New Symposium – UPDATE: Jim Geraghty!

Timothy Dalrymple and I had a conversation about the differences between Catholics and Evangelical Christians and their methods of movement. Timothy, who has boundless energy and manages over at the Evangelical Portal, said, “let’s broaden the conversation with a symposium!”

“…a symposium on the future of social conservatism and the extent to which religious groups, and the tensions and synergies between them, are shaping that future. The rise of a younger, more pro-life generation is changing the complexion of the abortion issue, while legislation is moving against gay-marriage even as judicial and cultural trends are moving toward it. How will these things pan out? How should Catholics and Evangelicals, as well as other Protestants, Orthodox, Mormons, and people of other faiths besides, respond to these developments? How do our stances on these issues give expression (if they do) to the gospel and to Christ’s call to care for ‘the least of these’? And how can we work together where we agree, and better understand one another where we differ?”

And so today we launch For Life and Family: Faith and the Future of Social Conservatism, where each day we’ll be adding several voices — some of them may surprise you — to the mix, and we’ll be going strong for about two weeks.

We lift off with Mark Shea, who draws on his Evangelical-to-Catholic journey to bring some welcome perspective on fundamental differences in perception that exist between to two:

My email box is full of puzzled frustration at the mystery of my political views and lots of advice from people who tell me “Stick to theology” as though the two have absolutely no connection in my mind. In turn, I find the mystification of my readers even more mysterious. Here’s the key to the riddle: I’m a Catholic. So, in my mind, politics (like everything else in the universe) is intimately connected to theology or, more precisely, to God.

I think that politics is the art of the possible. I regard political parties as large, clumsy mechanisms that Catholics should attempt to use in order to try to enact as much Catholic social teaching as possible. Sort of like trying to knit with tire irons.

J.E. Dyer writes on social conservatism and the quality of mercy:

It is not justice, but mercy, that saves the unborn. God prizes mercy over justice, but we don’t. Left to our own devices, we couch everything in terms of justice—vindication for us, punishment for others—and ignore or despise the concept of mercy. Much of the West’s intellectual effort for the last century has been devoted to making a high moral art of this. We have even begun to call mercy “justice,” as when a guilty felon with a troubled background is given a lighter sentence or set free. This creates a great vulnerability for us: not so much by corrupting the concept of justice as by effectively dismissing “mercy” as a quality in social intercourse. None of us can get along without mercy as well as we tend to think we can. But we have largely organized ourselves to drive it out of the human equation.

Finally, theologian Tim Muldoon comes out with a bold statement that may turn a few heads or make them explode: Fighting Gay Marriage is a Lost Cause:

The American assumption is weak, though, from a philosophical and cultural perspective, and wrong from a Christian theological perspective. The weakness lies in the fact that this logic about marriage is divorced from a philosophical or theological anthropology, rooting itself more in a model of law known as social contract. A social contract is basically an agreement among people about how they as a society will act. According to an American version of this theory, law is good if it reflects the will of the majority. And since the majority of people are coming to embrace the economic partnership model, the law ought to reflect that model. Over time, that model will likely have to include all sorts of legal partnerships as public opinion continues to change.

How’s that for a start?

UPDATE: And how is NRO’s Jim Geraghty, to continue?

If evangelicals have more on their minds than social conservatism in recent years, it in part reflects that almost everyone has had more on their minds than social conservatism in recent years . . . it’s rather interesting that “social conservatism” has come to be defined as almost a synonym for “abortion and gay marriage.” Social conservatism was once associated with a much wider range of issues: the content and messages on our television, movies, popular music; what kind of values are being taught to our children at school; hostility to expressions of religious faith in public life; general civility and decorum in public spaces; the social cost of legalized gambling, drug use and associated criminal activity, and more. Perhaps evangelicals are less committed to social conservatism, or perhaps their sense of priorities for a better, more conservative society is changing.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Bender

    I think the theologian ought to stick to theology and leave the law to those who know what they are talking about.

    Then again, he too might be a lost cause.

  • Laurel

    “… this logic about marriage is divorced from … theological anthropology, rooting itself more in a model of law known as social contract.”
    NO – that’s the whole point! A social contract is a legally binding agreement having to do with secular law. Marriage is a sacrament – an act that has deep theological and spiritual meaning, involving the Holy Spirit, whether people see it that way or not.
    Personally, I’m all in favor of equal access to the rights of law for everyone, gay, straight or whatever. But we can’t change the definition of marriage to mean something that the State decides, when the State didn’t institute it; God did.

  • kenneth

    So have your sacraments, and administer them according to the laws of your Church. Our government is not in the sacrament business. It acknowledges and enforces the terms of civil contracts, which is all civil marriage has ever been. Our government is not the enforcement division/Mutaween of the U.S. Bishops, of Rome or of Christendom generally. It never was and it never will be.

    The document and legally binding marriage contract you have on file with the county clerk is not a sacrament or an instrument of divine law. It’s a contract subject to the best and most current interpretation of United States law, which exists solely as a social contract. We could get government into the sacrement business like they do in China, where the state appoints bishops and circumscribes what is acceptable doctrine, but I’m quite confident none of you would be happy with the outcomes.

    “Saving marriage” is indeed a lost cause because demographically, the game is up where homophobia is concerned. The existence of gay people, and their rights to equality are simply a given, a non-issue among those under 30 these days. In the coming decade or two, there will simply be no one left to man the barricades, so to speak. Even most conservative politicians now see it as a loser of an issue.

    It is also a lost cause because Americans, even a great many devout Catholics and other Christians, are a scrappy, free-thinking bunch, and they mostly have no interest whatsoever in theocracy. May it ever be so…

  • Barry

    Because I think Mark Shea is right on the money in his thinking about what it means to be Catholic and to think and act consistently with that, I think the topic of this symposium is unfortunate.

    It’s not ‘social conservatism’ that we should have allegiance to or even an interest in. It’s faithfulness to the Gospel, as it’s presented to us by Christ through Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium. As Mr. Shea points out so well, there will be times when the Gospel will be consistent with social conservatism, and times when it will fly in the face of it.

    So why work, as a Catholic, to build up or defend social conservatism, or social liberalism, for that matter? Either way, it’s an idol.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    This symposium seems neither particularely Catholic, nor particulrely socially conservative.

  • Laurel

    To Kenneth

    In the early days, before our nation was a nation, people didn’t have “birth certificates”, they had “baptismal certificates” or baptismal records kept by the churches which were required to be in each town in New England for a town or village to be an official town or village. When the country got older, instead of baptism certificates the government required “birth certificates” because they wanted a record of people’s existence and not all were baptized. Obviously, the government didn’t want to be in the baptism business and since different churches disagreed on the correct way baptism should be done, churches “agreed to disagree” and defined it the way they wanted to.

    This is an oversimplification of the history but this is the point: Why is the government in the “marriage” business? (Rhetorical question, don’t answer.) The government should be in the “law” business which includes everything civil, including rights and contracts. I see marriage as similar to the baptismal question – it was not up to the government to decide what kind of baptism was correct or to require or deny people baptism. Baptism was a matter for the churches in the same way that I believe marriage is.

    This is my answer to the problem, which I know will probably never happen, but makes sense to me. Take the whole question of “marriage” (and the word itself) out of the government documents. EVERYONE gets a civil contract from the government for the purposes of legal rights etc. Then, if people want to get “married”, let them go to a church to do it. There are lots of churches which will marry gay people and that’s fine – they will be married. Other churches, such as the Catholic Church, can continue their traditions and law and not marry gay people. Churches will continue to “agree to disagree” on that doctrine as they do with baptism. This way – everyone gets the same legal rights, those who want to be “married” do so, and the government doesn’t try to decide the definition of marriage, which is the crux of the problem for everyone who is against gay marriage.

    You may call it homophobia if you want to only see what you want to see and to demonize those who disagree with you, but the real issue is the government trying to force it’s own definition of marriage on people who believe it is a basic doctrine of their faith.

  • Elaine T

    I read the article by Geraghty. Then I wanted to go look at some of the others. I couldn’t find them easily. I read the theologian’s yesterday and thought he had some good points – that SSM is only a flash point, the real issues are hiding under it. But I couldn’t find it until I came back here and followed the link.

    I really don’t like Patheos’s organization. If you’re running a symposium, any article that is part of it, should contain links in the headers/footers/intro/all of the above to the rest of the articles. Or at least a table of contents sort of page where all the articles are listed with links.

    I would also like an option for single page view instead of always having to go to a second – third, fourth – page for the whole article. It chops things up.

  • Manny

    I thought the symposium was to be an interesting discussion between the theological differences. After reading the essays for week one and the topics for week two, I can’t say I’m captivated. There’s nothing theological here; it’s an exploration of cultural differences. Well, there’s a fatal flaw in trying to tease out cultural differences between denominations of people living in the same nation. There really aren’t any. We are all Americans, subject to all sorts of similarities and differences which transcends religion. Like I responded to the Mark Shea essay: I know Liberal Evangelicals, Liberal Catholics, Conservative Evangelicals, Conservative Catholics. One can also say that about atheists, Jews, Methodists, Presbytarians, etc. The fact that we’re Americans overwhelms the religious distinctions. American Catholics and Evalgelicals have more in common than do Catholic Spaniards in Spain. For instance, your question for Week 2: “How can evangelicals be pro-life but support the death penalty?” Well many if not most Catholics support the death penalty too while being against abortion. I’ll continue to peruse the symposium, but I so far I don’t find it very insightful.

  • kenneth

    Laurel, what you advocate makes eminent sense, and we’re mostly in agreement on the “what ought to be done” end of the problem. Maybe some of it boils down to semantics. I would have no problem with states calling their contracts “civil unions” IF the legal rights were truly equivalent among gays and straight couples.

    Where I disagree is the notion that government is trying to “decide the definition of marriage” by treating its citizens equally under civil law. That is a bogeyman argument put forth by the “defenders of marriage.” There is no move afoot anywhere to have government force churches to alter the terms of their sacraments. There is a VERY deep tradition and precedent in constitutional law by which courts are unwilling to allow themselves to get involved in such internal matters of doctrine.

    The problem, as it now stands, is exactly the opposite: it is religious organizations demanding that their theology be enforced in civil law.

    I truly don’t have a problem with churches restricting their sacraments in any way they see fit. If they want to restrict marriage to hetero couples, or fertile hetero couples, or full-blooded Aryans or Roswell aliens, I could care less. Even if I disagree with the underlying doctrine, I respect their right to practice as they see fit (unless they are taking public money to do it etc.)

  • momor

    I could go along with civil unions by the state and marriages by churches with one big difference. Civil unions need to be open to all flavors of economic partners, not just those based on sexual union, e.g., two siblings, a child and a dependent parent, two cousins, etc. The only requirement should be that 2 adults have agreed to be committed to a nuclear family partnership for life, including being subject to laws regarding economic support, power of attorney, next-of-kin, inheritance, care of children, dissolution, etc.

    Two huge problems with this though:
    1) gays will never accept this definition because they are not looking for the civil law benefits as much as they are seeking a status that declares their union to be just as normal and on the same par as heterosexual unions.

    2) Inheritance issues. Too many families will object as one person tries to civily unite with the family member that has all the money.

  • kenneth

    Momor, I’m not sure what problems would be solved by your expansive “solution” of civil unions for all familial relationships, beyond trying to dilute gays’ supposed claim to “legitimacy.” Marriage/civil union laws exists specifically for the life circumstances encountered by those in a sexual, or rather romantic life partnership. I just don’t see where siblings or parents and children are suffering deficiencies under existing law. They aren’t for example, turned away at hospitals for not being “real” family members. There are a ton of legal protections and obligations regarding parents and children. For elderly or ill parents, there is medical and economic power of attorney.

    Beyond that I guess I don’t see the need or societal benefit or legal equivalency in extending marriage-like benefits for adult siblings or college roommates or whatever. If they want or need an economic partnership for some formal purpose, they can certainly form a business partnership or corporation of some sort. The whole point of marriage law is to define and protect the terms of a familial relationship created by mutual desire, not blood relations (or a simple desire among casual acquaintances for higher tax breaks).

  • momor

    kenneth, my description highlights that it isn’t necessary to be married to have the civil benefits that gays originally asked for and to point out that wasn’t enough as most of us already knew. Now it’s necessary to have the equivalent of what heterosexuals have so gays can see their relationships as “normal”. I won’t pretend it’s the same.

    And once that door is opened wide to make marriage anything other than one man, one woman, there will be valid anti-discrimnation grounds to open marriage up to virtually anything combination adults want to say it is. Moral relativists never understand slippery slope arguments. Perhaps because there is never a bottom for them to fall to.

    If we want to eliminate civil discrimination (the gay rallying cry) then we need to consider the fair treatment of other kinds of co-habiting couples in our society and not base it simply on sex (which is for procreation of children – but why worry about obvious flaw heh?). A woman may take care of her disabled sibling or parent but she can’t put them on her medical plan at work. A single man may be the sole support of his single brother for years but if he dies first he can’t have his pension paid out to brother. Or just 2 unrelated friends live together in a non-sexual relationship and support each other in everything as family, but when one dies the other can’t get survivor benefits.

    Those are just a few of the reasons I would expand civil unions if we are going to have them at all.

  • kenneth

    Slippery slope arguments are what people resort to when they have no arguments of merit rooted in any real-world scenario. There is no good secular argument against gay marriage rooted in any mainstream science, so it devolves down to ludicrous scenarios people marrying goats or their sister or space vampires or (fill in the blank).

    Gays don’t need or desire government affirmation that they’re “normal.” They’ve had that from the medical and psychological communities since the 1970s, and they’ve had the acceptance of mainstream society, especially in urban areas, since at least the mid 1990s. Among most people under 40, gay people are so accepted that the phenomenon itself is boring.

    Gays, like any other group in America, don’t need or benefit from your acceptance or mine, nor are they entitled to it. What they they want is equitable treatment by the same government they pay taxes to. Atheists don’t accept Christianity as healthy or “normal,” Christians don’t accept pagans like me as “normal.” Vegans don’t accept what we meat eaters do as normal or healthy. The genius of America is we don’t have to. But we don’t get to hijack the government to strip human rights and legal standing from those we don’t approve of.

    There are, of course, benefits reserved to married couples of whatever sort that do not accrue to other sorts of relationships. Whether that’s fair or not is a larger question. Nonetheless, the fact that a gay couple cannot physically procreate does not make their relationship qualitatively similar to a couple of adult siblings living together. Survivor and health benefits for spouses rest on traditional assumptions about spouses, usually women, who would forgo the financial independence of the workplace for domestic duties. That assumption has probably needed re-examination for many years.

    Two unrelated adults or competent adults have no legitimate need to rely on another for support. Disabled adults and elderly parents have other options, like Medicare. Truthfully, if we had any sort of real pro-life or Christian society, people would not have to “marry well” or need a high end job (or enter a civil union with their brother) to have access to decent medical care but that’s a whole other ball of wax.

  • momor

    “Slippery slope arguments are what people resort to when they have no arguments of merit rooted in any real-world scenario. There is no good secular argument against gay marriage rooted in any mainstream science, so it devolves down to ludicrous scenarios people marrying goats or their sister or space vampires or (fill in the blank).”

    Kenneth, I doubt you are naive but one has to wonder with statements like that. First of all marriage is not a scientific issue but even if it was, how can you miss the fact of the mis-matched biology? There is no good scientific argument for gay sex either, in fact most of it proves the absurdity of it.

    Secondly, 50 yrs ago you could have substituted “gay marriage” for any of your scenarios and conveyed the same absurdity. That is the perfect definition of how a slippery slope works.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Marriage is now being seen, not as a union of two souls, an institution for the care and nurturing of children or as a sacrament, but as a cash/economic arrangement. Omigawd, we’ve got to have our partner’s insurance, estate, property, etc. It’s only FAIR! And it’s all about the money.

    (You can visit anybody in the hospital. I’ve visited many people there whom I wasn’t married to, and whom I wasn’t related to at all. And you can give anybody a healthcare power of attorney, it doesn’t have to be a spouse. These things aren’t affected by not being married. When you come right down to it, it’s all about the inheritance.)

    It’s ironic that, back in the 60′s, everybody was saying that you didn’t need a “Piece of paper” to be in love. Now it’s, “Give me that piece of paper, right now! Love is fine, but we’ve got to take care of business!”

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Because if civil unions aren’t expanded to the point where we can all get survivor benefits from somebody, it’s just not faaaaiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrr!

    Lawyers and clients have business relationships. You have a business relationship with your doctor. Heck, you have a business relationship with your local bank, and grocery store.

    Are we going to start considering all these relationships “marriages” now? Yes, we probably will, because it’s just not fair if we don’t get those death benefits, and monetary perks that used to be for heterosexual marriage alone! come on, give this that “Useless piece of paper!” We’ve changed our minds!

  • kenneth

    I’m very aware of the biological arguments, and they’re bunk. Homosexual behavior is rampant in nature and there are findings in evolutionary biology which suggests it has a purpose as a response to population pressures and can actually enhance survival of offspring as “gay uncles” provide resources to related offspring that would otherwise go to their own. It’s also clear from decades of study of primates that sex is employed for far more than simple reproduction. The idea that nature provides a simple template for what’s “normal” is very shaky, at best.

    The “natural law” argument falls short in other regards as well. For one, it was the basis of justification for slavery and laws against interracial marriage. Nor are the “save marriage” folks truly interested in enforcing reproductive purpose as the basis of marriage. Only for gay people. Heterosexual couples are free to engage in all sorts of sexual activity that thwarts nature’s reproductive purpose and they will not be denied a marriage license. In fact millions of otherwise young and healthy couples employ artificial birth control or sterilization. Nobody is proposing that they be denied civil marriage. We’re only interested in “defending nature” when gays are involved.

  • kenneth

    To Rhinestone’s point, marriage has ALWAYS been seen as primarily an economic arrangement. From the earliest days of settled civilization, it has been an arrangement for forging political and economic alliances, defining inheritance of lands and title, domesticating young men, defining paternity and providing women with what was often their only means of support and physical safety in many societies. Marriage has never been seen exclusively or even primarily in the flowery terms that today’s social conservatives would have us believe.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Kenneth, if marriage is seen merely as a econmic, arrangement, it will die.

    Simple as that.

    Treating it as a merely economic issue degrades it to the level of King so so and so giving Lord This and that his daughter in marriage, to secure his land; or the Sultan of Panjandrum going out and being a few more slaves for his harem, when he could afford it, because the old ones have become boring.

    Nope, no “flowery terms” there! ”

    And we all know how happy purely economic arrangements made everybody back then.

    It was that crazy rabbi back in Judea who blessed a wedding at Cana who talked about “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder”—ah, but He didn’t understand economics, and the proper authorities took care of Him—at least they say they did. So let’s get’s back to the most important thing of all! Money!

    Treating people soley as economic counters does not work.

    You can pretend othewise, but it really isn’t all about the money. No human relationship is.

    By the way, Kenneth—you’ve admitted you’re a pagan, and, like most of the pagans I’ve met, you have a very strong dislike of Christians, and Christianity; given this bias, I take everything you say with a grain of salt, and I’m curious as to why you’ve come here to lecture everybody at a Catholic blog.

  • kenneth

    Marriage has survived for 12,000 years that we know of, in large part as an economic institution. How much it had to do with money and power of course varied considerably across time and cultures and economic classes of people. In any case, marriage has NOT been defined in the terms of the American Christian Right for 99% of that time.

    Yes, I will concede, for the record, that I am a pagan. I wouldn’t say I have a “strong dislike of Christians and Christianity.” By simple virtue of demographics, most of my friends and family and society is at least nominally Christian. I certainly have my disagreements with its cosmology and doctrine, but no more so than with Islam or Buddhism or Bahais. I do have a strong disagreement with contemporary conservative Christians on a great many issues, but most of that does not derive from my religion, or from yours. You should take everything anyone says with a grain of salt and a critical eye.

    I come here because there is often some pretty good discourse on issues which I know and care something about. I do consort with my own kind of course, but I find that you never learn or grow if you only talk with those who agree with you on everything.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    There is marriage as a sacrament, and then there is marriage as an economic arrangement.

    Marriage as an economic arrangement is dying out, devolving into a squalid issue of alimony, child-custody, suits and counter-suits and lawyers. The old aristocratic society, and idea of marriage for money is fading away—-and, as in any situation where human relations are government sheerly by cash—it’s becoming ugly, and will become uglier. God pity the children.

    Marriage as a sacrament, as something invovling God, and mutual love and commitment, is something entirely different. And it has been practiced—sometimes badly, but it has been practiced—in ancient Jewish society, and with the early Christians, for about 2,000 years. Like far too many people, you seem to think that Christianity is a completely American, and completely modern, phenomenon. It’s not.

    Marriage as a sacrament is about more than monetary arrangements. In fact, human relations in general are about more than monetary arrangements. Any attempt to reduce them to that is wrong. (yes, we all know how happy slaves were, helping their masters get rich, and serfs, working for their lords and the hapless inhabitants of the Soviet Gulags, working for the state.)

    If marriage is reduced to nothing more than cash, it will fail. And that is all it seems to be now, in secular society. Hence, it is failing.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    (And, yeah, I do sense dislike of Catholics in your comments.)

  • kenneth

    People marry for all sort of reasons, some quite cynical and materialistic, some very lofty. In most cases some mixture of the two. I’m not advocating that people ought to marry out of Machiavellian strategy or that there’s anything wrong with defining one’s marriage through a sacrament. What I am saying is that the notion that marriage has always been some universal immutable thing based on contemporary Catholic ideals is absurd and unsupported by any reasonable read of human history.

    I have no problem with marriage as a sacrament. My own marriage was sacramental as well as legal. Government has no place administering or enforcing sacraments, however. It’s fair to say that you and I probably place little to no stock in each other’s religious definition of marriage.

    That said, I’m quite certain that you would not accept having your legal rights of marriage denied you because your marriage wasn’t considered “real” under the terms of my religion. To me, the issue really is that dirt simple. There’s no fight over sacramental marriage because our government isn’t in the business. The issue is civil marriage, or civil union, if you prefer, and neither my priestess nor your bishops get to define that for anyone else.

  • kenneth

    I DO have an intense dislike of Catholicism’s reasoning and position on this particular issue, but don’t feel singled out. I have equal disdain for Evangelicals, Mormons, Orthodox Jews, Scientologists and even some right wing secular and pagan folks on this issue…

  • Mary W

    Kenneth said: “homosexual behavior is rampant in nature” implying that biogically because it is found in nature, it’s all right and “natural. There are other perversions found in nature such as incest and cannibalism does this then mean we should validate these practices, too?

  • kenneth

    I’m not the one suggesting that nature is a perfect model for human behavior or societal organization. It’s the favorite recourse of the anti-gay marriage crowd, who would have us believe that gay marriage “can’t exist” and that that fact is “self-evident” in nature.

  • kenneth

    Natural law was the entire basis for slavery and the Jim Crow laws that followed including laws barring interracial marriages which were not repealed until well into present times. It was believed that there were significant biological differences among races. This was majority, mainstream “Natural Law” reasoning throughout the U.S., and not only among slaveowners themselves.

    The Bible was used to justify these things as well, just as it is used in the gay marriage argument today. Every argument employed against black Americans is being re-used, almost word for word, against gays in these times. In both cases, people purport to know what’s “natural” and God’s will. In both cases people truly believe they are acting out of “tough love” not hate toward the objects of their systemic oppression.

    I don’t proclaim myself to be “wiser and finer’ than any other thinker as a general matter, but I’m very confident that our best thinking has advanced significantly since the Bronze Age, Chesterton’s pithiness nonwithstanding.

    We don’t consider Bronze Age medicine or engineering to be the ultimate, inviolate human wisdom in these areas. Of course in these disciplines too, rotten ideas persisted for many centuries and that fact became the basis for arguing their infallibility. Doctors who finally quit bleeding their patients to death or who undertook to show that germs, not “miasmas” caused infection also came in for howls of outrage and arrogance for thinking that they were “wiser and finer” than the greatest thinkers who ever lived in their field.

    The very foundation of our country was an affront to Natural Law and the divine right of kings. We were founded by a group of men who were just arrogant enough to think that they, and a few scrappy modernist philosophers, knew better than all the great thinkers who preceded them.

    If the longevity of an idea was sufficient to prove its infallibility, we should still be eating termites out of mounds with broken sticks and sleeping in trees at night.

  • kenneth

    I get that that traditional religious folks feel under siege, but nobody’s been able to give me any rational scenario for how gay marriage will threaten their belief or practice. Gay marriage is the law of the land in a number of states and countries, including some predominantly Catholic ones. So far as I know, devout Catholics can still go to Mass, marry opposite-sex spouses with authentic Church sacraments etc. The only “threat” that has been fulfilled is the loss of the ability to have the state enforce one’s doctrine on the general public. I don’t happen to believe that was ever a legitimate right to begin with.

  • kenneth

    The findings in science regarding the value or cause of gay orientation are there. They may not be definitive or conclusive and no science is immune to criticism and revision, but they are there. There is no “gay gene” for the same reason there is no “straight” gene. We would never expect something as complex as human sexuality to be determined by a single gene. There ARE some very intriguing genetic differences that have been observed in gay people and sometimes their parents. As to cave paintings, it is clear that homosexual people have existed throughout human history in every culture. There is reference to them even in ancient native cultures, where they were sometimes believed to possess both masculine and feminine spirits.

    A natural law argument based on reproductive fitness holds no water because its proponents don’t even believe it themselves. Millions of straight people deliberately, sometimes permanently thwart their reproductive abilities. No one at all in the “save marriage” movement is proposing that legal marriage be conditioned on reproductive capacity. Millions of people who “abuse” sex for all sorts of ends outside of natural law or Catholic doctrine are allowed to marry. It’s only when gay people are involved that we start losing sleep about “natural law.”

  • Elaine T

    I can’t find the original translation, but I found an article discussing the original, with some information from Scandanavia about the effects of approval of SSM on the culture. Basically – bad. Marriage rates as a whole went down. Divorce rates went down only because marriages were down and you need to be married before you get a divorce. Breakups for cohabiting couples apparently went up and the rates of out of wedlock births went way up.

    How much could be post hoc ergo propter hoc I can’t tell – I lost the original, in a computer crash. Still it is interesting, frightening, and a partial answer to those who ask ‘what could the harm be?’

    Switching gears… What bugs me about a lot of these discussions is the lack of historical information about marriage down the millenia. It has always been male and female, and fenced about. Why has it always been fenced about with special privileges or restrictions?

    When the government got involved it was for coherence of inheritance. But marriage existed – exists still in primitive cultures without much government. Why? I think we have to say because man and woman together produce children. And children are a great responsibility.

    And if people are asking to use the term for something that doesn’t require those special privileges and restrictions, it isn’t marriage in the basic human understanding of marriage. And if we’re going to redefine something so basic, I want to take it very very slowly and minimize the Law on Unintended Consequences.

  • kenneth

    I would be very surprised if there are any studies in peer-reviewed mainstream journals that show a causal connection between same sex marriage legislation and the social ills you describe in the wider society. I’d be very interested in reading the primary sources, at least translated versions of them. Most of the “research” cited and promoted by religious lobbying groups on this issue is junk science. They use shoddy methodology and study design that wouldn’t pass muster at a community college, and some of the leading lights in this area of research have been struck off from professional associations for shabby and misleading work.

    As I said, the key in this debate is a causal link between SSM and those other outcomes. Anyone can find associations between SSM and other phenomenon which happened in the same time frame. We can pick a year and country where SSM was legalized and find all sort of interesting and alarming things that happened following that: maybe the incidence of certain cancers went up, the economy tanked, the wheat crop died of some blight or drought. We can spin any or all of these things to imply that SSM caused them, but that does not make it so.

  • Laurel

    Hi again. I must say I’m impressed at the “fairly” respectful tone people are taking on this issue, seriously. I want to comment on something that was said on a previous post.

    Kenneth said, “The problem, as it now stands, is exactly the opposite: it is religious organizations demanding that their theology be enforced in civil law.”

    I don’t agree with you. I understand from reading the posts that you are a pagan. Is there anything in your religion that is a primal, basic belief that you wouldn’t want the state “taking over” and changing to their own view based on what other people think? Imagine them teaching in schools that this basic belief was bunk and the next generation, your own children and grandchildren, would grow up being taught that it was bunk. Wouldn’t you think – hey, it’s not your business to define or deny the validity of this basic premise of my religion? Can you imagine that scenario?

    Please try to understand that what marriage is, is a very basic part of the world view of a lot of Christians. I think that if all those who are fighting for gay marriage understood that this is not a gay issue, it is a religious issue, it would certainly help with communication. To have the “traditional” definition of marriage changed “officially”, legally and taught to children in schools is the problem. It would undermine a basic tenet of our belief system in the same way that the government regulating something in your belief system would do. Do you see?

    I don’t want my theology to be enforced in civil law at all. I don’t want any kind of a theocracy – it would be horrible. I also do want gay couples who have decided to make the same commitment as straight couples do in “marriage” to have the same legal rights, period. I want the government to stay out of religion and I believe they are crossing the line if they redefine the traditional, Judeo/Christian/Muslim/Hindu etc. view of marriage.

  • Elaine S.

    The REAL problem with gay marriage, as I see it, is not the definition of marriage itself. Rather, it is in how far the state will go to require everyone else, including individuals and private entitities, to recognize the legal equality of these unions to traditional marriage whether they want to or not. As Mark Shea puts it, “Tolerance is not enough — You. MUST. Approve.”

    At that point it becomes no longer about treating gays fairly but about stigmatizing as “homophobes” or “bigots” people who cannot morally accept or endorse gay marriage. We see this happening already in places where Catholic Charities has had to get out of the adoption and foster care business because they would not agree to place children with same-sex couples. Why is this necessary? As long as there are other agencies or individual attorneys available to handle adoptions by same-sex couples, why does EVERYONE have to march to the same tune?

  • kenneth

    In the case of Catholic Charities, nobody was forced to approve of anything. The adoption business, and it is a business, is not an activity of core religious expression. It is a state-run enterprise run according to rules designed to maximize safety and the priorities of the society at large represented by the state. The society and the state changed its thinking as regards gay adoption. The Church did not, as is their right to do.

    There was a parting of ways on this issue. The Church still gets to be the Church. Having one’s hand in the adoption business is not a right. It is an arrangement which worked out for a long time and no longer does.

    Now, if the state had come in and said you must marry gay couples in your sacraments, I would have a problem with that. There is no forseeable possibility of that happening, despite the alarmist predictions I sometimes see.

    Outside of the internal ritual and ecclesiastical life of the Church, the organization in its worldly aspect will have to follow the law like everyone else. That means you never have to accept the legitimacy of gay marriage from a doctrinal standpoint, but if you get involved in secular business enterprises like adoption, or property rental etc., you follow what the law says about gay marriage (or any other topic), or you get out of that particular business.

    That’s not persecution. That’s life. We all balance our values and beliefs against other considerations and nobody’s personal conscience grants them a blanket exemption to following the law.

  • Elaine T

    Actually, as I understand the history, adoption is an expression of core religious belief, and the regular practice of helping people adopt strangers’ children into their families began as such. The state got involved later to regulate it. Caring for children otherwise uncared for and finding homes of some sort for them goes back to the very earliest years of Christian practice.

    So it *is* a big deal, when Christians are forbidden from doing something they originated long before the modern state got involved.

  • kenneth

    “I understand from reading the posts that you are a pagan. Is there anything in your religion that is a primal, basic belief that you wouldn’t want the state “taking over” and changing to their own view based on what other people think? Imagine them teaching in schools that this basic belief was bunk and the next generation, your own children and grandchildren, would grow up being taught that it was bunk. Wouldn’t you think – hey, it’s not your business to define or deny the validity of this basic premise of my religion? Can you imagine that scenario?….”

    Indeed Laurel, I can well imagine that scenario. It’s what we call “the last 1500 years”!

    In the past couple hundred of those years, we’ve had the great fortune to live in a country where expression of our religion is protected by law, even if it’s sometimes a bit of a task to obtain that protection. So the government no longer “helps us see the truth” with hot irons and the like, but the law doesn’t mean that nothing offensive to our beliefs will ever be conveyed in law or popular culture. There is much of the law in this land and in the culture which is abhorrent to what we believe, but so long as we’re left unhindered to practice, that’s a problem we sort out within our own families and larger clans.

    If you’re a serious Catholic, as it sounds like you are, then you know well that much of what the world presents your children, either in the classroom or the popular culture at large, is at odds with what you believe. That’s where raising your own kids comes into play. Sooner or later, they’re going to have to learn to discern the difference between what’s out there and what they will believe and live by. It might as well be sooner.

    I guess what I’m so delicately trying to say is that Caesar and Madison Avenue have their own priorities. They have no obligation nor talent for helping you or I raise our kids according to our belief systems.

  • kenneth

    Elaine, any way you slice it, the adoption business is not a worship activity. It’s a highly regulated state-run enterprise and has been for a long time. The Catholic Church certainly may feel called to that sort of work and even enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy in performing it, but the existence of that historical precedent does not create a birthright to continue doing it on their own terms forever.

    The Church enjoyed all sorts of privileges and powers in pre-modern times that they no longer do: virtual immunity from secular criminal law, power to try and even execute people for heresy, control of publication of all printed materials etc. In each one of these cases, I’m sure it was maddening and offputting when all of a sudden those powers were stripped from them. It was, as you say, a “big deal.”

    The truth is, our Constitution is a constantly evolving balancing act. To guarantee all of our most important rights, we have to curtail some of our freedoms. All of our civil rights laws, labor laws, zoning laws etc. infringed upon what had been historical freedoms to do pretty much whatever one wished to create wealth for oneself or follow one’s conscience. The libertarian streak in me feels bad that someone had to pay that price, but I wouldn’t go back for all of Bill Gates money. I also will not countenance the systematic denial of gay person’s rights to maintain other’s comfort zones.