Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Unraveling the Church Ban on Gay Sex

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It turns out there’s a well-known path by which the Catholic church can retreat from erroneous Biblical ideas and faulty “natural-law” reasoning, a path it’s taken before (only with great reluctance and after prolonged resistance) as in recognizing that the earth is not, in fact, the center of the universe.

George Gutting of Notre Dame University writes in the NY Times:

Last month, Salvatore Cordileone, the archbishop of San Francisco, made controversial changes to a handbook for Catholic high school teachers in his jurisdiction. The changes included morals clauses, one of which forbids those teachers from publicly endorsing homosexual behavior. There are plausible legal and educational objections to this move. But there is a deeper issue, one that raises fundamental questions about Catholic teachings on homosexuality and other sexual matters.

The archbishop has justified of his decision on the grounds that homosexual acts are “contrary to natural law.” Unlike many religions, Catholicism insists that its moral teachings are based not just on faith but also on human reason. For example, the church claims that its moral condemnation of homosexual acts can be established by rigorous philosophical argument, independent of anything in the Bible.

The primary arguments derive from what is known as the “natural-law tradition” of ethical thought, which begins with Plato and Aristotle, continues through Thomas Aquinas and other medieval and modern philosophers, and still flourishes today in the work of thinkers like John Finnis and Robert George. This tradition sees morality as a matter of the moral laws that follow from what fundamentally makes us human: our human nature. This is what the archbishop was referring to when he said that homosexual acts are contrary to natural law. This has long been a major basis for the church’s claim that homosexual acts are immoral — indeed “gravely sinful.”

The problem is that, rightly developed, natural-law thinking seems to support rather than reject the morality of homosexual behavior. Consider this line of thought from John Corvino, a philosopher at Wayne State University: “A gay relationship, like a straight relationship, can be a significant avenue of meaning, growth, and fulfillment. It can realize a variety of genuine human goods; it can bear good fruit. . . . [For both straight and gay couples,] sex is a powerful and unique way of building, celebrating, and replenishing intimacy.” The sort of relationship Corvino describes seems clearly one that would contribute to a couple’s fulfillment as human beings — whether the sex involved is hetero- or homosexual. Isn’t this just what it should mean to live in accord with human nature?

Natural-law ethicists typically don’t see it that way. They judge homosexual acts immoral, and claim that even a relationship like the one Corvino describes would be evil because the sex involved would be of the wrong sort. According to them, any sexual act that could not in principle result in pregnancy is contrary to the laws of human nature because it means that each partner is using it as a means to his or her pleasure. Only a shared act directed toward reproduction can prevent this ultimate selfishness. The awkward talk of “an act that could not in principle result in pregnancy” is necessary since those who put forward this argument want to maintain that heterosexual unions in which one (or both) of the partners is sterile are still moral. There’s nothing unnatural about their intercourse because it’s the sort of act that in general can lead to reproduction.

Just trying to formulate the argument shows how strained it is. There are, of course, numerous subtle distinctions employed to defend it, requiring equal subtlety to respond. And many would see the argument as proving too much, since proponents also use it to show the immorality of birth control, masturbation and even non-reproductive sexual acts between heterosexuals.

Most important, however, the argument has no satisfactory response to two crucial questions. First, . . .

Continue reading.

The comments at the link are also interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2015 at 12:57 pm

Posted in Religion, Science

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