Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Is True Demoncracy Open to the Duty of the True Catholic? (a study in the present homosexual-marriage debate)

This post is bound to be extremely and haphazardly unscientific, illogical, and just plain confusing. Bear with me, and do your best trying to decipher the important and meaning sentences or questions. Then, please, let me know what they are, for I’ve forgotten.

On a few occasions, I have voiced my concern that it is potentially impossible to be a good Catholic AND a good, democratic American simultaneously. When articulating this problem, I have been met with solid answers – answers that don’t make the two categories seem distinct. Therefore, I have recently been wracking my brain, trying to get at the root of my insistence on seeing Catholicism and democracy as, at least, complicated bedfellows.

For a while, I supposed my feelings were just that: feelings, and not based on any sort of objective argument. But I had a minor epiphany the other day. My problem arises from a very specific way of viewing democracy. I don’t know if my view of the sociopolitical system is correct or incorrect, but I am sure other people maintain it; and perhaps this is one of the reasons why a lot of secularists dislike anyone appealing to specific religious beliefs when considering our countries policies.

Here is the constructed version of a healthy democratic nation at work – the version I often uphold, right or wrong: If we could amicably discuss issues with one another, and lay out arguments as objectively and dispassionately as possible, we would come to similar conclusions about most issues, especially the moral ones. The problems and arguments arise from impassioned ignorance or illogical bigotry. Implied in this premise is the idea that we don’t need to appeal to specific religious beliefs.

Example, Abortion: If everyone understood the basic facts about abortion, we would agree that abortion should be illegal. And I stand by this: I think most pro-choice Americans, if they conceded the fact that abortion is actually killing a living human life, would be against it. There is no need to appeal to religious conviction or theological dogma. I’m sure you can apply this one argument to many others, and come to similar conclusions: When we lay out arguments side-by-side, with a disimpassioned desire to seek the most right decision, we would agree. Importantly, with abortion and other moral decisions, there is no need to appeal to religion.

As a man who structures his life on his faith, I often take this sort of sociopolitical stance because I believe in the ultimate truth of Christian-Catholicism; and I (naively?) think that sustained, honest thought and searching for truth will eventually lead to Truth, as expressed in the Person of Jesus Christ – even if it isn’t expressed as such.

But this line of thought falls apart with the gay-marriage issue. When I empathetically take the stance of a secular non-Christian man who is genuinely attracted to other men, I find the “natural law” reasons to sound empty and shallow. I couldn’t imagine seeing these reasons as anything but ignorant or bigoted. To truly understand why same-sex marriage is ultimately flawed, the foundational theology of the human person, as found in the Catholic Church, needs to be understood and believed. Perhaps it’s a lack of faith, but I don’t find that this foundational theology is easily accessible outside of true Faith. And I think the political scene backs up my point.

I think that most people that are against gay-marriage fall in 2 categories: 1) those, like me, who base their beliefs on theological grounds; and 2) truly bigoted people, who find the idea repulsive – but repulsive in the same way that they would have, 50 years ago, found interracial marriage repulsive. I’m not sure how many people are truth-seeking non-Christians, who simply find the idea of homosexuality, or homosexual marriage, intrinsically wrong, apart from pure emotional, sexual responses.

I know one problem with my reasoning is the fact that all moral issues need foundational theologies, including murder. So a person can say, “Yes, you need to understand Catholicism in order to understand the true backwardness of homosexuality; but you also need to understand Catholicism in order to understand the true backwardness of murder.” However, I guess my point is that murder is recognized by the majority (democracy is rule by the majority) as revolting, while homosexuality is not.

Of course, this entire argument is based on the presumption that we should not have important political positions based on specific religious beliefs; and I have, in the past, been OK with this idea, simply because I felt we should arrive at the important political positions that are semi-Christian because a search for truth is always a search for the Truth.

If I discard this presumption, I am met with eerily suggestion conclusions. For example, should I be fine with a Muslim basing all of his political decisions on his faith? Isn’t this what a lot of Christians are up-in-arms about in Europe and elsewhere? What if a good, well-meaning Muslim makes a political decision to try and remove certain rights of women, basing his decision on his faith? I think a lot of people would be upset about this. However, in many secularists’ viewpoints, that is exactly what Christians are doing by trying to deny homosexuals the right to marry. The Christian may say to the Muslim, “I’m fine with you using your faith in the ballot box, but not when your opinions take away rights from others.” Well, the secularist can say right back, “Your faith-based reasons against homosexual marriage also take away people’s rights.”

This deconstructive mess is giving me a headache. Let me end with two conclusions (even though they aren’t “conclusive”). 1) Should I not care at all that it seems impossible to convince a homosexual secular man that America, as a country, should be against his getting married to a man? If so, 2) doesn’t this take us places we don’t want to go? Example: a Muslim man voting against giving women the right to vote because he doesn’t see it as an intrinsic right, like we don’t see marriage to someone of the same sex as an intrinsic right? Or: A secular man voting for something he simply “believes,” such as voting against inter-racial marriage? Aren’t their foundations, according to American law, as solid as the Christian man’s appeal to theology to argue against homosexuality?

The mess ends here.


  1. Demoncracy - a state governed by demons?

    Hmm, I disagree with your ideal democratic state where everyone amicably and rationally arrives at a consensus as a starting point for dictating standards for voting behavior. If we didn't require divine revelation, God wouldn't have given it to us. Over-emotional and illogical behavior are inherent in every society. Trying to base a law-making process on an ideal that will never exist seems a little silly to me.

    You end up admitting that all moral rules require a theological basis. Immediately after recognizing this, you say, "However, I guess my point is that murder is recognized by the majority (democracy is rule by the majority) as revolting, while homosexuality is not." But I don't see how that's a response to insisting on the necessity of a theological basis for morality.

    With respect to Muslims voting based on their faith, I'm totally comfortable with that, even though it might lead to outcomes I don't like. Democracy always produces outcomes we won't like; you might as well just argue that we shouldn't have democracatic society. The question then becomes, what better alternative do you have to offer? I can't think of any realistic ones.

    I would also like to pick a bone with your categories of reasonable people like us who base their objection to gay marriage on theological grounds, and bigots who find homosexuality repulsive - like people who found miscegenation repulsive.

    First, I don't think that people actually found miscegenation repulsive; I think people opposed it based on fear and anger because it gave more rights to blacks, and recognized their humanity. Moreover, people opposing miscegenation actually did have theological bases, albeit ones we would disagree with (Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist protestant school ended its ban on interracial student dating just ten years ago).

    Second, hatred of homosexuals is of course wrong. But is revulsion at the activity wrong? If homosexuality goes against natural law, the ends for which our sexuality is to be used, is revulsion perhaps a subconscious recognition of the breach of natural order? Are people bigots for being grossed out by necrophila or pedophilia? I would be surprised if you could find more than a handful of people in the country who actually refuse to go further than saying "it's gross" to explain their opposition to homosexuality. People might not be that articulate, but I think most of those you're characterizing as bigots would just have a basic understanding that it's condemned in the bible, and a gut instinct that it is a perversion of what their sexuality is for. Really, how is that gut instinct any different than an atheist who has a gut instinct that murder is wrong? Even if it's some meathead fratboy who has no problem with heterosexual fornication, that doesn't mean he's wrong to recognize perversion of sexuality (even though he's probably wrong about how he would treat someone because of it).

  2. Interesting thoughts from both of you. But John, to really get at Jonas's main argument I think, we want to look at the excesses of majority rule. I don't want to pick on the Muslims, so let's say that a group with a harmful ideology wants to vote (or change laws via other means) according to their ideology. You might say, I'm fine with their civic right to vote on an intellectual level, but you are not fine with the results of their vote. This is just to say that democracy doesn't get around the moral problems of monarchy or oligarchy; in every case the sovereign needs to act for the Common Good in order to create a good state.
    You said there's no better alternative, which may very well be true. Then the Catholic doesn't have a choice of being a good democrat vs. good something else, but he just has to be a good person, and he can educate others about the reality that there's no such thing as a neutral democratic condition that automatically moves toward a moral society. I think when ppl say, "Leave your religious beliefs outside the voting booth," they mean, "Vote according to MY religious beliefs" [often enough a Floydian "post-Christian secular humanism"]- which is the same position Jonas seemed to be saying a Christian finds himself in. And perhaps we are, ultimately, b/c that's the position we are in outside of the legal system: convincing people to Love rather than not love.

  3. [1 of 2]


    I rather agree with your first point, about being suspicious of the ideal democratic state I proposed in my post. Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear, but I was casting doubt on it throughout. My major point in relation to this “ideal state” was that I often unconsciously accept it – and only recently have I realized this about myself. I think I picked it up arguing against abortion. Many pro-choicers will use the line: “Well, you’re just basing your argument on religion,” while I make the obvious point that it’s not really about religious dogma, but simply about murdering an innocent life. I unconsciously, and erroneously, took this approach, and decided it should be applied to all major political decisions – and in the homosexual-marriage debate, this falls apart.

    Now, when it comes to your “bone picking,” I want to agree with you that everyone’s repulsion of homosexual marriage (and homosexual “love”) is based, even if they don’t know it, on the fact that it is against Nature as God created and intended it. I want to agree – but I’m not sure I do. First, can you think something is wrong (that is wrong) for the wrong reason? For example, what if someone is against contraception, but simply because the pill has negative effects on the women’s body? What happens when they create a pill that has no negative effects? I would assume this person would then be OK with contraception, since their reasons for its “incorrectness” were in themselves incorrect. When it comes to homosexuality, I think certain people find it repulsive or perverted because it doesn’t fit their definition of sexuality. The problem is that their definition of sexuality isn’t exactly correct either.

  4. [2 of 2]

    Let me give an example. Now, I’m going to take a few different students I’ve taught and had conversations with here at Mendham. Allow me, the storyteller, to put a few stories together and create a semi-fictitious character. Although this exact person isn’t real, there are numerous cases just like this. Either way, I think my point will be clear.

    Mitch Lawrence is a high school freshman. As a 14-year old boy, he is immature. Let me throw out a few “meat-head” attributes that are present in him: he extremely disrespectful to girls, and often to adults; he brags about manipulating his parents, and the messes he gets himself into; he thinks guys who write poetry are fags; being smart is fine, but you can’t look nerdy; reading on your own is simply a waste of time; etc. When we read literature about racism or stereotyping, Mitch is extremely insensitive. He is nearly incapable of empathy. Now, as Mitch matures, (and the freshmen mature the most in one year out they years of high school), his perspectives on things slowly shift. Perhaps what began as an attempt to be nice in order to get a girlfriend turns into a real change of attitude. Slowly, Mitch matures. As he develops as a person, many incorrect mindsets are reset. He is more respectful of girls and adults; he isn’t perfect at home, but there’s more of an honest attempt to stay out of real trouble; suddenly, he becomes more interested in books, or at the very least, the conversations we have about them.

    When tracking this perspective change, this slow paradigm shift, there is something else about Mitch that changes. He used to simply refer to homosexuals as disgusting and worthy of scorn. Although there has been no altering of his sexual orientation, he is less prone to speak negatively of homosexuals and their desires. At certain moments, he is even willing to say things like, “I don’t understand it, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it.”

    Now, don’t get me wrong: Mitch’s last statement is inherently incorrect. However, the point that must be made is this: Why Mitch hated gays and thought them repulsive was based on incorrect reasoning. His repulsion wasn’t caused by an unconscious rejection of the natural order of sexuality; instead, it was based on a lack of vision. For the same reason he disrespected girls, he thought gays were disgusting: because they were not like him, and he couldn’t understand them. When he progressed as a person, and generally in a positive fashion, he found that he didn’t have any reason left to find homosexuality disgusting. This is because he was repulsed by homosexuality for the wrong reasons.

    You may find this story and character an exaggeration, but I guarantee you that there are stories and kids like it throughout Mendham High. What they lack, and I hope to imbue them with, is a desire to seek and understand objective truth. Yes, they need to progress and learn to be respectful kids; but they also need to learn that this doesn’t mean accepting any and everything.

    PS: I also disagree with your statement: “First, I don't think that people actually found miscegenation repulsive; I think people opposed it based on fear and anger because it gave more rights to blacks, and recognized their humanity.” My Nana Moccia, God bless her heart, truly believes it is repulsive. She begins sentences with “Now, I’m not racist…” and proceeds to say the most racist things. She isn’t concerned with recognizing the humanity of black people, or real theological proofs; she just thinks its wrong because she “can feel that there is something wrong with it deep in her soul.”

  5. Drat. I had written a longish response last week, but apparently it didn't get saved for some reason.

    Here were my basic points:

    Regarding the contraception analogy, being against contraception "simply because the pill has negative effects on the women’s body" isn't incorrect. It's just incomplete.

    Regarding Mitchell, the pre-maturity behaviors you desccribe are all actions resulting from a combination of intellect and will. Mitch's actions are wrong because he does not treat gays with the dignity they deserve as human persons, which is an immature response to sinful behavior. But his misconduct does not invalidate his recognition that something is wrong with homosexual behavior, anymore than shooting an abortion doctor invalidates the recognition that abortion is evil.

    The cautionary analogy to revulsion toward miscegenation still stands, but I think 2 factors supporting my position are (1) our revulsion at homosexul behavior is confirmed by scripture's condemnation of such behavior, and (2) revulsion at homosexual behavior seems much more universal than revulsion at miscegenation, which is tied to a particular historical context of extreme racial animosity.

    I'm skeptical that our revulsion at homosexual activity is much different than our instinctive dislike of other sinful behaviors like pedophilia, murder or betrayal.