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Shadows of Divine Things

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This site is devoted to theological and philosophical investigations of the spiritual meanings of life, current events, music, spiritual growth, nature, and learning to be attuned to listening to the 'language of God.' The name of this blog comes from one of Jonathan Edwards's journals which he called 'Shadows of Divine Things,' and later renamed 'Images of Divine Things.' As a Christian I am continously on a spiritual journey to grow more into the image of Christ, to understand what it means to be crucified with Christ. To seek the truths of the Christian Faith is of upmost importance, and to know that any truths that are found outside of Christianity are present there because they ultimately point to God. I have an M.A. in theology and apologetics and I completed one year of graduate studies in Philosophy at Marquette University.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Homosexuality (Part 3)

“Homosexuality can only ever mean same sex attraction and not same sex acts because it is NOT just homosexuals who have same sex acts is it!” I believe this comment to be a non sequitur. Simply because someone who claims to be heterosexual (or not a homosexual) but commits same sex acts (maybe because they are in a porn movie, or whatever other circumstance that would involve such acts) does not negate the fact that same sex acts are an indication of homosexual activity. The activity itself is a homosexual activity, and is, it seems, recognized as such universally. The above comment is simply too problematic to embrace on a number of rational levels and is wrought with all sorts of difficulties.

Whether homosexuality be a single act (i.e. same sex act) or a lifestyle that someone has embraced (i.e. the homosexual lifestyle), is it a sin? Biblically speaking, other than the texts of Deuteronomy which clearly seem to indicate that if someone performs a sexual act with someone of the same sex they are to be put to death, Paul’s letters are the only place we can find homosexuality addressed. The most obvious text seems to be Romans 1:26-27. Paul uses the language of exchanging natural sexual intercourse with unnatural. These unnatural acts Paul describes are same sex acts. Now I’ll grant that Paul is speaking exclusively in these passages about same sex acts, and not same sex attraction. However, Paul clearly condemns same sex acts. So we can conclude that at least Paul is condemning same sex acts in these passages.

However, something can be wrong even outside of the notion of whether the Bible says it is so. I think my friend Jeremiah summed this up quite well in the comments section of the first post of this series. Jeremiah declared, “IMHO, it seems that as in most other areas of morality (or Moral Theology) one must appeal quite a bit outside of Scripture to help one's case in an argument of this sort. . . . To give everything to a spouse is to fully love that spouse. And the spouse is called to give everything in return. Now, what we are, as human persons, encompasses a lot. At least one thing it encompasses, as it is relevant to homosexuality, is fecundity. What it is to be human is to be fecund? But, what it is to be male and female (since a human is expressed in one of the two genders--there are no genderless humans) is to be fecund in a complimentary way. The man gives of himself to the woman, and the woman receives her man and gives all of herself as well--in the conjugal act. I'm just introducing the basic tenets here.”

I think Jeremiah, much more eloquently put than I could have ever put it, has detailed a necessary factor involved in the idea of what it means to be human, and why we are created the way we are, male and female. To go beyond this natural state, is to do the very things Paul declares in Romans, to exchange the natural for the unnatural. Procreation is one of the reasons, or at least end results of our being created, and it is obvious that there is a natural breakdown if this way is distorted in some way (i.e. homosexuality). Given theories of natural law this seems to be the most obvious intuitive way to view the distortion, or “wrongness” with respect to homosexuality.

While in no way am I posting this series in order to be judgmental about a given “lifestyle.” I am not trying to tell anyone how they should live; I certainly do not want that responsibility. However, given that I am a rational being, I can certainly determine that which is right (or correct) and that which is wrong (incorrect); or put another way, that which is natural, and that which is unnatural. To reduce the definition of homosexuality to ever only mean same sex attraction is, in my estimation, wrongheaded. There is so much more invloved in homosexuality than merely "attraction."

11 Comments:

Blogger Dave said...

Hi Todd.

Your interlocutor sees some reason to narrow the discussion to "homosexuality" (as an orientation) as opposed to homoerotic acts. It's not clear to me why he sees it important to do so. Unless perhaps he sees such a focus on orientation as opening up room for an exception to biblical condemnation of homoerotic behavior (e.g., "Paul condemned homoerotic acts, but he had no idea that there existed, or would exist, persons with a "natural" orientation toward it; this seems to be the argument Jeremiah was referring to in his comment on your first post). Whatever the reason, I can't see any reason why an orientation toward homoerotic sex would mitigate the degree of "abomination"; in what other instance does one's disposition toward a behavior change the moral status of that behavior? (A disposition might mitigate one's guilt, but not change the morality of a behavior. What then would be the point of law at all?)

Also, I would not have thought that you'd agree with the position that homoeroticism is wrong on the basis of the inherent lack of fecundity in the act. This is the same basis for the Roman Church's teaching that artificial birth control is immoral. I don't necessarily want to enter into a debate about birth control, but for the record I have not yet been convinced of the Roman teaching that fecundity/procreation is the primary purpose of human sexuality, or the consequent teaching that it is morally necessary for each act of intercourse to be open to the possibility of conception. I would hope to find other arguments for the moral normativity of hetero-eroticism. So I think arguing on the basis of fecundity would prove too much (in my judgment, anyway).

One last thing... I'm torn on the question of whether or not to base an argument against homoeroticism on its being "unnatural." On the one hand, that behavior (as practiced by males, anyway) does indeed seem (in my unprofessional understanding) to be inherently risky (e.g., increased susceptibility to transmission of disease, etc.). In that case, not just scriptural condemnations but also the natural world of biology itself would argue against the practice.

However - and I may be off here (and I welcome attempts to persuade me that I am) - on the other hand it seems to be precisely our scriptural tradition that causes us to distinguish between (and thus come to different moral judgments regarding) different "unnatural" acts. It just depends on what "natural" means.

Is something unnatural by virtue of lacking natural causes? If so, "unnatural" is synonymous with "artificial". We don't want to take that step; perhaps "against nature" would better reflect what we mean. In any case, what would be the supposed "unnatural"/"anti-nature" causes of homoeroticism? Is something "against nature" by virtue of involving inherent risk of natural negative consequences? What about bungee jumping and sky diving? What about smoking or eating heavily processed or greasy foods? And if these are unnatural, are they so to the same extent of homoeroticism? Or is something "against nature" by virtue of its lack of conformity to a pristine, unsullied, "natural" order? I think this is the sense that is usually meant by Christians in their arguments against things like homoeroticism.

What is this pristine state, though? A state that existed before... what? The "fall"? If there was such an historical prelapsarian state, how would we know about it in order to make moral comparisons? The scriptures? Yes, exactly! It would seem that "unnatural" is not an objective or scientific term, after all. Rather it seems to be a value-laden term used to denote nonconformity to a moral state which (1) reflects God's moral will, (2) is described in our (religious) narrative, and (3) filled with meaning (which subsequently becomes assumed) through reading, interpreting, and performing the text through the ages.

My only point here is to understand precisely what arguments for homoeroticism's "unnaturalness" mean. Is it really so obvious or objective as the term implies or is sometimes understood? Am I wrong on this?

11:34 PM, October 11, 2006  
Blogger Patrik said...

The problem with arguing for or against anything base on it being "natural" or "unnatural", is that it is essential aspect of being human to transcend the "natural", the given. Not to embrace that which lies outside our given biological nature is to sink beneath what is human, to exist as an animal. It is nothing "natural" with using my fingers to press down buttons that produce text on a screen. Still no one would take this as a reason to judge it unnatural. So basically, when one is criticizing homosexual behaviour because it is against nature one is at the same time criticizing human culture as a whole.

1:44 AM, October 12, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

David,

Sheeesh! I can't answer all those questions in a mere comment section. ;-) I knew I was opening up a can of worms by posting this series - since I am not as well thought out on these issues as others.

In response to your comment here: "Also, I would not have thought that you'd agree with the position that homoeroticism is wrong on the basis of the inherent lack of fecundity in the act. This is the same basis for the Roman Church's teaching that artificial birth control is immoral. I don't necessarily want to enter into a debate about birth control, but for the record I have not yet been convinced of the Roman teaching that fecundity/procreation is the primary purpose of human sexuality, or the consequent teaching that it is morally necessary for each act of intercourse to be open to the possibility of conception. I would hope to find other arguments for the moral normativity of hetero-eroticism. So I think arguing on the basis of fecundity would prove too much (in my judgment, anyway)."

I just want to qualify that I am not agreeing with the Catholic Church on its position about birth control, and realise they use the same argument for that issue. However, when dealing with the issue of homosexuality, it seems that fecundity has more weight, since it is so obvious that procreation can only occur with male and female relations, not same sex. As far as how this issue cashes out with regard to birth control, I'll remain silent on that, since that is not the issue here.

The ethical "unnatural" "natural" issue I think is a little more cut and dry with regard to the circumstances/situation. However, there is so much to unpack in that as well (i.e. natural law; created a certain way - procreaton being a part of who we are as humans, etc.).

Anyway, these other questions we will have to take up this weekend in our usual "gathering." But you have raised some excellent questions, I'm just too stupid to answer them. LOL

5:24 PM, October 12, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Patrik,

I agree to a certain extent with what you are saying, however when you use an example of something that is unnatural like "using my fingers to press down buttons that produce text on a screen" these type of things, which can be called unnatural, have no moral quality about them - so its like comparing apples to oranges.

Issues of sex, are moral issues. Arguing in light of a natural law would mean that certain moralality is either natural, via creation, or unnatural via creation (or the natural moral law). Granted, one may not agree (or even like) this avenue of ethical argumentation, within that given frame work, when dealing with moral issues, that which is natural or unnatural seems to be a little more obvious (as far as the moral aspect of things).

I think, in Romans chapter 1, Paul is demonstrating immoral behavior through the natural law, and thus he calls certain behavior, "unnatural." I hope that makes sense.

5:29 PM, October 12, 2006  
Blogger One of Freedom said...

We throw the word natural around with ease, I can't help wondering what did Paul mean by natural. Would he be speaking of socially normative conditions with a phrase like normal affections? If he is then how should we take his condemnation - is it God's as well?

But in context Paul seems to be placing homoerotic acts in the realm of refusing to acknowledge the grace that was previously given, if I might borrow Rahner's understanding of grace. If that is the case then homosexuality is simply part and parcel of the brokeness of the world we live in. This is what we end up with if we turn our back on God. If that is the case then how do we live in the midst of this condition (v.28-32). Is Christ's work sufficient for any and all of the conditions mentioned in Romans 1? How do we communicate that sufficiency in full recognition that the whole notion of natural is indeed corrupted (v.32)? On that last point I have gay friends who have said that homoerotic sex seems to them the more 'natural' way.

Frank

10:02 AM, October 13, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Frank,

I think you have raised many of the questions that have been troubling me for some time now. I'm not too well read on Rhaner, are the last bit of your comments based on his works?

Paul does declare, in the context, that God has "given them over" to these unnatural acts, so perhaps you are correct in saying that homoerotic acts are, perhaps, in the realm of refusing to acknowledge the grace previously given.

You have supplied some thought provoking questions, thank you for raising them.

10:48 AM, October 13, 2006  
Blogger One of Freedom said...

Rahner would say that we all have grace or rather we all have a supernatural existential aspect which we can choose to be conscious to or not. This is an inherent grace within all human beings. I grabbed Rahner because I just did a class on Rahner so it is fresh. I could have used Aquinas' created grace as well. There is something about this notion that seems to really ring true with the breath of the Spirit in the Adamic Narrative. It also prevents us from dehumanizing those whom Christ died for - specifically in this case the homosexuals.

I'll be watching this series unfold.

12:47 PM, October 13, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Hey Frank,

Ok I understand what Rhaner is getting at, however, this seems yto be a grace that within each of us, not something that God imparts to us. Like a type of benevolence on our parts. Which would certainly keep us from dehumanizing others.

However, this fails to deal with specific "acts" such as lying, murder, etc. One can show or demonstrate grace to a murderer in that one still cares for such in a very human fashion, but it still does not deter from the fact that murder is wrong.

Once again I am not that familiar with what Rhaner is getting at here, so I may be misunderstanding what you have posted here in the above comments, but this certainly seems to be the case.

Anyway, I'm not sure if I will continue to go on with this topic, since my original intent was to offer a critique to my interlocutor's reducing the definition of homosexuality to merely attraction only, this reduction I would certainly disagree with. Thanks again for your feedback, I do appreciate it very much.

1:51 PM, October 13, 2006  
Blogger One of Freedom said...

Hey TB. Not to belabour this, but there is a nuance to Rahner's understanding of supernatural existentialism that you might find interesting here.

It is the a priori capacity to be oriented towards God. So it does deal with the issues, just not directly. So taking homosexuality into this - if it is sinful to have a homosexual orientation then it really comes down to denying the inherent grace (divine) within us. It means we are not being honest with who we really are at the core. That is a huge issue at stake for the whole homosexuality debate.

I agree that your friend wants to oversimplify it, he wants to objectify it so that it can be easily classified and manipulated into making sense. But Rahner as a Heideggerian would rightly place such things in the realm of the subject not the object. Which is why it is so complex.

This is one of those topics that comes up in cycles, I'm sure it'll come up again on another blog if you don't persue it.

BTW the bibliophile in me was drooling over your new book acquisitions. :-)

Frank

2:26 PM, October 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All you really need is a biologist or a veterenarian here to tell you that homosexual behavior and indeed orientation is completely natural. Every mammal that procreates sexually has been observed engaging in homosexual intercourse and a variety of mammals have even been observed expressing a demonstrable preference for same-gender partners.

I won't bother you with the long list of theories there are about why this might be so - usually having to do with population control, but often simply explainable by genetic variation, which is the mechanism that makes life possible.

It is silly to say that because we are capable of sexual procreation that it is somehow MORE natural than anything else we are capable of. Even in heterosexual relationships procreation is very often not the reason for engagement.

Furthermore, "natural" is not a biblical category of thought. So if you are going to argue from a naturalist point of view you must either prove your point empirically or give it up. On the other hand if you want to talk about biblical understandings of the homosexuality issue we have to abandon any attempt to use natural or unnatural as categories. Much more apropos would be to say - original created goodness, versus fallen.

3:18 PM, October 13, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

miner,

I'm not sure I see where the two are actually related. Animals, I might grant, are sentient, but they certainly have no ability (or capacity for that matter) to excercise a will in a rational way (i.e. volition, etc.). So to reduce the issue to biological explanations is no better than the person who e-mailed me reducing the definition to only same sex attraction.

I find it interesting that all the explanations given to me over the years in favor of the "lifestyle" or in favor of homosexual activities have been reduced to something such as a more narrow definition, or a biological explanations given via certain species of animals. These reductions never seem to get to the heart of the issue - the moral rub.

I'll grant that I am no expert on the moral issues of homosexuality, and it has been years since I have looked into these things, so when I got the e-mail it took me by suprise. But I will say that the arguments I have heard from the "pro" camp have been very unconvincing to me, mostly due to these reductions, and changes in definition.

As far as the "biblical categories of thought" comment, if you'll recall in my post, I declared that I thought the issue could be settled outside of biblical "parameters". Once again, arguing against the issue via the natural law theory does not necessitate biblical "proof." So I'm not sure what you were getting at with that comment.

Anyway, all the comments (especially Frank's) have been helpful in my overall thinking about the issue, so do know that I appreciate the feedback.

9:29 AM, October 14, 2006  

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