Sunday, December 06, 2009

The tone is revealing . . .

I'm not a regular reader of The Los Angeles Times, which I have occasionally lampooned as the Lost Angeles Times, but even I was a bit surprised by the tone of the Times' editorial reaction to the Manhattan Declaration -- which I am proud to say I was among the first of the now quarter of a million people to sign.

I am apparently not alone in my ability to make it through the day -- not to say week, month, and year -- without the light that the LAT shines on the world around me. Nor is the decline in readership unique to the Times, nor even to the fate of print journalism in this internet age. For more and more people are growing weary of what I have rather uncharitably called the pom-pom media, cheerleading for any and all social experiments -- regardless of how reckless -- as long as they carry the leftist trademark.

And so there are these days several reasons -- economic and political -- for news outlets like the Times to be fretful, but the November 28th editorial suggests there are psychological reasons as well, as some of the political strategies to which many leftists seem to think they have proprietary rights are being deployed by more traditional movements which are finally beginning to respond to the massive effort to redefine cultural, moral, and social reality that has been underway for decades.

Anyway, here it is. Try to imagine the Times getting on such a high horse about a proclamation urging civil disobedience in promotion of any of the causes fashionable in Malibu.
….Last week, a group of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox leaders released a “declaration” reminding fellow believers that "Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required." Then, after a specious invocation of [Martin Luther] King, the 152 signers hurl this anathema at those who would enact laws protecting abortion or extending the rights of civil (not religious) marriage to same-sex couples:

"Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality. . . . We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar's. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God's."

…Strong words, but also irresponsible and dangerous ones. The strange land described in this statement is one in which a sinister secularist government is determined to force Christians to betray their principles about abortion or the belief that "holy matrimony" is "an institution ordained by God." The idea that same-sex civil marriage will undermine religious marriage is a canard Californians will remember from the campaign for Proposition 8, as is the declaration's complaint that Christian leaders are being prevented from expressing their "religious and moral commitments to the sanctity of life and to the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife."

…This apocalyptic argument for lawbreaking is disingenuous, but it is also dangerous. Did the Roman Catholic bishops who signed the manifesto consider how their endorsement of lawbreaking in a higher cause might embolden the antiabortion terrorists they claim to condemn? Did they stop to think that, by reserving the right to resist laws they don't like, they forfeit the authority to intervene in the enactment of those laws, as they have done in the congressional debate over healthcare reform? They need to be reminded that this is a nation of laws, not of men -- even holy men.
Go here to sign the Manhattan Declaration. Read its carefully written and quite sober defense of traditional moral and social realities.

Hat Tip: California Catholic Daily.


23 comments:

Dean said...

Armenian blog writer Ellen Haroutunian has this to say about the Manhattan Declaration:

Ultimately, this is why I cannot sign this:

"We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence.  It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty."

This is our obligation???? No, brothers and sisters, it is not. We are Christians. First and foremost our obligation is to love. Jesus was very clear on this. He never asked us to be the moral police or even the truth police. (Shocking, I know.) He asked us to actively and sacrificially love others and then work at keeping our own houses in order. (Our own- this means us, not them out there who tick us off because they aren’t doing it right and certainly not as good as us.) And rights? Rights? You know what Jesus did with His rights, right? Is that not a classic example of cultural syncretism? Why aren’t these Christian leaders teaching us about how to lay our rights down?

To take a real “stand” that flows from love would mean an incarnational and consistent engagement with the people that this document affects. Seriously, how many babies are we willing to adopt? How much child care will we subsidize out of our own pockets? Have the declaration writers invited their gay neighbors to dinner yet? Have you? Are the authors willing to move to the Congo and die alongside those being extinguished by ethnic hatred there? Are any of us willing to go that far? You have to admit, a bunch of middle to upper middle class white guys doing that would certainly grab media attention and maybe make an impact that would shake the core of this self-centered world. It might even make a real difference the way that sanctions and bombs have not. Call me cynical but something tells me this is not in the plans for the writers of this document.

Full article here

Doughlas Remy said...

Gil, I would have to disagree that the Manhattan Declaration is “carefully written.” In particular, the rather verbose paragraph justifying the privileging of heterosexual marriage is nearly incomprehensible and could probably have been reduced to a single sentence. (After clicking on your own link to the Declaration, search on “Marriage is made possible by” to bring up that paragraph.)

In the first sentence, we read that “marriage is made possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman...” But sex is about much more than organs, as we know. It is driven by a host of psychological and hormonal factors. Therefore, any gender combination (M-F, M-M, or F-F) can experience sexual complementarity—a mutual experience of attraction that is expressed sexually. So, if the author is assuming that sexual complementarity can only be experienced by one of these combinations, he is plainly wrong.

However, his assumption may more limited than that; he may believe that only one of these combinations (M-F) can join in marriage. There, again, he is plainly wrong, because same-sex marriage is legal in many locales, including five European countries and Canada, with more to follow before long. (The definition of marriage has already changed.)

The author (Chuck Colson, perhaps) appears to be expressing a belief rather than presenting an argument. His belief is that marriage should be reserved for male-female couples.

But let’s read the entire sentence to see where it takes us:

Marriage is made possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman, and the comprehensive, multi-level sharing of life that marriage is includes bodily unity of the sort that unites husband and wife biologically as a reproductive unit.

So, in his view, marriage might include procreation. That’s fine. I can agree with that. (I hope he’s not suggesting that marriage must include procreation: A lot of childless couples might bristle at the suggestion that their marriage is sub-standard or inauthentic!)

And then, about mid-paragraph, there’s this gem of verbosity: (Are you ready?)

Marriage is what one man and one woman establish when, forsaking all others and pledging lifelong commitment, they found a sharing of life at every level of being—the biological, the emotional, the dispositional, the rational, the spiritual—on a commitment that is sealed, completed and actualized by loving sexual intercourse in which the spouses become one flesh, not in some merely metaphorical sense, but by fulfilling together the behavioral conditions of procreation.

The spouses become one flesh by fulfilling the behavioral conditions of procreation. Is that clear? They can only become one flesh when there’s some kind of underlying biological, procreative...potential? Or mimicry of procreativity? No, that couldn’t be it. Whatever. I’ve lost it. I really don’t grasp the concept. He seems to be saying that males and female produce babies, so only sex between males and females is legitimate.

Again, if that’s what he’s saying, he’s not producing an argument but stating a purely subjective belief, and the entire tedious paragraph could have been reduced to a single sentence:

Marriage should be reserved for male-female couples because only males and females can produce offspring together.

He is of course entitled to that belief, but reader beware: If you came to the Manhattan Declaration looking for reasons, justifications, or clarification about the mysteries of matrimony, you won’t find them here. As Alice B. Toklas said of the city of Oakland, “There’s no there there.”

Mike said...

"However, his assumption may more limited than that; he may believe that only one of these combinations (M-F) can join in marriage. There, again, he is plainly wrong, because same-sex marriage is legal in many locales, including five European countries and Canada, with more to follow before long."

Doughlas,
According to your argument, slavery was not wrong provided that it was legal.

Also,
What does the evolutionary process say about other combinations outside of the male-female relationship?

Doughlas Remy said...

Mike, my argument was about definitions. The declaration’s writers assert that only male-female couples can join in marriage. (“Marriage is made possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman,” they write.) But that is untrue, because marriage has been redefined in five European countries and five American states. Because of this, we would have to amend the declaration’s language to say, “Marriage is made possible by the sexual complementarity [and shared commitment, I might add] of any two adults.”

Maybe the writers meant to say that only opposite-sex couples should be allowed to join in marriage. If the writers wish to make that case, then they should do so. But they don’t make that case in any effective way. They only advance the proposition that marriage should be reserved for opposite-sex couples because only opposite-sex couples can procreate. In addition to being capricious and arbitrary, this proposition is offensive to childless couples and to same-sex couples who are legally married.

As for your question about the privileging of opposite-sex relationships by the evolutionary process, I would have to concur that the propagation of our species depends mostly on heterosexuals, and for that we can all be grateful. But do we really need to propagate so much? Our planet already has about seven times as many people as it can sustainably support. Maybe we should rejoice and celebrate when anyone declares their homosexuality. And if we are so concerned about propagation, why are priests and nuns encouraged to remain celibate? Should homosexuals be required to enter into loveless and doomed marriages with opposite-sex partners? No, our Christian leaders will say, homosexuals should remain celibate. Right. That’s easy to say.

Sexual orientation is not a choice. We don’t weigh the pros and the cons before feeling sexual desire for someone. You will notice that I have never tried to convince anyone that homosexuality is “better than” heterosexuality, though I constantly hear Christians saying that it is infinitely worse. This constant litany about the inferiority of homosexuality makes absolutely no sense once you understand that no homosexual “chooses” his or her orientation. It only makes sense when seen for what it is—an effort by heterosexuals to maintain and preserve their power and privilege and to scapegoat homosexuals.

Doughlas Remy
http://thebentangle.wordpress.com/

Mike said...

Doughlas you said,

"It only makes sense when seen for what it is—an effort by heterosexuals to maintain and preserve their power and privilege and to scapegoat homosexuals."

This is a very effective way to characterize and stereotype anyone who thinks differently than you do. I have very close family members who live homosexually active lifestyles. Because I think they are participating in immoral acts does not mean that I somehow stop loving them. But loving them does not mean that I somehow have to discard my principles in the name of tolerance. "Tolerance" by the way is the most abused word in our day. When most people refer to the need for tolerance in regard to moral issues, what they really mean is indifference. Love does not compel one to be indifferent, on the contrary, it compels one to speak out, with compassion of course. I will not condone any behavior when it goes against moral principles.

"Sexual orientation is not a choice."

Perhaps not. But the argument that someone is just predisposed and is therefore not responsible for his actions can be used to justify any act. As a teenager I was fairly convinced that I was born to live a premiscuous life. Who was anyone to tell me that that lifestyle was dangerous and morally wrong, afterall, I was just born that way. The answer to that question was simple. It was the people who were responsible for picking up the tab for all of my mistakes. My parents. I thank God that they were one, very patient, and two didn't give into the notion that they just needed to be open and "tolerant."

Because of artificial contraception, there is a disconnect between actions and natural consequences. This is how we arrive at a term like "unintended pregnancies." This day and age, people are surprised at how babies are made because sex has been reduced to mere entertainment. It's no wonder that there is so much confusion regarding the natural fruitlessness of homosexuality.

"Our planet already has about seven times as many people as it can sustainably support."

This is precisely the kind of hopeless sentiment that I see coming out of an atheistic worldview. Using this very sentence, an ideological movement wishing to soldify its power could justify wiping out 6/7s of the world's population.

margykane said...

Thank you Dean. The words from your heart are whole, and make whole, a broken humanity, a broken creation.

Margy

Doughlas Remy said...

Mike, I really believe what I said about heterosexual privilege and scapegoating. There has to be an explanation for all the animus against homosexuals—as homosexuals—that we’re seeing in our culture, and, try as I might, I can find no rational basis for it. If you want to claim that promiscuity is immoral, you may have sound reasons for doing so. But to claim that homosexuality itself is immoral is like saying that left-handedness, premature baldness, or color-blindness is immoral. All of these occur, by the way, in roughly ten percent of the male population, and all are caused by genetic or hormonal factors, or both.

Did you know that left-handers were once ostracized? As recently as fifty years ago, schoolchildren were required to write with their right hands. Going back even farther, people in the Middle Ages believed left-handedness was a sign of Satanic influence. Our word “sinister” comes from the Latin word meaning “left side, unlucky, inauspicious.” How rational was that? But do you think anyone would have believed you if you pointed out how irrational it was?

Homosexuals are in the same position now. We are saying that homosexuality is no more “disordered” or “immoral” than left-handedness, and every single major health care organization in the U.S. and Europe supports us. I am talking about physicians, sociologists, psychologists, and pediatricians. All of their professional organizations (e.g., the AMA, the American Psychological Association, etc.) agree about this and have issued statements to that effect.

Again, there is no rational justification for calling your gay family members “immoral,” and they probably know that and resent you for continuing to do it. I have been through this with my own family, and I can assure you that the attitudes you are displaying are poisonous and will lead to real suffering. Your gay family members will end up resenting not only you but your religion. If I am speaking plainly to you, it is because I think you are making a mistake that can cause serious harm to those you love.

Theological justifications for these attitudes are based on selective reading of scripture or on the authority of the Church. Scripture prohibits a host of activities that we all engage in almost daily, and the Church’s teachings are more changeable than most Catholics care to admit. Again, all such theological justifications are irrational, while the findings of the AMA and other health care organizations are based on sound science.

Here’s a professional opinion from a 2004 editorial in the British Medical Journal:

In spite of every mental health and medical association in the U.S. stating unequivocally that there is no scientific evidence that homosexuality is a disorder, many religious organizations continue to declare homosexuality or homosexual behavior as sinful and immoral. This creates spiritual crises for many people who have grown up within anti-homosexual religious families and communities.

I hope that what I have written will contribute to more peace and understanding in your family.

Mike said...

Doughlas,

First of all, there is no question that many have used the bible to justify all sorts of hateful crimes. An extreme example is the group from Kansas that shows up at soldier's funerals saying that God hates homosexuals. The same might be said of Catholics who do not otherwise practice the faith but somehow are ready to point out the church teaching on homosexuality. But this is not exclusive of this one topic. There are many cases of "wolves in sheeps clothing."

However, it is just as erronous to assume that because I believe that the homosexual act is immoral that I cannot love the one committing that act. What you are describing is conditional love i.e. if the one in question is perfect, then he or she is deserving of my love.

If you don't see homosexuality as immoral, then think of something you see as obviously immoral. Now imagine someone you love committing that act. You may be hurt, but do you stop loving them? Only if your love is conditional.

As a Christian, I see Jesus as the perfect model of unconditional love. He didn't have to pretend that murder was not "really" immoral to love those who were killing him. As Paul teaches, Christ didn't wait for us to be perfect to start loving us. He loves us even when we are far from perfect. This is absolutely essential to a proper understanding of Christianity.

Now, we are focusing on a single teaching here. But, as Fr John Corapi says, the Church is an equal opportunity offender. I don't look down on anyone because the Church has made me aware of my own sinfulness and I have felt the mercy of God in my own life as a result of that awareness. Now, if someone had told me, don't worry, your not really a sinner, they would have robbed me of experiencing mercy.

So what seems like the compassionate thing to do i.e. to tell my relatives, "don't worry, the Church is all wrong about homosexuality" is really robbing them of a profound opportunity to experience the love of God. I for one am not going to do that.

"Theological justifications for these attitudes are based on selective reading of scripture or on the authority of the Church. Scripture prohibits a host of activities that we all engage in almost daily, and the Church’s teachings are more changeable than most Catholics care to admit."

I have heard this argument before. Typically people align the dietary restrictions of the Old Testament to its moral teachings to suggest that both no longer apply, and that its view of homosexuality is just arbitrary Old Testament law. This, however, is a selective reading because it ignores Paul's teaching in the New Testament about homosexuality.

Doughlas Remy said...

Mike, I certainly see your point in the case of an immoral act like murder. Loving the sinner and hating the sin is an appropriate attitude for a Christian in such a case. But homosexuality is not like murder, and it’s not immoral. Homosexuality, in and of itself, does not harm anyone, even the homosexual. Again, it is like left-handedness. It is value-neutral.

Those who insist that homosexuality is immoral cannot offer non-theological reasons for their belief, and the theological reasons are based on a pre-scientific understanding of human psychology and sexuality. Not only that, but the verses that condemn homosexuality—yes, even in the New Testament—exist right alongside other verses that prohibit divorce, that forbid women to speak in church, and that instruct slaves to obey their masters. These are not dietary restrictions. They are moral teachings.

If you are going to insist that homosexuality is immoral but that women speaking in church is not, then I think you need to explain why. You would need to show, for example, that homosexuality presents a clear and present danger to someone. Such a basis would be extra-Scriptural, obviously. Your arguments cannot be based on Scripture because they will always represent a selective reading of it.

This is why I say that there is more to this animus against gays and lesbians than conservative Christians would like us to believe. When family members go through divorce, I hope you do not tell them they are immoral or disordered. And there’s even less reason to take such a position about homosexuality, which is not a personal catastrophe and involves no harm to anyone. I believe the stigmatization of homosexuality has to do with privilege and power. The “privilege” part has to do with our need to position ourselves as superior to others. The “power” part is about controlling other people’s sexuality—even perfectly natural and normal expressions of it, like masturbation.

You write,

So what seems like the compassionate thing to do, i.e. to tell my relatives, "don't worry, the Church is all wrong about homosexuality" is really robbing them of a profound opportunity to experience the love of God. I for one am not going to do that.

I don’t know if your gay relatives believe in your church’s teachings about homosexuality, but I feel profoundly sorry for them if they do. It’s just as the British Medical Journal article said: Such beliefs create spiritual crises, and I will add that these usually involve guilt and self-hatred. If that is an experience of the love of God, I wish them every success in surviving it without self-destructive behavior. I think of all the stories I have heard and read over the years, about strong fundamentalist Christians (e.g., Mel White, author of “Stranger at the Gates”), who endured decades of unspeakable misery over the “problem” of their homosexuality until they realized it wasn’t a problem at all, at which point they truly began to thrive in every area of their lives. And then there are the Ted Haggarts, who cling to their guilt year after year and eventually crawl into a hole of shame.

If you have any real influence over your gay family members—i.e., if they respect your opinion—I would urge you to think very carefully about what you say to them. Undeserved moral condemnation can be extremely toxic to everyone involved, including yourself.

Doughlas Remy
http://thebentangle.wordpress.com/

Mike said...

"Going back even farther, people in the Middle Ages believed left-handedness was a sign of Satanic influence. Our word “sinister” comes from the Latin word meaning “left side, unlucky, inauspicious.” How rational was that?"

Doughlas, I understand what you are saying with this analogy, but I am afraid that it falls flat. My wife is left handed and has written left-handed all of her life. She is a very creative writer and she has never contracted a deadly disease for having written left handed.

Am I saying that I think God punishes active homosexuals with STDs? NO. That certainly would not fit the image of the God that I know.

Diseases like STDs are a natural consequence for living a promiscuous lifestyle. You could say the same for active hetersexuals as well. If people stopped bashing the Church long enough over its teaching on homosexuality, they would actually hear that she has quite a lot to say about heterosexuals promiscuity as well.

The Churchs' teaching on homosexuality is a difficult one, but it is not impossible to understand if we examine it in context. What is sexuality? Is it simply a means of procreating? The Church says its far more than that. I am guessing you would say so as well for obvious reasons.

I am not an expert, but I do know that the Church says that sex has two aspects: the unitive, and the procreative.

The homosexual act has no procreative potential. I have heard it said that it is a way of expressing love and is a unitive act between the partners.

But is sex necessary in order to express love? Absolutley not. At least I hope people do not feel they need to have sex with everyone in order to express their love. Is it something unitive? Are there any boundaries?

Jesus said that we should love our neighbor. He also said that we should love our enemy. If sex is a means for unity, perhaps that will be the next step. What about someone who wants to get close to their dog? Once the procreative aspect gets lost there are no boudaries. You are probably going to say that I am on a slippery slope, but am I? What about modern polygamy? And there are real cases of people having sex with animals.
You can't argue that somehow the old boudaries are artifical and then say that the new boundaries will prohibit these other things. Why would they prohibit them? At that point, somebody will be calling you a bigot.

As far as my relatives are concerned, they know first and foremost that I love them. I have many of my own battles against immorality. I hope they don't ever pretend that I don't just because it might be uncomfortable for them. I hope they don't decide to hold back their love for me until I become perfect because it will be a long wait. They know what I believe, yet we manage to actually talk about other things.

On another note, I had to chuckle when I read your earlier link to alternet. The lady refered to all religion as sex-hating. Obviously, she has never seen a Catholic family. At least not one that hasn't drank the contraception kool aid (radiator fluid.)

By the way, I know this is not an easy issue, and I appreciate the opportunity to discuss it with you.

I will address your comments on the New Testament later. Right now, I have to go to sleep.

Doughlas Remy said...

(Part One)
Mike, you write that your wife has never contracted a deadly disease for having written left-handed. Then my analogy with left-handedness is sound, because I have never contracted a deadly disease for having been homosexual.

STDs are caused by irresponsible and careless sexual behavior or by misplaced trust in someone who has engaged in such behavior. STDs are not caused by either homosexuality or heterosexuality.

At first, you seemed to equate homosexuality with promiscuity (Promiscuity is immoral. Homosexuality is promiscuous. Therefore, homosexuality is immoral.) Then, I could almost hear you spotting the flaws in this logic. First of all, not all homosexuals are promiscuous. And second, many heterosexuals are also promiscuous. And so you abandoned your attempt to find an objective rationale for the moral condemnation of homosexuality.

Then you returned to the theological arguments, but instead of quoting Scripture this time (because you would have had to do so selectively), you decided to fall back on Church teachings.

I am not a Catholic, or even a Christian, so the Church’s teachings have little meaning for me. Nevertheless, I am interested in hearing about them.

The teaching about the unitive and the procreative aspects of sex are clear, though I certainly wouldn’t expect ordinary people to spend much time parsing them. It is true that the homosexual act has no procreative potential, but that is a non-problem as far as most of us homosexuals are concerned. If we want children, we can adopt them, and there are plenty of children needing adoption.

So that leaves the unitive aspect of sex. The unitive aspect applies to both homosexual and heterosexual sex. Fine. Why not stop there?

Indeed, why not just say, “Homosexuals aren’t interested in procreation or at least they don’t expect to procreate and have learned to live with that fact. But they can experience the unitive aspect of sex in a loving relationship.”

So why doesn’t that work? Well, you say, “people do not...need to have sex...in order to express their love.” That’s perfectly true. We love our children, our pets, our parents, and even the trees and the flowers in our garden, but we don’t have sex with them. I think it would be an extraordinarily rare homosexual who wouldn’t agree with you about that.

“But what about boundaries?” you ask. So you’re afraid that acceptance of homosexuality will lead to sex with animals? Well, there is a lot of active and open homosexuality in this world, and I don’t see it leading to bestiality or any of the other bugaboos that people fear.

Anytime change is in the air, people become fearful that loosening a single stricture will lead to civilizational collapse. We’ve been through this hundreds of times. Remember what white slaveholders used to say? Remember what men used to say before women won the right to vote?

Implicit in your argument is the view that it will become impossible to condemn any behavior as morally wrong if we do not condemn homosexuality as morally wrong. This is the “moral relativism” argument that Gil so often refers to, and it doesn’t hold water. Generally speaking, a behavior is morally wrong when it harms people in some way. (Details can be taken up in another discussion.) Sex between two grown men or women does not, in and of itself, harm anyone. (It only becomes harmful when one of the partners is abusive, deceitful, etc.). Sex between a grown man and a minor child is harmful, for obvious reasons, and we can reserve our moral condemnation for such acts. In accepting homosexuality, we are not relinquishing our right to condemn child sexual abuse, polygamy, or sex with pitcher orchids.

Doughlas Remy
http://thebentangle.wordpress.com/

Doughlas Remy said...

(Part Two)
You mentioned your own battles against immorality. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Applying this sort of “method” of ethical analysis that I have used might relieve a lot of the pain. Don’t be afraid to ask, “Is this behavior really wrong? Should I be feeling guilty about it? Who said it was wrong? What else do they say is wrong? Who gave them the authority to declare it wrong? Does the behavior hurt anyone? Are there any ill-effects other than guilt?”

I seem to see people everywhere suffering unnecessarily because of religious teachings based on either Scripture or the authority of a Church. It’s as though people don’t have personal boundaries or gateways that can be locked down when corrosive ideas try to get in. This is why I became interested in mimetic theory, because it is largely about influence and suggestibility operating not just at the micro level of hypnosis but at the macro level of world religions.

Of course, not all religious ideas are bad, but I think we should learn to recognize them when they are.

But that’s another discussion. Good luck with your family.

Doughlas Remy
http://thebentangle.wordpress.com/

Mike said...

Doughlas,
I would like to respond as time allows. It may be a while before I get to all of the points I wish to address so please be patient. First I will address, the bible.

you said,
"Not only that, but the verses that condemn homosexuality—yes, even in the New Testament—exist right alongside other verses that prohibit divorce, that forbid women to speak in church, and that instruct slaves to obey their masters. These are not dietary restrictions. They are moral teachings."

First: The Catholic church reads the bible in context. This is not easy because of the passage of time and most often we are hearing one side of the conversation. It is not impossible, however, to get a fairly accurate interpretation. With time and patience, I can determine who my wife is talking to over the telephone by the tone of her voice, by the language she uses, and by the subject she is discussing, for example. So, when we read the bible, we can learn a lot by being sensitive to these same things. St. Paul, we must remember was writing to real Christian communities, some he knew very well, others, like the letter to the Romans, he was hoping to meet. We get a sense, by reading Paul that he could not have imagined that people would still be reading his letters 2000 years later. As a matter of fact, he indicates that he expects the second coming to be imminent. We know by the amount of traveling he did, that he must have been evangelizing as fast as he could for that reason.

In context, it is difficult to come to a conclusion that somehow, Paul was condoning slavery. This was an accepted part of culture that ultimately took thousands of years to overcome. (In manys ways, we are still trying to overcome it.) Paul didn't have that kind of time. (Or so he thought). I think it would be erronous to read Paul's words as though he was teaching that slavery is consistant with Christianity.

Many people have erronously believed that Paul was against marriage for the same reason. It wasn't that he thought it was wrong, it was because Christ could come again at any minute. Why should anyone take on such a huge commitment when the end was so near?

As far as divorce is concerned, the church still teaches that it is evil. I don't think anyone who has ever lived through one would disagree. Has her approach toward those who have suffered from divorce developed over the years? Absolutely.

As far as women speaking in church? As I said before, time was crucial. Was Paul concerned with the theology behind women speaking in the church, or was he afraid that it would scandalize that particular community at the worst possible time? I don't pretend to have all of the answers, but I thought it was important to address your claim that the church reads the bible selectively because it is not true.

Mike said...

"I am not a Catholic, or even a Christian, so the Church’s teachings have little meaning for me. Nevertheless, I am interested in hearing about them."

Doughlas,
What you demonstrate here is a stacking of the deck in your favor. As a Catholic, I believe that faith and reason are not opposed to eachother. You use reason to prove your point, however, if I disagree with your logic, you try to use the bible or church teaching to prove your point. However, if you disagree with my logic, and I attempt to use the bible or church teaching, you have given yourself an easy way out.

Your reference to two grown men or women having sex not harming anyone reminds me of a discussion I once heard in an ethics class regarding prostitution. One side argued that it was just a business deal and that noone was hurt. I very much disagreed with that opinion and still do today because I think, spiritually speaking, the dignity of the individuals is negatively influenced. I can't ordinarily make reference to that point, however, knowing that you can write it off, whether it hits the mark or not because it is theological in nature.

Also, I think you missed the point regarding the left-handed analogy. Noone has ever contracted an STD for being left handed. And having navigated one's way through a minefield does not necessarily mean we should refer it to our friends as a safe way to travel.

"STDs are caused by irresponsible and careless sexual behavior or by misplaced trust in someone who has engaged in such behavior. STDs are not caused by either homosexuality or heterosexuality."

Good point.

"It is true that the homosexual act has no procreative potential, but that is a non-problem as far as most of us homosexuals are concerned."

I don't think that it is about whether it is seen as a problem or not. What we are trying to understand is what it means to be a human being. We believe that we come to know God and ourselves in a more profound manner when we closely examine every aspect of creation. We shouldn't overlook anything. That means we shouldn't overlook the fact that there is no potential for procreation in homosexual sex. Why?

“Homosexuals aren’t interested in procreation or at least they don’t expect to procreate and have learned to live with that fact."

This sounds like settling. I don't believe you were made to have to learn to live with this fact.

"Anytime change is in the air, people become fearful that loosening a single stricture will lead to civilizational collapse. We’ve been through this hundreds of times."

This is true and it's a point well taken.

However, I still do not see how this boundary is removed and another, prohibiting polygamy, for example, is put in place. Afterall, what if they are all adults. Is noone hurt?

"Implicit in your argument is the view that it will become impossible to condemn any behavior as morally wrong if we do not condemn homosexuality as morally wrong. This is the “moral relativism” argument that Gil so often refers to, and it doesn’t hold water."

Moral relativism is an anti-philosophical theory, if you will, that says there are no immutable (I am struggling for a better word) truths. It is anti-philosophical, I believe, because it demonstrates no love of wisdom. There is no ordering of truths. When we open the newspaper and read the opinion page, we are not allowed to say that one argument is closer to the the truth than any other. Every opinion is as valid as the next. It's what I was describing when I used the orange juice/ radiator analogy. It is a license to reject the truth, because every opinion is equally true.

Also, I was not suggesting that homosexuality leads to beastiality, rather, I was questioning the premise that sex can be legitimately viewed as merely a unitive act.

Doughlas Remy said...

Mike, my purpose in quoting the Bible to you was to demonstrate that your reading of it is selective. I might also have quoted it to demonstrate that Paul was wrong about a number of very important matters, including the imminent coming of the Kingdom. (It seems to me that God could have straightened him out about this so that he wouldn’t advise men not to marry...) If you believe in marriage, in spite of what Paul wrote, then why does it matter what he said about homosexuality? Or, to put it another way, why don’t you allow the same “wiggle room” for Paul’s views on homosexuality as you do for, say, his views on marriage or slavery or the role of women? This is what is meant by “selectivity.” It’s being a literalist about verses that you agree with, while allowing a more flexible, contextual, historically/morally relativistic interpretation of those you don’t agree with.

To me, these are sufficient reasons for rejecting the Bible as an authority on homosexuality. I look to modern science for understanding about it, I look at my own experience, and I look around me. I do not see any evidence that homosexuality is immoral or even that homosexual acts per se are immoral. Neither the identity nor the behavior has negative consequences.

I am not a Catholic, and so I am unimpressed by arguments from the authority of the Church. And I question why anyone would bow to the authority of a Church that has been so wrong, so many times, in so many catastrophic ways throughout history and is even now refusing to break its silence about egregious human rights violations in Uganda.

You were quite right, in my view, to argue in your ethics class that prostitution harms those involved. But are you suggesting that homosexuality is in any way like prostitution? If so, can you explain? I am in a committed relationship with a man, and you seem to be making a linkage between that relationship and one in which there is payment for sexual services. Why would you make that linkage in the case of homosexuality but not of heterosexuality?

For years, I have heard such linkages. One minute we’re talking about homosexuality, and the next minute, for some reason, we’re talking about bestiality or polygamy or prostitution or pedophilia. I am not opposed to linkages, as you will have observed in my second paragraph. But I am opposed to ones that are based on myths and faulty reasoning.

Again, procreation is just not an issue for me and never has been. I haven’t spent one moment of my entire life thinking about it. But what if it were an issue? What if it were really important to me to have a child of my own? Should I marry?

That’s really where the rubber meets the road, in my view. What you seem to be suggesting is that I should flip the toggle switch from “homosexual” to “heterosexual” so that I can procreate. And then, in order to procreate in the conventional way, I would need to marry a woman and live with her the rest of my life, carrying out my conjugal duties at regular intervals.

Please think very long and hard before you counsel anyone to do such a thing. Lives can get really messed up on the basis of such advice.

As I’ve said so many times and in so many discussions, one of the surest ways to strengthen the institution of marriage is to do everything in our power to ensure that homosexuals do not marry heterosexuals. Such marriages are recipes for disaster, and very often the children are seriously impacted.

If “flipping the switch” in order to procreate is not what you are suggesting, then what are you suggesting? Celibacy? Conversion therapy?

In answer to all these “remedies,” I would just say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If homosexuals can be happy and healthy and lead useful and productive lives—and obviously we can and so—then why are we even having this discussion?

Mike, sometimes I add more information, or follow-up on my own blogsite, shown just below my name. If I should ever inexplicably disappear, you will find me there.

Doughlas Remy
http://thebentangle.wordpress.com/

Mike said...

"If you believe in marriage, in spite of what Paul wrote, then why does it matter what he said about homosexuality? Or, to put it another way, why don’t you allow the same “wiggle room” for Paul’s views on homosexuality as you do for, say, his views on marriage or slavery or the role of women?"

Doughlas, Paul's treatment of marriage and slavery are not ethical discussions of the morality of either. Many people have mis-interpreted his treatment of marriage as just that. It is not a discussion of morality, it's about practicality i.e. if Christ could return by the end of the week, why would one take on marriage at that point?

In the same way, many have tried to make the argument that Paul was condoning slavery by advising slaves to be obedient. With our perspective, knowing what we know now, we can see how ingrained slavery was in our history. We know what occurred as a result of overturning that accepted practice. Many wars have been fought over it. If we believed, as Paul did, that the end of the world was imminent, wouldn't we choose our battles differently?

All of this is to say that it is erronous to believe that Paul is wrong when he addresses homosexuality because he was also wrong when he addressed slavery.

As for women speaking in church, are suggesting that this is a moral teaching as well? To me it seems to be a correction on liturgical practice, not that Paul is suggesting that it is a sin.

As for Paul being wrong about the second coming, this shouldn't be surprising, afterall Jesus himself says that noone knows the time but the Father. Paul, demonstrates for us that we are to live our lives as though each one might the last. He leaves the rest to God.

Doughlas Remy said...

Mike, I’m finding it hard to square what you’ve said about Paul’s views of marriage with what I’m actually reading in the Bible.

Corinthians 7: 1-7: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” “Touch,” from the Greek word “haptomai,” is used throughout the Bible as a euphemism for a sexual relationship. It also serves as a metonym for “marriage.” That verse seems pretty clear to me. So how can you think marriage is okay but homosexuality is not?

If Christ could come at any moment, would that be sufficient reason for not buying a green banana? Wouldn’t you want to close your retirement account and fly to Hawaii?

I fail to see how the possibility of Christ coming at any moment should affect everyday decision-making about things like marriage, college funds, retirement planning, having children, etc. If what Paul said about marriage in this regard was true, then it would be true about these things as well. And if it was true then, it must be true now, wouldn’t you agree?

Yes, Paul was wrong about the second coming. No one knows the time but the Father. But wasn’t the Father providing any guidance to the Apostle Paul during the writing of these epistles? If not, then we have a right to ask, “Was the Father consulted when Paul wrote about homosexuality?”

You wrote that Paul’s treatment of slavery was not an ethical discussion of the morality of slavery. But shouldn’t it have been? Why wasn’t slavery considered an abomination in Biblical times? The reason is that it was simply assumed, and biblical writers saw nothing wrong with the institution of slavery. We do. But they saw something wrong with homosexuality. We don’t.

Paul’s teachings about slavery enjoin the slave to obey his master. That is clearly an ethical teaching about the proper behavior of a slave.

Did you know that slavery was not opposed by the Church until 1537? So was the Church infallible before or after that pronouncement? The popes themselves held slaves, including hundreds of Muslim captives that they forced to row their galleys. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas taught that slavery was socially useful.

Earlier, you described the Old Testament verses about eating pork and fish, etc., as nothing more than dietary restrictions. But these things are often characterized as “abominations.”

And why do you consider dietary restrictions to be relatively unimportant, even when they’re clearly not unimportant to the Biblical writers, but you have decided that the sexual restrictions are of major importance?

Paul’s admonition to women about speaking in church is a “correction in liturgical practice” but not an ethical teaching? Maybe you have redefined “ethical teaching” when I wasn’t paying attention. Isn’t an ethical teaching about whether something is morally right or wrong? We’re not talking about the proper placement of the communion cup or the baptismal font here. This is about the behavior of women in the Church, and it is fully consistent with the patriarchal values that suffused Mediterranean cultures of that era. It goes very deep into moral and ethical teachings about the role of women.

What I think you fail to recognize, Mike, is that the valuation people in Biblical times placed on all these matters was very, very different from the valuation that we place on them today. Slavery, dietary practices, marriage, the role of women, ... you name it. You can try until the cows come home, but you will never square this circle. Modern Christians who look to the Bible as a source of moral authority read it selectively and bend over backward—as you have done—to make it all come out right. The mental contortions required for this exercise are obvious to anyone who has not surrendered their reason to God.

So it all comes back to faith, which you’ve declared to be in no opposition to reason. I’m sorry, but all I’m seeing is the faith.

Doughlas Remy
http://thebentangle.wordpress.com/

Doughlas Remy said...

Mike, I was just now synching my IPod with my ITunes account so that all the podcasts in the account are also on the IPod. It occurred to me that what modern (conservative) Christians are trying to do is to “synch” their beliefs and their ethical systems with those of the Bible.

For these Christians, it is imperative that the Bible be treated as an absolute authority in matters of faith and practice. Fundamentalist belief systems require authoritative foundational texts. The purpose of these texts is to “get everyone on the same page,” as it were (and, I might add, to settle arguments).

But there is a problem with trying to make the Bible serve this purpose. The problem is that it was written for people living on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea about 2000 years ago. Our moral and ethical systems have changed since that time. We have been through a lot of history, and we know things about ourselves and the world that people living under Roman rule could not have dreamed of. We have been through the Renaissance, the Copernican Revolution, the Enlightenment, Darwin’s evolutionary theory, the scientific revolution that began with Descartes, and psychoanalysis. Some of the old verities may still be true for us, but many are not. Just for starters, our attitudes about slavery, marriage, the role of women are very different now than before.

Any endeavor to “map” modern Christian values to those of Biblical-era Christians—much less to the values of the Jewish authors of the Old Testament—is doomed to failure. They simply don’t synch up, and they never will.

Modern conservative Christians say they would like to return to the imagined “purity” of a former era, but they don’t really. For one thing, there is nothing preventing them from following Paul’s teachings to the letter, but obviously they don’t. And if they really had any idea what life was like then, they wouldn’t want to return there or even bring the values of that era forward to our own.

We can certainly find plenty of wisdom in the Bible, and we should continue to look there for it. But to treat the Bible as authoritative on all ethical matters now, then, and forever, is just absurd. That is why some of us—the secular humanists—believe that ethical principles should be evaluated by their consequences for people, not by how well they conform to preconceived ideas drawn from the Bible, from tradition, or from the Church.

Mike said...

Doughlas,
I think it is important that we determine what our goal is in all of this. If the goal is to seek the truth and come to a clearer understanding of it then we need to be open to the possibility that we can actually learn from eachother.

If the goal is to win an argument, then we can continue to overwhelm eachother with points without allowing one another to do more than briefly address each one and never treating any of them with depth. I for one don't view that as time well spent. There are better things I can do with my time. Dialogue is not possible as long as we keep trying to put eachother on defense.

Doughlas Remy said...

Mike, for me this blog discussion is not like a political meeting where everyone is trying to reach a consensus. And it’s not like a dinner-table conversation where the object is to have a good time and build lasting bonds of friendship.

To me, it is about using argumentation to arrive at the truth. I’m sorry if I overwhelmed you with points, but do you expect me to tie one hand behind my back? If you don’t have time to address all of my points, that’s okay. We are all stewards of our own time, you are not required to address all of them, and the discussion itself is not mandatory.

When I am told that 2 + 2 = 7, I won't hesitate to point out the error in that calculation.

Not everything is a matter of opinion or perspective. Not everything can turn into something completely different if you just look at it differently. Some things are either true or untrue.

I sense that you are surprised that I would argue with you at all. But I have been arguing most of my life. The alternative, in my view, is just to accept what people tell you on faith. That may be an appropriate or necessary response in many situations, but I consider blog discussions one of the rare opportunities for exercising my reason for challenging views with which I disagree.

Doughlas Remy
http://thebentangle.wordpress.com/

Mike said...

"To me, it is about using argumentation to arrive at the truth. I’m sorry if I overwhelmed you with points, but do you expect me to tie one hand behind my back?"

I agree that this should be the goal, to arrive at the truth. I am not overwhelmed by the points, the argument is. It seems to me to be a very effective diversionary method. Whenever we get to the substance of a particular point and examine it, is seems like you throw out a bunch of new ponts, like a smoke screen. This is why I question your real motivation here. Are you more interested in getting to the truth, or are you so defensive about your own position that you will sacrifie the truth to win the argument?

Mike said...

Doughlas,
I think it is important to distinguish between a Catholic understanding of salvation and a fundamentalist understanding.

Catholicism is not a "me and Jesus" religion. While the individual's personal relationship with Christ is important, it is not as though this relationship exists in a vacuum. It's not as though we believe that we have nothing to do but break our arms, patting ourselves on the back for being in the right religion. We are, all of us, in the same boat. We are accountable for everyone. When we stand before God, we will have to account for our own sins, the most grievious of which are those that we committed against our brothers and sisters. But sins are not just actions. They are also inactions. That means if I stand by and do nothing while my brother is being injured, I am accountable.
In my younger days, my brothers and I would go out on the town. I couldn't have imagined one of us coming home beaten while the other two stood before our parents, shrugging their shoulders and saying, "whatever he does is his own business. We were being tolerant." Yet this is what our individualistic culture says is the compassionate thing to do. Sin is the bad bunch down at the end of the bar, and none of us can take them on alone. If one of us gets beaten down by them, Catholicism says, we must not abandon the one. That being said, unfortunately, many Catholics don't live up to the faith.

This is very unlike the fundamentalist belief. They say that unless you accept Jesus as your personal lord and savior, you are doomed to go to hell, even if you try to the best of your ability to live a good life. Many Catholics in this country have been influenced by this thinking, which as I have said, is not in accord with what the Church teaches.

When the Church teaches that homosexuality is immoral, it is not trying to control people as you have suggested. God does not take away our free will, and the Church does not wish to either. Certainly, the Church has made mistakes in her long history. But if you read the documents of Vatican II particularly the one dealing with freedom of religion, you will see for yourself what the Church has declared.

Mike said...

"Paul’s teachings about slavery enjoin the slave to obey his master. That is clearly an ethical teaching about the proper behavior of a slave."

What do you suppose would have happened to the slave if Paul had said differently? If the end was immenent as Paul says, would it have been ethical to make a long pronouncement condemning a practice that was ingrained in culture? Would people have been focused on the "things of heaven?"

Obviously, the second coming didn't happen as Paul thought it would. In one of his letters he comforts a community because some of its loved ones had died prior to the second coming. Early Christianity had to adapt, recognizing that social wrongs had to be addressed, even if it meant causing temporary disorder.

"Paul’s admonition to women about speaking in church is a “correction in liturgical practice” but not an ethical teaching?"

How accpetable was it at that time for women to speak in the Jewish Temple? (Paul being a Jew.)Do you suppose that Paul viewed the Gospel message so important that he didn't want to take any chances in hindering its spread? I think it was that important to him because he died for that message.

"It occurred to me that what modern (conservative) Christians are trying to do is to “synch” their beliefs and their ethical systems with those of the Bible."

Rather, it is modern culture, or the spirit of the age as Paul says, that recognizes the bible and its message as a threat. It cannot quiet its conscience when the Church speaks out, therefore, it goes after the foundation on which the Church stands. None of this, of course, is unexpected because the foundation of the Church is Christ. The foundation of the Church is somebody not something, and he said that this would happen.

"Modern conservative Christians say they would like to return to the imagined “purity” of a former era, but they don’t really."

I am not sure exactly who you are talking about, but this is not what Catholicism is about.

"That is why some of us—the secular humanists—believe that ethical principles should be evaluated by their consequences for people, not by how well they conform to preconceived ideas drawn from the Bible, from tradition, or from the Church."

It's intriguing to me that you claim to only give assent to reason, yet you ignore it when it challenges you i.e. if there is no God, why is there a necessarily perfect order? How is it that the atmosphere and everything in it was set perfectly as to allow life to be, and then to be sustained without God? Your answer? The evolutionary process breaks down probability into smaller chunks? Is that really your answer? In the beginning, there was a process? Or another question, why is it that the homosexual act does not nor has it ever had potential for procreation? Your answer? This (reasonable) question doesn't bother you. You don't spend any time thinking about it. This is called selective reasoning.

I apologize if I sound harsh, but as I go back through you're responses, I can't help but think you are being disingenuous.