The problem I find in writing something like this is that it is hard not to come off as superior and snooty, especially when explaining, rather mechanically and clinically, why this or that action is wrong. I get it. I really do. The problem is compounded by the fact that this "mechanistic" mentality seems too often pitted against the mentality of love and mercy.
To be clear, I do not savor getting on the wrong side of people (I am no Donald Trump). Like anyone else, I love to be loved. I speak about these things not to add insult to injury for those who are struggling with such questions, but rather to add context and meaning to sexuality and intimacy itself. I speak about these things not to feel superior or to ostracize anyone, but because understanding the Catholic position on sexual morality actually saved me from a life of moral misery (which I was well on my way to indulging in), and if I do not offer that "life raft" to others, I would ultimately be betraying the very One who offered me His.
I do not deny that there is a kind of peace that comes from admitting one's secret desires and proclivities, but there is an important distinction to be made between personal honesty and the consequences of sexual behavior. Indeed, I would argue that there are some moral actions that bring anything but peace, no matter how much we wish they would. So you might ask: "then why do we have these desires and inclinations in the first place?"
The Christian word for this apparent riddle is concupiscence (i.e. because of our fallen nature, our desires, much like a set of misaligned tires, are not necessarily disposed to lead us on the straight path). The Gospel (along with the help of practical witnesses) offers us a example of how to realign those desires. All the same, even if you reject this Gospel remedy, no one can deny that there are some desires (perhaps even persistent ones) that must be redirected and "realigned" so as to avoid ruining our lives and the lives of others. This is not a homosexual problem, it is a human problem.
I recognize that listening to this position requires a certain level of openness to change (at least that was my own experience in these matters). I also recognize that love, rather than logic, is actually a far more motivating influence when it comes to sacrificing for a cause. However, what may initially seem like an unpleasant prospect, is in truth (I would argue) the key to finding a deep and abiding sense of peace and joy (whether one is straight or gay). That being said, the Church's teaching on sexuality is not simply about being sexless, but rather about marshaling our "potency" in such a way that is constructive as opposed to destructive.
In the first post that I wrote on these matters, I argued that a vigorous but respectful debate about morality is not only not hate, but is rather the very recipe for a just and well-ordered society. Every law on the books in some way dictates how we should (or should not) use our bodies (and yes, in some cases those laws do involve various sexual prohibitions… and some still do). The second post was written primarily to point out that there are different kinds of love, and that sexual love is only one kind of love, and should not necessarily be conflated with the others, lest it be introduced in every kind of situation and relationship.
As suggested before, this final post will be- more than anything else- dedicated to arguing why it is that Catholic teaching on sexuality (far from being hateful and irrational), is instead both logical and loving. It is interesting that when people go after Church teaching on these matters, they often denounce the Bible and the Church as wrong simply because it is ancient and therefore "Bronze age barbarism" (sounds "ageist" to me). I wish however to take a broader look at this topic, and present the best case available for the position the Church espouses. Reject it if you will, but do not say that there is no reason at all to hold this position. After all, I would not say the same of those who happen to oppose me on this issue.
What convinced me of the Gospel's teaching on sexuality...
The truth is the Bible is neither right nor wrong because it is "old", nor is it true or false because someone happened to be in a desert when they wrote it (sounds "desertist" to me). The question is whether it makes sense logically and practically to believe it, and whether or not there is a substantive reason why so many people have found solace and meaning in these "desert scribblings".
In any case, I am not a Biblical fundamentalist, and I do not believe these particular things about sex, love, and marriage only because they are in the Bible (or in any other place), I believe them because they are rational, make a lot of sense, and can be expressed quite cogently and concisely in language that is both clear and demonstrable- not to mention rooted in the natural law (which is a method of understanding based on Greek philosophical tradition).
As a matter of fact, when I initially returned to the Christian Faith, it was not because I "felt Jesus in my heart". To the contrary, despite my own wishes to the contrary, I found myself seeing the rationality of the moral teachings of the Church in spite of not feeling anything even approaching a bunch of warm "fuzzies" for Jesus (no offense meant to the "warm fuzzyists" out there). Thus, I reverted to Christianity not because it suited my agenda (it didn't), but because, despite my own proclivities, I found that it was true. And even more importantly, as difficult as it was to practice, when I did begin to practice it in full, I slowly began to discover the true meaning of peace and joy, a consolation that had eluded me for so long.
|The opposite of me...|
Our current status as a society...
In former times, when the sexual ideal wasn't reached, we at least recognized the ideal was still the ideal. Today the ideal is that there is no ideal, and the only real sin is believing that sin actually exists. And this might be fine, were it not for the fact that human beings do have a nature that cannot be ignored, we do have a conscience that isn't simply conditioned according to time or place (i.e. murder and cowardice may exist in a society, but they can never really be regarded as truly progressive principles), and when that nature is denied in any substantive way, terrible things begin to happen in the culture. In truth, my only virtue in this whole ordeal (if you could call it that) was the fact that I ultimately wanted to be happy, and was willing to sacrifice my own comfort for a much higher one. This has always been the struggle, but now the truth seems even more muddled amidst this house of carnival mirrors that I like to call dogmatic subjectivism.
My main goal here is not to get into a bunch of details about sex, or provide a long litany of moral "don'ts" (there are plenty of ways to go wrong with sexuality, and many of those exist within the context of marriage itself). What I will attempt to argue is why- as a society- we should be careful about drawing equivalencies between marriage as it is has been formerly understood, and all other types of committed arrangements. I bring this all up not to start a fight. In fact, I did not bring it up at all, it was rather introduced by a number of activists looking to turn it into a civil rights issue, and they were thoroughly successful in doing so.
I will therefore attempt to argue my thesis from a scientific standpoint, a legal standpoint, and a religious one. All of the explanations I provide should hopefully contribute to a deeper understanding of the meaning and purpose of sexual intimacy, and why it can only be described as an act of true love (agape) when it is set in the context of a sacramental marriage open to life.
The Argument from Science and Nature (and Bill Nye)
Consider how much of our popular culture is built on the premise that we can utterly gorge ourselves on sex- while simultaneously modulating the pro-creative element to suit our appetite for it. Consider the content of TV, music, and movies since the dawn of effective forms of birth control. Would the majority of those story lines have even been possible were it not for the proliferation of the Pill? Compare the family arrangements on sitcoms prior to the sexual revolution to the ones after (Three's Company, Friends, 21/2 Men, Modern Family). I do not think this "evolution" of sex and family is an accident. And this doesn't even include the numerous shows built on the premise of divorce and broken families. Is there even a market anymore for a Family Ties, a Cosby Show or a Growing Pains? Which brings me to my main point.
We have reached the point in our society where we have embraced gay marriage as equivalent to traditional marriage, not simply because we are more open-minded and/or sensitive than our predecessors (which I think is progress in many ways), we have accepted it primarily because there is hardly any discernible difference between the two types of relationships in our present world (or any other arrangement for that matter). Sex is had, and babies are (sometimes) added via methods which quite often are entirely divorced from the sexual act itself. And so when babies do arrive as a result of sexual intercourse, they only come to the extent they are desired and/or intended (a luxury that abortion provides). If sex and babies do happen to coincide with sex, so be it, but that is only a secondary consideration. As a consequence, the same-sex and opposite sex couple are practically indistinguishable from one another. Heterosexuals may have the extra faculty of fertility, but psychologically and in practice both couples essentially perceive things in precisely the same manner.
Nevertheless, imagine for a second we lived in a world where we shunned artificiality at its deepest level, where we rejected- on the whole- the systematic effort to replace the real with the virtual/artificial, (a consideration which is once again becoming more and more popular- at least as it relates to food and nature in the generic sense). In the midst of this simple imaginative exercise, perhaps it is possible then to perceive a very simple truth. There is no living arrangement on the face of the earth which breeds greater happiness, as well as emotional confidence, than does a family from whence children spring as a consequence of sexual intimacy between two committed spouses. The fact that some marriages are bad no more changes the recipe for success than does a bad cook make a good recipe a bad one by trying it and failing. The happiness of children that actually come from the union of flesh between a man and a woman, and who grow up in an environment wherein both parents are committed at the deepest level to their goodness, is the very recipe for sanity and success.
From the standpoint of nature, children are a "marriage" of the flesh of a mother and father. Consequently, it is optimal for them to be joined to the very ones from whence they came; both for identity purposes, as well as for developmental purposes. Love does not equal "love" in this regard. Children require a strong maternal and paternal influence (or so dictates nature). This is not a bunch of desert scribblings, this is psychology 101. Headline: Children are happier with both a mother and father. All of this is rooted in the complimentary nature of the sexes, a bond which creates that tiny little community we call the nuclear family (it is the "nucleus" of society). Break that down and you break down society as well. Call me a desert scribbler if you like, but you may as well call nature a bigot while you're at it.
Notice Mr. Nye says nothing about the general value of homosexuality on an evolutionary scale- other than to say, well, it's there, and that he has known homosexuals who have married and had children. He then discusses a spectrum of sexuality, and admits that everyone probably falls somewhere on that spectrum. All this too say, from an evolutionary point of view, we are biologically (based on our sexual organs) designed to be heterosexuals who, on occasion, have tendencies that fall outside of our natural design. However, from a purely Darwinian point of view, homosexual actions serve no biological purpose (other than perhaps limiting the species). Ironically, it is only on a religious and moral level that the homosexual person takes on real quantitative and qualitative value (i.e. they are beloved children of God).
Indeed, from the perspective of human design and natural law, the answer is obvious. Things do not exist in nature in order not to function, and if they do exist in this way, they will not exist for long. What endures from an evolutionary point of view are those things which are most fruitful, generative, and adaptive. By contrast, those things (and actions) in nature which are intrinsically sterile and fruitless are self-negating, and thus self-eliminative. Yes, it is true that artificial contraception as well as artificial conception (IVF, Surrogacy, etc.), have complicated this issue in our mind, but remove these mechanisms from the discussion, and the truth becomes all the more obvious.
The word "marriage" is first and foremost not a legal concept; it is rather, as it were, pre-legal. Indeed, the distinctive bond that exists between a man and a woman (and their potential offspring) is so thoroughly unique and distinctive (not to mention essential) that humans chose to ascribe a name to it, (not the other way about). This is how and why words are made. This word "marriage" does not find its origins in some vague and abstract modern notion of commitment, but rather in a concrete physical and biological reality that was, prior to the advent of birth control, practically indisputable.
This is not a religious truth, it is a linguistic and biological one, borne out by the fact that none of us would be here, including homosexuals, were it not for this solitary and exceptional relationship. The word itself is simply an affirmation of what the eyes and intellect already confirm. The world could exist without homosexual behavior, it could not exist without the family as constituted by a mother and father. Stating this is not meant to hurt anyone, but there are some things that can and do hurt people if we willfully ignore them.
Surely if Dolce and Gabbana can testify to this (individuals who themselves are openly homosexual), then it can hardly be a form of bigotry to say what two homosexuals by their own admission are freely willing to admit; "The only family is the traditional one. No chemical offsprings and rented uterus: life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed… A child needs a mother and a father. I could not imagine my childhood without my mother. I also believe that it is cruel to take a baby away from his mother." Understandably, they have backed off some of the harsh verbiage, which admittedly could have been expressed in a more charitable manner, nevertheless what they have spoken (as have others), is something anyone can recognize, assuming one is willing to admit what is patently observable.
But why then would a government take sides when it comes to any relationship at all? In the past governments have defended so called "traditional marriage", not because of their great devotion to Chuck Woolery, but because the society at large perceived a vested interest in their success (which is why the sin of adultery was a crime in some states). If the family is depleted, then surely the body politic will go down with it (like in the case of a poverty-ravaged ghetto). Any society that replaces this deeply rooted psychological and social bond with some sort of loosely affiliated collection of individuals seeking to mimic the former, will surely fall prey to the powers of the State. Thus, it is through the solidarity of the family, and the values therein, that a healthy counterbalance can be created to the prerogatives of the State.
Consequently, the reason the State should defend marriage is not based on religion at all, but rather the very rational and practical goal of creating a happy and healthy society not enslaved by that self-same government. For if the family isn't healthy by its own right, then who else will bring health to it? But then what about those who will in any case live on the margins of society? A society with strong communities and good families is far better equipped to help those on the margins then are those in government, who, more often than not, practice a one size fits all approach. Is that not preferable to a society where everyone is in essence living on the margins, and thus we are beholden to an excessively paternalistic government? At the very heart of Christian charity is the notion that anyone in real need is to be helped regardless. Without this natural sense of solidarity, the state would find itself more and more inclined to answer every need, not as a last resort, but in the name of the worst kind of surrogate of all, Big Brother.
To repeat, there is really only one compelling reason that the government has ever been invested and involved in the success of the traditional family, and it has nothing to do with the government being some sort of bureaucratic cupid- it is rather because it has/had a clear and plain vested interest in the success and perpetuation of the very society that it was charged by families to govern. In the past the government has "preferred" these relationships, not due to its profound affinity for sweet romance (though that obviously helps), but in the name of the very thing that law exists to protect: the common welfare and stability of the state.
This doesn't mean that it is acceptable to persecute someone on account of rejecting these values, nor does it mean that individual liberty should be rescinded thereof (this is not Geneva after all), but neither does it mean that the government should regard every commitment, no matter what it may be, as something which is equally beneficial to society. After all, the government can be permissive about certain kinds of relationships without drawing false equivalencies and/or investing in them.
However, now that same-sex marriage has been successfully re-branded as an equal rights issue, the Supreme Court, it would seem, has thoroughly painted itself into corner. For, after this ruling, how can they possibly turn around and deny anyone else the right to define their relationship however they so choose (this logic is already being tested). Moreover, thanks to this dubious decision, this generation (and the subsequent ones) will be raised by (and in) a culture whose formula for marriage, family and sexuality is utterly undefinable. In light of all this, who can say, including homosexuals themselves, how marriage and family should be defined? Now does this sound like the recipe for love and mercy (e.g. to subject children to that kind of moral confusion)? Which brings me to my final point...
The ultimate question is not whether two homosexuals can love each other. Of course they can and do! The question is whether sodomitic acts (among others) can ever be regarded as part of the program of agape love. There is no doubt that affection can exist between people who identify as homosexuals, but do the sexual acts themselves constitute anything deeper than the desire that originally begat them?
Moreover, does the act of sex between two men or two women dignify or elevate them in any way, or rather does it not denigrate and undermine the genuine bond of friendship that may already exist between them? To put it another way, can anal sex, or strapping one on (as they say), ever be a sign of agape/divine love, or is it not simply a frustrated attempt to make reality conform to the shape of our/their particular erotic or emotional desires? And notice I have not even brought up the genuine medical concerns that frequently arise from engaging in activities that involve using the body in ways that it was never designed to be used.
I have directed this post primarily at same-sex relationships, but of course this applies to everyone. For by the same token, sex cannot be an act of love when two individuals are willing to jeopardize the other's future by engaging in "hetero-sex" outside of marriage? And what about the potential child who may grow up in a home without both parents? You might call it a calculated risk between two people who have affection for one another, but agape? Is it "love" to say with the body "I give you all of myself", but in reality to mean something that falls considerably short of that?
|The Jersey Shore "hook up" board|
Yes, I know what I am saying will be rejected by both heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. Why? Because Church teaching on these matters demands sacrifice on everyone's part. Thus, it's easier to dismiss what I am saying as impossible and go about the business of mediocrity than it is to take it seriously, or as G.K. Chesterton once put it; "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found very difficult and left untried." I am here to say that it is possible to live chastity, and that in spite of all the sacrifices I have made in the name of it, I am truly happy because I have learned to manage my passions, and order them according to their purpose. Nevertheless, it might be fair to quote Gloria Steinem in this case; "The truth will set you free… but first it will piss you off."
The theology of marriage in a nutshell...
If God is the creator of humanity, then biology and theology would seem to be two sides of the same coin. Thus, from the perspective of Christian marriage, sexual intercourse is a sacramental sign, it is an extension of the wedding vow, wherein both parties "become one flesh." Moreover, the vow, combined with physical sign (i.e. consummation), is meant to embody the eternal marriage (and fruitfulness) that exists between Christ and his Church. Can any other form of sexual activity and penetration be considered a sacramental sign in the same sense? And if so, what might it represent in those cases?
Surely there is more to sex than mutual consent among adults coupled with amorous feelings. For the Christian, eros must always be placed at the service of agape in order for it not to be abused. If one opts to ignore this imperative, then there really is no criteria to set limits on it at all. Yes, determining legality in these matters is important (i.e. mutual consent), but surely that can't be the highest ideal for love.
Subsequently, sex is meant to be much more than a basic expression of mutual affection- it is rather a visible sign of something far more concrete and permanent; a Trinitarian symbol which must include a permanent vow of fidelity (not just in heart but in body). This is why Catholic theology prohibits artificial birth control/prevention, for without at least a minimal openness to life, the act itself represents (or at least begins to represent), nearly the opposite of its original purpose, an act of willful barrenness, which in time actually becomes an antagonism towards its original end (both biologically and supernaturally).
Sex is about uniting partners in a permanent bond, but when sterility is imposed on the act, the action subsequently becomes (almost) indistinguishable from any other sexual expression, which is one of the reasons why we are where we are today.
Seen in this context, we can then begin to imagine why and how the word agape could become attached to the action of sex (and not just the feeling of love). By opening one's self up to the full implications of sexual intercourse, both parties must also recognize the full responsibility that is borne (both literally and figuratively) of that communion. Indeed, there can be nothing flippant about this kind of commitment, a commitment which fuses the two together in a life long project that is all more binding by the addition of this tiny third person. This new life that is introduced requires an "all in" approach for the optimal psychological, emotional, and spiritual welfare of the child. And why must we be so meticulous about this new person? She is tomorrow. In this sense sex means pleasure and joy, yes, but also sacrifice, duty, and a responsibility that goes well beyond that physical bond of affection. There are obviously relationships that can embody sacrificial love, but this is the only one that is literally meant to "embody" love.
In a more global and practical sense, sacramental marriage is an act of true equality, whereby the two halves of humanity, meet in a veritable anthropological summit of the sexes, a pact/peace treaty, designed to bring harmony to the yin and the yang of human existence (as opposed to perpetuating the battle of the sexes). But even more than that, it fulfills in an unparalleled way the need for a biological communion with the opposite sex, a communion which nature (for whatever reason), has inscribed into our bodies from birth, and endorsed and blessed above all other forms of intimacy as a means to perpetuate the human race.
The fact that a married couple, for whatever reason, does not get pregnant during intercourse, does not then vindicate every other sexual act that is of its nature sterile (a position which would serve to ratify just about every sexual act), for in one case the action can never bear fruit, whereas in the other case there is always the potentiality for it (at least in principle). One act is designed towards that end, whereas every other is designed (or rather is not designed at all) for pleasure without its biological purpose. These two approaches to sexuality can hardly be regarded as equivalent. It is a bit like saying on a multiple choice test that all answers are correct simply because in some way they all resemble one another.
Even when the couple cannot conceive a life together the sexual act still holds value, for the communion of the flesh, and the consummation of the two sexes, still enriches the couple as well as society through the strengthening of their bond. And since (presumably) the openness to life is still present, there is if nothing else a powerful solidarity in their mutual sorrow and desire for new life, a disposition which is quite different from those situations where sterility is inevitable (though admittedly one may still grieve their baroness in those situations as well). That being said, infertility can pose a genuine challenge to the couple that experiences it, for the reality of raising a child (a child that represents the communion of their flesh) unites them in a common destiny, one which is the clear manifestation of the union of their flesh.
Conversely, when it comes to homosexual acts, it is not just that they are incapable of generating life that is at issue here. There is a much deeper problem. Whatever one thinks of the validity of homosexual acts, they can never be regarded, at least from a natural standpoint, as behavior that in any way even begins to imply the generation of life (to put it gently). To put it another way, homosexuality could be described as a form of sexual redundancy, which is not complimentary, and is thus not generative.
However, this is what the law tells us to accept to today. We believe in essence we can re-engineer reality, and that no matter what we put in the equation, as long as it matches our collective desires, it is true. It is amazing how much people honor both science and nature today, yet they cannot/will not recognize the basic fact that the two approaches cannot be regarded as equal simply because, to quote Woody Allen again, the "heart wants what it wants." This is neither good law, good science, nor good religion.
However, the biggest problem with the argument for gay marriage is, well, the argument for gay marriage. In other words, gay marriage proponents argue for the rejection of the old order because they perceives it to be inevitably close-minded and anachronistic. Yet in doing so it holds itself up for the same critique. You cannot establish a new authority by simultaneously borrowing from and ridiculing that same authority. If Biblical marriage does not hold, then it doesn't hold… and thus the new definition doesn't hold either. Why? Because the new definition is deriving its power and credibility from its apparent resemblance to the old; the very one that it is holding up to scorn. By defending the most recent version of marriage as the new absolute, you then become the latest close-minded bigot, on the logical decent to do away with marriage altogether. Indeed, if "traditional marriage" is no longer the standard bearer for how we are to envision marriage and family, then by what authority do you now refuse anyone's definition of love, sex, and marriage?