The nature of marriage

Philosopher Stephen J. Heaney discusses the nature of marriage in the context of the same-sex marriage debate:

Marriage is often characterized today as follows: 1) two people 2) who love each other 3) want to perform sexual acts together, so 4) they consent to combine their lives sexually, materially, economically 5) with the endorsement of the community. Since same-sex couples can meet the first four criteria, how can society refuse the fifth?It is easy to see why this would be a cause of aggravation, not only for same-sex couples who wish community endorsement of their relationships, but for millions of others. If the criteria stated above actually define marriage—and in contemporary Western society, many have come to view marriage as no more than this—then refusal to acknowledge and endorse same-sex relationships is a rank injustice, nothing but an exercise in bigotry or stupidity.

Typically, marriage does in fact have these characteristics. But why does marriage have these characteristics? Remembering why will help us to remember how they show themselves in a relationship that has the essence of marriage—and how that is often different in other relationships.

First, human beings have a powerful hankering to engage in sexual intercourse.

Second, sexual intercourse between a man and a woman naturally and frequently leads to children. Male and female alone each have part of a complete reproductive system. Without both parts, reproduction cannot happen. Without the result of children, it would be a real puzzler why we have these organ systems at all, and why we have such a deep urge to engage in sexual acts.

Third, the rearing of children is a lifetime responsibility. As deeply social beings, we remain connected to each other across generations. Even adults with children of their own need the wisdom and guidance of their fathers and mothers. It is easier for those who enter this project that they have affection for each other, and that they form a self-giving friendship. To perform these actions lovingly is the properly human way.

Fourth, because it leads to children, sexual intercourse has extraordinary public consequences. It is not, as we might like to think, a purely private act. It matters a lot to the community who is doing it, and under what circumstances. So the community endorses certain sexual arrangements; others, which fail to abide by the fullness of truth of human sexuality, the community rejects as unfitting for human beings. To support those that are fitting, it offers the institution of marriage. In marriage, the couple promises before the community to fulfill this project through vows of fidelity and permanence, joining their bodies and their lives to make the project work. The community promises to give the couple the privacy to perform their sexual acts, and care for each other; it further supports the family by means of appropriate protections and benefits. It may be that others could receive similar benefits for different reasons, but this is why benefits accrue to marriage: to help the marriage project flourish.

If sexuality did not naturally bring us offspring, it is hard to explain why it exists, whether you believe in a purely material evolution or a loving designer of the universe, for it would serve no purpose. If sexual acts did not naturally lead to offspring, it is just as hard to explain how marriage would have appeared in human history, for it would serve no purpose.

Religions may bless marriage, but they did not invent it. Because it involves such profoundly important human realities, it is no surprise that sex and marriage have religious significance. But sex and marriage have existed as long as there have been human communities.

If we accept the misdefinition of marriage using non-essential characteristics as the complete story, it would be impossible to reject same-sex marriage. Given the whole truth, however, it is impossible to accept it. No matter how superficially similar they are to real marriages, same-sex relationships cannot function as marriages.

This is a good example of the “natural law” approach to moral reasoning. Does it make sense?  Is there anything exclusively Roman Catholic about it?

HT:  Larry Hughes

Ayn Rand and the virtue of evil

Joe Carter tries to think what he ever saw in Ayn Rand, who despised Christianity and held that the only virtue is selfishness. He cites a new biography that details how bad she was, though at least consistent with her assumptions:

She announced that the world was divided between a small minority of Supermen who are productive and “the naked, twisted, mindless figure of the human Incompetent” who, like the Leninists, try to feed off them. He is “mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned.” It is evil to show kindness to these “lice”: The “only virtue” is “selfishness.”She meant it.

Her diaries from that time, while she worked as a receptionist and an extra, lay out the Nietzschean mentality that underpins all her later writings. The newspapers were filled for months with stories about serial killer called William Hickman, who kidnapped a 12-year-old girl called Marion Parker from her junior high school, raped her, and dismembered her body, which he sent mockingly to the police in pieces. Rand wrote great stretches of praise for him, saying he represented “the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul. … Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should.” She called him “a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy,” shimmering with “immense, explicit egotism.” Rand had only one regret: “A strong man can eventually trample society under its feet. That boy [Hickman] was not strong enough.”

via Two biographies of Ayn Rand. – By Johann Hari – Slate Magazine.

Like Nietzsche, Rand held Christianity in contempt for its teachings about love, which encourages the weakness of compassion that allows the weak to survive, as opposed to helping them die out as they are supposed to.

A lot of conservatives, though, like her.  Why?

No more secrets

Last week the Washington Post outed thousands of top-secret security agencies, to the point of publishing an on-line map so that they can be located.  Now an online group WikiLeaks has released thousands of classified documents about the war in Afghanistan:

U.S. and Pakistani officials are condemning the publication of leaked documents that are said to be secret U.S. military files about the Afghanistan war.

The website WikiLeaks posted tens of thousands of documents online Sunday, and said it has another 15,000 documents that will be released “as the security situation in Afghanistan permits.”  It says the files cover the period between January 2004 and December 2009.

White House National Security Advisor James Jones issued a statement calling the leaks “irresponsible,” saying they not only put the lives of Americans and their partners at risk, but also threaten national security.

The leaked documents are said to include records detailing raids carried out by a secretive U.S. special operations unit against what U.S. officials call “high-value” insurgent and terrorist targets.  Some of the raids are said to have resulted in unintended killings of Afghan civilians.

Also included are documents allegedly describing U.S. fears that Pakistan’s intelligence service was aiding the Afghan insurgency.

Jones said WikiLeaks made no effort to contact the U.S. government, which learned about the release from news organizations.  Those include The New York Times, London’s Guardian newspaper and the German weekly Der Spiegel.

via Thousands of ‘Secret’ Afghan War Files Released on Internet | News | English.

It is certainly difficult to keep secrets in the age of the internet.  Should we just accept all of this “transparency” and embrace a totally free marketplace of information?  Of course, the exposure of government secrets simply follows the exposure of personal secrets that the internet also makes possible.  Do we need to find a way to allow for both individual privacy and national security secrets, or do we just need to find a way to live with the new information environment?

Dehumanizing your opponent

Conservative commentator Michael Gerson draws some lines that cut through both existing parties and potentially every ideology:

One of the most significant divisions in American public life is not between the Democrats and the Republicans; it is between the Ugly Party and the Grown-Up Party.

This distinction came to mind in the case of Washington Post blogger David Weigel, who resigned last week after the leak of messages he wrote disparaging figures he covered. Weigel is, by most accounts, a bright, hardworking young man whose private communications should have been kept private. But the tone of the e-mails he posted on a liberal e-mail list is instructive. When Rush Limbaugh went to the hospital with chest pain, Weigel wrote, “I hope he fails.” Matt Drudge is an “amoral shut-in” who should “set himself on fire.” Opponents are referred to as “ratf — -ers” and “[expletive] moronic.”

This type of discourse is an odd combination between the snideness of the cool, mean kids in high school and the pettiness of Richard Nixon rambling on his tapes. Weigel did not intend his words to be public. But they display the defining characteristic of ugly politics — the dehumanization of political opponents.

Unlike Weigel, most members of the Ugly Party — liberal and conservative — have little interest in keeping their views private. “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh,” Ann Coulter once said, “is he did not go to the New York Times building.” Radio host Mike Malloy suggested that Glenn Beck “do the honorable thing and blow his brains out.” Conservatives carry signs at Obama rallies: “We Came Unarmed (This Time).” Liberals carried signs at Bush rallies: “Save Mother Earth, Kill Bush.” Says John Avlon, author of “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America,” “If you only take offense when the president of your party is compared to Hitler, then you’re part of the problem.”

The rhetoric of the Ugly Party shares some common themes: urging the death or sexual humiliation of opponents or comparing a political enemy to vermin or diseases. It is not merely an adolescent form of political discourse; it encourages a certain political philosophy — a belief that rivals are somehow less than human, which undermines the idea of equality and the possibility of common purposes.

via Michael Gerson – The Ugly Party vs. the Grown-Up Party.

Wanting your opponents dead or sexually humiliated and comparing them to vermin or diseases is, indeed, a long-standing trope of the vilest rhetoric.  It was a commonplace of Nazi propaganda, comparing the Jews, for example, to vermin, who thus need to be exterminated.  OK, maybe you can find examples of Luther talking this way about the pope, but that hardly excuses it.  The key point is that such rhetoric dehumanizes your opponents, and if you do not consider them human, then it is, in fact, easy to kill them, sexually humiliate them, exterminate them like vermin, or wipe them out like diseases.

I think you can be an extremely militant and argumentative conservative or liberal while still avoiding this fault.  Can we agree that it is wrong to dehumanize our opponents?

Evil as proof of God’s existence?

Christopher Benson draws attention to a statement by literary critic Terry Eagleton, a Marxist who has recently started attacking the “new atheists,” who has written a book on the reality of evil:

Evil is a form of transcendence, even if from the point of view of good it is a transcendence gone awry. Perhaps it is the only form of transcendence left in a postreligious world. We know nothing any more of choirs of heavenly hosts, but we know about Auschwitz. Maybe all that now survives of God is this negative trace of him known as wickedness, rather as all that may survive of some great symphony is the silence which it imprints on the air like an inaudible sound as it shimmers to a close. Perhaps evil is all that now keeps warm the space where God used to be.

via What if the problem of evil isn’t a problem? » Evangel | A First Things Blog.

The world of teenagers

More from David Mills on what he has learned from studying today’s teen fiction:

That [see the previous post] describes in outline what these books teach about the teenage life, but they also teach a lot about the world in which teenagers live.

• The good life requires having the things you want, whether you want straighter hair or a boyfriend or a car of your own or just a higher opinion of yourself. The books assume that the wealthier you are, the happier you should be, except when some sentimental lesson about the real importance of friends or self-respect is being taught. Their blissfully unquestioned materialism is astonishing.

• Politics doesn’t exist, history doesn’t exist, high culture doesn’t exist. The main character may have a friend who’s involved in some charity or relief effort, or maybe even a political cause, or who reads a lot of difficult books, or who plays a musical instrument or writes poetry, but she (again, usually a she) is only narrative color. If a political cause is mentioned, it is almost certainly environmentalism.

• Business, if it is thought about at all, is greedy, rapacious, uncaring, and environment-destroying, and produces conformity and monotony. The main characters feel this despite their desire for luxury items. Wealth, and indeed everything needed even for the simplest life, just appears, except when the story is about a poor child or a middle-class child who became poor. Gratitude is not encouraged.

• There is no question that can be solved only by rigorous, disciplined thought. The kid who reads philosophy may be a “brain,” but he is not to be imitated. All questions can be solved by a teenager thinking like a teenager.

• God doesn’t exist for any practical purpose. If you believe he does, you may ask him to bail you out, but you would never think to follow his rules, because his rules are really your parents’ and society’s irrational standards, which will make you unhappy.

• Religion is always formal and impersonal and the parents’ thing. (Although, interestingly, some stories show a sneaking respect for Catholicism and its mysteries, though that respect may be expressed through a particularly notable hatred. Just try to find a wise old priest in one of these stories.) Spirituality can be really cool, though, especially if it’s Eastern or Native American.

• Nevertheless, youth should sometimes think about the ultimate questions, though no one ever seems to come to a conclusion other than high-school-level existentialism. Life is probably meaningless, but you can make your own meaning and create an authentic life by an act of will. Accept your limitations, don’t look for the big answers, don’t submit to tradition or authority, and do what feels most natural and right to you.

• The answer to the kids’ problems is always some form of growth and reconciliation, even resignation: of learning from the experience, accepting it, and getting tough enough to get through it. The answer is rarely any kind of heroism or self-transcendence.

• The hope presented in these books is one of two kinds: In the lighter, sillier books it is merely getting what you want, particularly a new boyfriend or better skin; and in the more serious ones it is surviving until college or adulthood, when you will finally be free to live in a world you want and to make yourself what you would like to be. The hope is never external or transcendent.

via Touchstone Archives: Bad Books for Kids.


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