Friday, December 30, 2005

A non-theological basis for Catholic sexual morality

More on Catholic teaching about matters sexual . . .

Many wonder, where does the Church's teaching on these matters come from? They challenge the Church's credibility on the matter. Sometimes (here comes more silly thinking) the argument comes down to the calendar: "How can the Church make her teachings understood in this contemporary age" (or similar language) -- as if 21st century Man is a radically different creature, sexually, from all that went before! All we can take credit for is finding new ways to do what human beings have always wanted to do: have their cake and eat it, too.

Now, let me propose thinking about the matter this way--just for kicks, let's take out all supernatural references, all theology, all Sacred Scripture, all "churchy" stuff. And just think about this by looking at the matter itself. What can we discover about sex simply by looking at it?

We might ask--is there any purpose or meaning to it? If so, what?

Well, we find that answer quickly enough, don't we? We know what sex does and is "for": it's about reproducing the species; and we discover it is also about bonding two people together.

We also discover, fairly quickly, that not all people who have sex, produce children -- or, for that matter, get very bonded. (This is where the question of homosexuality often comes into the discussion: why, look! Some people are oriented toward their same sex! Therefore, all conclusions are suspect!) We also discover that some people have eyes that do not see; that hardly discredits the conclusion about what the eye is for.

So--we know what sex is for. We quibble about it, when the conclusion is unhelpful to what we want.

Now, as to monogomy and fidelity. It seems clear that men especially like to have lots of sex. I'm not an expert in matters Darwinistic, but I think one argument is that this makes sense from the point of view of evolutionary theory. However, the female doesn't care all that much about theory -- she cares about the child the man fathered, and expects the man to stick around. It doesn't take too long for humanity to figure out the benefits of this, and so the customs and laws that demand it are pretty common-sensical. (And even if the new mother doesn't care, the larger community does, and will help her to care.)

My point is, you don't need to thump a Bible to justify heterosexuality as the norm, and for fidelity and exclusivity in sexual unions (marriage), and for society to care about such things.

Indeed, if you really did take the Bible, and religion out of it, I think those who argue specifically for social and moral indifference to homosexual behavior, and for autonomy in sexual matters generally, would find the climate far more hostile than they think it is because of a Biblical/Christian milieu.


Well, for one, if I assert, "I have a right to ____," the reasonable question is, "who says?" A Christian, or a theist, would say, "God says." Without God, who says? Well, then, I say. Fine--who are you?

The inevitable result, it seems to me, is that rights have to arise either from the exercise of power, and social agreement. Because while I can assert whatever rights I like, vindicating them all on my own isn't a very promising approach. Trying to vindicate a right the rest of society doesn't think much of is even less promising. Hence, I need to get society to agree with me about what rights I claim. (And even if I say, "God says so," I still have to do this, unless we all agree on some mechanism of determining that God said it--such as consulting a text, or teaching authority, etc.)

So when we hear assertions of "rights" in relation to sexual "freedom," who can marry, marriage/divorce/remarriage, sex "behind closed doors," etc. -- the question remains: "who says"?

Furthermore, there is no question that society reasonably is concerned with all these matters. Through most human history, societies have been very concerned about reproducing more children. We've experienced a period, very brief in human history, in which society has emphasized having fewer -- and already, governments and others are saying, "uh oh..." So it's not terribly hard to figure out why a society might care whether men get together with other men, vs. with women. And without a higher authority, such as God, to appeal to for some fundamental rights, it isn't terribly hard to imagine a society that doesn't give a hoot about sexual minorities saying, "but I have rights!"

Ah, well, there is more I might say, but let this be food for thought, as I go meet a friend for dinner.


Atiyah said...

"We also discover that some people have eyes that do not see; that hardly discredits the conclusion about what the eye is for"

What if the eye was blue and otherwise functional and the law and Church said only green, brown and hazel eyed people could marry. It's not that we don't have concern for your welfare or disrespect you as a blue eyed person it's just that these are the rules they have always been thus. We actually love you and we know what is good for you. There has always been a societal interest in eye colour and we know it’s a big deal because everyone has eyes and we are discussing it now. At any rate any “rights” you have or don’t have come from society and are not self sourced so it is impossible to speak of the “right” of blue eyed people to marry since a right is a concession by your fellow citizen (backed by God’s law). Be reasonable there are more non-blue-eyed individuals. Not every green-eyed person marries either and there is no “right” to be a rocket scientist. We also know most blue-eyed people don’t want to marry and if they do it’s a mocking or aping of brown-eyed marriage and after all most blue eyed people don’t really want to be blue-eyed they doing it because of a poor upbringing or an over protective mother or a distant father or bad potty training. And if you try real hard a blue-eyed person can be a green eyed person it’s just a matter of self-control. And remember we love you, but it is a big deal. Eye colour really matters and it has always been so our teaching on this has been consistent through the ages and hopefully if we stick to our position there will be less blue-eyed people in the future (for who really wants to be blue-eyed) and not so many people will decide to be blue-eyed and society will be better as a result. Because we all know that blue-eyed people are not monogamous anyway they don’t mind not being able to marry really because they are promiscuous and don’t desire companionship. Some blue-eyed marital activists are driving an agenda to destroy green, brown and hazel eyed marriage by demanding that the law treat their affairs no differently from ours. It’s preposterous and self-evidently ridiculous and it will result in the downfall of western society. Marriage is not a private matter for individual or their Church it is a public institution and thereof our view of it must be protected using public power. Look blue-eyed people have other options anyway and if they put on some green contact lenses they can even become Ministers of Religion in fact they can do anything they like so long as they don’t make a fuss about the eye colour issue because it upsets other ordinary normal eye coloured individuals. You know I have met some blue-eyed people, in fact some of my best friends are blue-eyed people and I like them as people because I personally look past eye colour and I can tell you they don’t want this they are embarrassed too. And I know others who are still blue-eyed but deplore the blue-eyed culture (because you can condemn the culture but love the individual) and they tell me they are working on wonderful programmes to permanently change people from blue-eyed to hazel. And you know I don’t think there was as many blue-eyed people in the past and they weren’t uppity like modern ones are. Not that I believe blue-eyed people should be discriminated against or harmed, as I said some of my best friends are blue-eyed but they are different from us and that’s why promoting green brown and hazel eyed marriage is not discrimination against them it can’t be because they are different… you might even say objectively disordered since eyes are simply not meant to be blue. And as for this nonsense about likening eye colour to issues of race and ethnicity and all this civil rights talk… well that is so much liberal bs….. bring on the cultural war ….. and remember we do this in love.

Father Martin Fox said...


"What if" questions aren't terribly helpful; actual situations may shed more light.

The Church does not, in fact, have such a law about eye-color, as I hope you know; I suspect, although you do not say so explicitly, that you are referencing gay "marriage." If so, your comparison is inapt.

The difference between two people of the same sex attempting "marriage" and two of the opposite sex entering into a married state is far more substantial than the difference between blue and green eyes.

It takes little examination to see that sex is complementary -- men and women are "made for each other." Or, "evolved," if you prefer.

Their coupling serves a purpose, not only for themselves, but for society as well.

Now, one can make an argument for toleration of homosexual practices -- the larger society saying, we don't care to interfere too much, or to bother people very much.

But your argument seems to imply a question of "right" -- and I would return to my point in the thread: just where do "rights" come from?

If we do not say they come from God, then where? I insist that then, they come from a negotiation of power between the individual and society (and that happens anyway, even if the individual says, this comes from God.)

But if the advocate of "gay marriage" doesn't say, "God wants me to have this right," then the question is, why should society vindicate that right? On what basis?

Do you care to articulate precisely why society should recognize "gay marriage"?

The argument thus far has been, "they should be free to do as they like" -- a very poor argument. Or, "they're not hurting anyone" -- an assertion rather than a fact; insofar as society has a legitimate, and obvious interest in self-perpetuation, at some point society certainly has an interest in promoting heterosexual activity, and not promoting homosexual activity. (And thus societies have operated, haven't they, throughout history?)

Or the argument is, "marriage is any two people who love each other" or some sloppy variant on that -- and it takes little to see the errors in such statements.

If gay marriage, why not incestuous marriages? And why is "two" the magic number? As is very clear, the heterosexuality of marriage has a vastly better pedigree than the quantity of spouses (2); so if still insisting on heterosexuality as intrinsic to marriage is deemed arbitrary, certainly insisting on "just two" people is arbitrary!

I'm sorry, but the advocates of "gay marriage" often sound, to me, like children stamping their feet: "I want! I want! I want!"

Yes, we all want lots of things--but that's not an argument.

Anonymous said...

Father, you are rather young so you would not have had the experiences that I have had. I spent my high school days in a southern state before the days of integration. And there I heard basically the same arguements to justify the banning of inter-racial marriages. People argued for segragation based on religious priciples, and used the same arguements based on nature. But I notice that most arguements based on nature simply replace God's name with nature.

Not too many years later, after the schools were integrated, the problem of inter-racial marriage again cropped up in that the state would not issue a marriage license to a mixed race couple and would not recognize such a marrige from other states. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

In between, I had married, and was rather shocked that my wife's phillosophy teacher at a Catholic college had stated that mixed marriages were wrong in God's eye. With a little prodding from his students he admitted that couples having different eye color probably should not get married, but it certainly was not as serious as mixed race. So Atiyah's arguements have been taken seriously by some people.

An interesting aspect of ban on inter-racial marriage is that society really did not like black male-white female coupling, but was more tolerant of white male-black female couples. Today I think we are less tolerant of homosexuality than we are of lesbianism.

I am not justifying gay relations, I am only saying that your argument sounds very familiar.

I think that your arguement does have some weak spots. For example a group marriage would satisfy both the man's desire to have multiple partners, and a woman's desire to have a protective male. In fact it would have the advantage of having back ups if something should happen to one of them. There does seem to be an "I want" for an exclusive partner on the males side, so I don't know if there has ever been a sucessful society based on such.

However polygamy has certainly been used as a marriage basis sucessfull in several societies.

Incestuous marriages lead to genetically defective children, gay marriages do not. Pretty good reason to ban incestuous marriages, and even there some societies have approved of them. Hawaii used them in their royalty, but then they were willing to sacrifice any defective children that were a result.

I will also mention that although our society thinks that there are only two sexes, one might argue that there are more. If one defines sex genetically, then there is a good arguement for there being at least five sexes. If one defines it by function, there are a certain number of babies born that just can't be defined. The usual solution is to cut off a penis or clitorous and do the surgical best to make artificial organs. In some cultures these children were considered special and became advisors in domestic disputes because they were thought to be able to understand the normal sexes (male/female) better. In a world of color blind people, the one who saw color would be thought wierd. And people can deny what they see before them. Look at how many ignore the presence of God.

Mike L

Father Martin Fox said...


Your earlier argument has more heft than your latter part.

That natural law has been deployed to support segregation seems impressive, until you do some further checking: in the long history of natural law as its been applied to such matters, how widely, how frequently, has it been used to support laws against interracial marriage? Do you know?

I don't; but I rather suspect the answer is, relatively briefly.

Which suggests that natural law-type arguments were brought in to shore up something put in place for other reasons, rather than the segregation you decry arising from it.

As to your latter argument about polygamy, incest and "five sexes" is of little help to anyone, I guess, other than advocates of polygamy and "five sexes."

I never denied that you couldn't make society work with polygamy; I said, in fact, that it had something of a "pedigree" -- meaning, it had developed "naturally" (meaning, not imposed by activist judges and pandering politicians). My reason for bringing up polygamy was that we often hear the advocates for
"gay marriage" say it has nothing to do with polygamy, which is just plain silly.

As to incest -- my point, as with polygamy was that the basis upon which "gay marriage" becomes some sort of moral/social imperative are very suitable for incestuous marriages as well -- because your argument, about "defective children," is irrelevant in the age of legal abortion. When the argument is all about the putative rights of the "two who love each other," then non-existent, potential children have no standing in the matter.

The other problem with the "defective children" argument is that one might well ask, why should it apply only to relatives marrying each other? Why not have everyone tested, and folks who are likely, upon marriage, to combine genes in a way hazardous to children, are forbidden to marry?

In fact, the "defective children" argument is an ancillary, not a primary, reason for such laws.

The primary reason for such laws is moral repugnance. (Do we allow siblings to marry, when one is clearly past the age of procreating? We do not.)

(Of course, in bringing up "moral repugnance," I am departing from purely natural-law considerations. But as I've made the departure, I will reiterate what I said before: if we leave out references to God, etc., as a source for guidance in these matters, we may find society far less "tolerant" and "enlightened" -- as such terms are usually used these days. This is a clear example. Because if you really are going to make "preventing defective children" an objective of law, welcome to Big Brotherland.)

As to "five sexes." The problem with that line of thinking, which tends to the agnostic about what is really true and firm and certain, is that you tear down the foundations upon which firm social judgments, which do embody conclusions about both what is and what ought to be, then anything goes.

And then, how in the world does one simultaneously appeal to some objective moral standard -- which this or that law is held to offend against -- and then insist everything is shifting sand? A nice trick!

Atiyah said...

Happy New Year Fr. Fox. I address your points as follows:

1) Not a hypothetical question but a blue-eyed Allegory

It wasn’t actually a “what if” question at all. If you substitute “blue eye(d) with homosexual you will see the point of the post (I actually think you got this point). The post represents all the basic arguments advanced against gay marriage and homosexuality in general. When homosexuality is read as eye colour most of these seem trite to say the least. You found it ridiculous that anyone could think of adopting eye colour as the basis for Church or public policy. That same dissonance strikes me when people use sexual orientation in the same manner.

To craft public policy on the basis of sexual orientation makes as much sense to me as crafting it on race, ethnicity skin colour or gender or any other biological attribute that cannot change.

2) Legislating or not doing so for the purposes of morality

Both you and the Catholic Church are free to hold whatever moral beliefs that you find to be consistent with your faith it is in essence a private or personal matter. I will defend to the death your right to practice your faith as you see fit and to live your life by it. That is of course the very essence of a free society.

However when taking the issue of morality in to the public arena and attempting to use the law to maintain your view or prevent other views from prevailing then we need to be much more careful when pulling the leavers of power or crafting the law. And that is the problem really in a nutshell. You and I are not even in the same ‘ballpark” on this issue, there is no broad unquestioned consensus that the law should not provide some certainty as to the treatment of these relationships if the parties wish to opt into this regime. Nor do I believe that in an American context gay marriage is actually a Federal matter. I would go even further… I think the government should consider getting out the marriage business altogether. Consider if marriage were abolished tomorrow would there be any less number of young couples seeking marriage preparation and a marriage in your Church? But I digress.

3) Do disincentives for homosexuality work

There is no evidence that the rate of homosexuality (and using the term here I do not differentiate between orientation and action which in my view is an entirely unnecessary complication) has ever been affect by social taboo, cultural, religious or legal prohibitions. There seems to be a consistent rate of incidence in any population and this has been so since the dawn of time. Thus what is the purpose of disincentives for homosexuality where the rate of incidence is consistent?

4) Will gay marriage affect straight marriage

I would say that the “markets” or demand for gay marriage and that for straight marriage are distinct. The advent of “gay marriage” will not greatly impact on the rate of straight marriage for if it did I suggest there is a problem in potential straight marriages that were so affected.

5) Where Do Rights Come From – Are they a concession by Society?

On the issue of where do rights come from … oh dear oh dear Fr. Fox you should know better. I refer you to the US Declaration of Independence which contains a statement of classical natural law (the Catholic Church’s position I think): “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed….” I am sure you know the rest.

A more modern incarnation of a statement of natural law would remove the explicit reference to “a Creator” which makes the statement no less compelling in my view. Thus society doesn’t grant you freedom you are born a free man … that is the default position. Of course this freedom is not absolute and is exercised consistently with the freedom of others and overtime the nature and extent of it is defined by statute and/or common law consistent with the US constitution. Thus in the constitutional theory of your nation (but not mine but for most intents and purposes the outcome is pretty much the same) sovereignty is sourced from a community of individual free men and women.

Atiyah said...


6) So is there a “right” to gay marriage?

There is no more a “right” to gay marriage just as there is a “right” to straight marriage. Rather there is a right to expect that arrangements freely entered into by free and competent individuals should be (subject to any serious issue of public policy) given affect.

Analogous arrangements should be treated similarly by the law. Currently the legal treatment of marriage is not contingent on producing offspring or even having the intention of doing so.

I am not particularly hung up on whether it is gay marriage or civil unions so long as the affect of the law is consistent.

7) Should Govt be God’s (or secularism’s) Gardener?

To assert that some relationships are more morally worthy or more advantageous to society may be true but that is not sufficient grounds to treat as a nullity or contrary to public policy those arrangements that are less than optimal morally or less than optimal for perpetuating the species.

I worry about Govt being a social engineer. Social change should be brought about as a consequence of the actions of individuals and not as a consequence of my view as a politician or bureaucrat. I have no particular issue with responding to the demand of citizens and taxpayers (“I want I want”) so long as what is asked for advances individual freedom.

8) But what about the plumbing?

This is really an argument from biology. There is little or no sexual complementary between a gay man and a gay women. That’s the point of it really. To argue that in “theory” there is (if not in practice) makes as much sense as maintaining that I am a trapeze artist when in practice I have no athleticism or sense of balance. Thus I have no aptitude for the high wire even though all my limbs and physical features as the same as the man on the trapeze.

There are evolutionary arguments for why homosexuality has been a consistent feature of human life: in short it is an advantage in a small group of humans in some circumstances. An alternative but very politically incorrect view is that it is a mere accident of hormones although I recognise most people do not accept this view.

There is evidence to suggest that as a high functioning species we have always engaged in more sexual activity that is strictly necessary for breeding purposes. Bonding and re-enforcing that bonding is important in the world’s most social species. In addition our offspring are immature and vulnerable for longer. In an evolutionary sense because we are generalists our survival rested on the group and that rested on the biological and other linkages between the individual members.

Regarding incestuous relationships you rightly identify a deep social taboo that exists against these relationships, that goes deeper that the law and is present across most cultures. At it most basic level incest runs counter to the purposes of bonding in a small human group that includes individuals who are not directly biologically related. Sexual activity between two unrelated individuals encourages bonding. Offspring of incestuous relationships do present genetic problems also. We can observe in nature that while there is homosexual activity in other species, incestuous activity is very rare with most tribal species engaging in practises to spread their genetic material by expelling young males from the group and other males entering the group through mate competition.

9) A consistent tradition on marriage and human sexuality

For most of our history throughout most of the world including in Jewish society at the time of Jesus polygamy was ok. Monogamy was practised by the Greeks and Romans albeit terminating such arrangements was relatively easy. It is also clear that in societies where polygamy was and still is possible most don’t do it.

It is not true to say that Christian thought on the importance of marriage and the family unit has been consistent. Indeed Jesus demanded some of his disciples to leave their wives and children and follow him. In early Christianity it was acceptable to affectively abandon a wife and children to follow and contemplate Christ usually in a cave. Indeed the single chaste ascetic life of contemplation was the ideal. Sex was sinful per se and not necessary as the world was coming to an end (any day). Chastity within marriage was an acceptable but a less then ideal alternative to being a hermit or living in a community. Then Christianity said the sexual activity solely for the purposes of reproducing was ok. Only latterly has the twin objectives of bonding and procreation been advanced.

The “bonding” purpose which arguable has always been vital since the dawn of time to our species is a recent Christian discovery although most of us intuitively sensed it was always so.

10) Get to Know me by my hypocrisies

I have come to the conclusion that one of the ways to understand people is to study their hypocrisies or more politely their “inconsistencies”. Consider the follow hypothetical: the right thinking political activist who holds that the employment relationship is primarily a matter between employer and employee and not other their parties like Govt or big unions or anyone else. Freely contracting employers and employees are best able to determine their interests and this freedom ultimately benefits society. There is nothing more important than employment, for without work there is no income and no ability to sustain a family. Interfering with the wishes and intentions of the parties to the employment contract on the basis of inequality of bargaining power (a Marxist analysis) or because the broader interests of society make it necessary usually results in lower employment less economic growth and therefore less prosperity. The role of the law is to provide certainty so that parties negotiate the terms and conditions suitable for them. The role of the law is to enforce terms and conditions of the contract freely entered into by the parties. Some employers will be bad as will some employees but most wont, they will do with is right for them in their circumstances and that will benefit society. Politicians and Judges should not supplant their view of the employment relationship or their view on what terms should or should not be in an employment contract as the parties to the contract know their business best. Legislation or the common law should not single out certain employees or employers for special rules however beneficial this may appear. Rather the rules should provide for maximum contractual freedom for all types of employment contracts irrespective of industry or business. The correct role of the law is to enforce the wishes of the parties as expressed in the contact not supplant them with others.

What should the attitude of the right thinking activist be to the legal treatment of homosexual relationships?

Father Martin Fox said...


Thank you for your thoughts.

I'm sorry for what follows being rather blunt, but I tried to make this point more discreetly, but failed:

The difference between the simulated intercourse that two men or two women attempt, and the actual intercourse a man and woman achieve, is manifest; must I in detail spell out the differences?

You do know what a man and woman do when they have intercourse? And that two men cannot do that, neither can two women?

So please, this is not the same as the difference between blue and brown eyes.

The physical comparisons between normal intercourse, and simulated intercourse, reflect the differences psychologically. Men and women are complementary, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well.

I am well aware of the Declaration of Independence -- it says what I said: rights come from God.

But if you're saying God says there's a right to "gay marriage," the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, a lot of Protestants and many Jews, and pretty much all Muslims, are going to disagree with you.

So why should "Atiyah says God says" determine the matter? Answer: no reason at all.

So appealing to God won't help you.

Atiyah said...

With respect “where’s the Beef” in your reply.

You draw a distinction between two types of physical sexual activity: heterosexual and homosexual and proceed to observe that there is a difference between them psychologically and note that men and women are complementary, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well.

Again, all of this might be true but it is not a basis to criminalise one expression of human sexuality and more importantly, not to provide the option legal of certainty to the communal affairs of homosexuals. I doubt that a gay man and woman are complementary, physically, emotionally and spiritually however hard you keep asserting it.

I suspect that in all the nations where gay marriage/civil unions are now provided for in the law, most men and women will continue to seek someone of the opposite sex and many of them will want children. Civilisation is safe.

I would also be surprised whether a shift to a centre-right Government in these nations will result in the repeal of these regimes. Like the decriminalisation of homosexuality itself, the issue simply ceases to be a big deal. Life goes on for most people as it did before.

God does present more of a problem for you Fr. Fox than he does for me. Best evidence suggests that an exclusively homosexual inclination is not chosen in any real sense just like you are unable to choose your eye colour. The logical consequence of this is that companionship, sexual arousal and satisfaction is sought from those of the same sex. That is just the way they are – God made them that way.

To couple all sexual activity with procreation is overplaying your hand somewhat. Even in heterosexual activity there is a great deal more of it than will ever lead to childbearing. Female fertility is not obvious and spasmodic and women are capable of orgasm in menopause.

I have never said that God determines whether there is a right to gay marriage/civil unions. The Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution are examples of legal positivism. By adoption a certain view about human freedom, they give it currency in the legal system.

Thus free men and woman can arrange their affairs largely as they see fit and the role of the law is to give affect to that, provide certainty and thereby lessen disputes and where disputes do arise, to treat analogist situations in a similar matter. Such certainty and consistently can be achieved via legislation or via the common law (I guess you will call that judicial activism)

It matters not whether the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, a lot of Protestants and many Jews, and pretty much all Muslims disapprove of how some people chose to live, for their adherents are free to adopt whatever moral system they want including a view on marriage. What they are not entitled to do is impose it on others using the machinery of public power.

Mr. W said...

I’m glad to meet such enlightened people! Therefore, one question I ask: should I marry my horse???

Why not? After all, has it not been stated in this conversation that the purpose of sex is not purely one of child-bearing - the menopausal woman etc.? "Unnatural, say you?" Perhaps you are "replacing God's name with nature!" If polygamy has been used as a basis for marriage in several societies, then so too has bestiality existed in several successful societies. And, to boot, equestrio-human intercourse won't result in those genetically defective children that we don’t want.

On such utilitarian grounds, why ban it? If being color-blind translates, in its logical conclusion, to being sex-blind, when are we going to get with the times and become species-blind? After all, if the gender of my spouse if of no more significance then the color of his/her eyes, why not the species too? If as ridiculous as eye color to adopt sexual orientation for Church or public policy, why stop my horse and I from being truly happy together? How does it harm you? I say that your views on whether I should do this are a private or personal matter. To whit, how can you take this issue of morality to the law to maintain your view or prevent my view from prevailing? Are you not seeking to abuse the leavers of power?

Furthermore is there any evidence that bestiality (a condescending term which I resent) is affected by social taboo or cultural, religious or legal prohibitions? And how does my equestrian marriage limit your freedom? Therefore on what basis do you have the temerity to refuse to grant me, born a free man, from exercising my freedom? It will be, I am certain, an arrangement freely entered into by myself and my horse. Just ask my horse, and he'll nod his head affirmatively and hee-haw with delight!

Not a "competent individual," say you? Well, I'd like to put the burden of proof for that on you! He’s quite the stud, may I say, and seems quite competent to me! After all modern science has long since concluded that there is no difference between human and animal intelligence. Thus how can you say that my dear, betrothed horse cannot enter into our marriage competently? If you only you would tear down the walls of the cultural oppression which so binds you to your quaint, conservative notions about marriage being reserved for two humans... I'm sure that 100 years from now, people will think you as silly and fatuous as we now do those who argued against interracial marriage just decades ago!

And do I have a duty to procreate? Do we want the government to be a social engineer and tell me to marry a human? Just because you think my marriage to my horse less morally worthy or advantageous to society, after all, is hardly sufficient grounds to treat it as a nullity or something contrary to the public interest. As for plumbing, let's face it: there is no sexual complementarily between myself and any other human being, male or female. I just gotta' have horse - once you've had equestrian, you never go back! I'm no more interested in human plumbing than the above-mentioned, rigidly pre-destined trapeze artist who lacks balance or athleticism. And think of the advantages to such marriages in small groups of humans - I won't be hogging the straight women or gay guys, so that every one else can have greater selection and choice! Will this not be an equitable arrangement for involved?

Arguably bestiality (we certainly must think of a more culturally sensitive moniker – one not biased by millennia of right-wing ideologies imposed upon us by rigid troglodytes) has been around as long as homosexuality, so it must be natural to human sexuality, no? I agree, thus, that humans engage in more sexual activity than is necessary for breeding. If politicians should no more supplant their views into employment agreements than into marriage, and if law exists only for certainty between two parties making a mutually agreeable trade (and perhaps for the common defense – my horse will go to war for his country), then how can you come between me and my horse? Can you seriously push such philosophical inconsistencies with a straight face? You hypocrite! Thou Pharisee, of heart hardened!

By the way, I will leave everything to my horse - my 401k, my house, my car and especially my collection of hair brushes. How he chooses to dispose of my estate is his business - it is for his happiness! Surely, as my spouse, you will agree to this and fully support my surviving spouse’s right to his property. If you want to tear down the house for a new hotel, you must get his consent! (He may need some assistance with annual tax forms, however).

I forgot to mention that a good friend of mine is appealing to his state representative to wed the love of his life, Stonette, the pet rock. I tell him he's an indecent social radical, that's he's destroying what's left of our culture - that's he's a gratuitous iconoclast, hippie reject from the Cultural Revolution. And yet, he always asserts: "Don't knock it 'til you try it! She rocks, dude…" Apparently Stonette the pet rock is quite nice to cuddle and caress... Yuck! Makes me sick! What an abomination of nature!!!

Atiyah said...

Mr W.

You will have to do much better than that.

Animals are not competent to consent as they are property and other than a obligation on an owner to prevent cruel treatment, they have nothing approaching rights. In addition, Catholic doctrine (as I understand it) says they have no soul.

When your horse talks back (perhaps it does already) we will formulate another rule of public policy to prevent such conduct on a basis of other than consent ... perhaps cruelty and animal abuse.

My my you have some strange friends. To the one who loves a rock.... well each to his own I guess but it's inanimate so good luck trying to marry it although it is probably capable of making a more meaningful contribution than you Mr W.

I think Fr. Fox was doing better without your assistance somehow.

Anonymous said...

Hi Father,

This has turned into an interesting thread and some good points made. But I think that you missed a couple of my points. As far as I know, Catholic sexual morality is based on the belief that there are only two sexes. My point was that if, biologically, there really are more than just two sexes, what changes do you have to make in that morality? True, for the majority of people who are either what we call male or female, it may have no effect. But for those of the other "sexes" it could have great import if we force them to fit the standard mold. One example of the Church having to revamp its ideas occured when it was finally proven that the earth did indeed revolve around the sun rather than the other way around. The Church had to admit that it had not interpreted scipture properly.

You, of course, are making the assumption that homosexuality is a choice. There is, however, more and more evidence pointing to the fact that it has a physical basis, either genetic or as a result of harmone levels in the mother during pregnancy. Morality argued on false assumptions does not hold up well.

There is a second assumption that you have made that I think can be questioned, and that is that sex has a single, exclusive function, reproduction. I think that this would be very difficult to prove from nature. Even the Church has modified its position to include the function of bonding. Are there other functions that in time we will come to see?

You chose to compare the eye with sex, but that is comparing a function with an object. I think a better comparison would be with sight, which has many functions. Among them are reading scripture, enjoyment of a beautiful sunset, or watch Lord of the Rings for the nth time :). To say that its only function of seeing is reading scripture would be a bit rediculous. I would also point out that sight can be used for such things as targeting a gun to kill some one, reading pornography, or using a bomb sight to drop a nuclear weapon. The eye is much more limited, it can only see.

I would propose that man's culture leads to a set of ethics that he believes to have come from nature. I know of very few societies that accept killing of one's own tribesman as acceptable. Of course, killing the not-so-human tribesmen that live in the valley across from me might not only be acceptable, but good. A taboo against incest is very widespread among humans, but not among nature in general, and does not exist in the primates.

Morality, it seems to me, is something that is revealed to us, not from nature but from a higher being, which we call God. Sometimes morality parallels what we see in nature, often it goes beyond that. This leaves us in a funny position, sometimes we seem to be able to show that morality seems to based on nature, but that is the case only when morality and ethics run in parallel. I think that the two are very easily confused.

One other stray thought. From what I have read and observed, a homosexual entering into a hetrosexual marriage is a recipe for disaster. I do not believe that I have ever heard of one that was very successful, although there must have been some that at least survived. I have known of several long time homosexual relationships. This might indicate that nature does not necessarily oppose homosexuality in some in individuals.

I must also say "keep up the good work." Few people are capable of stepping out where they might be criticised; you have certainly made me think about these issues and hopefully has also made you think about them as well. If we can keep things reasonably civilized we can follow our Pope's advice to dialoge and we will both grow closer to God.

So thank you, and God keep all of us through the new year.

Mike L

PS Why didn't God give me that ability to spell, or at least put a spelling checker in with the blog software? Now there is a moral problem :)


Father Martin Fox said...


Thank you for your kind words.

You say of me, "You, of course, are making the assumption that homosexuality is a choice."

Not so -- and I believe I have never said any such thing. What I assume -- and in fact, assert -- is that homosexual acts are choices.

Father Martin Fox said...

Second, you say:

"There is a second assumption that you have made that I think can be questioned, and that is that sex has a single, exclusive function, reproduction."

I do not believe that, and I am pretty sure I never asserted that sex "has a single, exclusive function, reproduction" (bold added for emphasis). In fact, if you review my comments, you will find I referenced the obvious, reproductive function, and also the "unitive" function as well.

But "function" was not even my terminology; rather, I started with the question, "is there any purpose or meaning to it? If so, what?"

And I answered that question simply my looking AT THE THING IN QUESTION. That's it!

Look AT sex and ask: "what is it for?"

Father Martin Fox said...

I never claimed, as you assert, that sex is it's "single, exclusive" function or purpose or meaning; but I do assert that it part of its purpose, and meaning -- "what it is 'for'"; that reproduction is intrinsic to sex, part of its essence, rather than something ancillary -- which is how I would see the physical pleasure, for example.

Don't get me wrong -- I think the physical pleasure of sex is itself a good thing (not only do I think that, but St. Thomas Aquinas thinks that, and the Church thinks that); but I can't see that it is per essentia, insofar as a couple could have sex very meaningfully, even where the physical pleasure may be small or wholly absent. (So I am not misunderstood: I am not saying where choice is absent, nor am I speaking of what would be actually painful. But it occurs to me that at any particular time, a couple might choose to have sex, and one person finds the usual physical pleasure, but the other does not; but chooses to have sex for another, good reason, such as, "I love my spouse, and I want to give him or her pleasure, even if its not there for me at the moment.")

Remember, my original purpose was to explain the Church's teaching without reference to Divine Revelation. But it is the Church's teaching I am presenting.

And if you are under the impression that the Church teaches that sex has but one "exclusive function, reproduction" then you simply don't know Church teaching.

Rather, Church teaching is that sexual acts in marriage must be open to reproduction. And the reason, in part, is what I've observed -- that sex, of its essence, is reproductive. That doesn't mean that's all it is; but it does mean that sex, in which the reproductive aspect has been carefully, deliberately left out, is a significant distortion of sex, to the point that it bears only an accidential likeness to sex, as understood simply by looking at its normative instantiation in nature.

Father Martin Fox said...

And it is simply specious to say, "oh, but sex shows up lots of times in nature without being reproductive." No, it doesn't. The only time lower animals have non-reproductive sex is either when they are in heat, and can't find a mate of the opposite sex, or the animals are sterile. But show me where lower animals either persist in homosexual acts, where coitus is possible, or where they contracept!

Human beings are more than animals, but they are still animals. The "more than" includes human reason and volition.

The matter of the five sexes is intriguing, but if you're asking, what will the Church make of that? My answer is, wait till it's a fact, then we'll see. "Could be" is not a fact.

I don't disagree that individuals who are "too homosexual" attempt marriage (I mean heterosexual marriage, for I insist there is no other kind) unsuccessfully, and often, "disastrously." I did not advocate they do so, at least until they have the capacity, assuming that is even fixable -- which is possible in some cases, but only some.

Not everyone can enter into marriage. Some lack the physical capacity for it, some lack the emotional or intellectual capacity. So why should it be so surprising that some would lack the affective capacity (i.e., they are too same-sex-oriented)?

This is usually where someone chirps, "oh, we must allow 'gay marriage' then!" but that doesn't follow at all.

Some people seem to lack anything like the maturity for marriage. What new form of "marriage" shall we create that fits this defect? How about people who are severaly autistic? I can imagine they would find marriage impossible -- ah, but we will redefine marriage further...

Mike L said...

Hi Father,

I agree that so far homosexuality has not been proven to be physically determined. But as a thought exercise, what happens if it is? Does morality then change? Did people who said that the earth revolves around the sun commit a sin up to and until it was proven the other way around. Yeah, I know that you claim that you want to argue from nature, but the only reason for this discussion to ferret our morality.

You are correct you never said sex has an exclusive function, but you do claim that if sex is not open to procreation, it is wrong. And even if you do not claim it explicitly, there is certain the covert assumption of such. Nor did I claim that pleasure was ncessary. I can see many "good" reasons for having sex without pleasure. I don't believe I ever said it was essential.

I simply do not agree that you can look at nature and say that sex must be open to reproduction, that that openess is essential. I believe that you see it that way, but that is much to do with your culture and background, and it is not obvious to all people.

You said "No, it doesn't. The only time lower animals have non-reproductive sex is either when they are in heat, and can't find a mate of the opposite sex, or the animals are sterile. But show me where lower animals either persist in homosexual acts, where coitus is possible, or where they contracept!"
Ah, you switched from non-reproductive sex to homosexual sex. They two are different things. The American eagle is know to have sex outside of egg laying, ie, non-reproductive sex. Prostitution has been observed in primates, that is the female allowing the mail to have coitus only after he had presented her with the proper "payment." Among wolves, when the pack becomes too large, the female does not have cubs, but coitus continues, conception occurs, but the fetus is absorbed. More like abortion than contraception, but I think it is the arena that we are talking about. An agreed, this must be anatural function rather that the mechanicl processes that we think of.

Church teachings: as I said, you are young. The Church in my youth said the primary purpose of sex is reproductive. In Vatican II I believed they changed this to the purpose of sex was reproductive and bonding, making the two sound pretty equal.

As for homosexual marriages, I don't believe they can occur. To me marriage is a sacramental state, and involves a spiritual bond. What we talk about here in the United States is a legal agreement between two peple that gives them certain rights, privledges, and obligations. Things like tax breaks, medical coverage for the other partner, right of inheritance, etc. I would call this a civil partnership, not a marriage, and as such there are a lot of people out there living together in civil partnership that are not married.

This leads me up to the point where I would say that if two people have the right to such a civil partnership, than any two people should have that right. Whether or not they are living in such a relationship chastly or not is a whole other arguement, and I don't much like the idea of anyone peeking through the windows to see if they are. While some say that allowing homosexual civil partnerships will destroy marriage, I have no intention of letting it effect mine, no matter which way it goes. I do think that if you want to destroy "marriage", all you have to do is take away the legal benifits given by the civil contract.

And yes I agree that many are not capable of a sacrmental marriage. Yet in civil law they can get a "marriage license." In fact, I have had the terrible experience of being married in the Church and later having to go through an annulment. Not a pleasant experience at all, at all!!! So even the Church allowed us to "marry" when we were not qualified. Yet certainly we had a civil marriage and that marriage ended in divorce, not annulment. Maybe we just don't define our words clear enough, eh Father?

Yeah, this is a long way from "we can argue from nature," but I do believe it was toward this point that you are heading. Besides that it is an interesting side track, and I think that these discussions are made to help people think. That means getting a bit away from the original subject.

Again, thanks for the itellectual stimulation, I hope we have both benefited from it. And while I don't necessarily agree with your method of arguement, I think that in the end you come to good conclusions. On some things we just have to agree to disagree, and from the books I have been reading by Cdl Ratzinger, that is not a bad thing.


Mike L

atiyah said...

Ah no reply to my posting Fr. Fox. Take a look at another Priest blogger on sex and love as prompted by this new cowboy movie:

alicia said...

did you see the news item about the human/dolphin 'marriage'? seems that the reductio ad absurdam isn't so absurd after all........

Atiyah said...

Not legally recognised Alicia - google it.