September 21, 2007

3. True Union (1)

In the previous post, Pro Creation, I offered evidence from the realms of nature and reason, Scripture, and the church’s tradition, in support of the proposition that procreation is neither essential nor intrinsic to human sexuality or marriage. As is obvious from some of the comments, not all are persuaded by the evidence I have presented; however, I know that some will not be persuaded regardless of how authoritative the evidence may be. One interlocutor believes that a sterile couple are somehow still capable of an “intrinsically procreative act,” even though they are incapable of procreation. Another continues to reassert that the primary purpose of marriage is the production and protection of children, in spite of the considerable evidence to the contrary. I am perfectly happy to continue discussing these matters, but I feel to some extent we have entered the Monty Python sketch concerned with the distinction between argument and contradiction. Some kind of evidence to the contrary, or specific faults with the evidence thus far produced, would enhance what is otherwise reassertion or contradiction.

On the basis of the evidence I have adduced, therefore, I hold that it is clear that procreation as a “good” is both naturally and intentionally separable from sexual activity and from marriage. Neither church nor state forbid marriage or criminalize sexual congress between a man and a woman even when one or both are intrinsically incapable of procreation. (The lack of capacity to procreate is not always due to a “defect” since human beings “by design” enjoy periods of natural and intrinsic infertility, as well as reaching a time in life when fertility ceases.) So the fundamental and intrinsic inability to achieve procreation cannot be offered as a rationale against same-sexuality or same-sex unions.

And so I turn to a second major “good” or “cause” for marriage: union. I will first examine the nature of union in its broadest sense (as summarized in the exhortation at the beginning of the Episcopal Church’s marriage liturgy), including its moral status; and in succeeding posts examine whether or not this “good” can be achieved by a same-sex couple.

The Locus of Union

The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity...

The church gives this “good” of marriage first place in its revised liturgy (which as I note in the previous article is the first American BCP liturgy to mention the “goods” at all). It clarifies that the union is not merely “fleshly” or “bodily” but deeply personal, involving the heart and mind as well as body — it is the union of persons, not merely of body parts. Secondly, this unity is ordered primarily to mutual joy (which includes but is not limited to the pleasure of sexual intercourse), and perhaps more importantly to the human values of help and comfort. Thus the good of union broadens out from the merely physical to embrace the emotional, mental, and social aspects of human life.

One Flesh

First, however, it is important to address the significance of the fleshly unity. “One flesh” is a biblical concept, but it occurs only in the context of the second creation account — all other references to this phenomenon are citations of this passage, whether in the Gospels or the Pauline Epistles. These citations will be helpful in unpacking the meaning this phrase should have for us, in that it allows us to look at how others — including our Lord himself — understood it, and how they applied it to various circumstances.

As I noted in the previous chapter, Jesus’ midrash (appearing in Matthew and Mark) omits any reference to procreation: he jumps from the “male and female” of Genesis 1 to the “one flesh” of Genesis 2, and then adds his own conclusion: what God has joined together is not to be divided. This form of midrash is a classic rabbinic technique, finding an answer to a particular dilemma (“Is it permissible for a man to divorce his wife?”) by taking two scriptural passages and deriving an original conclusion from them. (This conclusion is all the more striking in that it overturns the plain sense of Mosaic law.) Clearly, then, if one is to draw any conclusion from Jesus’ understanding of “one flesh,” it lies in Jesus’ emphasis on the unity of the couple, quite apart from procreation (or the absence of procreation due to infertility, which as I noted in the previous article was a specific grounds for divorce under rabbinic law). It should be noted as well that Jesus also mentions the change in domicile, which further locates the unity of the couple in a new household, a new social structure. The union is thus not merely physical, but social.

The two Pauline references to this text are a bit more problematical. In these related passages (Eph 5:25-33 and 1 Cor 6:13-18) Paul is caught up in rhetorical flourishes that operate on several levels at once, so it will be helpful to tease apart the various strands in his thinking.

The “Mystery” of Ephesians

The Ephesians reference must be seen in its context as part of the whole epistle, where the primary theme is the “mystery of Christ” which Paul describes as the union “of all things in him.” (1:9-10) He develops this imagery of the union of all things in a succession of images beginning with Christ as head of his “body,” the church (1:22-23). In chapter 2 he describes the way in which divisions based on national or ethnic identity, of culture and clan, are abolished by the flesh and blood of Christ, in a vivid image from the Second Temple — its dividing wall separating Gentile from Jew being removed — and the creation of a single new humanity out of two, in “one body through the cross.” (2:14-16) Perhaps inspired by his own brief reference to the Temple, Paul expands on that image, in which Christ shifts to become the cornerstone of a Temple whose building stones are the members of the church, indwelt by the Spirit (2:20-22).

Paul returns to revealing “the mystery” in chapter 3, when he again defines it as the Gentiles becoming “fellow heirs, members of the same body... through the Gospel.” (3:6) Chapter 4 turns to the natural consequences of being “one body” — and urges the members of that body to live in peace and harmony in various ways, making use of the variety of spiritual gifts with which the body is provided to build up that very body, towards the goal of more perfect unity in Christ. (4:11-16) He contrasts this unity with the futile conflicts of the Gentiles, and offers counsel for a harmonious life. (4:17-5:20)

As part of this counsel, reflecting on the orderly hierarchies of human society, he brings up three areas of human relationship: marital (5:21-33), familial (6:1-4) and social (i.e., slavery, 6:5-9). It is in the first of these three parallel human situations that Paul introduces the language of Genesis 2. He does so by analogizing his “mystery” (human unity in and with Christ) with the union of a man and a woman in marriage. The analogy is, as it seems Paul recognizes, not quite parallel — which may explain his eventual explanation, “But I speak of Christ and of the church” — that is, he returns to his main theme of the “mystery” of union in Christ, though he continues to advise that men and women should be mutually loving. (5:32-33) This passage is notoriously badly translated in the RSV/NRSV tradition. Clearly Paul intends to correct any misapprehension that hisreference to the “great mystery” (which he has expounded a number of times earlier in the letter as referring to ecclesiastical unity under the headship of Christ) might be misunderstood as a reference to marriage. Indeed, many have so misunderstood Paul’s intent, in spite of his effort to clarify, and the context of the epistle as a whole.

In any case, the main thing we can carry away from this passage for our present purpose is that Paul uses the language of “one flesh” primarily to describe union, a union as close as that between a man and his own body: “He who loves his wife loves himself.” (5:28) He applies this personal union to the ecclesiastical unity of the people of God in Christ.

The ambivalent nature of “one flesh”

When we turn to Paul’s other reference to this text we are on similar ground, at least as far as his concern with unity in the church as the body of Christ. But in 1 Corinthians, Paul does not see “one flesh” as an ideal, but as something to be avoided, at least when expanded in a certain direction: “Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two shall be one flesh.’” (6:16) His concern is with “fornication” (porneia) — which whatever the alleged breadth of meaning elsewhere, here clearly refers to prostitution. (The range of meaning alleged for porneia will be a topic for another time.)

In any case, it is clear from this passage that Paul understands “one flesh” to be a result of sexual congress, not of marriage. It is in this case precisely “fleshly” (a relationship with a prostitute lacking all that true human union should entail, precisely because it is transactional rather than relational) and in this context has no place in the spiritual life of the church. (Here Paul is consistent with his usual use of “flesh” in a negative sense, as opposed to the Spirit.) It is also remotely possible that Paul is alluding to another common meaning for porneia — as a metaphor for idolatry; however, it appears the primary concern here is with actual, not metaphorical, harlotry.

The lesson we can take from this is that union of flesh is, from this Pauline perspective, morally neutral. It is good between a married couple, but not between a prostitute and her client. It is, thus, the context of the relationship (the fullness of unity of body, mind and heart in mutual joy and companionship) that determines the moral status of the act which engenders the “one flesh,” not the merely physical act itself.

The Nature of Union

As we have seen, the fleshly union was understood to be connected with sexual congress. But as we have also seen, there is much more to it if this union is to be seen as a moral good: which is precisely where the other aspects of heart and mind enter in. The whole person — or rather, two whole persons — are united in a variety of ways.

When we turn to the text in its original setting, we see that these other elements are present. As noted in the previous article, the creation account in Genesis 1 references procreation; the account in Genesis 2 makes no mention of it until after the fall. Rather, the emphasis there is upon the union of the man and the woman prior to their having intercourse, though that is clearly meant to be an eventual part of the exercise. This union finds its beginning in the flesh and bones themselves (though it doesn’t end there).

This bodily reality is significant: the fact that the woman is not made from the “same” substance as the man (that is, from the same soil, as were the animals whom the man rejected as unsuitable). Rather the woman is made from the man’s own substance; she is one “like himself.” (Tobit 8:6) This imagery was picked up bythePatristic church in coming to an understanding of the Incarnation, seen as a reversal of this Edenic derivation of woman: just as woman was taken from man, Christ (the new Adam) was taken from the substance of the Virgin Mary. (Definition of Chalcedon; there is a hint of this thinking in 1 Cor 11:12, later expanded upon by the early church.) We will return to these themes in a later section.

The shift of focus away from merely bodily union towards the other aspects is evident in the Genesis passage itself. There is a reference to leaving the paternal home to be bound to the spouse, which in itself points beyond the merely fleshly to the social context. There are also, in Adam’s effusive welcome, testimony to the emotional joy to be found in his having finally found one like himself with whom to join. This likeness — which appears to be a primary emphasis of the passage — is significant in addressing one of the arguments often raised against the recognition of same-sex unions, which I will take up in a succeeding post.

Tobias Haller BSG

The discussion continues with True Union (2).

Further Update: This post and those that follow, expanded and supplemented with much additional material, form part of Reasonable and Holy, published by Seabury Books and available on order from Church Publishing Incorporated.


rick allen said...

"The lesson we can take from this is that union of flesh is, from this Pauline perspective, morally neutral. It is good between a married couple, but not between a prostitute and her client."

If we put it this way, what isn't "morally neutral"? Of course the "context of the relationship" counts--it is good in marriage, and in marriage only. Paul makes that even clearer in passages such as 1 Cor. 6:9.

One can abstract, of course, a number of "goods" from marriage, sever them from marriage, seprate them from each other, and then say that any sexual union promoting any of those "goods" make the union blessed. But that seems to me to undermine the very reason that those goods were first enumerated, to understand and teach about marriage, not to set aside its concrete meaning.

Tobias Haller said...


The problem is: what makes "marriage" good. I think it is clear both from Scripture and reason that "marriage" is not an isolated good in and of itself. That is, there are good marriages and bad marriages.

The question before is us "why" --- if the good things that make a marriage good can be shown to exist in another context, and if it is true that in large part it is those good things that make the marriage "good" --- why can that other context not be seen as a locus of that goodness? In short, is it "marriage" that makes the sexual relationship good, or is it the loving, committed, faithful and monogamous exercise of sexuality that contributes to the good of the marriage?

I would suggest that looking at the range of various forms of marriage that have been allowed and encouraged in various times and places in human history, the "meaning" is far from concrete. Biblical law, for example, allowed marriage by rape (Deut 22:28-29) and conquest (Deut 21:10-14). I doubt we would suggest this to be allowable now. Yet this is "the Word of God"!

This is not a question of abstraction, but of synthesis. It is also an effort to get past the archaic and pre-scientific rationale upon which much of the supposed "morality" of earlier times was based -- from a time in which even the most basic understanding of human reproduction and sexuality was simply not known. It is also the moral question of where the locus of "good" resides. I do not think it necessary to go very far before seeing that there is a moral advance over what is allowed in the Mosaic Law, much of it based, as is evident, not on a true divine revelation, but on a cultural basis. Morality is not completely objective or concrete, unless one abstracts principles such as the one Jesus did when he said, "Do unto others as you would be done by." I fail to see how the recognition of same-sex relationships on exactly the same standard as mixed-sex relationships (setting the slippery slope off limits) fails on this concrete moral basis.

Paul B said...

The lesson we can take from this is that union of flesh is, from this Pauline perspective, morally neutral. It is good between a married couple, but not between a prostitute and her client. It is, thus, the context of the relationship (the fullness of unity of body, mind and heart in mutual joy and companionship) that determines the moral status of the act which engenders the “one flesh,” not the merely physical act itself.

Tobias, I am following you here as far as you go with a heterosexual couple. Sexual intercourse or gratification with a prostitute - bad. Sexual intercourse with spouse - good. You've made a good argument that sex is reserved for heterosexual marriage.

Intercourse is neither right nor wrong - it is the context. You are correct. It is not like abortion or adultery, which are always wrong.

What you failed to do, even though you tried to show that "sex" doesn't have to be procreative, is equate the various kinds of "fleshy union" that can occur in a homosexual relationship with married intercourse.

In any case, it is clear from this passage that Paul understands “one flesh” to be a result of sexual congress, not of marriage. It is in this case precisely “fleshly” (a relationship with a prostitute lacking all that true human union should entail, precisely because it is transactional rather than relational) and in this context has no place in the spiritual life of the church

No, it's not because it is transactional. It's because it is outside of marriage, as you said in the section I quoted above. You are trying to connect "fleshy union" with a relationship, any relationship, thereby setting the stage for connecting the dots from heterosexual marriage to homosexual relationships.

rick allen said...

"Biblical law, for example, allowed marriage by rape (Deut 22:28-29) and conquest (Deut 21:10-14)."

This is an example, common in these discussions, of how the precepts of the Torah are inevitably made to sound worse than they are.

In the first passage an unmarried virgin is found debauched by an unmarried man. You can imagine what that does for her prospects for marriage. The Torah allows that the man may be made to be her husband, and that he cannot divorce her. (The Mishnah, IIRC, makes clear that the man need not be accepted.) The point, though, is that the woman whose marital prospects are compromised may still have a husband, if he is wanted, not that rape creates some sort of privilege, or itself is a form of marriage.

The second passage has to do with women taken captive in war. They are not to be made concubines, or even kept as slaves (we all recall that it was conflict over their female captives that fuelded the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon). They must be taken as wives, or released, after a period of mourning for their kin.

The one provision provides a remedy for a woman injured, presumably by force. The second mitigates the ordinary treatment of women taken in warfare--an "ordinary treatment" that is no less a common abomination today than in antiquity.

And of course, neither suggests that marriage is anything other than a relationship between opposite sexes. I had thought you were going to discuss examples of marriage being recognized as a relationship of persons of the same sex. The only attempt I know of at that was Boswell's argument about the adelphopoiein.

"The shift of focus away from merely bodily union towards the other aspects is evident in the Genesis passage itself. There is a reference to leaving the paternal home to be bound to the spouse, which in itself points beyond the merely fleshly to the social context."

I am not sure where you are going with this idea of "mere bodily union"--it sounds much like what you have tried to do with procreation--normally part of marriage, but not of the essence. Here you are again departing from previous understandings (which, of course, you are free to do if you wish), not treating marriage as irrevocable until physical consumation.

Of course I agree with you that marriage is more than procreation or sexual intercourse. But I certainly doubt that they are mere "accidents," inessential elements. God save us from being so spiritual.

One important point to note is that at some level when you and I talk about "tradition," we are talking about traditions that have been diverging for almost 500 years now. I care little for Catholic/Protestant polemic. It's a fact that there are substantial differences, and that the teaching on marriage and the family in, say, Vatican II's Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) is decisively different from the teaching of all Protestants, from liberal to conservative. We might as well be discussing whether Christ is really present in the Eucharist. The elements, the consequences, of the sacrament of matrimony can be discussed. But we are, after all, talking about pronouncements of what my communion recognizes as ecumenical councils. They will be of interest to you, as the changing in the Book of Common Prayer are of interest to me. But they are interesting to us as outsiders, and as adherents of diverging traditions.

John-Julian, OJN said...

And, of course, Tobias, there are yet other "goods" in ALL marriage unions which you have no yet mentioned.

For instance, there is the "proper ordering of society" (i.e., giving persons a proper place to fulfill their sexual desires) or the provision of an orderly process for legacy and the inheritance of property (after all, a major purpose for the "invention" of marriage in the first place), and you have only just barely touched on the "nurturing of children".

Indeed, I should think that even slightly-enlightened foes of same-sex marriage would be happy to see gay people kept "off the streets" and out of the bars, for a lover at death to be able to pass on property to a beloved, and for homes to be provided for unwanted and orphaned children!

By the way, I hope somewhere along the line you will put all of this into one major piece, integrating the explanations and justifications you make to those who comment.

Tobias Haller said...


You are mistaken in your final paragraph. The legal distinction between prostitution and concubinage under Jewish law is precisely that the former is transactional, and the latter relational. I am trying to say, though, in addition, that marriage is much more than a "sex license" -- which is how it begins to appear when people use language like "sex is reserved for heterosexual marriage." That may be true now, but it was definitely not true under the Law of Moses, which permitted a number of forms of sexual outlet (for men) outside of marriage. Under Jewish law, for example, a married man did not commit adultery by sleeping with a prostitute.

On a related matter, Rick, you are giving a very generous reading to the passages from Deuteronomy that I cited. My point is that even with such a generous reading, no one would, I hope, consider these acceptable practices today. And yet folks on what I take to be your side of the divide routinely take not the most generous, but the narrowest and most restrictive reading of Leviticus' rule on male same-sexuality as if it were everlasting law. All of the Torah is the word of God -- or isn't it? And the same processes of moral development are possible in reexamining the many laws governing heterosexuals as much as the one law concerning male homosexuals. Or if not, why not?

I agree with you that marriage entails sexual intercourse though it involves much more; and that as I have shown, procreation is not of the essence. Where I am "heading" eventually is to the fact that male and female are themselves accidents in the human nature, speaking philosophically.

I do realize that RC teaching on this subject is what it is, though much of it is more recent than the split between our two communions. I believe RC teaching is rather more consistent than most Protestant thinking in its position on divorce and birth control. But on the whole, I believe it to be mistaken -- based as it is on a defective anthropology and a pre-scientific understanding of nature and natural law. Thus the change in RC teaching on the use of the "infertile period" could not develop until the "infertile period" was discovered in 1783, and involved a reversal of the tradition that forbade intercourse during menses and for some days thereafter due to an imagined harm being done to the putative fetus that might be conceived -- and in some tension with the earlier teaching on the licitness of sexual congress not directly ordered to procreation. This was, in part, the first "fudge" in the RC edifice.

And yes, John-Julian, I do wonder what it is that the opponents to same-sex unions -- particularly civil unions -- find so problematical. Since all marriage began not as a "sacrament" but as a civil institution only much later defined as a "sacrament" and fully integrated into the church's life (th former in the high middle ages, and at Trent for RCs -- when church marriage was required for both validity and licitness).

And to all -- yes, I will be getting to the other issues. I am trying to work through this in a careful and thoughtful way, and it involves some patience and care. Again, I may not convince my worthy opponents of the rightness of my conclusions, but I hope they can see that I am trying to wrestle very seriously with the actual evidence. I may, at times, seem like the child who asks, over and over, "Why?" But I've seen very little in the wider debate that takes a form of much other than "Because." I know things have been a certain way for a certain amount of time. That in itself is no reason for them to remain, particularly when it begins to appear that the Emperor is very scantily clad indeed.

rick allen said...

"And yet folks on what I take to be your side of the divide routinely take not the most generous, but the narrowest and most restrictive reading of Leviticus' rule on male same-sexuality as if it were everlasting law."

Certainly only a few extremists would suggest retaining the Levitical penalty. Jesus' treatment of the woman taken in adultery has generally had its effect on all the sanguinary laws.

And of course no mainstream Christian communion has ever sought to keep the Torah whole and unchanged. We see this to some extent in the teaching of Jesus himself ("You have heard it said that 'an eye for an eye...'"), and in the later revelation to St. Peter about the cleanliness of foods unclear under the Torah. So of course there is a certain precedent for arguing that the old proscription of sex between males should also be abrogated.

But the fact of past change does not establish that a particular change may be made. For the mainstream tradition that sees that certain demands have been released, there are explanations and rationales with which I'm sure you are familiar, and which not only see the law as part of a historic pedagogy of the people of God, but do so in a way that the Torah remains the holy revelation to a special, holy people.

When, by contrast, one argues that the Torah's treatment of forbidden sexual unions is absurd because it also teaching things like "marriage by rape," the strategy ultimately undermines the message. It is the understandable tack of an atheist like Dawkins to treat the Torah as a package of absurdities. A Christian, I think, or at least a Christian who seeks to understand both the tradition's regard for the whole Torah, and the tradition's disregard of some of it, has a more subtle task, which simple trashing of alleged horrors can't satisfy.

C.B. said...

Tobias - "And the same processes of moral development are possible in reexamining the many laws governing heterosexuals as much as the one law concerning male homosexuals. Or if not, why not?"

Exactly!! This is the jumping off point of the current debate. It is an education just to see how there has in fact been "development" in the first place. What has driven that development. And is it reasonable and right to withhold such development from encompassing same-sex relationships.

This, as a simple framework, greatly helps me to understand the very pieces of the debate and your responses to them.

Yes, "Why not?"

Tobias Haller said...

You are tracking my train of thought here. So the issue is, as CB says, "Why not?" And so far, I've seen, as argument, only the "slippery slope" (If you do X what's to stop you doing Y?) and the argument from "tradition" (This is how we have always done it.)

For example, I have no trouble -- without any reference to traditional laws -- in explaining why murder is morally wrong. I can do the same with adultery, theft, and any number of other moral questions, through the rest of the decalogue, including why it is wrong to covet and to violate the sabbath. But I have asked many time over the years in many different forums (or fora if you prefer) for a clear exposition of what is morally wrong in monogamous, faithful, consenting, loving same-sex realtionships between unrelated persons (etc., etc., and whatever it takes to forestall the slippery slope) and have yet to receive an answer that doesn't represent a logical fallacy (primarily a form of petitio principii, begging the question) in a form of "same-sex sex is wrong because sex is only right between persons of the opposite sex."

This is sometimes shored up with a "Because God says so..." which may be persuasive in a religious context, but as you note, is hardly persuasive in a civil context. But even in a religious context, surely you see the difference between prohibitions, for example, of murder or theft and of same-sex relationships -- not only in the world-wide cultural universality of the former as opposed to the latter, but on the basis of the ability to "explain" a rational cause against the former, and the apparent lack of a rational argument against the latter.

So, I am not simply trashing horrors from the Torah -- though I hope you would join me in trashing the successive horrors visited upon homosexual persons down the years of the Christan Era in the name of the will of God, or the demands of society, including, but not limited to, the persecutions, tortures, executions, imprisonments, and forced lobotomies carried out upon people in the name of those "values." A tree is known by its fruit, after all.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Tobias, I hope that you find a way to collect these writings into a whole in a pamphlet or - since I'm not really sure of how far along you are - perhaps a book.

"Why not?" resonates with me.

And I keep coming back to my perception of a God who loves us infinitely, who delights in us. Why would that God create persons drawn to love and desire those of the same sex and then deny them fulfillment of those very desires that he created them with?

And no, I don't want to hear about pedophilia, and rape, and incest, because those actions cause harm to others. Desires which cause harm to others are, of course, to be suppressed.

Again, "Why not?"

rick allen said...

"Where I am "heading" eventually is to the fact that male and female are themselves accidents in the human nature, speaking philosophically."

And that may be the dividing point. Some of us think the difference natural, healthy, representing a real polarity needing respect and recognition. Others think the difference conventional, no more than the difference between hair color.

For myself I can imagine a society in which all differences between men and women are repressed in a thoroughgoing manner. But I don't think I'd want to live there.

That is, if you will, the "civil side"--a revolution in rejecting the idea that there are institutions unique to opposite sexes. We see it already in the English legislation to suppress adoption agencies committed to the notion that a mother and a father are preferable to two fathers. I think it a grave mistake, a conscious denial of our being made male and female. To see whether the sexes are truly fungible may be the next great social experiment. But that will come when I am gone, I expect.

On the "religious side," there does seem to be a dismissiveness about the "merely religious." What cannot be justified in a secular fashion goes into the "why not?" category. The imperatives of scripture and tradition, rather than having some force of themselves, must yield to whatever ethical theory holds sway in society as a whole. Which trumps when they conflict?

Maimonodes writes about the reasons of the Law in his Guide to the Perplexed. He is confident, because God is rational, that all laws have a good reason. He is less than certain that we can grasp the reason for them all, and his approach, not the favored one today, is to trust God rather than our own inability to find the good embodied in the Law.

Maimonodes sees the reason for the sexual restraints of the Torah in the need to moderate desire, which becomes inordinate when severed from the fidelity and responsibility of family life. His is a model of daily life that many today would find impossibly repressive. Whether one model leave people happier, overall, is a different question.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks for this. I will be unpacking my argument on the sexual division question in upcoming posts. I'm taking my time because I want to be very clear.

I am certainly not, by the way, denying that people are indeed male or female (setting aside the reality of a small percentage of people who are genetically anomalous -- not out of disrespect, but because it doesn't have impact on the primary argument.) What is being questioned is the degree to which this maleness or femaleness is or ought to be socially or ecclesiastically determinative. The problem arises when people extend the truly natural differences (the capacity to bear a child, for example) beyond to such notions as "the capacity to lead" or "to celebrate the eucharist" or, in the case in point, "share a loving and faithful life commitment in partnership."

As to Maimonides, although he did attempt to rationalize the Law, he also ultimately held that the Law was the Law because God had given it. In short, all divine law is positive law, not natural law. Thus Mainmonides gave pride of place to the Law as given. And in a religious context that is understandable, although even there the Laws are commonly interpreted in such a way that anything that is _contrary_ to reason (as opposed to that which is merely unexplained) is downplayed or displaced.

To extend religious thinking into the secular arena is surely dangerous. Which religion, after all, shall hold sway? Hence most secular societies, in a time of pluralism, choose a rational ethic over a religious code. The US is in the process of emerging from a kind of Constantinian Settlement with Christianity, even while other parts of the world are more advanced along that line, and others are entering the realm of Shari'a Law. I have no doubt about the kind of secular government under which I would prefer to live.

Anonymous said...

A scientific nit, please:

small percentage of people who are genetically anomalous

They may not be at all genetically anomalous, but phenotypically anomalous. Physical sexual ambiguities may be genetically encoded, or they may be developmental anomolies where the genes are "normal" in what they encode but something happened along the way.

May I also point out that a fallacy in the opposition is an "either/or": something along the lines of, "if everyone was gay the species would end". Well, of course not everyone is gay. The argument is not based on making everyone either straight or gay. It is based on recognizing the "5-percenters" exist in the population, no matter how hard the population tries to get rid of them, as a normal variation.

The analogy here is to left-handedness. Mildly inconvenient, and rather over-represented in the creative fields, interesting (like gays!). In fact pursued by the religious folks as satanic (hence the meaning of "sinister", which means left) and great efforts made to "correct" the behavior, often at great costs to the victim. A genetic component to it, but not hard-wired* and not a conscious choice.

It's a right handed world, and no one is saying that it should not be. But there are left-handed people in it.

*fascinating genetics suggests that handedness may be a "recessive randomness" decision, where if you don't have a gene for being right-handed, then your handedness is randomly determined; so the recessives have an equal probability of winding up right or left handed.


Tobias Haller said...

Thanks IT. Actually I was trying to be very precise, and was referring to the very small percentage of people who are XXY or some other anomalous genetic makeup. The issue of people born with ambiguous sexual organs, or those with a transsexual identity, is also a factor in all of this, but I was concerned with the genetic reality.

I quite agree with the note on the fallacy of "either/or." As I noted in the earlier piece, if one were to apply it as a categorical imperative, celibacy would be just as effective in wiping out the population as homosexuality.

Paul (A.) said...

Another point not mentioned is that, as I understand it, all noncoital sex is licit within marriage in the Jewish tradition as well as the (presumably non-Roman) Christian analysis. And noncoital sex is by its nature nonprocreative yet unitive.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Haller:

FYI, Fr. Matt Kennedy at Stand Firm has posted a "response".

-miserable sinner

Tobias Haller said...

Thank you, MS. I rarely visit Stand Firm any more, as the climate, particularly in the comments, is rather hostile. Matt, to his credit, is a calmer voice.

However, in what he has written so far, he's made assertions that do not stand close examination, as well as errors of fact. The eating of pork by Gentiles is not held to be sinful by Orthodox Jews. The Jewish Law is not understood in Orthodoxy to be a Universal Law. (There are certain principles held to be universal, but the dietary laws are not among them.) More seriously, Matt continues to present a monolithic view of the Scripture. He is unable to see the instances in which same-sex relationships are tolerated or approved because he cannot conceive that to be possible. He thinks the Scripture is plain on the matter, and plain for all time at that. This is very far from true, though I know Matt will never accept that.

SometimesWise said...

"Where I am "heading" eventually is to the fact that male and female are themselves accidents in the human nature, speaking philosophically."

This is where I thought you were heading, and where I believe you are going in the wrong direction - completely. I believe that the error here is the assumption that male and female are mere "accidents in the human nature" or "a difference in plumbing".

There are many studies (to go down the scientific road) that prove that the male and female of the species are inherently different - from the ways the brain functions, memory retention, vision, growth, even length of hair and life-expectancy. This does not even begin to touch the Biblical differentiation - which cannot be discounted as a mere cultural "take" on the roles of men and women in society and in relationships.

Men and women are PURPOSELY different, and intended to be complimentary to each other - each attribute meant to "fill in the gaps" of the other. While I agree that not all people fall into the generalized categories, the INTENT is that male and female belong together - the created order. Of course there will be exceptions, but that is a continued sign of DIS-order - whether a result of our sinful natures or the fallen nature of the world is up for discussion, I'm sure.

If you are willing to discount the intent of God in creating two separate yet complimentary forms of human beings, you might head down the "slippery slope" to question His intent in all of creation.

Tobias Haller said...

Dear Sometimeswise,
I am not in error here, at least as far as the church has taught in its systematic theology. Male and female are accidents in human nature, just like all of the other "differences" you describe. There is nothing "missing" from women, or from men as women or men -- both are equally and fully human beings, not complementary; they do not have "gaps" except as individuals (since no one can possess all attributes) but those gaps are thus by definition accidental, not essential. I have laid this all out in some detail in earlier portions of this series. I do not "discount" the biblical statement by holding it to be culturally conditioned. That is simply a reality. If have no wish to embrace the cultural assumptions inherent in the text, as opposed to the saving truth that is clear in spite of them. God's intent in creation was to bring into being creatures capable of loving him and each other. The ability for persons of the same sex to do this is part of God's intent in creation.

SometimesWise said...

Fr. Haller,

I wasn't referring to people having "gaps" in and of themselves - each of us is made in the image of God - we are full and complete images. I have read more of your series, and you continue to discount the general theme of complementary natures in male/female persons. Yes, I read your piece on that, and I simply disagree. The whole concept of God creating Eve so Adam would not be alone is quite telling. Why did He not create another man from the dirt? Why did he create her from Adam - when He is quite capable of creating another Adam? Why did He make a person with distinct differences? He created another person to be in relationship with Adam, and He created her female - wholly in His image, but very different from the man.

The issue here is the relationship that was created by God from the beginning. I believe that the relationship had purpose, and our sex, as in our differences are intentional as well. You are certainly welcome to convince yourself that the natures of the sexes are an accident - and I'm sure we could both put points forth 'til we're blue in the face, and not budge each other an inch.
Your studies and arguments are made to make your point - I remain unconvinced. I imagine a number of us unenlightened pew-sitters have the same viewpoint - and will remain unconvinced.
Good luck - and God bless you.

Tobias Haller said...

Dear Sometimes,
Clearly this is a matter on which we will have to disagree. I do not see male and female as "complementary" in any meaningful sense of the word. I would be willing, as I think I said somewhere upstream, to say, "supplementary" -- in the sense that the two become something greater than what each is alone. That may be a subtle distinction, but I think it reflects the Scriptural witness and the anthropological reality more closely. My point is that single people (and we must remember our Lord's special regard for singleness) are not "incomplete."

My second point is that all people are to some extent "different" from each other. Thus two men or two women also supplement each other in bringing to their relationship something that makes that relationship greater than the mere sum of parts.

Finally, I think the court of review on Genesis is a major point of disagreement. To my mind, the text of Chapters 2-3 is written not as a literal history of the creation of humanity, but as a expository tale designed to explain "why things are the way they are." Thus it answers certain questions: this is why a man and a woman cleave together; this is why people die; this is why women have such a hard time in childbirth; and so on. It is written from a cultural context that did not conceive of homosexuality, and so felt no need to give an explanation for it.

Finally, in fact, God did actually create many men and women -- each and every one of us, and it is in how we treat each other that we find ourselves realizing God's intent for each and all of us. Becoming too entangled in the Genesis account, and applying it to questions it was not designed to answer, can obscure our vision of our real live flesh and blood brothers and sisters, each of them also made in the image of God.

God bless you, too, and I hope you will continue to follow this series. I am still working on the next section, which will address the use of Scripture in this discussion more directly than in the other sections. Perhaps you will find my approach unhelpful, or perhaps you might find it otherwise; but in any case, may God bless you always, and in all ways.