“Natural”

 

There is a Christian arguement against being gay that claims it is “unnatural”. You know, Men and Women belong together. Heterosexuality is the normal natural way to be. Tab A fits perfectly into Slot B and all that. The argument is that most people are straight, gay people are just a small percentage of people who have fallen into unnatural desires.

Conservative Catholics in particular love this “natural law” argument, because they feel that it is non-religious in nature, and therefore in their mind applies to everyone. And yet, growing up as a conservative Christian, I was told to be different, part of a peculiar people, to stand out from the crowd and avoid the majority culture by remaining pure before marriage.

As a single Christian, sex was something to be avoided at all costs. We were supposed to suppress all sexual urges and remain pure. Even sexual thoughts were considered sinful, to the point of being considered pretty much the same as having actually acted on a sexual desire. I read books on how to cover up my body, distract or re-direct sexual energy, and resist temptation at all costs. If you were truly godly, you would be a pure sexless being until you were married to someone of the opposite sex, at which point you were supposed to be able to morph magically into a sexual being, and sex between husband and wife was celebrated and encouraged (as long as you followed the rules.)

Recently I’ve begun to see how these ideas are contradictory. On the one hand they argue that the majority of people are straight, and thus this is natural and good. On the other hand, they call being unnaturally non-sexual a good thing.

Pardon my nerdiness, but only gets more confusing when you come to find out that there is a minority of people out there that do actually consider themselves asexual, as an orientation. So now we have Christians glorifying and calling this minority sexuality (and therefore “unnatural” by their argumentation) as good and right, but at the same time condemning the “unnatural minority” sexual orientation of homosexuality.

In one instance, “natural” “majority” behavior is encouraged and used as “non-religious” evidence to bolster their case. In the other, it is used as a synonym for sin that must be avoided. And in yet another case, minority sexual behavior is good and right and encouraged for the asexual. What gives? How can they argue out of both sides of their mouth?

Heterosexual, homosexual and asexual people all appear consistently in time and culture, which seems far more “natural” than arbitrary religious dogma masquerading as “natural law”.

I’ve lived all three. I was a single person, striving with all that was in me to ignore and suppress and deny an sexual thoughts or desires. I read books on how to be chaste, I learned how to dress, walk and interact in ways that were as non-sexual as possible lest I be mistaken for flirtatious and therefore sexual.

I was a married person in a “god approved” sexual relationship. Suddenly put in the place where I had to develop all the sexual thoughts and actions I had fought against for so long, where sex didn’t always come from place of natural progression and interest, but from rules and duty and desperately trying to measure up to the “natural” way taught so clearly by all the Christian resources I encountered.

And now I’m in a place where I can do and be what comes naturally to me for the first time. No more questions and self-doubt and shame. No more trying so hard to do things the “natural way”.  If I don’t feel like having sex, I don’t have to feel obligated or ashamed. And sexual actions come out a genuine desire and natural progression of intimacy between me and my wife.

It still puzzles me how (Catholic) christians present the contradictory and confusing “natural law” argument as non-religious and universally applicable. It seems more like a sexual hierarchy of “good”. Asexuality (even though a minority of people have this orientation) is the best way to be. Heterosexuality is a majority orientation and is therefore also good (within their set rules), and Homosexuality  is a “minority” orientation and is therefore unnatural and bad. This doesn’t seem natural and objective, but rather arbitrary. It is almost like they want to present their unique religious sexual  ideals as if they are the natural order of things to control other people. The problem is their sexual ideals aren’t the way things actually happen and exist in the diversity of earth. Natural law is a religious belief and that is fine, but I don’t see how they can claim that the government’s laws should be grounded in it or that it is objective truth through reason.

 

  • http://summat2thinkon.blogspot.co.uk Considerer

    Much of that is over generalised, possibly in the extreme. There are Christians who (rightly or wrongly) have views on sexuality from one end of the spectrum to the other, and everything in between. I remember hearing a friend recount how a priest she knew taught a sermon on how the orgasm is a ‘prayer of thankfulness and joy’. I can understand from what you recount of your background and experiences how you have a chip on your shoulder about this, but don’t tar everyone with the same brush just because of how you’ve found certain individuals to be.

    • Elisha

      I don’t believe that is over generalized. There are many books in fundamentalist Christian culture that speak on this topic and explain it just so. It always frustrated me growing up because the “natural” solution to homosexuality was unsatisfying to me but it seemed to be the go-to super weapon that everyone I asked whipped out.

      • http://summat2thinkon.blogspot.co.uk Considerer

        Agreed, but equally I think you’ll find there are alternative theories published from a Christian viewpoint, though I admit, I know little about ‘fundamentalists’, but I hear the term bandied around a lot. I’m not certain about any ‘natural’ solution. I know it’s silly to look to nature and the natural world to find endorsement for human behaviour. It’s a shame you’ve met with such resistance when questioning – truly open questions should be met with considered answers, not fobbed off. I hope you have better luck in future.

        • Melissa

          Considerer- There are definetely other christian perspectives out there, not arguing that this is the only one.

  • Luna Fox

    Thanks for your post, Melissa! While I appreciate the points you made, I thought you were going to talk about the wide range of sexual behaviors found in nature, given the the title of this post. As you said, homosexuality is found in humans across time and culture.

    However, in the animal kingdom, all kinds of sexual behaviors and systems exist, from homosexuality and bisexuality to gender changes to ‘crossdressing’. In fact, the only reproductive system that is never found is straight monogamy. While some species of birds are touted as being monogamous, they engage in ‘cheating’ and serial monogamy. Yet certain groups of people try to assert that straight, monogamous relationships are natural.

    • Melissa

      The more I learn about sexuality in humans and animals and history, the more fascinating I find it. When I have talked about sexuality in the animal kingdom, the conservative response is generally along the lines that of course animals are going to display disgusting behaviours, they are not made in the image of god.

  • Christine

    Remember, most Christians don’t have “it’s unnatural” as an argument against homosexuality. I’m not sure if you’re addressing specifically that minority voice in this piece, or if you’re trying to address Christian opposition to homosexuality in general, and just picked a bad example. “It’s natural” generally isn’t considered a good argument in favour of anything by most Christians.

    • Melissa

      I suppose this is mostly a Catholic arguement as opposed to christians in general.

    • Elizabeth

      Really? The natural/unnatural argument is a minority? I hear it all the time! Not just from Catholics, although I suppose now that I think about it, the people I mostly hear it from are also not the most devout Christians, so maybe they aren’t necessarily up on what’s considered a “good” Christian argument.

    • Christine

      I’ve natural/unnatural as a Catholic argument against birth control, but never against homosexuality. And even then it’s not normally the one that’s made. I’ve never heard natural/unnatural from on homosexuality any Christian who I’ve talked to directly (I may have seen it referenced as a “look what stupid stuff someone said” news item, but that’s about it). The normal go-to is “God said that it’s a sin” or “God ordained it to be man & woman”. I guess natural/unnatural is reserved for those who think that non-Christians should be expected to have the same moral values, so further weight is needed.

  • Emily W

    Hmmm…..I wish I could follow your argument better. I’m not really able to see your point. You keep fluctuating between referencing the Catholic idea of natural law and the fundamentalist ideas of sexual morality couched in terms of being “natural” or not. The two are actually quite different, and juxtaposing them offers no real clarity. The concept of natural law is far more complex than what you present. It’s unfortunate that the term is generally thrown around willy-nilly concerning this topic because the Catholic understanding (and I mean magisterial here, not just what regular Joe Catholic understands) has nothing to do with what other Christians might claim about things being “natural” or “unnatuaral.” It has nothing to do with what the “majority” or “minority” of people do or desire sexually….and that seems to be the hinge that other Christians want to hang on to.
    Anyway, I enjoy reading your perspective and I hope I don’t sound too critical or harsh. I just want to point out that no real understanding can be found when we confuse and mash ideas together as though they were complementary.

    • Melissa

      I realize that I am talking about more than one idea here, but rest assured, as I was interested in the Catholic church a couple years ago, I read hte entire catechism and other readings as well. I may not have hashed out the magisterial teachings in this particular post. But I do know what they are. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/permissiontolive/2010/05/sexuality-and-the-church-part-1.html

      • http://agiftuniverse.blogspot.com Sheila

        The Catholic Church certainly does NOT believe we should be asexual when we aren’t married. John Paul II says that we are always sexual beings, we just choose not to use that faculty when we’re not an a state of life to do so. But we will always have normal sexual desires, and those can help us choose a spouse. (I.e. how would you know who to get married to if you weren’t attracted to anybody?)

        I’m surprised, based on your past post about Catholic teaching, which I really liked, that you seem to be confused about it now.

        As far as “natural law” goes, it doesn’t mean “whatever is natural is good.” It means that if you look at nature, there are certain things you can figure out. I tend to think of it as an evolutionary law almost. Our instincts tell us what is best for us, but we have reason too, so we can completely ignore our instincts or work around them — like obeying the instinct to eat, but then purging afterward. Plus we have original sin so neither our instincts nor our reason is perfectly reliable. So at that point we think, “What was this instinct for? Why do I want to do this thing?” And the answer, when we’re talking about sex, is reproduction. So if we have the desire to have sex, we either do so in a way that’s open to reproduction, or we should say no to that desire.

        HOWEVER, having said all that, I think “natural law” is a very fuzzy argument because how can you really be certain what the natural law really says? I mean, seeing as both our instincts and our reason are flawed. And that’s where revelation comes in. It’s like God telling us, “Look, if you were perfectly wise, you might be able to figure out what was good for you. But you’re not, so here I am telling you. Do these things, don’t do those; that’ll be best for everyone.”

        That’s part of the reason I don’t see natural law as a good basis for secular law. I think the basis of secular law should be ethics — stuff like “don’t hurt other people” and “everybody has rights.” If what you’re doing doesn’t harm anyone else, I don’t see how that is anyone’s business but yours. If God has a problem with it, he’ll have to talk to you about that!

        • Melissa

          I certainly wouldn’t argue that this is the most complete/well articulated post I’ve ever written on the topic. Just something that I’ve recently noticed in the contradiction of christian rules on sexual behavior. I love what you said at the end about secular law!

        • Mari

          You mention that sex is for reproduction and that we should say to ourselves, are we open to reproduction at this time and if not, then we should say no. And while I generally agree with you (If you aren’t prepared to have a baby, then you should do what you can to prevent that, either abstain or take birth control), I find fault with the reasoning that sex is only for reproduction-that’s just one possible outcome.

          Take bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees) who have sex extremely frequently (generally AT LEAST once a day) and for many reasons. They do it to resolve conflict, to ease tension, and to form social bonds, to name a few reasons. And these animals have great instincts for homosexual interactions while still having hetero ones. For humans, sex has been shown to increase endorphins, be a great workout, and to ease stress. Not every union results in pregnancy. Since bonobos don’t have original sin, though I will personally say they can reason, should they abstain from sex unless they want offspring? Why isn’t God talking them about what is and isn’t right? Their instincts are telling them to go at it often and with both sexes.

          You say we can use our instinct to help us determine what is right and good for us, then say we have reason which helps us get around our instincts yet say natural law doesn’t mean what whatever is natural is good. But if it is instinctual, by definition, it is natural. You go on to say, because of original sin, our instincts and reason are flawed. If they are flawed how can we use them to determine what the point of a particular instinct is with any certainty?

          People are people, be it homo, heteo, asexual, bi, etc. As long as we are being responsible with our actions (this is where I agree wholeheartedly with you) and you are not hurting others then what one person does is their business, no one else’s.

        • http://amethystmarie.com/ Amethyst

          I love how, as soon as someone presents a critical argument against a Christian teaching, they’re accused of not really understanding it. Because no one could possibly disagree with a point of doctrine you agree with if they *really understood* it. :P (And I do identify as a Christian, albeit not an evangelical or Catholic.)

  • http://www.lara-thinkingoutloud.blogspot.com lara

    Yes! Thank you for articulating this so well!!

  • Catholic Mutt

    I don’t have anything in particular to add to the conversation, but I just wanted to let you know that I’m reading and thinking about what you have to say. :)

    • Melissa

      Thank you!

  • http://omorka.blogspot.com/ Omorka

    Hmm. I detect a hint of bisexual invisibility in this post – a bit odd in something that not only is aware of but actually namechecks asexuality!

    • Melissa

      I consider myself technically bisexual, so I don’t think that I am excluding people by not mentioning them by name. I didn’t name a lot of other people groups either.

  • Mari

    Thanks for your thought on this. I am an asexual. I was in my 30′s before I figured out that other people actually NEED sex and desire and want it. Personally, I can’t fathom ever allowing another person to have sex with me (or kiss me on the mouth-even pecks on the cheek make me uncomfortable). No desire whatsoever. Which brings me to my point. You mention that the church (not sure which one) considers asexuality as good and right, but that makes a very poor argument on their side. I will never bear children. If I ever got married, my spouse would have to live with never consummating the marriage. How can that be “good and right” according to Christian or Catholic religion as I will never “be fruitful and multiply?” Natural law… phfff… even mice and penguins have been shown to be heterosexual, homosexual, and asexual. Personally, nature shows that all orientations exist.

    • Persephone

      I think the basis is Paul’s writings wherein he recommends not marrying as the best way to devote one’s life to the service of God, a basis for the Catholic church’s development of a celibate priesthood. Paul then stated that it was better to marry than to burn, so there’s an implication that not being able to be chaste (as opposed to just celibate) shows a weakness in one’s faith and in one’s self (and this is a belief shared by many Christians, not just Catholics, although Quiverfull and Dominionist types are just the opposite), and is a secondary, lower level in serving God.

      Obviously, someone asexual has an advantage, but the church doesn’t accept the idea that people are naturally asexual, they consider those who are as specially blessed by God, or having remarkable self-control, or having extraordinary faith.

      • Mari

        If by being asexual, I am “specially blessed by God” then I am really pulling one over one him as I don’t believe in Him. That also negates having very strong faith. As to the “remarkable self control,” well, I never have to have self-control in the area of sexuality, because I don’t feel sexual attraction, draw, intentions, whatever you want to call it. I’m 38 years old. I think if those needs were going to happen to me, they would have done so by now.

        The problem with the church’s position is exactly what you state. “The church DOESN’T ACCEPT the idea that people are naturally asexual” The capitalization is mine (and I don’t know how to bold). They are not looking at facts, they are burying their heads in the sand to what the facts are based on hand-picked sections from the bible-which is so full of contradictions that hand-picking is the only way to go. Most of us, I think, would not consider an infertile woman who doesn’t conceive a child condemned to eternal Hell as the Bible states she should be (1 Timothy 2:15). We’ve grown in that area. Why can’t we do that with Homosexuality/Asexuality/Bi-sexuality/Transgender, etc?

  • House Baelish

    I’m pretty sure the natural law argument (at least in Catholic terminology) is less “this is not found in nature/the majority of people, therefore it’s wrong”, and more about morals that come to people by their nature, i.e., it is a law that we acquire through nature, rather than it is a law that is necessarily exemplified in nature, or a law that we know through observance of nature.

    That being said, I have yet to hear any argument against gay marriage that actually works outside of a religious context, although I have seen some rather poor attempts. In my opinion, this makes about as much sense for making a “secular argument” for attending Mass or praying rosaries. In my experience, the people who want to make a “secular case” against gay marriage are almost invariably the ones who want to force their beliefs on others through legal restrictions.

    I do believe that the Catholic teaching on marriage is internally consistent, and I do my best to follow it, although, if I had to label my orientation, it wouldn’t be 100% straight. But I can accept that other people have different views on this subject. I’d just as soon make a legal requirement on Mass attendance as I would make legal restrictions on gay marriage. The government exists to protect its citizens, not to help one group of people to force their religious views on others.

  • http://www.aufwind2012.wordpress.com Dorothea

    i dont speak english well, because i am a german woman. But: with argumentations with “natural” reasons are bad.
    - Who definines, what “natural” is and what not?
    - if natural means something coming out of evolution, than it would be better to speak from evolution, because then the next question is: what about evolution of human beeings? was the Nazi-Terror part of “nature” of human beeings and is the supression and discrimination of minorities, like the Nazis did, part of the evolution oder part of history and the evolution lead human beeings to more democraty, liberality and more human rights?
    - if “natural” is defined in the Bibel – the next question is: Is every word of the bibel with the same value? Do Christians follow every word, like Satan did (Math. 4,6) or do we follow Jesus and his way of reading the bibel? He did not say any word about homosexuality, but about pharisees, about not to judge (Math. 7,1ff) and about love as summary of the law…
    - is “natural” defined through the pope of rome? Than you should read Martin Luthers questions to the pope and than think about to go into another christian konfession…
    Greetings
    Dorothea

    • Persephone

      Dorothea, you have brought up many of the issues that have resulted in the thousands of Christian sects that exist. Some fundamentalist sects in the U.S. do believe that every word in the Bible is true and without fault (some of them only accept the King James version of the Bible). Many others do not. Some believe that the Bible is mostly filled with instructional fables. Others believe that most of the stories are based in some facts. The history of the U.S. is intertwined with Christianity (this does not mean the U.S. is a Christian nation or is historically a Christian nation) because many of the original colonies were settled by English Christians who left England due to their oppression under the established Anglican church. Many other early settlers were transported to America for crimes (which could be crimes related to religion), and others came here to not practice religion of any kind.

      I’m not a Christian anymore, and I believe that there are only a few things in the Bible that actually occurred, such as the establishment of Israel and the laws followed by the Jews, and that there was a man named Jesus who tried to break away from the legalism of the Jewish state religion and was killed for it.

  • Jimmy

    Thank you for the thought provoking post. Is the Catholic idea of the natural law really, “The argument is that most people are straight” and that makes it natural?

  • Regal

    As an asexual, I can assure you that the church in no way glorifies asexuality. Quite the opposite in fact. I remember sitting in youth groups as a teenager and listening to the requisite twice yearly talks on “staying pure” and “saving yourself until marriage”, which tend to emphasize the fact that everybody wants sex. I distinctly remember feeling like a freak for NOT wanting it.
    It’s only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. Since I came out as ace (asexual) in my early twenties I’ve only met a few Christians who even believe that such a thing exists. Those that do believe that I’m not interested in sex tend to try to make sense of it by saying that G-d must have given me the “gift of celibacy”. The rest of the Christians who know of my orientation (including my mother) just refuse to believe its the truth. I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve been told that I’ll want sex once I meet the right man. Well I’ve met plenty, even been in love once or twice. And yet through it all I’ve never wanted sex.
    So you see just because aces don’t want sex, doesn’t mean that Christians accept us any more than they do others whose sexual orientations they disagree with. True, they don’t outright reject us as they do for others, but they don’t accept us either. We’re different, and that means we’re wrong. All we can do is hope and pray that someday they realize that hate and rejection is not the Christian way, and begin to accept everyone, just the way G-d made us.

  • Karen

    Interesting discussion of aces, since my father’s family was full of them. Perhaps for some, it’s an inherited trait. But I grew up knowing a houseful of great-aunts and great-uncles, all siblings; two were widowed but the rest had never married. They just weren’t into it. At least there were a few relatives who were into keeping the family line going :)

  • David

    What the story does not mention is that homosexual behavior has been documented in more than 400 species of animals, including other apes. So much for “natural law”…


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