February 23, 2007

Of the Dangers of Self-Evident Truth

I have taken to heart the request of our Primate to step back and reflect before diving into the seething mass of commentary and critique that the Primates’ Communiqué has stirred up. Leading the Litany of Penitence at two Ash Wednesday liturgies, and working yesterday on the mundane matters of finishing the Parochial Report, have given me some time to think. Reading the various contributions of many others has also helped me in seeing what I hope is a bigger picture. In what follows, I will try to lay out what I am beginning to see as the root of our present difficulties. In doing so, I fear I may join our Primate in offending some of my friends; but I hope that in what follows I am offering — to use the therapeutic language I usually avoid, but which I am now convinced has become appropriate — an accurate diagnosis, so that we can continue with an appropriate and productive course of treatment.

When Jefferson declared it to be a self-evident truth that human beings are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, it is obvious that the self-evidence did not extend to his own slave-quarters. It is also obvious that even though two out of the three human rights Jefferson held to be self-evident (life and liberty) were derived from the thinking of an English philosopher, it would take a war with England to establish the boundaries of a land in which, nearly a century later, that life and that liberty might be said to have begun their imperfect (and still less than complete) realization.

In our present situation, the Episcopal Church has effectively adopted in practice (although in less than perfect agreement) what I regard as a self-evident truth, articulated in the Koinonía Statement in 1994, “that homosexuality and heterosexuality are morally neutral.”

It is abundantly clear that this thesis was not universally accepted in 1994 (the statement itself being signed only by a minority), and can only be said to be accepted in the Episcopal Church today by an incomplete majority; and further, that it is not self-evidently true to a very large portion of the rest of the Anglican world. On the contrary, a minority of Episcopalians, and a majority of Anglicans would insist in no uncertain terms that not only is this not self-evidently true, but patently false. Same-sexuality is not morally neutral in their eyes, but always and in every circumstance morally culpable.

And this is where my sense of Lenten reevaluation and repentance come in. Those of us who support a neutral or positive view of same-sexuality have not made a case for our position in a way that is persuasive and convincing to the world-wide majority. (I acknowledge that the majority bears some fault in this; but my concern here is to confess my failings, since it is only over my own actions that I can be said to have control.) This is self-evidently true: a majority of the Anglican world have neither been persuaded nor convinced. Many and various voices have spoken, my own included, but there has been no systematic effort to produce a definitive examination and demonstration on this issue — at least one capable of moving beyond the impasse of asserting our conclusion as a premise.

Yes, I fear we on the liberal side have been just as guilty of petitio principii as the “reasserters.” We have been swept up in the knowledge of the rightness of our cause, forgetting that knowledge is capable of puffing up rather than building up. It is certainly true that we have not been well listened to in many places — but what have we offered those we most wish to persuade — who are convinced that same-sexuality is morally wrong — to listen to?

I fear we on the liberal side have been blinded by the splendor of the truth we seek to expound. And so we have moved beyond the essential first step of demonstrating the moral neutrality of sexuality — and the potential goodness of same-sex relationships — into issues of justice, inclusion and baptismal dignity. These are all very important issues — of far wider application, and of far greater Gospel import — but if the underlying question is not settled, they are, sad to say, beside the point to those who see same-sexuality as morally repugnant. (I realize that will sound harsh to my liberal friends, but I am trying to see this from the opposing point of view.) So we take offense when someone analogizes same-sexuality to murder, adultery or incest — failing to hear in this the traditional voice of the majority that judges same-sexuality as sinful — because we have already decided, for ourselves, that the underlying issue is moot.

Well, it is not moot for those with whom we are engaged, or if it is moot, it is moot in contradiction. This is revealed in the liberal misunderstanding concerning conservative opposition to Jeffrey John’s appointment as a bishop (and yes, the English appoint, while we elect — another distinction that seems to be as lost on the bulk of the Communion, as our own liberal understanding of the depth of our disagreements on sexuality falls short.) It is not simply that Jeffrey John is gay, and that his celibacy should let him off the hook, but rather that he espouses the very teaching that is at issue: that same-sex relationships can be morally good; and the conservatives believe that those who teach such things should not be bishops, as it is contrary to what the church teaches, and the bishops are the guardians of the teaching. Yes, that too is a circular argument — but as I said above, we have no control over what our interlocutors argue, only over our response.

So this is where our repentance comes in, repentance that is the first step to actions which I hope will move us away from the impasse of “yes it is / no it isn’t.” I would like to hope that there is a middle way between a revolutionary war and a mere capitulation to the Powers. Is the Anglican Communion worth the effort? Is schism the only answer — cutting the Gordian knot by destroying the bonds of affection, or ending the chess game by turning over the table? I would like to hope that there is another way forward, and I will share some of my hopes and fears in my next post, after further reflection.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


60 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fr. Haller:
Do you believe TEC failed to set out its case in its response to the WR (To Set Our Hope on Christ)? I understood that the concensus was that the response more than adequately made the case for the moral neutrality of same sexuality. If it failed, why do you think that the best minds in TEC failed? From my perception, the case was made as well as cold be made. It simply isn't all that convincing.

Tony Seel said...

Thank you, Tobias, for your thoughtful, humble and irenic essay.

Tony Seel said...

To anonymous: I don't know how you secured your consensus, but the voices I heard pretty uniformly spoke of what an embarrassment in theological reading TSOHOC was/is and how the supposedly best theological minds in ecusa could produce such a poor work.

Tobias said...

Dear Anonymous (and please, I beseech all anonymous posters to use a pen-name!)

My short answer to your first question is Yes. TSOHOC was widely judged to be an inadequate response. With no reflection on those who wrote it, who are indeed fine minds all of them, I would have to say the document is at times very unfocused, and misses some of the key points of argument that most need to be addressed. It is also unsystematic in its basic structure, taking a discursive approach rather than a more rigorous one. It makes some good points, but the lack of focus works against it. Perhaps this is understandable in that it was geared as a response to a document that is in itself seriously flawed and wide-ranging (the Windsor Report). What I think is needed is a much more rigorous examination, from the ground up.

David said...

I'd echo Tony's sentiments, Tobias, and thank you for a really interesting, thoughtful and brave article.

As an ordinand in the Church of England (who found your site via Nick Kniseley), and despite the fact I really do agree with what you say, I am not sure I am in a position to start deciding whether you are right or wrong in your assessment because I'm not part of TEC. It means I offer these observations slightly hesitantly.

However, it does seem to me that if the reliance is on TSOHOC, then if nothing else that theological justification and argument was far too late in the day.

I am someone from a conservative background but who recently wrote an ethics essay on homosexuality for my training that argued to my conservative peers for a fresh assessment on the basis of an (at best) scant biblical witness and the self-evident witness of 'the fruit' in TEC (a point that was argued by TSOHOC).

I can't help but wonder what would have happened if some of the order of these events in our recent Anglican history had been reversed or re-ordered.

What if we had gone from Lambeth 98 not to +Gene, but to a time in which the American church had published and argued the result of their decades of deliberation in this matter (decades more than has been the case almost everywhere else)? What if they had exposed global leaders to the work of God amongst them and allowed them to see 'the fruit' of the Spirit's work in their midst?

Perhaps they did. I don't know and feel like I may be speaking out of turn.

If that didn't happen, I know it would have been intensely frustrating for many in TEC to have to wait for others to catch up; others for whom you might wonder 'why am I waiting for them?' It would have continued to be a long and painful road for many, but in the long run (the very long run) we might have had a better sense of unity in the Communion and certainly a more global impact for those of same-gender orientation so that issues were addressed not just in the US but around the world.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Tobias, I would hope that the better case can be made in words that ordinary people in the pews can understand.

I don't begrudge the learned theologians and Scripture scholars their discussions, but the case for moral neutrality of same-sex and opposite-sex sexuality is important for all of us in TEC to underestand, not just the learned among us.

I came to my understanding in this way, once I had become convinced that the case for the sinfulness of faithful, committed same-sex relationships could not be made from the Scriptures:

God is Creator. He has declared his creation good. He created humans - and other species - with sexual desires for members of their own sex. Would God create human beings with strong desires and not expect them ever to fulfill those desires? I think not. Therefore, same-sex relationships are not only not sinful, but, when faithful and committed, they are, in fact, good.

Now, I'm sure that those more learned than I will find flaws in my reasoning, but it works for me. I'll admit that I have not been able to convince many other folks with this argument, perhaps because of its flaws.

All this talk of "learned" folks on my part is not false humility or snarkiness. The point I try to make here is that the case should be made in a manner that is accessible to all of us of average intelligence. Is that possible?

Dave Sims said...

It seems to me the attempt to re-categorize sexual relationships in general as adiophora or "morally neutral" degrades the obvious original intrinsic good of heterosexual relationships.

In Augustinian terms "evil" is a privation of an original good. There is no question that heterosexual physical intimacy as originally created was called "good" by God and thus is intrinsically good. It seems to me very un-Augustinian to now declare heterosexual relationships to be adiophora or "morally neutral," and then only to keep them provisionally at the same ontological and ethical status as homosexual relationships.

Shouldn't the concept of "adiophora" be reserved for special circumstances where an original good (eating meat for example) has become externally associated with some evil (say, idol worship)? Adiophora or "moral neutrality" is not a common Scriptural idea (the term itself was borrowed from the Stoics); it is by its very nature exceptional. To apply it to something that was obviously part of the original created order seems to me an extreme move with drastic implications for Christian ethics.

So, why even argue for the moral neutrality of same-sex physical intimacy? Shouldn't you should be arguing for its intrinsic good, as an original and sanctioned part of God's ontological order?

Why even start with the apparently modest goal of "moral neutrality"? Surely it's no less radical or offensive to traditionalist ears to argue that homosexual physical intimacy is intrinsically good. The point has always been, it seems to me, not an issue of whether Scripture addresses homosexuality as conceived by the modern scientific mind, but how can you fit homosexual relationships into the original created order? A robust Christian ethics must touch a robust Christian ontology.

Tobias said...

Dear Grandmère,
You cut to the chase; and you are precisely right. The best theology will be in language that anyone can understand. This has been one of the failings of the "learned" -- many of whom have been so busy talking to each other that they have forgotten those who most need to hear, in language that speaks to the heart as well as to the head.
God bless you.

Will Dukes said...

Thank you Fr. Haller,
After so much anger and despair that's been floating around blogland (on both sides, though maybe at different times) an essay like this is a great sign of hope to me for the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. I hope this Lent can be a time for everyone (again, on both sides) to reflect, cool the rhetoric and rediscover the patience and love we're called to show each other.

God bless

Tobias said...

Dave,
I don't think you can find any scriptural evidence for a primal ontological goodness to heterosexual sex. What God declared "good" in Genesis 2 was the companionship Adam and Eve shared, and there is no indication of sexual activity between them until after the Fall. I know Augustine posited sex in Eden (in which the male member was under conscious control of the will and not the libido) but that is just one of his strange and unsupportable assertions.

I think you are also conflating two terms: adiaphora is not the same as "moral neutrality." What I mean is that heterosexual acts are not morally good apart from the context in which they are carried out and the agents. The act itself is not the locus of the goodness or evil. Sexual acts can be morally culpable even within a faithful marriage: for instance, a man forcing his wife to have sex when she doesn't really want to. And our good friend Augustine attributed moral failing to sexual acts even within marriage. I make no claims to be an Augustinian, by the way, and find much of his thinking, particularly on sexuality, to be misguided and unhelpful to the present discussion.

Vicki McGrath+ said...

Thanks, Tobias, for your thoughts. You certainly captured the view that Abp. Hutchison of Canada mentioned in his meeting with Canadian clergy (read at EpiScope). He said that for a core group of the Primates, homosexuality is a "salvation issue." This, of course, makes dialogue and understanding with those who do not see it as relating to salvation - regardless of their understanding of the morality of same-sexuality.

Your reflection also sparked an additional question in my mind. Could part of the view of homosexuality as being immoral come from an understanding that, due to the Fall, all sexuality is disordered and immoral and can only be "redeemed" by containing it within traditional heterosexual marriage?

I appreciate your faithfulness.

R said...

Tobias,

I have two concerns in response to your post. The first is one echoing some of what has already been said:

1) Are we really in a position now (or have we ever been) to dialogue and present a case on the matter of human sexuality? We have been strongly at odds for several years at least with a strong desire to shut down the question entirely. We now seem to be in a situation where ultimatums have been presented and must be responded to. That said, I would not be entirely unhappy if the HoB responded the Communique with a thoroughgoing request to further document our position on matters of homosexuality, but would it be accepted? Though it would not be hurtful to try, I suppose. (Incidentally, the Diocese of California put together a very lengthy response to Lambeth I.10 around 1999-2000, but I don't know how far it got in the conversation -- so the materials -- good, bad, and indifferent -- are already out there for those who would wish to look.)

2. My greater concern is this, and in adding only to Mimi's comment: In arguing theological positions, I am becoming increasingly wary that we end up objectifying the incarnational truths in our midst -- that is, the real, tangible, fleshy witness of our LGBT brothers and sisters. It is one thing to generate rigorous theological argument. Quite another to root it in real lives.

I am not enough of a scholar to say this with certainty, but my hunch is that theology almost always follows experience not vice versa. After all, theology of the salvation of Jesus Christ was not formulated before his public ministry, execution, and resurrection, but after. . .long after.

God's peace, and I beg your pardon for my impatience.

Tobias said...

Richard,
You are anticipating two elements of my "course of treatment" which I hope to be able to unveil in the next few days. I just finished listening to ++KJS's talk to the 815 staff, and find that there is significant resonance there as well. Her point about continuing to stay in dialogue is most important: and from your comment the two matters I would emphasize are the needs to unite the effort (gathering what already exists and refining it and completing it) and to insist on that incarnational presentation with real live people. My concern is that if we take the easier course of division, we lose the chance both to convince others, but I think more importantly -- and ++K mentioned this -- do something to help our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. It is in part the choice between acheiving a local and limited crown (gay bishops and blessings for us in the US), rather than bearing a possbily much more broadly efficacious cross -- deferring complete "success" in the hopes of a wider influence to the benefit of others. I don't think I need to quote that Hillel mantra again -- but it is at the heart of this divide.

R said...

Tobias,

This is very heartening. Thank you. Please let me know if there is anything I may do to help, beyond praying, of course, for your efforts and those of ++Katharine and all who work with her in trying to find a way forward beyond dangerous life of brinkmanship.

My only lingering concern is rooted in Martin Luther King's admonition in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail that being asked to wait -- the language of moderation -- can be all that is needed to maintain the status quo. May God keep all our eyes, ears, and hearts open.

God's peace.

bls said...

I agree with you, Fr. Haller, that we need to make a better case - one rooted in theology rather than "justice." (It does seem to be happening all around us even while we watch, though; as somebody said recently, the best theology is being done on the blogs, and I think it's true.)

I do wonder about the priorities of the Anglican Communion, though - which don't seem to me to be that different from those of the world (and I thought they were supposed to be). How can the Primates completely ignore what's going on in Nigeria in re: the anti-gay laws there and the open support of the ACN for them? And why has no national church other than Canada declared this unacceptable?

I am very disillusioned at this point. I very much agree that we ought to worry about making a difference for others in the world - our problems aren't that serious here - but I'm not sure I see it happening through the AC any longer. I'd be willing to try, if you think it would help; I rely on your better knowledge of the church.

In any case, this is another wonderful article, and I look forward to reading what you'll write going forward. (I vowed to stay off the blogs this Lent, but it seeems impossible with everything going on. I guess I'm amending this to "only a few" and "only if I can keep my anger under check" - which is actually more difficult than staying away entirely.)

Patrick said...

Dear Fr. Tobias,
Thank you for an excellent post. Although I am on the "liberal" side, I think some of the reactions to the primates' communique have been overheated. As if TEC was going to be any less inclusive tomorrow than it is today if we do what we can to maintain communion. I look forward to you further thoughts on the matter. I do think we need to reach out to those around the world who are not yet persuaded, and do so from a position of kenotic credibility.
On the other hand, I think TEC needs to be vigilant in preserving its property as part of the same trust in the future of that communion.

Prior Aelred said...

Tobias --

I think you are brilliant & respect you tremendously, but I think you are missed (or failing to state) a key element in what is happening (as is the PB) -- you assume that our interlocutors are operating in good faith. This is not true. If you give in to bullies, they will simply ask for more.

Rodney said...

I continue to believe that our ability to agree or disagree about human sexuality is the canary in the coal mine and nothing more than an expensive way to avoid the deeper work that is required. I believe this is a battle over our baptismal ecclesiology. I am among those who lobby that the only Anglican covenant that can bind us is the Baptismal Covenant. We quickly learned that others in the AC do not agree with our baptismal theology and cannot affirm it. If we are not bound by our baptsm then where does that leave us?

We either believe we are made one in Christ (without exception or qualification) or we do not.

++KJS's audio restates the classic incarnational approach for Anglican theology. She says that it is only in the flesh that this conversation moves forward. Exactly. And precisely why theologizing before the fact does not work. How could we possibly know if female clergy would be fruitful if we never had experience them? Same with gay clergy. Same with gay relationships within the church.

The course of events may not be helpful for those who prefer systematic approaches, but it is the only way that works. My biggest problem with complying with the Primates demands is that it comes from Provinces which refuse to engage the incarnational reality. Now we are told that a "teaching" (which has never been ratified by anyone) cannot be changed until there is a new consensus yet the vehicles for such a consensus are also denied.

Which brings me back to where I began:

The best theological argument for full inclusion is the liturgy for baptism in the current BCP. If we can't agree on baptism then there is no point in all these additional conversations.

Dennis said...

If we say "ok" to their demands and agree to the ultimatum of the communique then we will have hurt not only the gays and lesbians and ordained women and progressives and the idea of a communion of national churches, we will also have hurt the conservatives in the Anglican communion. They will have lost the gift and example of us being willing to affirm a gospel truth and take a stand for it - even if we must thus suffer the consequences.

If we are willing to stand up for what we truly believe then we will have set a grand example of choosing acceptance and truth over the comfort of present structures. We will have shown that we can let go of safety in the established structures to stand up for what matters to us. It won't be easy at first but...

and I seriously believe this

if a hundred years from now the Nigerian Anglican Church is an open and tolerant place for everyone it will be because at this time we dared to walk away for the sake of radical accceptance of all.

If we stay then the conservatives will lose the gift of seeing us stand up for our belief in a gospel of radical acceptance. If we are not willing to stand up for this principle, even if it means a parting of the ways, then we will have pushed back the date of full acceptance in the church for decades.

I seriously believe that the communion needs to see us willing to stand up and claim our belief in the gospel of acceptance - even if this means that in the short term we must then walk apart.

Thos who stand up for justice and truth and are willing to suffer for it - by even being cut off from the community - offer a far more precious gift to the oppressors and to the whole society than those who meekly go along in the hope of possibly bringing about a slow change.

We can't accept this ultimatum. And the rest of the communion needs to us refuse to accept it, for the sake of the gospel and our Lord who spread out his arms to draw all people unto himself.

janinsanfran said...

I'm sure you are right that TEC has slipped into the premise the sexuality is morally neutral, barely realizing it. After all, we live in a society that has, in the majority, come to the same understanding, though lots of people don't like it. And really, I don't for myself have the slightest interest in going back into the arguments about that conclusion; we're over it. Some people may have to do this -- don't ask we queers to take part; we're done and not willing to play mind games about our humanity.

When my mother was dying, I told a wise priest that one of my mother's sadnesses was that I was a lesbian. (She wanted grandchildren and I was not so inclined.) The priest, mistaking my meaning perhaps, asked me whether that left me feeling estranged from God. Out of my mouth, in that way that these things happen when we are seized by a voice from a source greater than our own being, I protested: "No -- God is not a demon." Like I said, I'm over arguing about this stuff. I don't need a bank of learned theologians to tell me I'm human, with all the good and evil that entails. God has taken care that.

My problem in the present moment is much more mundane. In my parish, I'm part of an evangelism committee. Amazingly for Episcopalians, we actually go out on the street, passing out flyers about why folks might want to join our parish events and worship. How in the world am I supposed to invite my fellow queers into a Church that treats our existence as a problem? Forty years ago there was a thing called the Council on Religion and the Homosexual that said we were probably not really bad -- and it was a big deal. Today's LBGTQ community lives in a world where, outside the boonies and the older generation, our existence simply is taken for granted. We may not be loved, but we are part of the fabric of life. My lesbian partner teaches ethics to freshmen at a Jesuit university -- her students cannot fathom denial of gay marriage rights.

Now I am a believer -- I am sure that the LBGTQ community needs to know Jesus, as all humans do. But given what queers encounter of Jesus -- condemnation or patronizing tolerance -- it is not surprising that we tend to run screaming away from self-identified Christians, if not throw things. Too many of us have learned that rejection of "Christians" is necessary to preserving our adult integrity.

It has been nice to see the Episcopal Church break from this pattern. If, in the interests of something or other it retreats to a holding pattern on matters of sexuality, the queers will not come. Why should they? TEC doesn't, fortunately, have a monopoly on God -- we're just one tradition. That will be sad. I like the BCP and the liturgy, but they aren't God or salvation, they are just forms. And many, maybe even including me, may have to do without them.

Terry Sparks said...

Tobias, you raise an interesting point. I have been reading a new book called American Fascists: the Christian Right and the War on America, by Chris Hedges. In Chapter 1, the author discusses the selective literalism of the "Christian" right, particularly with regard to apocalyptic passages felt to predict ". . . an end time when there will be no non-Christians or infidels." Hedges then adds that,

"Mainstream Christians can also cherry-pick the Bible to create a Jesus and God who are always loving and compassionate. Such Christians often fail to acknowledge that there are hateful passages in the Bible that give sacred authority to the rage, self-agrandizement and intolerance of the Christian Right. Church leaders must denounce the biblical passages that champion apocalyptic violence and hateful political creeds. They must do so in the light of other biblical passages that teach a compassion and tolerance, often exemplified in the life of Christ, which stands opposed to bigotry and violence. Until this happens, until the Christian churches wade into the debate these biblical passages will be used by bigots and despots to give sacred authority to their calls to subjugate or eradicate the enemies of God" . . . "and the steady refusal by churches to challenge the canonical authority of these passages means these churches share some of the blame."

I have been longing for some time for the liberal church to stop twisting in the wind of those seven passages condemning homosexuality, sometimes deigning to refute them in minute detail that leaves everyone on all sides yawning and looking for an excuse to leave the room. What is needed is to deny the authority of those passages and offer our own much more extensive canon of biblical passages that support our well-founded belief in a loving and inclusive Gospel. But it seems liberals are so convinced that "proof-texting" is either pointless or morally repugnant that they will let a phalanx of neo-con financed bullies and schismatics wield homosexuality as a wedge issue in what is essentially a power grab with the entire church as the prize.

You can't win an argument with biblical literalists using other authority (reason, experience, and the like); you have to overwhelm their biblically supported premise with a more authoritative argument of your own also founded on scripture. Even then you may not change their minds, but it is possible to demonstrate that you're just as biblical as they are. Once at that impasse, you can begin to negotiate.

Of course, it is probably too late for that now. If reports I read are true of Abp. Akinola demanding that the Church of England also repent and prove that it has ceased its acceptance of homosexuality and homosexuals by September 30, with the implicit threat to lead a global separation from the existing Anglican Communion (see http://allafrica.com/stories/200702221147.html -- reported on the Episcopal blog Episcope today, and also available at the Website of Nairobi's Daily Nation: http://tinyurl.com/3aeoz3), then the sort of gradualist "conversion" through dialog that the current and past presiding bishops have seemed to favor will have to take place across a chasm.

In any case, we still need to develop and enunciate a coherent biblical argument for our position in order for the long and demanding work of "conversion" to proceed.

dave sims said...

Tobias said:

"I don't think you can find any scriptural evidence for a primal ontological goodness to heterosexual sex. What God declared "good" in Genesis 2 was the companionship Adam and Eve shared, and there is no indication of sexual activity between them until after the Fall."

If heterosexual physical intimacy as such wasn't part of the original created order (and there's no reason to think it wasn't), it certainly became part of the created order. Whatever its chronological moment of arrival, its ontological status is no less particular and irreducible. It is part of God's created order, and what God created is good, full stop. Christian morality must always orient itself towards a thing's original purpose.

"What I mean is that heterosexual acts are not morally good apart from the context in which they are carried out and the agents. The act itself is not the locus of the goodness or evil. Sexual acts can be morally culpable even within a faithful marriage: for instance, a man forcing his wife to have sex when she doesn't really want to [...]

And our good friend Augustine attributed moral failing to sexual acts even within marriage. I make no claims to be an Augustinian, by the way, and find much of his thinking, particularly on sexuality, to be misguided and unhelpful to the present discussion."

I'm not a unqualified Augustinian myself, but his ontology of good and evil is considered one of his most important contributions, and is relatively uncontroversial. What you're describing here, in Augustinian terms, are privations of an original good. The "original good" in question is caring, faithful, heterosexual intimacy. Yet here you've defined physical intimacy here (rather conveniently) as an abstract physical act in search of a "context."

The context -- the wholeness, faithfullness, trust, mutual submission, complementarity, reciprocity and goodness of physical intimacy -- was always implicit. The universe you posit here doesn't look to me very Augustinian, or robustly Christian for that matter. It looks like a physical reality that is morally inert, where "goodness" pops up willy-nilly whenever the "context" is right.

Suzer said...

It is all well and good for both sides to spend years in heady theological debates over the lives of GLBT people. But GLBT people are living their lives HERE and NOW. I am supposed to wait 50 more years until the theologians have settled the case? No, I won't. I'll leave organized Christianity long before then. I won't leave Christ, no, and I won't leave God (God wouldn't leave me anyway). But I think you will find that further learned debate will simply strain at the patience of people like me who want to find God's unconditional love within a church right NOW.

When I was in college, there were several racist incidents on campus. House meetings were held, and campus-wide meetings were held. One of the African-American students in my house said something that struck me to this day. We were talking about how to understand each other better, how to bridge cultures and learn from each other. Several women suggested that we needed to hear from our African-American sisters, hear their stories and learn from them.

This particular lady stood up, crying, and said "WHY do I have to teach you? Why is it incumbent upon ME to educate you about this? I live it, I'm tired of it. Go out for yourselves and find out what we, as black women, are talking about. Take classes, read history, study it yourselves. It is not my job as a black woman to educate you all about racial injustice."

As a lesbian, I'm feeling much the same way. There are myriad resources for these bishops, priests and congregations to use to educate themselves about our theological position. Why should we have to continually answer the call of "PROVE it to us!" They don't want it proven to them. They don't open their ears to hear, or their eyes to see the oppression of GLBT people in the church. I have had to educate MYSELF about this subject, they can, too. The bishops have the same resources (even more, I'll bet) than I do. They are intelligent and learned. But their hearts and minds are closed.

Was it was Barbara Brown Taylor who used the metaphor of "banging at the gates of Heaven, but there is no one on the other side." (Or it might have been Barbara Kingsolver -- getting my Barbara's mixed up?) That's what this is beginning to feel like. Eventually, much to the delight of the conservatives, GLBT people will grow tired of our hands being bloodied at their doors and we will walk away. And it will be the conservatives' loss, as they will have turned away the stranger at their door, the one hungering for God's love. GLBT people will find other avenues for spirituality. We are here and now, and I for one won't wait another 30 years for any church to accept me. I will go it alone, with God, if necessary.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughtful words-I want to raise the example of women's ordination, which has dragged on forever and is not settled even now in the Communion inspite of a mountain of theology and scripture studies. As KJS noted in her talk, incarnate witness makes the theological difference--which I can affirm as a woman priest, in spite of my love of theology--and has often happened for gay clergy. So, the question now is what is the nature of the incarnate witness of the TEC? KJS makes a powerful, beautiful, and traditional argument for hanging in as a means of ensuring conversation and progress. Can we consider some means of "standing by", i.e. not spliting, but also not conforming at the expense of our brothers and sisters as a way of avoiding yet more paper and affirming a witness to our own work? Consider "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" or "Why We Can't Wait"--racial equality was not self-evident to all either. Rebecca

Tony said...

This kind of heated rhetoric is not helpful: "you assume that our interlocutors are operating in good faith. This is not true. If you give in to bullies, they will simply ask for more."

Not only is it unhelpful, it also ignores the facts on the ground. If one looks at how traditionalists are treated in liberal dioceses (CT, PA, Rochester, are some of most egregious examples), we see some real bullying going on by liberals. Add to this the lawsuits by dioceses and the national church, and we get another element of the breakdown of good faith. The prior should do some of the kind of reflection that obviously the blogmeister is doing before he emotes what is demonstrably one-sided, if not false, accusations.

Tobias said...

Dave,
This is not the place to get further into a discussion of Augustinian moral theology. Suffice it to say that I reject the notion of "privation" as the source of moral evil. This is not a biblical concept, and it worked for Augustine in the philosophical modality of his time, but it really makes little sense in our philosophical context, any more than reading too much into the creation accounts (as if they were literal accounts) is of any real help in this discussion.

To others, I will simply say wait and let me finish the other half of my argument. To Suzer, in particular, let me say I am not countenancing a return or a retrogression, or "giving into bullies" as Prior Aelred suggests, but pressing the case forward. I am also keen on making it clear to people on all sides that this is not a matter of isolated theory or ideas, but about people's lives -- and it is in how we treat other people that we show our Christ-likeness. But that goes for those with whom we disagree as well.

Rather than to Augustine, I turn to Jesus Christ as the articulator of the basis of morality: do unto others as you would be done by. That requires me to treat even those with whom I disagree with respect -- even the bullies and the homophobes -- and with the knowledge that only God will change their hearts.

brightereyed, bushiertailed said...

Fr. Haller - I don't wan't wade into the discussion ongoing throughout these comments, but I do wish to commend you on this post. I think you've diagnosed (if I may follow your use of the term) the present state of the conversation on human sexuality in the Communion quite correctly.

I am a "conservative" on this issue, I suppose, at least insofar as I do not believe that sexuality of any sort is morally neutral. And I must say, I have heard precious few arguments from "liberals" (and even fewer that were even remotely persuasive) that would cause me to shift my opinion on this issue. This is unfortunate, I think. "Conservatives" offer me plenty of good arguments in support of their position, whether philosophical, theological, scriptural, or from some combination of these. I'm glad you've recognized the need for "liberals" to do the same. I, for one, am perfectly willing to hear them.

I do wonder, however (as I'm taking a break from plunging through the second volume of MacIntyre's "virtue trilogy"), whether the two sides possess a sufficiently common moral vocabulary at this point to frame ANY arguments that would be mutually persuasive. In my limited reading, the arguments posted by "the Anglican Scotist" have probably come closest to persuading ME, but even these are undermined, in my view, by question-begging premises. And I have to assume that a "liberal" would think similarly about many arguments I would consider quite sound.

At any rate, having stated the problem in the terms you have at least clears away an enormous amount of rhetoric from the real disagreement. And I'm sure that took quite alot of humility to do. Thank you.

Dennis said...

Brightereyed...

Good point. A few thoughts from a liberal who is an ex-conservative.

May I suggest what it is that makes liberal/ progressive arguments sound unconvincing? For me, when I was an active political and religious conservative (over 20 years ago) it was the lack of certainty in liberal arguments. I couldn't stand what seemed to me to be wishy-washy arguments that didn't seem built up from first principles.

What strikes me odd about this now is that I wanted liberals to provide arguments against certainty and absolutes, based on my certainties and absolutes. I was begging the question in every debate with liberal friends, though I didn't see it at the time.

As an ex-conservative it seems to me that the gut-feeling bedrock idea of conservativism is the role of authority, which is not a bad thing in and of itself. Conservativism in society and religion and politics is ultimately dedicated to preserving a due sense of authority and respect for the structures of authority. Again, not inherently bad in and of itself. But realize that liberals are not going to accept this and we are not going to defend our position by arguing from authority or authorities.

When I was a conservative, so many years ago it seems, I truly used to believe that liberals in authority in politics and society and the church were "tyrants" because they "demanded" that people follow their policies based on changing fads. I didn't understand the causes they were working toward, I wouldn't accept that they had good reasons behind their behavior based on principles that were different than mine, and I couldn't accept that people who were working against authority could be in a position of authority. I honestly used to believe all of this.

As a progressive what matters to me now, what makes an argument convincing (and again I speak only for me) is a reference to lived human experience and human needs. Traditional authority seems meaningless, now. It would have infuriated my old conservative self to hear this, but it seems to me that institutions and traditions are meaningless in and of themselves. How they improve the lives of people, how they impact the lived experience of other people, is what matters.

As a liberal now I am often infuriated by conservatives dismissing liberal arguments as circular and poorly reasoned. Conservative arguments against liberals, now, seem to me to be contemptuous and angry.

Conservatives are not going to hear us make an argument based on tradition and authority: it won't happen. And we cannot understand how you defend tradition and authority based on references to tradition and authority. It seems circular to us.

Perhaps it really does come down to social conditioning and neurological causes.

Rowan said...

There is really so much being posted here that is thoughtful and challenging to me. And it is clear that you are all quite beyond me in intellect and knowledge. I hesitate to enter into your discussion but I am wondering about something.

Why is it that homosexuality is what has to be proved neutral?

What seems a far more compelling subject to me is that of homophobia, specifically as a result of fundamentalism. It seems like we treat it as morally neutral, just another opinion. But, it has the effect of doing real harm which, at least to me, makes it a moral issue.

Why is it homosexuality, and not homophobia, that has to be defended?

Thank you, Tobias, for this blog and forum. I appreciate the obvious thought and care that goes into your posts.
Lindy
Linda McMillan
Austin, Texas

brightereyed, bushiertailed said...

Dennis,
Thanks for the comments. I'm not sure I'd chalk differences between conservative and liberal argumentative strategies to "neurological causes," though "sociological conditioning" probably explains a fair bit. I'd want to deny, for my part, though, that the arguments that persuade me of the immorality of same-sex liaisons hinge on a particular sociological bias. In fact, I'd want to deny that they depend, necessarily, on a particular "tradition" or "authority."

For one thing, it has often struck me that one might pursue a Kantian or even (though it'd be more of a stretch) a Benthamite tack to a similar conclusion. Even concededing, however, that the strongest arguments against homosexual unions do employ premises beyond the bounds of "pure reason" (or whatever you like to call it!), I'm not sure these premises depend on a particular tradition or authority. And IF, in fact, they do depend on a traditional or authoritative consensus, so too, of course, do orthodox Christology or doctrine of Trinity or whatever.

Now it strikes me as entirely possible that "orthodoxy," which as Fr. Haller has pointed out before, is a pretty contentious word to heave around, is simply something that liberals in this discussion aren't interested in. In charity, I have to doubt that this is the case, for most of them. Nevertheless, it does seem like that's where the lines wind up being drawn in this discussion. There is something at stake here that liberals think is accidental, cosmetic, to Christianity itself, and that conservatives think is essential, indispensible.

Since orthodoxy, one has to assume, is a matter of eternal import, it is no wonder that conservatives get so fired up about it. Nor is it uncharitable on their parts. Suppose you GENUINELY thought that a fellow Christian was putting their salvation at stake by acting or believing in a particular way. I imagine you'd do what was in your power to bring them round. At any rate, you'd likely take measures to block their particular activity or belief from gaining widespread acceptance within the Christian community of which you are part. These, I think, would not be angry or vituperative steps on your part, but could genuinely be construed as acts of Christian charity.

Well at any rate, there's some more food for though. Again, it was interesting to hear your remarks. Fr. Haller, if any of this business is going to prove bitterly contentious or whatever, please do block this; I'm not at all interested in waging holy war! Thanks for providing this forum.

dave sims said...

Tobias said:

"Dave,
This is not the place to get further into a discussion of Augustinian moral theology. Suffice it to say that I reject the notion of 'privation' as the source of moral evil."

As the mechanic said: "there's your trouble."

You began this thread by contemplating, with characteristic humility, that on the question of homosexuality you have not made your case to the wider communion.

And in the above passage you break with most major Christian thinkers I can call to mind, with the exception of perhaps Occam. It seems to me that, without Augustine or some version of the privative theory of evil, your choices of Christian ontology become limited, and pretty exotic at that: you've got Kant, some kind of Christian nominalism, or a return the dualism Augustine rejected. All would entail a break from the majority of Christian tradition. It seems to me that puts us closer to understanding our most basic disagreement.

I suggest that any alternative to TPOHOC has to begin at this level.. It wouldn't have to be tedious and academic, but it would have to at least lay out some first principles.

The Christian traditionalist's position has been characterized by the progessives/reassessers again, and again, and again, as a stubborn, hateful, bigoted insistence on interpreting a few passages in a way that conveniently supports crass prejudice. But in truth it is deeply entwined with a nuanced worldview articulated and refined over centuries of theological reflection. It retains the power it has because it is part of a whole. Any counter-position must respect that wholeness and attempt to either integrate into that wholeness or present a compelling wholeness of its own.

And that was my original point: for the progessives to make their case, not only do they need something better than TPOHOC, not only do they need theological genius, but they need to integrate their position into a rhetoric that is as beautiful, comprehensive and poetic as Christian orthodoxy has been for these many centuries. Because that's one of the great strengths of the Christian worldview that we feel is under threat: its wholeness, its power to affirm the moral intuition.

The simplistic apologetic we've seen so far from the progessive side is inadequate, no matter how many times the Crews and Kaetons of the world assert that they've "already made their case." My feeling is that there has been a dramatic underestimation on the part of the progressive side, of the power of the integrated traditionalist Christian position on sexuality, how deeply held these moral intuitions go, and how mere prooftexting, of Paul or the OT, is no more compelling to us than it is to you.

Rev. Kurt said...

"If one looks at how traditionalists are treated in liberal dioceses (CT, PA, Rochester, are some of most egregious examples), we see some real bullying going on by liberals."

I cannot answer for the other dioceses but in Connecticut the traditionalists have not been bullied as you suggest. There victimization is their own doing by withdrawing from all things in CT, ignoring the Const. & Canons and trying to forge their own way...

nlnh said...

Tony, before you cue up those sad Gypsy violins, you might want to ask what it is like to be a mainstream Episcopalian in places like Pittsburgh, Dallas, and Fort Worth, a women in San Joaquin or Springfield, or a gay in a "Windsor Compliant" diocese like mine.

Truth is, there's plenty of meanness to go around. No one has come out of all this looking particularly good.

Tobias said...

Dave,
What I said is that this is not the place fully to develop or expound the bases of my own moral theology, which, instead of being based on Augustine and his essentialist philosophy is much more closely based on the teaching of Jesus. The moral teaching of Jesus is not based on ontology, but relationship. And yes, I will side with Occam and the nominalists against the philosophical trends you discuss, not simply because I believe them to be beautiful, but because I think the reflect actual reality in a way the so-called "realists" failed to grasp.

The whole concept of "privation of being" makes no sense in the real world. "Being" is not a quality one can have more or less of --- and of course this is also the problem with the Anselmic position. It is a fundamentally flawed category error.

But again, as I said, this is not the place for this discussion. It is, moreover, perfectly possible to build a "case" for same-sex relationships even within such a philosophical framework; and it might make an interesting exercise; but it seems to me to be more persuasive to use a biblical, rather than an Augustinian, basis for discussion.

nlnh said...

Regarding the business about theology vs. appeals to justice, I think it's a good point.

Having been raised fundamentalist, I can tell you that fundamentalists, even those who hold themselves forth as "Evangelicals" or "Classical Anglicans," are generally not persuaded by appeals to justice.

As they see it, Scripture is the foundation of all knowledge and truth, and any conception of justice that contradicts their reading of Scripture is not justice at all, just a worldly perversion of true divine justice.

The problem, though, is that I can't see any way we can "do theology" to their satisfaction either, because to many fundamentalists, theology is simply a matter of finding appropriate "proof texts" whose "plain meaning" (that is to say, an ahistorical, context-free 21st century reading of a 17th century translation of ancient texts) supports established doctrine. "Verdict first, then trial!"

There are exceptions, of course, many of them, but most do approach theology this way, so I really can't see any way we can have a meeting of the minds.

It would be better, I think, to arrange an equitable divorce from the "reasserters" and let them go on their merry way.

KJ said...

Brightereyed said: "Conservatives" offer me plenty of good arguments in support of their position, whether philosophical, theological, scriptural, or from some combination of these. I'm glad you've recognized the need for "liberals" to do the same. I, for one, am perfectly willing to hear them.

Brightereyed, your list of the sources of "good arguments" from "conservatives" (I'm very uncomfortable with labels that don't mean a great deal, but will use the ones that you are using.) has a huge omission -- the stories and journeys of GLBT believers who have given up what they and others thought should be true of themselves and them, and have chosen authenticity and transparency at a level that seldom seems to be required of other believers.

This is more than an academic exercise devoid of real people.

I grew up in an "evangelical, Bible-based" church in which I remained silent about my sexuality for 40 years. When I came out as a gay man, and subsequently had to leave my church, I immediately discovered I was able to share my faith with and be the face of Christ to people whom I would never have even met if my primary spiritual practice and goal had been to ascribe to the "good arguments" to which you refer rather than seeking the leading of the Spirit. To have attempted to to reconcile reality (A life and freedom in the Spirit that up to that point I had never known.) with "correct" teaching would have required me to abandon all reason while adopting a blind faith in the understandings of others. This is neither a prescription for spiritual nor mental health.

As a result of that experience, when forced to choose, I pray that every time I will choose life in the breath of the Spirit rather than seeking ecclesiastical approval. For that to be true, if I must abandon church, or if church feels it must abadond me, so be it.

Anonymous said...

From: Expired
"Demonstrating the moral neutrality of sexuality" is a daunting task, for surely something without which the human race would cease to exist after one generation must have positive moral value. Your question reduces to this: is sexuality apart from procreation morally neutral? And that begs the question of definitional scope: what exactly is this "sexuality" that must be shown morally neutral -- for example, does it include those works of painting and sculpture and architecture and music and dance and even cuisine whose appeal to the senses is so often described (and felt) as sexual? Can anyone even draw the line between sexuality and beauty?

Consider the lilies of the field. Or as Dave put it, "Shouldn't you be arguing for [sexuality's] intrinsic good, as an original and sanctioned part of God's ontological order?" It is unhelpful to talk of 'before and after the Fall" or "the act itself is not the locus" to avoid the question. What the average TEC parishioner experiences in everyday life is that sexuality results in babies, which is inherently good, though of course it can also result in abusive and socially- unacceptable experiences.

But this argument will not persuade anyone who has beauty boxed off in one corner and sexuality in another and love in yet another. We can help them open those boxes but only if there is discourse, and discourse takes time at best -- and at worst ("in bad faith") is a mere stalling tactic. As Richard said, "the language of moderation can be all that is needed to maintain the status quo. May God keep all our eyes, ears, and hearts open." Anyone who grew up in the Southern U.S. in the post-WWII years remembers the years it took to lead reluctant TEC congregations beyond the status quo of racial segregation.

Thus I come around to what Richard said, "my hunch is that theology almost always follows experience not vice versa." For many peoples of the world, homophobia is their experience. They take it for granted. They cannot imagine embracing sexuality rather than seeking salvation from it. There is plenty of authority for as well as against their views. They will maintain the status quo as long as they can. As with the ordination of women, we have to "just do it" and let them experience the negative that we can never prove in advance: the sky will not fall. And if they refuse to share that experience with us and elect division instead, they will simply constitute the control group in our grand experiment. Women this time, and time itself, are on our side.

What it took to lead the South out of segregation was the force of law as well as moral pressure. There was a time for talking, and that expired. The time for talking about sexuality now has the Primates' expiration date stamped on it. As opposed to timorous Anglican unity, I don't believe the experience of dealing with sexuality coherently within the TEC, accompanied by division, will really result in a longer gestation for the "theology [that] almost always follows," or accomplish less in the long run for stranded G&L elsewhere in the world.

JayV said...

The PB talks about charism.
This ain't my first rodeo, folks. I'm a gay man, raised in TEC since my baptism at aged 2 years (!), product of its schools. I say this unapologetically: I'm tired! I've been living this charism for over 35 years!

dave sims said...

"The moral teaching of Jesus is not based on ontology, but relationship. And yes, I will side with Occam and the nominalists against the philosophical trends you discuss, not simply because I believe them to be beautiful, but because I think the reflect actual reality in a way the so-called "realists" failed to grasp."

Fair enough. Our differences really are fundamental. And of course, like any good realist, it is my position that Occam is a disaster. There are many alternatives to his "nuclear option," that comprehend both the analogical aspect of "life in the real world," and its irreducible particularity. But why you don't want to solve the nominalist/realist debate once and for all, right here and now, is beyond me...

But seriously, Tobias, can you honestly say that it would be fruitful to have a debate about sexuality when one side is using terms (like "Good," for instance) in ways the other side simply does not understand? This is ground-level difference that must somehow become transparent before any progress can be made in the discussion.

Tobias said...

Expired, and to some extent Dave:

Perhaps I can put this all more clearly simply by saying that there is, ultimately, no such "thing" as "sexuality." (That's why it is a moral "null" in and of itself. It is a concept, not a reality.) There are people, intents, acts and consequences, and these can be good or bad. (Dave will recognize my nominalist leanings here.) To put it more bluntly, good and bad are not about who you are but about what you do. To take the example Expired gives, "babies" -- are babies good or bad? -- not ontologically and generically, but really, specifically. I would say that some babies are good and some bad; some are wanted, others not. Procreation is good when it is intended, welcome and arises from a loving relationship. Procreation arising from rape, for example, cannot reasonably be called "good" in se although as we know God is capable of bringing consequent good out of even a bad situation.

While I recognize the ontological principle Dave is advancing -- that "creation is good" my concer is that it is of little help in the present discussion. Look what happens the moment someone suggests that same-sexuality is actually a part of that "good" creation. The first response from the essentialists will be either to deny that it is part of the created order on the basis of the mythology in Genesis 1 and 2 (and in spite of the reality of the actual world), or that if it is "natural" in this sense it somehow lacks the "goodness" of other natural things, and is rather like "natural" things such as disease, etc. You have seen this merry-go-round of argument, no doubt. I see this as unproductive, and as circular as any merry go round, in part because it is all based on the acceptance of a philosophical system (Augustinian or "realist" in the later debates) which itself cannot be shown to reflect actuality. So you end up with a beautifully constructed circular argument -- that proves nothing. And, I will add, it is only the reliance on the Genesis myth that leaves same-sex realtionships outside of the "ontological" goodness; and if one accepts that the unitive purposes of sexuality are as important as the procreative (which I think one must, given that not all heterosexual sexuality leads to procreation, and no one suggests that marriage must end with the end of fertility) it is quite possible to build on the scientific learnings about same-sex sexuality functioning in the natural world and in human beings as indeed capable of both generic and actual good.

However, as I said, I would prefer to build a biblical argument based on relationships and the goodness that arises from them, in accordance with Jesus' teaching. And in my experience, most people can relate more easily to the notion of goodness embodied in contemporary ethical thought based on relationship and the principles Jesus established for making moral determinations, than the somewhat rarified philosophical concepts of "privation of being."

John B. Chilton said...

My suspicion is that what is holding us back is fear of unintended strategic consequences such as

(1) fear that by asking the question we would admitting that our conclusion might be wrong, and

(2) fear that the outcome will not be what we desire and we will lose the status quo we have.

Do not fear.

Bob said...

Thank you!

I have been saying and writing for the last few years that the "liberals" have been woefully lacking in their attention to the details of engaging their opponents - it is a demonstration of the very American hubris and hegemony that they so rightly condemn when turned toward our government and culture.

I remember hearing a bishop comment after the 2003 GC - something like, "I thought we were on different pages of the same book over this issue. Now I realize we are in different libraries."

Those of us in favor of full-inclusion have rarely attempted to meet the "conservatives" on their plain of argument. Frankly, they have done their homework and we have only attempted a bit of it - just enough to makes us feel good about ourselves.

Not until we engage opponents with seriousness and respect, with the intention of persuading them rather than telling them how wrong they are, and not paternalistically as ignorant homophobes (which "liberals" are apt to do) or as heretical non-Christians (which "conservatives" are apt to do) will we truly get anywhere concerning this issue.

Widening Gyre said...

Very helpful post, Tobias. Thank you.

dave sims said...

re: "rarefied"

All I can say is, try explaining nominalism to an average parishioner, or the fact that your metaphysics has more to do with Derrida than Augustine!

Thanks for the brief exchange, Tobias. It has help me understand more where you're coming from, even if I disagree with it from the ground up. More irenic voices like yours wouldn't necessarily fix the problem, but it would make the discussing of it a lot less caustic.

Grandmère Mimi said...

While I recognize the ontological principle Dave is advancing -- that "creation is good" my concer is that it is of little help in the present discussion.

Tobias, that argument worked for me; why wouldn't it work for others, too? I call myself a recovering homophobe. Yes, I was, more or less, a benign homophobe, if there is such a thing as a benign phobia about another human being - which I don't think there is. Benign as, say, opposed to Peter Akinola, maybe.

For folks whose heels are dug in, whose minds are closed, perhaps no argument would work for them. I have to say that how I came away from bigotry seems like a miracle of God to me. He set me on a winding path, and over a period of two or three years, I ended up set free, more or less, from bigotry. It's not just a change of mind that's in play here; it's also a change of heart.

Tobias said...

Dear Grandmère Mimi,
You are correct, of course, that the presence of good, loving, living examples of faithful gay and lesbian folk will probably win over more hearts than a library of arguments. Still, I hold out hope to reach "head" people who just don't relate in that "heart" way. They know who they are!
I would rather join you in fixing up a mess of red beans and rice, and having them all to the supper. But some will not come unless the invitation is worded just so...
All the best,
Tobias

Grandmère Mimi said...

Tobias, at least you pay attention, and don't talk around me, even if my arguments don't make a whole lot of sense in the august company I keep.

We femmes d'un certain âge have a bit of sensitivity there. Sometimes I feel like crying out with Willy Loman, "Attention must be paid!"

Dave Sims said...

Tobias said,

"Still, I hold out hope to reach "head" people who just don't relate in that "heart" way. They know who they are!"

The "heart" side of the argument is admittedly harder for the traditionalist to make, given the era we are in, our proximity to the civil rights movement, etc. That association, not to mention terms like "bigot" and "homophobe," have been used to great effect by the progressives.

But the irreducibility of family is very much a "heart" issue. It is not merely an abstraction or an affirmation of a Platonic Ideal to observe the close relationship between the Biblical endorsement of heterosexual intimacy and the experience in the real world of the eternal mystery of the way of a man with a woman, the poetic richness of heterosexual complimentarity, the relationship between the love of man and woman and the extension of the scope of that same love as parents to children.

These things are irreducible, un-redefinable. They are simply what they are. This to me highlights one of the many failures of pure nominalism. Nominalism attempts a radical affirmation of particulars by avoiding the ambiguity of assigning those particulars to universal categories. But the very particulars themselves cannot be understood on their own terms until the universal implications that they themselves witness to are embraced. The universal is already part of the particular, if we are fully attentive to the particular and the way it speaks to us. The implication for sexuality is that there is a moral, universal component to heterosexual intimacy that is understood by being attentive to one's moral intuition in that context. Christian morality is not purely top-down, divine-mandate stuff. It is also deeply rooted in the mystery and paradox of the relationship of irreducible particulars to their universal implications. Nominalism denies this paradox, and forcibly robs particulars of their ability to speak of universal things.

In my opinion it is cerebral, counterintuitive and heartless to take a presupposed agenda, whether it be an abstract idea of "freedom" or the innate goodness of man or whatever, and force that so rigidly on our experiences that we can no longer allow our experience of the particular to speak of the universal order that it is inextricably bound to.

As a father of four, my heart is deeply invested in this experience, in trying to understand sexuality, family, love, and all that those things speak to, on their own terms, as part of God's rich, ever-novel and surprising Creation. I am not defending personal bigotry or an abstract philosophy.

Tobias said...

Dave,
I will leave it to others to decide if they find your "realism" to be preferable to -- or as comprehensible as -- my "nominalism." I do not find it obvious that actual human experience offers any particular validation for an abstracted "reality" to heterosexuality -- there are good marriages and bad marriages --- and precious few monogamous life-long marriages are attested to in the Biblical record that you seem to think is so rich in support.

Ultimately, that God chose to be incarnate through the Virgin Birth, (a radical reduction of the notion of "family" if ever there was one) and himself commended celibacy, a path along which Saint Paul followed in seeing marriage as a very poor second choice -- this hardly commends a broad assertion of a Biblical "endoresement" based on a proverb and the mythology of Genesis. There are, it seems to me, more instances of bad marriages in Scripture than good ones; and even God is portrayed as stuck with harlots for wives!

I think you take a rather extreme view of nominalism. Nominalism does not disallow particulars to speak to universals -- but it limits the capacity to "naming" and denies any "reality" to the universals themselves. It does not necessarily deny categories, but it limits them to a kind of pragmatic utility; rather than what appears to me to be the circular self-fulfillment you describe (X has value because it belongs to genus Y, and Y is good, therefore X has value. This fails in real life -- marriage may be "good" but there are plenty of bad marriages.)

So I would say, there is no abstract "heterosexuality" or "marriage" -- only real people, many of whom are heterosexual, and who marry and are given in marriage, in this age (for in the age to come Jesus assures us there is no marriage; hardly evidence that he saw in it some eternal "reality" since it will not exist in eternity.) These are useful categories, but the actual instances derive nothing from any supposed "real" universal; because the "universals" have no existence.

This is in no way meant to deny your personal experience of the mystery of heterosexual intimacy; but your "realist" projection of this to a universal seems to deny that persons involved in same-sex relationships may experience just the same kind of sense of participation in something greater than themselves. Whether that "something" is -- in either case -- a real "thing" (as the realists would say) or a convenient category or mental/emotional construct useful for speaking and thinking and acting (as I would say) ultimately is irrelevant. Surely you are aware of Socrates' quite ecstatic "realism" concerning human love -- and that the Love he so reified was neither purely heterosexual nor necessarily carnal. I think you are in danger of so universalizing your own experience that it is in danger of eliminating or devaluing the irreducible realities of a significant portion of the population who do not share your sexual orientation.

Dave Sims said...

Tobias said:

I do not find it obvious that actual human experience offers any particular validation for an abstracted "reality" to heterosexuality -- there are good marriages and bad marriages --- and precious few monogamous life-long marriages are attested to in the Biblical record that you seem to think is so rich in support.

The Bible is full of lots and lots of failure, and very few concrete expressions of Biblical ideals. Virtually every hero of the faith in Scripture was at one time or another a miserable failure, murderer, adulterer, on and on. That's a long way from saying Biblical ideals are not clearly articulated. You have to work very, very hard to deny the plain, spoken and unspoken witness to heterosexual intimacy as the assumed norm, the original ideal, of Scripture: Genesis. Song of Solomon. The "Bride of Christ" imagery just to name the top three.

Beyond the poetic and theological heterosexual images, the sheer ubiquity of family and heterosexual intimacy as the norm makes the denial of it borderline on the absurd. You're coming at it from the standpoint of asking for proof of an abstract ethic, while ignoring the overwhelming fact that monogamous heterosexual union is the assumed norm, even in the face of bigamy, adultery and every other kind of violation of the ideal, and even when God apparently tolerates departure from the ideal for a season. The return is always and in all cases, a return to simple heterosexual monogamy as the ideal accepted context for sexual intimacy.

Ultimately, that God chose to be incarnate through the Virgin Birth, (a radical reduction of the notion of "family" if ever there was one) and himself commended celibacy, a path along which Saint Paul followed in seeing marriage as a very poor second choice -- this hardly commends a broad assertion of a Biblical "endoresement" based on a proverb and the mythology of Genesis. There are, it seems to me, more instances of bad marriages in Scripture than good ones; and even God is portrayed as stuck with harlots for wives!

Regarding the Incarnation: far from being a reduction of the notion of family, it is one of the greatest endorsements of the concept in our whole tradition. Could not God have just as easily breathed life into the dust of Jesus as He did Adam? That the Divine would begin the ultimate gesture of grace with conception, gestation and birth rather than, as in most other pagan incarnation myths, a deus ex machina or some kind of modalistic appearance, is hardly a reduction of the idea of family; quite the opposite. Mary's title of Theotokos is no ad hoc honor.

And Paul's main concern regarding marriage is pragmatic, given the fallen state of the world and the present persecution, as when he says, "for the present form of this world is passing away." Those called to serve the Gospel in celibacy are free to move and minister in ways that those bound to family are not. But this is neither here nor there with regards to the ontological status of heterosexual marriage. With Paul, as in the rest of Scripture, the irreducibility of marriage is taken for granted, in phrases like "A wife is bound as long as her husband lives," etc.

Nowhere in Scripture is there any hint that any other norm is available or even thinkable. Heterosexual union is not often declared as normative against other options in Scripture, simply because, for the Biblical writer, including Paul, there were no other options.

All of these examples you give show that Scripture assumes the irreducibility of heterosexual union: "good" marriages and "bad" marriages both point to an ideal, which in all places and in every instance in Scripture, is assumed to be the mysterious and complimentary union of man and woman. Nowhere are non-complimentary same-sex unions used as metaphors. Even and perhaps especially from a nominalist standpoint, the complete absence in Scripture of any metaphor that employs erotic same-sex unions as an ideal, even a fallen ideal, is a deafening silence. The totality of
Scripture assumes and endorses the irreducibility of complimentary heterosexual union in every place, in every metaphor, in every reference to the ideal of marriage or any particular marriage. Scripture is positively soaking in the assumption of family and marriage, in genealogies, the tribes of Israel, the familial Kingships, on and on and on; it's not just a question of whether you can find the ideal: it's a question of whether you can
escape it.

You're attempting to frame the debate from the start as if homosexual intimacy were already one choice among many, one option, one abstract definition against another. The reality is that the norm of heterosexual intimacy is as irreducible as the air we breath. The moral implications for family, faithfulness and children come intuitively and naturally in the flow of life. You've already assumed too much -- that the traditionalist must defend his position, his abstract definition of marriage, as if from a position of radical doubt: everything must be proved. Your accusation that I'm employing "circular" reasoning speaks to this very modern assumption.

But I'm not a nominalist or a rationalist (in the end, is there really any difference?). I don't think all moral arguments come down to a question of whose syllogisms stack up. The simple, monumental, inescapable fact of the ideal of heterosexual marriage, is endorsed implicitly and explicitly throughout Scripture, not just in abstract moral terms but in the very cultural fabric assumed therein. It is not a matter of debate and reasonable discourse, as if we could redefine reality itself according to convention (pace nominalism).


I think you take a rather extreme view of nominalism. Nominalism does not disallow particulars to speak to universals -- but it limits the capacity to "naming" and denies any "reality" to the universals themselves. It does not necessarily deny categories, but it limits them to a kind of pragmatic utility; rather than what appears to me to be the circular self-fulfillment you describe (X has value because it belongs to genus Y, and Y is good, therefore X has value. This fails in real life -- marriage may be "good" but there are plenty of bad marriages.)"

I'm not sure how your description of nominalism is any different than mine. You deny the existence of universals. You use the term "universal," but like all nominalist terms, that use is ad hoc and conventional; purely malleable. When you use the term "universal," and immediately deny its "reality," you are giving it a completely different meaning
than I do. But of course, this is what nominalism does, right? All definitions are context-specific and open to redefinition.

The accusation of circular reasoning is redolent of the Euthyphro paradox: is it Good because the Gods like it, or do
the Gods like it because it's Good? The Bible throws this question out of court. Good is not an abstraction: Good and God are the same thing, and He imparts His goodness to creation because creation participates and reflects the character of its Creator. Marriage is one of the irreducible facts of creation, like man himself, endorsed as he is
with the Imago Dei. It is not circular to argue that marriage is an intrinsic and irreducible good, if the ultimate Ground of that Goodness is itself irreducible. As St. Thomas would say: this all men understand to be God.

So I would say, there is no abstract "heterosexuality" or "marriage" -- only real people, many of whom are heterosexual, and who marry and are given in marriage, in this age (for in the age to come Jesus assures us there is no marriage; hardly evidence that he saw in it some eternal "reality" since it will not exist in eternity.) These are useful categories, but the actual instances derive nothing from any supposed "real" universal; because the "universals" have no existence.

This is in no way meant to deny your personal experience of the mystery of heterosexual intimacy; but your "realist" projection of this to a universal seems to deny that persons involved in same-sex relationships may experience just the same kind of sense of participation in something greater than themselves.


I don't deny that possibility at all. Same-sex unions can participate in a very real universal Good. Companionship, faithfulness and charity can all be present. And even the erotic physical expression of same-sex attraction may participate in the original Good that it was designed to facilitate. But Christianity is a particularizing religion. It declares this, but not that to be complete in its Goodness. Nothing is completely evil, since nothing that is can wrest itself utterly from the stamp of God's character, which traverses all reality. And here we come full circle back to Augustine: the problem is that the physical complementarity necessary for the full expression of erotic desire is not present in a same-sex encounter, nor the spiritual complementarity it was meant to reflect. This is a privation of the original Good.

Whether that "something" is -- in either case -- a real "thing" (as the realists would say) or a convenient category or mental/emotional construct useful for speaking and thinking and acting (as I would say) ultimately is irrelevant. Surely you are aware of Socrates' quite ecstatic "realism" concerning human love -- and that the Love he so reified was neither purely heterosexual nor necessarily carnal. I think you are in danger of so universalizing your
own experience that it is in danger of eliminating or devaluing the irreducible realities of a significant portion of the population who do not share your sexual orientation.


But, Tobias, this is precisely what you're doing in your original essay. You've taken your experience of the "moral neutrality" of sexuality and universalized that to include all sexual encounters. Now traditionalists like myself are forced into the position of either reducing what has been held for centuries to be an intrinsic, irreducible Good to something inert and axiologically neutral -- or be labeled a bigot and a homophobe. If I'm not to be accused of the most crass sort of ignorant prejudice, I must take the most significant fact of my romantic and familial life, which has been used for no less than a metaphor for God's love for mankind and Christ's longing to be reunited with His Church, and slice it down to a level on par with a walk to the grocery store.

For my part, I disagree that I'm universalizing my experience by a random act of volition. My experience is universalized for me, as given. The particularity of my experience carries the universal with it. This is moral intuition. This moral intuition, which again is not volitional, is powerfully present in the vast majority of professing Christians. That this intuition is endorsed in Scripture and the Christian Tradition makes it all the more compelling. I don't get the feeling that most progressives understand the depth and strength of this intuition, and how it touches some of the most essential and passionate aspects of our humanity: family, children, community. Is there anything else more compelling to the human soul than these things?

Tobias said...

Dave,

Thanks for the long comment, which helps me better to understand where you are coming from. I'm sorry I don't have longer to respond, but I'm not sure a longer response would help, at this point. The problem, for me, is that you seem to think that what you believe to be true is so obvious that rationality, evidence, and all the rest of the normal apparatus of human reason need not be engaged. You appear to say that the truth is simply obvious, and I'm being difficult in asking for a demonstration.

Moreover, because of this, I get the sense you really don't grasp what I am asserting when I say that "sexuality" is morally neutral. For to me this is so obvious that it requires little more argument than I've already presented. So let me try an analogy -- realizing that argument by analogy is perhaps the lowest form of argument, but you appear to be unwilling to argue from the basis of agreed upon premises to conclusions --- as you assume as a premise the very thing under question.

But to the analogy: Eating -- an irreducible phenomenon, upon which human life depends; attested to as commanded by God in Genesis; used by our Lord as a means to share in communion with his essential being; etc. But to say, unqualifiedly, that "eating is good" makes no sense whatsoever, since people can overeat, or eat foods that are bad for them, or eat the wrong sorts of things (hence the list of biblical prohibitions on certain foods), etc. So eating is not absolutely good, but only certain kinds of eating in certain circumstances and degrees and involving certain foods.

So, in the same way, heterosexual sex is not unqualifiedly good, but good only in certain instances: the traditionalist would say, only in a good marriage between a man and a woman. The sexual act, like the act of eating, only can be judged "good" on the basis of the actors and the context of their actions; in itself the act of heterosexual sex is neither good nor bad. The "goodness" does not reside in some actus purus but in the circumstances and relationships which serve as the context for the act. This is precisely how marriage differs from fornication: the sexual act may be the same, but in the one case is good, in the other bad.

This does not seem to me to be rocket science, or to require high flights of philosophical introspection, much as I've enjoyed this discussion. This is as "obvious" to me as your apparent belief in some essential goodness resident in heterosexual sex. What I am leading to, you appear even to acknowledge, in part, in the closing section of your comment; that is, that same-sex relationships might in particular instances also be good. (You raise the issue of the inability of same-sex relationships to participate in "complementarity" and that is another issue altogetter. I do not accept the thesis that men and women are "complementary" as I believe it to contradict the orthodox anthropology whereby the human nature is complete in every individual; but that is a topic for another time.)

All the best,
Tobias

Dave said...

Tobias said:

The problem, for me, is that you seem to think that what you believe to be true is so obvious that rationality, evidence, and all the rest of the normal apparatus of human reason need not be engaged. You appear to say that the truth is simply obvious, and I'm being difficult in asking for a demonstration.

I think we're getting closer to the crux now. What you say above is true, but of course I'd like to qualify.

It all depends on what you mean by "rest of the normal apparatus of human reason." I'm not a modern and I don't believe all knowledge is either "matters of fact" or "relations of ideas," nor do I think reality can be reduced to res extensa and res cogitans -- mind and matter.

Yes, I think that there are intrinsic Goods whose value is not underwritten by reason, on the modern view of that concept. On the plane of ordinary human experience there are things that present themselves as Good to our intellect, not by virtue of their rationality, nor instrumental to some other Good.

Without digressing into a long discourse on the incoherence of Radical Doubt and foundationlist thinking, I'll just have to assert that any view of reason that does not acknowledge that we are all possessed of a moral intuition that carries knowledge to the heart, is a truncated view of reason.

So if you include some kind of moral intuition in the idea of "rest of the normal apparatus of human reason" then I would say I agree with your view of reason. But if, as I suspect, you're more modern in your thinking, then when you use that phrase, you're not really adding anything to the previous categories of knowledge -- rationality (of a kind) and evidence are really the only things we have to go on. Everything, including questions of value and ethics, that cannot be grasped and proved as either logically true (tautological) or verifiable/falsifiable (or whatever bit of post-positivist empiricism you subscribe to) cannot be called "knowledge."

I don't know to what degree this accurately describes your epistemological and ethcial assumptions, but it seems to me the direction you're heading. Rationalism and nominalism have always seemed to me to be flip sides of the same coin. But I could be way off base here...

More to be said, but I'm out of time this morning...to be continued when I can. I realize this become far-flung for a blog conversation, and well beyond my pay grade, but it has been very helpful for me to try and understand the philosophical underpinnings of your view. And I much prefer an irenic, if somewhat rarefied, discussion of this sort to the standard scorched-earth fare I usually run into. So I'm still game if you are.

Tobias said...

Dear Dave,
Thanks once again. I do think we are getting somewhere. First of all, another analogy came to mind this morning which might be helpful in defining somewhat our different philosophical approaches.

To get back to the comestible analogy, I would say,

Premise: Apples are good.
This apple is bad.
Therefore, all apples are not good.


Which undermines the premise. So I would downplay it, and prefer to say, "Some apples are good."

You appear to say,

Premise: "Appleness" is good.
This apple is bad.
Therefore it has defective "appleness."


This is perfectly understandable, and has its own inner consistency.

My difficulty, in choosing between these two models, has to do with their utility in making moral choices. (Or choices of which apple to eat, in this instance.) My (nominalist) contention is that "appleness" is indeed a convenient portmanteau for determining the goodness of an apple -- that is, by looking at the qualities catalogued in this shorthand term: sweetness, crispness, color, form, etc. But in the long run, we are back with the particular; so I look for an apple that is sweet, crisp, firm, etc. without necessarily having in mind an ideal "apple" -- I just want something for lunch!

To get to the matter that started the discussion, my problem with your contention of a kind of similar "goodness" to "heterosexuality" is that while I can recognize the goodness of the values you are compacting there: procreativity, mutuality, complementarity (I do have some issues with that, but that's another matter) -- their absence does not render a given heterosexual relationship "bad." To take procreation as just one point, the inability to (or the choice not to) procreate doe not necessarily mean that a marriage is "bad." I think we can hold up the Holy Family here once again; but the example of Elkanah and Hannah also comes to mind, "Am I not more to you than ten children." Nor do marriages terminate with menopause; and many people in their later years have wonderfully fulfilling marriages in spite of no longer possessing one of the "qualities" you cite. In addition, procreation is not an "unconditioned" good -- there are circumstances in which it is actually bad -- as in the case of a woman who dies in childbirth. But perhaps I'm getting to "empiricist" here? Let me close off this line of discussion for the time being, and return to my primary point.

For I am not a "hard-line" nominalist, in that I recognize, ultimately, certain realities that are "ideal" -- most principally, God. And I recognize that there are certain "goodnesses" that do indeed speak to the human heart and mind, and that univerally. And what I would suggest is, that in spite of your feeling that "heterosexuality" does this, that behind and above "heterosexuality" is an even greater ideal, and that is Love. This seems to me not only to embrace the empirical evidence, but the moral, theological, biblical, and all the rest of the evidence -- including Plato's Symposium, where Eros is the ultimate good that drives the universe. (And of course, by Eros is not meant merely the sexual content to which it is sometimes reduced, but rather that power that leads to unity and upbuilding of creation.)

From a Christian perspective, Love, as Saint Paul assures us, is never rude, harmful, etc. St John assures us that "Love is of God." And I believe that Love can be found in heterosexual and homosexual relationships, both those that are acted upon in a sexual fashion, and those that may never have been: and I would suggest that there is perhaps a greater resonance between the Holy Family and David and Jonathan than many realize, in this respect -- as both are instances of sacrificial love, "Erotic" in the sense of being drawn together, but not necessarily clearly sexual.

So I am, to some extent, an idealist after all -- it is just that I think "my" ideal, Love, is actually what underlies the ideal to which you point.

Thank you again for this very interesting discussion. It has helped me better to wrestle with these sometimes slippery categories!

Dave said...

I've been avoiding dealing with your syllogisms because (wait for it) I don't really trust syllogisms on issues of ethics and value; they tend to obscure particularity, suppress hidden premises and equivocate with analogies that are too rigid. Analogy is good, but I prefer the poetic sort that doesn't presume unwarranted equivalences. I like narrative, because it gets closer to particulars.

That said, I'll bite anyway. You said:

Premise: Apples are good.
This apple is bad.
Therefore, all apples are not good.

Which undermines the premise. So I would downplay it, and prefer to say, "Some apples are good."

You appear to say,

Premise: "Appleness" is good.
This apple is bad.
Therefore it has defective "appleness."


It seems to me that you're critiquing a hidden premise:

"Appleness" is good.
This apple is bad.
To be "bad" is to have a defective essence.
Therefore this apple has defective "appleness."

Questions that come to my mind are: how bad is it? Can I still eat it? It is just one side or is there nothing left of "appleness" to enjoy? And so I've gone off syllogisms once again.

I suppose this is sort of what you're saying as well -- this "heterosexuality" I'm referring to seems to be a floating, reified Ideal that traditionalists are deploying as needed, which obscures the concrete reality of particular loving relationships, which seem to fully participate in Christian virtues: charity, respect, mutuality, even complementarity.

I'm very sensitive to this criticism -- it appeals to that part of me that is suspicious of the ethical and universal, which tends to obscure both the aesthetic and the Absolute -- the freedom and dignity of the individual and the freedom of God to be God and not have his character pre-defined by abstractions. This is not only a modern tendency, but an ancient one. Kant and Aristotle both have this problem. Aristotle's God is a mute philosophical prop for the ethical and universal, and Kant's individual becomes merely a vehicle for pure rationality.

The funny thing about the Bible is that it isn't very Kantian or Aristotelian. It isn't purely idealistic, but it isn't nominalist either. It's a narrative, which to my mind just does the trick of negotiating the difference between the two.

Ok, I'm way out of time this morning, so I apologize in advance that I'm about to leave this post in a very disjointed state.

Instead of apples, Let's look at music. I like to think of the Bible's various moral narratives, proscriptions and prescriptions as analogous to music theory. Music theory shows the boundaries within which certain musical effects may be made. If you want to construct an effective Baroque melody, you have to discipline yourself to master part-writing, scales, chord structure, etc. You could instead study Schoenberg and 12-tone, but you wouldn't be able to create anything like Bach's Burree. The boundaries that the Bible puts around sexual intimacy are like the rules of music, of major scales and the intellectual and muscle discipline it takes to play them. If you want to play the tune, you have to follow the rules.

Of course I'm going to say that moral boundaries regarding sexual behavior are enforced with a different order of rigor than creative and musical, but I kind of like the analogy, because it preserves the freedom and possibility for novelty in the particulars -- you never know what a composer is going to write -- while reinforcing the necessity of rules and boundaries. As with all analogies, it breaks down at a point, but I like it a little better than "appleness" vs. "heterosexuality."

Dave said...

My previous post was more of a digression than an advance, but I wanted to lay a little more groundwork and try to address your valid concerns about essentialism/realism and the possible threat that top-down thinking poses to particulars. I think music provides a way of understanding that you can hold both universals and particulars in tension: the universal principles of part-writing do not limit particular compositions from being irreducibly themselves. This is the paradoxical nature of reality that I think Occam and nominalism misses. I do feel the imperative to preserve particulars against the leveling effect of universals, but I also believe that universals are already part of the very meaning of the particulars.

The tricky bit here is to be able to adjudicate between a truly real universal, the sort of universal that provides a way into deeper understanding of the meaning of the particular, and a reified, hypostasized universal that is merely a construction or projection that levels or reduces particulars to being species of the universal and nothing more.

Tobias said...

Dear Dave,

Thanks once more. I must say, however, that this is not the place to return to what I can now see is a fruitless discussion concerning the nominalist/realist debate. You are simply not going to convince me of realism/idealism as I am not going to convince you of nominalism/actualism. The only "universal" to which I can, as a Christian, attribute "reality" is God. It is as simple as that. "An idol has no real existence," that is, qualities have no existence part from instances; they are mental constructs.

I think you fail to recognize (though you mention it) the importance of culture in creating the illusion of transcendent realities (apart from God.) To take your musical analogy, for example. (I am a musician, so this is something I can well relate to.) The so-called "rules" of music have no independent existence. They arose out of certain experiences, conditioned in different cultures, about what "sounded" right. The rules of counterpoint arose out of a slow evolutionary process, based on human tastes in a particular culture. Thus things that are the "rule" in the organum of the 13th century are forbidden in the "rules" of the music of the 17th. When we go beyond the evolution of music in the West, things become even more obviously culturally conditioned. Things which are the norm in a fugue are unknown in a raga. There are no transcendent "rules" govening music, merely customs as to what is acceptable -- and these rules change over time. I mean, even something as objective as the pitch of concert A has changed over time! Either you have chosen a very bad analogy or one that offers more evidence for my position.

Because it is abundantly clear to me that in human history there have been many cultures in which heterosexuality has been seen as normative; and many others in which homosexuality has also been constructed in socially accepted forms. (Indeed, even within the former cultures, there are often socially defined areas where same-sexuality is tolerated, or allowed so long as it is invisible to the wider culture. Think of C.S. Lewis' testimony concerning the English Public Schools! I would argue that the Hebrew culture was similar; as indded the Christian culture, where, if anything, the institutional church in its clergy and religious life has served as a way to "manage" homosexuality while not outwardly affirming it.)

I thought we were getting somewhere with your previous alleged preference for "story" over "logic." What you fail to see, however, is that your own rhapsodic view of heterosexuality can be countered (and has, in the literature) by equally rhapsodic attestations to same-sex eroticism. It is a simple fact that the greatest love story in Scripture (attested to by Scripture itself!) is the tale of David and Jonathan. You may not read this story as "erotic" or "sexual" but the Hebrew version is explicit in using all of the language of love, marriage, and sex (to the extent Hebrew can be explicit about sex -- it's a very "prudish" language in that all sexual terms are allusive); while explicitly avoiding the language of friendship. The language is so explicit that the Greek version left out entire sections of the story in its redaction, and the Latin inserted a questionable modifier.

Now, you may protest this, but the evidence is there in the text: clearly describing a love (and yes, it uses the Hebrew word for love) triangle between Saul, Jonathan, and the strikingly beautiful -- but deeply manipulative -- young man David: whose name means, The Beloved. Heterosexualist critics have tried to explain away the blunt eroticism of this story, but they might just as well try to claim that the Song of Songs (to which the story of David and Jonathan provides some interesting references) isn't about heterosexual eroticism.

All the best,
Tobias

Dave said...

Tobias,

In making the music analogy I wasn't so much pointing to the inviolability of rules per se as I was the irreducibility of the musical effect that compositions made under those rules produce. Of course I realize that there are no "rules" in music (it is "theory" after all), and that Bach is not the end-all be-all. But no one would confuse an aleatory composition for a fugue -- the emotional and musical effects are utterly distinct. Some may question the musicality of the former, but that's neither here no there at the moment.

The point is that a fugue is a fugue and a raga is a raga, and there are abstractions -- universal principles! -- that we can discern within them, that make them possible. You may prefer a fugue to a raga or visa versa, but no serious musician would confuse the two, or say that the content was aesthetically equivalent.

Your account of the evolution of music gives in to a heady bit of reductionism more characteristic of Adorno than Christianity. That Adorno's beloved 12-tone movement has produced little more than an academic orthodoxy and precious little in the way of compelling musical effects speaks to the fact that there are borders, universal principles embedded within reality itself. But maybe I'm just speaking from Western Bourgeoisie prejudice that prefers melody and tonal centers.

So back to moral intuition: in a sense you either hear the tune or you don't, you either understand the moral as part of the particular as given or you don't; you either like Shoenberg or you don't. Of course, a 12 tone devotee can make the converse assertion just as easily and philosophically speaking, we're at an impasse, which is pretty much where I think you and I are. But the impasse doesn't mean both sides are in a state of aesthetic or moral equivalence. "My sheep hear my voice," etc.

I'm not in the least compelled by your take on the David and Johnathan story -- pile on all the erotic implications you can find. The most you could say is that there are erotic implications that the text doesn't witness directly to (and Scripture is certainly never, ever shy about witnessing to erotic implications).

Even if all the semantic fudges you allege are true, what do you actually have? Homoerotic implications that the authors couldn't be completely explicit about. Your comparison between that and Song of Solomon is specious: the physical eroticism of SOS is there in plain sight, joyfully and without shame participating in the whole cloth of heterosexual complementarity that runs transparently from Genesis to the Gospels. At best the Johnathan and David story could be presented as an anomalous homoerotic sidebar in a sea of heterosexist assumptions, in tension with the assumed norms of the rest of the (very large) text, suppressed not only by later redactors and translators, but adumbrated by its very author. I find this hermeneutic totally strained and unconvincing.

It's not just about one story, as if the whole, transparent sexual norm throughout Scripture could be overturned by, say, the episode with Lot and his daughters. It's about a robust Christianity that is itself on its own terms, ontology, morality and teleology all bound together in one consistent yet beautifully paradoxical narrative.

best,
Dave

Tobias said...

Dave,
We have indeed reached the end of the discussion, since you essentially admit that your only evidence for objective reality of univerals is your subjective experience of them. That's fine by me. I'm not trying to convince you otherwise. But I am glad you realize that your reassertions will not convince me either. You may see the distincion as as clear as that between Bach and Schoenberg; I on the contrary see it as more of the difference between Bach and Mozart. But that is where I find your moral intuition to be faulty, in that you seem unable to perceive the essential likeness in loving relationships, but are obsessed with the intrumentation, as it were.

I find your interpretation of Scripture as a rhapsody to heterosexualism to be wildly fantastic, and contrary to the text itself. Retreat into "paradox" is the last refuge of the irrational.

Finally you entirely miss my point about the story of David and Jonathan. The text is explicit in its eroticism; most translations have bowdlerized it rather badly. If you changed the names and put the narrative into a Hellenistic setting, no one would fail to see the dominant erotic elements for a moment. The Hellenists, in fact, recognized this, and excised a major portion of the story in the LXX. Jerome recognized this and added "for their children" to David's famous lament, "Your love for me surpassed the love of women." To my eyes it takes a kind of deliberate blindness not to see the erotic elements in this story. The Hebrew original uses the same erotic language in this story as in the Sond of Solomon.

This thread has wandered into an area totally unconnected with the original article. So with this I will close it off.

Dave said...

It was a good discussion nevertheless (in my opinion), and I appreciate your gracious and accommodating temper while we wandered off into abstractions. I think in the end the disagreement is not just about one subjective opinion asserted against another, nor a retreat into paradox to cover for irrationality (you miss my meaning there, but that's my fault).

The problem is you and I subscribe to opposed metaphysics that guide our intuitions in opposite directions. I anticipate the discovery of universals because I believe reality is constructed that way. You do not, and are totally incredulous towards them. The vast majority of Christians would find this idea, the denial of universals, foreign and exotic. Most Christians believe in universals, as most Christians have throughout the centuries. You've got a huge hill to climb there if you're going to convince them of your position.

thanks again, and all the best,
Dave

Dave said...

Never one to leave well enough alone, I want to make one last comment, maybe on a conciliatory note, maybe not. You said:

But that is where I find your moral intuition to be faulty, in that you seem unable to perceive the essential likeness in loving relationships, but are obsessed with the intrumentation, as it were.

I did before acknowledge not only the likeness, but participation in Goodness across genuinely loving relationships. It may surprise you to know I've witnessed such same-sex relationships in my community; I consider those people my friends and would trust them with my children or any life concern I have.

But I am convicted at a basic level that they are living a truncated romantic life at odds with a teleology that is bound up in physicality and underwritten by universal moral norms. And if you say that to ask these people to give up their relationships for the sake of living into that teleology is to to invite them into a measure of grief and tragedy, I won't disagree. But I'm no less convicted that it would be the right thing to do.