BSG said...


Many thanks for the clarification -- it's helpful. I press the point only because I have heard experience implicitly or explicitly dismissed as irrelevant, especially around this question in particular. Thanks for your patience!

IT said...

Re. the ATR, Aren't those the papers from the super-secret theology committee that we saw here?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Yes, IT (and congrats, btw). But those were to have been embargoed, and I'd heard there was more editing to be done before the final publication (in particular to tone down some of the snide comments in the "Traditionalist" papers -- an appeal only partly successful, to my mind), so I want to respect that and refer to the published papers. The other difference is that the published version contains in addition seven "Responses" that provide further food for thought.

Kevin K said...

The argument here demonstrates to me the limits of the "conversation" regarding same sex issues in TEC. The sides start from radically different positions on criticial issues, most importantly the weight to be given tradition and historical authorities in evaluting "novel" chage.

Reappraisers tend to give these issues the least weight and have little problem rejecting them to achieve goals, particularly goals they see as desirable. Reasserters tend to give these issues the greatest weight and will support change only if absoultely convinced of prior error.

For this reason, reappraisers tend to see reasserters refusal to accept what to them are irrefutable arguments as evidence of stubborness at least and bad faith or bigotry at worst.

Reappraisers are quite candid in overwhelmingly declaring that nothing could change their minds to the reasseters position. They do not see this as a manifestation of the same flaw they ascribe to reasserters because they are absolutely convinced of the correctness of their position or are committed to what they believe are the desirable results of their position.

In legal arguments we talk about the burden of proofs necessary to reach a judgment. There was an old standard, assigned to only the gravest crimes, such as high treason, of beyond a shadow of a doubt. In contrast, in civil law the lowest standard is a preponderance of the evidence meaning half plus anything.

Reasserters hold the arguments for change to a very high standard of proof. Reappraisers hold the arguments for change to a much were standard of proof. The sides start with completely different burdens of proof. What is ample evidence, to a jury of reappraisers is woefully inadequate to a jury of reasserters.

I suppose this supports the research that persons described as conservatives and persons described as liberals process information differently.

Kevin K.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Kevin K.,
I think you are correct in part, but that is really not my thesis here. As I said at the outset, a faulty argument may in fact have a true conclusion -- it is just that the argument doesn't actually prove.

So I'm willing to admit the reasserters may be correct -- but because their arguments are so often fallacious there is no way to test the rightness of their arguments. It boils down, in most cases, to the logical fallacy of begging the question: assuming the premise.

As to burdens of proof, I've reflected on that a number of times in other posts, including one reflecting on various ethical or casuistical models of tutiorism, probiliorism or probabalism. Different ethicists hold out for different standards. I'm not sure it always maps to the conservative / progressive spectrum neatly, however, though on sexuality it seems the traditionalists generally edge toward tutiorism -- which is the most conservative and with the highest burden of proof.

My suggestion, however, is that in order to demonstrate innocence the lesser standard of reasonable doubt is all that is needed. And when reasonable doubts concerning guilt are raised, and the rejoinder is a merely a repeated reliance on the same evidence already presented, the court should generally find for the defendant.

The jury, of course, is still out; but the trend seems to be in that direction. I know of a few people who have changed their minds on these matters in a more conservative direction, but of many more who have changed their minds the other way. This may be due, in part, to the form the conservative argument takes rather than its content -- which is my point here.

G said...

'For this reason, reappraisers tend to see reasserters refusal to accept what to them are irrefutable arguments as evidence of stubborness at least and bad faith or bigotry at worst. '

I consider the law of non-contradiction pretty much "irrefutable." It cannot be the case that that X and not-X. The "Oatmeal Crisp" line on marriage ("but you wouldn't like it") requires us to believe two contradictory sets of facts about marriage - it's good if I or mine want it, bad if you our people like you do.

If the goods of marriage enumerated in the prayer book service are true, then there is no reason for them not to apply to any Christian family who desires the rite. If marriage in fact takes place for the sundry nefarious motivations attributed to gay people (attention, political publicity, vain affirmation, etc) then it's clearly not a force for good and should be abolished. The "reasserter" position requires us to believe both simultaneously (marriage is both good and not good) and thus refutes itself. Those remaining reasserters who will not acknowledge this are simply spinning their wheels, for their refusal to acknowledge it hardly makes it more escapable or less logically necessary. And they can't attempt to overcome the objection (not that they could succeed - it's a logical law) if they won't even note it, so any attempt to salvage their position is self-doomed. At this point, they're just the Americans at the Battle of New Orleans - they've lost (really in this case, defeated themselves) but word hadn't reached the front lines. But to say that Christians disagree on homosexuality is not true - reasserters are surely well aware of the law of non-contradiction as anyone else. There are simply Christians who follow it to its natural conclusion and Christians who continue to hold out hoping it will somehow go away.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Geoff, I wish it were that simple. As I noted at the outset, a fallacy may fail to prove a proposition, but the proposition may still be true. The problem with the reasserter argument is primarily that it begs the question: it assumes at the outset the very issue that is in question: marriage is only for a man and a woman. I think their argument is that marriage is only conceivably good where it is also possible. So it is not quite clearly a case of X AND not-X; and the reasserter does not accept your proposition that "if the goods of marriage enumerated in the prayer book service are true, then there is no reason for them not to apply to any Christian family who desires the rite." They would point out that marriage as described in the prayer book is rather explicit about this being for a man and a woman -- that is the limiting factor to marriage.
That, to my mind, is the premise that requires interrogation. I've finally finished reading the ATR papers and responses in full, and I find that this is where the "liberal" position starts, much as I did in my book: with undermining the primary thesis that marriage must by definition concern only a mixed-sex couple. It is the failure of the reasserters to get behind their premise to defend its bases that is most frustrating. (That and the ad hominem response that the scholarship and theological reflection of the progressive side is riddled with "liberal protestantism" when in fact the work of the conservatives tends to reveal that more elegantly!)

G said...

But it can only not be a contradiction if there is some morally qualitative and relevant property inherent in biological sex, which is precisely what the rest of us remain unconvinced of. If the pertinence of sex is illusory, then we are indeed looking at two morally alike situations and being told to condemn only one - and for the sake of those who stand to be condemned it seems to me that it is precisely such a proposition which would be held to the high standard which Fr J topsy-turvily reserves for the defence!

As you say, it begs the question. What we end up with, once again, is I) Marriage is between a man and a woman, II) Therefore anything else is not a marriage III) Therefore marriage is between a man and a woman. (And as I've noted elsewhere, if that is indeed the case, then by all rights we should be the more eager to provide a parallel rite in an effort not to unchurch those whose best option has been to enter a relationship with all of the goods of marriage minus one. But funnily enough those who oppose SSM tend frequently to also oppose any accommodation for same-sex couples, who apparently are just meant to Go Away. I myself of course value the sacrament of matrimony far too highly to consider messing with humanly-instituted alternatives in the Church, which is why I am in favour of one sacrament for all the baptized - but I'm just a traditionalist that way!)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Indeed, Geoff, and that is precisely where the "traditionalist" argument must lead: for once procreation is eliminated as the sole cause for marriage (as it is always by nature and occasionally by circumstance) the traditionalist must posit that there is something about male and female that is so essentially "different" that only a purported "union of opposites" can be joined in marriage. And this thesis, which is the unspoken premise on which the traditionalist argument must ultimately hinge, is contrary to Christian doctrine concerning human anthropology and the Incarnation. It is a gnostic notion.

The "traditionalists" have not really proven their case because they have not adequately explained their premise, or their understanding of the nature of the sexes in relation to humanity.

It seems to me that the only consistent options that avoid this heretical trap are:

1) If marriage is only for procreation and sex is confined to marriage, forbid all sterile marriages and if and when sterility arises insist on continence (an RC moral theologian's view at one time) or divorce (the Talmudic rule). This, of course, bumps up against the other "goods" of marriage.

2) Accept the fact that sexual difference is about procreation (that is, it is a biological function we share with most animals and some plants) but need not be a sine qua non for marriage where procreation is not or is no longer possible. Under this understanding a same-sex couple are just as "moral" as a mixed-sex couple. This is the argument I have made at some length, and I'm still waiting for a cogent traditionalist reply that doesn't lead to the heresy of humanity being essentially divided. (And I mean "essentially" in the philosophical and theological sense!)

One of the reasons I affirm SSM is that I am a traditionalist when all is said and done. A few of the commentators on the ATR discussion note how much more "traditional" the supposedly "liberal" position is than the "conservative"!

Ultimately, the traditionalists want gay and lesbian persons to submit to their understanding of the "flesh" of human nature in two sexes. If I can paraphrase Galatians 6:13,15: "Even the [heterosexuals] do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be [compliant] so that they may boast about your flesh.... But neither heterosexuality nor homosexuality is anything; but a new creation is everything!" Marriage, for same or mixed-sex couples, can be a sign of that new creation, a foretelling of the wedding of the Lamb. This is the approach the very traditional "liberal" paper takes in ATR, and it is sound theology!

Anonymous said...

"The "traditionalists" have not really proven their case because they have not adequately explained their premise, or their understanding of the nature of the sexes in relation to humanity."

Since the premise comes from God, as revealed in Sacred Scripture (cf. Gen 1 and 2, Mk 10 and Mt parallel, and Ephesians 5), there is not a lot of heavy lifting the reasserters have to do. The question is why do the reasserters even bother to cite Scripture and Tradition when there is a 2,000+ year pattern of Christians seeing the Devil's work in homosexual phenomena.

How can this behavior, which receives not a single positive mention in the Bible or Christian writings prior to the 20th century, suddenly because something holy? It boggles the mind.

Wishing I had more time to engage, but will have to make do with lobbing a few hand grenades.


Anonymous said...

BTW the traditionalist rebuttal in the leaked document to the TEC bishops was excellent. What we have here are people describing the zeitgeist and calling themselves prophets.


Erika Baker said...

Ultimately, it's now not about theology, it's about emotion and power.
As you point out, the theology has been done and the childishness of the debate proves that this is not really about intelligent arguments.

For as long as people with an emotional aversion to homosexuality are in the majority, no amount of theology will change the status quo.

As soon as people with a more scientific and psychological understanding of homosexuality and without an internal yuck factor that overrides everything else are in the majority, the question will just melt away.

Erika Baker said...

Fr Michael
"The question is why do the reasserters even bother to cite Scripture and Tradition when there is a 2,000+ year pattern of Christians seeing the Devil's work in homosexual phenomena.

How can this behavior, which receives not a single positive mention in the Bible or Christian writings prior to the 20th century, suddenly because something holy?"

For when you have a little more time, I can strongly recommend a book called Reasonable and Holy written by a Tobias Haller.
It answers all your questions and the debate could then move forward a little.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr M., if these are hand grenades they are surely duds. The first rather goes to prove my point, as it fails to respond to the argument, but merely repeats the usual string of assertions, all of which have been shown to be unsupported by the evidence. Your mind is definitely boggled if you think the ATR paper, which similarly makes many broad and false assertions, is "excellent." I will be offering a response of my own to it as time permits; but will note its major flaw lies in disregarding for the most part what Jesus actually said about marriage, and in their thesis that the Kingdom of God is simply a reiteration of Genesis. It is, rather a "new creation." More later, and no grenades. Just cogent argument based on a close reading of what Scripture actually says, and engagement with a tradition that is far from uniform.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Erika, I think you have a good diagnosis and prognosis here as to how things go "on the ground," and certainly in the secular world. But there is still, to my mind, a place for theological reflection and exploration, in part because some people are more "head" than "heart" and they will be reached by those means.

There are still people who insist that Obama wasn't born in the US or is a Muslim -- and their irrationality is hard to combat, based as it appears to me to be on a deep and emotional revulsion, perhaps racist in origin though likely political at base. But I don't think that means a logical response should not be made, including the facts of birth and faith. So too in this debate I think there needs to be some "truth-telling" to combat the mythology spread by folks like Fr M.

Erika Baker said...

I would never say that logical response should not be made. But I think I am saying that it HAS been made.
The cards are all on the table, the arguments are there for anyone to examine.

It does not seem to move the discussion forward a great deal and the same old same old is still being trotted out as though no-one had ever thought of a positive reply.
Whether that is wilful, ignorant or stubborn I don't know.
What I do believe is that it is rooted in a psychological resistance rather than an intellectual inability to process logical thinking.
And until that block has been removed, people will not be able to engage with even the most coherent argument.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Erika, our other notes crossed in the aether.

I do not think we will see a cogent argument or response to R&H (thanks for the plug!) from Fr Michael. He has too much invested in the RC worldview to conceive that it could be mistaken on the nature of sex and gender. For him, the Tradition is authoritative, even if he fails to understand its subtlety and chooses to ignore the difficulties it raises in relation to those discontinuities. When you are part of a system that bases truth upon authority rather than reason, there isn't much more to be said, or capable of being said. Which is why Rome has had to silence some of its best theologians down through the years, or simply put a gag order on the discussion of matters such as the ordination of women. Anglicans, fortunately, are not bound to accept teachings merely on the basis of a magisterium, which maintains little more than the Zeitgeist of the past.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Erika, notes crossed again....

I think that is true -- some people will not get it, ever, and also be unable to move beyond playing their tapes and shaking their heads at what to them is Glaringly Obvious Truth. But that goes for both sides -- so it is not enough for me to simply rest my case, but to engage again and again as long as I have the power to do so. With Blake, "I will not cease from mental toil, nor shall my sword [the word] rest in my hand..."

Ultimately, as I've said time and again, it is not my job to convince the Prosecution, but the Jury -- and as they watch the debate ()which must continue) more and more they see the emptiness of the "conservative" argument when it fails to respond. Even some of the conservatives feel the same -- and it peeks through the irascible cracks in the conservative ATR paper, and leads them to error and misstatement even of the tradition they seek to defend!

Erika Baker said...

And yet, there is very good Roman Catholic pro-gay theology, my particular favourite being James Alison who argues that the church did not HAVE a theology about same sex relationships as this topic is a modern one: The Fulcrum of Discovery


Maybe a future Magisterium will accept some of his thinking. He, at least, seems hopeful.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Yes, Alison is a rare exception. He was leader at a Diocese of NY priests' conference some years ago, which unfortunately I was unable to attend.

I have no doubt at all that Rome will change its teaching on women in orders and sexuality. It may take a century! (Actually I think the change on women will happen in my lifetime.)

June Butler said...

Tobias, I see now why you continue the discussion long after I, for one, have given up, thinking that the debate goes nowhere. It's for the sake of convincing the jury, and that's good reason. Not everyone has the stamina to continue, so thanks be to God for those who do.

Erika Baker said...

I was fortunate enough to attend a 2 days workshop James taught and have since become his German translator... so I suppose I'm a little biased!

G said...

"How can this behavior, which receives not a single positive mention in the Bible or Christian writings prior to the 20th century, suddenly because something holy?"

But "this behaviour" (or set of behaviours) is one that we do indeed consider holy when heterosexuals get up to it - we even have a sacrament for the purpose. Your characterization of same-sex marriage as "sudden" betrays your tacit but long-debunked assumption that it "suddenly" becomes a different behaviour simply because someone else is doing it. I highly doubt no Christian writers before the 20th century can be found affirming marriage - if not, as I say, do away with it for everyone. But if they have, then there's nothing "sudden" about others desiring this honorable estate.

Anonymous said...

Erika, a couple years ago I was a frequent commentator, along with another RC commentator, on a series of post Fr. Tobias did which IIRC inspired him to write his book. That series of posts and comments opened my eyes to the other aberrant theology (e.g. a non-RC understanding of Original Sin) that underlies the theological defense of SSM.

The issue itself is irrelevant in my daily pastoral life. In my large parish there is but one gay couple, and they have declared that they live in chastity as the RCC understands it. So not having much stake in the issue other than making sure that it doesn't wreck the RCC as it has wrecked TEC, I don't see the need to invest much time in it anymore.

Should the book have some other lines of thought other than in those series of blog posts, perhaps then I would buy it and read on a retreat week. Otherwise, I have plenty of other pastoral needs to keep my occupied.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Yes, Fr M., you recall correctly, as far as yourself and Rick Allen's comments go. I don't recall any aberrant theology about Original Sin, as I don't think the topic came up in the blog posts, or the book.

Bless you in your pastoral ministry; I know it is enough to keep anyone quite busy. (Today is my day off!)

June Butler said...

So not having much stake in the issue other than making sure that it doesn't wreck the RCC as it has wrecked TEC

FrMichael, your statement takes my breath away. It boggles the mind, although you're quite right to say that "it" (same-sexuality) did not wreck the RCC.

Erika Baker said...

I have made up my mind. I might be pursuaded if you could show me that I am wrong. But I am not going to read anything that could seriously challenge me because I already know that it is wrong.

It's kind of where Tobias started this blog post, isn't it.

Anonymous said...

Dear Fr. Tobias:

I did a little re-reading of the articles to refresh my memory. Under the articles True Union (3) and Remedial Reading were discussions that brought to the fore Original Sin and the concept of marriage as a moral good as opposed to a morally neutral event. It was those particular dialogues that convinced me that not only were we coming to different conclusions on SSM, but also that we were using radically different methodologies and premises about moral theology.


Anonymous said...

Grandmere, I don't understand what about the particular statement takes your breath away. In my particular parish, the SSM issue has as little relevance to the daily life of my parishioners as the ethics of head hunting.

Now the legal ramifications of civil SSM and how it would affect the indoctrination of children in the public schools, the hiring practices of the small business owners among my parishioners, and the like-- that has been and will continue to be a topic of great concern.


June Butler said...

FrMichael, I could have answered in kind about churches being wrecks, but I did not. Your words seemed mean-spirited. Of course, that's just my opinion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr. Michael,
I see on referring back to those earlier posts that you raised the issue of Original Sin in chapter 3, but at the time I said I didn't see how it figured into the discussion; and in fact, interesting as the comment thread was on what I said at the time was a side issue, it didn't make its way into the final book. I still do not quite see what you were or are getting at, as the Anglican view of O.S. is much like that of the RCC, in keeping with the Western Tradition. I noted at the time that it is not a major doctrine in the Eastern church, and I still do not quite grasp how it relates to the current discussion. Aberrant or not, the Anglican or Roman doctrine of O.S. does does not underlie a theological defense of SSM, at least from my perspective. It is, as you say of the issue, irrelevant as far as I can see, as the question is of actual sin.

As to marriage as a "good-in-itself" we do appear to differ. It seems to me that the wealth of patristic reflection on marriage as good or bad depending on by whom and how it is lived, stands on its own. I know that RCC ethicists can parse very fine when it comes to the notion of "intrinsic" good or evil; but I think most people find that sort of calculus of infinitesimals -- as useful and necessary as it is in some cases involving the Double Effect -- to be less than self-evident. So that methodology is indeed different -- but it is a methodology and not a doctrine.

Perhaps you misunderstood what I mean by "morally neutral." I do not mean by that that any individual marriage is without moral valence. What I mean is that any marriage will be good or bad, or a mixture of the two. I follow Augustine and others that the "good" of marriage is something that grows out of the marriage -- and if it fails at that, it is not a good marriage. I hope that makes better sense to you, even if you disagree.

Part of the issue, as I recall, was your claim that RCC teaching was that procreation is a "good-in-itself." I do not think that a close reading of Donum Vitae or Evangelium Vitae, to cite two fairly recent documents, can support that claim. It is stated over and over that procreation "must" (if it is to be moral) take place within the context of marriage via the conjugal act in humano modo -- and that procreation by means of artificial and in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, and so on, is immoral precisely because it falls short on that score. Let this suffice: "the gift of human life must be actualized in marriage through the specific and exclusive acts of husband and wife..." (D.Vit. intro. 5) And "from the moral point of view procreation is deprived of its proper perfection when it is not desired as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say of the specific act of the spouses' union." (op.cit. II.B.4.a) If something can be denied its "proper" qualities, then they cannot be intrinsic, by definition.

As to you comment about wreckage, noted by Mimi, the less said the better.

All the best for a holy Lent.

G said...

"As to marriage as a "good-in-itself" we do appear to differ." I don't see how. Who is defending this model? You question its patristic pedigree as dubious. And Fr Michael's whole position is that marriage is in fact quite wrong if undertaken by the wrong people. But then, I know RC moral theology has its own language. For instance, it describes homosexuality as an "objective" sin, when of course under any plain meaning of the words it is the opposite - sinful by fiat, or "chuk" in the Talmudix taxonomy. If it were "objectively" sinful there would be no need for a debate, as opponents could simply point to the observable sinful features of the relationships. But in fact their position requires them to look at families that fulfill all the commands to submit to one another, be fruitful in the rearing of children in the fear of the Lord etc etc, and judge these activities of marriage as *subjectively* good or bad depending on whether it's PLU doing them. To consistently defend marriage as good qua marriage Fr Michael would be obligated to accept same-sex marriages! Once again, all roads lead from Rome: even arguments purporting to counter SSM eventually entail its approbation. To paraphrase Agnes of God, "I can't talk about the debate, I never saw the debate, I don't believe in the debate!"

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Geoff. The difficulty as I see it, is that the RC view tries both to embrace "natural law" and divine law and positive law (i.e., chuk) without making proper distinction. There is also a confusion in the use of the category "good" -- and this gets us into trouble around procreation, and with understandings about "objective" and "intrinsic" goods (or evils). Ultimately it comes down to assertions which are presented as almost mathematical postulates. They cannot be argued against because they are beyond discussion.

They are also, many of them, IMHO, wrong. Demonstrably so. If they truly were "objective" as you say, there would be no need for discussion or argument. This is what I was getting at at the very beginning of this discussion: petitio principii is a logical fallacy. These premises may be true, but if they are not accepted as true they cannot serve in support of the conclusions that echo them.