Marriage Ends in New York, An Ancient Struggle Continues

by James Matthew Wilson on July 1, 2011 · 74 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Culture, High & Low,Politics & Power

cuomo

Devon, PA. As my latest pair of essays on FPR scrolled across the screen, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was keeping the family legacy alive of undermining the obligations of public officials, Catholics, and all persons to live, act, or govern in keeping with the natural law.  For reflections much more informative and significant than the motorcycling glee about the Stonewall, I direct the reader to the following articles.

In an interview with National Review, Robert George weighs the significance of New York’s institution of “Gay Marriage.”  The legislation effectively ends marriage as a reality in a state whose populace had de facto ceased to recognize the centrality of marriage to the life of persons and society long ago.  George observes of the two most powerful executives in the state:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the state’s two most powerful and influential politicians, plainly buy much, if not all, of the ideology of sexual liberalism and publicly lead their lives in accordance with it. Although they claim to be supporters of marriage who merely want to “expand” the institution (or expand “access” to the institution) out of respect for what they regard as the civil rights of people to have their romantic partnerships (whatever their shape) recognized and legitimated by the state, both are reported by New York media to openly cohabit with women with whom they are not married. They do this not in defiance of their stated beliefs about sexual morality and marriage, but in line with those beliefs. Neither supposes that he and his mistress are setting a bad example for children or undermining the public’s faith in important marital norms. As orthodox sexual liberals, neither the governor nor the mayor believes in a conception of marriage in which marriage is normative for sexual partnering; indeed, neither believes in norms of sexual morality as traditionally conceived, even apart from any question about same-sex partnerships. Both regard “civil marriage” as nothing more than the legal blessing of romantic partnerships, and neither gives any indication of ever having remotely considered an alternative view. Both have so thoroughly absorbed the premises of sexual liberal ideology that the possibility of an alternative doesn’t cross their minds. For them, it is all a matter of “us urbane, sophisticated, tolerant, open-minded, defenders of civil rights, against those ignorant, intolerant, hateful homophobes.”

Reflecting on the similar strategies pursued by the homosexualist movement in Canada, which has largely reordered public life in that society as a perpetual therapeutic boosterism of deviance, and that of the United States, Canadian writer, John-Henry Westen, wisely returns our attention to the central question of all our public debates on marriage — and what should be the central question on all our debates regarding sexual ethics, namely,

to teach the truth that homosexual acts are perilous to the body, and especially to the soul. To fail to do this would be to fail to address the heart of the matter.

In most people’s minds, arguments about the goodness of (heterosexual) marriage and raising children can be accepted right along with homosexual ‘marriage.’ Arguments that gay “marriage” will be a detriment to society, or that we should not alter traditional definitions, are tangential. The core issue is the Church’s loving concern for those individuals who are putting their bodies and souls in danger with illicit and dangerous sexual practices, and society’s encouraging such behavior with the title of ‘marriage’.

Do we care enough about our friends, neighbors, and family members to save them from this and other dangers to body and soul?  Or do we follow Locke, Jefferson and Mill in reducing morality to the “break-my-leg” test?

The argument against homosexualism is fundamentally a contest against the reign of voluntarism, the reign of desires furnishing their own justification against reason, the natural purposes of our being, and the conditions in which we dwell.  For those who doubt that the homosexualist ethos wounds the soul and kills the body, I recommend (per an FPR reader), this painful personal essay by a Catholic who has lived with homosexual tendencies for many years and who has suffered greatly in consequence.  The candor and poise he is able to maintain in the essay is greater than most of us could manage.  Speaking from long experience, Ronald G. Lee writes,

For those who are tempted to engage in homosexual acts, the view from the street is also consoling. It makes life as a homosexual look safe and unthreatening. Normal, in other words. Sooner or later, many of these people will stop looking in through the window and go inside. Unlike the first sort of window-shopper, they won’t be distracted by the books for long. They will soon discover the existence of the porn section. And no matter how distasteful they might find the idea at first (if indeed they do find it distasteful), they will also notice that the porn section is where all the customers are. And they will feel sort of silly standing alone among the books. Eventually, they will find their way back to the porn, with the rest of the customers. And like them, they will start rooting through the videos. And, gentle reader, that is where most of them will spend the rest of their lives, until God or AIDS, drugs or alcohol, suicide or a lonely old age, intervenes.

I would rather my essays for FPR attended to questions that more obviously addressed the interests, much less met with the approval, of those who would undertake the preservation and promotion of local culture, local agriculture, and livable urban and rural communities.  But these things cannot be maintained on their own; important though they are in themselves, they have largely been destroyed through the libido dominandi that leads to the denaturing of the human person from orientation toward the one true happiness, and the deracination of human desire through the globalization of a state and marketplace that is in principle governed by amoral laws.

Unless we restore devotion to the foundational units of human existence — the family clan as moral arbitor and domestic church; the local parish as the oracle of God and the templum reserved for the contemplation of absolute truth; and the small community as the stage on which we fulfill the inveterate ambitions of our political natures by debating the nature of and means to the Good Life — then we may possess nothing else good in this life.

In losing these binding communal institutions, we may of course gain apparent goods.  One can live in a world made to the order of one’s unbridled will for days or decades.  And one can transfer one’s worship of the God of Order, Love and Justice to one of license, “fairness,” and “equality.”  But we are all called to more than this as social animals and rational animals: as beings, in other words, made in the image of God and incapable of living well with anything less than a certain vision of the Trinity — those Persons who model for us what a real and perfect community looks like.

We are called to a condition of self-giving rather than one of wilfull domination.  The most ancient wisdom has always taught us as much, but our age reveals us to be a distinguished people: one even less capable of learning from past wisdom than from the present truth of our rational souls and limited bodily natures.  As we tarry in this condition, we spend the cultural capital of Christendom, and sooner or later we are, to paraphrase Maggie, going to “run out of other peoples’ cultural capital.”

Matthew Schmitz justly argues, in a new essay on the First Things site, that the significance of the events in New York and elsewhere lies not in the apparent victories of those who would destroy by redefining marriage.  Such persons will not exactly be perpetuating their ways by having many children.  The significance of the marriage debate, then, lies chiefly for those who are having children, who do believe in the meaning and moral significance of human life, and who care about perpetuating the great legacy of Christian culture.  Such persons have the opportunity to respond to the outrages against vocabulary and nature by recovering the battered traditions of family, parish, and town.  As a society declines, it is only the faithful remnant who prepare for its regeneration by finding new ways to give voice to ancient wisdom.  Given that most Americans still believe, in principle, in the integrity of marriage and recognize, however vaguely, the costs of the sexual revolution, we have reason to hope that the seeds of such regeneration, given time, will take root and flourish.

{ 73 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jesus July 1, 2011 at 12:54 am

“Or do we follow Locke, Jefferson and Mill …”

Well, there’s a no-brainer. We follow the same foundation on which this country was founded.

avatar Joe July 1, 2011 at 7:43 am

You know, hasn’t the fundamentalist “Christian culture” you promote here done more than anything else to undermine…Christian culture? Some of the most Christian people I know aren’t anymore, and some of the most Christian people I know happen to also be gay and raising children to be good, moral people. And I know plenty of heterosexual married couples who’s morality and child-rearing practices leave a lot to be desired.

avatar J P July 1, 2011 at 9:31 am

“Such persons will not exactly be perpetuating their ways by having many children.”

Perhaps not. But they will adopt which I suppose to be rather like buying a sack of groceries, setting it on the back porch, and declaring oneself to be farmer.

avatar lesigh July 1, 2011 at 10:31 am

Robert George’s political talking points are carbon copied from the Republican Party and go out of their way to espouse a classical liberal economic ideology — getting the government out of the markets and our wallets, but when it comes to bedrooms and personal choice…where does he think the groundswell for personal economic liberation came from? Hint: it was around in the 60s and involved a lot of deviance.

avatar J P July 1, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Joe,

Words have meaning. Take fundamentalist for example. Mr. Wilson’s article cannot be described as fundamentalist, either according to the meaning intended when the word was coined in the early twentieth century or following the more recent pejorative sense of the term. In the first usage, fundamentalists are radical adherents of a particularly rigid scriptural hermeneutic. Such a hermeneutic is foreign to the arguments made here, especially the argument from natural law. In the second usage, fundamentalists are radical and doctinaire reactionaries. That this article is critical of current developments is not sufficient to reckon it reactionary and few terms could be so unfitting here as radical.

Christian is another important and oft misunderstood word. Christian does not mean “good person”. This seems to be the assumption made in the first part of the phrase, “Some of the most Christian people I know aren’t anymore”, i.e. “Some of the [best] people I know aren’t [Christian] anymore”. Yet the idea that some of the best people aren’t Christian was likely just as true before anyone had ever heard of a “fundamentalist Christian culture”. There are a great many very good people in the world and all of them cannot be Christians, though I daresay Christians can claim a fair enough number. A Christian is an adherent to a particular religion. This religion does not teach them to claim to be the best people, rather it teaches them to pray, “Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. The Christian who follows this teaching most closely would be the first to accept those whom you know as better people than they are. But Christian who lacks this humility does not cease to be an adherent to his religion.

Likewise, no one has claimed that “heterosexual” means good. I am certain that the experiences of many others can confirm that there are heterosexual couples whose child-rearing practices leave much to be desired. The question is not whether there are people who fail at a practice; the question is what the best practice is to undertake. Some parents are good and some parents are bad, but the predicates good and bad do not change what is substantially indicated by the word “parent”.

Finally there is one more word which has recently been subject to an ‘outrage against vocabulary’. This word is “marriage” and it too has a meaning.

avatar Wilgus July 1, 2011 at 1:35 pm

To Joe,

The fundamental point is not ‘what’ one’s choice (sexual) is, it’s that the choice to follow after one’s passions over/against the above discussed values. The argument is that the philosophies sexual liberation championed in New York lend themselves to all people, regardless of sexual preference. For a heterosexual male, taking the message of such free sexuality could mean not staying faithful to his spouse, seeking out pornography or (worse) choosing a life of free sexuality without marriage. Either way, the family is degraded.

The point is that sexuality is not ‘free’. It always comes at great cost.

avatar JonF July 1, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Marriage did not “end” in New York. Good grief, have a couple vodka and tonics and chill over the weekend!

Wlgus: in what sense has New York endorsed a sexual free-for all? Seems to me gay marriage is deeply conservative inasmuch as it promotes the old rule that people who are having sex ought, ideally, be wed to one another, at least in the eyes of the law if not in the eyes of God. Maintaining gay people as a class of sexual outlaws is what send the opposite message: Go ahead, gays, make all the whoopee you want, we don’t care and we won’t make any resonsbibility demands on you. Straight people see that, and get the message that maybe they should live loose and free too.

avatar Joe July 1, 2011 at 5:41 pm

All interesting points. And the word “natural” has meaning too, and it’s thrown around here in a very fundamentalist way, no matter how much JP wants avoid that label. Hence Wilgus’ conception of sexuality as a choice.

I fail to see the logic of how allowing gays to marry degrades families. But then again, I’m operating with a more inclusive definition of “family”, I guess. Help me understand this.

avatar Joe July 1, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Well said, JonF.

avatar AML July 1, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Joe, what is a “fundamentalist way”? And how does “nature” mean in such a way? It would be nice if you would define your terms for us, so that we know what you mean by them.

avatar Joe July 1, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Let’s just use Wikipedia here:

Fundamentalism – Strict adherence to specific theological doctrines typically in reaction against the theology of Modernism.

Nature – Refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general.

How many hundreds of species in nature exhibit homosexual behaviors again?

avatar BMoney July 1, 2011 at 10:23 pm

One way in which “gay marriage” undermines traditional marriage is by removing the reason for marriage to be limited to two people. The state has traditionally taken an interest in marriage in large part (but not exclusively) because marriage between a man and woman is naturally ordered toward procreation (even if some heterosexual couples due to age or infertility do not procreate). When a man and a woman engage in intercourse, the state has an interest in ensuring that they are engaging in intercourse in a mature and responsible way, and aware of the lifelong responsibility they will have to raise any child born of their sexual activity. It is this unique biological unit of man/woman that creates life, and it is therefore in the interest of the state to create an institution designed to protect and secure marriage of two people (man/woman) as a public good.

In contrast, gay sex is inherently infertile, and is not ordered toward procreation. As a result, there is no objective reason for the state to limit gay marrige to two people. Other than for health reasons, the state should really not care whether 2 or 3 or 10 gay men are having sex – there is no possibility that any of them will get pregnant. In short, once the definition of marriage is expanded to include gay marriage, the state no longer has an “objective” reason to limit marriage to two people; it is only a matter of convention that marriage is still so limited.

In this way, mariage, when understood to include “gay marriage”, becomes discriminatory against polygamists and polyamorists (who are consenting adults who love each other and just want the state to recognize their commitment to each other). If two gay men can get married, why can’t 3 or 5 or 10 gay men get married? If marriage is understood to include gay marriage, the state’s primary interest in promoting marriage is no longer the procreative potential of marriage (how could it be if gay couples, whose sexual activity is not oriented towards procreation, are just as married as heterosexual couples?). Instead, the state’s primary interest in promoting marriage is to create stable relationships, which are good for communities and economies (and in some cases may produce children naturally or through adoption). If the state’s primary interest in marriage is to create stable relationships, why should the state’s interest in stable relationships be limited to relationships between two consenting adults, instead of 3 or 5 or 10 consenting adults? If marriage is really just about “personal preferences” and not about biological realities, there is no reason for the state to give greater weight to the preferences of two sexual partners rather than 3 or 5 or 10 sexual partners.

This gets us to another way in which “gay marriage” undermines marriage. Since gay marriage is inherently infertile and is not ordered toward procreation, there is no reason for the state to care if gay couples “consummate” their marriages (if that’s even possible?). From the perspective of the state, it doesn’t matter if a gay couple is having sex or not (except for health reasons, perhaps) because a gay couple can never have kids as a result of their own sexual activity. In this way, gay marriage removes sex as a fundamental dimension of marriage. Gay marriage is just state recognition of “friendships” which need not be sexual because they need not be ordered toward procreation.

By turning marriage into state-approved “friendship” that is not ordered toward children and is therefore not fundamentally linked to sexual union, gay marriage also removes any substantial reason for the state to oppose several types of intra-family marriages of adults (brother-brother, mother-adult daughter, etc.). If you ask most people, they will say that a brother and sister, or father and daughter, should not get married because of potential health risks to their children. But now with gay marriage, why can’t two biological brothers, or a mother and her adult daughter, get married? The brothers can’t have children, and neither can the mother/daughter, so there should be no health concerns related to their marriage. Of course, the marriage of two siblings, or a parent and child, may destroy family dynamics, but why should two people who love each other be denied the right to marry just because of social taboos. No one should impose such limitations on them or tell them how to structure their families – they are consenting adults who love each and want to spend the rest of their lives together. Isn’t that what gay marriage is all about?

In my view, the expansion of marriage to include gay marriage is, as Robbie George said, the end of marriage, because marriage has now lost its objective meaning. State sponsored marriage is now just state recognition of personal preferences, not state recognition of the procreative potential of the union of man/woman. To acknowledge that the sexual activity of man/woman is far more important to the state and to humanity than the sexual activity of two men or two women is self-evident, and yet it is the very thing that gay marriage buries by claiming that man-man sex is just the same as man-woman sex.

avatar Rob G July 1, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Wikipedia is hardly the idea reference for explication of theological and philosophical terminology.

“How many hundreds of species in nature exhibit homosexual behaviors again?”

Yes, and many urinate, masturbate and copulate in public and throw their feces around. Is that the kind of “natural” behavior you’d like us to exhibit?

Sodomy is a dirty business. Besides AIDS, perhaps you should look into why hepatitis is so widespread in the male homosexual population.

‘Marriage did not “end” in New York’

Oh, but I’m afraid it did. When a word is redefined out of all relation to its previous universally held meaning, you have not only ruined that word, you have ended the institution it stood for. “Marriage,” both the word and the thing, no longer mean what they used to.

If we can redefine marriage w/r/t the sex of its participants, is there any reason why we cannot redefine it w/r/t to number, or age, or even species? After all, if nothing makes the man/woman limitation of the thing unbroachable, what makes its “twoness” unbroachable? Or if a man can marry another man who’s 20 years old, why not one who’s 14? The “age of consent” is pretty much arbitrary isn’t it?

avatar Anymouse July 2, 2011 at 12:25 am

Indeed. It is indeed utterly natural and traditional to accept sexual relations with those who have reached puberty. I imagine that those who support gay marriage will argue that a relationship involving an adolescent is inherently unequal. Which is proven plainly false considering the number of adolescents who have robbed liquor stores, served in the military and labored to support their family. At the end of the day this babble about equality obscures one essential thing: the question is not one of equality, the question is one of morality.

avatar JonF July 2, 2011 at 1:21 am

Re: Marriage did not “end” in New York’
Oh, but I’m afraid it did.

So when “Christian” was redefinied to include Protestants as well Catholics it lost its mean? How about when “citizen” was legally redefined to mean blacks as well as whites? Did “Citizen” lose all meaning? Or when “elector” came to include women as well as men?

In very ancient times there was a Hebrew word encompassed all flying animals, birds as well as bats, and another word for marine animals, including both fish and whales/dolphins. Was biology different when the Bible was written, or are the sillier atheists right and the Bible is nonsense?

As I said, tip back a couple stiff ones, sleep in late, and get over it. In the course of my life the US governemt, the governments of the several states, assorted foreign governments and (a time or two) the Lord God have done things I disappoved of. Guess what– the world didn;t end. Grow up, get over it and quit acting like Chicken Little on meth!

avatar JonF July 2, 2011 at 1:28 am

Re: If we can redefine marriage w/r/t the sex of its participants, is there any reason why we cannot redefine it w/r/t to number, or age, or even species? After all, if nothing makes the man/woman limitation of the thing unbroachable, what makes its “twoness” unbroachable?

As to the latter, we redefined citizen/elector to include black folk and women. So far as I know no one has yet proposed we redefine the word so number is irrelevant and people can vote plural time in the same election.
A store that refused to sell to blacks (or any group) would be in serious legal trouble. A store that runs a sale ad “One to a customer” is not in danger of legal trouble.
I can easily conceive of a reality where there are three, four, n genders– or none at all. I cannot conceive of a reality where 1=2. Gender (not to mention race) is an accident of biology. Number is one of the most profound categories of existence there is.

avatar Joe July 2, 2011 at 7:45 am

And around and around we go. We can deconstruct language all day long here, but at the end of the day, marriage hasn’t ended in New York. It’s been redefined, and in a way that’s more inclusive and welcoming. In a way that, I would argue, is more “Christian” than the narrow fundamentalism written above.

So, I’m off to have breakfast with my wife. My marriage hasn’t ended at all. And later this summer, I’ll watch one of my best friends marry his long-time partner. His marriage is beginning, not ending at all.

Now, about that drink. Enjoy the holiday everyone. And gays in the state of New York, enjoy your new liberty.

avatar Anymouse July 2, 2011 at 12:19 pm

It would be more appropriate to say that marriage ended a long time ago throughout every blue country and the American States that are similar demographically (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Countriesbyfertilityrate.svg) , and New York is just the culmination of that.

avatar Rob G July 2, 2011 at 12:56 pm

JonF misses my points as to both the “word” issue and the “number” issue. Totally expected, actually, as liberal nominalists and conservative realists have precious little common ground on which to stand.

The “number” thing will be easier: If the traditional understanding of marriage as being limited by the sex of the participants is merely conventional and arbitrary, why wouldn’t the number of participants also be merely conventional and arbitrary? If a man can marry a man, why can’t he marry two men, or a man and a woman? What is sacrosanct about the number that’s not sacrosanct about the sex of the participants? No one is recommending changing the value of the numbers, for God’s sake.

That’s nice, Joe. Call us fundamentalists then run away. Enjoy your time with your married friend. In 20 years no doubt you’ll be spending your holiday with a lesbian threesome who have married a baby seal and a rubber plant.

avatar Kevin July 3, 2011 at 1:32 am

Rob G – you’re doing a parody right? You can tell us all now, it’s ok.

avatar AML July 3, 2011 at 10:49 am

Rob G has a point in that no one in this com section has given any objective reason why marriage shouldn’t include more than two people.

The only responses have been red herrings and ad hominem.

Conceptions of marriage throughout history have included polygamy, but never before has it been thought that two dudes can get married.

Sure, two dudes can have some fun times together and even love each other, but they are biologically incapable of that thing that marriage has always been about, i.e. making babies to continue the family into the next generation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFBOQzSk14c

avatar Carson July 3, 2011 at 10:53 am

The comments on here prove to me that the center cannot hold. Liberals and those of us who seek to preserve the natural family will never compromise our positions. The sheer volume of liberal attitudes on this subject present at this ostensibly “traditional conservative” site makes me inclinded to think those who operate under the far right “Alternative Right” banner aren’t that bad after all.

If fundamentalism means opposition to “modernism” then I suppose I’m a fundamentalist. And proud of it.

avatar Anymouse July 3, 2011 at 12:38 pm

“If fundamentalism means opposition to “modernism” then I suppose I’m a fundamentalist. And proud of it.”

Agreed.

avatar Rob G July 3, 2011 at 1:12 pm

“Rob G – you’re doing a parody right? You can tell us all now, it’s ok.”

Abso-freakin’-lutely not. I’ve been asking that same question of pro-gay marriage advocates for about 5 years and have yet to get a logically coherent answer.

Why is the number 2 magical with regard to marriage but M+W is not?

avatar J P July 3, 2011 at 6:31 pm

“If fundamentalism means opposition to “modernism” then I suppose I’m a fundamentalist. And proud of it.”

I heartily agree with the sentiment behind this statement, but I must note that fundamentalism is not opposed to modernism. Fundamentalism, at least if by this we refer to the Christian fundamentalism which arose in the US this past century, is as modernist in its assumptions as the several ideologies called progressivism. This statement might seem counterintuitive, but I should at least like to offer three points in its favor, for the consideration of those courteous participants in this discussion. First, Christian fundamentalism is highly pietistic in its religious practices. Christian fundamentalists consider the relationship between the individual believer and God as the most important aspect of religion. Certainly, one carries out what are called the ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s supper, but one only does so in an obedience which follows from the already present spiritual relationship. The ordinances publicly confirm that relationship, they do not establish it. Homosexual marriage is parallel to this in spirit, for it is a natural extension of the current modernist, indeed progressive notions of marriage. The marriage given by the state is the public confirmation of a prior relationship based upon the personal feelings of two consenting adults. The so called marriage does not establish that relationship. Contrast both of these with the older sacramental tradition where the relationship between God and man is realized in the Eucharist and the relationship between husband and wife is realized in the sacrament of matrimony. Further, the sacraments of communion, marriage, unction, baptism, etc., all rely upon specific, concrete elements which cannot be changed one for another. In the sacramental tradition, having two men marry makes as much sense as having communion with pizza and Coca-Cola (you might think I merely kid about this latter, but I can tell you stories). Fundamentalism and progressivism share an anthropology foreign to the sacramental tradition; neither sees matter as redemptive or even, in any real sense, meaningful. In this, both ideologies are children of modernism.

Second, fundamentalism is a modern phenomenon. This is a somewhat lighter point, but it deserves notice. Search the whole of Christian tradition and you will find nothing quite like it. It is true that American Christian fundamentalism arose in reaction to modernist and historical critical readings of scripture, but this does not make the phenomenon any less modern. The reaction to the modern threat accepted the central premise of that threat: that Christianity could not be reliably true its scriptures did not contain infallible truth and if that truth were not accessible equally to all. The fundamentalists, as near well as I can tell, never bothered to examine the writers and saints who, over many centuries, had already addressed these questions. There nothing more radical than a reactionary.

This brings me to a third point. In nothing is fundamentalism so modern as in its rejection of the authority of tradition. In this, of course, it takes a peculiar understanding of the older doctrine of sola scriptura to its logical end, but that is neither here nor there. A fundamentalist who picks up the Bible assumes that he, as an individual, can discern religious truth in it in much the same way as a physicist assumes that empirical data is the source of all natural truth. Certainly physicists are willing to recognize the accomplishments of their predecessors and will often hold to their positions as well. But if a modern physicist agrees with Einstein about general relativity, this is because he accepts an argument Einstein happened to make, not because Einstein happened to make it. Should this physicist find some new evidence or some flaw in the older argument, Einstein must be pushed aside in favor of the argument made by this new individual. Likewise, the Christian fundamentalist cares little for the interpretations on Genesis given in the Haexameron or de Genesi ad litteram. Why should a twenty first century exegete listen to St. Basil the Great or St. Augustine of Hippo when the Bible says, “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made”?

To be cured of modernism we must recognize the wisdom of our ancestors, we must understand the common heritage of modernism’s progeny, and, above all, in the specific and concrete we must learn to see the sacramental. Fundamentalism, I fear, can help us to accomplish none of these things.

avatar JonF July 3, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Fundamentalism might more appropriately be convicted of scientism– in its insistence that religious truth must be literal and factual, leaving no room for the mythic and mystical channels by which we can approach God.

Re: JonF misses my points as to both the “word” issue and the “number” issue. Totally expected, actually, as liberal nominalists and conservative realists

sigh. Don’t peg people into slots when you know next to nothing about them except some throw-away comments on a blog (by the way I’ve also been called a “Fundamentalist” in other quarters for affirming the Resurrection and the Incarnation. Oh well). And meanwhile do you really take issue with my statement that number is a more profound category than gender– gender being merely biological and an accident of natural history, while number is older than created reality, a true category in the mind of God? Can YOU conceive of a reality without number? Note that that renders even the Trinity meaningless, which is big clue how impossible it is. (On the basis of this you can probably stick me with the Pythagroreans who also thought there was something divine about number– there’s your error in understanding anything I’ve said. Because I reject Scholasticism and most of Aristotle that underlies it you see me as a “modernist”. Well, there’s more to the heaven and earth of human thought than is dreamt of in your binary system.

avatar nancy July 3, 2011 at 7:28 pm

This is not a rhetorical question. If the word “marriage” were replaced with another, would the more traditional and conservative among this readership be mollified? Just curious. I notice that the word “homosexual” is used by Mr. Wilson comfortably but accusatorially– in my lifetime “faggot”, “fairy” and uglier descriptors of our fellow human beings, have evolved to the use of the word “gay”, which seems to be a settled term, at least for now. Are we discussing the confiscation of the word “marriage”, or the differently lived and loving arrangements people make in order to give hope and meaning to their earthly lives. Short as they are.

Is not love a universal positive? Particularly as it incorporates a wider reach across human pain and need. And hope and faith as well. “Marriage Ends”? No, it does not. Of course not.

avatar J P July 3, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Nancy,

Do you mean a term like “civil union”? If so, I suspect some few would be mollified, but only a few. Of those who would remain unhappy, I think we would find not only the traditional and conservative among this readership, but a great many homosexuals as well. I say this not because the dispute is not merely over a couple of syllables, or even over the legal issues attached to the term, but also the social status, legitimacy, and great weight of meaning the word marriage carries. Those homosexuals who see sexuality as constructed social discourse would be, according to this principle, quite right to continue the dispute until they attained not only the legal status, much of which could be attained by private contract anyway, but the discursive victory as well. To give social legitimacy by calling a same sex legal union “marriage” would be to overcome part of the heterosexist discourse which acts as a sort of unjust soft oppression. I do not think that an honest and courageous person who holds to this view, and who advocates the equality of sexual expression, can be satisfied with anything less than this. I hope I have not been unfair in this characterization (I welcome any correction on this matter from those who actually advocate same sex marriage), but I think it accurate. If I am right, and it will not be enough for those who fight most energetically for same sex marriage, then it is somewhat less significant whether it will satisfy folks on the other side of the debate (though I do not think it will) inasmuch as the debate will continue just the same.

As for the pejoratives you mentioned, I could not agree with you more that they are instruments used with ill intent toward our fellow human beings. This is a terrible thing itself but in addition they add nothing to the debate. I confess, however, that I detected no accusation in Mr. Wilson’s discussion. He only used the word a couple of times and for all I can tell he (as I often find myself doing) is merely searching for a word to describe a thing without undue offense.

As for love, the problem here is that the term is ambiguous. Here, famously, the Greek language help to clarify matters but, fun though it would be, to carry this conversation on in Greek would be problematic given the state of Greek vocabulary with regard to words such as ‘homosexuality’. Suffice it to say, however, that I would point out that different sorts of love imply different sorts of relationships. I can love my country, love an old tree, love a dog, love a stranger, love my brother, love my parents, love my wife, and love my God. A saint can love a stranger as his own parents, but to love a sibling as a wife is incest and to love a tree as God is idolatry. I will not speak of other possible combinations. Love is a universal positive, but the question is how the very positive universal, Love, ought to be carried out in the particular loving relationship to best answer that human pain and need. I would submit that this is not a purely subjective question but that individual human pains and needs are related to the universal human condition.

avatar nancy July 3, 2011 at 9:29 pm

JP–Thank you.

I realize that “civil unions”, for whatever reason, is not a useful term for “both sides of the aisle”. I simply wonder that if we could “imagine” another word to describe what truly happens in our neighborhood of fellows, if that might not help put the argument to rest. The word “gay” did that, for many, in the last however many years. Could we not create another term for the reality of same-sex commitments which often (believe it or not–my April22 comment here at FPR illustrates this) include child-rearing and certainly life-long attachments? I believe that would be kind and possibly helpful, as well as respectful. :-)

avatar nancy July 3, 2011 at 9:38 pm

JP–Also, as a somewhat traditional “mom” I am busy making dinner, so I will come back to your comment later with more attention. I will tell you though, that the lesbian ladies/moms next door are doing the same for their lovely family. Regards.

avatar nancy July 3, 2011 at 9:53 pm

JP–forgot. Namaste. Truly.

avatar Anymouse July 3, 2011 at 10:03 pm

“gender being merely biological and an accident of natural history,”
Indeed it may be, but it is an essential part of our existence. Biological reality forms us and rules us without any concern for our desires, only ironclad physical facts. We would be loathe to reject it as unimportant. After all, biology is how nations are reproduced.

avatar Nick Elrad July 4, 2011 at 12:52 am

@Rob G and BMoney:
I have a response to your “numbers” argument that is neither a red herring or ad hominem. The reason that the state should continue to support marriage as a union of two people, whether that be a homosexual or heterosexual union, is because, and here come the “naturalism” argument that you conservatives like to use so often, binary systems are some of the strongest in both natural and human history (e.g.: diatomic molecules, the typically stronger relationship shared by twin siblings, the double-stranded structure of DNA that allows life to exist as wonderfully as it does etc…).

A union of two people (again, either homosexual or heterosexual) allows the marriage to retain the close, personal, intimate and private aspects of it that are required for a healthy relationship to last any significant period of time. That is what the state should be considering when assessing marriage law, not the ability to procreate, not the adherence to “traditional” values, not necessarily the number of people involved, but the ability of the relationship to last in a healthy, productive way.

I think I can say without much argument that a happy relationship can be directly associated with people being productive members of society. As a relationship as serious as marriage is supposed to be can be the central institution in an individual’s life, the welfare of that institution will take precedence over other aspects of their life such as their job, their community responsibilities, their adherence to the law, therefore, having a stable marriage is central to people being good citizens, which should be the focus of the state. Because, as I have stated before, a marriage of two people will be much stronger and healthier than, say, a marriage of three or four, the state will have a continuing interest in keeping the definition of marriage confined to the union of two people. Two men can have a happy, stable, functional marriage just as two women or a man and a women can but the addition of that third person will throw off that balance, derail the intimacy, expose the privacy and ruin the marriage, which will in turn have a negative impact on the social productivity and general welfare of all parties involved and THAT is the concern of the state, where the state has jurisdiction.

As to the question of why, then, can’t a mother and daughter or father and son or same-sex siblings get married, the answer is quite simple. The responsibilities that a mother has to her daughter differ quite drastically than the responsibilities that an individual has to their life partner (hetero or homosexual). The same goes for fathers and sons and same-sex siblings. If you don’t believe me, just ask any of the thousands (perhaps millions, I don’t have accurate statistics in front of me at the moment) of incestual abuse victims walking around. When one tries to incorporate the sexually intimate and other private aspects of a marriage into an already existing familial relationship both sides of the relationship are destined to fail with mentally traumatizing side effects for one if not both of the parties involved. That is why, quite obviously, a father and son, mother and daughter, or same-sex siblings will never be able to marry.

avatar JonF July 4, 2011 at 7:05 am

By “accident” I did not mean “random (and maybe unfortunate) mischance”. I meant “product of the contigency of natural history”.
And be careful in claiming that “biology rules us”. That reduces us to materialistic automata. Human are indeed creatures of the flesh, but they are more than just creatures of the flesh.
Also, “nations” do not reproduce, individual men and women do. Nations only “reproduce” by spawning daughter nations, as Britain did wth the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand– and that’s actually quite rare in history. Nations sustain themselves across the generations (I think that’s what you really mean) by inculating their culture in each new generation born in their midst. “Nation” after all is cultural category not a biological one.

avatar Anymouse July 4, 2011 at 10:43 am

“Nations sustain themselves across the generations (I think that’s what you really mean) by inculcating their culture in each new generation born in their midst. “Nation” after all is cultural category not a biological one.”
True, but it helps to have a good size amount of native born. I consider it a bad sign to have a birthrate exceptionally low. I would note that the Faroe Islands with their relatively high fertility rate of 2.42 have the highest rate of adoptions in the world. Modern Japan with it’s 1.21 fertility rate has one of the lowest. I do think these show that the damage to marriage and the family has deeper roots than homosexuality, but that does not make gay marriage good.

avatar JonF July 4, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Re: True, but it helps to have a good size amount of native born.

Some small fraction of the population is gay, and I cannot see how gay marriage could increase that fraction*. And in any event a nation like ours, with 300 million people in it, is in no danger of dwindling to extinction anytime in the foreseeable future. Of all the reasons to oppose gay marriage this is by far the most specious: that so many people will marry a partner of the same sex that it will affect the birth rate. And if these natalist fears were really grounded in reality, ought not an even larger target be religious celibacy, something most of us here honor?

* Moreover some gay people do want children and do what they must to have them. My cousin and his partner in Boston thus have a son.

avatar Anymouse July 4, 2011 at 4:47 pm

“Some small fraction of the population is gay, and I cannot see how gay marriage could increase that fraction*. And in any event a nation like ours, with 300 million people in it, is in no danger of dwindling to extinction anytime in the foreseeable future.”
I am not singling out gay people, but simply pointing out that gay marriage seems to be an extension of many modern and negative trends.
It ultimately comes down to this: has modernity really been a great improvement over the traditional societies that prevailed before 1500 and 1900, or is it a decline? I feel the answer is the latter.
And that goes to show how entangled these cultural affairs are with material affairs. It were the great material transformations of those times that eventually wiped out traditional society. Our physical relations are important, and should not be treated as lightly as so many have. Sitting Bull knew that the destruction of the buffalo would destroy his culture.

avatar Rob G July 4, 2011 at 5:56 pm

~~~Because I reject Scholasticism and most of Aristotle that underlies it you see me as a “modernist”.~~~

Yup, seeing that a rejection of realism lies at the root of modernism. That’s all well and good, but I notice that you still haven’t answered my question. Which is no surprise.

avatar JonF July 5, 2011 at 5:49 am

Re: Yup, seeing that a rejection of realism lies at the root of modernism.

At this point “modernism” appears to be a throw-away insult, just like “fundamentalist”, a quickie esacpe hatch by which you dismiss those who disagree with you, thereby saving you from having to actually address their arguments.
Are you really trying to tell me that everyone who disagrees with Aristotelianism is a “modernist”. You’ve got most of western philosophy (not to mention the Eastern Fathers of the
Church) spinning in their graves with that one. But at least I’m in good company. As for your question, please restate it. I see nothing in your former posts but a lot of rhetorical tropes and non sequiturs.

Re: It ultimately comes down to this: has modernity really been a great improvement over the traditional societies that prevailed before 1500 and 1900, or is it a decline?

Back in those “good old days” something like half the children born died before they reached adulthood. Now, this is no longer true, not even in the worst of the Third World. If you can’t call that a good thing, and well worth the hassles of modernity it entails, then I find your ethical system very strange.
I am an Orthodox Christian; I revere tradition and I am happy to learn from the past– I do not make the error of assuming that people today are smarter, or that wisdom entered this world the day I was born. But I am also under no illusions about the failings of the past, and I know darn well that 21st century America is a better place to live than the Empress Irene’s Constantinople.

avatar Rob G July 5, 2011 at 8:50 am

I’m an Orthodox also, and I’m not a Thomist. However I am convinced that Enlightenment modernism is the result of the West’s rejection of realism and the acceptance of nominalism. Thomism is not the only legitimate manifestation of realism.

My question is: If the traditional understanding of marriage as being limited by the sex of the participants is merely conventional and arbitrary, why wouldn’t the number of participants also be merely conventional and arbitrary? If a man can marry a man, why can’t he marry two men, or a man and a woman? What is sacrosanct about the number of participants that’s not sacrosanct about their sex?

avatar Carson July 5, 2011 at 8:53 am

“Back in those “good old days” something like half the children born died before they reached adulthood. Now, this is no longer true, not even in the worst of the Third World. If you can’t call that a good thing, and well worth the hassles of modernity it entails, then I find your ethical system very strange.”

Not sure if you can call this a good thing because now we suffer from massive overpopulation which strains our natural resources and destroys our environment.

avatar J P July 5, 2011 at 10:43 am

“Back in those “good old days” something like half the children born died before they reached adulthood. Now, this is no longer true, not even in the worst of the Third World. If you can’t call that a good thing, and well worth the hassles of modernity it entails, then I find your ethical system very strange.”

We must absolutely be thankful for the technologies which have saved so many; they are gifts of God and triumphs of the God given reason of man. I am puzzled, however, by the phrase, “well worth the hassles of modernity it entails”. If I read this aright, and forgive me if I misrepresent, it presupposes that because these technologies developed alongside the modern world that there is a necessary connection between modernism and these technologies. There is, however, no necessary connection here. There is no cum hoc ergo propter hoc. It is not at all improper to be both thankful for the technologies and critical of the hassles, or occasionally the horrors. If we cannot oppose the evils of an age because it has some good, we may never oppose evils because all ages have some good. Ours is certainly not special in this regard.

Further, I would certainly agree that “modernist” can be used as a throw away insult but, then, so can “Aristotelianism”, “Scholasticism”, “Platonism”, and, for reasons I cannot begin to fathom, “Orthodox”. A word abused does not cease to have some value. When we come to a word like modernism, the problem arises that it seems to have a great many meanings. I think that if we consider one definition given by the OED, we will not wonder why this is so. “modernism, n. 2. Modern character or quality of thought, expression, technique, etc.; sympathy with or affinity for what is modern.” If this tautology is what the word is commonly taken, then a new notion of modernism must arise with the advent of every new modernity (a rather frequent occurrence, so far as I can tell). We may as well call this “nowism” or “newism”. I do not think, however, that critics of modernism are primarily critical of the puerile fascination with what is new because it is new. This position would not be worth criticizing and, what is more, no self respecting modernist would hold it. An honest and reflective defender of the modern defends it not because it is new but because he believes what is new has something about it that is better than what is old, e.g. modern technology or science. Likewise, I think that the one who attacks modernism does not need to do because he should prefer to live under the Empress Irene and has a greater love for that age. Rather, the wise critic of modernism criticizes because this modern age contains something he loves: Church, family, friends, country. Since he loves these, and he wishes the best for them, he accepts graciously the good gifts of this age but he criticizes harshly all its peculiar drawbacks. These drawbacks which are peculiar to the modern age he calls modernism and criticizes modernism especially not because other ages did not have their own, perhaps sometimes even greater sins but because the sins of the present are the present threat to those whom he loves.

I would hold that there are things worthy of both praise and criticism in this age. Orthodox though I may be as well, I would not want to live in so harsh an age as that of Basil the Bulgar Slayer. I am glad we no longer carry out our foreign policy in the manner he found most effective. Yet, neither do I believe that I need to accept the words of a Madeline Albright who says, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it” or any of the more recent individuals who order drones to drop bombs on often innocent human beings (also known as collateral domage). The very personal tortures inflicted in that former age deserved criticism, but so do the very impersonal policies of our age.

Besides all this, I think people mean something more specific when they speak of modernism than the above OED definition would indicate. Since folks have started to use the term as the target of criticism, shortly after it became the subject of praise, it has with fair regularity been used to indicate a few marked peculiarities of our age. I would enumerate them thus: 1) extreme individualism and the isolation of human beings; 2) the consolidation of all legitimate loyalties and authority to state or supra state institutions, and the concomitant rejection of the legitimacy of traditional, religious, and familial loyalties; 3) the creation of a mass and non local society and culture; 4) the commodification of all human desires; 5) the commodification of humans; 6) the rejection of traditional ethics, morality, and aesthetics; 7) the relativization of all truth claims. Perhaps another would add or take away something and as I look over this little list I realize that all points may be implied in each point. Indeed, I would invite a more succinct diagnosis of the problem. At any rate, these things seem to me to be the main target of those who would attack modernism.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins July 5, 2011 at 6:03 pm

At almost any point in human history, there will people who celebrated that “modern times” had arrived. Then, the next generation did the same. If there is any word that is relative, it would be “modern.”

This is a topic where my politically libertarian principles clash with my cultural conservatism, as any two principles inevitably will do at times. I don’t buy that any or all heterosexual marriages are somehow harmed or denigrated because a same-sex couple can get a “marriage license.”

I do think there are some undoubted truths getting lost in the argument. Male and female are distinct, objective states of human existence. Without expensive, complicated, and still not perfectly reliable surgery, each of us is what each of us is. There is a reason that when we got rid of “separate but equal” restrooms for people designated “white” and “colored,” we retained separate, more or less equal, but differently designed, restrooms for males and females. There is even talk that women’s bathrooms should be more equal than men’s, for plausible functional reasons.

Sexuality obviously exists as a relation between male and female. That was settled before the United States Constitution was written, in fact, before the first human walked the earth. It is not subject to judicial review. Homosexuality is a statistical outlier, a deviation from the norm. On the other hand, it seems to occur among a minority of humans in every generation. I don’t know why we need to be hard on those individuals who are so inclined.

Churches are amply protected by the First Amendment and the judicial standard of Church Autonomy in Matters of Faith and Doctrine. The more shrill, fearful voices, and the more shrill, triumphant voices, don’t really understand that, and it may take some litigation before the more hard-headed acknowledge it, but the legislature and the courts have NO jurisdiction over whether any given church will host, solemnize, or recognize the civil union of two persons of the same sex, whether or not the state calls it a marriage.

avatar Anymouse July 5, 2011 at 6:29 pm

“Back in those “good old days” something like half the children born died before they reached adulthood. Now, this is no longer true, not even in the worst of the Third World. If you can’t call that a good thing, and well worth the hassles of modernity it entails, then I find your ethical system very strange.
I am an Orthodox Christian; I revere tradition and I am happy to learn from the past– I do not make the error of assuming that people today are smarter, or that wisdom entered this world the day I was born. But I am also under no illusions about the failings of the past, and I know darn well that 21st century America is a better place to live than the Empress Irene’s Constantinople.”
But can we disentangle the things which led to the lives of infants being saved from the things which lead to abortion? I am afraid we cannot. It is a sad thought, but I think we must consider it.

avatar JonF July 5, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Re: But can we disentangle the things which led to the lives of infants being saved from the things which lead to abortion?

Specifically abortion? Maybe. Much of the developed world has more restrictive abortion laws than the US does. Our own hyper-liberal abortion regime is a historical accident.
But as to the larger issues that this website addresses, like modern rootlessness, the decline of the extended family, and of old-fasihoned communities– no, there I think it’s a package deal. We get a more humane world in return for a more alienating one.
My own answer is to turn instead to my faith, and to seek to be a citizen of that other Realm which is, really, our true community and our true family anyway.

avatar JonF July 5, 2011 at 7:55 pm

JP:

I believe there is indeed a connection between modern science/technology and “modernism”. Consider: the various civilizations, as they have embraced science and technology, have all seen similar cultural and social results in the larger picture: old authority is questioned, tradition disrupted, communities fragmented, family attenuated. There are reasons for that. Science teaches us to question, and to give no weight to appeals to authority. And technology makes it possible for everyone freedoms which only the rich once might have enjoyed, if even they.

Divorce for example: Marriage was formerly cemented together by sheer necessity– life was hard, its daily tasks burdensome, and opportunities for diversion and entertainment were rare. People needed family in the home, because living alone was terribly difficult and lonely, so much so that true hermiting was an ultimate ascesis and even most monks lived in communities.The rich of course could afford to put spouses aside (as among the ancient Romans and Byzantines) because they had slaves to do the grunt work of life, and they could afford outside diversions. But ordinary people could not. Then in the 20th century we found ourselves with labor saving devices of all sorts, with entertainment technologies and long-distance communications and living alone ceased to be so burdensome (likewise, servants became far less common). So people found they no longer needed incompatible or disagreeable spouses and they clamored for relaxed divorce laws and took advantage of those laws, and of the lesser social stigma against divorce too.

This is but one example of many– I could connect the dots with just about any example of modernist alienation you care to name. Abortion– the procedure is now medically safe, and relatively pain free, while the cost of raising children has skyrocketed, and the economic benefits of doing so have cratered.

I don’t want to make this too deterministic– I don’t believe in such rigid theories of human behavior– but add to our sin-stained nature the ability to do as we please with lessened consequence, and it’s not hard to see where we will go.

avatar JonF July 5, 2011 at 8:08 pm

RobG:

Forgive my earlier rudeness.

However I do believe that I answered your question earlier by pointing out that Number is a far more profound category than Gender, and even giving real-world examples wherein we modified our institutions to be gender-blind but would not consider modifying them to be number blind (e.,g, voting, whereby the fact that we let women vote after 1920 would never be an argument for allowing people to vote plural times in the same election).
As a practical matter too polygamy has been shown in the real world not to work well, and to have deleterious consequences for both women and low-status men. The Middle East, which still allows this sort of thing in the name of tradition* (along with preferential marriage of close kin) is a very object case in point.

* Tradition is not always a good thing. One of the 365 corollaries of Murphy’s Law is that There’s Nothing More Respectable Than An Ancient Evil.

avatar Rob G July 5, 2011 at 8:35 pm

JonF, that’s all well and good, but it offers no counter whatsoever to the modernist/secularist who may be bent on polyamory. He is likely to consider a rather arcane mathematical idea no more convincing than the traditional/realist approach to sex and marriage which Christianity teaches.

Likewise, the practicalities of the thing don’t matter much in the face of ideology. One of the primary features of modernism is the attempt to make reality fit the theory, rather than the other way around.

avatar J P July 5, 2011 at 9:12 pm

JonF,

Thank you for pointing this out and I do agree with you. Indeed, I could not agree more with you about the question of divorce. These material concerns you note are as important as our daily bread in shaping our actions and no complete anthropology can deny them. If I were inclined like so many politicians and academics to wish my schemes be implemented as policy upon poor, unsuspecting subjects, regardless of the human cost, I might wish a longer depression and a bankrupt government so that people would learn to love family again. But, then, that is exactly the sort of foolishness one expects from politicians and academics who are often distant from those costs.

Your reluctance to “make this too deterministic”, even as you recognize how quick we are to act when lessened consequence increases the temptation, however, also expresses my sentiment. A balance is always difficult to strike. For it was never my intent to deny any connection at all, just as it is not yours to deny any freedom. What I deny is the “necessary connection” for what I fear is that the cum hoc ergo propter hoc will be used to say that we *must* accept the bad with the good. That road leads to a paralyzing fatalism. Nor do we have to rid ourselves of all the good to be free of the bad. That road leads to servitude. Certainly, the same modern science which was used to give us penicillin was later used to give us Plan B, but whether we had to do accept both is another question altogether. I can imagine a world where precisely because we are using penicillin to save the lives of babies we would not understand the purpose of Plan B. We can say this did not happen, for we are fallen. We can say it is unlikely to happen in the future, for we are weak. But to say we cannot imagine it is to deny altogether the possibility, to admit that they were somehow necessarily connected, and to lose hope. That “the poor will always be with us” does not mean it is necessary that people be poor, nor does it excuse us from trying to alleviate their plight. The poor will always be with us because we are moral creatures, with all the responsibility this implies. The same goes for the technological wonders (θαύματα, one might even say) which have saved so many lives. Modern science allowed us to develop technologies which could save and technologies which could destroy, but this does not mean it necessarily follows from modern science that we shall both save and destroy. We may have instead chosen to see the new discoveries as merely interesting trivia, like the discoveries and subsequent impractical inventions of Hero of Alexandria.

I must modify, however, one small remark. I do not think it is science as such which has taught us to reject authority, as much as the propaganda of the age might suggest. The “scientism” you pointed out earlier, perhaps, but not science. I’ve known folks in the sciences, who very precisely because of the departmentalization of knowledge in the sciences, tended to take as dogma the conclusions of others in respectable scientific fields. The astronomer might well trust the climatologist precisely because spending all his time on astronomy he hasn’t the time to become a climatologist and so trusts the authority behind his degree and institution. I suspect that those problems you have cited have much to do with consumerism, with its worship of profit, individualism, and competition, than with any iconoclastic tendencies of scientific research. Perhaps industrial capitalism and its spawn, consumerism, have done much to fund scientific and technological development, but that does not mean we need to blame scientific and technological development for their ills. Nor, since we are moral creatures, do we need to reject science and technology altogether (though, perhaps a bit more skepticism is in order) as we criticize other aspects of the modern world.

Best regards,

JP

avatar JonF July 6, 2011 at 5:45 am

Rob G,
I’m not sure I follow you here. If polygamy is a bad thing, and we can point to the real world cosnequences of its badness, then that is how we say No to the would-be polygamist. Same sex marriage is simply irrelevant to the matter, as much so as interracial marriage is. And note bene: I am using the word “polygamy” deliberately, since it means “plural marriage”. Polyamory, your word, is simply “plural loving” (and an awkward Greco-Latin hybrid), and that sort of thing has been legal, and in some eras even of Christendom, quite tolerated– see: Charles II (the Merry Monarch) and his palace full mistresses, as one of innumerable examples.

avatar Rob G July 6, 2011 at 12:31 pm

“If polygamy is a bad thing, and we can point to the real world cosnequences of its badness, then that is how we say No to the would-be polygamist.”

Justifiers who rely on theory can always maneuver their way around the alleged negative practicalities of a thing.

“Same sex marriage is simply irrelevant to the matter, as much so as interracial marriage is.”

Might want to talk to your priest about that. If he agrees with you, change parishes.

Same sex “marriage” has a moral component that interracial marriage does not, in that the activity being condoned is inherently sinful by the long-standing, near universal witness of the Christian tradition. It’s no surprise to me that secular society wants to approve it; what’s amazing is the number of Christians who are willing here to offer the pinch of incense to Eros.

avatar George Marshall July 6, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Wilson: Given that most Americans still believe, in principle, in the integrity of marriage…

I am not disputing the voting patterns cited by the article, but wonder how long those will hold and your “good reason to hope…” On May 20th of this year, Gallup reported that, for the first time, a majority of Americans [53%-45%] support gay marriage. Just last year, those numbers were reversed [53% against, 44% for]. The article showed a graph with clear trend lines from 1996, with support for SSM rising and opposition declining. Support for SSM among Catholics, according to the Public Religion Research Institute is even higher, 56%. [My apologies for not giving web page addresses...too technologically challenged.] If the ship for SSM has not sailed, it is certainly weighing anchor.

avatar Jennifer Krieger July 6, 2011 at 4:54 pm

What is this “homosexualism”? Are the practitioners homosexualists?
Sounds like …never mind, not polite.
Best to you all.
Especially Nancy, she has good sense.

avatar George Marshall July 6, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Rob G: What is sacrosanct about the number of participants that’s not sacrosanct about their sex?

Same sex “marriage” has a moral component that interracial marriage does not, in that the activity being condoned is inherently sinful by the long-standing, near universal witness of the Christian tradition.

What does one have to do with the other? Polygamy became an issue in the US in the mid-1800′s when the LDS endorsed it. The argument against multiple wives was independent of any argument for SSM. Why wouldn’t the same arguments against multiple marriage partners apply regardless of the sex of the partners? JonF essentially argues the same thing to which you responded that justifiers can get around theory. But they haven’t so far, nor have they in states that allow SSM.

You raise the moral component of the argument: homosexual acts are inherently sinful. You state the arguments against interracial marriage do not have the same component. But, when there were laws against interracial marriage, arguments were made that such unions were contrary to natural and God’s law [hnn.us/articles/4708.html]. Christian witness has been against homosexuality, but that is changing. Sometimes Christian witness has changed in a good way: ending slavery, for example. Isn’t it possible that this is a slower coming but equally good change?

Other than your contention that polygamists can use SSM to justify polygamy, what harm does SSM pose to heterosexual marriage? How does it harm society? Aren’t 2 people in a committed marriage, regardless of gender, better than 2 who are simply living together? There is nothing stopping a free love commune of 6 heterosexuals from moving in next door is there, even though the universal Christian witness might disapprove? Why isn’t a marriage between 2 individuals regardless of gender, who state they choose this vehicle to express their sexuality, better than 2 individuals cohabitating?

avatar JonF July 6, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Re: Justifiers who rely on theory can always maneuver their way around the alleged negative practicalities of a thing.

People can justify anything to themselves, up to and including mass murder. But justifying things with negative consequences to their fellow citizens is a lot harder, most especially when those citizens have no desire to enagage in the behavior themselves. A person who wished to keep large cats (as in lions, tigers) as pets could argue that lots of people keep small cats (felis domesticus) although they are also predators and can occasionally injure people seriously. I very much doubt however the argument will hold much water.
Ultimately in political matters arguments about the real world are the most powerful and most valid ones around. All the delicate theorizing about slavery’s evils acheived far less beside Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the witness of real slaves testfying to the Peculiar Insitution’s brutality. And that is as it should be.

Re: Might want to talk to your priest about that. If he agrees with you, change parishes.

We are talking about civil marriage not the sacrament of Holy Matrimony (I thought that was clear). For the record, I would not favor same-sex Holy Matrimony (though I would support the Church reviving the old adelphopeisis sacramental for the blessing of same sex couples). As long as the state respects the Church’s sovereign rights to define its own sacraments and other ecclesial criteria, the Church should also reciprocate that wisdom by not trying to dictate to the state about matters of secular political ordinance.

avatar Amelia July 6, 2011 at 8:18 pm

Please note that homosexual couples are increasingly exercising their right to purchase eggs and sperm and to rent wombs in order to produce children. Some readers may not be aware of how commonplace this has become, and what a booming business it is for IVF “clinics”. There are, of course the high-profile cases of celebrities such as Elton John, but it is not uncommon NOW to see this happening in ordinary, middle class neighborhoods. The Guardian recently posted an interview with pop celebrity Ricky Martin who, having finally overcome the trauma of determining his sexual orientation, realized that his next task was to start acquiring children:

“…his thoughts were turning to family. He wanted children. And so he said: “OK, what are my options? Am I going to adopt? I just sat in front of the computer, doing research, until I found surrogacy, and I was like: ‘Woah! This looks really interesting.’ I interviewed so many people that were part of this beautiful world, and I decided this was going to be my way.” When he told his mother, “she was like ‘surr-o-ga-what? This is like a movie of the future, Rick.’ And I replied, ‘Well, Mom, we’re part of the future.’”

He found an egg donor, and another woman to carry the baby, but it was a closed surrogacy – neither woman knew then, or now, that Martin was the father. In August 2008 his twin boys, Matteo and Valentino, were born. He was determined to look after them without help, until his mother said: “‘You’re like a zombie.’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’m noooooooot’” – he pretends to fall asleep, mid-speech – “because I wanted to do it all.” He makes a loud snoring noise, and drops his head again. “And that’s when I said, ‘OK.’”

I ask whether he wants more kids, and he says he’d like “a daddy’s girl”. He’s going to be living in New York next year, playing Che Guevara in Evita on Broadway, and he plans to start the whole process again. “I’ll be steady in New York, and then, after I do the play, the baby [will be] born, and I’m going to be able to spend time with her.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/jul/03/ricky-martin-hated-force-come-out?INTCMP=SRCH

“This revolutionary revolution is to be achieved, not in the external world, but in the souls and flesh of human beings.”
— Aldous Huxley

avatar Rob G July 6, 2011 at 8:50 pm

“Sometimes Christian witness has changed in a good way: ending slavery, for example. Isn’t it possible that this is a slower coming but equally good change?”

No it’s not possible. Christian witness against homosexuality is universal throughout both history and geography. If you don’t believe that holds any weight, then by all means, turn it over. But don’t claim to be taking a Christian stance while doing so, when all of Christianity is against you except for the last 30 or 40 years.

“though I would support the Church reviving the old adelphopeisis sacramental for the blessing of same sex couples”

Please. It has been thoroughly rebutted that these were A) common and B) anything to do with homosexuality as currently understood. Your desire for charity is outrunning your commitment to truth.

“As long as the state respects the Church’s sovereign rights to define its own sacraments and other ecclesial criteria”

Good luck with that. When the Church gets in the way of the state, the state will have no hesitations in pushing it out of the way or rolling over it. You think the Faith is marginalized now…

avatar Rob G July 6, 2011 at 8:56 pm

“You raise the moral component of the argument: homosexual acts are inherently sinful. You state the arguments against interracial marriage do not have the same component. But, when there were laws against interracial marriage, arguments were made that such unions were contrary to natural and God’s law”

Laws against interracial marriage were never universal in Christendom, and came about as a result of the new so-called racial “science” of the 19th century. Up until that point it may have been considered odd, perhaps even distasteful, for an interracial couple to marry, but it wouldn’t have been considered inherently sinful. Such is not the case with sodomy.

avatar George Marshall July 7, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Rob G: No it’s not possible. Christian witness against homosexuality is universal throughout both history and geography. If you don’t believe that holds any weight, then by all means, turn it over. But don’t claim to be taking a Christian stance while doing so, when all of Christianity is against you except for the last 30 or 40 years.

Rob, at a certain point, one could make the same claim relative to slavery. In the late 17th century slavery was justified by Christians [www.religioustolerance.org/chr_slav4.htm], with few opposing it. Using Christianity to support it continued after that, but gradually Christians came to condemn it. If we were discussing slavery then, one could claim that except for the last 30 -40 years the Church supported slavery. I don’t dispute that Christian witness until just recently has been universally against homosexuality, but it is no longer universal and more and more Christians believe homosexual acts are not a sin. I never claimed that the 2 situations were exactly the same, but similar. I agree the condemnation of sodomy was stronger and more universal. It wasn’t until the early 70′s that homosexuality was removed as a personality disorder. At the same time, attitudes toward homosexuality are changing. Just since the late 90′s attitudes have drastically changed. I could not quickly find statistics by age group, but my belief is that younger individuals are even less likely to consider homosexual acts a sin. I don’t see anything that will reverse this change in belief.

avatar Rob G July 7, 2011 at 5:36 pm

The difference between slavery and homosexuality should be readily apparent. On the one hand Christianity allowed/tolerated (but never commanded) a non-inherently evil practice which eventually came to be seen as wrong prudentially. On the other Christianity universally condemned and prohibited a practice as inherently evil which modern secular society has seen fit not only to tolerate but to call good.
The two are miles apart and it does violence to logic to compare them and their respective histories, etc.

And by the way, the American South was wrong to equate their version of race-based chattel slavery with the long-standing Christian understanding of the institution. See Mark Noll’s book ‘The Civil War as Theological Crisis’ for more on this.

“It wasn’t until the early 70′s that homosexuality was removed as a personality disorder.”

Will you be cheering when in another 20 or 30 years pederasty or bestiality or coprophilia is likewise removed as a personality disorder? Don’t say it ain’t so, because I imagine that’s exactly what folks in the 50′s were thinking about homosexuality.

“my belief is that younger individuals are even less likely to consider homosexual acts a sin. I don’t see anything that will reverse this change in belief.”

Neither do I, except a revival of true Christianity and/or a mounting level of disgust.

avatar JonF July 7, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Re: On the other Christianity universally condemned and prohibited a practice as inherently evil which modern secular society has seen fit not only to tolerate but to call good.

Christianity condemned not homosexuality (the concept did not exist until the late 1800s), but rather “sodomy”, a specific sexual practice whose definition varied with time and place. It was not the fact of men loving men or women loving women that was held as sinful, but rather something or other that anyone (including husbands and wives) might do in bed.
By the way, early modern (and presumably medieval) Russia was quite tolerant toward what we would call homosexuality today. Western visitors in the 1500s and 1600s were duly shocked. It was Peter the Great as part of his westernizing reforms who made the first laws against male (but not female) coupling, and even those applied only to the clergy, the army and the new civil service.
Christian history on this matter is much more varied than you assert here.

Re: Will you be cheering when in another 20 or 30 years pederasty or bestiality or coprophilia is likewise removed as a personality disorder?

This is silly, and quite beneath you. Slippery slopes are often quite sticky instead. We ended slavery but we still own animals after all. We let women vote but not two year olds, or housecats. “Appeals to the outrageous” are one more subcategory of the fallacy of irrelevance.

avatar JonF July 7, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Re: Please. It has been thoroughly rebutted that these were A) common and B) anything to do with homosexuality as currently understood. Your desire for charity is outrunning your commitment to truth.

Probably not common, with that I will agree. But the evidence of history is indeed that many of those blessed with this rite were together as lovers. In the late 18th century you get St Nectarios of Mt Athos complaining about the rite because those it joined were cohabiting in carnal fashion, and the Church of Greece later discontinued it precisely because of this (which didn’t look good to the West).
To be sure, I would disagree with Boswell that this rite was a “gay marriage”– that’s trying to shoehorn something into a purely modern definition for polemical purposes. And yes, the rite might be used for political purpose “bothering” those who hated each other’s guts (Richard I and Philip II of France– they even had a public bedding staged to seal their short-lived bond). But marriage too could be of that sort. The fact is that the Church once saw fit to bless love between people of the same sex. You are free to believe whatever you wish about history, but I have no patience myself for the modern habit of denialism about awkward facts. It’s bad enough humans are blind to the futures– they shouldn’t wilfully render thsmelves blind in the other direction as well.

avatar Rob G July 8, 2011 at 7:38 am

Sorry JonF, but just like fornication, sodomy is still a sin as far as the Church is concerned. Ask your priest. No amount of arcane historical sophistry can change that fact.

“This is silly, and quite beneath you. Slippery slopes are often quite sticky instead.”

This would be true if it were a slippery slope argument. But it’s not. What it is is a recognition that the very same moral and legal argumentation used to promote homosexuality can (and will) be used to promote these other perversions. You libs can’t just magically draw a line and say “Here and no further!” Once the arguments are allowed for homosexuals there’s no way to prevent other “oppressed” (perhaps) less desirable groups — NAMBLA anyone? — from using the same arguments.

As I said above, the juggernaut of the sexual revolution will not stop at the establishment of queerdom, and Christians should have nothing to do with it.

“Rob, my level of disgust with you is mounting.”

Sharon, you’ve obviously confused me with someone who gives a damn.

avatar Carson July 8, 2011 at 8:32 am

regardless of whether us younger folks see homosexuality as a sin or not, plenty of us still find it the epitome of disgusting.

avatar Carson July 8, 2011 at 8:36 am

and likewise, you are forgetting that younger people are loathe to believe in sin period, believing it to be an outdated and “judgemental” concept.

most young people I know want lovey-dovey, “tolerant” religion which embraces everything yet stands for nothing and makes them feel “spiritual” while they go on living the same narcissistic lives they always have, doing what they damn well please, and priding themselves on how “open minded” they are.

avatar James Matthew Wilson July 8, 2011 at 9:24 am

More wise words on the distressing developments in New York. This time, from Archbishop Dolan: http://blog.archny.org/?p=1349

avatar Rob G July 8, 2011 at 11:15 pm

“…it is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down an edifice, which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the common purposes of society, or on building it up again, without having models and patterns of approved utility before his eyes.” ~~~ Edmund Burke

Burke here was talking about certain aspects of government, but surely it applies even more to a societal institution like marriage.

avatar Joshua July 10, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Why do we Christians march to war over the “gay marriage” debate, crying out that the institution of marriage and the strength of the family will be crushed underfoot, when divorce has already done a fair amount of damage already?

Where are the Christians fighting against divorce laws? If you’re going to fight for the institution of marriage, at least be consistent.

avatar Martin Snigg July 16, 2011 at 3:58 am

Joshua,

An answer. (Not her choice of title)http://www.staycatholic.com/what_homosexuals_want.htm

Eve Tushnet Jewish woman predominately same sex attracted convert to Catholicism.

I’m with Rob G. It is distressing how many Christians reject the authority of the Bible. That Orthodoxy Today testimony http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles8/Lee-The-Truth-About-The-Homosexual-Rights-Movement.php was powerful.

avatar Eduardo August 18, 2011 at 11:04 am

As Dorothy Sayer [FPR Correction: Dorothy Parker . . . not quite the same authority] said, “Heterosexuality isn’t normal, it is just common.”

Science has shown us that homosexual behavior is commonplace amongst over one thousand of the species in God’s creation. Are all these species choosing to sin in defiance of natural order? There are numerous studies. Here is a link to a National Geographic article form 2004:
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/07/0722_040722_gayanimal.html

I have an Uncle and a cousin who are gay, and who say they were born this way. They have as little control over this preference as they do over the color of their eyes.

avatar Eduardo August 18, 2011 at 11:38 am

Addendum:

First, I apologize for a few typos in my previous post.

Second, I fail to see how gay marriage in any way threatens heterosexual marriage. For loving couples to publicly commit to each other is only a positive for our societies in the long run. Disruptions of old orders are difficult for some, but they are sometimes essential, as they are now on this issue.

Perhaps it threatens the authority of certain barnacled and rusty institutions, but as the life of Jesus demonstrates, that can be a very good thing.

avatar Eduardo August 18, 2011 at 11:42 am

FPR,

Thanks for correcting my inaccurate Dorothy Parker attribution.

avatar RiverC September 19, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Homosexual marriage is not marriage in anything other than a Marxist, reifying sense of the word, the word being used to indicate its opposite. I don’t think those of us who oppose this monstrosity oppose civil unions; because there are some truly important issues such as visitation rights that need to be addressed, as well as the government’s willingness to subsidize homosexual couplings as expressed via the boon we call ‘marriage tax breaks’.

It’s easy to argue that from the State’s point of view, heterosexual marriages perpetuate the race of American people and are thus to be encouraged as they enable the country to continue existing from generation to generation. Subsidizing gay couplings is an act of pure beneficence then, one which we, I would guess, can’t afford.

Then again, if you figure white people are doomed and hispanics will close the population gap, what do you care for the moral condition of the society-at-large as expressed in what it legally sanctions and proscribes?

These two things are not equal; one is clearly by nature superior, what is so-called ‘heterosexual marriage’, by which we really just mean marriage. It may be done poorly, but a badly running Skyline outruns a Prius any day of the week. There is no marriage equality, it doesn’t exist. It can only be manufactured as a figment of the imagination to ease the cognitive dissonance caused by the inequalities inherent in existence.

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